Tag Archives: 2019

CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO (2019)

Recommended (recommendation applies to Severin Film’s three disc set, not to the title documentary)

DIRECTED BY: Federico Caddeo

FEATURING: Fabio Melelli, Umberto Lenzi, Lamberto Bava, , , , , Susan Scott, , ,

PLOT: A documentary describing the rise and nature of Italian giallo thrillers of the 60s and 70s, with reflections by many of the original practitioners.

Key art from All the Colors of Giallo (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s purely supplemental material—but a worthy package for those cultivating an interest in this stylish but disreputable genre.

COMMENTS: Standing alone, the competent titular documentary would not be of exceptional interest; it’s the extras that put this three-disc set over. For those who don’t know, giallos were a peculiarly Italian subgenre of film: murder mysteries, typically with very convoluted plots and stylish, dramatic visuals influenced by psychedelic culture. As the genre developed, giallos took advantage of growing cultural permissiveness of the 1970s and became increasingly  exploitative, pushing the censor’s boundaries by including more and more graphic sex and violence. Especially in later films, the plots turned perverse and psychological, dealing with delusional heroines stalked by black-gloved killers. The giallo period in cinema lasted from approximately 1963 (with ‘s The Girl Who Knew Too Much) until the late 1970s/early 1980s, when this  daring “adult” fare was gradually absorbed into dumb, repetitive teen-skewering slashers.

All the Colors of Giallo starts strong, with an overview of the giallo’s roots in sensational crime literature (with trademark yellow covers that gave the genre its name). But the strict chronological format—interviewing to a succession of directors and collaborators in the approximate order they make their appearance on the scene—means the general viewer’s interest starts to flag as the genre itself peters out. The material is presented with the conventional mix of talking heads, poster shots, and illustrative clips (mainly taken from trailers). All the Colors of Giallo does have the virtue of convincing all of the genre’s major contributors to chip in a sound bite or two—and not just the directors and actors, but screenwriters and producers, too. Lucio Fulci even takes time out to get catty about his more celebrated rival Dario Argento, whom he argues is a “great craftsman who thinks he’s an artist” and “a good director” but “a terrible writer.” The lack of professional courtesy there is fun and refreshing.

But it’s only after the documentary ends that the real fun begins, as you dig into the extras. Not to slight a separate short interview with John Martin, editor of the fanzine “The Giallo Pages,” but it’s the “Giallothon”—over four hours of trailers, some rare, covering every major film in the genre—that’s the pick of Disc 1. You watch All the Colors of Giallo to earn your bachelor’s degree; “Giallothon” is research for your doctoral dissertation. It has 82 trailers spanning 20 Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO (2019)

CAPSULE: THE BEACH BUM (2019)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Snoop Dog, Ilsa Fisher

PLOT: Moondog is a hard-partying hippie celebrity poet living off his past glory and heiress wife’s fortune; when she dies, her will specifies he can’t inherit her millions unless he finishes his long-gestating novel.

Still from The Beach Bum (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Fortunately it’s not weird enough to have to worry about its merits as a film. It’s almost a normal stoner comedy—by Harmony Korine directing Matthew McConaughey standards, at least.

COMMENTS: Matthew McConaughey goes hog wild playing a fantasy version of himself as a perpetually high, holy fool beach bum in Hawaiian shirts and flip-up sunglasses. Topless women love him, for undisclosed reasons. Stray kittens love him, because they don’t know any better. Jimmy Buffet loves him enough to invite him to steal his spotlight. Rich heiresses gladly bankroll his middle-aged slacker lifestyle. Snoop Dogg loves him enough to share his secret stash of Jamaican Christmas Tree dank. Thin Jonah Hill, the Cajun literary agent, loves him, even though he hasn’t made a dime off him in decades. Moondog, the celebrity poet (!) can do no wrong, even when he finally shows up, drunk and high, for his daughter’s wedding in the middle of her vows, then grabs the mike (and the groom’s junk).

In fact, just about the only person in the movie who doesn’t love Moondog is the judge who sentences him to rehab (though even she is a fan of his older stuff). Fortunately, vape bro Zac Efron loves him enough to help him bust out of the group home. And Martin Lawrence loves him enough to take him on as an apprentice dolphin guide and let him feed his pet parrots cocaine and… well, you get the gist. The Beach Bum proclaims Moondog’s stupendousness for 90 minutes.

But although everyone in the movie loves Moondog, it’s hard for anyone in the audience to like Moondog. The script insists he’s a genius, but he seems like the kind of guy you quit inviting out a couple years after graduation because he still acts like he’s at a Saturday night kegger all the time. He’s , but without the fear or the loathing. Most of the time, when he recites poetry, he’s actually ripping off D.H. Lawrence or Baudelaire, and when he’s not, he’s writing odes to his own penis. Moondog would probably tell you that he doesn’t have to actually write poetry because he lives poetry, which for him means using a gas mask as a bong while riding a bicycle in a thong, or blowing up his own yacht with fireworks—you know, the kind of poetry frat boys would live, if only an heiress would bankroll them.

Now, it might be that the movie is shot through Moondog’s subjective lens, and everyone doesn’t really think he’s unbelievably awesome. (Radical subjectivity might explain some of the more hallucinatory incidents, like the blind airplane pilot who puffs on an oversized spliff that would choke Cheech and Chong.) A vintage video shows Moondog on a wharf, reading lame stream-of-consciousness verses while almost spilling his gin and tonic, looking like a bad motivational speaker in a rainbow sports coat. Present day Moondog is incredibly impressed by his older self’s performance, unlike the half-full, bored contemporaneous audience in fold-out chairs. This flashback could suggest that his poetic appeal is a product of his own imagination. Except that the evidence of the rest of the movie—including his receipt of the Pulitzer Prize—refutes this interpretation. Of course, consistency is not Moondog’s bag—it’s for squares, baby.

I came close to awarding The Beach Bum a “” rating. In the end, however, McConnaughey’s gonzo performance, and the picture’s cinematography and other technical aspects, make it too good for the lowest rating, while the Beach Bum‘s lack of any sort of seriousness or purpose means it’s not really worth the effort of hating. It seems that the rest of the world sees something in Harmony Korine’s work I’m obviously not getting. If the Beach Bum‘s joke is supposed to be that Moondog is an insufferable, talentless, self-mythologizing jackass coasting on decades-old success, but everyone around him treats him like he’s a genius… that’s got to hit close to home for an auteur with Korine’s ego. I’d be impressed if Korine had the self-deprecating self-awareness to make Moondog an autobiographical stand-in. But even if he did, that still wouldn’t make The Beach Bum a good movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s all incredibly fun, and hilarious, and weird, but with surprisingly earnest feelings of tenderness towards its subjects.”–Emma Stefansky, Thrillist (contemporaneous)

CHANNEL 366: FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN (2019) / ANIMA (2019)

Since we last visited our friends at Netflix, things have taken a turn on the streaming weirdness front. The dark future that may await us was succinctly outlined in this Fast Company headline: “Netflix canceling ‘Tuca and Bertie’ is a bad sign for all the distinctive, weird shows streaming is supposed to keep alive”. The lack of love for this quirky animated comedy—a cousin to the more widely acclaimed BoJack Horseman by way of the character design of Tuca creator Lisa Hanawalt—would seem to bode ill for fans of more offbeat programming, especially with the broader success of critically reviled features like Murder Mystery and Bird Box.

On the other hand, one of the service’s biggest brands, “Stranger Things,” is simply not the kind of mainstream fare you would be likely to find on network TV. Someone with the time and patience to scroll through all of the available programming would also find such offerings as the fiercely impenetrable “The OA,” the coal-black premise of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the deeply uncomfortable comedy of “I Think You Should Leave,” or the shifting tone of animated anthology “Love, Death & Robots.” And the decision to welcome back “Russian Doll” for a second season suggests weird is not quite yet off-limits.

So let’s hold off for a bit on eulogizing Netflix’s middle finger to the mainstream, and let’s instead turn our attention toward two recent debuts which have tripped the weirdometer for critics. They also point to two very different possible outcomes for on-demand bizarre entertainment.

Still from Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, FrankensteinWhen it comes to mockumentary, there are a number of goals the filmmaker can pursue. The granddaddy of them all, This is Spial Tap, joyously punctures of the legends of rock stars. A more recent example, Netflix’s own American Vandal, sets its sights on the dubious techniques and motives of “real-crime” films and podcasts. Another ongoing series, “Documentary Now!,” is concerned with replicating the look and feel of the subjects it lampoons with startling faithfulness and exactitude. The goal of “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” seems to be to let star David Harbour be silly. At the outset, Harbour explains that he is investigating the fateful performance that destroyed his father’s career, an early 70s live (?) TV broadcast of a curious adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic in which the infamous scientist (also played by Harbour in full Wellesian pretentious-actor mode) poses as his own monster in order to secure funding.

It’s all very absurd. But there’s a big problem with “Frankenstein’s…”: all else aside, the program fails in its singular goal to be funny. You can tell the creators think they’re being hilarious, but nothing is believable enough to be satirical, and nothing is wacky enough to be independently uproarious. Harbour is meant to seem thunderstruck Continue reading CHANNEL 366: FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN (2019) / ANIMA (2019)

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

is claiming (again) that he only has a single film left in him: an R-rated “Star Trek.” Of course, volunteered to revive Captain Kirk. Paramount needs to jump on this. If anyone could breathe life into that long dead formula, it would be Tarantino. As for Shat, perhaps he would learn something, even at his age. When Shat took his Star Trek V idea of the Enterprise crew battling God to the studio, Paramount, Gene Roddenberry, et. al. shot back: “They can’t meet God!” Shat lost his balls. He should have grabbed Tarantino, then because this is a filmmaker who does not let history, social norms, or formula expectations dictate to his art.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood posterAfter his films with Sergio Leone, composer Ennio Morricone became such a cult figure that it wasn’t long before wannabe film composers began paying homage to him with one yawn-inducing, predictable tribute after another. Of course, most attempted to solicit his endorsement, and received blank stares and unanswered letters in reply. That is, until jazz composer John Zorn came along and filtered Morricone through snippets of Carl Stalling, video game music, and his own sensibilities. Morricone was delightfully startled, breathed a sigh of relief, and gave a resounding accolade, noting that finally here was a worthy tribute, because Zorn refused to treat him with reverence. Zorn was as radical and revolutionary as Morricone himself.

This is what Tarantino does consistently. The title of his latest is no coincidence, paying his homage to cinematic idol Leone. Tarantino clearly has an authentic love of 1960s and 70s grindhouse cult film as well; so much so that he is no mere imitator, and this makes him one of the most interesting filmmakers of the last 25 years.

As in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino takes the role of a celluloid antifa and wallops the fascists. “Let’s kill Nazis,” goes the chant, probably much like the American troops sang  on D-Day (one must ask: when did hating Fascism become a bad thing?), but he has a new Fascist offshoot target as well: cultists. And, as before, he rejects the way his source material ended, and so crafts a new dreamscape ending. In this, Tarantino reminds me of an artist named Antonio Adams who created adult sculptures of JonBenet Ramsey and Emmett Till, allowing them to grow up in his sculptures, denying their fate. So Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

CAPSULE: THE MOON IN THE HIDDEN WOODS (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Takahiro Umehara

FEATURING: Voices of Lee Jihyon, Jung Yoojung, and Kim Yul

PLOT: Muju, a dark cosmic lord, is enveloping the earth’s sky more and more each night because the moon has gone missing; a young princess and musician must work together to stop Muju and his earthly minion, the despicable Count Tar.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTThe Moon in the Hidden Woods features two spectacular scenes of psychedelic light play, as well as a host of novel monsters and battles, but is grounded at heart in the world of fantasy.

COMMENTS: The Moon is the Hidden Woods‘ varied elements give it a feeling of timelessness. As a Japanese director of a South Korean story, Takahiro Umehara imbues The Moon Hidden in the Woods with a touch of universality, as well. Upon finishing the film, I felt that it could have just as easily been made forty years ago as a month or two ago. This is no criticism: it has the style and aura of a film you might have seen on occasion, with great excitement, as a child, reveling in the unfolding of a truly grand adventure grounded by young, likeable heroes.

These heroes are up against the double adversaries of the great, terrible alien, Muju, and the vain, manipulative Count Tar. The story begins in a bazaar where two troupes of musicians have gathered for a percussion battle. Janggu is the leader of “Nova Folk Band,” and with the help of the incognito princess Navillera, his team handily dispatches the sitting champions, “Pipe Beat.” The action then goes into overdrive, as royal guards pursue Navillera and Janggu, who escape with meteorite hunters riding mechanical war birds and retreat to the Nova village outside of the city. One of the Count’s agents betrays the villagers and Janggu and Navillera are forced to flee into the Hidden Woods. They know they must stop Muju, who threatens the planet, while being harried by Count Tar’s henchmen.

All that is merely skimming the surface of the goings-on in The Moon in the Hidden Woods. Though he’s perhaps late to the game, Umehara creates something almost mythopoeic in this movie. Although largely based on ancient Korean customs and myths, this distillation is a singular vision of the director and his animation team. The stylistic flourishes enhance the underlying mythology: the prevalence of Korea’s five colors which make up the world (black, blue, white, orange, and yellow); the importance of drum music, along with its metaphorical significance of “bouncing back” from adversity; and a Middle Ages-meets-steampunk mechanical aesthetic.

Admittedly I only fully appreciated what was going on after having interviewed the filmmaker the morning after the screening. But my initial impression, wholly ignorant of the film’s precedents, was still one of “kick-ass wonder”. The Moon in the Hidden Woods shows a vibrant society squaring off against great evil, the staple of any great epic. While its different threads are pulled from a particular culture, Takahiro Umehara, as an outsider, revels in the opportunity to weave them into something completely new. The one caveat to my praise is that Moon very much has the feel of a children’s movie. That said, it’s a children’s movie head and shoulders above the competition.

You can also read our interview with director Takahiro Umehara.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…will delight you with all the cool visuals and small details, while making you wish the filmmakers had been as creative with their story as the visuals.”–Steve Kopian, Unseen Films (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Beulah Peters, Erick West, Daniel Long

PLOT: Having lost his father to the claws of the terrible “Lake Michigan Monster,” Captain Seafield assembles a crew of specialists to exact his revenge.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: This movie is very dumb, in a good way, and very derivative, in a good way. Tews creates a scratchy, black and white world à la Guy Maddin in a clever, mindless romp where every rule of narrative is bent as the story crescendos to a dizzying municipal-political climax.

COMMENTSIn the spirit of the movie, this is a DIY review. Feel free to cut and paste the sections below however suits your mood.

Disclaimer: In no way have I been remunerated for the views expressed herein. Fact is, they’d have to more than double the film’s budget to buy my good graces.

Good: There is a jokesy doppelgänger of Guy Maddin at work in Lake Michigan Monster. Ryland Tews captures the Canadian auteur’s aesthetic—grainy black and white, mythic proportions, and the idolization of a city (though not Winnipeg for this go-around)—and puts it to work for an episodic comedy that would seem ramshackle if it weren’t so charming and also somehow pinned to what just about passes as a story arc for the good Captain Seafielding.

Plot: Assembling a mercenary crew comprising a weapons expert, a N.A.V.Y. drop-out, and a “sonar individual”, Captain Seafielding (Ryland Tews) hopes to hunt and destroy the titular monster that he blames for the murder of his father. With half-baked schemes (à la “Nauty Lady” and other pun-driven titles), he fails again and again until he is abandoned by his hirelings and is forced to summon a ghost army (found, incidentally, in an Episcopal cathedral). After losing all his henchman, worldly and otherwise, he must complete his quest mano-a-beasto.

Weird: Lake Michigan Monster is merely 78 minutes long, but a whole world and mythology is haphazardly crammed into each and every nook. Seafielding begins each outing with a magical, animated map of the action, on which designations for each crew member zip around according to his mad whim. The fourth wall is battered to dust as Seafielding, in character, begins to dismantle the narrative shell that keeps the audience separate from his machinations; we become very much the accomplice in his silly work as the movie goes on. To boot, there are the kind of quips and asides that we’d expect more from popular television.

Opening or Closing: So what is it like to watch this movie? Unless you have some very creative film buddies, it’d be hard to get closer to the core of the crafting experience. Mind you, this isn’t just some dumb evolution of a movie into a movie about movies. This is just some dumb s̶e̶a̶ lake-faring yarn that feels like it’s being told to you live over a glass of bourbon, or whatever that type of whiskey it is you find in Scotland. But there is a gloriousness to its apparent idiocy. No real actors, no fabricated sets, but one heckuva a closing sea shanty await you in this wild and whimsical outing.

You can also listen to our interview with some of the gang responsible for Lake Michigan Monster.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tews and company have crafted something unique here, an absurdist fever-dream that looks (and sounds) like little else.” -Matt Wild, Milwaukee Record (contemporaneous)