Tag Archives: 2020

CAPSULE: “THE MIDNIGHT GOSPEL” (2020)

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CREATED BY: Pendleton Ward, Duncan Trussell

FEATURING: Voices of Duncan Trussell, Phil Hendrie, various guests

PLOT: Clancy lives by a run-down farm in a run-down house and uses a run-down multiverse simulator to find interviewees for his spacecast.

Still from The Midnight Gospel, Season 1, Ep. 1

COMMENTS: One of the first things you’ll notice when beginning Netflix’s new series The Midnight Gospel is that it is not of this Earth, at least not of a specific time and place. The landscapes, décor, and props evoke everything from ’50s sci-fi novels to hippie chic to ’90s CD-ROM games, with a color scheme that blasts through it all with as much brightness you can get away with while still being easy on the eyes. One of the second things you’ll notice is that the show’s host—and co-creator—has the voice of a “woke”-but-laid-back1 early 20-something hipster; this voice is, apparently, provided by a forty-six year old comedian. And that, dear reader, is the full extent of my research for this show.

The main focus of each episode is the conversation between Clancy Gilroy (Duncan Trussell) and his special guest for that adventure, but I’d like to talk first about The Midnight Gospel’s visual appeal. The drawings have a meditative quality. The line work is all soft; even the corners feel soft. While it never quite spills over into “organic”, the movement of characters (and despite this television show’s origins, there’s plenty going on on-screen) is somewhere between easy-going and fatalistic. I bring up that word, “fatalistic”, because more likely than not, Clancy and his guests will suffer through some sort of massacre or dismemberment (for example, the calm conversational tones of Dr. Drew Kinsky as the “little president” of an Earth doomed by a zombie apocalypse contrasts amusingly with the nonstop violence in the background; soft-looking violence, of course). Whether being gored by undead hordes, or traveling through a meat processing plant as the meat being processed, there’s a happy squish for the eye to go along with the philosophical/sociological discussion dominating the dialogue.

When you boil it down, The Midnight Gospel is a podcast between a somewhat enlightened, somewhat leftist fellow (I almost wrote “young man” from remembering his voice, but no: he’s forty-six) as he speaks with all manner of intellectuals about drugs, life, death, and so on. That isn’t to say that there’s a strong demarcation between the conversation and the visuals. During a discussion of drugs, “little president” is busy defending the White House against invading zombies. At the meat processing plant, a different guest has his eye removed and consumed by one of that world’s clown children, exclaiming, “That kid just took my fucking eye!”

If you aren’t interested in informed-but-meandering discussions, you will find this cartoon rather trying. If, however, you are looking for a little consciousness-expanding conversation paired with some casually-extreme outlandish visual back-drops, then you are in for a treat. I have already admitted that I’ve done virtually no background research for this; I’ll admit now that I’m only two episodes in—but that’s because I couldn’t wait to write this. I’ll be heading back to Netflix to view the rest right now…

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“These eight hallucinogenic explorations into life, love, death, and everything in between are unlike anything else on television. I promise you. One part podcast, one part Daliesque fantasy, this is a series that’s looking to rewire your brain and expand your mind.”–Umapagan Ampikaipakan, Goggler (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jim Carroll

FEATURING: Morgan Roberts, Ilsa Levine, Geraldo Davila, Donny Boaz, Lamar Usher, Jason Castro

PLOT: Muslim extremists use a time machine to go back to 33 A.D. to try to assassinate Jesus; with the encouragement of his Christian girlfriend, an agnostic genius tries to fix the time stream.

Still from Assassin 33 A.D. (2020)

COMMENTS: I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie; would have nailed it. But I am pretty sure it is impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie that involves terrorist strike teams with assault weapons going back to 1st century Judea to assassinate Jesus. Assassin 33 AD is Donnie Darko meets The Passion of the Christ done on the kind of budget usually reserved for an episode of “The 700 Club.”

Assassin33ad.com boasts that the script has “won more International Screenplay Awards than any know [sic] script in history.” Starting straight off with the line “I’m just struggling. I went from saving an embassy and killing terrorists to being head of security at a research lab,” delivered casually by a rugged man to his wife on a Sunday drive, you can see why. That’s the kind of expository introductory dialogue slick Hollywood movies are too afraid to put in for fear it might sound “clumsy.”

The wife who needs filling in on what her husband has been doing with his life is Heidi Montag, a former Playboy model and current aspiring Christian pop singer who, like much of the cast and crew, was drawn from a cable TV show called “Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars.” In another fine bit of screenwriting, Montag’s husband chuckles fondly, “That British accent!” This is necessary foreshadowing, because the accent will turn up as an important plot point late on, and without that bit of dialogue we’d have no way of knowing  that she spoke with a British accent. Assassin33ad.com reveals that a producer warned the director when he was planning to cast Montag that “Reality stars can’t act.”

Maybe all the praise for the screenplay comes from its nimble handling of the multiple timelines that infest the second half of the movie. I can’t opine on that, because I quickly lost track of how many time-clones there were running around, and which one were alive and which ones were dead, after the second or third time the hero (Ram Goldstein!) and/or villains leapt  backwards or forwards in time like chronological yo-yos. Personally, it seemed to me that they made up the rules of time travel on the fly:  somehow, even though he just invented time travel accidentally twenty four hours ago, Ram knows that there’s a lag between changing the past and overwriting the present that could take “minutes, possibly hours, maybe longer,” Continue reading CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

CAPSULE: TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT MOVIES OF ALL TIME, PART 2: HORROR AND SCI-FI (2020)

DIRECTED BY: Danny Wolf

FEATURING: , , Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollack

PLOT: This is part 2 of a three part documentary about cult films, focusing on horror and sci-fi featuring clips and interviews with critics and those associated with the films. (Volume 1 is reviewed here.)

Malcolm McDowell in Time Warp the Greatest Cult Movies of All Time, Vol 2 - Horror and Sci-Fi

COMMENTS: Joe Dante, John Waters, Kevin Pollack and Illeana Douglas host the documentary. Dante introduces each title, while his co-hosts add commentary between clips and interviews. At a running time of 1:23:22, each film is afforded a decent amount of coverage. Director Danny Wolf and his crew pull out all the stops on assembling a parade of entertaining and relevant interviewees. There are a handful of critics included, but most of the interviews are with the cast and crew of the films.

The always entertaining shares some great Evil Dead stories. Ken Foree discusses working on both Dawn of the Dead and The Devil’s Rejects. chats about Death Race 2000. If there was a competition for Queen of Cult I think Ms. Woronov, would have to be crowned. She also graces Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Eating Raoul, both of which will be covered in the documentary’s third part; and she appears in Night of the Comet, Terrorvision and Chopping Mall, any of which could easily make a list of cult horror films. Edwin Neal, who plays the hitchhiker in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, takes us on a tour of the old house, which is now the Grand Central Cafe. Director talks about Re-Animator (sadly, Gordon passed away in March of this year). Malcolm McDowell tells a funny story about meeting Gene Kelly. And there’s , , , archival interview footage of and ; the list goes on.

After watching this documentary I started a conversation on Twitter about cult film. I realized quickly that people had varying ideas on what exactly gives a film cult status. In my mind a cult film does not have mainstream appeal but, through word of mouth after a reasonable amount of time has passed, grows a small but ferociously dedicated audience. I don’t think that is the case any longer. Cult films have evolved simply due to the fact that everything is so easily accessible. The “reasonable amount of time” that must pass is no longer a factor. Home video wasn’t common until the early 1980s, so films remained in obscurity for years. Even with home video, there were films that were difficult or impossible to get. Social media has changed everything.

I don’t think any two people would create an identical list of their favorite cult films of all time; my own list would look quite different from this one. That said, there are two selections I must quibble over. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is without a doubt one of the greatest horror films ever made. It does buck all the rules of cultdom, though. It was successful on its release, was well-reviewed, and is probably one of the best known and most loved horror flicks of all time. Secondly, Human Centipede is the only film to make the cut that was not made in North America. Of all the amazing and unique horror films to come from other countries, they decided to include Human Centipede as one of the greatest cult horror films of all time! I actually liked the movie, but its inclusion here sincerely boggles my mind.

Still, overall this is a great list of films; I am particularly thrilled they included Liquid Sky. The absolute definition of a cult classic; a genuinely weird and one-of-a-kind flick. There is something to entertain everyone in this documentary, from the seasoned horror and sci-fi fan to the newcomer.

The complete list of titles featured:

Death Race 2000
Liquid Sky
Human Centipede
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
The Brother from Another Planet
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Re-Animator
Blade Runner
Night of the Living Dead
Dawn of the Dead
Evil Dead
The Devil’s Rejects
A Clockwork Orange (1971)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wolf also makes time for independent fare, surveying the strangeness and scrappiness of ‘The Brother from Another Planet’ and ‘Liquid Sky,’ with the latter title especially gonzo in terms of new wave immersion, limiting outside appreciation. ‘Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time Volume 2: Horror & Sci-Fi’ sustains the sugar rush of the previous endeavor, with Wolf once again providing a fun reminder of quirky and gruesome cinema achievements and the artists who brought them to life.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MURDER DEATH KOREATOWN (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: None listed

FEATURING: None listed

PLOT: An unemployed man becomes obsessed with a murder that happened in a nearby apartment complex, but his investigation turns paranoid as he imagines a wide-ranging conspiracy.

Still from Murder Death Koreatown (2020)

COMMENTS: Though taking its starting cue from a real-life murder, Murder Death Koreatown is, it’s safe to say, fictional, as you will doubtlessly decide for yourself by the time its deranged protagonist starts spouting theories about the Pastors, ghosts, and voices speaking to from the sewers. It’s like a re-edited version of one of those paranoid YouTube videos that leave you wondering whether the uploader is genuinely crazy or is just stringing you along for the lulz, or like Under the Silver Lake remade on a $100 budget in the style of The Blair Witch Project.

Our unemployed, over-stressed narrator begins by following (real-looking) blood splatters on his sidewalk, and then discovering that one of his neighbors murdered her husband in a neighboring apartment complex in L.A.’s Koreatown. He discovers some minor inconsistencies, and interviews some (real-looking) locals to see if they noticed anything unusual. As his investigation continues, he starts uncovering connections which aren’t really connections—and which sometimes don’t even rise to the level of coincidences—but which are completely obvious and convincing to the protagonist. We ought to be suspicious when we focuses the camera on the blinds in his apartment and marvels, “look at this weird light…” (we have no idea what he’s talking about, but it’s a hint that he takes significance from stuff we wouldn’t even notice). Also, unless you’re Dale Cooper, it’s never a good idea to admit evidence from your dreams into a murder investigation. It’s not really a spoiler to suggest that the movie is a believable study of one man’s descent into delusional paranoia.

Your enjoyment of Murder Death Koreatown will be linked to your tolerance for watching feature-length shot-on-cellphone vlogs. The movie is, by necessity, talky—there are no significant effects or action sequences. Unfortunately, the narrator’s voice isn’t compelling: he delivers most of his lines in a drab “woe is me” tone, and at one point his bleats of terror make him sound like a Muppet startled by a spider. On the plus side, the actor they found to play the shifty-eyed homeless vet in the alley is so convincing that you might believe he’s a real hobo, and that the plot was actually built around his schizophrenic ramblings. The effective horror soundtrack is another element that supersedes the budget; in fact, it’s so well-made that it at times undermines the film’s found footage credibility. Ironically, it’s too professional a touch for a movie that’s trying to make its amateurism into a selling point.

If you’re willing to overlook the budgetary issues, however, Murder Death Koreatown is a solid watch—and if you plot it on a dollars spent to entertainment value curve, it’s off the chart. It holds our interest for just over 70 minutes and does an exceptional job of viral marketing, which is a solid double for a microbudget feature. You can read some of the movie’s promotional gimmickry at the link embedded below.

For more along these lines, Graham Jones’ Fudge 44 (2006) has a similar low-budget, mock-vérité appeal.

K Anon / Murder Death Koreatown

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…in mystifying its own ending, Murder Death Koreatown leaves us, like the investigator, grasping for a transcendent truth that the film itself cannot sustain.”–Anton Bitel, Projected Figures (contemporaneous)