Death To Smoochy

Death To Smoochy

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Today’s feature is Danny DeVito’s twisted depiction of the cracked world of children’s entertainment: Death to Smoochy.

Death to Smoochy was written by Adam Resnick, who is best known for the movie Cabin Boy and his extensive writing work on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Larry Sanders Show, and Saturday Night Live.

Death to Smoochy was directed by noted actor Danny DeVito, who was also behind such films as War of the Roses, Matilda, Hoffa, and Throw Momma From The Train.

The cinematographer for the movie was Anastas Michos, who also shot Keeping the Faith and The Big Kahuna, and worked as a camera operator on such films as Quiz Show, Lean on Me, and Born on the Fourth of July.

The editor on Death to Smoochy was Jon Poll, who is known for cutting films like Captain America, Monkeybone, Cabin Boy, Meet the Parents, and Mystery, Alaska.

The team of producers behind the film included Andrew Lazar (American Sniper, Jonah Hex, Confessions of A Dangerous Mind), Peter Macgregor-Scott (The Jerk, Revenge of the Nerds, Batman & Robin, Under Siege), Doug Davison (The Grudge, The Departed), John Kreidman (Watchmen, The Smurfs 2, Zookeeper), and Joshua Levinson (Matilda, Jonah Hex, Gattaca).

The musical score for Death to Smoochy was composed by David Newman, who also scored such films as Galaxy Quest, The Mighty Ducks, Jingle All The Way, Ice Age, Tommy Boy, Norbit, The Spirit, Serenity, Heathers, War of the Roses, and Matilda, among many others.

The visual effects team for the movie was composed of Lincoln Kupchak (Red Planet, Blood Diamond), John Mesa (Army of Darkness, Darkman), Penny Mesa (Deep Blue Sea, Red Planet), William Mesa (976-EVIL, The Italian Job), Dan Novy (24, The Guardian), Jeffrey A. Okun (Suburban Commando, Shocker, Die Hard 2, Sphere), L. Elizabeth Powers (Son of the Mask, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daredevil), Liz Radley (Collateral, On Deadly Ground, Batman & Robin), Ken Stranahan (Red Planet, Deep Blue Sea, Son of the Mask), James Tittle (Suspect Zero, Red Eye, Dreamcatcher, Gigli, Stealth), and Jeffrey White (Holes, Red Planet).

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The special effects unit for Death to Smoochy included such names as Taku Dazai (Slither, Dracula 2000), Aaron Dinsmore (The Incredible Hulk, Dracula 2000), Walter Klassen (Jason X), David Kleinstein (Frequency, Boardwalk Empire), David Loveday (Blues Brothers 2000, X-Men, Lucky Number Slevin, 300), Jim McGillivary (Pompeii, Silent Hill), Laird McMurray (Crimson Peak, Pixels, Pacific Rim, Stuck, The Dead Zone), Jim Peacock (Saw V, Tommy Boy), John Poulter (Secret Window, Taking Lives, Stuck), David Reaume (Glitter, Chicago, Silent Hill, Kick-Ass, Devil), John Stifanich (The Substitute 2, Signs, Boardwalk Empire), and Stephen Wallace (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World).

The makeup effects team for the film included Marlene Aarons (Repo Men, Max Payne), Tim Mogg (Glitter, Death Wish V), Ve Neill (Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, Laserblast, Kingdom of the Spiders), Pipsan Ayotte (Pacific Rim, The Love Guru), and Selena Evans-Miller (Major Payne, Matinee, The Waterboy).

The deep cast of Death to Smoochy was made up of Robin Williams (Insomnia, Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo, The Birdcage, The Fisher King), Edward Norton (Fight Club, Primal Fear, The Illusionist, Rounders, Red Dragon), Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, L.A. Confidential, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Twins), Jon Stewart (The Faculty, The Daily Show), Pam Ferris (Matilda, Children of Men, The Raven), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Capote, Hamlet 2, The Soloist, Captain Phillips), and Harvey Fierstein (Independence Day), among others.

Reportedly, Jim Carrey turned down a role in Death To Smoochy in order to make the film The Majestic, which released in 2001.

Robin Williams earned a Golden Raspberry nomination for worst actor for his role of Rainbow Randolph in Death To Smoochy, but wound up losing out to Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker from Attack of the Clones.

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The budget for Death To Smoochy was reportedly $50 million, of which it made back less than $8.5 million theatrically. Needless to say, it was a massive financial flop.

At the time of its release, critics were really tough on the twisted dark comedy, earning it aggregate scores of 38% from MetaCritic and 42% from Rotten Tomatoes. In particular, Roger Ebert gave the movie a scathing review, which opened as follows:

“Only enormously talented people could have made “Death to Smoochy.” Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience. To make a film this awful, you have to have enormous ambition and confidence, and dream big dreams.”

That said, public perception towards the movie has softened over time, and it currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.4 alongside a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 66%.

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I personally have fond memories of watching this movie on the cable channel Comedy Central, where it played in numerous blocks over the years. This heavy replay time almost certainly helped win over much of its current cult following.

Another reason for the movie’s cult popularity is similarly tied to Comedy Central: the massive rise in popularity of Jon Stewart, who was only a couple of years into his run at The Daily Show when the film released. Throughout the show’s run, he would often reference his involvement with the movie as an example of his acting (in)experience, exposing it to new people with each passing mention.

Most of the criticism leveled against Death to Smoochy at the time of its release focused on its cynical and allegedly “mean-spirited” screenplay. Personally, I’ve never quite understood those complaints: the story is darkly comedic, but it isn’t “mean-spirited” towards any particular characters, outside of the deserving corporate flunkies and would-be murderers.

My biggest issue with the film, if you can call it that, is with the acting. Both Norton and Williams are beyond over-the-top in their portrayals, to the point that they both seem like caricatures more than humans, like the yin and yang of overacting. That said, the lack of identifiable humanity and excess of cheesy showmanship displayed oddly fits both of their characters well. As children’s entertainers, of course they would be off-putting, eccentric, and clown-like. I have to assume, because of the immense talent on all sides of the camera here, that this is what the team had in mind for the characters, and that they were portrayed as intended. Regardless, both men come off as difficult to relate to, which I imagine didn’t help the movie with general audiences.

The first thing I noticed upon re-watching Death to Smoochy is how deliberately shot and colorful it is: every sequence is meticulously planned for blocking and color, certainly more-so than you would expect from a comedic film like this. Part of this was undoubtedly DeVito’s vision for the film, but the commentary included on the DVD reveals that cinematographer Anastas Michos had more than a little bit of influence on each individual shot.

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Overall, this was niche movie made with a mass appeal budget. In general, dark comedies won’t fly with the movie-going masses, which was an error with the very inception of the picture. That said, the people with whom the movie resonates absolutely delight in it, and time has certainly shown favorably on the film, making it a bit of a cult classic.

If you like dark comedies or enjoy Danny DeVito’s other directorial efforts, then this is a must-see flick. The humor is very dark, which turned many away from it, but if you go in knowing what to expect, then you are far more likely to enjoy it for what it is.

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris

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Today’s feature is the concluding entry into the Heisei era Gamera Trilogy: 1999’s Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris was once again written by Kazunori Itô, who also penned the previous two movies (Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and Gamera 2: Attack of Legion) as well as the movie adaptation of Ghost in the Shell and .hack//SIGN.

The director for Gamera 3 was Shûsuke Kaneko, who also helmed the Death Note movie and Toho’s Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All Out Attack. This was his last work in the Gamera franchise after directing Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.

The cinematographer, Junichi Tozawa, likewise returned from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.

The editor for Gamera 3 was a newcomer to the franchise: Isao Tomita, who also cut Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.

The producing team for Gamera 3 included Naoki Sato (Gamera 2, One Missed Call, Three…Extremes), Yasuyoshi Tokuma (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), and Tsutomu Tsuchikawa (Dead or Alive, The City of Lost Souls).

The effects team for Gamera 3 included Makoto Kamiya (Godzilla vs. Biollante), Rikiya So (Godzilla: Final Wars), Shinji Higuchi (Gamera 2, Gamera, Attack on Titan), Mahiro Maeda (Blue Submarine No. 6, Mad Max: Fury Road, Porco Rosso, Gamera).

gamerairis2There has been one more Gamera movie created following the release of Revenge of Iris, though it is not regarded as part of the Heisei era trilogy: 2006’s Gamera The Brave. There are currently rumors that a new Gamera movie is being produced in the wake of the success of the American Godzilla, though specific details are sketchy.

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris was very well received among fans, and some regard it as the greatest non-Godzilla kaiju movie ever made. It currently holds a 7.4 rating on IMDb, alongside an impressive 91% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

A background aspect of the plot in Revenge of Iris is the return of a number of Gyaos, which were the principle adversaries in Guardian of the Universe. Iris, Gamera’s mysterious new adversary, is alluded to be a mutated subspecies of Gyaos, and retains some of the monster’s physical characteristics. The Showa era also brought back Gyaos occasionally to show how much stronger the new foes were in comparison to past threats, but their purpose in this movie is much different. Instead of acting as a display of how powerful the new enemy is, they exist to pose something of an ethical question: are the Gyaos or Gamera the greater threat in the grand scheme of things? If only one can be dealt with, which should be the priority to defeat?

Iris, the primary adversary in Gamera 3, is a curiously designed creature. The head and sharp angles still look like a Gyaos, but tentacle-like appendages add a new element to the creature. Personally, I think it looks a little too busy on paper, though it does look pretty cool on screen. The tentacles reminded me a bit of Biollante, a Heisei Godzilla villain, though I like the aesthetic of the water flora/alligator much better than the…whatever Iris is supposed to vaguely look like. The color scheme also reminded me of the far less interesting Godzilla villain Destroyah, which was a clear influence.

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Godzilla villain, Biollante
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Iris
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Godzilla villain, Destroyah

There is a notable scarcity of Gamera in Gamera 3, which lends an atmosphere of menace and mystery in the wake of the unclear ending to Attack of Legion. This fits well with the movie’s grounded approach to kaiju, emphasizing the collateral damage and ethical issues inherent to their presence. In particular, one scene shows Gamera apparently saving a child, but at the expense of countless other lives, which are brutally depicted being scorched in path of his fire breath.

I mentioned in my coverage of Attack of Legion that the effects look particularly good in that movie. Astoundingly, Revenge of Iris puts that preceding film to shame. The monsters look fantastic, and the building destruction miniatures and flame effects are shot and executed even better than they were previously, making the movie all the more brutal and visceral in accordance with the darker tone.

Amazingly, the human story (which is a historic weakness of kaiju movies) is pretty interesting here, and builds on principles and precedence established in the first two movies. There is a genuine sense of urgency, terror, and anger in their stories, and you can’t help but care about their struggle. This is also the only kaiju movie I can think of where I genuinely wanted the film to cut away from the monster action to get back to the humans, which is damn near heresy. Still, it works, and works quite well.

Overall, this is a movie that deserves its positive reputation. However, it does suffer a little bit from not being able to stand on its own. Realistically, the intertwined stories mean that to appreciate this movie, Guardian of the Universe and Attack of Legion are mandatory viewing for this film to have a full effect. That said, if you can commit to the whole trilogy, this movie is a fantastic conclusion, and a top-tier kaiju film. Fans of the genre owe it to themselves to watch through the entire trilogy, if only to appreciate the mastery that is shown in this conclusion.

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion

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Today’s movie marks the second entry into the Hesei era of Gamera: 1996’s Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion was written once again by Kazunori Itô, who also penned Ghost in the Shell, .hack//SIGN, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.

Likewise, director Shûsuke Kaneko (Death Note, Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All Out Attack) returns from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, and would stay with the franchise through Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.

The cinematography on Gamera 2 was provided solely by Junichi Tozawa, who shared shooting duties on Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. As with the director and writer, he would return for Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.

The editor for the film was once again Shizuo Arakawa, who cut Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, but would not return for the third film in the Heisei series.

The producing team for Gamera 2 included Yasuyoshi Tokuma (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), Tsutomu Tsuchikawa (Dead or Alive, The City of Lost Souls), and newcomer Naoki Sato (Gamera 3, One Missed Call, Three…Extremes).

The effects team for Gamera 2 included Shin’ichi Fushima (Godzilla Against Mechgodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus), Tomo’o Haraguchi (Gamera, Air Doll), Shinji Higuchi (Gamera, Gamera 3, Attack on Titan), Toshio Miike (Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Makoto Kamiya (Godzilla vs. Biollante), and Shin’ichi Wakasa (Godzilla 2000, Godzilla vs. Destroyah, Rebirth of Mothra).

gameralegion4The reception to Gamera 2: Attack of Legion managed to exceed the acclaim of the well-regarded previous movie: it currently holds an 84% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes alongside an IMDb rating of 7.3.

Legion is an interesting sort of villain, and provides a unique challenge for Gamera. Its parasitic nature reminded me a bit of one of the Showa Gamera villains: Jiger. However, Attack of Legion goes in a far less cartoon-y direction than Gamera vs. Jiger. The first fight between Gamera and Legion was particularly interesting because of the size difference between the monsters, but a mother entity is eventually introduced that is closer to Gamera’s weight class. I actually was a little disappointed in this, because the idea of a colony of small organisms acting as a villain seems way more interesting and unique to me. In any case, the central Legion monster still looks fantastic, combining insect-like attributed with a reptilian body and metallic trim. It looked to me like a monster on the same level with Toho’s Gigan: a monster that is decidedly other-worldly in appearance.

gameralegion2Something that I specifically noticed about Gamera 2 is that the effects look really good, particularly the pyrotechnics and miniatures. The classic style is retained, but none of the destruction comes off as silly: the way things are shot keep the carnage grounded and generally realistic.

Interestingly, Gamera is out of commission for a significant portion of the second act of Attack of Legion, which again echoes Gamera vs. Jiger. However, instead of a goofy anatomical adventure saving the day, Gamera’s human connection is sacrificed to wake him up from his coma, which ends the story on an ominous, downbeat note.

That said, the ending departure of Legion is a bit silly. Essentially, Gamera shoots a giant blast out of his chest with the help of…Earth energy? Something like that? Basically, the effect is like a spirit bomb from Dragonball, but is never explained further.

gameralegion3In spite of a few minor complaints, this is a pretty fun kaiju showcase, and manages to build and improve on the previous movie without losing any connections to the story. I wouldn’t recommend watching it without seeing Guardian of the Universe first, but I think it is definitely worth giving a watch.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe

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Today’s feature was the debut of the Hesei era of the famed kaiju franchise Gamera: 1995’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was written by Kazunori Itô, who is best known for Ghost in the Shell and .hack//SIGN. He would also return to write both of the following Gamera films.

The movie was directed by Shûsuke Kaneko, who also helmed the film adaptation of the popular anime Death Note as well as the Toho kaiju showcase Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All Out Attack. As with Ito, Kaneko returned for both of the subsequent Gamera movies.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe featured two cinematographers: Kenji Takama (Welcome Back Mr. McDonald, Death Note: The Last Name) and Junichi Tozawa, who would later shoot Gamera 2: Attack of Legion and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.

The editor for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was Shizuo Arakawa, who would also cut the sequel, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.

The producers for the film included Hiroyuki Kato (who has produced recent episode of the Pokemon television show), Yasuyoshi Tokuma (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), and Tsutomu Tsuchikawa, a frequent collaborator of Takashi Miike’s on such movies as Dead or Alive and The City of Lost Souls.

The effects team for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe included Hajime Matsumoto (The Grudge, Ringu), Mahiro Maeda (Mad Max: Fury Road, Blue Submarine No. 6), Tomo’o Haraguchi (Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Air Doll), Shinji Higuchi (Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Attack on Titan), Makoto Kamiya (Godzilla vs. Biollante), Toshio Miike (Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), and Shin’ichi Fushima (Godzilla Against Mechgodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus).

gameraguardian4The cast for the movie includes Ihara Tsuyoshi (13 Assassins, Letters From Iwo Jima), Shinobu Nakayama (Fist of Legend, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II), Ayako Fujitani (Man From Reno, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris), and Hirotarô Honda (Kamikaze Girls).

The antagonist monster of the film, Gyaos, was performed by a woman actor, which was reportedly the first time this was done in the history of kaiju movies.

gameraguardian5The reception to Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was generally positive: it currently holds a 6.9 rating IMDb alongside a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is plenty respectable for a franchise known for its historic low quality.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe stands in sharp contrast to the Showa era of the franchise, which I covered a while back. Whereas those movies were generally goofy and aimed at children, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe has a much more serious and dark tone, more in line with a typical monster or disaster movie. There is also the notable absence of children characters in the cast, which was a staple of the Showa era and the Gamera character.

I particularly appreciate that Gamera: Guardian of the Universe still uses the classic rubber suit monster effects, just updated for the times. If they had attempted to use mid-1990s CGI, this movie would be nearly unwatchable. Speaking of which, the team also made the solid decision to introduce both Gamera and his classic foe Gyaos in this movie. The original Gamera didn’t feature an antagonist, and is the weakest in the franchise from an action standpoint because of it (unlike the original Gojira, which was a true drama that didn’t need monster action to carry it).

Gyaos in this movie looks more like Toho’s Rodan more than I ever remember him looking before. The design used in the Showa era had a larger, more pronounced triangular head, whereas the Hesei update is toned down significantly with a head more reasonably proportional to the body. The result is a creature that looks very similar to the Heisei design of Rodan which debuted a handful of years before in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.

Gyaos design from Showa era
Gyaos design from Showa era
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Gyaos design from Heisei era
Rodan design from Heisei era
Rodan design from Heisei era

Overall, this is a really enjoyable kaiju movie. It isn’t revolutionary in any sense and doesn’t break any new ground for the genre, but is perfectly serviceable for what it is. For fans of big monster action, this is absolutely worth checking out. It still isn’t as good as the Heisei Godzilla flicks, but that shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise. The fact that a Gamera movie is honestly worth the time spent watching it is noteworthy enough.

Bargain Bin(ge): McKay Used Books (Chattanooga, TN)

Ah, McKay Used Books. I covered the Nashville location a while back, but this time my travels took me to the Chattanooga location of the immense media store.

mckay10The chain is very small, with only three locations throughout Tennessee. It is distantly related to the similarly-titled Edward McKay Used Books chain in North Carolina, though the connection is apparently tenuous and ancient at this point.

McKay is distinguished both by its immense size and low prices: all of the locations are two stories, and packed to the gills with used media of every fashion. The bargain section for DVDs even features massive laundry bins filled with movies on sale for less than $2, which is about as good as a deal is going to get.

mckay8 mckay9As always, I came away from McKay’s with a nice little haul of movies:

Death Race 2000

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Death Race 2000, for those not familiar with it, is one of the key Roger Corman classics. It includes an early appearance of Sylvester Stallone, David Carradine in top form, and some social commentary scattered amid the gory action. There was a remake in 2008 by Paul W.S. Anderson that wasn’t entirely terrible, but missed the oddball tone of the original. If you haven’t seen it, definitely give it a shot.

Fortress 2

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Fortress 2 is a sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Fortress, which I covered a while back. I don’t know anything specific about it, though apparently the premise is that the jail is in space this time. I can only hope that things careen into something resembling an episode of Superjail!

Kingdom of the Spiders

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This is another off-the-wall find. Kingdom of the Spiders is a little cult classic creature feature starring William Shatner just before Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I regard it as the middle ground between “young” Shatner and “old” Shatner, like the missing link in the evolution of Captain Kirk. Also, the movie features a boatload of live tarantulas acting as the monsters. No camera trickery or rubber suits here.

The Mangler Reborn

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At first, I assumed that this was the sequel to The Mangler, the infamous tale of a murderous laundry folding machine. Unfortunately, this is actually the third movie in the series, and rounds out the inexplicable Mangler trilogy. I may have to dig up a copy of Mangler 2 before I give this one a watch. I mean, what if I miss some important plot information?

Assault on Precinct 13

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I absolutely love this movie, and it has proven to be a surprisingly difficult DVD to dig up. This was regarded as the professional debut of John Carpenter, who wound up conquering the late 1970s and 1980s with highly-regarded cult movies like Halloween, They Live, Christine, Escape From New York, and The Thing. However, the shock of Assault On Precinct 13 is what launched him into notoriety. This movie is high tension action at its best, capturing the menace and claustrophobia of a modern siege situation like no other movie has. Also, the soundtrack is fucking awesome.

Pocket Ninjas

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Pocket Ninjas is regarded as one of Robert Z’Dar’s most terrible movies, and that is saying a lot for a guy who made an impressive career exclusively out of being in shit movies. I haven’t seen it, but I am expecting something nearly unwatchable if the IMDb rating of 1.5 is to be believed.

Jack Brooks Monster Slayer

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Jack Brooks Monster Slayer is a horror comedy that I know nothing about, but apparently Robert Englund shows up in it at some point. I could see this going in a lot of different directions in regards to quality, but I figured that it was worth the gamble.

Yor: The Hunter From The Future

Yor: The Hunter From The Future

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Today’s feature is a true cult classic sci-fi / fantasy b-movie: Yor: The Hunter From The Future.

The story behind Yor is a loose adaptation of a comic called Henga, El Cazador, which was originally created by the duo of Ray Collins and Juan Zanotto.

Yor was co-written and directed by Antonio Margheriti, a prolific creator of knockoff b-movies such as Cannibal Apocalypse, Horror Castle, Flesh For Frankenstein, Alien From The Deep, and Killer Fish. His co-writer on the screenplay was Robert Bailey, an experienced visual effects artist who has worked on films like Evilspeak, Blade Runner, and C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.

The cinematographer for Yor was Marcello Masciocchi, who also shot the films Boot Hill, All the Way Boys, Ace High, and Jungle Holocaust.

Yor featured two primary credited editors: Alberto Moriani (Zombie Holocaust, Zombi 3) and Giorgio Serrallonga (For A Few Dollars More, Turn The Other Cheek).

The special effects on Yor were provided by the low-budget team of director Antonio Margheriti, his daughter Antonella Margheriti, and his son Edoardo Margheriti (who would later serve as an assistant director on Hudson Hawk).

The makeup effects for Yor were provided by Mario Scutti, who is best known for working on David Lynch’s failed science fiction epic, Dune.

yor3The memorable music for Yor was provided by John Scott, who also composed music for films like Trog, Man on Fire, and King Kong Lives over his career.

The cast for Yor included low-level action star Reb Brown (Space Mutiny, Captain America (1979), Strike Commando, Howling II), Corinne Cléry (Moonraker), Carole André (Death in Venice, Dillinger is Dead), and Luciano Pigozzi (Blood and Black Lace, Two Women).

yor5The plot of Yor combines elements of science fiction and fantasy, particularly in regards to the setting. In the beginning of the film, it is assumed that Yor takes place in the distant past, but it is later revealed through Yor’s journeys that the world he lives in are ruins from a technologically advanced civilization. Unfortunately, the full title of the movie (Yor, The Hunter From The Future) completely spoils this twist out of the gate.

Yor wound up with three Golden Raspberry nominations: Reb Brown for Worst New Star, the theme song “Yor’s World” for Worst Song, and the score as a whole for Worst Musical Score. Despite not winning in any of those categories, Yor is listed in The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of “The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.”

Yor was not particularly well-received, but has held up through the years as a cult favorite bad movie. It currently hold a 4.1 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 17% (critics) and 50% (audiences).

Everything about Yor both feels and looks cheap, which gives the production a certain charm, not unlike many Corman flicks or similar Italian b-movies. While Reb Brown is always a hammy delight, he isn’t quite in Space Mutiny or Strike Commando form in Yor. In general, he is a cut and dry barbarian here, which is a slight disappointment. The biggest draw here are the goofy effects, which are hilariously incompetent. As mentioned earlier, the director elected to do the effects himself (with the help of his children) rather than hire a crew or bring in outside help, which reminds me of an old lawyer’s saying: “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” If you ask me, the same logic held true here for the effects work.

There are certainly some vivid highlights from this movie, but on the whole it is about as slow and dull as the Ator movies if you ask me, though the peaks arguably justify the tribulations of the valleys.

yor4Yor is a movie that has proven pretty contentious among bad movie fans. Some absolutely adore it, while plenty of others find it too boring to enjoy on the whole. Personally, I recommend at least giving it a shot, with the caveat that it is far from a good-bad slam dunk. If you go in with managed expectations, you’ll have a better time with it. At the very least, whether you want to watch the film or not, you absolutely must listen to the bizarre prog-rock theme song.

Bargain Bin(ge): Unclaimed Baggage / Nerdtopia (Scottsboro, AL)

Scottsboro, AL is approximately in the middle of nowhere. I’ve grown up with a family lake house nearby, so I’ve been going in and out of the small city for many years. However, I’ve never considered it much of a location for DVD hunting, so I never expected to cover it here on the blog.

One of the city’s few claims to fame (outside of racism) is Unclaimed Baggage: the mythical place where all lost luggage items from airlines eventually go to stay. As you might imagine, it has an interesting collection of media and electronics (as well as one of the creatures from Labyrinth, weirdly enough).

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However, the downside is that the store doesn’t exactly discriminate based on quality, so the selection is mostly special features discs and single discs from dvd sets. If you have the time to spend, you might find something decent in the muck. For example, I picked up an old Doctor Who dvd there for a couple of bucks once. However, on this particular round I didn’t have a lot of time to kill. That said, I still found a little something amidst the stacks:

The Kid Stays In The Picture

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This is an acclaimed documentary about Robert Evans, one of the key figures of the New Hollywood era. He had hands in movies like The Godfather, Chinatown, and Marathon Man, among many others. However, he is definitely a polarizing figure, and his interactions with Coppola on The Godfather are particularly legendary (depending on who you ask about them). I’ve read a bit about him in an assortment of books about the era, but I’ve never actually gotten around to this documentary. I’ve heard plenty of good things, so picking it up for a buck or two seemed more than worth it.

Elsewhere in Scottsboro, a new little store has popped up: Nerdtopia, located right on the town’s square.

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While it didn’t provide much of a selection for movies, it is certainly a spirited little eclectic store. It was filled with comics, trading cards, vintage toys, albums, tabletop games, video games, and even a little box of ancient pre-laserdiscs (!) that I didn’t even recognize in the corner. I considered picking up the Tron one just to act as a piece of wall art.

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I did wind up picking up a solid compilation of classic bad movies to give them some support, but this place is worth checking out in spite of the limited movie selection. These little nerd shops off the beaten trail especially need support from their local geeks and passers-through, so I recommend dropping by there if life ever lands you in Scottsboro, AL.

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Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

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Today’s feature is one of the most ludicrously violent action movies of all time: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.

Ricki-Oh is based on a popular manga series of the same name that was developed by illustrator Tetsuya Saruwatari and writer Masahiko Takajo in 1988. Aside from this infamous film adaptation, the series was also turned into an anime OVA in 1989.

Riki-Oh was directed by Ngai Choi Lam, who also provided the screenplay for the movie. He only has a handful of other credits to his name, the most notable of them being  the curiously-titled Erotic Ghost Story from 1987.

The cinematographer on Riki-Oh was Hoi-Man Mak, a camera operator who has worked on action films like Four Assassins and Flash Point.

Riki-Oh featured two primary credited editors: Peter Cheung (Enter The Dragon, Rumble In The Bronx, The Chinese Connection) and Chuen Tak Keung (Center Stage, Erotic Ghost Story).

The music for Riki-Oh was provided by Fei Lit Chan, who also composed scores for the martial arts film Dragon Inn and one of Ngai Choi Lam’s previous films, Erotic Ghost Story.

The producers of Riki-Oh included John Sirabella (Tokyo Gore Police, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Megalon) and Lam Chua (Armour of God, Crime Story, Erotic Ghost Story).

The makeup effects for Riki-Oh were done by Fung-Yin Cheng and Chi-Wai Cheung, the latter of whom also provided the special effects work for the movie.

The stunt coordinator for the film was Philip Kwok, an accomplished performer who has worked on films like Hard Boiled and the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies.

The cast for the Riki-Oh included Siu-Wong Fan (Ip Man, Ip Man 2, Kung Fu Killer) in the title role, Ka-Kui Ho (City of Fire, Prison on Fire), and Mei Sheng Fan (The Young Master, Magnificent Butcher).

The plot of Riki-Oh follows a seemingly super-powered martial artist as he navigates his way through prison life, picking fights with both the prisoners’ ruthless gangs and the corrupt administration along the way.

Riki-Oh is best remembered as on of the most ridiculously gory action movies ever made, in an attempt to imitate the original style of the manga source material. However, the effects don’t translate particularly realistically to a live-action scenario. Reportedly, so much fake blood was used in the finale sequence of Riki-Oh that it took days for the red tint to come out of Siu-Wong Fan’s skin.

Due to its over-the-top stylistic violence, Riki-Oh has a dedicated cult following among martial arts and action movie junkies. Currently, it holds an IMDb rating of 7.2, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 89% (critics) and 85% (audience).

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have any strong criticisms about this movie. The logical issues with the plot are hardly worth fretting over in the midst of the bizarre spectacle that unfolds over this movie’s run-time. The only major negative is the Warden’s aggravating man-child, but even that character is forgivable thanks to what the rest of the movie has to offer. This is a film that is best to just experience without any explanation or context, in order to truly appreciate just what it is.

The plot (which is nonsense) doesn’t matter, the background (which is sparse) doesn’t matter, and the characters (who primarily exist to be dismembered and exploded) certainly don’t matter. This film is a meticulous exercise in adapting manga to the live action screen, and it is accurate in that quest in spite of any reason or sense. If you aren’t squeamish, this is an action movie that is more than worth checking out, just to say that you have. Go in expecting blood and nonsense, and you will be gleefully satisfied.

Bargain Bin(ge): CD Warehouse (Marietta, GA)

Marietta, GA sits just Northwest of the Atlanta, GA beltline, just on the edge of the greater metropolitan area. It home to one of the few remaining CD Warehouse locations in the area, along with sister shops in Duluth and Roswell. I’ve been to a few different locations of the chain in Tennessee and North Carolina over the years, but they have been rapidly dying off in recent years as they have generally failed to adapt to the new landscape of the business.

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As far as quality goes, it has always been a crapshoot with CD Warehouses for me. Sometimes they would have terrible selections and awful prices, and other times they would have a wealth of off-the-wall flicks on sale. After wrapping up at DragonCon, I decided to drop by the Marietta, GA location on my way home to see what they might have laying around. (Side note: conventions like DragonCon are garbage for DVD hunting. You might find a bootleg of a rare video, but you are just as well-off hunting online for how much vendors will charge and how bad the quality will be. Unless you want the novelty of directly purchasing a movie from Troma, don’t buy movies at cons.)

ware15Lucky for me, this turned out to be a fantastic haul, and probably the best I have ever pulled out of a CD Warehouse.

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Death To Smoochy

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With the death of Robin Williams last year, I feel like people have been going back to give this movie another shot. Critics at the time panned it, but it has gained some cult acclaim over the years after running on Comedy Central through countless late night blocks. This may very well have been a nail in the coffin of Danny DeVito’s directing career, as he has since careened into the world of self-parody. However, I have always liked the twisted take on the competitive world of children’s entertainment, and personally regard it as on par with (or better than) DeVito’s other directorial works. That said, it has been a while, and I’ll be interested to see how it holds up now.

Robot Jox

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Until the Shout! Factory release of a Blu-Ray this summer, it was not particularly easy to come by a physical copy of Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox. Back when I reviewed it, I happened to come across the flick on YouTube, but I won’t deny that I desperately wanted a physical copy of this cult classic robot beat-em-up. Sure enough, I finally have myself a copy of the original DVD release! This is a movie that I can’t recommend highly enough, and it is nearly mandatory viewing for fans of good-bad movies. I might still pick up that blu-ray soon as well…

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe / Gamera 2: Attack of Legion / Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris

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This is a collection of the Hesei era Gamera movies, also known as the Gamera trilogy. I did a marathon of the hilarious Showa era Gamera movies last year, but I have been hearing that these Hesei flicks are actually pretty fantastic watches. Now that I have copies (on Blu-Ray no less), I’ll have to finally give them a watch.

Batman: The Movie

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We all know this movie. The feature-length spotlight on Adam West’s campy version of Batman is unforgettable, from the cast of villains to the giant bomb to the shark repellent bat spray. At the very least, this movie is a nostalgia trip of the highest order.

Wolfen

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This is arguably the most under-appreciated werewolf movie out there, and it is also a flick I have never had the chance to sink my teeth into. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, but had never come across a copy of it until I spotted it here.

Bad Influence

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James Spader and Rob Lowe are two guys that I just can’t help but like, regardless of the movie or television show they pop up in. David Koepp, the writer on this movie, has been responsible for everything from the Dolph Lundgren cult classic I Come In Peace to blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible, as well as the tragically underrated Nic Cage / Brian De Palma movie Snake Eyes. Director Curtis Hanson went on to helm flicks like L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile, so I have every reason to believe that this is going to be a movie that is worth my time. It made some money back when it released, but never got big enough to enter the public consciousness, which is probably why I have never heard much about it. The premise and casting has me curious though, so I’m eager to see what it has to offer.

Reign of Fire

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The career of Matthew McConaughey in the era before the McConaissance was a dark and strange place. Back in 2002, he starred alongside fellow future-stars Christian Bale and Gerard Butler in the bizarre dystopian fantasy film Reign of Fire. Some people remember this flick fondly, but critics and audiences at the time widely panned it. That said, reviews seem to have softened over the years, indicating that it may be time to give it another shot. I have’t watched it in roughly a decade, so I’m curious to see how it holds up.

Catch Me If You Can

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Catch Me If You Can is one of my favorite Steven Spielberg movies, if not my hands-down favorite. Really. I think it is John WIlliams’s best score (or at least in the running), one of both Leo’s and Hanks’s best performances, and is one of the best biopics out there. It blends suspense, comedy, drama, and style effortlessly, and is a rare movie that seemed to please audiences and critics alike. For whatever reason, it often gets shoved aside when discussing the career of Spielberg, which I think is unfair. The movie is one of the most well-balanced films in his filmograpy, which is made of up of a mixture of man-child indulgences (E.T., 1941, Hook), blockbuster fodder (Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds) and excessively heavy dramas (Amistad, Schindler’s List, Munich) with not a whole lot in the middle ground. Catch Me If You Can showcases every side of Spielberg: his flair for drama, his love of child-like wonder, his heart for adventure, and his ability to create a film with the widest possible appeal. The more I think about it, the more I look forward to re-watching this flick.

Creepshow III

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I know what you are thinking: “there was a Creepshow III?” As a matter of fact, there was! And no one in the entire universe gave half a damn, because it is absolute garbage. The movie released nearly 20 years after Creepshow 2 to absolutely no acclaim, and currently holds an abysmal score of 2.9 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 0% from critics and 11% from audiences. The only things I know about it are that it exists and that it is nearly unwatchable, so I’ll be giving it a go soon enough.

Raising Cain

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Brian De Palma has had a career filled with ups and downs. 1992’s Raising Cain released immediately following what was arguably his lowest low: 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. It also immediately preceded a bit of a De Palma revival with Carlito’s Way and Mission Impossible, along with a personal favorite of mine, 1998’s Snake Eyes. I don’t know anything about this particular flick, but I’m interested to see where it falls on the wide spectrum of Brian De Palma’s career. From another angle, I’m interested to see how John Lithgow is in this movie. Audiences today can certainly buy him as a menacing presence since his acclaimed role on the television series Dexter, but 1992 was a very long time ago for Lithgow’s career. People might have recognized him from The Twilight Zone movie, or Harry and The Hendersons, or perhaps from Footloose. At this point, he hadn’t even become recognizable for his role on 3rd Rock From The Sun. Given his next role after this was as a villain in a Sylvester Stallone action flick (Cliffhanger), I’m pretty sure this didn’t break any boundaries for him. I’m sure it’ll be an interesting watch for his performance all the same, because he is not a man who is known for phoning it in.  I mean, just watch the trailer for this movie. Somehow, I think Lithgow will keep things entertaining.

Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball

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Smokin’ Aces is, if you ask me, a damn fun crime movie. It isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but I’ve never not had a good time watching through it. Smokin Aces 2, on the other hand, is a very different story. I remember watching this on VOD when it first came out, and I’ve never gone back to it since. Honestly, I only remember brief flashes of it, and the feeling of unsurprising disappointment when all was said and done. Looking back at the cast list now, however, I’m curious to give it a re-watch. Ernie Hudson? Tom Berenger? Michael Parks? I recalled Vinnie Jones, but not the rest of these folks. Maybe there will be more to redeem it on this go-around?

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

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The combination of director Mike Hodges and leading man Clive Owen worked wonders in the cult classic, Croupier. A few years later, the tandem tried to re-bottle the lightning with I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, with a supporting cast that included Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Malcolm McDowell. Despite a few positive heralds, it generally didn’t fly with critics or audiences at the time, due primarily to its perceived dullness and a convoluted ending. I remember seeing this go in and out of my Netflix queue a few times over the years, but I never had a chance to sit down to watch it. I generally like Clive Owen’s work, particularly in crime dramas, and I am also a big fan of Malcolm McDowell when he isn’t phoning in a role for a paycheck. I’m interested to see if this slow-burner is deserving of its negative reputation.

DragonCon Independent Film Festival 2015

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This past weekend, I attended the massive nerd event DragonCon, which is now a cultural staple of Atlanta, GA. There is a lot to say about the conference as a whole, but I first want to spotlight the DragonCon Independent Film Festival, which I spent most of my conference time attending. Unfortunately, due to the crowds, it was impossible for me to see all of the films in the lineup. That said, here are the selections I did manage to catch, with my brief thoughts on each.

Younglings
Younglings is a Star Wars fan film that closed out the Fan Films block of the festival. It gives a snapshot of a distant future in which the series has branched out to multiple trilogies (unimaginable!), and the original fans are now well into their twilight years. It all takes place around a table in a diner, where a group of old friends come to blows regarding Star Wars fandom and the value of Boba Fett. It is worth checking out if you can get a hold of it.

Writer’s Cramp
I have a lot to say about Writer’s Cramp, one of the few feature-length entries in the festival. It has a solid enough concept behind it, but it is really only enough to fuel the content for a short film. The movie gets slow and repetitive quickly, as it relies almost exclusively on malapropisms and spoonerisms for humor, which gets hokey and tired very fast. Unfortunately for everyone, this movie clocks in at over 100 minutes. To make matters worse, there are unnecessary segments scattered throughout the run-time that really should have been cut, so the run time total was certainly not all essential viewing for the story. Most of the characters in the story lack any sense of realism or voice, particularly the child whose only characteristic is verbosity. That said, there is good costuming and style at times, and the acting is pretty solid given what they were working with.  Judging from the information offered by the director/writer/editor/producer/etc (?) at the festival, this appears to be a case where people were ousted from the production quicker than in a George R. R. Martin work. Apparently an editor quit, the initial director was dismissed, and the writer took on both roles rather than fill them in with someone else. The result is something that reeks of creative control without reasonable checks: a one-trick pony feature that runs far too long on a premise that would have suited a short film at best, and had a creative force behind it that was never forced to kill her darlings.

Victim
Victim takes place entirely in an interrogation room, where two cops are interviewing a woman who was found at the scene of a brutal and mysterious decapitation. Overall, it is an ok flick. It suffers from being a bit too predictable and having a really terrible anticlimax, thought (a cringe-y one-liner that doesn’t land).

A Tricky Treat
A Tricky Treat is simple, gory, and has just the right amount of humor involved to make it work. To say anything more about it would serve to spoil the twist (which is predictable, but worth seeing). I’ll just say that it makes for a classic Halloween tale.

SuperBob
SuperBob was one of the few feature-length entries in the festival, and the only one I saw that I liked. It is an interesting film that tackles the serious ethical implications of super-heroism while also staying a romantic comedy throughout. Catherine Tate is solid in her supporting role, and was far less grating and obnoxious than I was used to. There was also good casting for the lead role: a guy who at once strikes as a wholesome every-man, but is also nondescript enough to be your boring neighbor. He also deals with a wide range of emotions throughout the story, as it twists from serious drama to dark comedy to romance at the drop of a dime. Typically that would be an issue for me, but this flick manages to blend political satire, romance, and dry humor in a way that builds some really identifiable characters in the chaos of it all, and you see real growth in them as it moves along. The biggest flaw lies in the documentary perspective of the film, which goes in and out without consistency. However, it wasn’t extremely distracting for me. The movie is a long way from being Big Man Japan or Man Bites Dog, but it is more than worth giving a shot. If you want a more approachable fictional documentary along the lines of those two acclaimed movies with a welcome injection of dry British humor, then seek it out once it is released.

Tenspotting
Tenspotting is kind of an unbearable fan film, even for a Doctor Who fan. The plot in summary is that an obsessive and elitist fan is seeking out an equally dedicated loyalist at a Doctor Who convention, and has unwavering standards for knowledge of the franchise. She eventually learns that there is more to life than Doctor Who minutia, but the fact that was a necessary lesson for her should point out a pretty serious flaw: you simply can’t identify with her, let alone like her.

Sharkasaurus
Sharkasaurus feels like any given movie in The Asylum’s filmography, but boiled down as far as it could go. There is a bit of a culture war element to it between science and religion, but nobody wins in the end (except for the Sharkasaurus, of course).

Slut
Slut is a serial killer flick with a solid, identifiable heroine. She has a curious charm in her awkwardness, which reminded me a little of Carrie, though this short goes in a very different direction. There is definitely a message here about the skewed sexual ethics of horror movies which is pretty fantastic, and something that the genre deserves to be put to task for. The film holds on to an odd sense of humor throughout, despite the serious suspense and dark tone on the whole.

Prelude to Axanar
Holy cow, this was awesome. Apparently this movie is a pretty big deal, and raised over half a million dollars over the course of an IndieGoGo campaign. Word is that they are working on a full-length version of this short, which I am now eagerly awaiting. Essentially, this is a historical documentary about an event from the Star Trek universe that is entirely fictitious. The re-enactments are fantastic, the acting and cinematography of the interviews are stellar, and the whole film has an incredibly professional appearance. This one is available on YouTube, and is absolutely worth checking out.

Return of the Zombie Lawyer Commercials
Return of the Zombie Lawyer Commercials is exactly what it sounds like. It is what it is, and that isn’t a bad thing. It was clearly a back yard production, but the concept is really fun and there are some solid laughs to be had from it.

Postpartum
Creepy acting made this one stand out a lot for me. A woman loses her mind after a failed pregnancy, believing her child to be alive. This leads her to kill anyone who enters her home who would challenge her delusion, which makes for quite a creepy collection of skeletons in her closet after a while.

Kragos the Dishonored
I get what they were trying to do with this silent Star Trek fan film, but it just didn’t work at all if you ask me. The story is very poorly conveyed (even for a silent flick), and I don’t think the appeal extends much outside of Trek fandom. It stands in pretty sharp contrast next to the other Trek fan film in the fest (Axanar, which I mentioned previously).

Knock, Knock…
This is one of the few shorts in the festival that I had seen before. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about it, but it is certainly a good short, just perhaps not as memorable as some of the others in this particular lineup. I do recommend showing this to any young children that you want to terrify forever.

Invaders
Invaders is a funny flick with a lot of gore and some twistedly inspired cinematography. It is very brief, but manages to have some great banter and effects over its short run time. It is also one of the only flicks I recall from the festival that hilariously runs through its own credits.

I Dare You
I wish I had more positive things to say about this movie. The production design looked pretty ok? The zombie makeup is…adequate? At the end of the day, I Dare You looks and feels like a Hollywood-generic zombie movie, but shorter and without the money. Before I saw the movie, I attended a panel that featured the director of this film, which sent me some red flags before going into it. First off, he said that the most influential dystopian film on him and his work was Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil. That film isn’t totally without value, but that is hardly the future vision of Brazil, or Minority Report, or Children of Men, or Blade Runner, or A Clockwork Orange, or just about any other non-generic zombie movie in the entire genre of dystopian films. Even Repo: The Genetic Opera has a more interesting and well-fleshed vision of a dystopian future than Resident Evil. The second thing that he said on the panel that bugged me is that he specifically noted that he didn’t think about any social meaning for his work when he was creating it. Dystopian fiction, to be frank, requires some social criticism to even be watchable. The idea is to take a current social ill and exaggerate it over time to point out what it could ultimately do to society. For example, overreach of law enforcement in Minority Report, Corporatization in RoboCop, censorship and anti-intellectualism in Fahrenheit 451, and the unreasonable reign of bureaucracy in Brazil. Even I Dare You sort of says something about unethical scientific experimentation, though that seems to have been something of an accident. In any case, the twist is way too predictable in this movie, and it feels in totality like a collage of previous works that has been lightly reheated and labelled as something new, like a hot dog made from butcher scraps.

Grave Shivers
Grave Shivers is a short film that functions as a compilation of even shorter micro-films that are all pretty great. The highlight of the bunch is probably the Satanic Girl Scout troop, but all three of the shorts are entertaining. They are worth giving a watch, and the whole thing is available to check out on Vimeo.

Evercare
Evercare is a horror-comedy psuedo-documentary that is absolutely made by the performance of the lead character: a home care nurse who has adapted her skills to the world following a zombie apocalypse. As she explains in the introduction, the old folks weren’t able to make it through the incident (effectively eliminating her job), but that many families had loved ones who were turned into zombies. She discovered that the needs of zombies were similar to those of the elderly, and started a program for in-house zombie care. The setup is unique, the acting is great, and the jokes are consistently funny, making this a short that is more than worth checking out.

Dread
Dread has a good concept behind it (a child haunted by a mysterious spectre), but the style just didn’t work for me. It looked like a J-horror in many ways, which I have never really been on board with personally. Also, the title doesn’t really match with the content, and feels a bit tacked-on for dramatic effect.

El Mano vs. Japanese Zombie
Even seen the classic short Bambi vs. Godzilla? Same thing, but with an El Santo analog.

Downstairs
Downstairs is a rare horror-comedy where the comedy honestly takes a back seat to the horror elements, but the synthesis works great on the whole. The movie displays top notch timing for both the humor and the scares (which are hard things to balance). I did think it suffered from a bit of an anticlimax, but the ride was definitely fun.

Directors on Directing
Directors on Directing is as hilarious as it is simple. The movie exists to poke at self-aggrandizing film-makers in a spectacular, explosive, and gory fashion, and it nails that biting tone perfectly. The setup is that of a fake documentary featuring directors talking about “the power of film-making,” which seems clear enough at first, until it is revealed that the “power” is the ability to cause dramatic cranial explosions.

Devil Makes Work
This was a visually striking film for sure, but there isn’t a whole lot to say about Devil Makes Work when it comes down to it. The acting is solid and the images are creatively synthesized, but I had a hard time remembering anything about this short until I watched the trailer. It just failed to stick with me at all, which probably says something about the film as a whole. Apparently I’m not alone in regards to those feelings, so I’ll just post the following from MJ Simpson’s blog post on the film, which says everything I could and more:

[Devil Makes Work] is a great showcase for the director and, frankly, if I was looking for someone to direct a big budget music video, I’d be knocking on his door. We can see that Soulsby has a very strong visual sense, that he has a masterful camera eye, that he has a strong worth ethic and that he has the organisational skills to lead a team of a hundred people and craft something amazing.

A feature film is more than a succession of stylish images…There is certainly a trend in Hollywood to make awful, empty movies that are rammed to the gills with vast amounts of special effects: all style and no substance, all sizzle and no sausage. Films that jump from one set piece explosion or alien spaceship or car chase to the next without any concern for making sense or appealing to anything but the most visceral emotions…Films which cost obscene amounts of money and, let’s face it, sometimes make obscene amounts of money back. Maybe that’s the gig that Guy Soulsby is pitching for here.

But films – good films – are about stories. And characters. And relationships. Devil Makes Work is a beautifully shot and edited sequence of vignettes but it’s not a narrative piece.

Dead Hearts
Dead Hearts is a well-shot, cute, and excellently-narrated dark romantic comedy: one of the finest entries into that sub-genre that I have seen. I was also shocked at how good the fight sequences are, and how well the visual design of the whole production comes off. It genuinely looks and feels like a cracked storybook, which is impressive to say the least. This might have been my favorite of the whole festival, which is not something I expected going into it.

The Case Of Evil
The Case of Evil is a sort of follow-up on the classic Robert Johnson tale. The film has a traditional, Twilight Zone-esque tone and look to it, which I really appreciated. I’m a little surprised how rare it is to see that nowadays, as there is such a long history to horror shorts with that appearance. In any case, it is somewhat predictable, but builds tension pretty well none-the-less.

The Bloodline
There were certainly good things stylistically about The Bloodline, but the Sin City / graphic novel look has just been done too much at this point, and didn’t really work here. The story also proved a little too predictable for my taste, and the writing and acting left a lot to be desired out of this one.

Bad Guy #2
Bad Guy #2 is a gory skewering of an old action movie trope: the volatile hierarchy of fictitious criminal organizations. The eponymous character takes his place just below “The Kingpin” and “The Right Hand Man,” but just above “Bad Guy #3.” His newly appointed position, however, is famously the first to be killed off when things go awry. This flick is definitely fun and filled with impressive effects, and is one of the films I most want to watch again out of the shorts lineup.

The Amazing Rondini
The Amazing Rondini is an entertaining spin on a “deal with the devil” story. A failing magician is recruited by a man who appears to be the Devil to execute a number of wayward souls in exchange for otherworldly magical powers. To the demon’s surprise, the magician is totally down with the idea, and proves to be a pretty efficient killer after working the kinks out.

600$
600$ is fantastic, and was undoubtedly one of my favorites of the festival. It had a number of good twists as the truth behind the plot is slowly revealed through flashbacks, and is funny in a broken sort of way. The story follows a hitman who has to change professions after the market for hired assassins drops out. His new job proves to be similar to his old: he gets paid to usher people into the next world, but this time via well-plotted assisted suicides.