Cult

The Cult Club: Tromeo and Juliet (1996)

Feb 13 // Hubert Vigilla
Narrated by Lemmy from Motörhead in the first of his Troma cameos, Tromeo and Juliet follows Romeo and Juliet semi-closely. The Ques and the Capulets made low-budget skin flicks together, but their partnership ended poorly. Our star-crossed lovers (Will Keenan and Jane Jensen) live in Manhattan, though it looks more like Long Island City and Brooklyn since the Manhattan skyline figures in the background of many shots. Schlock ensues. Before going to work for Troma, Gunn received a creative writing MFA from Columbia. He purportedly tried to write Tromeo and Juliet in iambic pentameter before giving up, which is just the sort of unnecessary yet amusing formal constraint that an MFA student would attempt. There's a smattering of actual Shakespeare in the film, and used sparingly it's oddly effective. The meet-cute between our heroes culminates in a touching recitation of the "holy palmer's kiss" exchange. The couple spins on a Lazy Susan in front of a chintzy backdrop of stars, and the camera rotates in space, and for little money and textual faithfulness, Tromeo and Juliet captures the vertiginous joys of love at first sight. Ample bad taste is used to reconfigure much of the familiar story. The balcony scene takes place in a black box sex dungeon that Juliet's father has used to punish his little girl since childhood. Instead of biting thumbs, they flip birds. Instead of dueling with rapiers, one guy has a tomahawk with Hitler's face on it. The apothecary's drugs work differently--less like death, more like The Toxic Avenger. Bawdy puns are placed throughout, and also classy fart sounds and sophisticated boings. In Act V, the attempt at Shakespearian verse sounds more like Dr. Seuss. And there's loads of sexual repression in Juliet's bad dreams, which features a bizarre use of popcorn that recalls Troll 2. [embed]218947:42221:0[/embed] I noticed that Tromeo and Juliet hits some of the same notes as Gunn's later film Super. As Tromeo spends a lonely night looking at pornographic CD-ROMs, he cries as he climaxes over a fantasy of domestic bliss, repeating "I love you" as he hyperventilates. Later in the film, Juliet is so taken with her passion for Tromeo that she dials a phone sex line, her operator played by the morbidly obese and dispassionate Michael Herz. Herz sends her into ecstasy while he, bored and possibly hungry, eyes a Famiglia pizza box on his desk. That ugly yet honest desperation is all over the place in Super, with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page as two psychotic and lonesome goofballs looking for approval and acceptance, sublimating their desire through grim vigilante justice. Super might be the most enjoyable Troma-esque movie in the last decade or so. Tromeo and Juliet could technically be counted as Gunn's first work as a director. According to an interview on Gunn's official website (not updated since December 2012), he associate directed the film while Troma's leader Lloyd Kaufman was the credited director. In an odd inversion of job duties, Kaufman handled the camera and the extras while Gunn got to work closely with the actors and supervise sets and special effects. If Gunn's fingerprints are on the performances like the screenplay, he gets a good amount for what he had, which was very little. Both Jensen and Keenan are fine as leads, Keenan especially since he has such a strange squirrely look to him. The best performance, however, is William Beckwith as Cappy Capulet. He vamps around, devouring scenery, shooting stuff with his crossbow, and he plays his role like Robin Williams on crack trying to be Shakespearian. Beckwith was a "real actor" (i.e., SAG), so he worked on Tromeo and Juliet under a pseudonym in order to get around union rules. Comparing Tromeo and Juliet to later Troma films like Terror Firmer and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, there seems to be a shift in overall tone. Given, I haven't seen Terror Firmer or Poultrygeist in a long while so I may be off on this, but Tromeo has the attitude of a snotty, sex-starved 15-year-old boy while the Troma movies that followed have the creepy demeanor of a dirty old man. That tension might be present in Tromeo, with the younger Gunn's writing merging with but ultimately succumbing to the sensibilities of Kaufman. Tromeo doesn't gross out or indulge in T & A as much as later Troma entries either, though some of the sex scenes run a bit long, and in my mind I picture some obnoxious 15-year-old boy getting uncomfortable while watching this on VHS--the maturing moment when something that was once hot becomes suddenly uncomfortable. At least the scenes are tasteful for Troma, for what that's worth. I tend to come back to the idea of misfit love stories since those are the best kinds of romances and the most meaningful. Rather than having two lovely people just like everyone else, the misfit romances have two oddballs against the world. That sense of opposition is obvious here in Tromeo and Juliet (even in the snotty and youthful demeanor it projects), though maybe it's also what's at play in Super and Guardians of the Galaxy. These are all misfit movies, with misfit relationships, and misfit characters, and all of them, in their own ways, are shown in opposition to the world that doesn't get them. Troma is, even still despite a sense of decline, a misfit company, and Gunn has remained faithful to Kaufman even now, giving the man who gave him his start cameos in his own films. Maybe the path from Tromeo to Guardians isn't so unlikely after all. Who better to make a movie about misfits than someone who loves misfits so much? [embed]218947:42219:0[/embed] Next Month... Am I the meanest? Sho'nuff! Am I the prettiest? Sho'nuff! Am I the baddest mofo low down around this town? Sho'nuff! The Last Dragon (1985) turns 30. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998) The Warriors (1979) Funky Forest: First Contact (2005)
The Cult Club photo
Shall I compare thee to a penis monster? Thou art more lovely and covered in less slime.
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

Flixgiving: Five Movies Liz Is Thankful For

Nov 24 // Liz Rugg
Persepolis Persepolis is a movie I'm truly thankful for. Not only is Marjane Satrapi's masterpiece a gorgeously animated film, but more importantly I'm thankful for the story it tells. Persepolis is a film adaptation of Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novels of the same name, and it tells her story of growing up as a young girl in a turbulent, change-filled time in Iran. Persepolis brings an incredible amount of humor, sensitivity and humanity to events and settings often misunderstood or misrepresented in Western media. I'm also incredibly thankful that Persepolis garnered the attention that it did when it debuted in 2007, it was even nominated for an Oscar! (It lost to Ratatouille, but that's a whole 'nother rant altogether.) That an animated film about and by an Iranian woman that tells such an important story was placed in the epicenter of American and Hollywood culture is wonderful, and to me, worth being thankful for. Princess Mononoke Princess Mononoke is one of those films I've grown up with. I remember watching it when I was a little kid after my parents rented it from Blockbuster thinking it was appropriate for children because it was an animated movie. Makes sense, right? Well, let's just say the first 5 minutes of this movie still scares the sh#t out of me to this day. I grew up loving and wanting to be San, the wolf girl, the Monster Princess - with her fierce attitude, toughness, oneness with the natural world and her good heart. Princess Mononoke was the first Studio Ghibli movie I remember caring about, and I'm thankful that it exists in this world. Not only because of the personal affection I have for it, but for its impactful story about conservation and peaceful coexistence. Its allegories are even still relevant today as our industrial societies begin to take things like climate change seriously. 101 Dalmatians Speaking of nostalgic musing, my favorite movie when I was a little girl was 101 Dalmatians. Yes, more so than any princess movie,  adventure movie, anything - my favorite was the one with the dogs. In retrospect I'm really thankful 101 Dalmatians came out when I was little because it allowed me to identify with and care about animals, dogs specifically, instead of other things. It gave me an option that wasn't gender-based, and had nothing to do with the pitfalls of being a princess. Whether this had a direct impact on my subsequent traditional gender-norm aversive adolescence is maybe a bit of a stretch, but it almost certainly informed it to some extent, if only subconsciously. I watched both the animated and live-action 101 Dalmatians I don't know how many times growing up, and now as an adult (Who even gets to work with animals full-time, everyday! Little me would be so proud!) I'm thankful that I did. La Jetée  I'm not just thankful that La Jetée exists, I'm also thankful that I watched it when I did. I watched it in a film class in my first year at art school, and I instantly fell in love with it. La Jetée was the first avant-garde film that I truly cared about, and I think it was also the first to really challenge and expand my idea of what "cinema" was and could be. La Jetée is a film, but it is presented almost entirely through a series of still images with narration, voice acting, music and sounds played over. It exists as an experience through time, like any other film, yet it is actually a parade of meticulously constructed moments. This leaves space for your mind to connect those moments; to move the actress' hand, the actor's feet. Every time I watch the scene in the natural history museum I think the implied taxidermy animals are moving too. La Jetée was one of the first films I remember feeling connected to and desiring to explore and understand on a deep level, and for that I'll always be thankful. Riki-Oh The Story of Ricky And now for a total tonal record scratch! Riki-Oh The Story of Ricky is possibly my favorite movie. Set in the year 2001, the titular character (our hero) Ricky gets incarcerated for manslaughter in a privatized and corrupt prison. The movie just spirals out of control from there. I've written before about Riki-Oh and its well-deserved cult status, and it's just a movie I'm so so so thankful for. It's always incredibly fun for me to watch -- with its mind-blowingly bad effects, god-awful English dub, nonsensical and constantly surprising storyline -- everything about it is just spectacularly bad. Riki-Oh The Story of Ricky is a hot pile of garbage. And I absolutely adore it. I'm incredibly thankful for all the uninhibited joy it's given me over the years. So that's it! Five movies I'm thankful for, for wildly different reasons. I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving and watch some movies together.
Liz's Flixgiving photo

It's Flixgiving! The Flixist staff has gathered together around the cool glow of the TV to share movies that we're thankful for; ones that have impacted our lives, ones that we feel are important, and ones that we just love. ...

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Check it out: new poster art company FAMP Art to release City of God posters


Aug 20
// Liz Rugg
Perhaps riding on Mondo's coattails, a new poster company based out of New York will be debuting next month. FAMP Art claims it wants to "bridge the gap between pop culture art and art-house cinema, focusing on films that don...
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A very deserved sequel.
If you haven't seen 2007's Trick r' Treat, you should remedy that immediately. It's one of the best slasher films, nay horror films in recent memory. It's an anthology of stories akin to classics like Creepshow (with com...

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Art Book: Crazy 4 Cult: Cult Movie Art 2


Crazy Harder
Oct 22
// Liz Rugg
Over the past few years,  no other name in the art world has become quite as synonymous with excellent popular culture art as Los Angeles' Gallery 1988 and their annual show, Crazy 4 Cult. The show encompasses virtuall...

An interview with Jensen Karp of Gallery 1988

Oct 22 // Liz Rugg
-Are there any artists out there that you'd really like to work with that you haven't yet? I think throughout the last ten years, everybody we love has stopped by at least once, but there are tons of artists we wish we worked with more. For example, artists like Martin Witfooth, Josh Keyes, Travis Lampe & Andrew Hem have shown with us only a few times each in large group shows, but they are artists we love immensely. In a perfect world, they do a ton more with us, but we're also thrilled for their success no matter where it is. -What is favorite cult movie tribute art to see? Mine personally is anything involving my favorite movie ever, which is The Burbs, the Tom Hanks / Joe Dante movie from the 80's. It's happened a few times, sometimes I think just because the artist knows what it means to me, so I become very excited and instantly buy the work. -Also, what is favorite cult movie(s)? Many of my answers throughout a day are "The Burbs" - so here it is again. -How about your favorite cult movie experience?- Watching something in a theater, seeing something for the first time, etc About two or three ago I was lucky enough to go to screening of Birdemic at the Silent Movie Theater / Cinefamily here in Los Angeles. I had only heard whispers that the movie had to be seen to be believed, and boy were they right. You just can't believe it's a movie that's ever been made. And to see it with a packed house, and with the stars and director, was an unforgettable experience. I would never suggest someone watch it at home on DVD by themselves, cause that sounds like torture, but in a theater with a group, it was really, really fun. -What inspired the Crazy 4 Cult show to be entirely focused on cult movies? I went to USC for filmic writing and movies have always been my passion. I basically try and see everything - and I gravitate towards films that may not be commercially accepted. As a child, if the VHS box said directed by David Lynch, or even the Coen Bros at the time, I couldn't watch it fast enough. A lot of people say that because we don't involve the obscure Midnight B Movies that we aren't doing "cult" right, but these movies are the modern day cult films. The movies that have garnered audiences outside of its original intention, or ones that became popular too late. Also, it's our place so we can make the rules! But I knew how bad I wanted art inspired by Repo Man, Office Space and Willy Wonka, so I knew it had an audience. We just had to try it. -Does Gallery 1988 have a particular definition for what is or is not considered "cult"? Or is it more so determined by the work you find artists making? We have a list that we send out every year. We're not extremely strict about it, but if someone wants to work outside of the list, they have to let us know. Last year, someone sent us a Dark Knight piece and there was genuinely no way we could figure out how that's cult. So it didn't make the show. We just say it needs to have a fan base outside of the original audience, almost a second life or new cultural definition in society. Also if a movie wasn't popular on first release, then later found that fan base, that works. But based on the first definition, Goonies IS a cult film, because now kids are buying shirts at Hot Topic with the Goonies logo, and they are definitely not the audience originally intended 20 years ago. It has a whole new life. And second definition helps movies like Big Lebowski or The Room. Hopefully that helps explain, but also we're pretty open to hearing other opinions. -How has the critical and/or cultural response to Crazy 4 Cult and Gallery 1988 changed over the years? When we first opened 10 years ago, we were considered the stepchild of LA art. One gallery that was basically the alternative tent pole at the time said we were "just group shows and themes." People assumed we'd be gone in a year. But we stayed true to pop culture and what we thought people wanted to see. And within maybe 3 years people realized we were onto something. And once companies started hiring us for marketing, that was when we knew our original goal had actually been achieved. And now the concept that was once ignored by the art scene, is mimicked in every large city. We're always one to have new business ideas, so we see the copycats and wonder how they feel great about themselves, but in reality to know our small idea actually worked - is a pretty great feeling. -Do you feel that choosing the particular theme, or direction, of only focusing on pop culture related art has limited Gallery 1988 as a gallery? Sure. In another perfect world we get to take solo show chances outside of pop culture (which we did up until about 3 years ago), and try to open up our buyer's portfolio, but we also like paying our rent. And we have a theory that people go certain places for certain things. There's a reason McDonald's has never went national with pizza. People know that G1988 is the place to go to for pop culture art, and we're happy to play that role. -Can you talk about any plans for upcoming shows for Gallery 1988? Well, we will be back in NY for the 7th annual Crazy 4 Cult show in December, which we are thrilled about. It's our second year back East with the exhibit and it'll be a ton of fun. We also have some incredible shows lines up for next year, and will be in charge of a milestone anniversary next year. So, it will be business as usual here for sure. ---------- Check back later today for a look at Gallery 1988's new cult movie art book - Crazy 4 Cult: Cult Movie Art 2!
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If you know about pop culture art, then you know Jensen Karp. Co-owner, co-curator and co-founder of the Los Angeles based Gallery 1988, Karp and the other half of G1988, Katie Cromwell, have spent the last (almost) decade cr...

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NYC: See Vampire's Kiss w/ Nicolas Cage free on 9/20


A! B! C! D! E! F! G! H! I! J! K! L! M! N! O! P! Q! R! S! T! U! V! W! X! Y! Z!
Sep 16
// Hubert Vigilla
There are many reasons to love Nicolas Cage, as our own Nathan Hardisty has noted. One of the most compelling cases for loving the man is the 1988 Robert Bierman film Vampire's Kiss. The movie features one of Cage's Cage-iest...

The Cult Club: Samurai Cop (1989)

Aug 21 // Hubert Vigilla
In Samurai Cop, there were moments of remarkable cinematic disorientation that made me question the motives of writer/director Amir Shervan. I assume that he wanted to make a decent macho cop film, but he failed spectacularly. Time and continuity are in constant flux throughout Samurai Cop. During a gunfight, goons seen at noontime on a clear day fire their uzis at a cop who stands before a dim and overcast sunset. Car chases seem to take place at different hours of the day, from vehicle to vehicle and from shot to shot. The varying light quality is a giveaway, and so is the occasional wig donned by our wooden hero, Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon). ("Wooden" describes his performance as well as his mahogany tan.) Hannon must have cut off his Samsonesque locks at some point during production. Locations and basic spatial relationships aren't fixed either. One moment we're at a beachfront mansion where Joe tries to woo Jennifer (Jannis Farley) at the water's edge, the rocks around them wet and lapped at by the waves. She's a nubile restaurant owner who inexplicably carries a bikini with her when she goes to church just in case she needs to be seduced in proper beach attire. And then Joe and Jennifer wind up in a backyard pool. This is supposed to be the mansion, but it's obviously shot at a modest suburban home; the sensual whisper of the ocean has been replaced by the sound of nearby traffic. Bad guys infiltrate hospitals but then exit from chintzy apartment complexes. Fights start in an abandoned lot, but the combatants will then teleport to the hills (on goes Joe's wig), and then to a lush backyard, and finally return to that abandoned lot (off with Joe's wig). Samurai Cop violates fundamental laws of space and time. It is from some strange, dangerous, alternate dimension that is not fettered by reason. [embed]216232:40588:0[/embed] And there's more incompetence to enjoy. Every scene is a treasure of blunders. Color temperatures and image quality fluctuate wildly. The bullets in Samurai Cop will only draw as much blood as paintballs and ketchup packets, and they sure as hell won't puncture the chassis of a Cadillac. There's the collection of bizarre reaction shots too. Some of them are framed in a way that recalls a severely drunk Ozu, though most of them simply begin too early and look like a bad take, or linger too long like some sort of bad smell. The incompetence extends into the writing, but as with the technical matters, the magnificent level of incompetence somehow elevates the material. It's like a bad poem: intentionally bad poetry is never as enjoyable as awful poetry that aspires to be great. The story: Joe and his partner Frank (Mark Frazer) take on a Japanese gang in LA called Katana. Pretty much no one in the gang is Japanese. And that is all ye need to know. We're told that Joe's well-versed in the martial arts, and that's demonstrated through flailing hooks and a few choice wristlocks. Joe's also supposed to be fluent in Japanese, though I suspect he may be a bit rusty. If not rusty, maybe he's just a dim meathead. Frank asks, "What does 'katana' mean?" Joe replies, "It means 'Japanese sword'," with the straight-faced surety of Leslie Nielsen. (Okay, technically right, Joe. Technically.) Of course, he doesn't speak a word of Japanese throughout the rest of the film, and Joe even manages to bungle the name of the leader of Katana. [embed]216232:40589:0[/embed] I mentioned earlier that Samurai Cop makes for great unintentional comedy. When it tries to be funny, it tries too hard and winds up being hilarious for trying. Take the above scene in which Joe flirts with a nurse. There's no subtlety whatsoever, and Frank's facial expressions help coax out the unintentional laughs. The result is like tapdancing in a room full of whoopie cushions--I cannot not laugh. There are other sex jokes that are just as hokey throughout the film, like when Joe hits on his fellow cop Peggy (Melissa Moore). He keeps telling her to "keep it warm." A loyal horndog/would-be love interest, she smiles at him as if to say, "Sure thing, stud!" and "Oh you, tee-hee!" Most of the potential dead zones in Samurai Cop are thankfully and dutifully filled with gorgeous bare breasts. Shervan also throws in some full frontal nudity for good measure. The other thing that Shervan got right was casting cult movie actor Robert Z'Dar (Maniac Cop) as the second baddie in command. Z'Dar's an actor that audiences may not know by name, but they'd know him by his face: his jawline and chin are so prominent that he resembles a Dick Tracy villain. In some ways he's the Rondo Hatton of the late 20th century, and no-budget cult films are better for Z'Dar simply being. Z'Dar's performance is the best one in Samurai Cop by far. (Fellow genre movie veteran and recognizable "that guy" actor Gerald Okamura is all right too even though he's not given much to work with.) I've always found Z'Dar solid in films even when everything else around him wasn't. In Samurai Cop, his general competence is a kind of fixed point; his distinct face the North Star. Sometimes in movies that are so bad they're good, a base level of competence is required. It's something that the audience can anchor itself to while the squall of "what the fuck" swirls through the rest of a film. For all its 96 minutes of bafflement, I at least felt certain that Z'Dar would be okay and that I'd see boobs at least three times. These may be universal laws. There are so many other things to love about Samurai Cop for the discerning trash cinema enthusiast. The awful lines wind up being so quotable. The police chief has the best lines in the entire film, and if you watch the movie's trailer below, you can hear him recite the line to end all lines. (The chief also tells a lawyer to go to hell and get a job, and I can't stop laughing having just typed that.) Samurai Cop is borderline racist but completely oblivious to it like an older relative; and it's obnoxiously chauvinistic but is proud to flaunt it like a freshly oiled pair of bulging pectoral muscles. And then there are the little details, like a quirky side character who has no reason to be so quirky, or a bit of room decor that winds up becoming a scene stealer. It made me wonder if Shervan and his actors were at least a little bit aware of how ridiculous this all was. There were times I wasn't sure if I was pointing and laughing at Samurai Cop or pointing and laughing with Samurai Cop. Shervan passed away in 2006, and Hannon passed away last year. I'd like to think I was laughing at the movie but maybe laughing with them at it. Too many times, people approach movies that are so bad they're good with irony, as if ironic detachment is the only kind of justifiable enjoyment for shoddy material. While I usually don't believe there's a wrong way to watch movies, I think ironic detachment is the wrong way to love anything. All things should be enjoyed for the pleasure they cause, even the trashiest and cheesiest of movies. If Samurai Cop made me laugh, it's because its daffy spirit was infectious and I bought into it. Samurai Cop deserves to be shared and spread with friends. Sincerely. [embed]216232:40590:0[/embed] Next Month... Check back with The Cult Club in September for Philip Ridley's The Reflecting Skin (1990), which combines a strange vision of rural Americana with the ugly side of childhood. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB February: El Mariachi (1992) January: Six-String Samurai (1998) December: The Warriors (1979) November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005) October: Casino Royale (1967)
The Cult Club photo
There's sheer incompetence and then there's glorious incompetence
It's been a long while since the last installment of The Cult Club here on Flixist. As a lover of kitsch, trash, and strange but wonderful things, I figured today was as good a time as any to resurrect the feature. So, welcom...

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Scream Factory bringing Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut to DVD


Shout! Factory's genre label to release Clive Barker's maligned second film in its fullest form
Jul 22
// Hubert Vigilla
We've mentioned previously that there's been an extended/director's cut of Clive Barker's Nightbreed screening around the world, but now it's coming to DVD and Blu-ray. Scream Factory (the genre sub-label of Shout! Factory) a...
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Sony Pictures Classics acquires Jodorowsky's Dune


A documentary on the greatest movie never made
Jul 12
// Hubert Vigilla
There was a double dose of Alejandro Jodorowsky at Cannes earlier in the year, which made me wish I was there. The biggie was La Danza de la Realidad (The Dance of Reality), Jodorowsky's first film in more than 20 years. The ...

NYAFF Review: Taiwan Black Movies

Jul 08 // Hubert Vigilla
Taiwan Black Movies (台灣黑電影)Director: Hou Chi-JanRating: TBDCountry: TaiwanRelease Date: 2005 (Taiwan) Woman Revenger (The Nude Body Case in Tokyo | 女性的復仇)Director: Tsai Yang-MingRating: TBDCountry: TaiwanRelease Date: 1982 (Taiwan) Never Too Late to Repent (The First Error Step | 錯誤的第一步)Director: Tsai Yang-MingRating: TBDCountry: TaiwanRelease Date: 1979 (Taiwan) The Saturday of Taiwanese genre movies began with Hou-Chi Jan's documentary Taiwan Black Movies followed by the Tsai Yang-Ming films Woman Revenger and Never Too Late to Repent. Seeing the genre films after the documentary was ideal since the bold energy of the movies added life to the detached historical perspective of the documentary. Film programming and sequencing like this reveals the deep value of focused film festivals like NYAFF. Double-bills, triple-bills, and Q & As can be so enlightening for an audience. It's like listening to an album rather than just a song off the album -- there are ideas unfolding and reflecting back on themselves that I wouldn't notice without the other two films. Saturday was a conversation about Taiwan Black Movies, not a monologue. (There was a contemporary Taiwanese romantic comedy by Hou-Chi Jan shown between Woman Revenger and Never Too Late to Repent called When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep. It was a major palate cleanse, and much different in tone and presentation than his documentary. Look for that review tomorrow.) A few impulses seemed to drive these two Taiwan Black Movies and other films in the genre. They're social message movies at their heart. The film that kicked it all off is Never Too Late to Repent, originally titled The First Error Step. The movie stars Ma Sha as an orphan who grows up among poverty and prostitutes, winds up in prison for killing a man, and then tries to live a reformed life. It's sort of like a chain gang movie and a redemption story, but it's also a kind of mythmaking vehicle for its star: Never Too Late to Repent is an adaptation of Ma Sha's own memoir. The film was a box office sensation in Taiwan. Never Too Late to Repent is a gritty yet melodramatic film that reminded me in some ways of Kinji Fukasaku mixed with early blaxploitation. The characters are down and out, and the settings expose lives of squalor and desperation. Woman Revenger is a different kind of animal, however, even if it's from the same director and inspired by a true events (this time forced prostitution). The film also features Ma Sha, though he's in pure bad guy mode and proud to show off his real-life dragon tattoo. Released just a few years after Never Too Late to Repent, Woman Revenger is more exploitation movie than social message movie. It involves a dance teacher from Hong Kong (Elsa Yeung) who travels to Japan after the death of a friend. There's missing cocaine, a missing eye, and an eventual revenge squad of dance students armed with katanas and wakizashis. Apart from some crowd footage in Harajuku that goes on too long, it's well-paced, though it trades in the moral drama of Never Too Late to Repent for schlock. There are two goofy music cues: the first is a loungey version of Bernard Herrmann's score from Taxi Driver and the other blatantly lifts Bill Conti's score from Rocky during a sumo match. Going back to the information in the documentary, I began to realize that these films function as reactionary artistic expressions in addition to being social message movies. The Taiwan Black Movies were social-realist responses to the prevailing Taiwanese romance films of the time that were filled with sugary emotions and fairy tale plots, but they were also a kind of push against the oppression of the government. The critics and historians that appear in the documentary note the way the films tried to depict the dirtier sides of Taiwanese life. There's also the adolescent wonder of seeing bare breasts on screen. That's the joy of the social message movie and the joy of the exploitation movie all rolled into one. The films themselves often had to kowtow to government censors, removing nudity and extreme violence, and including messages in which characters who do bad things (even if they are ostensibly good guys) need to be punished by the proper authorities. That may explain the heightened emotions and violence in these two films just as much as the pedantic moralizing. These are acts of free speech within narrow confines of free speech; a scream that's impassioned because at least the scream is allowed. By knowing about the censorship from the documentary, the print of Never Too Late to Repent that was screened became not just an imperfect, incomplete version of the movie; it was an informative chronicle of the Taiwanese government's crackdown on expression. The print I saw was restored from two surviving copies of the movie: one that had the picture, one that had the sound. The surviving picture came from an uncut version of the film while the audio was taken from a censored print. During scenes of excessive violence, all of the audio cut out; during scenes of brief nudity or implied sex, no sound. Some of these silences lasted a few seconds, though others lasted a minute, maybe two. (There's also an entire chunk of a scene missing from the last act of Woman Revenger, maybe even a shot or two earlier in that film.) Jean-Luc Godard once said, "Film is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie." In this case, the missing scenes and missing audio are lies as well as admissions of guilt, like the telltale redacted text in government documents. It may be 30 years since these films were first released, but the earnestness of the social messages are just as apparent as the political meddling. Over the course of three films, I began to comprehend some of the culture that made these movies possible. In a lot of ways it's a miracle that these Taiwan Black Movies still exist since the prints of these films were destroyed. Efforts at recovery and restoration are being made, but it's slow going, and apparently many Taiwanese filmgoers don't even remember these films. Director Tsai Yang-Ming was in attendance for a Q & A and to accept a NYAFF lifetime achievement award. His career spans 50 years as an actor, director, and producer. Tsai seemed grateful, even downright humbled. At one point he said he wouldn't have known that he'd achieved anything if he hadn't been told he'd done so. That long Saturday at Lincoln center made me hope these Taiwan Black Movies get thie due. I'm really interested to find out more about these films and to see them for myself. It just goes to show that even during the extended silences in Never Too Late to Repent, there are shouts that will not go unheard as long as there are people willing to pay attention. Taiwan Black Movies: 70 - GoodWoman Revenger: 70 - GoodNever Too Late to Repent: 70 - Good All three films watched together: 79 - Good
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A Saturday triple-feature brought out the best in each Taiwanese film
Sometimes it's difficult for documentaries to convey all they hope to convey, especially when the documentary is about a film genre or a culture's film output. The filmmaker may have his or her own aims, for instance, and som...

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David Lynch says state of film industry "depressing"


Prospects of making a new film may be low
Jun 25
// Hubert Vigilla
You can add David Lynch to the list of directors lamenting the current state of film. (Previously we've heard Steven Soderbergh deliver a state of cinema speech and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas suggest industry implosion...
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Steven Soderbergh to rework/recut his film Kafka


"It’s not a tweak: it’s triage."
May 31
// Hubert Vigilla
I haven't seen Steven Soderbergh's Kafka (1991) in at least 15 years. I was in high school at the time and had just started reading Franz Kafka (like any lit geek of that age), and was intrigued by that Kafka movie on VH...

NYC: Old School Kung Fu Fest, April 19-21

Apr 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215309:39921:0[/embed] OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU FEST PROGRAM SCHEDULE Lau Kar-wingTHE ODD COUPLE1979, 97 min, 35mm There are 18 different weapons in Chinese martial arts, and in this flick someone's gonna get stabbed with every single one of them. Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-wing play elderly martial arts masters who duel each year to decide whose technique is better, but they always end in a draw. Now they've each taken a student (also played by Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-wing) leaving it to the younger generation to duke it out. Problem: their students get kidnapped by an old enemy (played by the inimitable martial arts mimic, "Beardy" Leung Kar-yan). Solution: both masters team up to kick maximum butt with maximum weaponry. A face bomb of comedy kung fu as well as serious, old school action, it's the opening and closing movie of the Old School Kung Fu Fest because it is, quite simply, the alpha and omega of martial arts movies. Truly unbeatable. –Fri, April 19 at 6:15 and Sun, April 21 at 9:15.   Gordon LiuSHAOLIN AND WU-TANG1983, 89 min, 35mm The movie that inspired the Wu-Tang Clan's first album is a blast of hardcore, old school mayhem. Gordon Liu (bald-headed brother of Lau Kar-leung) was ticked off that the sequel to his landmark 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN was played for laughs, so he headed to Taiwan where he directed, choreographed, and starred in this "real" sequel. A brutally authentic ode to Shaolin Fist and Wu-Tang Sword, Liu plays a student of Shaolin, and his buddy, the charming Adam Cheng, is a student of Wu-Tang. Their masters refuse to teach the Manchu prince their moves, so the prince manipulates the two schools into combat, counting on killing the winner. Then: everybody fights! Shot with the scale and scope of a Shaw Brothers production, this movie is an avalanche of action with its stars unleashing the beast in scene after scene of blistering combat. –Fri, April 19 at 8:30 and Sat, April 20 at 2:00.   Law KeiTHE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN1977, 95 min, 35mm WARNING: Watching This Movie Will Destroy Your Brain!!!!! Four years after Bruce Lee died, everyone was cashing in on his legend with look-a-like films, but this is the most notorious Brucesploitation movie of them all. Bruce Lee is dead, but his adventures aren't over. He arrives in Hell where he must fight Dracula, Clint Eastwood, and the Godfather in order to come back to life. Fortunately, Popeye is there to lend a hand. Bruce Lee is played by Bruce Leung (KUNG FU HUSTLE) but even his genuine skills can't stop the madness. Beginning with the corpse of Bruce Lee getting an erection (Don't worry – it's just his nunchakus!) and ending with him flying away as the cast waves "Goodbye!" you cannot unsee this movie. You will laugh! You will cry! And you will scream as the spirit of Bruce Lee kicks his way out of your stupid skull! –Fri, April 19 at 10:30 and Sun, April 21 at 1:00.   Cheung Gin-gatSHAOLIN TEMPLE AGAINST LAMA1980, 85 min, 16mm. Print provided by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office New York. Taiwan's indie kung fu films eschewed slick sets and smooth camera movements to shoot on location with urgent handheld cameras wielded by operators who were constantly freaking out. In this flick, Tibet's evil Black Lamas (you know they're evil by the skulls in their hair) decide to wage war on Shaolin Temple while wearing costumes that would put Bootsy Collins to shame. The Lamas manipulate a righteous Tibetan prince to be their proxy face-breaker in a war with the hard-hitting Shaolin monks, and what ensues is a whirlwind of non-stop mayhem spiced with a whiff of funky incense. Never content to show two men fighting when it could show 20, this film is a psychedelic throwback to a time when kung fu movies were allowed to pull out all the stops and do absolutely anything as long as they kept your eyes glued to the screen. –Sat, April 20 at 4:00 and Sun, April 21 at 7:15.   Wai LitANGEL TERMINATORS1990, 91 min, 35mm B-movies always have to try harder, and this girls-with-guns flick gets an A++ for (intense) effort. Shot in 1990 but not released until two years later, it's an undiscovered grindhouse joyride full of bare-knuckled stars: Lau Kar-leung acolyte, Kara Hui; the "lady Jackie Chan" Sharon Yeung, whose career never caught fire; Japanese back-breaker, Michiko Nishiwaki; the sultry Carrie Ng; angry white boy, Mark Houghton; and everyone's favorite bad guy, Dick Wei. They all turn in blistering action work in this mile-a-minute rampage through exploitation heaven. Two lady cops and one gangster's ex-girlfriend endure drug addiction, theme park shoot-outs, having their heads shoved in toilets, kicks to the face, terrifying high impact falls, and major concussions to prove that women are 10 times better than men. No subtitled prints of this movie exist, so we're subtitling this one live in a twice-in-a-lifetime celebration of high caliber girl power. –Sat, April 20 at 6:00 and Sun, April 21 at 5:15.   SECRET SCREENING – ONE SHOW ONLY!!!! We can't tell you the title of this rarely-seen martial arts movie, but trust us: you want to see it on the big screen. In the early 80s, big studios were trying anything to attract audiences, so this flick mixes three genres and then adds plenty of crack: you've got your wandering swordsman movie, your gore film, and a sexploitation shocker. The result is a whacked-out, hyper-gothic version of "The Monkey's Paw", full of occult dungeons, human face frisbees, wild plot twists, swinging swordplay, and naked demon ladies having kung fu freak-outs. –Sat, April 20 at 8:00.   Titus HoRED SPELL SPELLS RED1983, 93 min, 35mm Career-minded Hong Kongers with no respect for tradition go to Borneo to shoot a TV segment and wind up violating the tomb of the Red Dwarf Sorcerer, who returns the favor by violating their bodies from beyond the grave with scorpions, killer trees, and even more scorpions. Scorpions attack! Scorpions get smashed! Scorpions crawl out of pustulent blisters! Never released on DVD, this unhinged rarity makes BOXER'S OMEN look like Walt Disney as it flings shovelfuls of objectionable content in your face, from busty women in see-through t-shirts, to the slaughter of a LOT of real pigs, to a slew of outrageously nasty deaths. Technically it's not an action film, but there's no way we could not show this gore-soaked hayride! Truly dangerous movies make you doubt the sanity of the people who made them. In RED SPELL SPELLS RED there is no doubt: these filmmakers are insane. –Sat, April 20 at 10:00 and Sun, April 21 at 3:15.
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Check out Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-wing, and a secret screening at Anthology Film Archives
If you live in New York and are a fan of old school kung fu movies, you need to head to Anthology Film Archives next weekend. From April 19-21, the team behind the New York Asian Film Festival is putting on the Old School Kun...

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Nobuhiko Obayashi's cult classic is playing at The IFC Center this weekend
Nobuhiko Obayashi's Hausu (House) is one of the best cult movies ever made. Strike that. It's one of the best movies ever made. If you live in New York, you have two chances to see it this week. The IFC Center is doing midni...

NYC: See Miami Connection for free on April 12th

Mar 29 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215189:39887:0[/embed] Wasted Cinema Presents: Miami ConnectionFriday April 12, 7:00PMLegends6 W. 33rd Streethttp://www.wastedcinema.com/events.html
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Partake in the Citizen Kane of Florida-based taekwondo movies
Rediscovered by Drafthouse Films, Miami Connection is the kitschy action gift that keeps on giving: the best VHS action movie you never rented at the videostore when you were a kid. I mentioned in my review that the ideal way...

SXSW Review: I Am Divine

Mar 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215117:39806:0[/embed] I Am DivineDirector: Jeffrey SchwarzRating: NRRelease Date: TBD Going into I Am Divine, I was a little familiar with Milstead's life. Some of it's covered in the documentary Divine Trash, and I'd read profiles on John Waters that inevitably have to mention Divine as well. But Divine was generally the secondary focus of those even if he was an (or the) essential player in Dreamland Productions, the crew of outsiders and misfits who appeared in many Waters films. In addition to Divine, this merry band of outlaws included Mink Stole, Edith Massey, David Lochary, Cookie Mueller, and Mary Vivian Pearce. What's clear about Dreamland in this documentary is that it became Divine's family during his later teenage years and much of his adult life. After meeting Waters and building a posse of rowdy friends, Milstead went from a chubby boy with a sweet girlfriend to a shoplifting gay juvenile delinquent who dressed in drag. It's like all those moralizing anti-drug, anti-misdeed melodramas of the 1950s (the sorts of things that Dreamland drew on for inspiration) come to life: My Son Wears Hosiery, My Boy is a Man Lover, The Return of Reefer Madness, The Unholy Terror of the Fast Crowd. My own camp take on this shouldn't downplay the real-life sadness of what happened. When Milstead came out to his family, it caused a rift between him and his parents. He left home in the late 1960s, which was the last time he'd see of them for many years. In this portrait of Milstead's life, Scwarz is able to also explore the difficulties of being gay during a less open and accepting era. Waters, who's one of the many interviewees in the film, notes that there was an underground gay scene in Baltimore at the time, but nothing anyone talked about in the open. In proper Waters fashion, he adds with a smile that the underground gay scene was more fun. We progress chronologically through Divine's life, taking little hops into the Waters movies that made him an unforgettable cult figure. What's surprising is that for all the flamboyance, Milstead's eventual christening as Divine was low key, but then again, the name was so perfectly ironic and yet true that there was no need for ceremony -- of course Milstead was Divine, and he couldn't be otherwise. The eventual look of Divinity evolved from film to film, eventually reaching iconic status on Pink Flamingos via makeup artist Van Smith. What's interesting for me as someone who knew only the basics about Divine is to see how much of a celeb and icon he became in his own time. I'd always assumed he was just a cult misfit, but he was really a cult misfit out in the mainstream. Catapulted by the sensation of those Waters films, Divine found work in underground theater and achieved a genuine kind of cult stardom in San Francisco and New York. It led to lovers galore and lots of hobnobbing with the likes of Andy Warhol and the art/music crowd of the time. Then came the stand-up comedy (think Don Rickles dressed like Carol Channing) and even music. (Though I guess the same thing happened to Edith Massey on a smaller scale. She was great too, but not divine.) Yet Schwarz also takes time to consider Milstead's unhappiness with being typecast as Divine and the expectations of being a persona. It's that odd way that a persona can bring you acclaim but also define you too much if you aren't careful. Think David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, maybe -- he was Ziggy on stage and Ziggy was a piece of him, but he was always David Bowie (or, you know, David Jones). The same goes for Milstead. Divine was a character; an expression and extension of Milstead's personality, obviously, but still just a character. What Milstead wanted was to be recognized as Milstead, and what makes I Am Divine successful is that it achieves this with love and compassion. Beyond the makeup, beyond the clothes, and beyond the assumptions you can make about a 300 lbs. drag queen who loved to eat, I Am Divine is a movie about friends and family. Other surviving Dreamlanders make appearances and reminisce about the good times with Milstead. A few stage co-stars and modern drag performers speak admiringly about Divine's presence. Milstead's own mother is in the film as well, and it's fascinating to see her talk about her son. There's regret in her voice and her face about how a few things went down, but there's also a deep affection. All this from hanging out with the right people. I've seen two other misfit love stories at SXSW this year -- Everyone's Going to Die and Upstream Color. In a way, I Am Divine makes the third. It's a different kind of love, maybe. Whereas the other two were about the redemptive power of romance, I Am Divine is more about how the love and support of friends can bring out what's best in you. It was Waters who gave Milstead the nickname Divine; it was Milstead who lived up to the moniker.
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A portrait of the artist as a man in drag
[From March 9th - 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX. Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!] I don't think John Wa...

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David Lynch goes "typically dark" on new script
It's been seven years since Inland Empire, David Lynch's last feature-length film. Since then, Lynch has been doing short films, branding coffee, painting, making guest appearances on TV shows, and doing transcendental medita...

The Cult Club: El Mariachi (1992)

Feb 11 // Nick Valdez
Now I'm now the most aware "cult movie" guy, so I'm not really sure what qualifies a film as a "cult" film. As far as I've known, a film achieves cult status when it turns out to be really good, but is widely ignored for some reason or another. Whether or not that definition holds true, it's what I'm going to reference with Mariachi. Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi is a Western film through and through. It just happens to have a few Mexican herbs and spices. It starts off with a man with no name, simply referred to as "Mariachi" (Carlos Gallardo, who has sadly become a member of "I'm here too you guys!" club) who wanders into the small town of Acuña, Mexico and quickly finds himself caught inbetween a rivalry between a drug lord, Moco (which hilariously translates to "Booger" in English), and Azul, the hitman with a guitar case full of weapons. With that synopsis, the film should sound familiar. Guitar case full of weapons? Where else has that happened?  If you're unaware of El Mariachi, you might at least know its spiritual successors Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Those two feature the same Mariachi character, but greatly differ from the original film. For one, the Mariachi is played by Antonio Banderas (probably because money), and the tones for the two films greatly emphasized absurdity over Mariachi's mysterious, subdued characterization. And it's important to note that before Rodriguez became obsessed with fantastical levels of gore and camp (leading to lines like, "Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can't?"), he wanted to tell a great story with as much heart as possible. It's like Mariachi's low budget forced it to get the greatest return from as little investment as possible.  El Mariachi is deceptively simple, with its simplicity ultimately becoming its greatest asset. To once again get back to the "Western" thing, no one in the story has a last name or "true" name. Each character, from Mariachi to his love interest Domino, has a nickname that's meant to give them the tabula rasa characterization. This works most of the time (someone like "Domino" could have both a light and dark side), but ultimately serves a greater purpose. To be a truly great legend and form a mythic hero, a story that bypasses concrete definitions in any media, you have to be able to retell it. It's much more interesting to say "some Mariachi came in and shot some dudes" than "Fred shot some dudes." Now which one of the two sounds like a better story? The one with the mariachi (and if you answered with "Fred's" I hate you).  Beyond the names, the film evokes a Western image. Nameless man with a single characteristic (the Mariachi/the Cowboy/the Fastest Gun in the West) wanders into a town run by a single corrupt White man (which is odd in a Mexican inspired film, but says a lot when the White man's abuse of the Spanish language is far more noticeable than it should be), is mistaken for another due to his visual characteristics (there is a mix-up when "a man in black" is all the bad guys define him by), and then leaves the town at the end of the film as both the town and the hero change in its wake. And most of all, the Mariachi himself is a genuine badass.  As I've mentioned earlier, El Mariachi helped re-inspire me. It's ultimately what set me on my academic path. El Mariachi is a traditional hero's journey though and through. But the difference is that it's not an average man who becomes a hero, it's the hero who becomes a myth. Even though the Mariachi equates himself to a turtle in the beginning of the story, he possesses certain skills. Despite fighting for his life in a haphazard fashion, he manages to kill four of Moco's men. He demonstrates a hero's skill, and since we know so little about him (and because of the initial confusion that likened him to the hitman Azul), there's no true way to define him one way or the other. When he finally drives off into the sunset, with  nothing but a bulldog, the memory of his love, and his guitar to keep him company, he becomes a legend.  El Mariachi's hero's journey, and it's deceptively simple mythic quality, motivated my once dead dream. I wanted to tell a story just like this. I wanted a character that could inspire others, I wanted to use a low budget to my advantage, I wanted to make a film that isn't an embarrassment to Mexican culture, and I wanted my own El Mariachi.  It's a shame that no one else did.  Next Month... Are you a marijuano? Do you like to partake in the occasional herb brownie every now and then? Alec Kubas-Meyer tells you why that's a bad idea with Reefer Madness (1936). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB January: Six-String Samurai (1998) December: The Warriors (1979) November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005) October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
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"Lo que quería era solamente ser un mariachi como mis antepasados..."
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

Review: Wake in Fright

Jan 15 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]214236:39481[/embed] Wake in FrightDirector: Ted KotcheffRated: RRelease Date: October 9, 1971 (original release); October 5, 2012 (US re-release); January 15, 2013 (DVD, Blu-ray release)Country: Australia In last week's Cult Club piece on Six-String Samurai I quoted the following line from Douglas Sirk: "There is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains the element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art." While it may seem lazy to re-use the quote, it just so happens that Wake in Fright is another film in which the craziness elevates the content and calls attention to its power. Psychological horror movies share a lot with melodrama since both are about heightening the inner emotional world of a person so that it hits harder on screen. Since we're dealing with a man's private hell, what we get is the darkest, ugliest stuff in a dark and lonely heart. It all happens in an Australian shithole called Bundanyabba, a place the locals in the film call "the Yabba." And yet maybe it's not quite the shithole it seems since the film is told from John Grant's point of view. Played by Gary Bond (who looks like a young Peter O'Toole), John is a self-righteous, haughty jerk who looks down on everyone whether they deserve it or not because he's bitter. He's bonded by the Australian government to teach middle schoolers in a podunk town. At one point he jokes about being a slave rather than an educator. Still, John carries himself with air of a major intellectual. He talks up his education and quotes love poetry in a nauseating, self-fellating way to chat up a woman. With class dismissed for Christmas break, John stays in the Yabba en route to Sydney. Everyone around him is a roughneck and an oaf, and it's heightened by a key detail in John's wardrobe: he's wearing a safari jacket. He doesn't think he's in a small town, he thinks he's surrounded by dumb savages and dumber animals. Things start to go wrong that first night in the Yabba when the local sheriff buys round after round of drinks for John. Then there's a bit of gambling involving coin flips. What was supposed to be one night in the Yabba becomes many, each spent spiraling lower and lower with the beasts around him. During this lengthy fall, kangaroos are slaughtered, values are devalued (as John might put it when sober), days are wasted in squalor, and there's rough housing to put the rednecks in Gummo to shame. Fueling this descent is a reckless, bottomless pour of alcohol, and all of it given to John by the good folk of the Yabba. What seems like hospitality uncovers a deeper wretchedness in the town and its people. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kenneth Cook, one thing that makes Wake in Fright work so well is what it reveals and doesn't reveal about our hero John. We learn very little about his life, but we get enough hints to keep us guessing -- a few glimpses of skin, but mostly shadows and outlines; the enticement of backstory without the whole thing. He mentions that he has a girlfriend who lives in Sydney who we only see in old photos and in a single flashback, but that's it. (This flashback of John's girlfriend is the only sensual moment in the entire film. Anything else resembling a love scene is unerotic.) Maybe their relationship ended? Maybe it's on the rocks? We know John wants to leave Australia if he could just get out of his teaching gig, but there's no greater sense of purpose. He's a prisoner who wants out who's now a prisoner of the Yabba, which may or may not be some manifestation of his deeper anxieties. Which is where, I think, Tydon (Donald Pleasence) comes in. Tydon was a doctor, an intellectual just like John thinks he is, but now he's just one of the Yabba's many comfortable alcoholics. In between his moments of insight -- Tydon's first line, an assessment of the Yabba, is "All the little devils are very proud of hell," of which he is one of them -- are moments of creepy abandon. Pleasence is a subtle force of evil in this movie. His eyes have something scheming in them, and the way Kotcheff pieces his film together, there are many moments of uncanny dread that come just from one of Tydon's little looks. It adds a sense that everyone in the Yabba knows what's really going on. (The paranoia also creeps in from some cultish behavior, setting the unhinged, uneasy tone of the film.) Pleasance's performance reminds me what a brilliant and horribly underappreciated actor he was. This isn't to sell Bond's performance short, since he's more than just a young O'Toole lookalike. As John gives in to his urges, Bond's performance zigs into elation and zags back into revulsion. There are urgent questions loaded into Bond's expression and carriage: "What am I doing? Why do I like doing this? Why can't I stop? What is wrong with me?" There's a kind of dark comedy underlying all the darkness, I think, which comes through in Bond's performance as well as many other touches that rest of the cast adds. But it's comedy that's pitch black, the sort of stuff that may make you ask "Why am I laughing at this? What is wrong with me?" One of the more controversial aspects of Wake in Fright involves actual kangaroos getting maimed and killed on camera. Kotcheff and his crew weren't responsible for the brutality themselves. They instead filmed hunters in the act of killing as a means of highlighting real-life cruelties in the bush. It's effective in an unpleasant, visceral way, maybe even an unnecessary one. How much uglier can it get? Uglier still than this dose of mondo carnage. The kind of real-life cruelty Kotcheff caught on film might be too much for some people to take. (According to Wikipedia, there were at least a dozen walkouts when Wake in Fright played a special retrospective screening at Cannes in 2009; the film debuted at Cannes to rave reviews back in 1971.) I don't know if Kotcheff is able to make the ugliness of the film's private hell match the ugliness of real-life cruelty, but he does manage to make the movie all-ugly in the best possible way: at a deeply personal level, and a deeply affecting one. This is a melodrama of the grotesque. Though difficult to watch, I actually want to watch Wake in Fright again just to see how the movie deepens and intensifies. Some nightmares can be worth revisiting, as long as they're someone else's, and as long as they're as riveting as this film.
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On holiday in a private hell -- go on, have a drink, mate
I've always wanted to delve deeper into the world of Ozploitation movies (exploitation films from Australia). I have a major fondness for Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Turkey Shoot (aka Escape 2000), and Razorback, and my intere...

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Sol Yurick, writer of “The Warriors” novel, dies at 87


Can you dig it?
Jan 11
// Logan Otremba
Sol Yurick passed away last Saturday in Manhattan at the age of 87. According to his daughter, the cause was complications of lung cancer. Before he wrote “The Warriors,” he worked as a social investigator with th...

The Cult Club: Six-String Samurai (1998)

Jan 11 // Hubert Vigilla
There is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains the element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art. -- Douglas Sirk Douglas Sirk was referring to melodrama when he said that, but I think the same holds true for cult movies, and even a lot of postmodern art and writing. Whether it's the childlike anarchy of Nobuhiko Obayashi's House (Hausu) or the surreal Mexico City of the mind in Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre, the crazy elements are essential to the art of the cult movie -- sometimes the cult movie is an argument for the art of craziness. So many cult films are set apart by their willingness to do what many other films are unable or unwilling to do, and in this excess and exploitation is a kind of ecstasy. In Six-String Samurai, it's all about bringing things together into sort of Mulligan stew version of alternative history. (A Mulligan stew is something hobos used to make, basically throwing whatever they could into the pot for flavor: beans, chicken, vegetables, boots. It's a crazy concoction, like the childhood potions I used to make out of whatever was in the refrigerator.) Alternate history stories ask an essential question, and I think there are two in Six-String Samurai. The first: what if the Soviet Union used nukes on the United States in the late 1950s? The second: what if Buddy Holly didn't die with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens and then became a supreme stoic badass in the style of Ogami Itto and Mad Max? Though it's never explicitly stated this is Buddy Holly we're watching in the wastelands of America, the glasses and the clothes heavily imply it. For a long time I wondered where his Stratocaster went since he's carrying a semi-hollow in the wasteland. Now I just assume he traded in his Strat for a katana after the bomb fell because it would be more useful; the hollow body he must have taken from the bucko who broke his glasses. In the world of Six-String Samurai, the last bit of proper civilization is Las Vegas, renamed Lost Vegas after the nuke. Elvis, that former King of Rock and Roll, has died and left the throne empty. Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon) is en route to Vegas to claim his destiny, but he winds up having to care for a recently orphaned boy simply known as The Kid (Justin McGuire). The Kid is mostly inarticulate, which I assume is partly out of PTSD from seeing his parents killed and partly out of affectation since it's a kooky conceit. On Buddy's trail is Death himself, less like Bengt Ekerot's Grim Reaper from The Seventh Seal and more like Slash from GNR. I wonder if Death's already taken out Valens and The Bopper; I hope Jerry Lee Lewis gave that son of a bitch hell; I dream that Roy Orbison fought like Zatoichi until the bitter end. Written and directed by Lance Mungia, Six-String Samurai is a hodgepodge of Americana merged with post-apocalyptic ideas. You have a bit of narration provided by Wolfman Jack (or at least someone who sounds a lot like him), there are weirdos in astronaut suits, a cannibalistic nuclear family, the coonskin cap is a holdover from the Davy Crockett craze, there are bowling team buddies who no one messes with. But on top of these quintessentially American things are little touches of internationalism that were en vogue for cineastes who came of age in the 80s and 90s, the era of home video, cable movie shows, rising interest in cult entertainment, niche film clubs, etc. There's obviously a lot owed to Lone Wolf and Cub and the Mad Max movies, but the added flair comes from the surf rock soundtrack by The Red Elvises -- think Dick Dale hanging ten on the Volga -- and the martial arts choreography by Falcon himself. Falcon had played bit parts in Hong Kong movies (most notably some films with Cynthia Rothrock), and Buddy's fights are done with the style of a Hong Kong flick of that decade. This blend of everything is an example of that time capsule and time machine aspect to Six String-Samurai. This is the epitome of the 1950s frozen in a state of peachy keen fashion and Cleaver family values following the explosion of a bomb, but it's also tying in heavy metal, a music genre that wouldn't have reached its fetal state without the 1960s. There's a meta level to all this as well since the movie is so much an object of its decade while reflecting a warped version of decades past: Six-String Samurai has all the flash of 90s indie filmmaking (think Robert Rodriguez) as well as the referentialism (think Quentin Tarantino, who would make his own Mulligan stew with Kill Bill). In a sense, post-apocalyptic films are all a little bit fantastical in a strange way even if they technically have science fiction roots. Each story opens with an implicit, "Once upon a time after the world ended..." It sounds like a post-apocalypic Spaghetti western waiting to be made. We're asked to fix a time given the surviving artifacts and bits of culture that we're shown, but we're also asked that the storytellers be given some wiggle room since they're using whatever pieces of culture they want to present a world that comes after the one we know. Maybe in addition to being time machines and time capsules, post-apocalyptic movies are like assemblage works of art: you take a bunch of junk and refuse and put them together in an interesting way, like Robert Rauscheberg or a Joseph Cornell. (Mulligan stew at MoMA.) In this case, the Cornell box contains Buddy Holly, samurais, and loads of visual style to keep things moving. Or, given the crazed, childlike quality of the storytelling, maybe it's like destroying the world and peopling it with your favorite action figures. Everything about Six-String Samurai feels like a hyperactive kid's weekend spent in the sandbox. (I still think if they ever made a sequel or spiritual sequel to Six-String Samurai, it would have to star the noisy Japanese punk band Guitar Wolf; it would also have to be a post-apocalyptic western as part of some American/Japanese cult movie exchange program. Maybe they can call it Once Upon a Time After the World Ended.) But in addition to the action and the bizarre assemblage of 1950s stuff and 1990s stuff -- the movie seems like it'd be king of the Island of Misfit Toys if it was an action figure -- what makes Six-String Samurai so enjoyable is the handful of quotable lines, which have needled their way into my brain since I first watched the movie on VHS. Knowing the context or not, there's just something hilarious about the line, "Only one man can kill this many Russians"; ditto the flatout goofiness of, "Nice tuxedo. Nice tuxedo to die in!" My own personal favorite: Mesh-Head: If I were you, I would run. Buddy: If you were me, you'd be good-lookin'. That's as smooth as the action on Buddy's semi-hollow. Ever since seeing Six-String Samurai, I've been waiting for a moment to say that line. It hasn't happened yet. Six String-Samurai seemed forgotten for so long even though there's so much craziness that makes it memorable. It was a festival darling of the 1990s, a peculiar indie oddity in a decade full of them, but for a while it felt like I was the only person I knew who saw it, dug it, and pushed it on friends. (When I was in college, I once heard a film studies professor champion the movie after class. In that warped way that litmus test movies work, this incident made her seem 20 times hotter even though she was really attractive to begin with.)  I was happy to hear about the nod to the film in Fallout: New Vegas, that's damn snappy, but I wasn't all too pleased with the less-than-happy fate of Mungia's and Falcon's film careers. Six-String Samurai had a budget of $2 million, and despite the buzz it got from lots of online reviews, the movie was a total bomb at the box office. Mungia has only one other feature to his name: the 2005 direct-to-video sequel The Crow: Wicked Prayer. I haven't watched it, but I was contemplating seeing it prior to writing this piece. I just ran out of time, unfortunately. Maybe it's for the best given its reception. The Crow: Wicked Prayer currently holds a 2.8 on IMDb, and I doubt it's done with the same goofy glee as Six-String Samurai. For Falcon, Six-String Samurai was his final film credit. Accounts online say he started living in China after the film, though his last known whereabouts as of 2005 was working at an airport in Los Angeles. It's a little sad what happens after the end of the world, at least in actual history. In an alternate history of our world, I'd like to imagine Mungia got to do a few more crazed bits of assemblage, and Falcon got to be a decent cult star. But in actual history, I think they can both be legitimately happy, even with the box office drubbing. Six-String Samurai still has its devotees; it survived the box office apocalypse. Like Hunter Thompson said of Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (another bomb): There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die. That's my Buddy. Hail! Hail! Rock and roll! [embed]214031:39440[/embed] Next Month... You boys like Mexico?! That's where Nick Valdez is taking you for El Mariachi (1992). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB December: The Warriors (1979) November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005) October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) August: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002)
The Cult Club photo
If you were me, you'd be good lookin'
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

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New: V for Vendetta print, Beyond the Black Rainbow VHS


Jan 10
// Liz Rugg
It may not be the 5th of November, but whatever. Today, at a random time, Mondo will be releasing this V for Vendetta screenprint by artist César Moreno. Watch Mondo's twitter account for notification of when it will g...
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New Spring Breakers posters & images have ample bikinis


Oh, and other stuff too, I guess
Jan 08
// Liz Rugg
There are essentially two things that make Spring Breakers look remotely interesting to me. One is that it is being made by polarizing independent director Harmony Korine, whose taste for trashy spectacles appears to be evide...
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Mondo releases prints from We Buy Your Kids


Dec 11
// Liz Rugg
Mondo's last gallery show of 2012 is titled Tina's Mom's Boyfriend and it features movie posters created by Australian graphic design duo We Buy Your Kids. These prints all debuted at the gallery show in Austin, Texas, but to...
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The Japanese filmmaker behind Hausu is in New York for retrospective screenings
Japanese filmmaker Obayashi Nobuhiko is in New York this week, making a rare appearance overseas. Obayashi is the man behind the incredible 1977 film House (Hausu), which Alec wrote about for The Cult Club a couple months ago...

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Book: Silhouettes from Popular Culture by Olly Moss


Nov 26
// Liz Rugg
If you missed our coverage of Gallery 1988's fine art show Papercuts - by Olly Moss last year, you missed out on a very special show. The reverberations of which have been echoing and amplifying in the time since, not only fo...

The Cult Club: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005)

Nov 13 // Jenika Katz
[embed]213637:39119[/embed] Funky Forest is so incoherent that, when asked what it's about, it's easier just to describe a scene than give a basic plot outline. The movie is a series of vignettes using the same actors that sometimes are and sometimes aren't the same characters they acted as previously. The scattered bits of story are mostly linear, but intertwine with each other so gently that it feels like a surprise when one character knows another. One story line follows the pseudo-romance of Takefumi and Notti, a student and her former teacher that are kind of dating, but not really. Takefumi would like to date her seriously, but Notti is reluctant to admit her true feelings to him and get in too deep. In case that sounds a little too normal for this movie, Takefumi has two uvulas and believes he was abducted by aliens, and both express their feelings through elaborate dreamworld dance sequences. Another branch follows the Unpopular With Women Brothers. Masaru, known as Guitar Brother, pops up the most often. He is either an anime artist or a high school gym teacher, perhaps both, and he plays the guitar very poorly. There's Katsuichi, the traditional Japanese brother who loves kabuki and hot springs. Their younger brother, Masao, is a fat white child who only learned enough Japanese to awkardly stumble over his few lines, and he is constantly shoving a Snickers bar in his face. The connection between stories is faint, and seems almost coincidental. One section entitled Babbling Hot Springs Vixens, which focuses on three very talkative saleswomen in a hotel telling each other stories, shows the women running into Traditional Brother, mentioning offhand that they are friends with Takefumi, and bringing up a fictional tale about an alien named Piko-riko that comes up in a later, completely separate section. The women never show up outside of their segment, but they seem to know everyone. One of them also looks a bit like Japanese Aubrey Plaza. It's hard to say anything cohesive about Funky Forest without just giving a blow-by-blow of each scene. Many scenes feel like a collection of events happening with no apparent reason, and even careful analysis of each scene and the order they fall into does not yield any more answers about an overall theme. Perhaps there is a connection between a comedy duo that nods to the Three Stooges and school children playing sexualized alien instruments, and it's just too difficult to read. There's something happening at every moment, and it is usually incredibly bizarre. Even the more normal sections of the movie are shot or edited in a way that inspires an entrancing sort of discomfort. Disconnected, intentionally messy edits with long sections devoid of any audio or video mingle with long still shots of a character doing something incredibly banal. There's always the anticipation that the whole scene is about to explode, and when that expectation is not met, it somehow becomes worse. Funky Forest is not a musical, but the prevalence of song and dance numbers heavily toes the line. The dance numbers themselves feel less bizarre than the rest of the movie, perhaps because choreographed dance has a way of taking the reality out of a scene on its own, but one involves a character dancing with an animated titty monster so it's not like it becomes momentarily sane. The music itself is catchy, ranging from heavy guitars and screaming to soothing electronic with elephant noises. If you're interested in experiencing the absurdist roller coaster that is Funky Forest, the movie is available online, but it's really worth getting on DVD. It's best experienced when sober. The movie is a two-and-a-half hour drug trip on its own, and you really shouldn't cross-haze with this one. Seriously. You'll go insane. Next month: The Cult Club expands when Sean Walsh asks The Warriors to come out and play! PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) August: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002) July: Batman (1966) June: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987) May: The Apple (1980) April: Santa Sangre (1989)
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One of Japan's finest instances of insanity.
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the...

Miami Connection action figures sadly aren't real

Nov 12 // Hubert Vigilla
"You Don't Scare Me At All" [embed]213621:39110:0[/embed] Berserker Rage [embed]213621:39111:0[/embed] "Friends Forever" by Dragon Sound [embed]213621:39112:0[/embed]
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Give me the letter!
Miami Connection (the Citizen Kane of Florida-based taekwondo movies) continues to open in theaters across the country this month, leaving destruction and joy in its wake. The people over at Drafthouse Films decided to create...

Review: Miami Connection

Nov 02 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]213368:39064[/embed] Miami ConnectionDirector: Y.K. Kim, Woo-sang ParkRating: NRRelease Date: November 2nd, 2012 (limited; additional limited engagements throughout November) Miami Connection is the perfect videostore rental that you never rented. In fact, the film's poster art by François Simard perfectly recreates the look of a VHS box, and the film's co-director, Woo-sang Park, was responsible for Ninja Turf (aka LA Steetfighters/Los Angeles Streetfighter), another enjoyable bit of VHS fodder. Miami Connection would be there waiting for you, dusty on the shelf, sandwiched between Megaforce and Missing in Action. You'd want to rent American Ninja or Gymkata again, but you'd know, deep in your heart, that there might have been something bananas about Miami Connection. I wonder if back in the late 80s a handful of people saw Miami Connection and got hooked by the kooky fun; I wonder if people who hated Miami Connection then (again, just a handful) get it now. Miami Connection is the kind of movie I'd watch with friends in high school, and then subject college friends to while splitting carne asada fries and some Tecate. An arm gets cut off and a head gets sliced up and you laugh along with it. Then on comes Dragon Sound, a multiracial 80s band comprised of orphans with a female lead singer. (For this number, she's just playing back-up hand claps.) Behold: a vision of unity, harmony, family, and progress straight out of 1987 and rediscovered in the future. Their songs are about staying friends through thick and thin. There's hexagonal electric drums, a vocalist/lead guitarist who looks like John Oates's younger brother, and Grandmaster Y.K Kim plays an electric guitar like he's never seen one before. This, by the way, is just the first 10 minutes. The movie centers on the members of Dragon Sound and their clash against local thugs, some of whom happen to be biker ninjas. The band's sole female member and recent addition, Jane (Kathy Collier), has the hots for bandmate John (Vincent Hirsch). Unfortunately, Jane's brother (William Eagle) is a bad guy (but not a ninja). You can tell by his evil beard, his studded leather bracelet, his crossed arms, and general bad guyness. This means trouble for Dragon Sound. While this drama unfolds, keyboardist Jim (Maurice Smith) tries to learn more about his estranged dad. It leads to one of the most memorable, quotable, kitschy moments in a film full of memorable, quotable, kitschy moments. "My mother was Korean," Jim squeaks and sobs. "And my father was black American." He's shirtless, with a towel draped over his shoulder, his jeans unbuttoned and unzipped to reveal his briefs. While Jim steps forward to the apron of some invisible stage, the rest of Dragon Sound looks on frozen. I think they're a little confused, too. The audience feels the same. "What's going on? Who knows, I can't stop watching." Miami Connection's got it all: new wave and cocaine and martial arts and bikers and ninjas. Sure, it's aged badly, but in an interesting way -- the only way anyone can hope to age. Hell, if you're going to get old, you might as well do it right! The fashion, the hair, and the music give Miami Connection a kind of charm that you can't manufacture. People try, but they do it ironically, and irony means the death of sincerity. The secret of Miami Connection is this: the movie only works because it's totally sincere. Same goes for a movie like The Room or Troll 2. Material like that is all so earnest, so much so that you can't possibly hate it (at least if you're into movies that are so bad they're entertaining). The action scenes are energetic and occasionally bloody. They're not as intricate as something from Hong Kong or as over the top as something from The Cannon Group (or Hong Kong). Think of the action in Miami Connection as the serviceable brand of butt-kicking found on other VHS treasures: meat, potatoes, and jump kicks. Grandmaster Kim is a 9th degree black belt in taekwondo, and Dragon Sound is comprised of his real-life students. None of them are slouches and they can all sell a punch. Apart from Kim, Hirsch and Joe Diamand (who plays Jack the drummer) are the standouts of the group, Hirsch especially. The climactic final fight is full of unbridled rage. People tear their shirts off and growl while lopping off limbs. And yet there's still room in the film for a martial arts demonstration and talk of a Dragon Sound world tour built on brotherhood and, of course, taekwondo (it's a way of life). Grandmaster Kim shot some additional material and fight scenes on his own in order to sell the picture, which is what put him in a tough spot financially. You can sort of tell which scenes are Park's and which ones are Kim's, but it just adds to the zany appeal of the movie -- mismatched socks that still sort of go together. The version of Miami Connection that's coming out through Drafthouse Films is the US cut with Kim's additions. Park had delivered a different cut to South Korea, with a different ending. I don't know if a copy of Korean Miami Connection exists anywhere, but somewhere, perhaps stashed away in a vault, there could be someone with more hidden treasure. Maybe it's around, but on VHS. Legends can still be made. I want to believe. Like other cult movies, it's hard for me to score Miami Connection. Cult films exist in a place beyond math, and Miami Connection is both great and not good at the same time. (Schrödinger's movie review?) All I can say is that for the full effect, Miami Connection is best seen with a group of people. Check it out at midnight in a theater, pop it into a DVD player with some friends. Whatever you do, see it with others and become your own Dragon Sound. Like the band, we are all orphans, but it's music, taekwondo, and Miami Connection that brings people, all people, together.
Miami Connection Review photo
The Citizen Kane of Florida-based taekwondo movies
Intentionally making a cult classic is difficult. Most cult classics need to be created without irony and then discovered in the wild, usually years after they were first made. In the case of Miami Connection, the movie was r...


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