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David Bowie: The Image photo
David Bowie: The Image

Watch The Image, a 1969 horror short film starring a young David Bowie

At the time, this was rated X
Jun 13
// Hubert Vigilla
David Bowie had a memorable, otherworldly presence on screen. He was a believable strung out alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, a seductive strung out vampire in The Hunger, a dance-happy goblin king in Labyrinth, a proper B...
8-bit Last Jedi photo
8-bit Last Jedi

8-bit Trailer for The Last Jedi recreates the feel of SNES Star Wars games

16-bit trailer, but oh well
May 10
// Hubert Vigilla
The first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi was pretty darn great. It teased some of the action to come, but thankfully didn't seem to give away any of the story. To put it another way, the trailer whet the appetite withou...
8-Bit Cinema: Home Alone photo
8-Bit Cinema: Home Alone

8-Bit Cinema recreates Home Alone by way of The Legend of Zelda

Yuletide Murder House Jubilee: The Game
Dec 27
// Hubert Vigilla
Earlier today, Uncle Flixist gave you a video about those deadly Home Alone booby traps. Here's some more belated, leftover Christmas mayhem from your Uncle Flixist courtesy of 8-Bit Cinema. Yes, it's also Home Alone related....
Fisher, Hamill, Ford '77 photo
Fisher, Hamill, Ford '77

See vintage interviews with Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford for Star Wars in 1977

Looking back with fondness
Dec 27
// Hubert Vigilla
Carrie Fisher's death has made me contemplative and somber. Yesterday I hoped she'd have pulled through, and would eventually talk about her experience with her all Force, zero f**ks attitude. The world will miss her so much....

Doctor Strange 8-bit photo
Doctor Strange 8-bit

Marvel's Doctor Strange gets the 8-Bit Cinema treatment, looks a little like Mega Man

By the sprightly pixels of Capcom!
Nov 30
// Hubert Vigilla
I really liked Doctor Strange. While lots of the MCU tends to blend together visually and tonally, Strange had tilty fractals and psychedelic wonder, and on the whole the film felt more like a kung fu movie than just a s...
Lost MST3K episodes found photo
Lost MST3K episodes found

The first MST3K episodes have been found, are available to stream for Kickstarter backers

Like finding long-lost geek demos
Nov 30
// Hubert Vigilla
The new Mystery Science Theater 3000 should show up on Netflix some time next year. We still don't know what movies Jonah Ray and the bots will be watching, or how the new cast will interact with some of the familiar faces, b...
8-bit Justice League photo
8-bit Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League gets an 8-bit trailer (more like 16-bit)

Also with a nod to JLU
Sep 19
// Hubert Vigilla
Zack Snyder has been pretty good about hyping his Justice League movie on Twitter lately. In the last week he's released an image of Batman's tactical batsuit and a first look at J. K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon. The bigg...

Review: Lake Nowhere

Aug 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220740:43043:0[/embed] Lake NowhereDirectors: Christopher Phelps, Maxim Van ScoyRelease Date: August 16 (DVD, Blu-Ray, VOD) Rating: NR  Lake Nowhere is a throwback to slasher movies from the Good Old Days. The Grindhouse days. It’s kinda like Grindhouse, actually, complete with fake trailers that run beforehand. But unlike the three-hour runtime that I’m fairly sure that movie had, Lake Nowhere clocks in at a brisk 51 minutes. (Note: It is not a “short,” though it is definitely short for a feature. More movies should be short, though; Lake Nowhere says everything it has to say and then ends, which is something we, as moviegoers, should celebrate.) The screening I attended was made up, as far as I could tell, pretty much exclusively of people who worked on the film. There might have been some other friends-of-the-cast-and-crew, but I dunno. I didn’t talk to any of them, because fun fact: I’m awkward as heck. I had come from a show played by Governor Bradford, who is the frontman of a band that I would probably listen to occasionally on Spotify if that were a thing I could do. I’m fairly sure I still have some demo tracks somewhere on my computer. I don’t listen to them. Anyways, I was one of, I believe, three people who came to see the show. It was pretty good. I had fun. Governor Bradford is a fascinating musician. I clapped very hard, because that’s what I do. Sometimes I clap like Heath Ledger’s Joker did in that one scene in the prison. I don’t remember if I did that then, but it’s very plausible. Anyways, they were the opening act, and the best one that I was there for. The band that played afterwards made terrible use of harmonizers. It was upsetting for everyone except them; the frontman of that band looked like he was having a grand old time. Anyways, after that and a couple of songs into the next band, we went and got dumplings. There’s a place in Manhattan that has pumpkin dumplings, and they are very good. It was Halloween, and I’m fairly sure that Governor Bradford was dressed as a character from a horror movie, but I hadn’t seen the movie (or whatever property they had based it on). Accompanying the costume was a plastic axe. While Governor Bradford ordered the dumplings, I held onto the plastic axe. Some hipsters (probably drunk) asked me if it was real. I told them no, because I’m bad at lying. Governor Bradford was disappointed. Sorry, bro. At some point, it became clear to me that I was horribly underdressed for the night’s proceedings. I usually start wearing long underwear in early fall, because I have very little body fat (not even the occasional pumpkin dumpling has been able to fix that) and don’t retain heat particularly well. I don’t know why I wasn’t wearing my long underwear that night – maybe I thought we were going to be inside? – but I wasn’t, and so fairly early on I started to shiver. And shiver. And shiver. It was pretty sad, honestly. I don’t even think I was wearing my coat, just a jacket. Or maybe I was wearing my coat when I needed a jacket? Look, this was nearly 10 months ago. I’m probably getting at least 15% of these details wrong without realizing it. I know for a fact that it was hellishly windy. And I can say that, because in Dante’s Inferno, which is at least in part responsible for our vision of Hell, the ninth circle of hell is windy and freezing the traitorous traitors who have died and aren’t the ones who are being constantly eaten by Satan for all eternity. Am I a traitor? I mean, probably. I dunno. The history books will decide that ultimately, I think. (Which isn’t to say I think I’ll be mentioned in the history books, but if I was a legit traitor, maybe I would be. If I’m not mentioned, then I think we can probably assume that I was not.) Point is: I was suffering like one, which was – to say the gosh darn least –  uncomfortable. On the way to the screening, we stopped off at Sam’s (remember him?), because it was hella convenient, and he had a hard drive of mine which contained footage for a movie that I still haven’t finished the final cut of (sorry, Kickstarter backers; it’s coming!) Then we crossed the street (the best) and sat down in the freezing cold to watch the movie. As I said, it’s super enjoyable. You should see it. You can now, if you’re reading this on or after August 16. If it’s before that, then you have to wait until August 16, but you’ve been waiting your whole life for this, so I think you can wait another few days. Of course, these sorts of events never really go the way you expect them to. It was a janky screening, which actually kinda worked on some level, given that it was trying to recapture the grindhouse thing. The city is loud, and it’s bright. The organizers put up tarps in an attempt to block out the latter; there’s not much you can do about the former but crank up the volume and try to drown them out. But, of course, legal sound limits, etc. And it’s not like you want to have your ears bleed while watching a movie just because everything else is so loud. Anyways, the point of this is that the wind literally pulled one of the tarps off of its ropes and it flew over into a neighboring yard. We didn’t get it back, and half the screen was washed out. It made a couple of moments a little difficult to see, but it was okay. It wasn’t really their fault that the elements conspired against them. That’s just a thing that happens. I have it on good authority that the weather made some aspects of the filming itself pretty hardcore, specifically with regards to Lake Nowhere itself, which was apparently even colder than I was while watching the movie. I grabbed onto Governor Bradford for warmth; more like we grabbed onto each other, huddling together because I cannot overstate how flipping cold it was. On a basically unrelated note: I learned from a trailer for a movie that I think has Vince Vaugh in it that you’re supposed to be naked with people for warmth. That was (like, duh) not the case here, for many, many reasons – obvious and not. Afterwards, there was talking amongst the people who knew each other. I awkwardly sat at a table and did not talk to anyone. That wasn’t great, but at least it was inside, so I wasn’t getting hypothermia anymore. I’m not friends with Governor Bradford anymore. The reason for that was, at least in part, the impetus for a horribly pretentious one-man show that I “performed” just a few weeks ago. An early version of said show actually had a version of this story in it, but it was cut for reasons that don’t matter. (If you’re at all curious what the show was like, reread the previous 1400ish words, because it was exactly like this, but 55 minutes long, in second person, and somehow with even less movie review in it). I hadn’t really thought about this night until a week ago, when I got an email asking me if I’d like to review it. The subject line alone – “Possible Flixist Interest? Retro Slasher LAKE NOWHERE to hit DVD/Blu-Ray and VOD on August 16!” – was enough to bring back wave after wave of memories. Looking back on this is weird, but for all of the oddities, there is one thing that isn’t in question, which is that I had a bunch of fun watching Lake Nowhere. You won’t be seeing it in quite the same context that I did, but if you get a group of friends together (definitely watch with friends (if that’s an option)), you’re going to have a blast too. And if you don’t? Well, that says more about you than it does the film. tl;dr: Great movie. Also, I need to gain weight and/or start wearing long underwear earlier in the year.
Lake Nowhere Review photo
(Wherein I do not talk about the movie)
I saw Lake Nowhere last Halloween. I first heard about the film about a month prior, at the press screening for The Last Witch Hunter. A friend of mine brought as his +1 someone who worked on the film, who for the purposes of...

The Lost Arcade photo
The Lost Arcade

Watch the trailer for The Lost Arcade, a documentary on NYC's Chinatown Fair

A look at New York's arcade culture
Jul 23
// Hubert Vigilla
As someone who still wears the occasional onion on his belt, I remember arcades quite fondly. They were in steady decline when I was a kid, but they were a good way to kill time at the mall or to spend a Sunday morning. They'...
2017 DeLoreans photo
2017 DeLoreans

This is heavy: They're making actual DeLoreans in 2017

Make like a tree and get out
Jan 29
// Hubert Vigilla
With 2015 behind us, you'd think that was the end of weaponized Back to the Future nostalgia. Well, no. Turns out you'll be able to buy a brand new replica DeLorean in 2017. (As noted by /Film's Ethan Anderton, only 9,200 vin...

Watch some spooky VHS tapes online this Halloween... no, seriously

Do kids even remember "Be kind, rewind?"
Oct 23
// John-Charles Holmes
Shout Factory, purveyor of fine video good that everyone but us super-nerds forgot about, has rolled out an unusually awesome and hilarious treat for horror fans this Halloween. The video company has just rolled out a site ca...
Back to the Future photo
Back to the Future

Watch: The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy (1990) hosted by a young and sane Kirk Cameron

Yes, Kirk Cameron was once sane!
Oct 21
// Hubert Vigilla
October 21, 2015 is Back to the Future Day. Today is the day that Marty and Doc Brown visited the future in Back to the Future Part II. And as we can see, 2015 is just as Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale envisioned it. Banks are ...
8-Bit Mad Max: Fury Road photo
8-Bit Mad Max: Fury Road

8-Bit Cinema does Mad Max: Fury Road

Shiny, pixelated, and chrome!
Oct 15
// Hubert Vigilla
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best and most enjoyable movies of the year. It should come as no surprise, then, that the people over at CineFix have given George Miller's movie the 8-Bit Cinema treatment. Witness the video ...
Nintendo Quest photo
Nintendo Quest

Trailer: Nintendo Quest features a man trying to collect the entire NES library without the internet

A speed run for obsessive collectors
Oct 01
// Hubert Vigilla
In the documentary Nintendo Quest, Jay Bartlett is on a mission. He has 30 days to collect all 678 North American NES titles. The problem: Jay's not allowed to make any purchases on the internet. Luckily it's just the cartrid...
Kickin' it old school, rockin' it full frame
Here's the first trailer for Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it looks old-timier than usual. Note the full frame aspect ratio throughout most of the trailer, which was probably a conscious decision to help evoke...

Review: Rewind This!

Aug 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215061:39802:0[/embed] Rewind This!Director: Joshua JohnsonRating: NRRelease Date: August 27, 2013 (iTunes) Tackling the whole of the home video revolution in one documentary is a hefty task. There are so many angles that you can approach the VHS format from given what it meant for consumers and film enthusiasts throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The initial way in for director Joshua Johnson is the VHS collector community. We start out in a flea market browsing through the bins, like we're on some kind of dig through the recent past -- it's even shot to resemble home video on magnetic tape. It makes sense to start with the collector community. In a lot of ways these people are the hearts and hubs of the VHS world today. Not only are they actively hunting for rarities and trying to fill holes in their collection, their passion for the format is infectious. These collectors of VHS are like movie geeks par excellence, and their home décor reflects that sense of authentic, easily earned instant cred: a Hausu poster, eccentric organization methods, niche interests. One collector named Dormarth specializes solely in horror. In his attic he's sorted his thousands of VHS movies into personally created sub-genres and sub-categories. He's also wears a Nekromantik t-shirt, so you know he's legit. Related tangents: The first time I heard about Nekromantik was back in the mid-90s when I was trying to buy some bootleg VHS tapes online. I think the first time I saw it was on VHS. And on the note of Hausu, many of my friends who went to NYU in the early 2000s discovered that film thanks to a VHS copy at Kim's Video in New York. (Kim's is now sadly defunct, and its 55,000-title VHS and DVD collection donated to Salemi in Sicily, Italy.) These stories of VHS discovery are not unique to me or my friends. The collectors and denizens of video stores know these tales well, and some of these rarities highlighted in Rewind This! are a hoot. The one I need to see ASAP: an awkward, two-hour western shot entirely on VHS. While Rewind This! could have just been profiles of collectors and their passions, it expands outward from these individuals to what the VHS format meant for the history of film (and porn!). Suddenly the consumer was in control of their ability to view films rather than the studios. With video stores, people were able to browse, hunt, discover, be surprised, and be disappointed; and with video stores came an in flux of wacko movies to meet demand. The format wars are covered as well, highlighting why VHS won out in the market over Beta, complete with vintage commercials (much more charming than commercials today). The film also gives time to highlight essential to direct-to-video and sell-through heroes, like Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, Full Moon's Charles Band, and Basket Case and Brain Damage director Frank Henenlotter. A few of the tangential aspects of the VHS market get quickly picked up and then dropped, though only because these is so much to cover when it comes to the format. Tape trading, for instance, gets a brief mention, highlighting the legendary short documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot and the on-camera cursefest of Jack "Winnebago Man" Rebney. And yet there's one aspect to tape trading that wasn't touched on: the MST3K tape circulation campaign. But while this wasn't included, I concede it's more of an MST3K thing than a VHS thing per se, and it'd be hard to sculpt that into the film. Again, the VHS topic is so vast that leaving a few things out is unavoidable and necessary. What you don't get in one spot is more than made up for by those unexpected alleys an eddies of the VHS world: outsider artists, unused box art, a look into home video marketing that goes back to the strategies of Roger Corman and other B-movie mavens of the day. As Rewind This! winds down, the film switches from profile to history to outsider chronicle to a kind of call for advocacy and action. There are so many films out there that only exist on VHS, and the format's life is limited. Slowly, all the magnetic tape is losing its quality, and soon all there'll be is static and flickers of disturbance. Few beyond the collectors are taking VHS preservation seriously, and yet there's a legitimate fear of losing thousands of hours of film history forever. In the case of movies shot on VHS, it's almost like losing punk fanzines; in the case of movies never issued on a digital format, it's like losing bits of cinema history -- in both cases, it's a kind of sad cultural memory loss, though it may be the cruel nature of any history, whether of ancient civilizations or entertainment. While worrying about what the future will do to these objects of the past, the interview subjects in Rewind This! wonder what the loss of the movie in artifact form means for the future of watching film. We lose VHS for DVD and Blu-ray, and we're losing the physical discs for clouds and other forms of digital delivery that don't involve a physical component. While it's a technological step forward, it may be a step backwards for people who love film given the access and ownership provided by the physical artifact the film is printed on. And with trading and swapping things to watch, it's hard to say what these digital communities mean for members who don't have to hunt, swap, or interact directly with others in the community -- that was what tape trading and video stores provided, in a way. I wonder if there will be a similar love for DVD and Blu-ray 10 years from now. There's something about analog technology that's sexier than digital stuff -- look at the vinyl resurgence -- so I'm not so sure. (Okay, maybe audio cassettes or 8-tracks don't have as many champions, and there are hardcore laser disc collectors out there.) The love may be there for DVD, but it won't be the same, at least for one generation. I can't see a love letter/historical record like Rewind This! made for DVD or Blu-ray. This is more than just a trip down memory lane and more than just a love letter. It's the fondness for your first love -- video stores, VHS, the hunt -- that leads to a lasting obsession in entertainment and the archaeology of its past. VHS, baby, where would we be without you?
Rewind This! Review photo
The home video revolution will not be demagnetized!
Even though there are some holdout shops in certain parts of the country -- notably cities with major movie scenes -- the video store is now a dusty ruin of history. A downright ancient part of these Parthenons and Acropolise...

Flixclusive Interview: The makers of Rewind This!

Aug 26 // Hubert Vigilla
So what prompted all of you to get involved in a movie about the VHS and home video revolution? Christopher Palmer: Jooooooosh... Josh Johnson: The initial prompt was the number of people that I had seen or known there were still collecting video tapes years after they'd stopped being manufactured. They were all doing it for the same reason, which is that there are a lot of films that were only available on that format that haven't maybe jumped to other formats. So it was this sort of amateur archival effort to preserve and continue to have access to these films. And I started talking to people, I realized that there was a kind of subculture or community that could be plugged into, of people who were really passionate about this. And not in an exclusive way but in wanting to share this material with people. And that seemed like a good thing focus on for a film. The first thing I did was talk to Christopher about coming on board to shoot and edit and help out with the film. And [Christopher] brought on Carolee as a producer, and the three of us sort of talked about other types of angles we needed to explore so it wouldn't be such a narrowly focused documentary. That's how we came up with a lot of the other angles and approaches that the film takes. There's so much you could have covered with the subject matter. What made you focus on the different aspects of VHS that you have in the film? Christopher Palmer: Umm, the desire to get as near to 90 minutes as possible. [laughs] [laughs] Christopher Palmer: We had so much content and we were talking to people-- I mean we were talking to filmmakers, collectors, and people who were distributors, and all different kinds of people involved in the story. As we developed and as we traveled, someone would bring something up and all of a sudden we'd realize, "Oh, shit, we need to focus on artwork!" or "Oh, we need to focus on this other thing." And so we asked all of those questions as it was appropriate to each individual person, and we just tried to distill it into a feature-length that would be digestible. We really do have so much content that's still excellent. It's not like this is the bare minimum. It was killing babies the whole time getting rid of a lot of this footage to get it down to that length. Hopefully it'll be extra features or something. Like on a three-tape set. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Josh Johnson: Another part of whittling it down was also evaluating all of the comments we had on a particular subject and then considering whether or not when added together it would be worthy enough to be an addition to the film. So we may have had several interesting comments on a particular subject, but it still didn't feel like there was enough weight or information there that actually deals with that subject, and then the decision was that it'd be better to not get into it at all rather than get into it and not feel like we covered it properly. Christopher Palmer: Yeah, like laserdisc. We were going to hit laserdisc hard, and then we kept looking at it and were like, "Well, this was a transitional phase; this was another format. Are we going to hit every format? How much weight can we give it and do it right?" And then we realized that we can't. We have to move on. You know, mention that technology exists but just moving it forward to VOD and where we go. There's a community of VHS collectors. Did you ever find a Beta-collecting community anywhere? Carolee Mitchell: Not Beta. We talked to lots of laserdisc collectors; or lots of people who collected laserdisc, or some people who specialized in it. We found people who had a few Beta here or there, but not like specifically Beta collectors. I don't think we even heard about anyone who did that. Josh Johnson: Yeah, the only thing that I've seen is that recently there is a Facebook community for Beta Max collectors and it's very, very small. Like maybe 30 or 40 people, or something like that. That was just recent and that was the first time I'd ever really encountered any kind of group of people that were actively collecting Beta. Christopher Palmer: And remember that [VHS and Beta] were going head to head with the same movies coming out at the same time. VHS has so many movies and videos of weird stuff out there that only exist on VHS. With Beta Max, you could have all that stuff on VHS. There was really nothing in particular that would make you feel like, "I have to have this Beta Max" other than the desire to have something that's weird. And most people don't have a machine that'll play it, which I understand. Can you talk about some of your favorite local video stores growing up? Obviously a lot of the love and passion for VHS comes from those places. Josh Johnson: For me growing up it was actually not a video rental store for the most part. It was a video rental section within the local grocery store. Oh nice! Josh Johnson: I would explore the aisles and eventually kind of memorize the stock that they had, because they didn't really get new stock in more than a few times a month. So I would kind of go with a new title in mind that I wanted to get or an older title that I needed to have or wanted to revisit. And for years that was really where I went to. It wasn't until I was older that we had a local chain video store. For the most part it was that small operation out of the grocery store. And it eventually became really significant for me because when I was old enough that my parents let me ride my bike to the grocery store by myself, they just told them to put me on their account and I could rent whatever I wanted. So I would ride almost every day and get a new video and return them the next day on my bike and just keep that cycle going. I was able to see a lot to movies. Christopher Palmer: For me there were two stores. One was attached to a supermarket. It was attached to a Kroger. I don't know if you know Kroger's -- there was a Kroger Family Video. And it was cool that it was called Kroger Family Video because they had all these horror posters up and this fantastic horror collection: all this really raunchy, weird stuff. And so, you know, I worked my way through like all kinds of mainstream classic comedy stuff, but I also got to lots of horror that way. And then when I decided that I wanted to know a lot more, there was this place called Hastings. And this is like Texas stuff, maybe. I'm not sure if it's just the town that I grew up in, but they had an extensive collection, including weird shot-on-video stuff that nobody really should have. It was just amazing that in this town that may not be considered a cinema town the rental store had so much selection for you, and you could explore any genre. Carolee Mitchell: And I grew up in the tiniest of all of the towns -- I grew up in a really, really, really small Texas town, and we had two locally owned video stores, one of which is still open. Seriously? Carolee Mitchell: Like tiny, super mom-and-pop. And then there's another one there that opened a little later. We didn't actually rent that often. We recorded more than we rented. Like renting was something really special for us. My family didn't really have much money at all so we did a lot of recording and rewatching things from TV, but when we did rent it was definitely something special. And so we had all kind of agreed what we wanted to see and that was the route we went. Though when I got a little older, of course, we'd go with friends and would pick out movies to see over a weekend. There's sort of a resurgence, especially in the Brooklyn area lately, of local video stores. I still haven't had a chance to schlep to any of them., unfortunately. Have you guys made your way to any? Carolee Mitchell: We've been to Video Free Brooklyn. Christopher Palmer: Yeah, that place is nice. Carolee Mitchell: It's kind of amazing. Didn't he have a Kickstarter campaign for that? Carolee Mitchell: He did. Yeah, yeah. It's fantastic. I kind of pride myself in really knowing film well, and they have stuff I've never heard of. It's very small -- tiny, tiny small; about the size of a walk-in closet -- but just amazingly curated. It's pretty fantastic. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. We've got in there and seen movies or even labels that we've never heard or never read about. Carolee Mitchell: It's definitely something special. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Do you all collect VHS yourselves, or at least some nostalgic items held over from childhood? Christopher Palmer: Oh, we all collect VHS, but different types of things. We all have our own interests. Josh Johnson: Yeah, I think what's consistent amongst the three of us as far as VHS collecting goes is that we're all really interested in things that are only available on that format versus artwork that we like or just nostalgia that we have for a particular title. It's usually more of an archival thing, that we want to have access to these films that we love because VHS is the only way to have that. Christopher Palmer: Sometimes you have to check your titles and say, "Did this come out on DVD?" or whatever, or some format. You know, "Is it supposed to be widescreen?" "Is it accessible?" "Okay, now it's time to take it out and give it to Goodwill or a friend or something." Actually, I did appreciate that pan and scan moment in Rewind This! because for the longest time when I worked at a video store, people would keep wondering about the black bars thing. It rang sadly true. Carolee Mitchell: Oh, when my dad started buying DVDs he bought full screen because he was exactly that person who didn't want to have the black bars. So he would buy almost anything -- if it was available full screen, that is what he'd buy. And no arguing would make him change his mind. [laughs] Christopher Palmer: But it's so weird that the marketing industry has allowed up to or encouraged us to think about aspect ratio so that we buy this new format -- it was another reason to buy DVD -- and then so we eventually buy the new TVs to fit that. But it's an education, that process. Josh Johnson: It's interesting that there's a generation that's much younger than us that now has primarily experienced things via the widescreen set. So it was important for us to in the film to visually represent the things that we were talking about so that it could be absorbed by people that didn't go through this portion of home video history. How did you decide who to interview in the film? Obviously you had to choose from a wide range of people. Josh Johnson: We interviewed twice as many people as you see in the finished film, so a huge part of it was covering as broad a range as we could without necessarily knowing what things we would ultimately focus on, and then whittling that down in the edit. Initially we started talking to collectors and filmmakers and each time we would do an interview that would lead to four other suggestions of interviews that we could or should do. And we just kept following the trail wherever it went and thinking of new angles to explore. And once we got into the editing room, that's when we really figured out which topics we were going to get the most out of. Christopher Palmer: It's a very organic way of creating a documentary, just getting everything and figuring it out from what we had and what people are telling us, not trying to lead them anywhere -- what did we really need to tell this story. Carolee Mitchell: And we can't forget to mention how important social media was in this. We were all very involved in Twitter, Facebook, so tons of recommendations from people and people reaching out to us saying, "I hear you're making this doc. I have someone that you need to talk to." So that played a huge role on the production of the film. Josh Johnson: Absolutely. We got a lot of recommendations from people we did not know and had no interaction with whatsoever. They became aware of the film and reached out to us. You guys Kickstarted the film. Josh Johnson: Yeah, for completion rather than the upfront funding, so we'd been working for a couple years before we launched [a campaign on Kickstarter] to get the funding to complete it the way we wanted to. How was the campaign? I've always wondered about crowdfunding through social media. Was there a learning process involved? Carolee Mitchell: Well, like we said, we're pretty involved in social media so we did a lot of research about the best practices. We had already been prepping any press outlet that we had friendships with and let them know that this was coming a few months before we even launched it. And then just following best practices and being very explicit about where the money is going. I think the fact that we already had so much put into the film helped us get the funding. It's a lot harder of you haven't started it and haven't put anything in to get people to give you money. But we have a great trailer, you know, we have a great teaser for it that showed the quality of what we're doing, the quality of the people involved. I think that people had confidence that their money was actually going to lead to something that would be finished and successful. Josh Johnson: The other thing that I think was really significant about it was that because we were so active in social media in cultivating an audience, we had a large audience for the film in place before the Kickstarter launched. So not just journalists, but there were also people that were becoming fans of this film before anything actually existed. When the Kickstarter launched, they were already right there aware of it and ready to contribute. Let's get back to the collectors. With the collectors that you interviewed, did you find any commonalities in their personalities or differences even? Christopher Palmer: Well there were different kinds of collectors, for sure. There were ones that all about collecting en masse. There was certainly that. And there were some that I feel like were much more about the hunt: going out to flea markets, garage sales, and just that process. And then there was like Dormarth, who were just about getting horror and breaking it down into sub-genres. There were different kinds of collectors out there. Josh Johnson: One commonality that we found that was very surprising to us -- although I suppose it does sort of make sense on a certain level -- is that there was a huge overlap between VHS collectors and professional wrestling fans. Really? Interesting. Josh Johnson: So many of the people that collect videos that are featured -- I mean, we don't get into it in the movie -- but in their personal lives, they really are passionate about watching professional wrestling. They may even tape it or have viewing parties. There was a lot of overlap. Carolee Mitchell: That was surprising for me. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. What do you think the explanation for that is? Josh Johnson: I think just that professional wrestling in the form that it's primarily known as now is something that really got popularized in the 80s around the same time that the video culture was booming, so I think it's a nostalgia for the same time. But there's no obvious overlap for me. I mean we're all passionate about home video, and yet we don't have any interest in professional wrestling. So it was a surprise to us. I guess it kind of makes sense. I remember when I was still really into wrestling from age 10 to 18, I'd tape pay-per-views. Maybe that's part of it too? I don't know. Christopher Palmer: I mean, nostalgia is a huge aspect to this, but it's access too. We don't want anyone to believe that there's some sort of arrested development going on with our subjects because there isn't. I mean, there's so many different reasons to appreciate VHS and it's still relevant today, which I think is the message to come away with. And taking two steps back to what we were talking about a second ago, it's a testament to how universal this story is; how powerful the home video concept was: to own it and control it. We were getting support from all over the world. All over the world people were like, "Here, yes. We want to encourage you to continue and make this project successful." How do you think streaming and online video have changed the way people experience movies? Carolee Mitchell: There's definitely a mass consumption aspect now, right? I mean almost anything you want to see is available immediately and you're able to sit down and watch films 24 hours straight without ever getting out of your couch, really. [laughs] There is something about the fact that there is so much media that's instantly available. I don't know what that says, but there's a complete difference. Christopher Palmer: There's a perception of infinite access. It's this idea, and I think it's false, that we have so much control and we can see anything we want at any time. And yeah, you can download things, you can bit torrent things, you can watch things on Netlflix, and we have a great deal of control, but in some ways we don't. And I feel like that's something people need to talk about now. You pay this money and you access this [digital information], but it's an ephemeral thing, and it doesn't exist in a way that you can resell it or hand it to a friend to say "Watch it." And, you know, what does that mean for the future of being a film consumer? Josh Johnson: What the home video revolution changed more than anything else about our relationship to movies was that concept of ownership. Once people had ownership over their movies they had a sense of entitlement to have access to these movies. It was considered dangerous to the studios because they no longer had that control to give or take at will. What's interesting about the streaming phenomenon is now going [against that]: the studios can grant or deny access at will. So the perception that the access is unlimited is in fact kind of false. The streaming revolution is probably the closest the industry has ever been to the way it was in the 1930s, when studios had a monopoly on the entire distribution system. A movie is no longer an artifact -- it's intellectual property and digital information. Josh Johnson: Exactly. And the control is completely in the studio's hands. What do you think that spells for the future of how we consume media? Especially if it does wind up going in that direction. Josh Johnson: That's a good question... It's difficult to speculate, but I think one thing that's going to change is that physical media is probably going to go away beyond being more than a nostalgia item, and there will be a lot of access to a large library of films. What I think is going to go away is the ability to truly see anything that you might want, because [studios are] going to make things limited for a certain amount of time, they're never going to pull their entire catalog and then digitize it. So the need to maintain some of these physical objects as they are released is going to be more important, because they're no reason to assume that they're going to be available in any other version, whether it's on a cloud or something else. And this sort of amateur archival effort is happening now with videotape collecting is going to become more relevant and more important, because it really will be clear that it's going to be the only way to be seeing this material. Are there any professional VHS archivists who are working or is it just the network of collectors? Christopher Palmer: I mean aside from the torrenting community -- which is really all it has been up until this point to get VHS content out there that's only on VHS -- there are a few start-up archives that want to digitize [VHS] and make this stuff available. Nothing is widely available at this point. Josh Johnson: It's starting to happen but there's a lot of resistance within the archival community because there's been so much time and investment put into celluloid archiving that to step away from that to start working on this is something that not a lot of people are very interested in doing. The reality is that the timeline is more urgent for video than it is for a lot of celluloid. Christopher Palmer: Celluloid's going to keep for a while. It's more stable-- Carolee Mitchell: If properly taken care of. Christopher Palmer: If properly taken care of, yeah -- it doesn't catch on fire. [laughs] [laughs] Christopher Palmer: Magnetic tape is [more finite]. They were saying 30 years, roughly? Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Have they starting to notice a lot of magnetic tape starting to go kaput? Is it just a matter of getting blurred or a steady degradation over time? Christopher Palmer: It's a gradual degradation. It's not like it's gone. It's just more-- I don't know how you'd describe it. It's looks like tape wear, you know? It looks like more and more tape wear. Josh Johnson: Yeah, the actual timeline is not really definitive. Some tapes are aging better than others. It's hard to know exactly what the lifespan is going to be, but that's exactly why it's urgent that this material be preserved as soon as possible, because the timeline is so vague. The nature of nostalgia is something that I'm always interested in. You talked about the commonality of pro wrestling with collectors. Are there any other nostalgia items that are common to VHS collectors? Christopher Palmer: That we've encountered? Yeah. Christopher Palmer: Some people were into [audio] tape cassettes, which was interesting because I don't know if it's possible that there are things on tape cassette that are not on vinyl or on a CD. But I feel like that is something that people are definitely harkening back to earlier time to appreciate. Carolee Mitchell: A lot of the people that we talked to and a lot of the people that we know who are collectors really are focusing [on VHS]. I would say that with the majority of the serious VHS collectors, it's not nostalgia-based -- it is access-based, that it's not available anywhere else, and if you want this movie, it has to be VHS. So it's necessarily nostalgia. Christopher Palmer: Yeah, I think it's so easy... We're very forgetful in this modern age. Something new comes out, and we're ready to adopt it very quickly, which is cool -- you know, we appreciate that, and something movies forward. But then we forget what we just had, and maybe even throw that stuff in the garbage. I know for myself, and this is kind of stupid, but when DVD came along I was so excited about 5.1 surround -- you know, I knew what that meant -- and widescreen -- I've been wanted that for a while. And I gave away my tapes. I gave away my tapes, and I kind of regret that, and it took me a few years to realize that there are a few things [with VHS not on DVD] and I really should give up on this format for the new one. Josh Johnson: That's not to take away from the function of nostalgia, which is also obviously a part of the film. As far as other commonalities like professional wrestling, I'd say skateboarding is something a lot of people had a lot of nostalgia for, and skateboarding was a popular thing in the media [of the home video era]. And also just a general kind of love for underappreciated cultural touchstones: things that were meaningful when you're 15 that people dismiss when they're 30. A lot of people that are motivated by nostalgia are really holding on to certain artifacts of a particular time of their lives and they want to be able to continue to celebrate it. I totally have to ask about that shot-on-VHS western. Christopher Palmer: Ah yeah. Like seriously, how is it to watch that? Is it really as awkward as the clip in the documentary? Christopher Palmer: Every. Single. Scene. It's under two hours but it feels like three days. [laughs] Christopher Palmer: But it's magical! I don't know. Josh? What do you think? Josh Johnson: It is absolutely that awkward, but it's also that unique. I mean, it doesn't feel like any other movie; it certainly doesn't feel like a conventional western. Most shot-on-video movies tend to be action and horror, so even on that level of other amateur films it doesn't really feel similar. So it's a very unique experience. Good or bad, it stands alone. Christopher Palmer: And that's one that you cannot get on a bit torrent. You are not going to be able to find. Still VHS only. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Is there a prize item in any of your VHS collections? Carolee Mitchell: Well, we have more of a Holy Grail item that I know Josh has been looking for. Josh Johnson: I've really been trying to find this movie called Science Crazed. [embed]215120:39812:0[/embed] Science Crazed. Josh Johnson: Which I've seen but don't have a copy of. It's a Canadian film that was shot on 16mm independently in the late 80s and then realeased direct-to-video in 1991. And it's a feature film comprised of about 45 minutes of footage and they stretch that out to a feature length by recycling the same footage over and over into different contexts and new scenes. And it's sort of a fascinating editorial [experiment] to watch and study how they use a limited amount of footage to create a full-length movie. It's just nowhere. Carolee Mitchell: We can't find it. We know a couple of people who have it-- Christopher Palmer: And one of them was a star in it! [laughs] [laughs] Josh Johnson: There were probably hundreds of tapes made but, they just seem to have fallen off the radar. We haven't been able to find any. It never turns up on eBay or the Amazon marketplace. Carolee Mitchell: We've been looking. [laughs] Christopher Palmer: And what's amazing about this era was that the people who made this film were able to go to mom and pop shops and be like, "We've got this movie. You should rent our movie!" And they sold this movie directly to the mom and pop store. You'd never be able to do that. You certainly can't just walk into Netflix's headquarters and be like, "You need to put this on Watch Instantly!" [laughs] Christopher Palmer: It's just not going to work that easily. There's a structure now. [But back then] it was so fast and loose that just anyone could do that. Josh Johnson: It was a wild west industry during the early years of the home video era, and it's really exciting to think about the film industry in those terms.
Rewind This! Interview photo
Josh Johnson, Christopher Palmer, and Carolee Mitchell talk VHS love
With the documentary Rewind This!, director Josh Johnson has created a fine overview of the VHS era, covering the many different facets of the home video revolution. It's not an easy task to tackle the whole format from diffe...

Interview: Richard Raaphorst (Frankenstein's Army)

Jul 24 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215504:40021:0[/embed] [Editor's note: some of the responses were altered to avoid spoilers. Thanks to Dave of Unseen Films for the photo of Richard Raaphorst after a screening. Concept art from Raaphorst's new projects are from his website,] Can you talk about where the initial idea for Frankenstein's Army came from? If you think back, it's very hard to understand where an idea comes from because most of the time an idea comes to you. Because you don't expect it. An idea is popping up emotionally out of nowhere. It's like how a neutrino becomes an electron -- there's no reason why it's happening. Ideas sort of like weird scientific phenomenon. Well, it started with an emotion, really. Very abstract. I think 10 years ago -- I'm a big soundtrack collector -- and I bought the soundtrack for Fight Club and there was this intro song, and maybe you can recall it. It was very violent, very mechanical: DZZZGH! DZZZGH! DZZZGH! And it was very staccato. [Editor's note: It's "Stealing Fat" by The Dust Brothers, and it's the embedded video above.] When I played it over and over again, I got this feeling of these mechanical claws, ones that are very rusty and with layers of history. I didn't have a context or whatever, I just knew I wanted to do something with robotic arms made in a clumsy, old-fashioned way. And that was chasing me all the time until I suddenly saw the context for what the story should be. It had many different identities until I realized that I wanted to make an army of Frankensteins, basically. That was my wish -- I analyzed my own wish. And then I thought, "Why not make Frankenstein's Army?" I'm kind of... not really obsessed but fascinated with the Second World War, and so I wanted to do two things. I thought, "How can I combine this?" And I thought, "It's uncombinable," however you say it, so just do it! [laughs] Yeah! Because it's illogical. And that's cool, you know? I'm going to do something which is in fact totally illogical and make the unbelievable believable. That's what I wanted to do. [embed]215504:40022:0[/embed] You mentioned being a soundtrack collector. Are there any personal favorites, or did other soundtracks inform Frankenstein's Army? Yes. There's a lot of stuff from -- well, it's not really soundtracks but it can be soundtracks -- it's from Jim Thirlwell. He's from Australia and lives now in England, and he makes really dark soundtracks, but they don't belong to a film. Interesting. [Editor's note: Thirlwell is probably best known for his work with Coil and Foetus, and also for scoring The Venture Bros.] Do you know what it is about soundtracks? I have a theory about it. Do you have time? Certainly. Please, yeah. It's like paintings. If you paint a landscape, then the landscape is inviting the viewer to step into this world, right? To experience the atmosphere. I'm very into watching atmospheres. As soon as you paint a face or a person in it, the painting doesn't invite you anymore because the focus is entirely going to the main subject. Yeah. The same thing with soundtracks. Soundtracks are inviting you, they're challenging your imagination. You are really swimming into the music rather than singing along with the lyrics. Do you understand this difference? Yeah. There's like this feeling rather than words or a specific image. You create a cloud around you with an atmosphere and that is feeling, that's how it works with me. So basically soundtracks, audio, is the core of inspiration, even the core of those visual ideas in Frankenstein's Army. It all starts with an emotion. Even now when I start to draw, I first try to set down a soundtrack or a tone in a soundtrack. Like Philip Glass in Koyaanisqatsi, there's a second track called "Organic." It only starts with one tone, and that one tone for me is focus. It's an emotion, and everything you can build off of it. [embed]215504:40023:0[/embed] That's actually and interesting theory, though. It makes sense. If everything starts with an emotion then all of a sudden everything can be tethered to that initial tone that goes through. And now that I think further, I think I try to create this line also in this movie because it's first person. There's not really a protagonist. The protagonist is the viewer, so it's the same with soundtracks: you have to fill it in yourself. You are the one that is not getting answers but is asking the questions, yeah? You are the one who's responsible for what's good and bad. I'm not in charge to say that, so in that way I leave a lot open and I leave a lot of it up to imagination. I don't know, it's just that I want to invite. [a beat] You know, the thing with soundtracks is that it's also thin ice because people always look for the things that are missing. They say, "Hey, there are no drums! There's no vocal! There's no lyrics! How can it be music?" It's the same with any other thing which is new. First they look at the things they are missing, and then later when it's been approved, they invent a new genre [label], and then it's suddenly accepted. Once there's a label, you know. Sort of like-- Yeah, the labeling. Once it's become identifiable it winds up-- It needs a stamp. And I think I need a stamp as well on this one. Oh really? I don't have a name for it yet. It's a fusion of many things and it's hard to define which one it is because it's many. And now at the moment I'll call it horror-fusion or fantasy-fusion. It's a mixture with a little of everything. Amid the mixture there's the found footage aspect. Could you talk about your decision to make this the found footage of a Russian propaganda movie, or really a kind of war document on a mad scientist? I took it a little broad, you know? I didn't do it too literally, but I wanted to create a bridge between film and role-playing/first-person perspective gaming. What I said earlier was that I wanted to make the viewer part of the bad guys or the good guys -- the soldiers. I thought, "It's nice if it really comes close to us, and it's us to decide if [what happens] is good or bad." It's so easy to make a judgment from a helicopter's point of view, and that's not how it is in life. It's down in there. We can never pull ourselves above our heads and look around. We are in it, and that's it. So I wanted it to get a kind of intensity, and I thought intensity and atmosphere were more important than building a character from A to Z, and we can say, "Okay, this is a nice character," this is the first act and this is how it develops. We are so used to this grammatical form of movie watching that it becomes very predictable. The pattern, yeah. And that's what I don't like. I don't like being predictable, you know, because it's boring. [laughs] [laughs] I really dug Frankenstein's army itself. Can you talk about creating the individual creatures? Before creating you have to create limits first, or else you can create anything and then it becomes boring again. Things become farfetched. So what I did, I made limitations. I call this an oblique strategy, so you take something from outside with which you can control your creativity. What I did, I got very close to the scriptwriter. He made his own monsters, and I'm going to do literally what he's saying but then in my own way. So he says, "I've got here a zombot with four arms." And when it was designed it looked like shit. What did it-- It looks weird. [Editor's note: At this point we both put our arms up at our sides and waved them around at each other.] You know? [laughs] And I was wrestling with it over and over and over again until I decided that it could walk on four arms. [The description] doesn't say it has to have legs. And so, you know, it became the mosquito guy. Which is such a striking image. Which is totally different from the initial robot guy with four arms. So this was really working for me, because it brought me further than my own imagination. This is how I work. I always like to listen to other people's briefs and take it and do my own thing with it. Because if everything needs to come out of your own head, the ideas will be pretty empty pretty quick, you know? Yeah. For me it was like a nice play through, yeah. Do you have a favorite zombot? Totally. It's the little walking trash bin. Oh, that guy's awesome! [laughs] Yeah! I thought, "I want to reduce someone to the bare minimum," you know? Just a walking trash bin with legs. And it's very unclear what it can do. Exactly. It's just this weird presence which shows a madness, but I was always trying to figure what his purpose would be. Like, "Is he just an ottoman?" There's a melody line in it, in the designs, because what I did was start organic and I ended robotic. So I started as human I can do, without any attachments. Even when they're completely naked, the beginning. Then you see a variation with clothes on. And then it goes further and further and further until propeller head. He's the most extreme one, and you cannot top yourself anymore, so then you have to go into a different kind of atmosphere. So if you look at the traditional three-act structure, it isn't there, but I used different arcs, like spiraling down in visual madness, which is overtaken, and then suddenly the whole found footage idea becomes a one-take steady shot, and everything takes place in front [of the camera] like theater. Which is the opposite of the beginning. My approach was totally different from the traditional way, but I think there's no other way for me. Was there a particularly difficult sequence to stage? Was there a very difficult-- Everything was extremely difficult. Really? Everything in the interiors because the takes were so long and everything was practical, it was absolutely undoable. I mean, of course it was doable because we prepared so well, but we could only afford four takes at the maximum. We had 20 days of shooting. So it's go-go-go. It was like a military operation, and no one was allowed to make mistakes. But it was great fun. I became the bigger me. [laughs] [laughs] Could you explain? You realize that you are capable of doing things that you are not aware about. It's you pushing the bar so high that the only way to get there is to force yourself to grow, and it matters for everyone there. It was, "This is the plan and we're going to do it, no matter what." And there's zero tolerance, and there was also this energy that was very addictive with everyone. And yeah, I think it worked very well. We did everything we planned to do. No pages were torn out. I would have assumed with a short shoot like that you'd eventually go, "What don't we need?" But you kept everything. And we did even something extra sometimes. What was one of the add-ons? Well, we thought we needed another zombot in the factory sequence. There's an industrial American thing standing in the corner. We need just an extra detail, you know? Everything is in the details. That's where I wanted to have it detailed as possible, and sometimes we are running out of details so we created some more. There were some fighting scenes we added, and the zombot with the exploding eye. Oh yeah. That was extra. Just a few hours preparation and we just did it. It's quite amazing, but of course, last day we were totally zombots ourselves. [laughs] [laughs] Yeah, you guys were probably mostly machines. Yeah. I really admire the use of practical effects. Do you have any thoughts about CG? Yeah, of course. I do a lot of CG in commercials, but only when it's not visible, because I think it's misused a lot. Nowadays, every nice shot looks like a postcard: beautiful clouds, the perfect sky, you know? It's like a painter is making all the shots, and I don't like that at all. I like eye candy myself a lot, but it doesn't mean that it has to be painted [and look] dead. Practical effects feel physical even when it's with foam and it's puppety, it's real-made. There's a presence. Yeah, and digital is out of computer and it doesn't have any charm. And I wanted to make a character movie. Every zombot needed to be a character and also I thought for the soldiers it was important to distinguish themselves from each other, but also I wanted the location to be a character, and each room needed to be a character, and also the movie itself needed to be a character. So there's no way for CG. If I would add CGI it would be characterless. It's the difference between an oil painting and an airbrush. Yeah. Or a Photoshop. It looks even more perfect, but you don't have texture. Texture is what gives you charm, that's what I believe anyway. I can only speak for myself. On the note of texture, I guess, or charm, one of the moments of film I liked so much involved the scene with the brains toward the end with Frankenstein himself. It's such a kooky, mad idea, but maybe it's also utopian in a warped way. [laughs] It was one of the-- The most difficult thing of this movie was trying to define the character of Frankenstein, because I didn't want to do anything that was the same as we've known him. Everybody who was thinking of Frankenstein saw this distinguished gentleman. Like Peter Cushing in a Hammer Movie. And I was constantly hammering that this was not the case. I only got people [auditioning] who were fitting into this Peter Cushing kind of stuff until I met Karel Roden, and then suddenly I realized, "You are the guy. You are so out of the box." He has this mysterious aspect. It's the same thing that you cannot really define who he was, and this is what made him very interesting. But also he was so critical of why Frankenstein is doing the things that he does. And he's just a guy who wants to end the war, but he's a very simple guy. His father did all the science, so he doesn't need to be intellectual or smart. He like a mechanic almost. It's like a car factory worker! Exactly. Or a plumber. "Oh, this works. Next!" And it was more like that, and I thought, "Now that's a Frankenstein I never have seen." And you know, I don't really want to make it too serious, I want to entertain. I thought, "You know, it starts maybe a bit serious, but then we can add more and more humor, and I think it worked out pretty well. When you see too many monsters, they will be boring, so I needed to boost up just a real human being. Who himself is just fascinating to see on camera. But you know, when you hear him talking, he's even crazier than the craziest zombot. There's another twist. And... [a beat] Oh you were talking about Frankenstein and the brain. We had this back and forth about what he wants. He wants to end the war. How? He wants to make the sides understand each other. How? [laughs] And that's how the brain came about! [laughs] It's brilliant! [laughs] It's like a mechanic who doesn't know anything about neurology going, "Yeah, why not?" But it's the heart of things... or it's the brain of things. [laughs] I wanted to have this like a pictogram, just as a symbol almost. This was a shot that was not in the script at first, but created it in two weeks before wrap. The special effects guy, he said, "I don't have any budget anymore!" He used everything he had. But we found a way to make it work by re-using old material. Repurposing old brains! Nice! But that's the Frankenstein way of thinking again. Not only did you create zombots but-- We tried to use everything. It's an extra shot, but it's my favorite shot. It's the moment in the movie where everything about Frankenstein kind of makes sense. It's like, "Ah, that's why he's doing it... Oh god, that's why he's doing it?" And how he's doing it is like-- Obvious almost. [laughs] [laughs] What's next for you? Any projects down the pipeline? I'm developing two scripts very seriously and I'm going to shoot two trailers for both projects, and I'm going to the market at the end of this year. Also I'm very open-minded to do a sequel to Frankenstein's Army. There's a lot of potential there. As a matter of fact, we have an outline already, and it's... Well, I cannot say anything but I can't wait too break it out. I have keep myself, or I have to control myself not to work it out too early. [laughs] Can you say anything about the other two scripts you're working on? Ummm... They're both biological horror. And one of them is more science fiction and it's about the Higgs boson. And the other one is based on Dutch legends in which there are children who are buried in the soil. They come back. Their hands grow above the surface, and the hands are in the shape of mushrooms begging for mercy. And when you eat those mushrooms, those kids are going to haunt your head. That sounds incredible! [laughs] [laughs] And the Higgs boson is about the discovery of the Higgs. Do you know what the Higgs is? I'm not familiar. They call it the God particle. Ah, okay. They discovered it in Geneva in the CERN. The particle has no mass but it's... Okay, the Higgs boson goes like this. [Editor's note: Raaphorst demonstrated a path with his finger traveling through a Coke can on the table.] And it goes slow, slow, slow, and because it's going slow here that this can materializes. So [the characters in the film] fuck up the Higgs boson, so you can imagine what will happen with a Coke can like this, but also human beings! That sounds awesome! Both of them sound awesome. [laughs] [laughs] So I'm making designs right now, and I want to try to be as original as H.R. Giger in Alien.
Frankenstein Interview photo
Director Richard Raaphorst discusses the music and mayhem of Nazi zombots
Even though I had issues with the found-footage aspect of Frankenstein's Army, there's a great anarchic imagination in the film, and it belongs to director Richard Raaphorst. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Raaphorst...


Flix for Short: The Mad Scientist (Fleischer's Superman)

Let's kick it old school with Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios
Jun 10
// Hubert Vigilla
With Man of Steel coming out this week, it just makes sense to highlight something with Superman. And where better than the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons? These are bona fide classics that feature some of the best Superman...

Tribeca Review: The Machine

Apr 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215486:40012:0[/embed] The MachineDirector: Caradog JamesRating: TBDCountry: UKRelease Date: TBD We're told through introductory title cards that there's a new Cold War with China, one which has left the world a dystopian mess of Terminator and Blade Runner references. Somewhere in a secret research bunker, scientists are trying to develop artificial intelligence systems in order to out-think, out-strategize, and out-kill the Chinese. At the head of this research is Vincent (Toby Stephens), a man who's wrestling with the moral issues of cybernetics and robotics while also dealing with a daughter who's been reduced to a near vegetative state because of some vaguely defined yet debilitating health condition. A young and (of course) beautiful new programmer named Ava (Caity Lotz) comes on board with a program that proves extremely advanced and borderline sentient. Ava and Vincent form a strong bond, though the top brass at the facility raise some questions about Ava's suitability for the mission given some signs of political radicalism in her past. After a few sinister machinations from the heads of the research facility, this leads to the creation of a new anthropomorphic killing machine that may or may not have developed actual AI. In terms of the aesthetics of The Machine, the film is never bland to look at. Cinematographer Nicolai Brüel makes the movie look like higher-end 1980s sci-fi, though it's teased up with lots of lens flare and artful color correction. The production design is also well done, in particular the machine itself. Its creation is one of the film's standout set pieces, one rendered in a crescendo of synth and awe via the score. Somehow the imagery is familiar and yet comes into its own. There's a later set piece where the machine, in a fit of immature humanity, decides to dance in the underground lair. It's nicely handled with just the right amount of CG flourish to suggest the machine's joy and fluster in a room that's all shadows and artfully wet concrete. But all this style can't really mask a subpar story that's dependent on nostalgia for the 1980s sci-fi films being referenced. The Machine never breaks its pre-programmed storytelling or transcends being a shoddy copy of superior movies. Since a unique personality for The Machine doesn't emerge, the wonderful look of the film winds up being an exercise in useless beauty that's sub-RoboCop knock-off, sub-Terminator knock-off, and sub-Blade Runner knock-off at best. It doesn't help that Lotz's performance isn't too convincing in the first half of the film, and Stephens has little if any chemistry with her or anyone. What's most frustrating for me about The Machine is that writer/director Caradog James included elements that could have distinguished his film from its forebears. These touches could have elevated the material beyond mere 1980s rental fodder made in the 21st century. The first few scenes of the film show how the AI and robotics research is done. Both present ethical and philosophical ideas that could have pushed the material out of familiar territory and still easily have been merged into a sci-fi/action third act. Sadly the promise is squandered. Many of the machines that guard the research facility are made from the bodies of soldiers who were severely wounded in the second Cold War. One troop whose head is half blown off is revived to check his cognition and memory. The rest of the troops have generally lost the ability to speak and instead communicate with other machines through this growling, part-guttural and part-digital speech that only they can understand. This emergence of an independent robot proto-society alongside the humans is a sign of potential AI -- culture and language doesn't just emerge on their own -- but for some reason this is just left on the side and never really explored. On top of that, so many of the images and circumstances surrounding these robot test subjects recall Guantanamo Bay -- orange jumpsuits, cages, indefinite internment. It's all there as suggestion rather than an integral part of the film's plot, which is odd given Ava's suspect political positions. There's a sociopolitical charge in this material that's just tossed aside like some superfluous detail when it really could have been the defining quality of The Machine. Maybe this could have made the film feel less like an '80s throwback and more like like its own thing. Yet the most intriguing part of The Machine for me involved Vincent talking to colored walls. This is the method used to test the reasoning of various programs that come his way. Vincent conducts the Turing test, named after Alan Turing, the father of computer science and AI research. Vincent asks one wall a question, and the wall responds to the question to demonstrate human-like abstract thinking. A second wall is asked a question -- ostensibly a second hemisphere of the AI brain -- and the conversation continues. Evidence of AI would involve responses that emerge from the program's own ability to learn from speech, something that comes independent of pre-programmed responses. At one point, Vincent asks a colored wall something like this: If a child sees a dog in a window, what does the child want and why. The wall responds with poetic abstract thinking, which is both absurd and yet so human. In fact, it overthinks its response in order to sound more human, which is such a fascinating conceit. Maybe the reason I responded to scenes that involved talking walls is because these moments contained some surprises and new possibilities, both of which are lacking in the rest of The Machine.
The Machine Review photo
You probably rented this on VHS in the 1980s
Retro-style futures sometimes look more futuristic than modern approximations of what the future will be like, and there's a definite retro aesthetic at work in The Machine. In some ways, it's similar in style to Beyond the B...


Help fund the documentary Chuck Norris vs Communism

How VHS piracy helped make life more tolerable in Ceausescu's Romania
Apr 09
// Hubert Vigilla
You may remember last year that we shared a promotional trailer for Chuck Norris vs. Communism, a documentary on how a woman named Irina Nistor dubbed thousands of illegal foreign blockbusters in 1980s Romania. This act of V...

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.
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...

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 Street
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...

Review: Blancanieves

Mar 29 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215183:39882:0[/embed] BlancanievesDirector: Pablo BergerRating: PG-13Release Date: March 29, 2013 (limited)Country: Spain With any retelling of a fairy tale, part of the fun is knowing the original tale, spotting the differences in it, and finding out how these differences affect the retelling. Immediately in Blancanieves we are struck by the sense of variation. There's the look of 1920s Spain, which has an odd timelessness to it since many of the clothes and design elements don't seem out of style. There's also the brutal romanticism of bullfighting. Viewed as an outsider to Spanish culture, I think bullfighting also adds to the timelessness of Blancanieves. It's something elegant and macho and bloody, but also oddly chivalric. Think dragonslaying but as a spectator sport; something that could only be lauded in a time when there were only nascent animal rights movements around. The opening of the film shows the tragic circumstances surrounding the birth of Carmen, the title character, played as a child by Sofía Oria and as a young woman by Macarena García. Her father was the celebrated bullfighter Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and her mother the beloved singer Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta). Both of them prevail in her blood. In an early scene, young Carmen is being fit for a dress and she begins to dance. There's no gramophone nearby playing a record. The music is entirely on the movie's soundtrack and in Carmen's head. It's one of many moments in the movie where music signifies recognition and memory, and each separate moment has a power to it. I come back to the silent film form again and think that another reason for the choice is that working within the constraints of a silent film allows skilled filmmakers to engage in acts of enchantment and bewilderment. Berger's using these sound and music cues to tap into character's heads while propelling the narrative forward, and he's also showing a kind of magic that's exclusive to a movie without sound. Suddenly all sound and all absence of sound have meaning, and so do the origins of these sounds and absences. It's almost like a little bit of sleight of hand that reminded me of how movies can still captivate through relatively simple means. Initially raised by her grandmother, Carmen eventually winds up living in her father's house, which has been taken over by her wicked stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdú of Y Tu Mamá También and Pan's Labyrinth). Verdú plays the role with relish and elan, wandering through each scene like she's part evil queen and part silent film siren. Child endangerment and abuse is par for the course in Grimm, but here the labor seems downright Dickensian at times. Carmen's hair is cropped to look boyish, her pet rooster is banished to the chicken coop, and she's forced to live in a dank coal cellar. Encarna forbids Carmen from going to the second floor of the house, which is where her father (whom she's never met) might be kept. Another bit of Berger's directorial sleight of hand precedes Carmen's arrival at her father's house: the simple act of dying a white dress black. It's another one of those things that I think fits in the silent film form, though it's done with a lot of modern sophistication. Not only is it a great image, but it's a beautiful expedient that conveys a somber event, the passage of time, and a change in the film's mood. The same goes for Carmen's transition into adulthood, which is a great blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. (There's a less artful transition involving the falling pages of a calendar, but it's less an act of sleight of hand and more a wink to silent film conventions.) But Berger's able to use his filmmaking technique to very fragile, human, heartbreaking ends as well. Without saying too much about a certain scene in Carmen's father's house, there's a moment that involves music as memory and the sudden appearance of a character who merely walks into the frame of an extended shot and walks out. It's such a haunting second or two, and seeing the performance play out after this brief reappearance tempers the rest of the scene with a kind of solemnity -- there's happiness, but it's one that makes a character long for a happiness that can never return. So many of the scenes in the house of Encarna are about the joys and sadnesses people are forced to endure. It's a reminder that while this is a retelling of a fairy tale, there's a melancholy note to much of it. Blancanieves unfolds with a sense of wonder and beauty. The cycles of sound and vision as externalized memory continue throughout, and there's even a magnification of familiar images when they recur. A small bell tinkling in one scene becomes larger bells tolling toward the end, an impossibly gorgeous music cue from one moment will return when it's most needed for a character (and for a scene to have the most impact). It makes sense that these magnifications occur as Carmen grows into a young woman, and it also makes strange sense that there's a cycle of history that needs to be repeated and overcome. What's more apt for a fairy tale than the story of child dealing with the monster that destroyed her parents? But with any fairy tale retelling, it's not just the variations that get me. It's the inevitability of it all. I know what's coming, so what happens when we get there? There will be dwarves, the showdown with the wicked stepmother, and the presence of the dreaded poisoned apple. And what then? Because while I know what's coming, this is a riff on the tale I know, not the tale retold the same way, and part of the fun of any retelling is to be surprised when the surprises come, and to be moved by these surprises when you realize that they were also inevitable. It's the eagerness of knowing and the dazzling mystery of not knowing all in one, like being a child at a magic show watching a new take on a familiar trick. That may be the most apt analogy I can think of for what Berger made me feel during Blancanieves.
Blancanieves Review photo
A silent film-style retelling of Snow White set in 1920s Spain (with bullfighting!)
Pablo Berger's Blancanieves will inevitably draw comparisons to Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist since both are silent films. (Blancanieves was Spain's official Oscar entry last year, and I suspect the silent film form was pa...


Details on Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel

Fox Searchlight may release film at the end of the year
Mar 28
// Hubert Vigilla
Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom was our pick for the best comedy of 2012. Anderson's latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is another period piece and it may lead to back-to-back Golden Pterodactyls for best comedy. Fox Sear...

Flix for Short: Rediscovered Empire Strikes Back doc

A vintage Star Wars making-of by Michael Parbot from 1980
Mar 01
// Hubert Vigilla
Long thought lost, this making-of documentary on The Empire Strikes Back is the bee's knees. It features lots of never-before-seen footage of the Battle of Hoth, stuff with tauntauns and wampas, and Mark Hamill choreographin...

Iron Man editor develops iPad editing app

Feb 19
// Logan Otremba
Dan Lebental, editor of the Iron Man series, apparently misses touching real film while he is editing. So he has been developing an application for the iPad called TouchEdit which will bring us a step back closer to the simpl...

Review: No

Feb 15 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]213240:39004[/embed] NoDirector: Pablo LarraínRating: RCountry: ChileRelease Date: February 15, 2013 (New York/LA) No opens with a delightfully eighties commercial for a cola called Free. It's the brainchild of René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) who works for one of Chile's better-known ad agencies. There's a synth rock jingle, bad fashion, and that transparent appeal to youth culture. (Or at least it's transparent now that advertising's become more sophisticated.) René's approached by Pinochet's political opposition to helm an ad campaign against the regime. The opposition's current ads are dour to the extreme, but rightfully so. They chronicle Pinochet's human rights abuses, how many people have died for opposing the government, the number of political enemies that have been disappeared by the state's goons. René's unimpressed with what he sees. The commercials are all too depressing even though he acknowledges the fight for a country's soul is a serious matter. If the "yes" side wins, that's eight more years of dictatorial rule. René's got a radical idea: junk their current ads and move in a different direction. Instead of focusing on death and political prisoners, they'll market a "no" vote as something positive; a secret "yes" for Chile's future. Think of democracy as a desirable commodity, a kind of self-empowerment. No is the real thing, the taste of a new generation, less Costa-Gavras and more Coca-Cola; liberty is an ice cold beverage, freedom is just like Free. Ads usually sell consumers something they don't know they want. René and the opposition are trying to sell Chileans something they want but are afraid to ask for. That's the implicit reason René wants to start from scratch. The old ads were all about the consequences of standing up to Pinochet -- execution, imprisonment, exile. In a sense, they were ads for the state rather than against it. The invisible slogan: if you vote no, you'll become one of the following statistics. This might be why purely negative campaigns aren't always successful -- you're attacking without presenting a positive alternative. One of the most striking things about No is its presentation: shot on Betamax in 4:3 full frame. You notice it right from the opening titles, which are written on sheets of paper. The images have that ghostly, doubled look of magnetic tape -- kind of like supernatural 3D. The rest of the film is pulled off with more polished Betamax cinematography, so the opening titles might be especially wonky just to acclimate the audience to the video quality. The image is grainy, the colors are washed out, like local broadcast television if you grew up in the 1980s. Most of the footage is handheld, which gives No the aesthetic of lo-fi documentaries (e.g., when René's working with the political opposition) and home movies (e.g., when René's at home raising his son). The Betamax format evokes the time and the spirit of television advertising, but Larraín has other uses for it. Actual archival footage from the 1988 plebiscite is seamlessly incorporated into the film. Betamax gives the whole of No a cohesive visual feel. We can't easily distinguish between the real Chilean ads and the narrative film. Similarly, we can't distinguish between real footage of political protests and No's recreation of political protests. Larraín executes this expertly, and it's as if all of No was made in the moment and of the time. It's reminiscent of Philip Kaufman's Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or George Clooney's great Murrow vs. McCarthy drama Good Night, and Good Luck. No's sense of authenticity is heightened by its performances. Bernal has always been an incredible actor, and I've been enamored as much by his natural talent as his versatility since seeing him in Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien. There are few people that can play young revolutionaries just as convincingly as they play troubled drag queens. As René, Bernal is single father, a prima dona, a man who believes in freedom, a person of integrity, a guy just doing a job, and something of an everyman. He contains multitudes. He may also still be in love with his ex-wife Verónica (Antonia Zegers), or maybe he's just lonely. Probably both. Zegers's Verónica is conflicted about restarting anything. There's still a kind of love between them since they had a son together, but whatever Verónica and René have, it's not exactly romantic. It's just complicated, like most relationships that involve separated couples. History is always complicated. As the plebiscite vote draws closer, the No campaign gains traction through jingles and colorful ideas. The No symbol is a rainbow while the Yes ads center around Pinochet in civilian dress; the No song is catchy, folksy, and hand-clappy while the Yes song is lifeless and nationalistic. In some ways, this is a clash of propagandistic philosophies. Yes goes the route of traditional political propaganda -- speeches, anthems, gravitas. No harnesses a subversive pop mentality to push against the status quo -- spoofs, jingles, surrealism. I'm reminded a little of the 2008 Obama campaign: the positive slogan; the red, white, and blue sunrise logo; the song; the Shepard Fairey poster. Obama-Cola has a posse, "Yes We Can" is pop for the people. And in the case of the Fairey poster, it's a positive message conveyed through the subversive aesthetic of street art that co-opts the iconography of old-school propaganda. It's imagery presented with a knowing wink, and in smart advertising, a little irony means the real deal. Besides that, it looks great on a dorm room wall. Larraín's film like the No campaign dares to be funny. In the case of the campaign, it causes a rift in the political opposition. When the fate of a people rests in a nationwide vote, when the last 16 years have been defined by the murder of friends and relatives, is there any room for laughs? René begins to wonder that when his family is threatened for his involvement with the No camp. But in the case of the film, the comedy humanizes the story. We can see the gravity of the situation and still laugh at the absurdity of the situation, though maybe not all people will be laughing. Again, a little irony means the real deal, and history is complicated like that. Of all the films I saw at the New York Film Festival, No was my favorite. Something about it feels urgent and alive, and, maybe because of the Betamax, it feels real. I was sold on No. It sings when I think about it, and it may be one of the best movies about politics and political messaging I've seen in years. No is Chile's Academy Awards entry for Best Foreign Film. I can't wait to see their Oscar campaign. Alec Kubas-Meyer: The story of Jose Manuel Salcedo is amazing. The man successfully took down a dictatorship, and he did it peacefully and without needing to bring himself to the brink of death (take that, Ghandi). No tells his story through the character of René Saavedra (with a brilliant performance by Gael García Bernal). It's a story uniquely suited to election season, and I wish it was getting its US release in the next few days rather than weeks or months. The visual style, which emulates the ugliness of late 80s Chilean television, is effective at allowing old and new footage to be seamlessly interwoven, but I can't pretend that I ever actually enjoyed it. It consistently distracted from those moments that were fictional and attempted to be dramatic, which is too bad. Regardless, I came to accept the decision, since it really did benefit the film as a whole. I wish I knew just how much of the story is based on reality, but that's up to me to go find out and not No's job to explain. Condensed history will always take a few liberties, and I don't really have a problem with that. Certainly not here, since the film thrives on its own ambiguity. So I'll think about it, what I saw and what I think I saw. I'll tell other people that they have to see it so I can discuss it with them. It's not something I'm going to be able to get out of my head any time soon. Then again, maybe that's just because of the goddamn jingle. Chile, la alegria ya viene. Chile, la alegria ya viene.... 80 - Great
No Review photo
The true story of how the revolution was televised in Chile
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 New York Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of No.] Sometimes I'm glad I don't live in a swing state. If I did, I'd have...


V/H/S coming to VHS in USA

Three letter acronyms abound
Jan 17
// Matthew Razak
Back in December it was announced that one of the best horror films of last year, V/H/S, was going to get a limited edition release on actual VHS tapes. The downside fro anyone living outside of the UK was that it was on...

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...

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]
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...


Wreck-It Ralph's Sugar Rush retro commercial is so 90s

Oct 16
// Nick Valdez
"All new for 1997" has got to be one of the best taglines in ever. Just like how Wreck-It Ralph got a retro commercial made for it's titular fictitious game and arcade, here we have Sugar Rush, one of the worlds Ralph t...

Wreck-It Ralph's arcade game gets a retro commercial

I'm sorry, I meant "totally rad wrecker."
Oct 08
// Nick Valdez
Honestly the more and more I see of Wreck-It Ralph, the more I want to have its beautiful babies. Then Disney has the nerve to do something as charming as promote its fictional game Fix-It Felix Jr. as a "state-of-the-ar...

New Miami Connection poster is like classic VHS box art

Sep 13
// Hubert Vigilla
I have fond feelings toward VHS box art, which may be why I'm bananas about this new poster for the 1987 cult film Miami Connection. It was created by Quebec-based artist, François Simard, a member of the RKSS Collecti...

The Ghostbusters theme played on eight floppy drives

Aug 22
// Hubert Vigilla
This is Ray Parker, Jr.'s theme song to Ghostbusters played on eight old school floppy drives. In other words, this is now your new jam. It's like a proto-Sega Genesis sound card octet. This bit of ingenuity comes courtesy o...

Sizzle reels for Joe Carnahan's dead Daredevil reboot

Aug 15
// Hubert Vigilla
For a while it seemed like a Joe Carnahan Daredevil reboot was on like Donkey Kong, but yesterday we found out that Carnahan's Daredevil reboot is dead like... Donkey Kong. As the director of The Grey put it on Twitter, "Thi...

Flix for Short: Bizarro Classic

Jul 03
// Hubert Vigilla
Robb Pratt is back with another lovingly made animated Superman short, Bizarro Classic. Pratt's a veteran animator for Disney, and his credits include Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Hercules. With Bizarro Classic, he uses his charm...

Mondo teams w/ Drew Struzan for Thing screen print

Jun 21
// Hubert Vigilla
About a month ago we highlighted Jay Shaw's Rocky III Mondo poster as part of The Alamo Drafthouse's Summer of 1982 film series. This Friday, they're showing John Carpenter's The Thing, and as a special treat, Mondo has some ...

Tim Anderson pulps Alien, The Matrix, Blade Runner

Jun 19
// Hubert Vigilla
There's something about pulp art I really enjoy, whether it's on Argosy, Black Mask, Amazing Stories, or Weird Tales. It's lurid, it's striking, it's all enticement. A few months ago I saw some Mexican pulp art that was just ...

Play the videogame Fix-It Felix Jr. from Wreck-It Ralph

Jun 11
// Hubert Vigilla
Last week the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph debuted, and the film looks like a lot of fun -- kinda like Videogame Story, if you will. Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the villain of a fictional arcade game called Fix-It Felix...

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