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‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’: Nipple guns, four tons of blood and a shitload of gore and mayhem
03.14.2017
01:11 pm

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Animation
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Yoshihiro Nishimura’s over-the-top, body-horror, sci-fi/fantasy Kodoku Meatball Machine had its world premiere at SXSW this past week and it more than lived up to its hype for being a splatter epic. In a video introduction to the film, director Nishimura claimed he used over four tons of fake blood in the movie. That might be a bit of hyperbole but Kodoku Meatball Machine has more arterial spray than the Bellagio Hotel has dancing waters. It’s a hilarious gorefest that combines sublime silliness with some cutting social satire. Plot? We don’t need no stinking plot! This film is a frenetic mash-up (literally) of everything we love about Japanese science fiction and horror. Shit happens. And keeps happening. Things fall out of the sky, humans mutate, chicks blow people away with nipple guns and limbs are severed with the maniacal zeal of a meth-crazed chef at Benihana.

Nishimura, who directed the insane Tokyo Gore Police and the 2007 short film Meatball Machine: Reject of Death, is justly renown for his superb special effects creations and wild makeup. He’s worked on dozens of Japanese horror films, creating brilliantly inventive costumes, prosthetics, masks and jaw-dropping visual mayhem featuring heavy metal samurais, wildly choreographedswordplay, kung foolery and flesh-fused weaponry from the planet Id. The cartoonish excess of his creations keeps them from being truly horrifying. There’s too much wit and absurdity in what’s on the screen to be truly upsetting. Laughter displaces screams in Nishimura’s bloody phantasmagorias. His atom-age nightmares are surrealist twists on Shaw Brother Toho flicks of the 1960s and 70s…with loads of viscera and severed limbs. A chase scene involving a topless woman astride a mutant who is half-man and half-motorcycle is like something from a demented western. Yee haw! 
 

 
Cinematographer Keizo Suzuki has given Kodoku Meatball Machine a neon sheen that recalls some of Nicolas Refn’s recent work and there’s an eerie nightclub scene that evokes the palette and vibe of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Some groovy stop-motion animation comes on like Ray Harryhausen on DMT and a load of intentionally cheesy special effects give the movie a deranged hallucinatory brilliance. The second half of the film is a relentless mindfuck.


Fans of Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, and Shin’ya Tsukamoto will find Kodoku Meatball Machine an irresistible hoot and folks who’ve never experienced extreme Japanese cinema will be introduced to a unique viewing experience that really has no western equivalent in the world of film.

Watch the trailer for ‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’ after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Meet the dude who perfectly recreated an ‘80s ‘ShowBiz Pizza’ in rural Mississippi
03.08.2017
10:03 am

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Amusing

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The Rock-afire Explosion are considered the greatest animatronic rock band of all time. They were the subject of the wonderful 2008 documentary by Houston filmmaker Brett Whitcomb. They performed thousands of shows at restaurant chain ShowBiz Pizza from 1980 until 1992, when all ShowBiz locations were eventually rebranded as Chuck E. Cheese. I grew up in Los Angeles with only Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre featuring Munch’s Make-Believe Band, which most Rock-afire fans consider a “bastardized” version of the original show, created by retrofitting and reprogramming the old characters into new ones. Dook LaRue became Pasqually The Chef, Beach Bear became Jasper T. Jowls, Fatz Geromimo became Mr. Munch, Mitzi Mozzarella became Helen Henny, and Rolfe Dewolfe became Chuck E. Cheese. Had my entire childhood been shortchanged by never experiencing the legendary Rock-afire Explosion? To find out for myself I had to see the show in person, but as of 2017 only three fully operating shows still exist in the United States.

One of them is housed at Creative Engineering in Orlando, FL, the original factory where the show was created and manufactured. In the early ‘80s, Creative Engineering, a 20 million dollar per-year business was home to 300 employees. Today, it is home to just one employee: owner and operator Aaron Fechter. The second two fully operating Rock-afire shows are owned by fans who purchased them directly from Fechter: Phenix City, Alabama car salesman and rollerskating rink deejay Chris Thrash (famous for his YouTube videos of the Rockafire programmed to sing current Top 40 jams), and Sandy Hook, Mississippi computer scientist and single dad Damon Breland. While vacationing in New Orleans, I e-mailed Breland and asked if it would be possible to come watch a show. He agreed to make my dream come true, and all he asked for in return was for me to bring him a large cheese pizza.

I went to meet Breland on a Saturday at noon but not everything went according to plan. After experiencing my first hailstorm the night before I pulled off the side of the road in my rent-a-car and stayed at the shadiest roach-infested $30-a-night (cash only) motel with no running water that only paper money can buy. I woke up early the next morning to find myself in an incredibly rural part of Mississippi with a dilemma on my hands: the closest Dominos or Pizza Hut was almost two hours away. I arrived late but with the box of cold pizza in hand as my price of admission. 38-year-old Damon Breland was an extremely tall, fun character and was excited to host someone who had travelled so far to visit what he calls Smitty’s Super Service Station, a wooden panel building that looks like an abandoned gas station from the outside and rests just off the highway in Swampland, USA. The only sign of life within 20 miles was the Marion Walthall Correctional Facility, which explained Damon’s warning via e-mail that said: “Make sure you don’t pick up hitchhikers in the area under any circumstances.” (Damon later revealed that he is in fact employed at the prison as a network computer IT guy).

While Smitty’s Super Service was very unassuming from the outside, I was amazed at what I saw before me as I walked in: a perfect recreation of ShowBiz Pizza Place, complete with original ShowBiz tables, framed posters, souvenir mugs, kiddie rides, and most importantly, The Rock-afire Explosion spread across three full stages. Smitty’s is Damon’s weekly escape from reality (and mine for the next three hours). He spent four long years building it, learning how to run it, and acquiring a digital show library (which runs on a Windows 95 PC in the back room).
 

 
The first “showtape” Damon queued up for us to watch was one that many Rock-afire fans consider the very best, a Magnum opus if you will. The showtape, titled “Magic Night” was programmed in February of 1984, and features the Rock-afire Explosion performing a medley of covers, all of which contain the word “magic” in the title. After some intro banter between the characters, the band launched into their setlist which included “Magical Mystery Tour” by the Beatles, “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf, “Magic” from the movie Xanadu, “You Can Do Magic” by America, and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police. The songs were glorious, as was the playful dialogue between the band (recorded by Aaron Fechter and various members of Creative Engineering’s family supplying not just the character voices but the musical instrumentation as well).

The YouTube videos I had watched of the Rock-afire at home did not do them any justice, seeing the show before my very eyes was glorious experience that is difficult to describe, all the while the loud chattering and clicking of the mechanics and compressed air working in the background rendered me slightly disturbed as I realized that I was in a room in the absolute middle of nowhere, alone with a large man that I had just met and a dozen artificial singing animals (It’s no wonder The Rock-afire Explosion inspired the popular horror video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s.
 
Much, much more after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Discussion
Baby knows best: ‘Prevenge’ is (already) easily the best horror-comedy film of the year
02.27.2017
10:29 am

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Writing about movies for Dangerous Minds is not all bad you know. Sure, I can get critical about the films I don’t like, but I also get to wax lyrical about the ones that I love. Those films that make my skin tingle and send shivers up my spine. The films that send me out of the cinema with a stupid smile plastered all over my face and a burning desire to tell everyone I know to go and see them, like right now! Being able to turn people on to high-quality movies they may not have known about—and to bring a bit of much-needed attention to those small wonders that all too often slip through the net—now that is rewarding. So, before I get saddled down with being “That Unpopular Opinions” guy, I want to tell everyone reading Dangerous Minds to go and see Alice Lowe’s remarkable pregnancy-slasher horror comedy Prevenge. Like RIGHT NOW!!

Prevenge is the brutally hilarious story of the heavily pregnant Ruth who, spurred on by the threatening, sweary voice of her unborn child, embarks on a ruthless killing spree. If that short description doesn’t make you at least curious to see this film, then fair enough, it’s probably not for you. But if you are a fan of both low-budget horror (physical/psychological) and pitch-black British humor, then you really are in for a treat with this one. American audiences are probably most familiar with writer/director/star Alice Lowe as one-half of the murderous duo from Ben Wheatley’s similarly pitch-black Sightseers (which she co-wrote) but it’s worth mentioning that Lowe also played Dr. Liz Asher in the cult 80s horror parody Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. So, as you can see, both her comedy and horror credentials are sound indeed.

Check out the trailer:
 

 
With Prevenge, her first film as director, Alice Lowe has crafted something quite unique and tremendous. As I have already mentioned, it is both truly brutal AND hilarious. For a film that is so deeply rooted in the improvised comedy method of writing, there is—ironically, for a story about pregnancy—precious little fat or navel gazing here. Those kinds of indulgences that are often to be found in first time and/or low budget film-making, but which usually only serve to make a film feel meandering and unfocused, are gloriously absent. Prevenge cuts straight to the kill with a skill and confidence and the belies Lowe’s first-time-director status. And that’s not even taking into account the circumstances of the production: Prevenge was filmed over the course of just eleven days, all while Lowe (the director, writer AND star, remember) was seven months pregnant. I mean, if that doesn’t impress you, nothing will!


 
I have seen Prevenge twice now (it’s one of those films I just had to see again despite its agonisingly limited run) and what appears on a surface level to be a playfully nasty romp, on second viewing reveals itself to be quite a layered, complex character study on a par with Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer or Maniac (though not quite as gory as either). Prevenge is really the story of one of life’s born losers—sad-sack Ruth, a natural loner even when with child—who finally discovers that she IS good at something in her life. Unfortunately, that thing is not motherhood, it’s murder. And as with all the greats, it is the genuinely unsettling ambiance that Prevenge creates that leaves the most lasting impression on the viewer (well, that and some of the belly laughs.) While numerous throats are slit and testicles lopped off, one of the most horrific images in the film comes from the voice on a pregnancy meditation CD that asks Ruth to picture everyone she has ever known in the entire world gathered round her in a circle and placing all their many hands on her baby bump. Understandably, Ruth stops that meditation CD by violently smashing the stereo into the ground. While it may be a bit rough around the edges and wear its budgetary limitations on its sleeve, Prevenge is shot in a claustrophobic style that perfectly fits the intense isolation at its core, and manages to change gears and tone more than once without losing any of its momentum. Oh, and did I mention that it’s fucking hilarious?

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
My Unpopular Opinion: ‘Arrival’ is the very definition of pretentious ‘artsploitation’ cinema
02.24.2017
02:37 pm

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Movies

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I’m back. Remember me? It’s time for another one of my unpopular opinion pieces, and this time it’s about everyone’s favorite 2016 artsy-fartsy sci-fi hit (and Oscar contender) Arrival. The film has gotten nearly unanimous critical praise, and if that wasn’t enough to raise your suspicions, how about the constant use of that critical kiss-of-death word “refreshing”? Were they all paid to use that specific word? Makes you wonder, huh? But before I get into the meat of this essay I’m going to offer up two definitions to bear in mind whilst reading:

1.) Pretentious: attempting to impress by affecting greater importance than is actually present.

2.) Artsploitation: the exploitation of an art-house cinema audience, especially in regard to the critical merits of a film.

Thanks to Google for number one and as for number two, it’s my own coinage. Artsploitation refers, like other exploitation genre tags, to a particular audience’s desire to consume a particular kind of film regardless of its quality. In the case of “art-house” cinema, this means that as long as a film looks pretty or conforms to the audience’s notion of “artistic” merit—most often translating to a level of incomprehensibility that one viewer can use to claim a superior “understanding” over others—said “art” film can then be excused of all its flaws. Regardless of how bad they are or how poorly it may conform to other essential tenets of “good” cinema such as writing, editing, acting and directing.*

If you ask me, Arrival fits both of these definitions down to a tee.

 

 

“God Niall, why do you have to keep shitting on the things that everyone else loves?!” I can hear an imagined reader crying out from the deepest recesses of my ego. But this is the thing: I love genre movies. I love them in their own right, in-and-of themselves. There is no shame in genre cinema for me, there is no shame in gleefully enjoying well-executed action, in impressive explosions or a well-crafted monster, in camp humor and in over-the-top bad acting.

What pisses me off is directors/producers/writers who are unwilling to interact with genre works on their own terms. There is a palpable sense of fear and shame from these arty “updates” and “fresh retellings,” as if the director is afraid of getting tarred with the “genre film director” brush and losing their artistic cachet, or even of stooping to the level of less-acclaimed directors who work within the actual genre. An auteur placing themselves above a genre, not within it, never, ever works. Instead of making a decent movie based on a true understanding of what makes a genre film work, they instead force their own artistic aspirations on the audience, missing the point of why audiences love genre films in the first place. 

Now, Arrival may not be the worst contender—and I’m a big enough man to admit that there were some moments I kinda enjoyed—but it IS guilty of these crimes, nonetheless. I have divided my critiques up into vague categories for clarity, and need I mention: SPOILERS AHEAD! Okay, here we go…

 

 

THE FILM’S SUPPOSED AND WIDELY DISCUSSED “ORIGINALITY”

There’s only one shot in the entire film that stayed with me, and if you have seen the film, you’ll know the one: the slow-motion, aerial approach to the alien ship via a mountain range with cascading clouds. And that shot, indeed, is breathtaking. If only the rest of the film could have stayed at this level of artistry. Unfortunately, it didn’t. So it is surprising to hear seasoned critics gushing over the supposed “originality” of this film, when it’s really not that original at all. The story is a slightly modified take on Contact, the tone of detached wonderment is cribbed from 2001: A Space Odyssey,  the alien ships are lifted from the opening of Prometheus, and the aliens themselves are your bog-standard “tentacled” creations that recall both the mighty Cthulhu and the not-so-mighty Karg and Konos from The Simpsons. None of these are in any way obscure references, so it puzzles me as to why they have not been acknowledged more honestly. But it’s not just Arrival‘s concepts that lack originality: it’s the film’s execution.

DENIS VILLENEUVE

Denis Villeneuve attracts a lot of critical praise for his directorial work. This is the first film of his I have actually seen, so I guess I was expecting a lot. And in the end I couldn’t help but feel utterly disappointed at a film whose central conceit is the power of new forms of language, but which itself leans so heavily on so many tired-ass cinematic cliches. The flashback/forwards/dead daughter “memory” sequences in particular rely on the worst kind of Hallmark-esque imagery. You know the type, it’s on page one of the playbook titled “How To Crassly Manipulate Feelings Of Warm Sentimentality in Your All-Too-Willing-to-be-Manipulated Audience.” Turn on your television right now and you will be bombarded this within kind of imagery in hundreds, no thousands, of adverts: tiny hands brushing through the long grass of a sunny meadow, colourful wellingtons splashing the clear waters of a babbling brook, a laughing baby’s face shot in floaty shallow focus and obscured by lens flare. An old couple holding hands on the porch. All that was missing was a breathy-voiced, piano-ballad cover version of some trashy dance-pop (“Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” perhaps?) Arrival uses a visual language so cliched that I kept expecting to see the Vodaphone or Ikea logo materialise in the corner of the screen, with details of the great new offers available at my local branch. In effect, the director has taken a lazy visual short-cut to the audience’s emotions. And it’s not the only one.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Tim Buckley and Jean Renoir meet Beau Bridges in 1971’s ‘The Christian Licorice Store’
02.16.2017
09:50 am

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Movies

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After The Monkees TV series ended, 33-year-old director James Frawley went to work on his very first motion picture. The Criterion-worthy Christian Licorice Store stars Beau Bridges as floppy hair, bushy-browed, tennis superstar Franklin Cane and follows the ups and downs of his turbulent Hollywood lifestyle. Inspired by the great French New Wave and Italian neorealists of the late 1950s and 1960s, the film sadly never reached an audience and was shelved by Cinema Center Films just after a few screenings in Boston and Greenwich Village in 1971.

Director James Frawley spoke with me over the phone from his retirement home just outside Palm Springs this week and we discussed the rarely seen film that is still near and dear to his heart. “I came to L.A. first as an actor in an improvisational group called The Premise which was Buck Henry, Ted Flicker, George Segal, and Joan Darling. So the introduction to directing was very improvisational one in which we had a great camera, great writers, terrific young guys, and I had two years of apprenticeship directing with The Monkees. So when I went to make The Christian Licorice Store we took a very improvisational approach to it.”

The story follows Beau Bridges success in the professional tennis world: competing for prize money, entertaining the press, and fielding endorsement offers by day. By night he attends superficial Hollywood parties where he meets love interest, photographer and socialite Cynthia Viestrom (played by Swedish actress and future James Bond girl Maud Adams). For the party scenes, Frawley called on favors from several friends to come in and play themselves as party goers. “The party is full of show business celebrities, producers, writers, psychiatrists, and different characters from Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. I pretty much just improvised the scene and then put it together in the editing room. But it really catches the flavor, I think very much of L.A. Everybody kind of agreed to do it, I looked at the list last night and it’s amazing, I mean Mike Medavoy for chrissakes, Howard Hesseman who’s a friend of mine that was in the second party, George Kirgo, Robert Kaufman, a lot of really amazing people. And it was fun, we did it in one night.” Director Monte Hellman of Two-Lane Blacktop and future Barney Miller creator Ted Flicker also make an appearance.

The Christian Licorice Store makes fun of the superficial showbiz side of Hollywood, while also painting a beautiful portrait of the city using incredible locations from William Pereira‘s LACMA and Theme Building, Johnie’s Coffee Shop, and up the Pacific Coast Highway to the scenic views of Soledad Canyon and Morro Rock. To add to the realism, Frawley used urban, guerrilla filmmaking to capture real L.A. pedestrians walking down the street, driving around, and going about their everyday business. “You put a camera out on a street and just shoot some stuff and just intercut it with the scenes just to get the flavor of L.A.” Then there are nighttime scenes in the film that perfectly capture the strange emptiness of the city after dark. “I love their kind of romantic ballet in the cars coming down the hill from the party. It was kind of a very romantic feeling I had about Los Angeles and, being a New Yorker, you know, the light, the romance, the sexuality. I love the architecture, I mean La La Land, the recent movie, is very much like that in terms of its appreciation of L.A.”
 

 
Frawley tells screenwriter Floyd Mutrix’s story using a very unconventional, avant-garde approach. “I’m a film buff and I grew up with European movies. I loved Godard, 400 Blows, Breathless, Fellini, all of the Italian realists. That was my education and my influence because it does have a very European feeling to it.” The director and screenwriter make many bold decisions, such as opening the film with the dramatic ending scene of the film, a gull-winged Mercedes-Benz wiping out in a tunnel alongside the PCH. Frawley accomplished this with a delicate style of filmmaking that does not spoil the entire movie. “I wanted to frame the film in a way so that you had a sense of foreboding that kind of holds over this whole movie. There’s kind of a sadness to the picture too, a sense of things are not going to turn out well here.” In yet another bold move, the opening credits don’t appear until nearly twelve minutes into the picture and are contained in the movie-within-the-movie when the party-goers are summoned to the screening room of the swanky, modern house.

It certainly helps to make a European influenced film in Hollywood when you have the approval and participation of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Executive producer Michael Laughlin was then married to the French movie star Leslie Caron, who knew Jean Renoir‘s family in France. They asked him if he would agree to make a cameo appearance in The Christian Licorice Store and surprisingly, he said yes… it would end up being the final feature film Renoir was ever involved in before his passing.

“There’s a lot of things I love about the movie, and there are some things that feel awkward because it’s a first film, but the presence of Jean Renoir in the movie is unbelievable. If the movie existed only for Jean Renoir it would be enough for me. A lot of this movie was about people saying yes when we asked them, ‘Would you do this?’ Because a lot of it was favors, and Jean Renoir was a favor, and he’s like Picasso, one of the great men of all time and a great filmmaker. And so we were allowed to be in his house for an afternoon, and again this is totally improvised. As we drove up the hill to his house and drove down afterward, you see those shots, and he talked about film, and he talked about Beau and Maud, and what he did so brilliantly, he talked about how attractive they were to one another in real life. He said, ‘You two could be lovers in real life’ which was wonderful because he acknowledged the fact that we were making a movie.”

More after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Discussion
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