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Since last month, I had that title sitting in my drafts folder, wondering if I’d have ever the occasion to write about the topic.  I mean, other than in musician mags, does anyone really write about such an idea anymore?  Not that I see and that’s a shame.  That’s why I was glad to see this recent article in Blurt Magazine about Jon Mueller, whose career might just answer the question I posed here.  Some of the prose there is a little flowery about lit references but the subject is definitely fascinating enough to warrant an extended article.

de Blob for the Wii

de Blob for the Wii

Oh, oh yes, that…that’s nice.  Look at all of those games coming out this week.  And it’s only going to get busier.  This is truly my favorite time of year.

When the release list starts to get as clogged up as this week’s looks, it tends to take something either well-established and highly anticipated or something innovative and head-turning to stand out from the pack.  I’m happy to say that this week we have what looks to be a fine example of the latter, as THQ’s de Blob is released for the Wii.  If Wikipedia is to be believed (and I’m prone to believing it), de Blob had its origins as a class project, got noticed by THQ, and got turned into a full-fledged retail game.  The mechanic of it seems perfect fo the Wii, as you roll around your blob of an avatar, dipping yourself into paint cans and rolling all over a city gone monochrome.  As you color the city, the music for that city slowly reveals itself, as painting the buildings and the scenery certain colors unlocks instrumental tracks that all fit together as theme music.

They even came up with appropriately awful box art!

They even came up with
appropriately awful box art!

Those tired of the Wii’s innovation being reduced to added waggle must be thrilled to be getting something, from a third party no less, that actually manages to not look like something we’ve seen before.  The last time a third party gave us something truly interesting-looking that would take advantage of the control scheme of the Wii was…Elebits, maybe?  Needless to say, de Blob will be a welcome sight for Wii owners on the shelves of whatever stores they frequent.

On the more well-established side, it might be considered just a little bit insane just how much I’m looking forward to trying out Mega Man 9.  Yes, I’m fully aware that it’s probably going to feel just like the other Mega Man games I’ve got sitting around for the NES.  Yes, I’m also fully aware that I may break whatever controller I use to play the thing.  Don’t care.  Modern retro that actually tries to stay retro?  No HD graphics, no remade levels, no pandering to modern gamers used to cakewalks?  Yes, it’s just a completely new Mega Man adventure from the ground up.  Sign me up.

Lego Batman on the Xbox 360

Lego Batman on the Xbox 360

Lego Batman comes out for a pile of formats this week—they had me when they released the footage of Harley Quinn.  A couple of non-traditional (read: no plain old cars allowed) racers are on the scene, as Baja: Edge of Control and Pure share shelf space and target audiences, and both look like they stand a decent chance of being rather entertaining.  There’s also a little, tiny part of me that wants to get my hands on the Hamtaro game (with the properly nonsensical title of Hi! Hamtaro Ham-Ham Challenge).  Remember Hamtaro?  The hyperkinetic hamster that actually invaded the WB for a while?  Oh, the memories, of staring at the television screen in slackjawed wonder/amusement/terror. 

Obviously, there’s plenty coming out this week.  What are you picking up?  Scope out the full release list and a trailer for de Blob after…the jump.

In the world of completely independent filmmaking, there are only four legitimate auteurs. For those unaware of the noted French theory, André Bazin, co-founder of the Cahiers du cinema is often credited with establishing a clear criterion for such consideration. The influential writer argued that all film should reflect a director’s personal vision, and in turn, should always be indicative of his or her own individual and recognizable style or approach. Examples in the mainstream are easily identifiable - Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, The Coen Brothers. But when it comes to those working way outside the frameworks of the typical Tinsel Town terrain, there’s only a quartet of qualified candidates.

Brothers Luke and Andy Campbell are among that noted number. They sit on the revisionist Mount Rushmore along with the nostalgic non-sequitors of Damon Packard, the trailer trash triumphs of Giuseppe Andrews, and the ‘80s high conceptualization of Chris Seaver. Located in Ohio, and versed in the kind of videotape varieties that educated an entire generation of film geeks, the boys have carved out a creative canon meshing the gore fests of their formative years with the broader aspects of genre devotion. From sports to seasonal wistfulness, insular universes and old school exploitation, the Campbells have managed to make the most of limited budgets, incomplete capabilities, and unbridled narrative invention.

With a review of their latest, Corboda Nights, in preparation for tomorrow’s blog post, SE&L has decided to look back on the previous five films made by these Midwestern mavericks. The first three efforts represent the standard growing pains - the uneasy balance between copycatting and creativity. Don’t be mistaken - inside this talented triptych are a series of sunny surprises. But when they offered up their street gang revenge zombie flick The Red Skulls in 2005, the Campbells announced themselves as full blown filmmakers, legitimized by a far more focused contrast between homage and originality. With Poison Sweethearts and now Cordoba, the duo delivers the kind of cinematic specificity that argues for both their reverence and redefinition of the artform.

Let’s begin our overview with the freak-out film that started it all:

Splatter Rampage Wrestling
For their first film, the Campbells collected a group of their friends, grabbed the singlets, and went gonzo for a surreal backyard wrestling experience. From Mullet Man and Philbert (a grappler who carries around a wooden rabbit named…Philbert) to the mighty Skulls, this collection of satiric superstars clearly illustrates the brothers’ strongest cinematic attribute - imagination. Presented as an overview of the fictional World ‘Rastling Coalition’s famous feuds and most charismatic gladiators, host Sam the Dirty Bum gives us an agonizing blow-by-d’oh round up of the best falls, the fiercest rivalries, and the nastiest injuries ever to come out of a bunch of drop-outs drop kicking each other. It’s dumb, deliberate, and a heck of a lot of fun.

Midnight Skater
Midnight Skater is a classic example of a “look beyond” film. If you can “look beyond” the amateur antics, unprofessional production values and overall neophyte nonsense exploding all around you and simply merge with this movie’s mindset, you’ll really enjoy yourself. Unfortunately, getting in the same Spock state of brain with the insane and inventive no-budget filmmakers here may require Ritalin, a gross of sugary juice boxes and about a hundred trips to the video store (or at least a couple readings of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film). Sometimes, the brothers reach beyond the scope of their ability and come back with a hand full of failure. But more times than not, they create a unusual and unique motion picture experience, one that hints at being a believable, if bargain basement slice of slasher while always showing how the tongue is planted firmly in ass cheek.

Demon Summer
In this follow-up production, a Slacker meets slasher, Dazed and Confused with Evil Dead-like demonology, the portrait of small town America is far more polished and professional. Indeed, while Skater was a celebration of the barf bag variety Summer strives to capture that lost and lonely feeling of being stuck in a one-horse hovel in the deadly dull middle of America’s heartland, with nothing better to do on a warm weekend evening but cruise the strip mall parking lot and drink Near Beer. Yes, there is bloodletting and body carving in this well-crafted, crackerjack thriller, but unlike most of their independent brethren, the Campbells hope to flesh out both divergent elements of their title with strong narratives that satisfy both as cinema and as entertainment. And for the most part, they succeed.

The Red Skulls
You see it from the first few frames – something has definitely changed about the way Luke and Andy Campbell make movies. It used to be that they gathered up a group of their friends, fashioned a storyline out of horror movie odds and ends, then festoon it all with a gallon or ten of grue, pop on the ska-punk soundtrack. That the result was usually something quite special, an intriguing glimpse into what engages the mind of some Ohio cinematic wannabes, was the icing on the camcorder cake. But here things feel special. There is a concentration on the fringe elements of filmmaking, items like set design, costuming, character clarity and actual performances. With The Red Skulls, the boys have fashioned their first real attempt at a conventional motion picture. Even with all its ingratiating genre elements, and its last act lurch into some over the top fight clubbing, this film represents real, measurable growth from the duo.

Poison Sweethearts
With its exploitation derived framework and silly chauvinistic sheen, Poison Sweethearts truly marks the moment when Andy and Luke completely shed their homemade horror mantle and become real directors. This is not to say that their previous efforts represent lesser behind the lens mannerisms. But the truth is that movie macabre has a certain set of specs - cinematic formulas and prerequisites that keep vision hemmed in and innovation stifled. But with Sweethearts, the boys branch out into good old fashioned grindhouse territory, and inside such a conceit they find a wonderfully wicked, homage heavy masterpiece. Not every vignette works perfectly, and before we know it, the faux flesh peddler fun is over and done. But while it lasts, the boys deliver enough recognizable references to the forgotten genre that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino should be ashamed.

Here’s the Arthur Alexander-performed version of “Anna (Go to Him)”.

The slinky piano line, the slightly brisker tempo, and Alexander’s soulful but still a touch inhibited vocal all give the original a distinctive feel. I prefer the Beatles’ take on it but both recommend themselves in different ways.

For a designated national monument, Risiera San Sabba, in Italy, is not an easy place to find. While road signs in Trieste routinely point you toward restaurants, hotels, roman ruins, the town center, Castle Miramare, and so on, we saw only one sign for San Sabba, at the bottom of a long list of arrows pointing to other cultural destinations. This is not a surprise. The citizens of the city are probably not all that eager to be reminded of the former Nazi concentration camp in their midst.

In the end, we had to ask at the bureau how to get there, and even with her explicit directions it was hard to find. It’s a nearly entirely unmarked building down a small street that’s a difficult turn to see coming off the autostrada. The humdrum brick structure stands innocuously enough in a somewhat rundown part of town, down the street from a soccer stadium and next to a Lidl discount supermarket. A circus was set up around the corner. I happened to park our rental car next to the bricked over windows of a chamber now called “the death room,” where new inmates were processed by the Nazis amid corpses waiting to be cremated. Only a small plaque by the long gray corridor into the complex marks the site’s significance now, unless you count the swastika someone painted on the highway riser back by the autostrada. The fact that the site is a national monument but all but invisible suggests strongly the tension between remembering and forgetting that seems to characterize attitudes toward World War II atrocities and the methods by which the Holocaust was carried out within view of the ordinary life of civilians. Apartment buildings still stand in the blocks that surround San Sabba; they probably stood when the horrors were being carried out. 

San Sabba’s ordinary exterior is a large part of what is awful about it now. It seems a perfect representation of the matter of fact way the Nazis assimilated killing into industrial organization. The building was originally a rice-husking factory; when the Nazis occupied the city they simply converted it into a different, horrific kind of factory, retrofitting in prison cells (some of which still remain) and installing a crematorium (which they dynamited as they fled when the city was liberated in 1945). At the site now, there are commemorative inscriptions, sculptures meant to evoke the crematorium smoke rising, an exhibition detailing the history of the Nazi occupation of the region, and a grim collection of inmate uniforms, confiscated property, a replica of a truncheon used to beat inmates to death, grainy photographs of the perpetrators. It wasn’t a lot to see, but it was enough. I started to understand why the place was so hard to find. Though we made a special effort to tour the place, I wanted nothing to do nothing but forget what I had seen after we left; I stayed up late that night watching whatever bad shows I could find on Slovenian television to keep my mind off it all. I never expected to be so grateful for old episodes of The X Files.

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