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by Ashley Cooper

5 Oct 2009

This Is It is the culmination of hours of footage from the late Michael Jackson’s final tour, appropriately named “This Is It”. The series of concerts was made up of fifty shows, all set to take place at the O2 Arena in London, from the end of 2009 into 2010.

Made up of rehearsal footage, interviews, dance sequences, and other special effects that only concert attendees would have witnessed, This Is It promises Michael Jackson fans all across the globe one final chance to see the Gloved One perform some of his most well-known and respected music.

This Is It premieres in theaters worldwide on October 28th, and will only be shown for two weeks.

by PC Muñoz

5 Oct 2009

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” - Nirvana
Attributed to Huddie Ledbetter
From MTV Unplugged in New York (Geffen, 1994)

This V-C-V originally ran on August 23, 2005 on pcmunoz.com

I have a picture of Kurt Cobain on my desk. It’s a pretty well-known shot: a sort of sad close-up, with Cobain sporting a scruffy beard and looking directly into the camera, a few blonde locks falling over his face. At the bottom it says KURT COBAIN, 1967-1994. It serves to remind me that we never know from where our great artists will come, or when they will leave us.

I thought Kurt Cobain was an astonishingly expressive vocalist. I’d put his screaming up there with Prince, his emotional voice-breaks up there with Hank Williams, and his commanding way with a melody in there with any of the great pop singers. I liked his original songs quite a bit, especially “Come as You Are”, “All Apologies”, “Heart Shaped Box”, “In Bloom”, and the more recently released “You Know You’re Right, which has a great, unique vocal.

by Diepiriye Kuku

4 Oct 2009

In his recent talk with Holocaust survivor Rita Lurie, NPR’s Michel Martin conducted what has to be one of the most sensitively handled interviews on talk radio these days. Moreover, the powerful words in this interview and the books discussed here find new meaning as more Americans scramble to find ways to deal with trauma—terrorism, modern cultural pluralism, the recession, the sandwich-generation taking care of kids and parents, loss of work, resources, benefits and status. The authors graciously and courageously bequeathed us powerful inspiration.

This interview was incredibly powerful, and reminded me of reading Linda Brent’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, first published in 1861. The writer seems better able to recapture her voice on paper after being holed up in a space too small to move her limbs for seven years during her journey to escape the slave-holding American South, amidst the uncertainly of freedom in the North due to the active Fugitive Slave Law. Nowhere felt safe, and like the Holocaust survivor Rita Lurie—holed up in a Polish farmer’s attic—each day was riddled with the fear of “not knowing if we were going to live another day.”

It also occurs to me that Blacks and Jews should come together in remembrance in spaces of reverence for the purpose of breathing new life into the present, charged with the energy of our ancestors and loved ones gone by. We must pray together and help each other—and the wider/whiter America—to remember our past, not to be consumed by forgetfulness, and not to fear being overwhelmed with grief (guilt or shame) from accepting our past.

by Bill Gibron

4 Oct 2009

When you think of Troma, a few famous titles come to mind. Almost immediately, thoughts of poor Melvin Junko and his date with some nuclear waste comes to mind. Indeed, The Toxic Avenger put the company on the fright night map, showing early horror geeks that terror could be splattery, slapstick, and socially aware at the same time. From the moment that movie hit, creating a massive cult following that’s resulted in sequels, spin-offs, and an entire corporate persona, Troma seemed to forget the films that actually forged their first reputation. You see, everyone’s favorite exporter of independent art didn’t start with monsters, mucus, and mayhem. Instead, Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman initially decided to follow in the footsteps of famed exploitation kings Dave Friedman and Harry Novak and mix nookie with nuttiness.

Indeed, Troma was originally known as purveyors of satiric titillation, post-modern inventors of the equally updated sex comedy. With rare exceptions, past carnal creations avoided the inclusion of jokes, the better to accommodate the self-serve needs of the 42nd Street raincoat crowd. Friedman and Novak hoped the inclusion of humor would increase their fanbase. Instead, they both wound up heading over to harder skin flick material, recognizing that X-rated pornography was more profitable. Elsewhere, drive-in diversions like The Pom Pom Girls and Caged Women took their smut peddling seriously. Kaufman and Herz were the first to marry the traditional facets of onscreen funny business with random acts of raunch. The results were a precursor to every ‘80s Hollywood hackjob, from Porky’s and H.O.T.S. to more recent examples like American Pie and Sex Drive.

It all started with Squeeze Play (1979), a battle for gender equity between a group of softball widows and their sports-obsessed husbands and boyfriends. Figuring that the best way to teach their men a lesson is to beat them at their own game, the gals get together and form their own team. Naturally, all the pratfalls and sight gags lead to an eventual squaring off, the dames vs. the dudes in a winner-take-all attempt to prove who the biological better is. With a no name cast, a lack of any real production value, and a surreal smattering of irrationally included local talent (got to love the horrid disco divas at everyone’s favorite sports bar), Kaufman and crew set the standard for the rest of the genre to come. Indeed, throughout the course of the recent Sexy Box set from the company, you can see how Troma redefined the seedy cinematic category, breathing new life into its often ludicrous designs before abandoning the wit for material far more wanton.

Indeed, Squeeze Play does something few sex comedies even attempt. It strives to craft characters we can care about (or at the very least, identify with), offers up a reasonably logical narrative, and puts everything into dramatic perspective with a last act stand-off that offers a decent amount of emotional investment. We want the ladies to whip up on their lunkheaded lovers, if only because their chauvinistic beliefs are so arch and hissable. Similarly, Kaufman champions these proto-feminists, making it very clear where his artistic allegiances lie. Sure, there’s not a lot of skin here, and the humor is very much aimed at the vaudeville/burlesque level, but Squeeze Play succeeds, both as its own unique update and a perverted roadmap for the next few films.

Waitress! (1981) takes everything Kaufman and Herz learned on Play and puts it to far better use. The material here is more outrageous, the jokes moving beyond the obvious and into the range of the esoteric and the outlandish. Indeed, this could be considered one of the first true gross out comedies, the bevy of bare naked beauties counterbalanced by a desire to dig deep into the bad taste tenets of hilarity. The story is relatively simple - a group of hash slingers, each with their own hopes and dreams, goes to work for a highfaluting NYC eatery with a myriad of issues all its own. When the daughter of the owner finds herself busing tables, it’s not long before the shiskabob hits the fan.

Of all the films in the Sexy Box set, Waitress! is definitely the most madcap. It’s like Airplane! set inside Tavern on the Green. Sure, the restaurant business material is all made up, no dining establishment able to withstand the numerous health code violations and sloppy customer service presented here. But because our heroines each have their own individual career paths - actress, reporter/writer, spoiled urban princess - Kaufman is able to expertly shift between storylines. There’s a real anything can happen feel to this film, a happy Hellsapoppin’ persistence that really amplifies the entertainment value. Again, the nudity is kept to a minimum, Troma still trying to find actresses eager to willing bare it all. All MPAA battles aside, Waitress! works better than you’d expect.

Stuck on You! (1982), however, starts to show the wear and tear of semi-success. Even with the marvelous Professor Irwin Corey on hand to guide the goofiness, the movie’s vignette-oriented approach grows old quickly. The main plot has an arguing unmarried couple suing each other for palimony. Put in front of a freak show judge, they are called into chambers and asked to explain their love life. Over the course of 90 hit or miss minutes, the duo bitch, moan, and accuse each other of everything under the sex manual sun. There’s some funny stuff here, including the frequent forays into History of the World Part 1 territory (the promotional material even acknowledges the debt to Mel Brooks). But with a couple that seems strident and strangely detached, Stuck is wildly inconsistent.

Kaufman manages to milk quite a few laughs out of male lead Mark Mikulski’s career in a chicken factory. There are lots of jokes about his half-baked inventions and several sequences (including a porn spoof) that supply pure comedic gold. But the lovely Virginia Penta is a lox, as lovable as a shrew and twice as untameable. Since she strips down to her skivvies frequently, it’s clear why she was cast. But without the period piece insanity, the entertaining looks at Adam and Eve, Columbus and Isabella, and Napoleon and Josephine, this movie would be mediocre at best. But as they will prove throughout the Sexy Box, Herz and Kaufman sense when things are going astray. They can almost always be guaranteed to salvage a sex comedy before it goes completely off track…

…Unless of course said movie is The First Turn-On! The last true flesh farce the guys ever bankrolled, this sad excuse for a laugher loses much of its luster early on. When we learn that we will be following some stupid summer campers on a forced nature hike into hilarity, we cringe at the concept. When a fat dude with hygiene issues unleashes an unhealthy blast of gas, four fake teens and an adult counselor are trapped in a cave. It’s not long before they are regaling the audience with tales of their “first time”, each one playing like a quasi-comic lift from the Penthouse Forum. After everyone bears their soul, an actual orgy takes place, our directors forgetting the funny bone they where tweking at the expense of the camp to showcase the main cast friggin’ in the riggin’.

It’s actually hard to hate The First Turn-On! , even with its decision to forgo most of what made the other three films entertaining. Some of the bits aren’t bad - the musky man moron who tries to score with a sensible prostitute, the uptight counselor’s story of parentus interuptus - but for the most part, Herz and Kaufman fall into the same trap that doomed the exploitation genre. Toward the end, when producers felt that humor was hampering the audience’s ability to “concentrate” on what mattered, the aardvarking was advanced to the detriment of everything else - production value, smart scripting, and viable performances. Indeed, we often feel that The First Turn-On! is one of those Skinemax comedies that XXX stars like Evan Stone and Nicole Sheridan pump out in between pop shots. Sadly, these updated oddities are a lot funnier and fresh than this tired take.

As with most box sets, the best material here is the added content. Kaufman steps up to speak for both himself and his usually silent partner to offer up a history of Troma’s time in the T&A biz. While they haven’t completely abandoned the sleazy and the scatological, Uncle Lloyd makes it very clear that money drove these titles…and it was their ultimate lack of commercial appeal that brought them to an end. Battles with censorship are highlighted as well as the mantra of making the female actresses attempt their nude scenes the first day of filming. Kaufman even name drops Frank Capra several times during the Stuck on You! discussion. Loaded with anecdotes that would help anyone make their own damn movie and some wonderful backstage stories about the company itself, the commentaries included as part of the Sexy Box Set function as a full disclosure on how Troma went from sex to scares as their comedic counterpart (other material includes a Q&A with Herz and some background on the backing of these particular movies).

Indeed, when The Toxic Avenger became an international smash, striking a chord with a bored and alienated fanbase desperate for something to sink their fright flick teeth into, thoughts of going back to the days of blackouts, one-liners, and sex-based slapstick were quickly forgotten. Indeed, Troma got much more traction out of incorporating said silliness into its terror titles. That’s why such latter day masterpieces as Tromeo and Juliet and Poultrygeist were loaded with nudity, nastiness, and as much lesbian naughtiness as possible. Still, as the Sexy Box illustrates, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz truly understood the adolescent mindset in all its hormonally challenged marketing potential. While films like Squeeze Play, Waitress! , Stuck on You! and The First Turn-On! rarely turn up on lists of Troma’s best, they are definitely the company’s creative calling card. Everything they are today is wrapped up in these ridiculous, raunchy marvels. 

by Bill Gibron

4 Oct 2009

Schlock. Grade-Z cinematic silliness. Cheese. Bad movies get lots of unfortunate names, (especially when discussing the frightmare aspect of crap creativity) and with good reason. For anyone who fancies themselves a devotee of dung, a purveyor of the putrid, a fan of the full blown fear factor flop, the worse a supposedly scary film is, the better for the unlikely entertainment bottom line. Individuals love to champion the “so lame their loveable” school of shocks, but the truth remains that no matter the guilty pleasures present, a terrible attempt at motion picture macabre will always be nothing more than joyful junk.

Want proof? Look no further than the mind-bending DVD double feature from Liberation Entertainment, Mutants and Monsters: Uninvited/Mutant. Digging up two flailing fossils from the direct to video era of terror - the early 1980s - and serving them up sans anything remote supplementary - we are thrown into a world of weak premises, poor execution, bad acting, shaky special effects, underwhelming ambitions, questionable direction, and in the end, spotty, shoddy shivers. Indeed, the only thing frightening about either one of these dreadful dog and pony shows is that someone thought they had any viable commercial potential in the first place.

Uninvited starts off in a high rise laboratory, where a group of scientists are doing unethical things to cute little pussy cats. One of these fudged with felines escapes and quickly kills several security guards. Apparently, the beast has been outfitted with an inner demon, a murderous mutated kitten that comes crawling out of its host - Alien style - to snack on whoever is in claw-striking distance. Through a series of coincidences, it winds up on the yacht of corrupt stock trader Walter Graham. On his way to the Cayman Islands to pick up his ill gotten gains, a group of late ‘20s college kids in tow, he hopes to avoid prosecution by the SEC. When the passengers come face to face with the gangrenous Garfield however, getting pinched by the Feds is the least of their worries.

Mutant, on the other hand, finds brothers Josh and Mike Cameron traveling to the Deep South for a long delayed sibling getaway. A run-in with a few fed-up rednecks and the boys are stranded in the seemingly abandoned town of Goodland. The local law is a drunken city cop whose boozing it up to escape the past. The town doc is a female nosy-body who senses something is amiss with the citizenry. Almost everyone is sick with some kind of mystery flu, and there’s a disgusting yellow ooze on everything. When Mike goes missing, Josh turns detective. It’s not long before he’s hooked up with the town’s only pseudo-sexpot and together they unearth the horrific truth. A multinational chemical concern has been dumping toxic waste in the water supply, turning the entire populace into ravenous zombies!

In the realm of overripe ideas and underdeveloped delivery, Uninvited and Mutant take the proverbial urinal cake. With monsters made out of Tom Savini’s trash bin trimmings and performances so shaky they make Madonna look like Meryl Streep, both films easily fulfill the mandates of psychotronic stupidity. For his killer kitten compost, writer/director Greydon Clark (a true maverick of the mediocre, responsible for such ‘classics’ as Satan’s Cheerleaders, Angel’s Brigade, and the Joe Don joke Final Justice) convolutes his narrative way past the breaking point. Eventually, we get so tired of the criminal cat and mouse between Graham and his spunky Spring Breakers that we just want the feral feline to murder them all. Mutant, on the other hand, sees stuntman turned replacement lenser John “Bud” Cardos bet it all on the appearance of the undead at the end of his otherwise slowwitted wonder. Until then, he discovers as many ways as possible to turn terror into tedium.

Acting is crucial to making any horror movie work. If we don’t believe in the reactions of the victims, if we question their motivation (or in some instances, their similarity to actual living breathing human beings), we are instantly taken out of the moment. In Uninvited, seasoned vets like Clu Gulager, Alex Cord and George Kennedy try to compete with the incompetence of newcomers like a blond Rob Estes or an always bikinied Shari Shattuck. But the real rotten tomato in this wilted, worn out salad is Toni Hudson. She plays Rachel, the boat captain hampered by a saggy subplot involving her dad, his once thriving charter business, and Graham’s destruction of same. Her line readings are so one-note, her onscreen demeanor so slight, she is often upstaged by passing seagulls.

Oddly enough, the same thing happens in Mutant. Bo Hopkins and Wings Hauser are their usual b-movie best, bringing the slightest sense of scenery chewing to an otherwise laid back affair. Former child star Lee Montgomery is also very good, though director Cardos’ decision to constantly focus his shirtless well-toned torso on us becomes an issue for another think piece entirely. No, where things start to fall apart in the performance department is with the arrival of small town teacher and part-time barmaid Holly Pierce. Played with all the passion of a dead perch, obvious ‘friend of the producer’ Jody Medford treats us to blank stares, asexual allure, and a hairdo that suggests Farah Fawcett gone bumpkin. Just like Ms. Hudson in Uninvited, this lumbering love interest for Wings works against anything the film has to offer. 

Still, there are elements of enjoyment to be found in each offering. You can’t deny the devious fun to be had watching a hack job hand puppet, meant to represent an irradiated feline, slowly picking off the droning dim bulbs on the yacht’s passenger list, and Mutant actually delivers an army of the undead…just in time to have the cops show up for a massive firefight. There’s some minor gore in Uninvited, while nothing is better than a bunch of zombie children stalking and smelting another under-aged victim (in a boy’s lavatory no less). Yet even with the schlock factor stinking to high heaven and a desire to turn these former denizens of your Mom and Pop video store into some manner of cult concern, these two films just can’t cut the cheese. Some many find the Mutants and Monsters Double Feature to be a genial camp kitsch novelty. Others will merely be nauseous

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