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by Bill Gibron

9 Apr 2009


Times are tough for true independent films. Just ask Troma. The leading purveyor of outside the mainstream art has just had one of its best years. They released the theatrical masterwork Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead back in October to massive critical acclaim, and soon thereafter, restarted their definitive DVD distribution of new and unusual off the radar titles. Still, according to the longstanding icon of all things iconic, all is not well within the world of maverick directors and iconoclastic producers. Just ask Evan Husney, the company’s co-director of video releases. “Studios, mainstream and independent, need to stop worrying about films solely as a ‘product’ and realize that there are still people out there who enjoy seeing a good film,” he said recently in an interview on the subject of independent film. His assessment on the genre in general? “It’s pretty grim.”

After a year which saw the Troma go from almost afterthought to continuing vanguard of a truly dying breed, Husney thinks he knows the cause of the current chaos. “There are and always will be filmmakers producing unique, groundbreaking work,” he says. “However, the distribution vehicle for such work is pathetic.” He elaborates: “Studios are not taking enough risks breaking or developing new artists with new ideas. Film buyers and retailers believe there isn’t any appeal for such alternative product - and that’s B.S.!” Husney experienced this first hand while attending last year’s American Film Market. “I was astonished to find that the current output of most of the indie studios seems as much of a contrived product as that of the mainstream,” he concludes. “If I see another trailer for an indie film with handwritten credits, I’m going to kill myself.”

Hunsey continues: “Most of the independent films featured in the marketplace co-star Michael Madsen as ‘Bob’, ‘Joe’ or ‘Ace’ (take a look at his IMDb for laugh). Other common findings are a tons of Saw imitation posters, children’s films with a CG talking dog, films with phony Cassavetes aesthetics, or somehow a combination of all three co-starring Michael Madsen.” And don’t try to argue for a lack of viable examples. “There were some great indie films last year which were a breath of fresh air,” he adds, “films like Wendy and Lucy, Shotgun Stories, and Let the Right One In. At a grassroots level, these films proved to be successful both critically and financially.”

“Something needs to change, and it’s not the filmmakers, it’s the studios,” and as Husney points out, Troma has persevered to remain at the forefront of truly untarnished individual art. “I really hope as digital distribution grows,” he offers, “it will open more avenues for new talented artists to get their work seen!” One of the ways his company continues this good fight is via the freshly minted Tromasterpiece Collection. As Husney explains, “the ultimate goal for the (label) is to take older Troma catalog titles and give them new life to find a much deserved, broader consumer awareness outside of our customer base.” As a close collaboration between the company, founders Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz and the creative element involved in each, Husney points out that, “fans have been really appreciative of the ‘Tromasterpiece Collection’. We’ve received nothing but praise on the (recent) Redneck Zombies Tromasterpiece DVD, and we owe a lot of it to Pericles Lewnes and Edward Bishop for putting together most of the bonus material.”

Indeed, upcoming titles in the series will follow the same path. According to Husney, the next classic up for reconsideration will be the slasher favorite, The Last Horror Film. It stars Joe Spinell in, what the company refers to as” his most unnerving, perverse performance since his unforgettable starring role in William Lustig’s Maniac.”  The film also reunites Spinell with another Maniac-¬alum; Hammer horror film and Bond-girl babe Caroline Munro. Husney adds that “The Last Horror Film DVD will include the uncut version of the film, which has never been released in America on video and was only available on the pre-certification UK VHS tape released over 25 years ago.”

Fans can also look forward to a wealth of bonus features including a brand new featurette, My Best Maniac which features Spinell’s closest friend, Luke Walter, a brand new audio commentary with Walter, a new interview with Maniac director William Lustig, Buddy G Giovinazzo’s (Combat Shock) short film Mr. Robbie aka Maniac 2 which features Spinell in one of his last performances before his untimely death, original and new trailers, and much more.

After that, Troma will tackle one of its most unusual and satisfying foreign films. “Later in the year we will be releasing the highly anticipated Director’s Cut of Philippe Mora’s Australian bushranger classic Mad Dog Morgan,” says Husney. “The film will be presented with a new beautifully restored, uncut, anamorphic widescreen transfer loaded with new and vintage bonus material.” Mora’s Outlaw masterpiece stars Dennis Hopper in, what the company considers, “his greatest performance of the 1970s next to The American Friend.”

“The Tromasterpiece Collection will also expand with a new anniversary edition of Troma’s War,” Husney points out, which will feature new cast and crew interviews, including a career-spanning featurette on the life and times of Troma’s most famous action hero Joe Fleishaker. In addition, future titles up for consideration include the hilarious the pre-Toxic Avenger ensemble sex comedy, The First Turn-On, Spanish horror classic The Hanging Woman starring Paul Naschy, and Lech Kowalski’s harrowing Story of a Junkie (a true underground masterwork).

But perhaps the most anticipated title of the year is also one of Troma’s most controversial and complex. “Combat Shock has remained hidden in the underground video universe for more than 25 years,” Husney points out, “and has now fully ripened to disgust, revolt and depress a new generation of indie film viewers.” The 1986 thriller about a returning war vet and the troubles he faces readjusting to civilian life is, according to the company, “more relevant today than it did during its initial theatrical release.” Husney explains.  As usual, fans and first timers can expect a great deal of depth from the upcoming digital package.

Combat Shock: 2-Disc Never-Before-Seen Director’s Cut will include the heavily sought-after pre-Troma cut entitled American Nightmares which is somehow more delightfully repulsive and grim than the Combat Shock cut (which will also be included in the set for comparison).” That’s not all, of course. The most exciting special feature in the set is Post-Traumatic, an American Nightmare, which Husney describes as “a new featurette which contains interviews with filmmaker Buddy Giovinazzo contemporaries lending their praise, critical analyzes, and also examining themes of other nihilistic films of the 1980s.”

And the wealth of added content continues. Present in said featurette are such famous genre names as John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), William Lustig (Maniac), Jorg Buttgereit (Necromantik), Jim Van Bebber (Deadbeat at Dawn, The Manson Family), Roy Frumkes (Street Trash), Mitch Davis (Fantasia Film Festival), Joe Kane (The Phantom at the Movies), Rick Sullivan (The Gore Gazette – his first interview in 20 years!), David Gregory (Severin Films), and the star of Combat Shock, in his first sitdown ever…Rick Giovinazzo.

According to Husney, the set will also include, “an audio commentary with Buddy and Jorg Buttgereit, an all new interview with Buddy conducted by Lloyd Kaufman, Buddy’s rarely-seen short film starring Joe Spinell titled Mr. Robbie aka Maniac 2, a look at the locations from Combat Shock as they appear today, original press and photo galleries, new liner notes by Steve Puchalski of Shock Cinema, and other highly anticipated material.”

Last but not least, perhaps the most important DVD collection the company will release this year is not an actual film. Coinciding with founder Lloyd Kaufman’s latest must-own tome, Direct Your Own Damn Movie (published by Focal Press), Husney indicates that “Troma Team Video will be releasing a four-disc DVD box set (of the same name), which will include a newly produced, feature-length documentary with interviews from Stan Lee, Trey Parker, Eli Roth, James Gunn, William Lustig, Stuart Gordon, Penelope Spheeris, Mick Garris, Monte Hellman, Ernest Dickerson, and many more.”

The main feature is a documentary, offering “a step-by-step breakdown of operating outside the studio system as well as a guide to script-writing, pre-production, casting, managing sets, post-production, and the secrets of selling your own dam movie,” says Hunsey. The box set also features six hours of bonus material, including documentary featurettes, extended interviews, music videos, and much more!

“We would love to reissue more forgotten Troma gems from the toxic basement,” Husney indicates, considering how successful DVD updates of titles like Getting Lucky have been. They also plan on putting out the long delayed box set of Giuseppe Andrews films. In addition, the company will continue to seek out and resurrect unusual offerings from around the world, as they did with such new post-millennial classics as Bloospit, Cyxork 7, and The Seduction of Dr. Fugazzi. With the limited edition three disc set of Poultrygeist already sold out (Husney adds, “we have hatched the final batch. What ever is on the shelves at your local retailer is all that’s left. Get them while they’re hot!”) it seems like true individual art still has substantial support. Even in these tough economic times, Troma abides. “We have base audience that loves us no matter what,” Husney explains, “and thanks to them, the lights are still on. They are loyal and for good reason.”  Good reason, indeed. 

 

by Chris Barsanti

8 Apr 2009


Right around the moment in Adventureland that desperately awkward James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) and fellow tortured soul Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart) go for a quiet drive in Em’s car, the cassette deck blaring Hüsker Dü‘s “Don’t Want to Know If You’re Lonely” into the suburban night, it becomes clear who exactly this film is targeted at. Yes, it’s another moody evocation of not-so-great times past for those lovesick children of the 1980s who are closing in on middle age.

It’s a peculiar form of nostalgia, born out of little more than an aching memory of post-adolescent longing and confusion, that fraught period that seemed so hopeless at the time and yet can be burnished by hindsight into a sort of bruised Avalon. The jobs might have sucked and that girl or that boy was destined to smash your heart in two, but at least one was young.

And the music was great. Writer/director Greg Mottola could be accused of directing by soundtrack in Adventureland, but what does it really matter when The Replacements get deployed with as much soul-stirring precision as they are here?

There’s more to the film than mood, though at times it hardly matters. Mottola wrote a thin reed of a plot, following James during a post-graduate summer when, instead of backpacking around Europe with his rich buddy, he’s stuck back home, working at a crap amusement park in suburban Pittsburgh to save up money for graduate school. The girl, Em, is destined to steal his heart in the worst way. Meanwhile, James’ either over- or extremely-undereducated co-workers serve as woeful warnings about what a future without graduate school might hold.

The story that Mottola’s crafted contains more battered elements of the drifting indie romantic comedy than should normally be allowed: the bookish and gawky protagonist, the soulful girl with a past, one crazy summer after which nothing would ever be the same, and even a passionate declaration made in the midst of a thundering downpour.

Mottola’s lengthy list of potential sins here also include Apatow-friendly Saturday Night Live cast members (Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig) in supporting roles and a comic relief bit player whose claim to screen time is a predilection for thwacking other guys in the crotch. His screenplay also drags out revealing a particularly obvious “secret” of Em’s long past the point at which even the dullest viewer will have cottoned on to it.

But instead of some rote piece of manufacture, tricked out with smart casting and a demographically-smart soundtrack, Adventureland turns out to be something approaching magical. Maybe it was the spell of those twinkling amusement-park rides against the soft summer dusk, or the languorous ease with which James slips into the summer-job rhythm of low expectations and even lower amounts of effort. The gorgeous usage of Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”—utilized during another soul-stirring nighttime drive, Mottola understanding the centrality to American youth of aimless driving and music like few other artists—certainly helps clinch it.

(It also deserves mentioning that Mottola wisely bucks the recent trend of writing and casting characters in their teens and early-twenties as though they were simply adults with different slang and wardrobes than their parents; by simply looking and sounding their age, his performers come off as impressively authentic.)

A loping comedy of displacement that snaps off dozens of easy laughs without breaking a sweat, Adventureland transcends the indie comedy trap by dint of not being content merely to capture its milieu but to animate it. Another filmmaker might have turned this same story into something like last year’s infinitely disappointing Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist; a film that got all the cultural signifiers right but lost its soul along the way. Adventureland uses its post-punk soundtrack (clashing against the pounding and disco-esque New Wave playing at the awful nightclub they occasionally frequent) and literary references to pinpoint its characters, but it doesn’t let those things fence them in. Yes, James is impressed by Em’s music collection, but it’s her fiercely burning eyes and the way she takes down a co-worker for making an anti-Semitic comment that makes him fall ridiculously in love. She could have loved “Rock Me Amadeus” (playing on infinite loop in Adventureland) and there still would have been sparks. So while Mottola might have created one of the most spot-on soundtracks for depressive survivors of the mid’80s, he’s not substituting music for character, ala Crowe and Tarantino.

Because of this ear for time and place, Adventureland is certainly a more limited creature, in terms of audience reach, than Mottola’s faster, raunchier, and more generalized, but quite similar suburban comedy Superbad. All that the former film required for somebody to love it was their having been, at some point in their life, a teenager. Whereas this newer (and seemingly much more personal) creation is an entirely different thing. Adventureland might not be quite as funny as Superbad in the end (not much has been, the last few years), but it’s a richer and more resonant film in the long run.

by Bill Gibron

7 Apr 2009


There are two kinds of musical scores in movies - those which do their damnedest to announce their presence and participate in the stories/scenes/scenarios being offered, and those that are content to sit back and act like scented candles in an overall atmosphere of shared experience and communal creativity. The former tends to make up the vast majority of today’s musical output, composers so concerned about the next job that they have to make their sonic status good and known less the next skilled craftsman take their place. We see it all over the mainstream movie dynamic, from the underrated Danny Elfman to the overrated John Williams. The latter, on the other hand, is far trickier to get a handle on. Rock and roll icons like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Blur’s Damon Albarn can step out of their bandmate mode and give subtle, signature sounds to even the largest project, while the genre’s biggest names continually revert to the same old pomp and cinematic circumstance.

This passive-aggressive act is perfectly illustrated in this installment of Short Ends and Leader‘s soundtrack overview, Surround Sound. In looking at three recent releases, we find illustrations of both flash with little substance (Monsters vs. Aliens), electricity with more fuel than any film should have (Crank: High Voltage), and the kind of subtle softness that balances support with symbolic shimmer (Sunshine Cleaning). Oddly enough, in two of the three cases, the studios have decided to “accent” these offerings with the same old canned pop charts chum that’s supposed to act like a kind of instant recall. While they work in one (Cleaning), they really undermine the epic earnestness another is attempting. In all three situations, however, we can literally see where ego usurps artistry, and where a need to be recognized is measured against the ability to truly support a motion picture paradigm. We begin with:


Monsters vs. Aliens - Music From the Motion Picture [rating: 6]

It’s tough for composers to make the transition from assistant to featured player. It’s doubly difficult when you’re moving from creator of additional music (for movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Kung Fu Panda) to producing the score for one of 2009’s possible blockbusters. That was the assignment given to Hans Zimmer protégé Henry Jackman. The classically trained UK artist who once collaborated with known pop music producer Trevor Horn, was asked to take on Dreamworks CG spectacle known as Monsters vs. Aliens. Following the tale of an everyday bride struck who grows 50 feet high after being struck by a meteor (she is then kidnapped by the government and secreted away with other so-called “creatures”) the assignment required Jackman to balance the needs of the narrative with the overall campy nature of the project. And just to make things a tad more interesting, he had to make room for a myriad of mandated “classics”, tunes taken in to suggest the 1950’s foundation for the set-up.

If Mars Attacks! and Wolfman Jack had a baby, the bizzaro world offspring known as the Monsters vs. Aliens soundtrack would be the result. Part b-movie schlock, part playlist from an out of touch studio exec’s IPod, this perplexing combination of score and songs gives sonic schizophrenia a new name. On the one hand, Henry Jackman does a marvelous job of matching the movie’s inherent camp with his over the top marathon orchestrations. Nothing here is small, not even the moments where the music drops down to supplement something sad or dramatic. Instead, numbers like “A Giant Transformation”, “A Wedding Interrupted” and “The Battle at the Golden Gate Bridge” literary excite the speakers with outsized action film scope. Then, just as the backdrop is promising something truly grand, we are taken aback by moldy oldies like “Tell Him” (by the Exciters), “Wooly Bully” (from Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs) and that Dr. Demento benchmark, “Purple People Eater”. We expect there to be some bows to ‘50s fluff when it comes to a movie named Monsters vs. Aliens. What we don’t need are the same old Happy Days jukebox tracks shoved down our sensibilities.



Crank: High Voltage - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 9]

When I arrived in theaters three years ago, no one knew what to make of Crank. It starred up and coming action adrenal gland Jason Statham and was helmed by a pair of aggressive upstart who referred to themselves by the last name novelty Neveldine/Taylor. Working on the neo-noir premise of a criminal with 24 hours to find the people who poisoned him, it was a video game gonzo trip into a wild ride world of testosterone, stunts, and scantily clad women. With an ending that suggested a possible (if highly improbable) sequel, and a growing cult following thanks to DVD, the inevitable update is here. On the negative side, the studio (Lionsgate) won’t be bothering to show the film to critics. That’s never a good sign. On the positive, however, is the sensational soundtrack from Faith No More’s/Mr. Bungle’s brilliant Mike Patton. Like a retarded rave on hallucinogenic, this multi-track masterwork is what contemporary composition is all about.

Like a kitchen sink gone psycho, this all inclusive sonic smorgasbord runs the gamut from balls out rock, ridiculous electronica, pure punk posing, and slinky lounge lizardry. There’s buzzsaw riff riots and overcharged chill outs o’plenty. Over the course of 32 astonishing tracks, Patton plays both participant and provocateur, giving Crank: High Voltage its necessary zing. You can practically see the cinematics propelling “Juice Me”, “Ball Torture”, “Shock and Shoot-Out”, and “Car Park Throwdown”. Elsewhere, Patton puts his own unusual spin on situations such as “Organ Donor”, “Porn Strike”, “Surgery” and “Epiphany”. For those used to the typical faux rock chug of the noxious nu-metal tracks that supposedly suggest brawn and battlements, the score for Crank: High Voltage is an astonishing ear-opener. It argues that, sometimes, a more avant-garde approach to aural backdrops is far more fascinating that more mock Marilyn Manson. Here’s hoping Patton continues is the realm of reel music making.



Sunshine Cleaning - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 8]

When Michael Penn broke out of his famous brother’s shadow in 1989, delivering his debut album March and the MTV hit single “No Myth”, few could imagine the eventual path his career would take. Over the course of seven albums and numerous guest stints, he’s developed an oeuvre both instantly likeable and quietly insular. Current married to pop chanteuse Aimee Mann and working on films as well as his own self-released LPs, Penn has been responsible for the music in movies by Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights) and actor Alan Cummings (The Wedding Party, Suffering Man’s Charity). Now comes his work on the indie effort Sunshine Cleaning. Sharing the soundtrack with a group of neo-novel navel-gazing tracks that tend to mimic the movie’s moxie and sense of spirit, Penn delivers a likeable collection that takes its own sweet sonic time before settling it to assuage your soul.

If you liked plucked acoustic guitars, ethereal strings and keyboards, and a symphonic style that sounds like Carter Burwell channeling a college alt-rock station, you’ll adore Michael Penn’s ambient score for the recent indie quirk fest. The story of ladies working as crime scene clean-up “specialists” demands an equally idiosyncratic soundtrack, and the former hitmaker (with some help from Golden Smog, Ken Andrews, Electrelane, Bodega, Ernie Miller, and David Majzlin) turns in a lovely set of aural signatures. Each individual beat, from the laconic limits of “CB Radio and Resolve” to the buoyant beauty of “Some Ice Cream” defy easy description. More like tone poems than actual tunes, Penn plays around with character and time signatures to keep us off balance and emotionally connected. Standouts include the moving “Trestling”, the atmospheric “Trailer Park”, the personal themes for “Joe and Oscar” and “Rose and Mac”, and the terrifically tender “Mrs. Davis”. If there is one weak link, a moment so unnecessary it almost sinks the entire project, it’s the inclusion of the superfluous ‘70s stalwart “Spirit in the Sky”. Penn creates his own spirituality. We didn’t need this novelty bit of Bible thumping to amplify Cleaning‘s cosmic aura.

 

by Bill Gibron

6 Apr 2009


Has it really been ten years since Chris Seaver, the savant of homemade horror comedies, first introduced us to the world of Low Budget Pictures? Has it really been that long since we first laid eyes on that simian lothario TeenApe, that hate crime in the making known as Mr. Bonejack, or the demonic delights of Filthy McNasty? Over this decade of decadence and debauchery, we’ve come to understand the wonders of womanly bits, the hilarity of excessive gas, and the greatness that is John Stamos. Why he’s not more well known will remain a Comic Con conundrum for eons to come. Still, this fascinating fringe maverick continues to amaze us with his growing canon of exciting, eclectic schlock.

Thanks to Sub Rosa Studios, we are getting the opportunity experience more Seaver sensations. This time around, it’s the one-two punch of Terror at Bloodfart Lake, and the sword and sandal spoof Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone. In each case, Seaver relies on a recognizable type - the former is a slasher satire, the latter takes on everything from Rambo, The Lord of the Rings to the entire Conan legend. Sprinkled in between is the director’s own unusual fairy dust, including shout outs to favored rock and ska bands, nonstop motion picture trivia, and just enough toilet humor to keep things comically crude. While the latter loses something in the wizards and warriors translation, the slapstick slice and dice could give Apatow and his gang a run for their frat farce money.

Terror at Bloodfart Lake

When a group of teens head to the legendary Bloodfart Lake for a little late summer R&R, they are totally unaware of the horror they are about to face. Seems a horrific crime some years before continues to haunt the vacation spot, and our motley crew of metalheads, Goth chicks, wannabe actors, and dim bulb losers are destined to face the wraith’s wrath. But it turns out that creepy groundskeeper and all around killjoy Caspian will be a bigger threat to their mini-vacation than some psychotic corpse in a scarecrow costume who suffers from a severe case of talking villain’s disease. If they can live through his party pooping fey ways, they might just survive a few days of random bloodletting.




The Terror at Bloodfart Lake is indeed one of the best things Chris Seaver has ever done - and this is the dude who delivered the remarkable masterworks Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker, The Karaoke Kid, and The Film Crew. It combines the most memorable parts of his past perversion epics while continuing to strive toward a more mainstream maturity. For someone who used to utilize a point and shoot style of filmmaking acumen, this is a very accomplished picture. The visual element is exceptional and Seaver experiments with framing and angles like never before. Even better, his writing has become smarter and more assured. Instead of going for the gross out gag every couple of seconds, he relies on characterization, repeated riffs, and pure situational set-ups to fuel his funny business.

In fact, watching how he’s grown over the years, it’s comforting to see the kind of polish and professionalism he now shows. In the past, Seaver could be criticized for being the most insular of moviemakers, gathering together his high school friends to make private comedies that few could follow or fully comprehend. Now, as humor has come around to his way of thinking, the oddball asides and direct dives into genital juvenilia work wonderfully. Even better, for those of us who stayed the course, the depth of his slightly skewed world view is obvious. This is not just some geek who spent too many hours in front of the TV, soaking in everything his VCR had to offer. This is someone who has absorbed all of popular culture, from Star Wars to Star Search, from random rap rhymes to epic fantasy metal and manages to make them his own.

Oddly enough, when he tries to mimic others, he sometimes comes up short. While not as drop deal hilarious as Terror at Bloodfart Lake, Deathbone is another triumph for the talented auteur. Yet since he is using a wealth of recognizable films and types for his translation of the macho Middle Earth actioner, the farce doesn’t seem so fresh. Still, this story of an elfin girl who goes on a dangerous journey to seek the help of her kingdom’s mightiest warrior is a wonder to behold.

Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone

You see, despite his rather doughy physique, Deathbone is the fiercest, most ferocious conqueror in all of Mucklark. He even has his own nubile assistant and freelance troubadour. When a young elf asks for his help in rescuing her friend and freeing the valley from the ruthless reign of the Goblin King, he can’t refuse. Along the way, they will face all manner of hideous beings, including trolls, monsters, and a fat friar with revenge on his mind.




As he did with Mulva 2: Kill TeenApe, Seaver once again relies on a recognizable film type to foster his wicked wit. Unlike the previously mentioned movie, however, he is far more successful here that in past attempts at parody. Maybe it’s the type of film he’s fooling with - the hero vs. evil conceit is rife with its own sense of implied ridicule - or the performance of a puffy and bloated Billy Garberina that seals the deal, but whatever it is, Seaver is rock solid. Sure, he lets the movie go on for far too long (at almost 100 minutes, this is like his Gone with the Wind) and indulges in elements that don’t fully payoff (the cliché contest). But unlike his Tolkein trip-up Quest for the Egg Salad, the combination of Stallone stupidity and a hip-hop Magic: The Gathering really works - even if the action scenes are more chaotic than well choreographed.

Again, Seaver flawlessly utilizes the camaraderie of his cast, and their chemistry really shows. Especially effective is longtime LBP player Meredith Host, who has to carry most of the exposition and audience identification. She also is the brunt of Deathbone’s many personal putdowns, and she takes them like a trooper. Elsewhere, the always engaging Travis Indovina makes a wonderful wandering minstrel, especially when wielding an “axe” (read: electric guitar) as part of the mayhem. This is also one of the best looking films Seaver has ever helmed. There’s a lot of location work (including mostly outdoor and exterior scenes) and a real sense of scope. With professional level make-up F/X and lots of ludicrous gags, Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone is a cut above his other purposeful parodies.

As he enters his next ten years, as marriage and fatherhood have radically altered his priorities and his proclivities, one wonders what Chris Seaver will dream up next. He already has something entitled I Spit Chew On Your Grave making the convention rounds (can somebody say redneck revenge splatter film???) and he promises to continue cranking out the LBP product as long as the audience wants him to. Judging from his continued growth as a filmmaker, as well as the overreaching talent on display, Seaver should have several more decades in the limelight. Anyone who doubts that need only check out Terror at Bloodfart Lake and Deathbone - Third Blood Part VII: The Blood of Deathbone to understand why. 

by Bill Gibron

5 Apr 2009


Oh boy - here we go again.

It’s been a little less than three years since UK trickster Sacha Baron Cohen has been out of the cinematic limelight, and the world has actually been better for it. For everyone who thought his ambush comedy Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan would reset the standard for big screen satire, the Apatow based truth is tough to swallow. Indeed, Cohen’s creative bent, which basically mandates that real people interact with his over the top, politically incorrect conceits, dissipated along with the mainstream fortunes of Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, and the rest of the similarly styled Jackass crew. And while the Brit wit has been off manufacturing his next film, the world of humor has stumbled over into frat boy bromance territory masterminded by the Freaks and Geeks guru and his FoA pact.

All of which leaves the fortunes for the upcoming Brüno (also given an unwieldy subtitle - Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt) up in the air. Taking another character from his Ali G Show and sending ‘him’ off into the straits of Bible Belt America may seem like something clever, but let’s not forget the love it/loathe it revisionism that faced the comic’s previous character from Kazakhstan. While funny, it wasn’t the full blown rewriting of the laughfest rulebook that many felt it would be. In fact, some saw this emperor as half-dressed the first time around. They continue to wonder how long it would be before the rest of the faux funny business façade would drop off and disappear.

One look at the ersatz ribald “Red Band” trailer for Brüno indicates that said designer duds are now indeed just a birthday suit. As he did with race in Borat, Cohen attempts to turn gender equity and lifestyle choice into the savage social commentary with unlikely everyday Americans (and occasional oddballs) taking the brunt of his brutalizing. Homophobia is played up, as are any issues involving masculinity, machismo, and manliness. Cohen is shown attending self defense classes, asking how the nonplused instructor would defend himself against dildos. There are also moments of man-on-man action, full frontal nudity, and the always surreal setting of fashion shows and the accompanying Weeks in both New York and abroad. Probably the most controversial moments occurs when Brüno “adopts” an African baby. As a crowd of startled individuals look on, Cohen commences to throw every racial stereotype onto the fire as fuel for the crowd’s increasing rage.

Scandal is nothing new for Cohen, or for Brüno for that matter. There have been reports during production of fights with designers, near arrests, ruined bits (mostly because of the actor’s new higher profile), and an overall inability to fool all the people all the time. Then, a little over two weeks ago, the MPAA slapped the film with the commercial kiss of death known as an NC-17. One assumes it’s for sequences like the one which has a couple of half dressed gay men “making out” in front of a group of flabbergasted rednecks. Naturally, such a judgment is being used to Brüno’s advantage. Director Dan Mazer (a Borat vet, stepping in for an MIA Larry Charles) has stated that, while he will edit the film to meet the MPAA - and studio - mandates, the “Unrated” DVD will be ‘amazingly awesome’.

Still, all of this pre-publicity (the film doesn’t hit theaters until 10 July) begs a certain question regarding content, to wit - are people really interested in seeing this kind of comedy once again? For all its oversized (and since recanted) praise and box office conquering, Borat succeeded primarily because there was nothing like it before. No one had attempted to mesh reality with fiction in such a massively mock documentary design. Sure, there was a Candid Camera type quality to what Cohen and company were doing, but they never made any bones about the individuals in the lens. The people the production interacted with were fooled, but the lack of any ‘hidden’ facet meant they were unknowingly complicit in the ruse. By the end, when the film was raking in the cash, lawsuits came, but not because the plaintiffs had an actual case. As with most participants left outside of success, they simply wanted a piece of the pie.

And yet Cohen hasn’t really tried to broaden his comedic perspective here. This looks like Borat recast in mincing metrosexual satire. Laughs are supposed to come from bigots staring bug-eyed as Queer Nation makes its musky, man-love stand. At least our Kazakhstani reporter had some old school superstitions (the entire “gypsy tears” routine) to expand its scope. One fears that Brüno won’t be able to move beyond its basic one note ideal. No matter the character’s status as a Euro-trash fashionista, there is only so much one can do with sexuality. After a while, the gags become obvious and labored. Indeed, watching the Red Band trailer, one senses that this will feel like a TV length sketch stretched to movie size sameness.

When he appeared in Tim Burton’s brilliant take on Stephen Sondheim’s majestic Sweeney Todd, many argued that Cohen was finally embracing his undeniable talents and moving beyond the ‘gotcha’ groove that brought him to the forefront of fame. Even with Brüno on the horizon, they sense the actor/comedian’s desire to break free from the self-made mold and expand his cinematic status. Here’s hoping that with the final aspect of his Ali G Show finally making it to movie screens, he’ll drop the ‘madman on the street’ shtick and really trade on his seemingly remarkable skills. In some ways, Sacha Baron Cohen is indicative of the British post-modern ideal of wit. Like Russell Brand, or Ricky Gervais, they will take a certain type and basically beat it into the ground until audiences and admen are sick of it. Brüno will truly test whether Cohen can continue on this path. Here’s betting that, come August, he’ll be gratefully going in a different direction. 

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