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Thursday, Apr 3, 2008


The media just loves to fawn over George Clooney. With his combination of classic Hollywood charisma and contemporary self-effacing nerve, he tends to enhance, and sometimes overwhelm, the projects he touches. From his early, ineffectual work in films like One Fine Day, to the critical acclaim accompanying his turns with the Coens, he’s a student of the old studio system as well as a jester in his own idiosyncratic kingdom of considered cool. But what’s most fascinating about this man’s career is not his rise to mainstream prominence. Instead, his unique turns behind the camera - Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck - indicate an artist willing to bend tradition in order to place his own unique stamp on cinema. His latest effort, the attempted screwball comedy Leatherheads, is no different.


Poor Dodge Connelly. All he knows is football. He’s been playing an unappreciated professional version of the sport for years, unable to capture the public imagination the way the college game has. When his team folds, he heads to Chicago to talk with old ally C.C. Frazier. The sleazy entrepreneur is representing Princeton star Carter Rutherford, and Connelly thinks he can con the young war hero into going legit. Of course, as with every story like this, there’s a dame in the mix - in this case, ace Tribune reporter Lexie Littleton. Quick with a word and decisive on a deadline, she is out to undermine Rutherford. Seems his WWI mythos might just be bunk after all. Of course, destroying his reputation may just put the fledgling fortunes of professional football in jeopardy - and Connelly won’t let that happen.


You’ve got to give Clooney credit for trying, especially when most of Leatherheads is a jaunty, jazz age dream. He’s definitely learned a lot from his many collaborations with ones Joel and Ethan, and his visual flair never fails him. This is a smart, good looking movie, never overplaying its period piece precision or resorting to camp or kitsch. Clooney’s attention to detail is flawless, his comic timing as polished as the brass of a speakeasy’s spittoon. So why then is this movie merely good, and not the amazing masterpiece it wants to be? Where did this director and his dedicated cast go wrong, especially in light of all the things they both get so very, very right?


One answer may be the genre. As Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day indicated, the screwball comedy is a dead genre for a reason - it’s hard as Hell to recreate. Not only was the format a product of its time, but it also reflected the obvious anxieties of a world between wars. Clooney clicks into the aspects that cause instant recognition - ditzy dialogue, razor-sharp put downs, lightning quick conversations - but never finds the narrative mechanics to amplify everything else onscreen. During the opening football sequence, we see the kind of cinematic zing required to pull this off. By the middle of the second act, all that pizzazz has petered out.


Then there’s Renee Zellweger. While far more tolerable here than in other starring roles, she’s still the hollow feminine side of a rather lax lover’s triangle. With a pinched up face that blocks her needs to be expressive eyes, and a delivery pitched somewhere between community college thespianism and The Hudsucker Proxy, she never settles in to her function here. It’s the same with John Krasinski as Rutherford. He is supposed to be a genial lox, the kind of wide eyed innocent who doesn’t mind dipping into the dark side once in a while - or at least, that’s how the script handles him. He goes along with the get rich quick scheme forwarded by Connelly and Frazier, rather mercenary in his decision. But then, when Zellweger’s Littleton betrays him, he acts like a hurt puppy - albeit one that freely stained the companionship carpet whenever and wherever he wanted.


It’s up to our creative cheerleader to hold everything together, and it’s a testament to Clooney’s talent and magnetism that he manages to make it work. Connelly’s moxie, his sense of purpose and passion for playing football comes across loud and clear. Similarly, when smitten with Littleton and jealous of her wandering attentions, we believe in the legitimacy of their love. It’s too bad that the second act gets bogged down in ancillary plot points. Had Leatherheads simply stayed focused on showing how football moved from a college to national pastime, we’d have a winning sports epic. But emotions that should soar merely lumber along, failing to get our undivided attention.


As a result, Leatherheads stands as an almost success. It does the best it can with the cast and content collected, and still ends up delivering an occasionally delightful entertainment. It’s clear that, as he continues his career, Clooney’s choice behind the camera will be as brave and as interesting as the movie roles he options - maybe even more so. No one but this mainstream man-crush could use his considerable clout to forge a ‘20s era experiment in style and sass. While it doesn’t always work, Leatherheads definitely looks and feels right. And in the case of this clever attempt, two out of three is all that’s really needed.



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Thursday, Apr 3, 2008


Who, exactly, are the Rolling Stones circa 2008? Considering that it’s been 45 plus years since Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones played ballsy blues badboys to the Beatles scrubbed and sanitized pop laureates, one has to challenge where a group of aging 60+ year olds fit within the modern mainstream music scheme. Granted, they are legends, myths making noise long after many thought them relevant. True, it takes an intense amount of chutzpah to step on stage and endlessly recreate your greatest hits from three decades past while hoping to work in a few of your current composition. It’s a concept that’s bested other icons - David Bowie, for one - and yet the artists formerly known as the greatest rock and roll band of all time continue to soldier on.


So when it was announced that Martin Scorsese, the moviemaking mind behind such monumental aural efforts as The Last Waltz and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, was planning on capturing the Stones on their latest tour in support of their 22nd studio album A Bigger Bang, fans and film fanatics were agog. Imagine the combination - the man responsible for some of contemporary cinema’s most masterful works directing the last real remnants of the socially conscious ‘60s through a sonic discourse of their entire career. The results should be something magical indeed. But Shine a Light suffers from something akin to inadvertent over familiarity. Instead of appreciating the Stones for surviving all these years, the movie appears to mock them for hanging on for far too long.


It begins with the otherwise astonishing IMAX presentation. While the movie will be available in the regular Cineplex format, seeing Jagger and Richards in 70mm clarity is shocking to say the least. It’s like watching outtakes from Dawn of the Dead, The Musical. Both men are indeed old, and not just in human years. They suffer from that rare malady known as rock and roll ageism. For every month they’ve spent on the road, or in a recording studio, they’ve ripened several decades. For his part, Jagger is still a jocular jumping bean, pulling off the preening moves and cock jock jerkiness that made him an icon. In fact, if Shine a Light has a single saving grace, it’s this enigmatic frontman. He is energy personified, able to whip up the crowd into a frenzy with little more than his onstage presence and instantly recognizable vocals.


But as they plow through their hit heavy playlist, as they touch on all aspects of their endless time as titans, certain elements undermine the show. Richards, for example, may be a substance abusing badass, a blood changing champion of music making debauchery, but he’s an incomplete element to the overall sound. Chopping away at his guitar, barely interested in completing a signature riff, he’s lost in his own world of aural satisfaction. Since most of the audience are far too young to remember when the Stones toured America in stadium showboating events, this offhand approach seems lazy. In fact, there are many times when Richard’s random strumming ruins an otherwise incendiary classic (“Brown Sugar”, “Start Me Up”).


It’s a zombie like malaise that stifles many otherwise amazing moments here. We really get into the groove of “Some Girls”, but then a bit of editorial oddness derails the experience (fans of the song will definitely understand). The band brings on some celebrity guests to fill out the evening, but only Buddy Guy delivers with his bravado blues belting on “Champagne and Reefer”. By the time we get to the encores, and the signature Stone tune “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, one actually yearns for DEVO’s deconstructionist take. Our old men are merely going through the motions, delivering what they think the audience wants while providing just enough effort to easily appease the masses.


For his part, Scorsese is stuck as documenter only. Unlike Waltz, or his amazing Dylan overview, there is little opportunity to add clarification or context to the Stones’ performance Instead, we get clichéd comic bits - interviews from 1964 addressing the band’s proposed longevity while, 44 years later, the guys are jamming away on “Tumbling Dice”. There is no mention of other band members, no recounting of the troubled history that followed their fame (we do get mention of Jagger and Richard’s run-ins with the law), or life outside the limelight. Indeed, Scorsese is striving for a Stop Making Sense kind of relevance - a movie where the music and how it is performed says everything about the artist featured.


In that regard, Shine a Light struggles. Diehards will drown in giant-sized waves of nostalgic recall, while the casual lover of the band’s output will grow restless towards the end. While the mood changing choices of country comforts like “Far Away Eyes”, or their bow to Marianne Faithful (who covered their composition “As Tear Go By”) are welcome, it’s the high energy entries that keep us engaged. Jagger is indeed the juice. Yet there is still something unsettling about the entire performance, as if part of the passion that drove these English lads to music four decades before has been lost in waves of commercialism and cash. Still, Shine a Light does deliver in a way few concert films can - especially given the timeless talents on display. It’s just too bad it’s not more illuminating. The Rolling Stones as a symbol of pop culture’s past deserve as much.



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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008

To finish up SE&L‘s tribute to Low Budget Pictures’ Chris Seaver, we look back at an August 2007 piece focusing on his amazing trilogy starring the bodacious Bochliadochi sisters.


Great comedy teams are not ‘born’. They do not arrive from the witticism womb fully formed and ready to rib tickle. No, what all classic clown combos have in common is that elusive amalgamation of talent, identity, characterization, and unholy happenstance. There is a real sense that what is happening is the result of some organic convergence, not the preplanned propositions of a cash hungry studio. Take the Three Stooges for example. Among the many charms exuded by the Howard Brothers (Moe, Curly, and yes even Shemp) and Fine (little old Larry) are split second slapstick timing (talent), easily understood personas (identity), several layers to their lunacy (characterization), and the completely chance arrival at Columbia Pictures when the studio needed a showcase (happenstance). From Laurel and Hardy to Abbot and Costello – heck, even up through Chris Farley and David Spade – the recognizable amusement units don’t take years of development to gel. They either work up front, or never find their footing (right, Ritz Brothers?).


It’s even harder to find examples of this instantaneous ideal in the realm of independent film. The reasons are rather obvious, from lack of true talent to the ability to hone a serious set of skills on a homemade movie budget. Try as they might – and there have been some God awful examples of said lousy attempts – there are only two current outsiders who’ve managed to find the perfect union of personality and performance. One is Justin Channel, responsible for the hilarious horror comedies Raising the Stakes and Die and Let Live. With the flawless funny business from the dynamic duo of Josh Lively and Zane Crosby, this director manages to take genre generics – vampires and zombies, respectively – and turn them into risible rites of teen passage. The other sick savant is Chris Seaver. Working in the brash and the blue long before Apatow remembered to freak his geek on, this ersatz entrepreneur has fashioned his entire Low Budget Pictures universe after a sublime love of schlock and scatology. And as part of his extensive underground oeuvre, he’s also developed one of the greatest cinematic partnerships ever – the sensational sisters Heather and Puggly Bochliadochi.


With origins in previous Seaver films (specifically, 12 Inches of Dangling Fury), the unusual duo became fixtures of the writer/director’s filmmaking around 2005. As part of his look back at high school as a literal Hell, this unhinged auteur combined his love of all things pop culture with a clear eye for the simmering social stigmas among adolescents. He tossed in all his favorite horror riffs, some glorious nods to musical extremes (fantasy metal, anyone) and a running cast of characters meant to give the series instant trademarking and long term replay value. From the first film in the (so far) trilogy, Heather and Puggly Drop a Deuce, to the fascinating follow-ups – Heather and Puggly Crucify the Devil and Heather and Puggly Cock-Block the Apocalypse, Seaver refined and retooled his elements, giving them the kind of reflective cultural mirror that renders them as satisfying satires and terrific time capsules.


The plots all revolve around the students at fictional Bonejack Heights High School (another LBP in-joke). When we first meet the horny Heather and her unbelievably unattractive sister Puggly (played to absolute perfection by longtime company players Meredith Host and Lauren P. Seavage), they are suffering through the typical teen angst. While her bucktoothed sibling gets all the Sappho loving she can handle (yes, she’s a lesbian), the normal looking red head can’t capture any man’s attention. Among the available ‘studs’ are country cuss The Meistro and his “Spanish Indian” sidekick, the prog rock loving Proudfoot. There’s also the jocular Johnny Douchebag (played by Seaver himself) and faux fashionista T-Bone, and later on, competitive ladies men (?) Choach and TeenApe. As they go through the typical scholastic slog, they find themselves facing the standard hormone driven dilemmas. To make matters even more maddening, their close knit camaraderie is constantly challenged by all manner of interpersonal and supernatural interference.



In Drop a Deuce, an alien seductress named Venus gets Puggly to turn on her pals, so that the evil extraterrestrial can kill them off, one by one. It’s up to our heroines to save the day. Naturally, everyone is back and alive for Crucifies the Devil (such is the lovable illogic of the series). This time, old Scratch himself shows up to take on our pert pair, who have now become notorious part-time exorcists. Again, all manner of Hellspawn humor hijinx ensure. Finally, a certain boy wizard and his seven book balderdash get the bad ass Bochliadochi treatment as Bonejack High becomes a rather recognizable academy of advanced magic. There, our returning adolescents go ‘potter’ as they try to stop a rival sorcerer from stealing an enchanted orb destined to destroy the universe. Through a combination of teamwork and tentative incantations, evil is once again destroyed, and our chick champions prove the power of believing in yourself, and the importance of friendship. Sort of.


Right up front, it has to be noted that Seaver is a certified spoof samurai. He’s a sneaky SOB, lobbing his lampoons at the audience with a combination of audacity and affection. Like an intricate game of ‘80s Trivial Pursuit (with only movie, TV, and music questions) played by a pack of undeniable pop geeks, a LPB production is like Superbad without the BFF sentimentality. Seaver is as adept as Apatow and pals at playing the curse word card, but there is no apologizing with this eager fringe filmmaker. When he wants filthy, he goes for the full bore gross out. Not even the infamous Farrelly Brothers are as excessive with the expletive as this deranged director. Seaver is infinitely better at context, however, finding fascinating and fresh ways of making even the most obvious toilet or sex-related gag explode with determined delight. From early hits like Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker to recent reinventions of his classic characters Bonejack and TeenApe (the defiant Destruction Kings) this is one movie maven who puts his obsessions where his objective is.


In the Heather and Puggly films, the focus is on the awkwardness of adolescence, how rapidly arriving maturity messes up even the most cocksure clique. Without reading much more into it, lets just say that the various demonic and paranormal elements the students have to deal with could easily be made into metaphors for responsibility, love, and the upcoming realities of the real world. Or maybe not. That’s the beauty of a Seaver film – you’re never sure if he’s serious, slack-jawed, or simply sold on his own unbridled and out of control Id. With their diversity of characterization and kitchen sink wit, we definitely need an anchor to hold and LPB production together. That’s where our crackerjack comedic team comes in. By playing off of and against each other (Heather, the henna-headed babe, is outright man repellant, while she-hag Puggly gets all the girl-on-girl action she can handle) and using an undercurrent of sibling rivalry, Seaver lays the foundation for the anarchy to follow.



Oddly enough, the Heather and Puggly films follow the current trend in Tinsel Town tre-quels – Drop a Deuce is a stunning debut, Crucify the Devil is a bonafide classic, and Cock-Block the Apocalypse is good, if not totally great. Each movie is different in that they use varying elements to achieve their sometimes surreal goals. For example, Drop a Deuce offers one of our only glimpses of the rest of the Bochliadochi household. Scream Queen icon Debbie Rochon is absolutely hilarious as the girl’s equally muttly mother, while Punk Rock Holocaust director Doug Sakmann is ridiculously effective as their dithering dad. This higher level of performance is not unusual for an LPB film (Seaver is lucky to have a group of friends and associates who sync up faultlessly with his own bizarre brainpan), but it does lend the movie a sly and supportive signature.


Crucify the Devil is even better, thanks in part to a lively premise and a more complete view of the Heather and Puggly universe. The idea of making the gals into pseudo ghostbusters is classic, as are the calm and comic confrontations with Satan himself. Brad Austin plays the mangoat as a combination bully and henpecked husband, and the scenes at home with his minions are a marvel of bumbling domestic stupidity. As with most of his movies, Seaver loves to ladle on the gore, giving old fashioned fright fans a gallon or two of arterial spray for their money. He also realizes that you can’t have violence without its companion curse – sex - and he laces his dialogue with some of the filthiest, funniest material you’ll hear outside a boy’s locker room. The constant references to pornographic acts, genitalia, and any combination of the two can make for some offensive moments, but if this director has a fault, it’s never knowing when enough is enough. In fact, much of LPB’s inherent charm is its ‘anything and everything’ approach to filmmaking.



Maybe this is why Cock-Block the Apocalypse feels a little less inventive. Going the Harry Potter route is fine, but without the ability to fully realize your aims, the homage feels hampered. Still, Seaver saves it by staying true to what makes Heather and Puggly great. It needs to be mentioned again - Lauren Seavage and Meredith Host are brilliant here. They may be playing variations of their own personalities (though it’s highly doubtful, especially in Ms. Puggly’s case), yet they turn what could be one note novelties into fully realized, and beloved, characters. You want to see more of them onscreen, and actually feel disappointed when they fight and fracture as family and friends. It is easy to envision this pair making the leap to legitimate mainstream cinema. After all, a comedy founded on a mismatched duo who uses their differences as a means of empowerment and achievement sounds like every other buddy comedy of the last two decades. Why the standard male leads can’t be switched out for a harried hosebag and her les-bionic sibling will perhaps always stay a movie biz mystery.


Finally, there’s one thing that makes Seaver and other camcorder creators like Channel, Scott Phillips, or Eric Stanze stand out among other amateur auteurs - a fearless belief in their abilities. There is no doubt in a LBP film, no sense of apprehension or hesitation. Like all great artists, there is a confidence that comes across loud and clear, a belief in what is being spoken and shot. Sometimes it’s dopey. Other times, it’s delightful. It can be crude, calculated, or completely cracked. But the bottom line is that, in a domain literally drowning in wasted wannabes, there is more noticeable talent in a single frame of a Seaver film than in a dozen more derivative efforts. This doesn’t mean that his movies are for everyone. Like a warning sign at the start of a long theme park amusement, movies made by this man are definitely not recommended for pregnant women, people with bad heart conditions, or those whose sense of humor runs to the more Puritanical.



But if you can tolerate tastelessness ala a yet-to-be-weened John Waters, if you aren’t afraid to take a walk on the Super VHS side of cinema, if you’re sick and tired of being beaten over the aesthetic regarding what’s supposed to be funny, innovative, or exciting, then drop that snobbish wet blanket and give Chris Seaver’s sh-art a try. While the Heather and Puggly films may not be the best place to begin your journey (that would remain his Mulva and Filthy McNasty efforts), they definitely represent the kind of craziness he trades in. And if you’re brave enough, you’ll also get a lesson in the unadulteratedly unrefined nature of comedic chemistry. No matter how often a team works together, or how like minded a group is in their unified creative belief, classic duos of delight just can’t be manufactured. They must arrive from a completely unique and naturalistic place. Oddly enough, that’s an accurate description of Chris Seaver, his Low Budget Pictures empire, and the amazing Heather and Puggly films – in a nut(case) shell.


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Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008


As a director, he continues to grow. He style has stayed basically the same, yet he still finds new ways to incorporate inventive ideas and social satire into the madcap mix. As a writer, his work has become polished and professional. Gone (well…almost) are the rude rants, the sexually explicit diatribes meant to shock as much as satisfy. In their place is a considered concentration on character, a desire to explore more mature aspects of humor while never quite leaving the confines of filth. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about Low Budget Productions guru Chris Seaver and his 16 years of independent moviemaking is his consistency. Few if any mainstream auteurs have the track record that he’s developed, from his earliest experiments to his latest - and some may argue, greatest - work of genius.


In this second part of a two day overview, we will look at Seaver’s latest unreleased epics, including a John Woo style shoot ‘em up featuring everyone’s favorite amorous monkey, and an homage to Michael J. Fox, winter sports, and genealogical shape shifting. Both efforts confirm that Seaver is one of the few filmmakers who can successfully mine their past while preparing the way for their soon to be famous future. It’s also clear that nearly two decades behind the lens has left him capable of creating the kind of cult camp classic that will have generations jonesing for more.



Wet Heat


When Teenape is tapped for being a pedophilic perv, the government gives him an option. The President of Entertainment has been kidnapped by a crazy drag queen wannabe Rocky Horror fame whore, and it’s up to our groovy gorilla to rescue him. Of course, he’ll have some help, and meet a few “Escape from…” style characters along the way. One thing’s for sure - guns and monkey nuts will be blazin’.



For all his love of gore, Chris Seaver has never been a student of violence. The only film in his oeuvre to touch the Tarantino-esque trend still skirting the edges of modern cinema was an actual spoof of said video store savant - a brazen bite at Kill Bill called Mulva 2: Kill TeenApe. But Wet Heat changes all that. It’s a magnificent maelstrom of anarchic ammo goodness, a baffling bullet ballet with CGI blood spray for added action. Clearly influenced by the growing collection of over the touch gunplay grooves - Crank, Smokin’ Aces, old spy flicks, any number of Hong Kong titles - there is also a tasty throwback feel to the mid ‘80s, a time that’s very close to Seaver. Considering he was born at the end of the Me Decade, these films formed the foundation of his very aesthetic. But while others strive to emulate their heroes, this director is out to demolish them. Indeed, he takes the parts he likes and links them together with his own loony LBP universe and spawns something spastically special. In fact, it’s one of the many elements that make his movies so madcap and magical.


Again, the acting is excellent here, with standouts like Meredith Host as Scooter, affecting a perfect ambiguously asexual mercenary persona. There’s a wonderful sequence in which our main villain, the appropriately named LaFemme LaDouche taunts the President in an almost flawless Frankenfurter frenzy. Billy Gaeberina is stellar in the role. There are in-jokes a plenty, lots of scatological slams, and just enough whimsy to make you wonder where Seaver gets his ideas. By the time we reach the finale, where forces of good and evil are ready to face off in one final hail of Smith and Wesson wildness, Wet Heat‘s promise definitely pays off. This is another notch in Seaver’s sizable belt, a literal blast that strives to be more than your standard fart jokes and toilet takes. As part of his amazing maturation, we recognize the casting off of certain cinematic crutches. While continuing to embrace his love of pop culture, Seaver is surveying his career, and making the moves necessary to increase his production profile.




Ski Wolf




When Scotty Bateman visits his reclusive Uncle Billy at the family ski resort, he learns two awful truths. First, a lowlife rich prick named Ralston Zabka is trying to buy the place. Apparently, profits are low and the park is going under. Even worse, there is an unusual Bateman curse. Seems the males become werewolves under pressure. When Zabka puts the screws to his relative, Scotty responds…as a slopes-slaloming lycanthrope!



Here it is - Chris Seaver’s great leap into masterful mainstream comedy. Copping as many moves as he can from the entire Greed Decade dynamic of high school/college competition hilarity, and working in a few familiar LBP riffs along the way, Ski Wolf is a wicked, watershed moment. It’s every lowbrow high concept crapfest Hollywood ever hocked up spun into a sputum snow cone and served slushy.  Featuring a fantastic cast including Trent Hagga, Billy Gaberina, Casey Bowker and porn princess Alix Lakehurst, Seaver savors every single second of this effort’s outsized scope. He uses the wonderful Rochester, NY location to its very best, and gets the most out of his crazy company of like minded miscreants. Those worried that somehow catering to the mediocrity demanding masses would blunt Seaver’s sex and scum based satire needn’t fret. He’s just as foul, albeit in a familiar, Farrelly Brothers manner. There are situations and circumstances that recall the best - and sometimes, the wanton worst - of the already DOA genre. Truth be told, if anyone could resuscitate that kind of crude humor, it would be Seaver. Thankfully, he appears to have bigger funny business fish to fry.


All the ‘80s beats are present and accounted for - the horndog histrionics, the cheese ball musical moments, the random nudity, the occasional lapses into gross out gagging - and thanks to the talent involved, it all works wonderfully. Special mention also needs to go to Casey Bowker. For several years he’s been stuck inside Teenape’s mask, reduced to playing a groin-driven dastard with more spiel than Ron Popeil. Here, he actually gets to give two totally distinct performances. His Scotty is your typical awkward adolescent, face carrying a couple of youth tagging blemishes as part of the performance. Naturally, once the wolf appears, Bowker’s uncanny ability to channel old school seediness comes through loud and crystal clear. He is matched perfectly by Hagga, who seems permanently unable to break out into the bigs. He’s the kind of recognizable type - cad, crook, kook - who could find dozens of character roles in La-La Land. When you consider the source, and the troubles behind the camera, Ski Wolf shouldn’t be this glorious. It should deliver, but only in tiny trickles. Instead, Seaver solidifies his already ripe resume, arguing for his continued success in a business that has been blind to his talents for far too long.

Never one to rest on his lengthy laurels, the rest of 2008 looks to be a banner year for this tireless artist. What’s even more astonishing is that Seaver continues to create. A quick trip over to his website indicates the starting dates for two more films, as well as ideas for future projects. Not bad for a 30 year old who struggled in anonymity for years before DVD delivered his insane cinema to a wanting world. Even a change in personal status (he’s married, with a newborn baby) refuses to dampen his filmic fervor. And we can all thank the motion picture gods for that.


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Monday, Mar 31, 2008


As a director, he continues to grow. His style has stayed basically the same, yet he still finds new ways to incorporate inventive ideas and social satire into the madcap mix. As a writer, his work has become polished and professional. Gone (well…almost) are the rude rants, the sexually explicit diatribes meant to shock as much as satisfy. In their place is a considered concentration on character, a desire to explore more mature aspects of humor while never quite leaving the confines of filth. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about Low Budget Productions guru Chris Seaver and his 16 years of independent moviemaking is his consistency. Few if any mainstream auteurs have the track record that he’s developed, from his earliest experiments to his latest - and some may argue, greatest - works of genius.


Never one to rest on his lengthy laurels, 2008 looks like a banner year for this tireless talent. Already, Tempe has released Teenape Goes to Camp, and within the next few months we should be privy to new offerings like The Film Crew, Wet Heat, and the soon to be classic Ski Wolf. And what’s even more astonishing is that Seaver continues to create. A quick trip over to his website indicates the starting dates for two more films, as well as ideas for future projects. Not bad for a 30 year old who struggled in anonymity for years before DVD delivered his insane cinema to a wanting world. Even a change in personal status (he’s married, with a newborn baby) refuses to dampen his filmic fervor.


In this first part of a two day overview, we will look at Seaver’s old school pseudo-swansong, a crazy kiss-off revisit to the LPB universe melding the mindless teen sex romp with a small dose of Richard Connell.  Then it’s time to buy a ticket and take the Multiplex ride as a staff of highly skilled theater employees banter back and forth with the forces of evil. Together with the flicks featured in Wednesday’s piece, we’ll realize that something strange is happening to Chris Seaver. He’s leaving his past behind, and is preparing to take on so-called legitimate cinema. From what we see here, he’s got more than enough tenacity - and talent - to spare.





Teenape Goes to Camp






When former associate Heather calls, asking for a favor, our simian lothario is suspicious to say the least. When he finds out the request is for his services as a camp counselor, the mack daddy monkey goes ballistic. Little does he know but this entire summer stay-over set-up is just a ruse. Heather and her associates have the ‘most dangerous game’ prepared for our primate, and not even an obsession with sex can stop them.



It’s weird watching this surreal mix of Meatballs and Surviving the Game, especially in light of where Seaver’s career has been headed lately. To see him shuffle back to outrageous scatology, to rely on body parts and their accompanying functions as a means of making his business funny reeks of an unnecessary regression. Argue all you want about the LPB universe and its cast of kooky characters, but when this director wants to diddle in dirtiness, there is none better. So at least Teenape Goes to Camp offers its fair share of corporeal complements. Between our title character and the ever popular (and horny) Choach, there’s enough blue balling to go around. In fact, Seaver seems to have substantially stepped up his game in the proto-porn and massive mammary department. Some of his newest cast members are carrying cleavage that would make the editors of Juggs jump for joy.


It will be the sudden shift into stalker/slaughter mode that throws many off their game, especially when Father Mushroom from the MST3K classic Jack Frost shows up to offer his sage-like fungal advice. Granted, the moments of revenge are sweet as the gamiest cheek meat, and we want to see these standoffs as part of the overall LPB dynamic. But this is clearly a movie made for fans who just can’t get enough of the entire goofball gimmick. Fortunately, the film offers enough glad-handed good-timing to warrant attention. As a matter of fact, had he not made the next three movies under discussion, this would be one of his crowning achievements. Yet what happens to Teenape Goes to Camp is what tends to occur with all midcareer capers. There’s an undeniable sense of greatness here. There is also a tendency to view things via a “been there, done that” set of revisionist glasses. If you love Seaver and LBP, you’ll dig this fun flick. But be prepared - the next cinematic leap is a dozy.





The Film Crew






The employees at the local chain theater are a little wary of management’s new hire. His name is Caspian, and he seems unusually preoccupied with death, dismemberment, and retribution. As they go about their business, being rude to the customers and inappropriate with each other, something sinister starts to happen. One by one, the crew starts disappearing…and the new guy seems to be behind the vanishings.


Let’s get the lovefest out of the way right up front - The Film Crew is fantastic. It is by far one of the best, most inventive, and most consistently clever film Seaver has ever helmed. Not only does it prove that he can exist outside the strictures of the Low Budget Pictures universe, but it indicates a level of pop culture intuition that’s simply dead on. Attaching the at one time tired slasher dynamic to what is basically a stellar sitcom waiting to be discovered, we are treated to riffs on Jeremy Statham, American Idol, and geek cinema obsession. The scripting literally shimmers at times, reflecting one man’s undeniable ability to channel his entire catalog of fandom into a witty exchange of hilarious horndog hollabacks and genre homages. No one knows the horror comedy better, and when Seaver is on - as he is here - the results are electric. Indeed, one gets depressed at how the film ends, since it seems to indicate a sequel is next to impossible.


And another thing - Seaver has really solidified the work with his actors. The cast is incredible, delivering dead on parodies of slackers, dreamers, angst-ridden rejects, and ‘bumble-clot’ Rastafarians. The cartoonish quality they bring to each line reading really amplifies Seaver’s sensibility, and they end up endearing themselves to us with a juvenile gesture or a natty non-sequitor.  Not everything here is anarchy - the plot percolates along on whiffs of Prom Night and the essence of the venerable Voorhees. Even better, the splatter is kept under control, not allowed to overwhelm what is an excellent mainstream effort. Like his lost masterpiece The Karaoke Kid, Seaver continues to prove he can work well outside the confines of Bonejack, Teenape, and the entire Heather and Puggly domain. All he needs is someone to give him the chance. The Film Crew may just be his ticket to wider mainstream acceptance.

Tomorrow - we check in with another Teenape adventure, and witness the rebirth of Chris Seaver as a legitimate independent icon with his amazing ‘80s homage, Ski Wolf.


 


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