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by Bill Gibron

28 Jan 2010

They used to be the best part of the moviegoing experience, one of the few ways to learn what was “coming soon” to a theater near you. In fact, a Saturday at the matinee was never complete without a least a dozen sneak previews. They have now evolved into plotpoint specific spoilers where, more time than not, the entire narrative is spelled out in two minutes, thirty or less. It the past, they could be accused of some substantial bait and switch, filmic fraud in both the inducement and in factum. Now, we marvel at the overwhelming optical splendor and quick-cut editorial ruse, not recognizing that knowing too much is just as bad as being fooled once you buy your ticket and take your seat.

Some may argue that trailers are a dying art. Others will suggest that old school advertising was just as obvious and sneaky as its modern equivalent. Still, there is an inherent intrigue in seeing how movies made before the dawn of all this multimedia hyperbole did their carnival barker best to lure audiences into the Bijou. Enter Stephen Romano and his “Shock Festival”. Based on his famed book about the exploitation and horror movie scene from the ‘70s and ‘80s, his knowledge of the genre is matched only by his fandom for all things flesh/frightening. As a result, he has collected three DVDs worth of sensational schlock adverts, each one arguing for its value as publicity and pulp.

by Bill Gibron

27 Jan 2010

He remains an enigma in a realm he more or less jumpstarted. Before the web gave every wannabe auteur an audience and a DIY distribution means of get their moviemaking message across, Chris Seaver was tearing spit up with a scrotal vengeance. Now, almost 20 years after introducing the outsider realm to TeenApe, Mr. Bonejack, Phil the Demon and The Karaoke Kid, the driving force behind Low Budget Pictures is offering his latest insane creations. One will seem very similar to lovers of a certain adolescent vampire romance. The other offers one of the most bizarre - and therefore wholly satisfying - experiments in the miscreant maverick’s years behind the lens.

If you’re looking for the Chris Seaver of old, the man who works in curse words and sexual innuendos the way Duff Goldman plays in pastry and proto-punk soul patch goofiness then look no further than Taintlight, his take on the Stephenie Meyer stupidity. You really do have to know the terrible movie version of Twilight (and in many ways, the equally offensive il-literary source material) to get where this sleaze-ball spoof is coming from. Seaver has incorporated as many of the meaningful beats as possible while mocking others his budget (the infamous near car crash) and aesthetic (vampire baseball?) won’t allow him to touch. At its core, Taintlight ridicules the endless love angle of Meyer’s manipulative teen angst trash while adding lots of the director’s patented scatology. The original is nothing more than a Harlequin romance retrofitted for Goth gals, spinsters, and cat ladies who don’t care about essential fiction elements like characterization, plotting, or depth.

by Bill Gibron

26 Jan 2010

It’s the future shock situation destined to doom mankind. We have been warned about it ever since reality was capable of being recreated, virtually. Everyone, from scientists to sociologists have told us that living life vicariously through avatars, digital selves, or other forms of computer generated alter egos will create a catastrophic downward spiral where everyday existence is substituted for a fictional world locked inside some computer mainframe. People will go from active participants in a community of their own making to drone easily manipulated by outside forces both beneficial and menacing - mostly menacing. From The Matrix to Gamer, Hollywood can’t get enough of this concept. It seems to be the go-to sci-fi theme for movies looking to trade on technology and terror while skimping on storyline and other elements of substance. 

At first glance, Jonathan Mastow’s take on the cult graphic novel Surrogates (new to DVD and Blu-ray) would seem like yet another example of this motion picture assembly line ideal. It stars an A-list superstar (Bruce Willis) as an FBI agent investigating the death of the son of a famous robot scientist (James Cromwell). Along with his no-nonsense partner (Radha Mitchell), the aging cop lives in a time not too far from now where everyone is plugged in to lifelike automatons. Humans don’t venture out of their homes. They no longer literally interact with each other. As these ‘surrogates’ replace actual people, crime has disappeared down while hedonism has skyrocketed. This spurs the ire of the ‘dread’ community - a rebel set of flesh and blood individuals lead by a messianic figure (Ving Rhames) who wants to end the domination of these metal and plastic personas once and for all - and they will do so by any means necessary.

by Bill Gibron

24 Jan 2010

Throughout the years, there have been certain movies where hype has played a more significant role in its popularity and notoriety than the actual film itself. One such area where this occurs frequently is the horror genre. When it was released in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a major commercial success. But it also developed a reputation as being the goriest, most disgusting exercise in excess ever created. Anyone who has actually seen the film can attest to the fact that it’s rather tame by today’s effects standards and is more unsettling in tone than in its use of blood.

A few years later, a cheapo Italian horror film called Pieces, again about a chainsaw killer, sold itself to the public based on the tagline “it’s exactly what you think it is.” And true to its word, it was a repulsive exercise in human vivisection. Now another title long debated for its content and its context within society makes it to DVD. The subject of a report on 60 Minutes, numerous episodes of talk shows, and bans by British and other foreign markets, The Toolbox Murders (re-released on Blu-ray disc from Blue Underground) boasts a title perfect for terrifying exploitation and a reputation as a grueling exercise in sleazy, demented cinema. But the question is, does this film earn its infamous status? Or is it all just propaganda?

by Bill Gibron

23 Jan 2010

It’s said that confession is good for the soul. Of course, this assumes one has a conscience worth redeeming. It’s clear that not everyone would benefit from such acknowledgments or affirmations. To do so would reveal their own inner weakness and sense of corrupt complicity. Such an individual is Briony Tallis. For almost 80 years, she has hid the secret of her atrocious actions, of a decent man wrongly accused, a heartsick girl horribly hurt, and a love unable to fully flower. She’s finally decided to write about it - her last novel. She calls it Atonement, for that’s what it’s meant to do. But even in the act of contrition, she can’t allow the truth to dampen the forced fanciful mood.

You see, back before Hitler invaded Europe, the Tallis clan lived a life of privilege. While son Leon hobnobbed with his school chums in London, daughters Cecilia and Briony spent the summer heat in the country. While Briony, the youngest, entertains herself with writing and secret passions, Cecilia appears directionless - that is, until those moments when servant’s son Robbie Turner shows up. He’s been favored by the family, sent to school on their good graces (and money) and welcomed in their home as a quasi-equal. He adores Cecilia. She’s just realizing her own emotional and physical attachment. A scandalous note, the arrival of a young chocolate merchant, and a night of horrific sexual misunderstandings lands Robbie in jail, Cecilia devastated, and Briony defiant. War only deepens the already substantial wounds.


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