Tuesday, March 21, 2017

DEAD OF NIGHT, "BOBBY" (1977)

In a recent edition of the Blumhouse podcast Shock Waves, the hosts explored the elements that need to come together in order to create the "perfect" horror anthology, as well as what's needed to create the perfect story for such an anthology. 

Opinions were varied, of course, but one thing all the hosts could agree upon was the greatness of 1977's "Bobby", episode three of that season of the legendary anthology series Dead of Night. For sheer Satanic 70's creepiness, it just doesn't get better than this concentrated dose of made-for-TV nightmare fuel!

You can watch it via the Youtube link below, but I definitely recommend waiting until it's dark, in the dead of night... and that you watch it all alone. It's pretty much guaranteed to work its dark magic on you. Enjoy!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

COMING SOON: MINDHORN!

Julian Barratt, best known as Howard Moon from legendary psychedelic pomo panto show The Mighty Boosh, and as Preacher Man Dan from Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris' insanely underappreciated New Media sendup Nathan Barley, stars as washed-up 80's detective... MINDHORN! I've been waiting on this one for ages. First trailer looks promising!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

AAAAAAAAH! WE ARE NOT MEN // DIRECTOR INTERVIEW!


You might remember Steve Oram from his decade and a half of continuous character and background work in such worthy Britcom projects as Green WingThe Mighty BooshTittybangbang and Steve Coogan Live. Or perhaps you remember him as the bearded half of the comically bumbling yet oddly endearing serial killer couple in Ben Wheatley's magnificent 2012 satire, Sightseers.

However, it doesn't much matter how--or even if--you knew of him beforehand. Because there is nothing in Oram's pre-2015 catalog that could possibly prepare you for the certifiably insane masterpiece of hyper-subversive comic audacity that is Aaaaaaaah!, his ferocious and fearless directorial debut, which he also self-financed for reasons that will become apparent as you read on.

Described by Cine-Vue's Martyn Conterio as being an "anthropological social satire/horror-comedy" that is "like a collaboration between Dogme '95 and Chris Morris", Aaaaaaaah! is, at its core, a relatively straightforward exploration of interpersonal dynamics among a small group of friends, neighbors and acquaintances in a quiet, leafy section of South London. The surreal twist on this relatively mundane premise is that all the characters behave as though they've had their brains switched out with those of great apes.

Here is the trailer for Aaaaaaaah!


There is no dialogue in this film. Or, more precisely, there is no complex language, as the characters communicate via crude, pantomime gesticulations, as well as vocalizations consisting of grunts and huffs of varying intensity. The written version of this ape language, which can occasionally be spotted on street signs and in adverts, looks like this: "// oooo / oo /// o". Discussions, or what passes for them, are often interrupted by flashes of violence and cruelty, crude sexual propositions, and the occasional fart. The score, made up almost entirely of improvisational sonic tone poems by King Crimson and Robert Fripp, compliments the action absurdly well.

The plot involves a pair of males--an alpha (played by Oram) and his submissive sidekick (played by Tom Meeten)--who wander out of a woodsy suburban copse and into a household already beset by seething familial, romantic, and inter-generational conflicts, throwing the fragile established order into chaos. The household consists of a mother and daughter, (Lucy Honigman and Toyah Wilcox) and mom's alpha boyfriend (Julian Rhind-Tutt), who has a submissive sidekick of his own (Sean Reynard). Complicating matters is the family's fifth wheel, the exiled paterfamilias, beautifully portrayed by Britcom MVP Julian Barratt.

You might think such a heady set-up would lend itself to the filmmakers indulging in a bit of heavy-handed social commentary. Fortunately, you'd be wrong about that. In an interview with HeyUGuys.com, Oram states: "There are no metaphors and no intended comments. It’s just details that I hope people will enjoy, find funny and laugh at."

And oh, those details! Aaaaaaaah!'s hilarious gross-out highlights include a store manager ejaculating on a photograph of Prince Harry, a disgusting cooking show watched by the females while the men play a primitive motorcycle simulator video game, and poor Noel Fielding getting his knob bitten clean off by an angry shoplifter.

And yet, the filmmakers' avoidance of allegory notwithstanding, there's something about Oram's walk-through of his conquest's flat during a party, wherein he continually marks his territory by pissing on every surface, that manages to transcend the grotesque and speak to certain unspoken truths about masculinity and our culture's relationship with our baser animal instincts. Perhaps it's for this reason that, in his enthusiastic review for the "men's issues" column from The Telegraph UK, Tom Fordy claims that "every man should watch Aaaaaaaah!". Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, their shorter, 3-star review chose to focus on "the film’s despair at the ways women respond to such shows of mastery".

Ultimately, Aaaaaaaah! is an incredibly bizarre and transgressive experimental film that also works as a comic entertainment, simultaneously relate-able and recognizable yet disturbingly alien, and therefore worthy to sit alongside the best of Bunuel.

If you think you've got what it takes to watch Aaaaaaaah!, you can currently download it at the iTunes website via this direct link.

***

MINI-INTERVIEW WITH AAAAAAAAH! CREATOR STEVE ORAM
After reaching out to his management via Twitter, I was recently fortunate enough to get a chance to ask Mr. Oram a few questions about his film, which he graciously agreed to answer for me via email. Here, now, is the sum total of our online exchange.
JERKY: Can I get a rough estimate of the budget? And was it entirely self-financed, or at least entirely independently financed, as I've seen intimated (but never confirmed) in various media stories about the movie?

STEVE ORAM: Yes it was an entirely self-financed movie. Paid for with proceeds from a TV voiceover I did. It was entirely independent and so without any 'creative' input from outside. The actual budget - well think of the lowest budget feature film you've seen, it's about that.

JERKY: Was the addition of the sub-titular appendix "We Are Not Men" an after-thought for the North American market, to make it easier to find in search engines? And does it have (as I suspect) a Nietzschean meaning?

STEVE ORAM: I wish! The search engine thing is an absolute nightmare. On social media anyone searching for it will just come across a thousand people going aaaaaggh! about someone's haircut or something. I wouldn't say I aligned myself with Nietzche or any philosophy. It's just the idea that we aren't as special as we kid ourselves to be. We're no better than any of the other animals at the end of the day.

JERKY: That ending... WHY?!?!?

STEVE ORAM: Well I hope the ending feels true to human nature. Julian Barratt's character is totally disenfrachised and emasculated throughout the film and this has to have its catharsis. Quite often an audience will actually laugh at the ending which astonishes me. Maybe this is an awkward thing, I dunno. Or else there are a lot of sick people in my audiences.

THE COSMIC HORROR OF NAMELESS


NAMELESS (Image Comics) ~ In this miniseries' six immensely satisfying issues, Grant Morrison serves up a heaping helping of Lovecraftian science-fiction, generously fortified with his trademark juxtaposition of heady, historically-accurate occultism with genre conventions and pop culture tropes. Handling the visual side of things, Chris Burnham makes an astonishingly successful go at aping frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely's style, minus the latter's glacial, deadline-mocking turnaround rate.

Experiencing this gorgeously-rendered, mind-bending-yet-familiar narrative was a tremendous pleasure, so I'll do my best to make this a spoiler-free review. In fact, I won't be engaging in much analysis at all. This is really more of a preview for Nameless, or an enthusiastic recommendation, than anything else.

The basic elements of the story are as follows: A freelance occultist referred to only as "Nameless" is drawn into billionaire space mogul Paul Darius' clandestine efforts to deflect a massive asteroid that is hurtling towards the Earth, while simultaneously investigating some peculiar markings and structures that have been spotted on its surface.

If the above sounds a bit like Constantine does Armageddon, that isn't too far off the mark. But don't be fooled... Nameless is NOT some hastily thrown together pastiche. It features an intricate, non-linear assembly of nesting narratives that demands and rewards close attention.

From the first pages, in which Nameless sneaks, Inception-style, into someone's dreams in order to steal a powerful psychic artifact, we're never quite sure where we, or the characters, stand. Forever poised at the brink of revelation, the occasional glimpses of the hideous, alien reality behind the thin camouflage of sensory perception are sufficient to send even the strongest fleeing for the comfort of blind, blessed ignorance.

Nameless includes several genuinely disturbing moments, as well as a few vividly rendered scenes of graphic physical violence. It's also packed with goodies for lovers of esoterica, amateur occultists, and others interested in such paracultural oddities.

So how "paracultural" do things get, exactly? Well, as Nameless begins to realize that our Solar System has been the battlefield for an aeons-spanning interplanetary war between the deities, demigods and monstrous abominations who populate the mythological pantheons of the Sumerians, the Mayans, and various unknown "others", he decides to protect himself and his spaceship crew using the symbolic Enochian pseudo-language devised by Elizabethan court magician John Dee... an insight that comes to him while under the influence of one of Brion Gysin's hallucination-inducing Dream Machines. There are also some majorly twisted Tarot cards on display. But I've revealed too much already.

If the above sounds as good to you as it would to me, then you're in luck! A collected edition of Nameless is coming soon, which means you won't have to keep going back and forth to your local comic shop, waiting for up to eight freaking weeks before being able to gobble up the next incredible chapter, which usually takes no more than 20 minutes' reading time. Fortunately, thanks in no small part to Burnham, Nameless improves with each reading, so it will probably have a long, happy publishing life.

I'm not being paid to say this: Buy your copy of Nameless the minute it hits store shelves. Or heck, buy it now using this link, and Amazon will toss a couple pennies in my general direction! Go on... you know you want to!

CRIMSON PEAK / EX MACHINA / WE ARE STILL HERE


The real world mystery of CRIMSON PEAK's myriad failures is far more perplexing and disturbing to me than the fictional mystery at the heart of the film. Perhaps doubly so because I have long admired Guillermo del Toro both as a director and as an ambassador for high quality genre film-making. The man is one of the best "movie" directors working today, with many near-perfect popcorn flicks under his belt, and he's given the world at least one bona fide cinematic masterpiece in Pan's Labyrinth. So what the hell happened with Crimson Peak

First and foremost, it isn't very scary. The ghosts are essentially just souped up versions of the overly-CGI titular specter from the 2013 horror hit Mama, which was also produced by del Toro, and which also featured Jessica Chastain in a leading role. Of course, in interviews, del Toro claims that he never set out to make a horror movie, but a "Gothic" romance, in the formal sense of the word. But invoking a word was never going to keep this film's audience from feeling misled, especially after Crimson Peak's marketing campaign tried to position it as "the ultimate haunted house movie", complete with a Halloween-friendly release date and a ringing endorsement from Stephen freakin' King.

Adding more sting to Crimson Peak's failure is the fact that, despite the above-mentioned expectational handicap, it actually starts out pretty strong. In bringing the people and places of late 19th century Buffalo to life on the big screen, one authentic detail at a time, del Toro succeeds in conjuring up some legit movie magic. He gives his actors a very real, believable universe to inhabit, and they repay the favor by delivering organic, easy-to-root-for performances. Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hidleston and the aforementioned Chastain are more than adequate as the central, incestuous love triangle (Gothic indeed!), while Burn Gorman and Jim Beaver provide stand-out performances in supporting roles. 

So when and where does the whole enterprise go pear-shaped? I've got it pinned down to a single scene, which features one of the worst shaving "accidents" ever captured on screen. After that, when the setting jumps overseas to England's bleak and blustery North Country, it's almost as if del Toro lets everything drop so he can spend all his time concentrating on his most obvious priority: Crimson Peak, itself. He spends so much time exploring every nook and cranny of that isolated, dilapidated and, admittedly, gorgeously-rendered manor house that he hardly has time for such petty annoyances as characters, plot, or anything else. The film descends into a series of silly, predictable, occasionally bloody but ultimately uninvolving set pieces, and the whole thing ends with a decidedly muted whimper, almost as though del Toro and crew knew that they had a lemon in the can. 

It's fucking depressing, is what it is. 

Because I'm still a fan of del Toro's work, I feel compelled to point out that even though it was a box office failure, Crimson Peak does have its defenders. Unfortunately, to this fan's way of seeing things, it is an occasionally interesting, somewhat noble, but ultimately failed, experiment.


Late last year I started watching EX MACHINA, starring current Star Wars Universe newbies Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson as a reclusive billionaire genius inventor and his amanuensis/guinea pig, whom he flies out to a ridiculously opulent Alaskan compound to serve as a human Turing Test for his latest invention: Eva, a beautiful synthetic humanoid AI portrayed by Swedish ballerina Alicia Vikander. After about 15 minutes, I got the sense that this was a low-budget take on the "Singularitysploitation" film genre that has given us the moribund likes of Transcendence and Lucy, so I gave up on it. 

This week I finally got around to watching the whole thing, and I'm very glad that I gave it a second chance. Ex Machina is a strong film in pretty much all respects, and it works on many levels. It is, for instance, a great twist on the Frankenstein story. It also works as a high-tech corporate thriller of sorts, but that doesn't prevent first-time director Alex Garland from weighing in on some pretty heavy contemporary philosophical issues as well, even though his film isn't as subtle or explorative as, say, Spike Jonze's somewhat similarly-themed 2013 masterpiece, Her. 

Performance-wise, Oscar Isaac delivers the star turn here as Nathan Bateman, a preening, egotistical, hyper-dominant alpha whose behavior towards his employees (and creations) pivots from buddy-buddy to borderline psychopathic with disorienting speed. It is in these moments and others that Ex Machina veers into horror movie territory, a tonal shift accentuated by an impressive and very effective musical score. 

In this cinematic era of dumbed-down superhero sequels and endless retcon reboots, it is a rare thing indeed for a sci-fi movie to exhibit any kind of genuine intellectual curiosity, or demand a certain level of intellectual sophistication from its audience. That Ex Machina manages to do so while also being an unapologetic entertainment is, in and of itself, a great success. 

With projects like Ex MachinaHer, and the British TV series Black Mirror breaking bold new ground and expanding what is considered possible to portray in the realm of popular speculative fiction, perhaps the "Singularitysploitation Curse" has, at long last, been broken. One can only hope.


There seems to be a running theme in today's movies. Crimson Peak is about a massive, ancient, decaying English manor house that seems to have a life of its own. Ex Machina is set in a sprawling, isolated compound in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness; a cross between a penthouse apartment and the Overlook hotel. And in WE ARE STILL HERE, a grieving couple who have lost their adult son attempt to distract themselves by moving into a hundred-plus-year-old farmhouse that used to be the town funeral home, somewhere in rural New England. Smart move, folks!

The first full-length film to be directed by veteran indie horror writer/producer Ted Geoghegan, We Are Still Here is set in 1979, and was shot to seem as though it was made back then, too. This is a cinematic stunt that Geoghegan-associated director Ti West performed with great success for his 2009 retro-horror slow burn classic, House of the Devil. Genre MVP Barbara Crampton portrays grieving mom Anne Sacchetti, who believes her son Bobby's soul has followed them to their new home, and Andrew Sensenig plays her gently humoring but deeply skeptical husband, Paul (the man with the Biggest Forehead in the World). 

Things turn real creepy real fast, as photographs get knocked over, an electrician is brutalized by a half-seen evil presence, and a neighbor (Monte Markham!) stops by to divulge the awful history of the house and its 19th century tenants, the dreaded Dagmar clan. Seems old Lassander, the Dagmar paterfamilias, had taken to burying empty coffins in the graveyard, selling the townsfolk's deceased to nearby universities as practice cadavers, and also to certain unscrupulous restauranteurs in Boston's Chinatown, for use as Chop Suey eat. Needless to say, the whole family was ridden out of town on a rail.

After that, the weirdness escalates quickly, prompting Anne to call in her wacky, New Age friends, May and Jacob Lewis, played by Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden (an indie horror institution and the man with the Second Biggest Forehead in the World), for moral and spiritual support. She also invites May and Jacob's son, Harry, who was Bobby's college roommate, to tag along with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, the mayhem escalates so quickly and with such brutal, bloody violence that many of the characters never even get a chance to lay eyes on each other. 

Nostalgic and yet somehow, paradoxically, fresh and original; polished and professional, yet with an endearingly hand-crafted aesthetic; occasionally chuckle-inducing, yet with moments of brutal savagery and blood-freezing horror. As I watched, enthralled, I noted echoes of classic John Carpenter, Lucio Fulci, early Cronenberg and the amazing, sui generis masterpiece Phantasm (1979). Fans of classic horror cinema, you owe it to yourselves to seek out and watch this film at your earliest possible convenience.

[This article was edited on the evening of Thursday, January 7, 2016, to correct certain mistakes as pointed out by my writing partner and best buddy, Marc Roussel. Thanks, Marc! - YOPJ]

BONE TOMAHAWK / AMERICAN MARY


BONE TOMOHAWK is a gift of a film; a master-class in stylistic blending that deftly combines the best of what frontier westerns and the cannibal horror genre have to offer. Despite a deliberate, careful pacing, momentum never lags as each passing moment is chock-a-block with wonderful, infinitely quotable dialogue and some truly fine performances by the uniformly superlative cast of veteran character actors.

Kurt Russell is at his best here as the dogged, stalwart Sheriff Franklin Hunt, of the tiny, isolated town of Bright Hope, which itself is populated by a collection of the usual suspects, including an ageing but resourceful deputy, a prideful, upper-class veteran of the Indian Wars, a timid barkeep, some hard-working, hard-drinking frontiersmen, their dutiful, inordinately attractive wives, and a colorful bad man or two. Sid Haig and David Arquette are particularly excellent in the opening scenes.

Fair warning: BONE TOMAHAWK starts off in a relatively conventional manner that gives precious little warning before erupting into a grim, horrific, gore-drenched struggle for survival. Featuring one of the most gruesome on-screen killings in recent memory, BONE TOMAHAWK is not for every taste. It is, however, destined to become a cherished and beloved cult classic for as long as people watch, and love, bold and innovative genre motion pictures.


As is often the case with films that cater to a particular element of contemporary fandom*, there are many cliches that apply to the Soska Sisters' aesthetically ambitious and ethically ambiguous sophomore effort, AMERICAN MARY.  Its reach exceeds its grasp, for one. However, if you have no problem suspending your disbelief for 90 minutes - and if you're either a member or curious observer of the "body modification" subculture - then perhaps this cinematic exercise in feminist revenge fantasy is just the thing to spice up your Sunday evening at home with the better half.

AMERICAN MARY tells the story of Mary Mason (portrayed by Katherine Isabelle), a promising and attractive young medical student from Seattle whose money woes force her to consider moonlighting as a stripper. After giving Billy (the bar's sleazy owner) the world's most unenthusiastic massage, a situation arises that leads to Mary being offered $5,000 cash if she can save the life of a double-crossing gangster, whom Billy's associates have been torturing in the basement. Mary's reluctant agreement to do this, and her success in the deed, are what lead to her subsequent decision to enter into the wonderful, whimsical, oh-so-90's-retro world of body modification.

For a movie that is a self-described reaction to the recent wave of cinematic "extremism" in both Europe (think MARTYRS) and Japan (think Takeshi Miike), I found AMERICAN MARY to be more silly than disturbing. A list of every character, line of dialogue, location, motivation, or decision made in this film that could fairly be described as "ridiculous" would stretch quite a long way, indeed. A few key examples should be enough to give you a general idea of what I'm referring to...

First and foremost, there's the film's oddly childish Riot-Grrrl-meets-torture-porn weltanschaung. You get the feeling that the Soska Sisters really believe that shit can go down the way they portray it going down in this movie, particularly at the 100% male-run "surgery school" that Mary attends... up until the moment when the professors all gather to assist the vilest among them - a character who's been twirling his mustache since we first laid eyes on him - to drug and rape Mary (and film it!) in order to ensure that the world of surgical practice remains an elitist, patriarchal cis-pit of unchecked male privilege... or something.

There are other, more basic believability issues here, too. Like, for instance, if her money troubles are so bad, why doesn't Mary just move out of that massive, cathedral-sized apartment of hers, and into a place more befitting her status as a student? And don't get me started on the idea of complex operations being performed successfully, solo, without any preparation whatsoever. Apparently, all it takes to make it big in the lucrative world of plastic surgery is a surgical mask, some gloves, a bag full of sharp blades, and raw surgical talent! No wonder the Old Boy's Club is trying to fortify that Glass Ceiling of theirs; if the truth ever got out about how easy their job is, it would totally derail their Gravy Train!

From the arguably objectionable to the merely annoying, we have Billy's weird, unrequited crush on Mary, which goes nowhere, story-wise. The character of Lance, one of Billy's hired thugs, is another annoyance; what is it with tough guys in Canadian movies all having long, greasy hair, wearing sunglasses, leather jackets and gloves, and secretly being soulful, supportive gentlemen? And then there's the Soskas' infamous Hitchcock moment, wherein they appear as the Demon Twins of Berlin, stereotypically "shocking", pseudo-incestuous Goth sisters who prattle away in ersatz German accents and wish to feel "more connected" by exchanging left arms with one another. Just like the detective who occasionally pops by to briefly question Mary about her instructor's mysterious disappearance, they come and go with neither consequence nor raison d'etre.

So... is AMERICAN MARY completely worthless? Not at all. At times it's enjoyable in an early Rob Zombie kind of way; like flipping through back issues of Fangoria Magazine while listening to Alice in Chains on an old CD Walkman. The practical effects are convincing, and the film looks pretty good, with a dark, rich color palate and some interesting shot compositions. There are also a couple of particularly enjoyable performances.

Katherine Isabelle has been Canada's best Scream Queen since her star-making turn in the excellent feminist werewolf movie GINGER SNAPS, and she does her best to make Mary into a believable, complex, and sympathetic character... no mean feat, considering some of the nasty business she gets up to. That Isabelle brings so much to the character that isn't, strictly speaking, "on the page" shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing as the Soskas wrote the screenplay with her in mind. The other notable performance in this film is Tristan Risk as the strange but compelling character of Beatress. Performing through an impressive latex approximation of Betty Boop, Risk conveys a paradoxically jaded innocence that stayed with me for days.

Of course, while good performances and decent cinematography can go a long way, they don't, in and of themselves, make for a successful film; especially one with the issues I've described. So, ultimately, I'd describe AMERICAN MARY as a failure... but an ambitious and intriguing one. And seeing as it's still early in the Soskas' film-making career, I will definitely continue to check out their work.

* AMERICAN MARY is literally dedicated to Eli Roth!

STROPPY SIGNALS A NEW DIRECTION FOR MARC BELL


As readers of VICE and alt-weeklies from around the world are already aware, Marc Bell is one of Canada's most intriguing and entertaining comics creators. His latest work, STROPPY, serves as both an evolutionary step forward and a tangential excursion from the trail he's been blazing for the better part of two decades.

As a draftsman with a Fine Arts background, Bell has earned renown for his charming, oblique sense of humor, his obsessive rendering, and his nigh unto psychotic dedication to minutiae. He typically fills every centimeter of his frame with intricate, pseudo-mechanical “things” that end up telling stories as involved as the narratives around which they orbit. Think Sergio Aragones meets Tony Millionaire by way of the Fleischer Studio... or not, it's totally up to you.

Anyhoo, as a long time fan of Bell’s work, I have always assumed that the labor intensive nature of his style is one of the main reasons why he’s kept his stories relatively short, running to, at most, a handful of pages. So when I found out that his latest book, STROPPY, would be telling a single, 70-plus page story, I was intrigued. Would he be able to pull off a long-form narrative and still retain the utterly bonkers style and sensibility that make reading his work a comics experience unlike any other?

Fortunately, it turns out I had nothing to worry about.

STROPPY is a complete success. Simultaneously playful and enigmatic, satirical and whimsical, beautiful and grotesque, base and transcendent… Bell manages to extend his enterprise with a minimum of artistic compromise and a maximum of narrative integrity. In his own sweetly surrealistic way, Bell even manages to drift in the direction of social commentary, exploring the socio-cultural underpinnings of the Late Capitalist Dream from which we are all desperately attempting to awaken.

Not that STROPPY is a polemic; far from it. I merely suggest that there’s more going on under the surface here than weird characters being weird to each other. There are all-too-familiar stakes and consequences for these characters—exploitative employment, precarious housing, class immobility, ambition in the face of hopelessness—which serve to make the surreal moments all the more effective.

Both a must-have addition to any established fan’s collection and an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning what all the fuss is about, STROPPY is a triumph, and another superlative addition to Bell’s expanding oeuvre. Furthermore, Bell’s longtime publishers, Drawn & Quarterly, seem to agree, seeing as they’ve gone all out with this beautiful hardcover edition, packaged in the style of Europe’s beloved “albums de bandes dessinées”.

STROPPY is available at a ridiculously low price wherever quality comic books are sold, both online and off.

THE CRINGE VERITE OF RUN RUN IT'S HIM


In the first few minutes of the autobiographical documentary Run Run It’s Him, a female friend attempts to put director Matt Pollack’s early lack of luck with the opposite sex into perspective.

“I think the major problem”, she explains, “was that, whatever investment you had in the idea of yourself as being not that kind of a guy… actually blinded you to the attentions that were being paid to you.”

Nonplussed, Pollack insists that the apparently overnight blossoming of girls into women that took place during junior high – not to mention his own suddenly rampaging hormones – caught him totally off guard. Why was he suddenly sinking when swimming came so naturally to everyone around him? Why did it feel as though his friends and classmates were all reading from a rule book to which he did not have access?

“What was the move?” he asks, a desperate edge in his voice. “What move was I missing?”

Her response is blunt: “Any move, I think, is the answer.”

Too little, too late, as the saying goes. By the time Pollack worked up the courage to quiz his female friends about the facts of life on camera, he’d long since made a strategic retreat into the fantasy world of pornography. Did an early introduction to its easy pleasures play a role in his delayed sexual development? Pollack decided to make Run Run It’s Him as an attempt to understand the negative impact that this addiction has had on his life.

At this early point, the unsympathetic viewer might be tempted to grumble that Pollack’s complaints serve as relatively thin grist for his documentarian’s mill. So he didn’t get laid until his early 20’s… so what? A healthy, handsome, intelligent young man from a relatively happy, middle class family, he appears to have been dealt a rather generous hand in life. There are people starving in Africa, you know, so what right does Pollack – with his First World problems – have to gripe?

The answer, of course, is that he has every right, just so long as the end result is worth watching. And Run Run It’s Him – this hand-crafted, ultra-low-fi, painfully honest and genuinely hilarious slice of cinematic self-vivisection - is a film well worth watching.

Shot over a seven-year span by Pollack and his cinematic wingman, Jamie PopowichRun Run It’s Him is a sprawling epic that succeeds in achieving an almost microscopic intimacy. This is, at times, squirm inducing… especially for the friends, exes, and family members that Pollack buttonholes into being interviewed onscreen.

From Pollack’s suburban school days, to his university years on the East Coast, to his ceaseless quest for pornographic novelty in the seediest corners of Toronto, vast spans of time and territory are covered – much of it on foot. Former girlfriends provide occasionally bewildering accounts about their time together. A sympathetic porn shop clerk offers surprisingly heartfelt and philosophical advice. Pollack’s parents, clueless and grim, seem like they’d rather be anywhere but on camera being interrogated by their over-sharing son.

In one of the film’s comedic high points, Pollack decides to deal with the unwieldy stacks of VHS tapes that have accumulated in every corner of his modest bachelor flat by keeping a “porn log” so that he might easily find his favorite scenes. In another, some of Pollack’s platonic female friends are made to watch a selection of these scenes, and the resulting footage is absolutely priceless.

Because Run Run It’s Him was so long in the making, it gives us a chance to observe a young filmmaker finding his voice. What starts out as a somewhat crude and lewd exercise in willfully obdurate self-denigration evolves into a moving, incisive document of self-exploration worthy of Pollack’s literary hero, Frederick Exley, author of the cult classic autobiographical novel A Fan’s Notes.

Run Run It’s Him isn't just the story of one man’s porn addiction. That’s the stuff of DVD cover blurbs and bullet reviews. This is a film about universal problems, such as the need for physical intimacy and the fear of rejection. It’s about spending so much time and mental energy worrying about not living up to your potential that it actually becomes one of the main reasons why you fail to live up to your potential.

It’s also about the inherent dangers lurking behind the deceptively benign façade of escapist procrastination, illustrating how easy it is to get lost in the labyrinths of minutia that make up our culture’s obsessions, whether it be video games, Star Trek fandom, collecting records, or comic books, or yes, even keeping detailed logs of one’s favorite masturbation fodder. In this respect, Pollack’s notebooks are like Jack Torrance’s repetitive manuscript in The Shining. “All wank and no game makes Matt a lonely boy.”

It’s all escapism, living the life of the mind at the cost of living life, itself. It’s a trap and a poor substitute, creating feedback loops of loneliness and alienation that lead you to habits that can only serve to further isolate and alienate you from your peers. Thankfully, Run Run It’s Him picks up steam, and a defiant head of optimism, as it builds towards its gloriously upbeat – and completely unexpected – climax.

You can purchase a digital copy of Run Run It’s Him from Pollack’s website for a measly ten bucks. It would be a steal at twice the price.

OVER THE GARDEN WALL


Reading the Wikipedia page for Patrick McHale's latest animated series, Over the Garden Wall, I am struck near dumb by the almost universal lack of critical acknowledgment that this magnificent accomplishment in animated narrative is receiving. 

I will be brief. This series deserves every single award given to animation, fantasy, storytelling, music and what have you that there are out there to win. This is a singular achievement, certainly bound to become a timeless classic, forever cherished as long as there are human beings with beating hearts in their chests, more than a handful of brain cells to rub together, and some kind of medium via which it may be experienced. 

If you have yet to watch it, kindly do so NOW. Also, be sure to share it with everyone you love. If this show's creators were to ask me to provide a blurb for the DVD packaging, it would be this: "Legit and bona fide!"

The Powers That Be seem to have something against it for some utterly mysterious reason. Perhaps, in time, that will become part of what makes it so incredibly special.

CLASSIC ALTERNATIVE BRITCOM: SNUFFBOX


Premiering on BBC3 in February of 2006, at the tail end of the glorious, decade-long New Comedy tidal wave that swept across the UK, Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher's semi-sketch, semi-narrative, pitch-black TV comic oddity Snuff Box represents either the crest or the trough of that wave... depending on who you ask.

Here's the set-up, such as it is: The couldn't-be-more-British Berry - a whiskey-loving scoundrel with a rapist wit (no, really) and a silky smooth baritone vox - is employed as High Executioner to the King of England. He also may or may not be a direct descendant of Jack the RipperFulcher - a moon-faced, socially awkward American with poor hand-eye coordination and a penchant for profoundly inappropriate bursts of surreal profanity - has somehow weaseled his way into a position as Berry's assistant, not to mention adjunct membership in the posh Hangman Gentleman's Club where much of the series takes place.

Although the two men couldn't be more different, the way they play off each other serves as both an excellent example and a postmodernist deconstruction of the stereotypical Brits-versus-Yanks dynamic.

For instance, while Berry clearly sees himself as an alpha-type upholder of certain manly virtues, he is also a broken human wreck. Whether he's being bested at fisticuffs by a mincing Negro tailor, pompously failing miserably on a trivia-based game show, or violently bullying old ladies and small dogs, we sense in Berry a certain resigned nihilism, nourished perhaps by a deep current of post-Edwardian melancholy at the loss of Empire... like James Bond with a gammy leg and acute alcoholic hepatitis.

Fulcher is equally monstrous, but for entirely different reasons. A rampaging Id to Berry's unctuous Super-Ego, Fulcher is a virtual whirlwind of bewildered frustration, a middle-aged man-child of apocalyptic ignorance whose gross incompetence is so incomprehensibly profound that Berry's mediocrity shines like gold in comparison. Hence their undeniable chemistry.

To the extent that Snuff Box is known at all, it's mostly through a couple of set pieces - unrelated to the overriding story arc - that became viral videos, chief among these being the brutal "Boyfriend" sketches...


...and the comparatively delightful "Rapper with a Baby" sketch.


This is unfortunate, because although the above sketches are very funny, they barely hint at the ice-cold, pitch-black perfection of the show from which they've been excised. There are moments in Snuff Box, such as a Mac versus PC argument that takes place literally on the gallows, that border on the Satanic.

In case you're wondering, that is as unqualified a recommendation as you're ever likely to get out of yours truly.

So go out and buy Snuff Box, which is now available on DVD in North America with a bunch of excellent extras, including a CD of Matt Berry's wonderful music created especially for the series. If you don't like it, you can always just donate it to the nearest orphanage. What with the population crisis getting so out of hand, God only knows we could use a few more serial killers around.

DELIVERY AND THE SACRAMENT


Have you had your fill of "found footage" horror flicks? You know, those movies - such as the trend-setting Blair Witch Project and best-of-genre entry [REC] - that attempt to induce chills by evoking the kind of heightened level of verisimilitude that only a documentary perspective can bring?

Considering some of the dross being pumped out in this style over the last couple years, I can't say that I blame you. It seems as though every week brings a bigger crop of "mockumentaries" with ambitions that outstrip both their budgets and their creators' ability to tell a story.

Such is not the case with two films that I was recently lucky enough to catch on VOD. Both are firmly in the "found footage" genre, and both have really cramped cinematic settings and obviously low budgets - but they use these apparent flaws to great advantage.

The reason why Brian Netto and Adam Schindler's haunted pregnancy thriller Delivery works so well is pretty obvious. The low budget and tiny universe its characters inhabit mirrors perfectly the very type of Lifestyle Channel-style "reality show" that it so successfully pretends to be. In the beginning, as we follow first-time mommy-and-daddy-to-be Kyle and Rachel Massy, things seem to be going par for the course, if a tad on the rough side. But it's nothing beyond the kind of real-life drama you'd expect from a look at impending parenthood... at first. Then, things get creepy.

I don't want to give too much away. This isn't a "think piece" about found footage horror movies. It's just a quick post to let you know about two movies I've recently watched that I suspect many of you might also enjoy.

Which brings us to The Sacrament. Of the two, mumblegore auteur Ti West's Eli Roth-produced take on a modern, miniature version of Jonestown is the superior film. The performances are uniformly excellent, with a standout performance by Gene Jones as the charismatic cult leader as Father.

The story, such as it is, surrounds a hipster wannabe documentarian Jake and his hipster videographer buddy Sam traveling to the South American religious community of Eden Parish so they can check up on Jake's sister, Caroline. Oh, and they're doing this as an assignment for VICE, so the entire film is branded like one of those VICE travelogues that have become so popular of late.

Again, I don't want to give too much away, in the hopes that you will see this for yourselves. I will say that there is one scene that is so well performed and so emotionally raw - especially in contrast to the cooler-than-thou attitude taken by the leads for most of the film - that it shook me to my core and left me disturbed for hours after viewing it.

I realize that may not sound like much of a recommendation, but in the circles I travel, it kind of is.