Friday, May 28, 2010

Film Review: BUIO OMEGA (1979, Joe D'Amato)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Tag-line: "A fate worse than death!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Kieran Canter (EROTICOBLUES, THE LONELY LADY) , Cinzia Monreale (Fulci's THE BEYOND, Argento's STENDHAL SYNDROME), Franca Stoppi (THE OTHER HELL, VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON). Music by Goblin!
Best one-liner: "No one can cook a chicken like my niece!"

Joe D'Amato's name ain't exactly synonymous with cinematic quality- he's more from the "make as many rip-offs in as little time as possible" school of thought than the "film is art" one. He directed 192 films in less than 30 years (123 of which were made in the final decade of his life). Some have said that BUIO OMEGA is his greatest film. Okay. Some have even said it's one of the best Italo-horror flicks of the 70's- but let me stop you right there. Now, I guess it holds the attention and has a terrific Goblin score, but let's be honest- this is not a good movie. This is not even close to being a good movie. But should you expect a good movie from the guy who felt it necessary to make pornographic remakes of BASIC INSTINCT (ANAL INSTINCT), PAPRIKA (ANAL PAPRIKA), and LOLITA (ANAL PERVERSIONS OF LOLITA)?  Theoretically, he makes Tinto Brass look like Anthony Asquith. I mean, Joe made a movie called ANAL STRIPPERS X-POSED. He saw HIGHLANDER and his first thought was to make it into a porno, which he apparently did!

On the surface, a description of the events contained within BUIO OMEGA may paint it as the kind of picture designed for the sole purpose of eliciting shock from the viewer, but it must be noted that the tone is extremely matter-of-fact, even to the point of indifference. Rather than reveling in the 'check out this X-treme grossness, fanboy!' vibe which emanates from the SAW or HOSTEL series, or more recently, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, D'Amato comes across as strangely earnest (at least with this particular film). In fact, it's unclear whether or not he sees the behavior depicted in the film as any more aberrant than that in, say, one of Roger Corman's Poe adaptations.

So let me give you the rundown: the Italian James LeGros (Kieran Canter) is a taxidermy-loving orphan and heir to a great, decaying fortune. His creepy housekeeper (Franca Stoppi) arranges for his betrothed to be snuffed out via some sort of voo-doo doll fuckery.

The creepy housekeeper in question.

Anguished, he does what anyone would do–

swipe her body from the grave, pump out her brains via a nose tube that deposits what looks like vodka sauce into a jar, eat her heart out (literally), murder a hitchhiker, and then engage in erotic lactation and multiple cover-ups with the creepy housekeeper.

Yeah, blood IS shooting out of the aorta, mid-chomp.

All of this is accompanied by a LOT of crash zooms and some super-jazzy Goblin grooves. (Particularly of note is the upbeat boogie-woogie which plays alongside scenes of an unfortunate gal getting her fingernails ripped off with pliers.) Then he starts dissolving people in acid, having random erotic encounters that end in cannibalism, burning people alive, and awkwardly applying lotion to the ankles of visiting joggers.

Freud seems to like this movie just fine.

Somebody gets stabbed in the nuts and an eyeball gets plucked from its socket. An unexpected twin even shows up. Oh, and there's some fantastic landscape shots of the Alps in there, too.

There's a nice bit of near-slapstick where his deceased lover's hand pops out from the sliding panel in his van,

a ludicrous dance scene,

'Who do you think did the choreography?,' I asked my girlfriend. 'I think maybe they gave the actress a bunch of Ludes and let the choreography do itself,' she replied.

and a truly disgusting sequence where the eating of stew is crosscut with eyeballs and bits of flesh decomposing in a pool of acid. Yum.

What's the psychological term for having been grossed out by something and then having the irresistible desire to sully others by also showing it to them?

The Goblin score is fantastic. Two dudes haul a cardboard box across an overexposed, unappealing field of grass as Goblin's wonderfully arpeggiating ("Strive After Dark") Classical-style synths have their say.   I like it.

Though there are some notable exceptions, for the most part the film is artfully photographed– probably owing, I believe, to the fact that Italians are born missing the brain component which codes 'restraint,' and in its place possess some grey matter dedicated purely to 'grand aesthetics.'

In the end, it's not an appealing film, nor a particularly engaging one. The title, 'BUIO OMEGA', immediately conjures far more compelling imagery and mystery than the film can possibly deliver. The far more uninteresting 'BEYOND THE DARKNESS' is actually more appropriate because it prepares you for the mediocrity which is to come. This is lower-middle tier Italo Horror, and two and a half stars may be too generous or too harsh depending on which side of the cinematic tracks that you hail from.

And, as a side note, I don't think I ever want to eat stew again, not that I was a big 'stew' fan in the first place, but you know what I mean.

-Sean Gill

Thursday, May 27, 2010

THURSDAY NIGHT screens tonight- which is Thursday Night

Who: Tall Glass Short Film Series.
What: A screening of my 2008 short film THURSDAY NIGHT, as part of an ongoing series featuring the work of Brooklyn filmmakers in their native habitat. You can click on the link for more information about the film, but let's say that it's about a girl in a purgatory-like existence, grappling with personal demons.
When: Thursday, May 27th, 2010 @ 8:00 PM.
Where: South 4th Bar & Café- 90 South 4th Street in Brooklyn, between Berry and Bedford (right by Berry). You can take the L to Bedford or the JMZ to Marcy.
How much: It's free!

Film Review: TAPEHEADS (1988, Bill Fishman)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Tag-line: "Let's Get Into Trouble, Baby!"
Notable Cast or Crew: John Cusack, Tim Robbins, Clu Gulager, Susan Tyrrell, Jessica Walter (PLAY MISTY FOR ME, Lucille on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), Sy Richardson (STRAIGHT TO HELL, REPO MAN), Xander Berkeley (CANDYMAN, TERMINATOR 2), Don Cornelius (host of SOUL TRAIN), Stiv Bators, Bobcat Goldthwait, 'Weird Al' Yankovic, Jello Biafra, Ted Nugent, Michael Nesmith, Courtney Love, etc. Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (SURVIVING THE GAME, KING OF NEW YORK, PATTY HEARST). Music by Fishbone.
Best one-liner: "I'm gonna make him eat that syllable!"

If you ever want to see a movie where Clu Gulager (playing a presidential candidate) is alternatingly naked, wrapped in Christmas lights, spanked by Courtney Love, and riding a shaggy-dog leather-daddy costume-clad Susan Tyrrell, then this movie is your 24/7/365 one-stop shop for Gulager perversity (or at least until FUCKING TULSA comes out).
I guarantee you this is better than TRASH HUMPERS.

Being as Gulager (THE KILLERS, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, WONDERLAND COVE) and Tyrrell (FAT CITY, CRY-BABY, FLESH + BLOOD) are the lofty standards by whom I judge all character actors, I enjoyed this thing quite a bit.
Tyrrell + Gulager = cult movie gold.

Presented by Mike Nesmith (former Monkee, producer on REPO MAN, and MTV pioneer), TAPEHEADS is a ludicrous exposé/send-up of the burgeoning MTV scene and the toilet down which it was priming to flush itself. It's far from perfect and the characters are often grating, but it possesses this energetic, anarchistic sensibility which makes it endlessly watchable. Having absurdist comedy and subculture cameos occasionally worthy of a Paul Bartel film doesn't hurt, either.

John Cusack (with oily mustache and a cigarette holder) and Tim Robbins (looking like a precursor to Napoleon Dynamite) play our fledgling entrepreneur heroes as they navigate the sleazy, sycophantic world of video production, from Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles
to the Frankenstein's monster of a band called 'Menudo.' Along the way, there's everything from Ninja gals, Svankmajer-style stop-motion food,
Was inappropriate, slightly troubling use of stop-motion food written into Cusack's contract? (Also see BETTER OFF DEAD.)

buckets of paint poured on Swedes lip-synching to Devo,
the Busey-worthy line "F.E.A.R.- False Evidence Appearing Real!," to Clu Gulager muttering phrases like "you bet yer sweet ass" and "ya pissant."
Plenty of Gulager eyebrow action, too.

The bit parts are ridiculous- Sy Richardson as a wry bartender,
Stiv Bators as an Alice Cooper knock-off,
Weird Al as himself, Jessica Walter as Clu's long-suffering wife,
Jello Biafra as an FBI man, and a very special appearance by one Mr. Bobcat Goldthwait.

The nostalgia factor is high, from all manner of terrible early 80's video transitions (the 'mirror' effect, overdone pixelation, et al.) to those ubiquitous shots of L.A., which are somehow likably evocative (think Paxton's wandering in FISH HEADS) and vaguely post-apocalyptic (think ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13).
And fans of obsolete video formats should find a lot to like here, too.

Nearly four stars worth of 80's cult movie tomfoolery- but only see it if you're in the mood for that sort of thing.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Interview with Sean Gill at The Happiest Medium

A play I recently completed, entitled LAURIE DEACON AND THE NIGHT CALLER, has a reading coming up through the Planet Connections Festivity. The reading will be June 17th at 2PM in the Robert Moss Theater (440 Lafayette, Manhattan, New York). More details are available here. In conjunction with this reading, The Happiest Medium asked me a few questions about my new play. You can read the full interview HERE.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Film Review: SLUGS THE MOVIE (1988, Juan Piquer Simón)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Tag-line: "No-one is safe!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Garfield (a random 'Rogue' in THE WARRIORS, LAW & ORDER), Kim Terry (DYNASTY, RUSHMORE), Philip MacHale (THE GIRL, THE GOLD WATCH, & DYNAMITE), Alicia Moro (EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000), Santiago Álvarez (STAR KNIGHT with Harvey Keitel and Klaus Kinski), Concha Cuetos (OPEN SEASON, Simón's THE POD PEOPLE), John Battaglia (MUTANT MAN). Special effects by Carlo De Marchis (MONSTER DOG, TUAREG: THE DESERT WARRIOR, and several Cannon Movie Tales).
Best one-liner: [in response to the idea of killing all the slugs] "I'll tell you what, if I do, whaddya say we get naked and get crazy!"

I'm going to choose to believe that Juan Piquer Simón is a misunderstood genius, and not merely the Ed Wood of 1980's Spain. I mean he observed Leone on set of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY- he must have learned something- and I think he did. I'll defend these statements in more detail shortly. Now, a few months ago, I did a writeup on one of Simón's trashterpieces, aptly named PIECES and tagged as "exactly what you think it is!- you don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!" I thought I'd already seen every maneuver in the bad movie playbook, but PIECES really took it to a new level. And sometimes that level had a great deal of artistry to it: the union of sound and image, with swirling piano and ludicrous, puzzle-piece visuals was truly something to behold- a bizarre mash-up of Spanish, Italian, and American sensibilities. Sure, it involved a chainsaw wielding madman in a Joe D'Amato-penned mess which was kind of an embarrassment to slasher and giallo traditions alike, but you could tell there was a real passion behind it. A passión, if you will. And there's a great passión to SLUGS THE MOVIE, too.
SLUGS is one of the most misanthropic films of all time. Lars Trier has nothing on SLUGS. It's not even mean-spirited. It just happens to show humanity at its most unappealing. It's populated with selfish drunks, puppy-kicking vagrants, snotty teen girls, underaged n' thick-necked rapists, stick-up-the-ass bureaucrats, sinister law enforcement, whiny n' concerned tax-payers, opportunistic politicians, corporate interests, nagging wives, and brain-dead husbands.
Some would say that the slugs who attack them are a faceless smudges of slime and viscera, but I think that the slugs may actually be the heroes of the piece. I mean, they were kinda content to eat garbage on some dude's basement floor until the endless squawking and henpecking from above revealed that there was viable prey to be had on the streets . Say what you will about the slugs- sure, they'll get into your salad and make your head explode with blood and maggots (?), but they will never nag you to do more chores or kick a puppy or complain that you're not refilling their wine glass with enough Heineken (!!).

They don't respond well to 80's lightning, either.

But let's begin at the beginning. The opening sequence of SLUGS really says it all. It's the horror film reduced to the least common denominator– the history of horror films in one minute and forty seconds. It's stilted, minimalist, and nearly avant-garde. It's something slimy down there and you don't like it.

The set-up. The girl disrobing. The teenaged banter. The backstory ("we passed a sewer outlet back there"). The scare. The kill. The main title. It's all there. It's almost like Simón is parodying the genre, but in a way that's so deliciously incompetent (but sincere) that it results in a truly singular experience.

The plot revolves around the eponymous slugs laying siege to a small town via their sewer system. It's an ensemble cast, dealing with the slugs simultaneously, and sometimes the different plot lines intertwine. It's like a Robert Altman film- like SHORT CUTS. Yeah, it's like SHORT CUTS. Our main thread revolves around Mike Brady, a local health inspector who's kinda the poor man's Steve Guttenberg, and his single-minded quest to reveal the true threat that the slugs pose. By the way, what a great name for a character. Mike Brady.
It's almost like Simón lives in a universe where THE BRADY BUNCH doesn't exist (which is a very real possibility). Anyway, everyone's saying things like "Snails? Slugs? What the hell's the difference?!" but the bodies- and the accompanying slime trails- are piling up. Even in the midst of sightings like these:
it's still getting blamed on "raccoons driven out of the hills by the cold." The word "goddamit" is getting a lot of play, too, usually from the harshly dubbed lips of local law enforcement.

An old man sticks his hand inside his work glove, which happens to be full of slugs.
Without knowing anything about the slug epidemic, his first reaction is to immediately chop off his hand with an axe, because that's what any one of us would do if we felt something sharp and slimy inside our work glove. His writhing ultimately causes a spectacular explosion which wipes him, his home, his greenhouse, and his nagging, jazz-loving wife off the face of the planet, as seen below. Then Mike Brady receives word of the terrible accident from his wife.

"Ohhh, Jesus! They were nice people! I mean, I liked them a LOT! ... ... –So what are you doing out here, anyway?"

Now is probably a good time to get into the writing and the acting. It's not bad. It's far from bad. In fact, there's a certain perfection to it. Filmmakers couldn't duplicate this magic if they tried, and oh yes, they have tried. The lines are ridiculous, sure, and they either reveal an ignorance of basic human interaction that borders on the sociopathic, or they're satire of the highest order. I'm still not sure which.
And doesn't this kind of look like the evil Slimey?

"JEEEESUS CHRIST, THOSE THINGS ARE BIG!!!" As I said, I'm starting to think that this is carefully considered satire, dancing on the razor's edge of our incredulity. "I'll shove my boot so far up your butt, you'll need a tow truck to get it out!"

A salad makes a man's head explode (with maggots).
"Maybe it was the anchovies I put in the salad."

Mike Brady firmly strides past bureaucrat's secretary. "Yeah, watch me!," he exclaims. "You can't go in there!," she retorts. Their lines have been reversed and no one noticed? Nobody could have missed that in the cutting room... right??? Once past the secretary, he demands- "Declare a health emergency! I'll take full responsibility!" To which the dunderheaded office jockey snarls–

It's all coming together. Simón's master plan. Not only a treatise on whether or not humanity is fundamentally callous, but whether or not we the audience can be persuaded to view a series of gruesome killings while feeling the same empathy we'd feel for, say, the felling of a row of dominoes. Let's do a case study on empathy in SLUGS THE MOVIE for a moment, shall we? Let's look at this guy:

It's no great stretch to say that this man is something of a toolbar. He's that twenty-something townie who openly schlerps his rich n' bitchy high school girlfriend in the parking lot after school. But later, when an army of slugs catch them in flagrante delicto, and she's rolling around in buckets of blood and flailing on the floor in the midst of a scene that'd make your hair crawl and your skin stand on end,

our chowder-headed boy-friend remains safe, atop the bed. He cries out in vain, knowing there is nothing he can do to save her from a fate worse than death (because here the maggots spew out of you while you're still alive!). He makes a mad leap for the windowsill. We should be with him 100%. Who cares what kind of a douchebomb he is, we have to identify with him at a moment like this, right? ....Right? So he jumps for the window with both hands....

...and, junk hangin' out and everything, does a naked belly flop into the jaws of a thousand mutant slugs. This could be the realization of Heinz Kohut's worst nightmare: the death of empathy, and the final victory of narcissism. Because, at best, we're crossing our legs here and feeling pretty good that our junk is not being devoured by said slugs; and at worst, we're laughing our asses off. It's not the slugs that have brought out the worst in us, we have brought out the worst in the slugs. Print that in the paper. I mean look at this clip- during a shadowy, corporate backroom deal, a woman comes to grips with the horrible slug-head-maggots explosion she saw earlier. And the 'principled' mayor shuts her right the fuck down.

"Uhhhh...can I freshen your drinks?"

But Simón continues to taunt us, continues to force us to reveal our own jaundiced hand. Let's look at the character of Don- Mike Brady's best friend, and possibly the only decent human being in the film. We meet Don along with his wife.

Now, maybe your first thought wasn't wow, she's a little old, right?....but yes, it was. And I don't even mean to say that. The thought just sort of popped into my head- not in a judgmental way, merely as an observation. But later, when they make out (not pictured) and Don says, if we get out of this alive and I destroy the slugs, "...Whaddya say we get naked and get crazy!" You have no choice but to wince a little bit. And as you do it, you realize what a deplorable human being you are. SLUGS THE MOVIE invades your subconscious, conjures up unscrupulous, judgmental thoughts, and then leaves you there to stew in them. To simmer and writhe in your own bullshit. Now THAT is truly a misanthropic motion picture achievement, and it is one that I applaud. Four and a half stars.

-Sean Gill

Sean Gill's THURSDAY NIGHT screens May 27th in Brooklyn!

Who: Tall Glass Short Film Series.
What: A screening of my short film THURSDAY NIGHT, as part of an ongoing series featuring the work of Brooklyn filmmakers.
When: Thursday, May 27th, 2010 @ 8:00 PM.
Where: South 4th Bar & Café- 90 South 4th Street in Brooklyn, between Berry and Bedford (right by Berry). You can take the L to Bedford or the JMZ to Marcy.
How much: It's free!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Film Review: FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (1974, Richard Rush)

Stars: 3.2 of 5.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Tag-line: "Above's a love story."
Notable Cast or Crew: James Caan, Alan Arkin, Paul Koslo (ROBOT JOX, THE STONE KILLER), Loretta Swit (BEER, FOREST WARRIOR), Jack Kruschen (THE APARTMENT, CAPE FEAR), Mike Kellin (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, SLEEPAWAY CAMP), Linda Marsh (CHE!, HOMEBODIES), Alex Rocco (THE GODFATHER, CANNONBALL RUN II). Music by Dominic Frontiere (THE STUNT MAN, John Flynn's DEFIANCE). Cinematography by Lászlo Kovács (EASY RIDER, GHOSTBUSTERS).
Best one-liner: "Lady, I spend half my life in toilets!"

Humbly presented, for your consideration... It's not just another San Francisco cop movie... It's FREEBIE AND THE BEAN.
Hell, it supposedly was Stanley Kubrick's favorite movie of 1974 (the same year as THE GODFATHER PART II, CHINATOWN, THE CONVERSATION, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, LENNY, DEATH WISH, and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, not to mention FOXY BROWN, MR. MAJESTYK, and SPASMO). Well, I'd kinda like a swig or a hit or a toke of whatever hallucinogenic substance Mr. Kubrick was enjoying at the time he made that ludicrous statement, because if it was capable of making FREEBIE AND THE BEAN the best film of that or any other year, who knows what other, wondrous fantasies it could conjure? But I don't mean to be a dick- FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is not a bad movie, it's merely an extremely choppy, vaguely offensive one which gets a lot of bonus points for great bantering leads (Caan & Arkin), and the infusion of some genuine, back alley grit. Kind of like a lesser, 70's RUNNING SCARED? I mean, I'm not sure I ought to be tossing around phrases like 'a lesser RUNNING SCARED' with reckless abandon, but here we are.
It's directed by Richard Rush (THE STUNT MAN, PSYCH-OUT), who, by all accounts, is a somewhat reckless, passionate 'soldier of cinema.' A fan of Proust and BATMAN comics who started off making propaganda films for the government and later 'hippies gone wild' biker/drug movies, he evolved into one of those eccentric auteurs who makes a picture once a decade, if they're lucky. Alan Arkin's evidently spoken about dangerous working conditions on the set of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, and you have to wonder if Rush based THE STUNT MAN on reality. (Conversely, Rush has spoken out about Arkin as difficult to work with.) Regardless, this film has a very sprawling, organic feel to it; sort of the cinematic equivalent to speeding the wrong way down a one-way street with a madman at the helm– sometimes it's going to be breathlessly inspired gold, and sometimes it's going to be a goddamn train wreck. It's definitely going for a 1970's Keystone Kops vibe, an ambition more satisfying attained by the far superior 1974 Ivan Passer film, LAW AND DISORDER.

Now let me tell you a little bit about the plot- James Caan and Alan Arkin play a couple of cops who play by their own rules and bicker like an elderly couple. Caan likes free shit. Sometimes he steals it, just to make sure it's free. Thus, he's so aptly named, "Freebie." Arkin is (apparently) Hispanic. He always wants to go out for a burrito, but Freebie is always shutting him down. He bears the oh-so-appropriate moniker, "Bean." In a wacky series of events, they end up protecting a mobster that they've sworn to destroy because they're waiting on a warrant for him at the same time that hordes of hit men are descending upon the city.
Under different circumstances, this movie certainly could have been unbearable, but the dynamic between the smarmy Caan and the deadpan Arkin is infectiously fun to watch. Their bad attitudes and endless, smartass banter frankly feel a little ahead of their time.

Paul Koslo even shows up as yet another stringy-haired goon, a role which he inhabited many times throughout the 1970's (THE STONE KILLER, MR. MAJESTYK, CLEOPATRA JONES).
Arkin practices some zany police brutality.

The visuals are fantastic. Lensed by the late, great Hungarian cinematographer, Lászlo Kovács (THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS, TARGETS, SHAMPOO), he manages to combine slick, balanced compositions with an inherent grittiness.
The chases, while not approaching the greatness of say, THE FRENCH CONNECTION or THE SEVEN-UPS, are creative, whacky, and presented with a visual flair worthy of Buster Keaton- or at the very least, Jacques Tati. In one of my favorite scenes, a chase collides with a parade, and a marching band gets mowed down with extreme prejudice.
Elsewhere, James Caan's stunt double leads an outrageous motorbike pursuit which involves driving on top of traffic, and ultimately knocking down an enormous set of dominoes, which just happen to be set up in his path.
Yes, dear reader- THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS.

FREEBIE AND THE BEAN gets a little weird as it goes along. I mean, the hair-raising, largely unfunny jokes about police torture, racism, and the like seem ill-advised, plus there's a particularly offensive depiction of trannies as gun-toting psychos.
It's juuuuuust enough to put a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. But then James Caan will do something like this:

and I'll feel like the film should wear its oafishness on its sleeve as a badge of pride (which it does). There're also a few odd moments where the film blindsides you with something utterly devoid of humor...
...and you know that Rush is aware of it- in fact, he's likely reveling in it- but on the whole, the film has the feel of disparate puzzle pieces, haphazardly jammed together into an amusing little slice of chaotic life. You enjoy it, but it makes you uneasy. A little over three stars.

-Sean Gill