Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An Impulsive Blog Adventure: the OCTOBER/HALLOWEEN MOVIE CRAM-A-THON!


Yes, it is and also, I'm Captain Obvious.
Anyway, it's October which has me thinking Halloween.
I'm thinking Halloween, thinking Inktober, thinking Drawlloween.
I'm thinking horror movies, live theater, Buffalo film festivals, the BM-VM Shorty Film Contest.

Well, this is going to be one of those "I Wish..." posts and then later (not much later) it'll be apparent that I'm just dreaming...
But, whatever.

First things first... the DREAMING...
I'm dreaming of a world where I watch a movie a day and not only that, it's also October, so all the movies I watch are some kind of weird Halloween-like movie. Certainly there'll be horror films, but there's sci-fi, fantasy and other strange genre creatures, too! In a deep, DEEP dream, I not only watch all these movies in October, but I review them, too! I'm in some kind of coma here, that's the kind of deep, heavy dream I'm talking about!
Well, so far, I got me October going on... of course, the calendar's doing all the heavy-lifting on that one requirement.
It's October 12th as I write this and I've seen 5 movies so far. So, I'm averaging less than half a movie a day.
We won't even talk about movie reviews...

So, there's work to be done!
Stay tuned!

PS.  I started a list gadget doo-dad on the blog that's right there in the top right to keep track of the films I'm watching this month and if any get reviewed, if you wanna see my progress...

PPS. And I'm also hoping to see 100 movies before the year's out.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April is the Haiku-lest month*

*apologies to Thomas Stearns Eliot, although that's probably one of the most poetic paraphrases of a line of poetry you've ever had the good fortune to read! **

April 26, 2016

In honor of April being National Poetry Month, here's a link to a post from my former movie blog on Livejournal. Ah, I impulsively jumped ship to Blogger after having an aggravatingly difficult period of time posting new material on Livejournal, but the other blog still exists.
The post showcases all the Horror Movie Haiku I wrote and submitted to another blog for a contest. The details, my awesome haiku (okay, none of them won anything! Damn you, CRwM!) and my commentary for them can be enjoyed over and over again here.

Here are the films that inspired the SIXTEEN haiku [NOTE: fifteen were entered in the contest, and the additional entry was for yet another blog contest, but in this context it was still arguably horror film related]:

This is the English dubbed trailer, but both versions of the film
(original Italian language w/English subtitles or English dubbed)
on the Redemption DVDoffer their own distinct pleasures
i.e. the English translations aren't exactly the same.

This is for the original 1954 Japanese production, 
not the 1956 American recut-release that included footage of 
 Raymond Burr as American journalist Steve Martin. 

This is kind of a surprisingly trippy trailer. I'm not sure if it was
actually produced during the same time it was originally released,
or if it's some fan-created thing, but here ya go...

Director John Carpenter served up three things to audiences in 1978
and you get elements of all of them in this trailer: 1) the film itself;
2) his deceptively simple yet unforgettable soundtrack;
and 3) foreshadowing for a later horror classic he would make,
his remake of THE THING (1982).The B&W film that the little girl
is watching is the original THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)
directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks.

Part of me is loathe to post this trailer but it's the only
thing I had to choose from other than specific scenes on Youtube.
This trailer reveals a lot but since it's a one hour episode from a
horror anthology, I'm not sure how much of a spoiler situation this is.
Still, quasi-SPOILER warning!

This is the first film in the series, and I wrote three haiku based on Jason.
One specifically concerns him wearing his iconic goalie mask, but...

...he doesn't wear that until the third entry in the franchise.

I don't remember this trailer but its pretty good!

The B&W cinematography is gorgeous and
it's fun to hear Mel Brooks himself doing the narration!

Horror film-muses
All affecting, infecting 
my ingestive heart

**T.S. Eliot, natch!
BTW, did you know that H.P. (as in Lovecraft) stood for Howard Phillips?
Or  that S.E. (as in Hinton) stood for Susan Eloise?
Or that A.A. (as in Milne) stood for Alan Alexander?
Or that C.S. (as in Lewis) stood for Clive Staples?
Or that E.E. (as in Cummings) stood for Edward Estlin?
Or that D.H. (as in Lawrence) stood for David Herbert?
Or that A.S. (as in Byatt) stood for Antonia Susan?
Or that J.K. (as in Rowling) actually is just part of her pen name
(her full name is simply Joanne Rowling BUT 
the K does stand for Kathleen after her grandmother)?
Or that J.R.R. (as in Tolkien) stood for John Ronald Reuel?
Hey, you never know when you might be kidnapped and
subjected to some Jeopardy contestant/SAW scenario...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A DBR (Drive-By Rambling): TCM'S UNDER THE INFLUENCE with ELVIS MITCHELL: Interview with Quentin Tarantino

Originally started this around May 9, 2014

Good morning! 

I have a bad habit of DVRing movies and then never getting around to watching them. Similar to my buying DVDs and never getting around to watching them. Similar to me writing down ideas for movie ideas and screenplays and comic books and never getting around to actually trying to write a first draft and develop them. Similar to...

Anyway, I was trying to watch one or two things this morning that I had DVRed while eating a delicious breakfast that my wife made, and I decided to watch an episode of TCM'S UNDER THE INFLUENCE with ELVIS MITCHELL, a half hour show where film critic Mitchell interviews someone from Hollywood (typically an actor or director from the few episodes I've seen) and asks them what their cinematic (or any creative discipline) influences are. I already have a bad habit of spontaneously, impulsively DVRing programs and then never watching them, instead letting them accumulate to my wife's irritation because I then start crowding out all the TV series she DVRs. So, I try to occasionally keep up and delete a few shows to keep the domestic peace and more importantly, keep my head from being completely severed from my neck via conjugal fu.

The guest of this episode of ELVIS MITCHELL was writer/director Quentin Tarantino, and if any filmmaker has influences on his work, it's this dude, so I was looking forward to checking this out.
Topics were all over the place, understandably, because Tarantino was talking film and a lot of his love is associative, so he'll talk about one film and or actor or director he loves (or doesn't) and that will usually lead to another topic. Which is great for film geeks talking, but I think Mitchell had to really work at times to keep QT focused-- it was only a half hour show.
But the one thing I really liked was Tarantino listing his top three comic performances in the history of cinema, or some hyperbole like that.
They were:

1. Rex Harrison in writer/director Preston Sturges' UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948);

Rex Harrison (r) suspects his wife, Linda Darnell (center) of having an affair with Kurt Krueger (l).
2. Cary Grant in director Howard Hawks' HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940); 
Cary Grant, Frank Jenks, Roscoe Karns, Gene Lockhart, Pat Flaherty, Porter Hall, Alma Kruger, and Rosalind Russell.
3. and Eli Wallach in director Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966/1967, USA Release)
Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach. 
Of course, the last choice is typical of Tarantino, appreciating a specific genre film for reasons atypical of that genre's attributes (in this case, a Leone spaghetti western).
[NOTE: I figure there's a distinction between a spaghetti western and a western, and a further distinction between a spaghetti western and a Leone spaghetti western, hence...]
Anyway, that's a pretty awesome triple feature I'm going to have to watch someday. I've seen them all before already, but it's been awhile.
My favorite Sturges' comedy is THE LADY EVE, with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda but UNFAITHFULLY YOURS is really very funny as well. In fact, I remember watching the Sturges film long ago with slowly dawning surprise, that I was familiar with the plot because I didn't realize the similarly titled 1984 comedy with Dudley Moore and Nastasja Kinski WAS a remake (and pretty damn funny). But the original is really excellent, and Rex Harrison is wonderfully ridiculous as Linda Darnell's jealous husband, imagining three ways to have the perfect revenge on his wife and "her lover": he imagines executing each scenario out perfectly (which we see) and then we witness his attempt to follow through on these plans and things just go terribly each time. His battle of wits with a type of phonograph player that will record your voice onto a record is a favorite moment.
Of the three films, I've seen HIS GIRL FRIDAY most recently, and that remains one of my favorite comedies. One of the best!
It's been a long damn time since I've seen the Leone film, so it's a good excuse to get re-acquainted.
Anyway, it was a good interview, and of course, now that I've seen it, I want to save it and not delete it...

Monday, April 18, 2016

One Zany Chick Flick*: MANIA (2015, Directed by Jessica Cameron, written by Jonathan Scott Higgins; with Ellie Church, Tristan Risk)

*Okay, I admit it: "zany," and perhaps even "chick flick," are being used ironically here (depending on your interpretation of terms).

April 18, about 3:00 pm

I already have at least two other movie reviews I want to finish writing, having started one last summer (!) and the other one a couple months ago. So, of course, I’m starting a THIRD review before finishing either of the others. But I have my reasons—simply put, I keep thinking about this movie after having seeing it [now over 36 hours ago]. I’m going to try and just blitz through this review. try to purge these thoughts from my system. Maybe I’ll actually finish what I started this time…
[NOTE: I’m still writing and editing as I go along and I started this at midnight last night. It’s 10:30 am now. Yes, I did sleep in-between, but still…]

I saw MANIA at the recent Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (BNFF) which ran from April 13-17 at the Tonawanda Castle, at 69 Delaware St., in Tonawanda, NY. I didn’t realize beforehand that the film was even playing, but when I learned that it was I made a point of seeing it because it was directed by Jessica Cameron.
Jessica isn’t from the Buffalo, NY area, but from Canada. Born in Owen Sound, Ontario, she later moved to Toronto and after acting in several independent films (made in the U.S.), she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time. But she also runs Small Town Girl Productions which focuses mainly on producing genre films. (BTW, all this info is from the handy Jessica Cameron Wikipedia page).
Now, I don’t know how writer/director (and friend) Adam Steigert and his Hamburg film company DefTone Pictures Studios crossed paths with Jessica, but she had a small role in their darkly comic horror film, A GRIM BECOMING (2014), where she played the character Life. By coincidence, I was an extra for one day on that film (I can be seen very briefly in the funeral home scene) but sadly, I never met Jessica in person during shooting. However, it was through that production that I first heard about her, and soon afterwards, I learned of her directorial debut, TRUTH OR DARE (2014). Shortly thereafter, that film happened to be in the 2014 BNFF which was held at the (now defunct) Market Arcade theater. It was a pretty effective film and Jessica also had a role in it.
Through Facebook I learned of her next project, MANIA, and now, about a year and a half later, was delighted that I had the opportunity to see another Jessica Cameron film playing at another edition of the BNFF.
After watching it Saturday night (April 16), I’ve been thinking about it constantly ever since for a variety of reasons. So, enough about me talking about nothing, let’s get on with the damn review!

Already from the MANIA movie poster itself we get a sense that the filmmakers are aiming for a reckless, unbridled sort of exploitation film vibe. The tagline wantonly brags: “A Fucked Up Lesbian Love Story.”
Tristan Risk and Ellie Church are Brooke and Mel respectively, ie. our lesbian lovers. [NOTE: Considering the lovers’ names, you’d think we’d be watching more of an irreverent comedy because the pairing of their monikers seems more than coincidental (uh, reverse the order to get my meaning), but this isn’t quite a parody of THELMA AND LOUISE. Oh, it gets strangely humorous, and inappropriately so at times, but it really ain’t that kind of movie.]
After first sharing via screen text the definition of the word “mania”, the text disappears and we're left looking at a black screen. As we sit in the darkness, we begin to hear a woman moaning, eventually revealing that it’s Brooke being orally pleasured by Mel. Then it’s time for Mel to go to work and before she goes she reminds Brooke to take her pill. After that, everything goes south.
Basically, Brooke has issues, psychological medical issues, and she really needs to stay on top of taking her pills. This morning she perhaps didn’t, then she had some bad work-related news which she was dealing with poorly, and then she kind of went… cuckoo. And by cuckoo, I don’t mean Brooke tried to lay her eggs in another women’s nest, I mean she goes all crackbrained and kills a friend in cold blood with a hammer. Cuckoo. When Mel comes home and discovers the bloody, pulp-faced carcass in the front hall, the only thing she can think to do is get rid of the body, grab Brooke and some quickly packed bags and start running as far away as possible, pronto!
From then on, MANIA becomes a road movie, a road movie where things just keep going wrong for our two lovers.

I LOVE the simplicity of the set-up.

I was also thrilled to be watching a movie starring both Tristan Risk and Ellie Church, because they’ve been on my radar after reading about them in other films, films which I haven’t gotten around to actually seeing. Like, Tristan Risk is in Jen and Sylvia Soska's’ AMERICAN MARY, and even though I have that DVD signed by those talented, slyly provocative siblings, I haven’t watched it yet ‘cause… I’m a dork. Nor have I watched Astron-6’s latest, THE EDITOR, which also has Ms. Risk in it and I also own a DVD of (again: Dork! Dork!). As for Ellie Church, I have seen her in "the lost slasher film of the 70s" HEADLESS (uh, I just haven’t finished my review of it, yet! That’s the one I started last summer…) where I thought she was great playing an employee working at a roller-skating rink who’s blunt, cynical and pretty funny. What’s neat was I thought her character in MANIA was distinctly different from her character in HEADLESS. As Mel, she is, to a degree, naively sincere (especially in these specific circumstances of being in constant "escape mode"), a sort of idealistic person who makes a “promise to protect” Brooke, the one she loves, and for that matter, Mel believes in love as well. As the film goes on, this belief in herself and what she can do to protect Brooke is severely tested.
Besides the impulsive desperation of Mel’s escape strategy, it’s further complicated by two important facts: 1) Mel’s the only one apparently competent enough to drive and 2) occasionally Mel needs to stop and sleep. Normally, the notion of them having to stop mid-flight to points unknown would increase the suspense of being caught, but in this case, there’s another more pressing problem: when Mel sleeps, either in the car or in a motel, Brooke conveniently goes into this sort of trance (for lack of a better word), where she looks awake but her head’s definitely in another world.  Let’s call it Homicidal Sleepwalking. Specifically, Brooke is motivated by some Praying Mantis/Black Widow type of manic complex where her brain may be elsewhere but her body is here and wants to immediately fuck the first strange guy she comes in contact with (and its definitely “fucking” not the more polite “have sex with”), but in this case its vigorous spontaneous sex as foreplay because after she achieves carnal completion, our Ms. Brooke is compelled to reciprocate the male’s act of penetration with her own, using whatever’s handy which is usually something Sharp, Metal and Stabby (the Divorce Law Firm of…). One of the more obvious ways both actresses commit to the film are the way they embrace the variety of scenes that require them to be nude or damn near nude, and as Brooke in “assertive date mode”, Tristan Risk is emphatically unself-conscious about displaying and utilizing her body. Being a guy, I had no problem with this plot device/character trait. I don’t know what specific clinical mental issue Brooke had but from an exploitation film perspective, it’s definitely an attention grabber. Although, actual mental illnesses aside, you could almost formulate a dysfunctional motivation for her impulsive couplings and killings: some misplaced insecurity/jealousy. As they continue to drive, Brooke asks Mel pointedly why she became a lesbian knowing she used to date men. After hearing her explanation, Brooke then asks her how many men she slept with, but Mel won’t go there. But since these questions come shortly after we witness a Brooke terminal quickie, you kind of read into these series of questions. There are times when we see them driving at night where the fragmented illumination of oncoming headlights picks out the women’s separate faces from the darkness and Tristan Risk’s beautiful, staring visage takes on a mask-like quality, similar to the iconic Barbara Steele, a fascinating, enigmatic quality which serves her brooding silences well.

Meanwhile, when Mel does get a chance to sleep, she doesn’t get much rest because she’s tormented by nightmares involving Brooke. On one level, director Cameron has some fun with these nightmares, dolling Mel up in increasingly fancy and outrageous fake eyelashes for example. But the nightmare scenes are also executed to explore moodier, surreal depths, serving up tangible ways to appreciate Mel’s inner thoughts and fears. Obviously, she’s terrified of losing Brooke, as she dreams of finding Brooke dead or having committing suicide, or she’s being physically dragged away from Brooke, etc.
Meanwhile, Brooke’s ongoing impulse to fornicate then exterminate impromptu sexual partners doesn’t seem to let up. Out of desperation, Mel frantically tries to distance themselves from the increasing body count by erasing their on-going trail but she’s also freaking out more and more because she realizes she’s in way over her head.

The plot takes some sick delight in throwing further complications at our lovers on the run. When they need to steal a car our desperately intrepid couple risk searching for the car keys in an unfamiliar house, trying to remain undiscovered even while an increasing number of occupants are still active inside. This sequence features a simple yet amusingly bizarre cameo by Ellie Church’s real husband, actor/director Brian Williams. Williams was also in HEADLESS as Church’s genuinely sleazy boss of the skating rink, but this time he shows us a more sensitive side by being dressed in drag. During this same sequence, there’s an ongoing extended sex scene being hammered out not only as visual and aural comic relief, but also as a way of increasing suspense if the sexual participants happen to take a sudden break and then possibly discover our protagonists searching the immediate environs by sneaking along the floor dog-style, and then director Cameron does a smooth bit of injecting further suspense as well.
There are additional developments sprung upon our anti-heroines, like a mugging by a drifter and a free dinner with unexpected consequences.

If I had any quibbles, part of me wished the tension could have been ratcheted up even more at times, and I second-guessed the wisdom of (somewhat) revealing in advance the intentions of the dinner hostess.
I’ll go a little more into that plus some other thoughts but that’s going to be a spoiler heavy conversation, so I’ll get to that at the end of this review.

After Brooke unintentionally (‘cause she’s nutty) but unequivocally undermines a possible way out of their mess, the film runs headlong into its conclusion. Earlier I noted the somewhat “misleading” coincidence of their names, Mel and Brooke. But, in hindsight, perhaps any “meaning” their two names have because they “go together” has less to do with the film genre and is more an indication of some twisted star-crossed destiny of their tragic love (and still a simple but sincere cinematic shout out?). Arguably the couple's earlier nude scenes together may be exploitation film fodder visually speaking, but these risqué moments also show evidence of a gentle, sensual quality of tangible affection being expressed between the lovers. Before their fateful journey strained their emotional bonds together, their names are sweetly suitable together.
For the most part, the film is a thrilling joyride into shared madness served up well by: our two committed leads (and interpret that however way you want), Ms. Risk and Ms. Church; a disturbingly enjoyable plotline from screenwriter Jonathan Scott Higgins; intimate and creative direction from Jessica Cameron;  consistently sweet looking visuals and lighting from Director of Photography Josh Chiara (for instance, I LOVED the shots where one of the leads was in tight close-up on one half of the screen, like Brooke staring at the camera out the window, and in the other half of the screen in the background but still in focus was Mel entering full-body into the house and discovering the first corpse on the floor). Oh! And I also love the graphics of the beginning and end credits.
MANIA was a pretty damn fine exploitation ride! I’m thinking this would make a suitable double-feature with either the Soska Sisters’ debut DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK or Alexandre Aja’s HIGH TENSION. Hope it does well on the film festival circuit and I look forward to seeing it again.

Here's the 31 second teaser for MANIA. NOT SAFE FOR WORK! But you'll get a sense of what you're in for.

Excellent interview with Jessica Cameron about directing, horror films, and a surprising answer as to what film she would remake if she could and with what dream cast. From the Australian website Cult Projections, which looks pretty cool on its own.


Okay, this is just some additional thoughts/remarks . Part of this is me talking completely as an armchair/wanna-be filmmaker. Part of this is just me making additional comments but I feel it would be best saved for those readers who’ve already seen the film.

1    1.  First of all, a really MINOR point. I was somewhat surprised by the nudity and the amount of it in MANIA (but not disappointed, in fact most certainly I was delighted) although I wasn’t complaining (again: nope!). I say surprised because when I saw Jessica Cameron’s directorial debut, TRUTH OR DARE, there’s a scene where actress Devanny Pinn comes out wearing a bikini but suddenly she’s like covered up or removed from the scene. I forget how the scene actually transpired, but I remember that a point seemed to be made that she needed to cover up. And I thought, how weird, because I didn’t think Ms. Pinn would be self-conscious about appearing in a bikini, so I wondered if this was something to attribute to the director sensibility-wise? Of course, I also wondered if, perhaps, I remembered this scene completely incorrectly (and I did wish I could watch the film again just to see if I had the same reaction). But, since seeing TRUTH OR DARE, in my mind the notion of some sort of “selective puritanism” was attached to Jessica Cameron’s name because of how I perceived that scene in TRUTH OR DARE. And I say “selective” because she had no apparent issues with gore, profanity, etc. back then or now. So, in a (not really) similar way, I also had John Carpenter “pegged” as a filmmaker who would rather suggest than show actual gore, based on watching HALLOWEEN, THE FOG and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK…and then I saw THE THING. But, getting back to the film at hand, after seeing MANIA, I was either 1) absolutely wrong about my original perceptions; or 2) Jessica seriously got over her “hang-ups,“ haha!
I guess this a question for the director if she happens to read this…
      2.  When I mentioned my wish for possibly increasing the tension in the film, I thought there were a couple moments when there was a specific opportunity to milk a situation for more tension and it didn’t go that way. First, the mugging scene. I thought that was great, because you think, “Oh my god, this bastard just stole their money, now what!?” But, the big thing is, he stole Brooke’s pills, and that’s an even more “Oh, shit!” moment. However, I think Mel should have been more beside herself and maybe tried to catch the guy as he ran away. I know he was armed, and maybe he could have hurt her but I’m thinking she knows for certain what Brooke off medication means. Her attempt to fight the guy for the pills didn’t have to be successful, but just an illustration of how Mel is getting further stressed out and hysterical, and if Brooke is the loose cannon, Mel is now deteriorating out of desperation into conducting her own dubious actions. But even if she still didn’t try to catch the guy and get back the pills, I think she should have been a lot more emphatic that they shouldn’t accept the strange woman’s dinner invitation, out of a need to protect the woman. Then, a strained conversation between Mel and Brooke on the topic of whether Brooke can be trusted in society would start to further undermine the doubt Brooke has that Mel still loves her.
3    3.  As stated earlier, immediately after the mugging scene, we introduce the good Samaritan woman who conveniently discovers they’ve been mugged mere seconds ago and out of apparent kindness, she offers them a free meal. It’s a borderline generous and bizarre offer from a stranger, but I’m thinking Mel is really hesitant to put Brooke in contact with any civilians now that she’s without meds. But allowing that, I can accept Brooke convincing her to go because they’re now without money, too, so a free meal is a free meal. But, aside from that, I think the dinner scene might have worked better NOT knowing the Samaritan had a secret agenda, specifically NOT seeing her put something in their wine right away. When Mel is suddenly so sleepy, it might’ve raised a red flag, but still, as an audience we wouldn’t know for sure. Mostly, I think we’d be nervous as to what Brooke is going to do to the poor hostess now that she’s alone with her. When the hostess goes to “get more wine,” we wouldn’t see her get dressed in the plastic raincoat either. I think showing Brooke make the discovery of the blood on the refrigerator door and then seeing what the hostess has for leftovers inside the fridge would be a great discovery for both her AND the audience. Then, after the gruesome discovery she’s surprised by the hostess clad in stylish American Psycho Wear ™. Brooke then continue to kill the woman (“this Samaritan picked the wrong person to help today!”) and when she wakes up Mel, the revelation that Brooke killed their hostess would just set Mel off and she lays into Brooke. Brooke could finally show her the evidence in the fridge, or really, maybe not, maybe Mel finally just backs off but never believes Brooke’s story so the fight would severely strain their relationship from then on. Which also further feeds into Brooke’s imaginings of what she thinks Mel really thinks, which is shown so wonderfully a few times through the film.
4    4.  Okay, part of me wondered, “If they really need to drive all the time to get as far away as possible from their home (and then additional victims, too), how badly can Brooke be as a driver?” So, I had the thought, “Gee, too bad we couldn’t see Mel try to teach Brooke how to drive, “ and then watch where that development took us. Either it blows up in Mel’s face spectacularly, or it seems to work until Brooke starts taking homicidal detours as Mel sleeps beside her. But, that’s just me with my mind wandering, me “what-if?”-ing.
5    5.  Also, part of me debates whether Brooke would kill anybody other than men spontaneously. Murdering the dinner hostess makes sense because of the context, there’s survival involved, arguably. But, the little kids near the end, I don’t know. But, dramatically, you do need to up the stakes to motivate Mel to see the lawyer. Brooke’s “trance” conveniently allows the plot to go in certain directions. But, this could also be me projecting specific motivations on who she kills (as I stated earler) when perhaps there really are no motivations at all. Maybe the first victims happened to be men. She’s simply extremely dangerous. I simply bring this up as a discussion topic.
6    6.  Finally, the ending is really interesting. I predicted to myself as the film wound down that both of them dying would be the way to wrap this up, a la Romeo and Juliet. And that indeed happened. But, then Mel comes to and gets up. This threw me. Partly because of her multiple stab wounds (she survived this?), but mostly because Mel and Brooke didn’t die together. But, as I  thought about it, especially watching Mel walk off, away from the camera with the end credits starting to roll and  descending into the sunrise, it seemed more appropriate, though not necessarily a “happy ending.”
      In fact, perhaps because it ISN’T a happy ending, it seemed appropriate. I mean, it’s a horror story that happens to be a love story, or at least, a story about two lovers. Because I don’t think that the depiction of Mel’s anguish over not knowing what to do anymore during the film is an overt cry by Mel for release from Brooke, it’s simply a cry for some kind of solution for their situation. Mel’s just at her wit’s end. That the lawyer may somehow genuinely help them with their situation is a miracle for Mel. Which of course is immediately torpedoed by Brooke via a hand spade into the lawyer’s heart. The dream sequences we first see Mel have play as terrible nightmares of what Mel first feels she’s up against, the constant possibility of losing Brooke as a lover or losing her to death. But as the film progresses I can see the dreams transforming from Mel’s fears of losing/failing Brooke and turning into Mel’s desperate guilty fantasies of getting out of their terrible, deteriorating situation: if only Brooke would die, if only the responsibility of protecting Brooke was taken out of Mel’s hands by someone else. And that’s an awful thing for Mel to realize she’s subconsciously dreaming about, perhaps after the lawyer’s demise, she’s even consciously hoping for. Okay, maybe this is me over-analyzing a lot, because I didn't really think all this while the end played out. I've been trying to sort out my feelings and articulate them after the fact. It's quite possible I'm really full of shit. But, still I think I could legitimately argue this take on the ending. Brooke and Mel are at their furthest apart emotionally after Brooke kills the lawyer. Mel can't believe she could do that and yells at her and for the first time, Brooke reacts by running away from her., perhaps realizing what she's done. Mel gives chase but Brooke is long gone. When Mel finally catches up, at a conveniently empty house, Brooke seems to kill her, stabbing her more than once. I wish I could see the film again for this moment because part of me is remembering that Brooke is in her sleepwalking state and that she comes out of it AFTER murdering Mel. But, I could be conveniently misremembering that to fit my half-assed thesis here. Because it seems poetic to me that the now lucid Brooke sees what she's done to Mel, and so she decides to finally end it, and she commits suicide to join Mel (again, so to speak) and also because the thought of living alone is unthinkable. But by committing suicide Brooke does Mel the ultimate (and apparently posthumous) favor of killing herself as well. And I believe this is the only life, her own life, that Brooke consciously takes, all the other victims' deaths (including Mel, I think) are arguably committed while Brooke’s in her sleepwalking state. Sure, Mel could have merely passed out from the shock of being stabbed several times, but in a real way we thought she had actually died. So, when Mel suddenly rises, it's as if she's been resurrected. In fact, it seems that miraculously, Brooke’s self-sacrifice allows Mel to become resurrected. But sadly, Mel may have been more at peace in death. As she rises, she sees Brooke lying next to her on the floor and having committed suicide. As she leaves the house Mel may be arguably free to move on but she also has the lives of all the innocent victims they killed to contemplate. This awful burden is something Mel now has to process for the rest of her life.
Kind of deep.
And hell, yeah, definitely “fucked up.”

Blog post edited somewhat 4-19-16, 1:46 am (and I may still do some tinkering with it)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 2014 at Eastern Hills Mall, Nov. 7 - 13

NOTE: A large portion of this post was re-edited from a status on my Facebook page.

Last week, from Friday Nov. 7 – Thursday, Nov. 13, the second annual Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival was held in Buffalo. Actually, to be precise, it was at the Eastern Hills Mall Dipson theaters, a local art film theater with three screens and Buffalo Dreams took up residence for the week at one of them. During that week, all I was thinking about was how to make it to the festival every day and see as many movies as I could while also dancing around my work schedule at times, plus other personal responsibilities on the calendar (like, my wife’s birthday, etc.). I did alright, but I still missed a number of films that I had hoped to catch. Eh, whatchoo gonna do, you know?
But, now, a week later, the big news item is not trying to see movies but instead, it’s snow. Lots and LOTS of snow.
The Buffalo area and its southtowns have literally been buried under lake effect snow since early Tuesday (Nov. 18). There are the traditional so-called “snow belt” areas in Buffalo and usually when it snows everyone gets snow, but the belts get a lot more due to their geographical placement along Lake Erie (it’s all very meteorological) but we’re not even talking about that dynamic this time, because these last few days (starting Tuesday) there’s been a genuine curtain of weather cutting through the area and so, you’ve either been blasted with snow that would not let up OR you’ve had… nothing. Zilcheroo.
I live north of the city, and we got some very fluffy snow yesterday (Wednesday), but I also can still see some leaves in my backyard. Meanwhile, where I work, 27 miles south and in the Cheektowaga area (a Buffalo suburb), they were HAMMERED.
In fact, my department supervisor drove in to work earlier than usual Tuesday morning to check out the circumstances because they had been predicting a huge snowfall since last weekend and this was the first snow of the season. Since August I’ve been working in the maintenance/janitorial dept., which is made up of just my boss and myself. In other words, we’re the company shovelers. My cellphone rang at 5:30 am, just as I was about to leave for work myself, and I heard my boss say, “Stay home. It’s nuts out here.” Still driving through the streets while on his phone, he said that where he lived north of Buffalo (Tonawanda, not nearly as north as me) they had nothing snow-wise, but at the exit off the thruway (the I-90) near work, there was a wall of snow coming down. He was still negotiating the streets in his family van as he spoke, saying it was already pretty bad and he was slowly winding around the occasional car already stuck or trying to get moving again until suddenly I heard him say he had to stop behind a guy with his flashers on. That’s when we hung up. Later that day in the early evening I called him back and discovered he wound up being stranded since I last talked to him -- over 12 hours earlier! But, fortunately, local residents of a senior apartment complex came to the rescue and invited him and other trapped motorists to stay inside their building in their Common room, which is what they did, sleeping on the floor through the night. Eventually, after 30 hours of being a metaphorical fly in the snowy ointment, my boss made it back home Wednesday.
Now, it’s Thursday, my third snow day, and there’s a bit of a respite in terms of actual snowfall coming down. But travel bans are still in place as local towns and villages frantically try to catch up and clear roads of snow and cars before another predicted wave of snowfall hits tonight.
There have been eight deaths so far, a couple from heart attacks sustained while shoveling and at least one fatality due to ambulances being unable to reach the victim.
So, I’ve been very fortunate considering everything. We’ve had very little snow, just a few inches yesterday, and lots of wind and cold. My wife’s been sick since last Friday and has been trying to recuperate, but that’s been slow. At this point, I haven’t caught whatever she’s had, at least I don’t think so, other than my head feels a little sore when I touch it and maybe I’m starting to get a sore throat.
Anyway, I’m trying to utilize the unexpected down time to do some… writing.
Every time I attend a film festival (or any film for that matter), I automatically hope to write some review or feedback of what I saw. This strong impulse usually results in, well… nada, actually, at least here in this blog. Sometimes I get something down in a Facebook status, a rambling long-ass FB status, so that’s something at least.
Anyway, inspired by Mermaid Heather’s recent(ish) reviews of movies she saw at the (I think), HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis in September, I plan to do the same.

Whenever the subject of the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival comes up, I’m usually fond of mentioning that this Buffalo film festival is easily my favorite, although I genuinely enjoy going to any of the other film festivals in town (if I do go). When I do fondly say that, I’m usually thinking that the “other” film festivals are the BNFF (Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, founded by filmmaker Bill Cowell) and the BIFF (Buffalo International Film Festival, founded by Edward Summer). There are additional smaller scale themed festivals, like the Jewish Film Festival, for instance, which schedules a series of films spread over a few weekends, for instance, and I’m pretty sure that there are more annual festivals and film series going on in the area that I’m just not aware of. Having said that, in my head, Buffalo Dreams, BNFF and BIFF are the three most prominent film festivals in town.
Coincidentally, I also happen to be friends with the two founders of Buffalo Dreams (I guess I’m making a disclaimer here), Greg Lamberson and Chris Scioli. If that is why Buffalo Dreams is my favorite film festival, or it’s my favorite because the founders of the fest share the same film festival sensibilities that I do, well, I don’t know. Whatever.
Buffalo Dreams evolved out of an earlier and now defunct festival, the Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival, which was also founded by Greg and Chris and a third gentleman (and friend), Emil Novak, who also happens to own the oldest comic book store in Buffalo, Queen City Book Store. After three years of Buffalo Screams, Emil decided to focus his energies on his business. Greg and Chris started a new festival the following year, Buffalo Dreams, this time expanding the programming to include multiple genres, meaning (almost) pretty much anything: horror, sci-fi, musicals, comedy, fantasy, fan films, music videos, action films, whatever. Plus, they still focused on bringing a wide variety of films from around the world and made in WNY. If you look at the five years of programming between Buffalo Screams and Buffalo Dreams, presenting global and local entries has always been an important part of their mission statement and they’ve always been successful achieving that and improving on it each year. They also get a good amount of filmmakers to attend and talk about their films, not only from the Western New York area, but out of town, too.
One of the filmmakers who visited from afar is Isaac Ezban, whom Buffalo was first introduced to a few years ago at Buffalo Screams when he showed his really crazy short subject, COSAS FEAS (NASTY STUFF). Isaac came in all the way from Mexico City along with Mijael Askenazi, his 11 year old star of the film.
Anyway, I hope to post some reviews or at least some kind of feedback on those films I did manage to see. But as an appetizer, here’s my introductory overview of this year’s Buffalo Dreams festival.

Right off the bat, let me say this: this year’s Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival had a particularly great slate of films throughout the week. Generally, even when I don't like some of the films -- for instance, last year, there were a few I couldn't get into (WRATH OF THE CROWS) or downright hated (Albert Pyun's ROAD TO HELL, an unofficial sequel to Walter Hill’s STREETS OF FIRE) -- I still enjoy the festival. Any film festival, for that matter. I figure the quality of the films is just a small part of the festival programming crapshoot.
But, holy cow, THIS year all the films I made it to were either pretty good or excellent! I only wish I could've seen them all.

- Local co-writer/director Korey Green's THE ROMANS had its movie premiere and started off Buffalo Dreams with a bang by not only being the first film screened at the fest, but also completely selling out the theater. Featuring an epic cast of characters and storytelling, it’s an urban re-telling of Julius Caesar. Excellent performances throughout, including Jon Cesar as patriarch Earl Roman, Jennifer Lynette Holmes as his wife, plus  Stephen McKinley Henderson and others. My personal favorite is first time actor Tony Littles as Cicero. Co-written with former Buffalo Sabres executive/part owner Larry Quinn and sporting some stylish visuals from cinematographer Matt Quinn. I was impressed with Korey's soft-spoken confidence a week earlier when he was on the Screenwriting Panel at the Buffalo Film Expo. At that time he showed the trailer for THE ROMANS which he used to generate fundraising. Simply but effectively shot, the trailer proved to be equally effective interesting investors. The film ultimately cost around $250,000. Some day I also want to check out Korey’s 2006 documentary on the Buffalo East Side, THE FORGOTTEN CITY, made with fellow Knuckle City Films filmmaker, Addison Henderson.

- 6 BULLETS TO HELL - This movie was so much fun channeling the 70's spaghetti western so authentically, that any fan of Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone would be hard-pressed to resist it's charm. Added bonus was co-director and star villain Tanner Beard who came in from Texas. Tanner regaled the appreciative audience during the Q&A with great stories from behind the scenes. For instance, Terence Hill's horse from the THEY CALL ME NOBODY movies was in the equine cast (he was the slower horse)! (NOTE: Maybe it wasn’t Nobody’s actual horse, but the horse was definitely in those movies. Equine spaghetti street cred!)

- Although I enjoyed filmmaker Brett Kelly's James Bond spoof, SPYFALL (my favorite gag was the guy stabbed in the back), I found his Q&A fascinating as he discussed the film and also what it's like being a director/producer with a reputation for being able to crank out low-budget films "to order." “Everybody wants to call me when they have $25,000. Nobody calls me when they have a million.” Last year, Brett showed his musical zom-com, MY FAIR ZOMBIE.

- EL INCIDENTE/THE INCIDENT - An anticipated highlight when it was announced as a festival selection, it did not disappoint. It was great seeing writer/director Isaac Ezban back in Buffalo from Mexico City after having first met him at Buffalo Screams showing his memorable short subject COSA FEAS twice. Ezban's first feature had a strangely simple premise that asked a lot of questions and offered lots for the audience to contemplate during the film and afterwards. Excellent cast and performances, and great production design throughout. What made the screening even more memorable was the lengthy Q&A afterwards with Isaac who shared some really great stories, including casting the older actors, coming up with a great promo item to hand out at festivals ("I just saw EL INCIDENTE and all I got was this shit"-- and I JUST got the pun!) and about transporting those items across the border. On a personal note, I kept bumping into Isaac in the bathroom upstairs, three days in a row. We'd have these great little conversations every day, so he was sorely missed when he returned to Mexico and the festival circuit halfway through the festival. But, SOME day, I hope to make it to Mexico City and check out the drive-in he's a co-owner of.

- THE SHOWER - Writer/director Alex Drummond's excellent ensemble cast horror movie was a definite highlight, with thoughtful writing that focused on character and direction. And his parents were in the audience!

-Tuesday's block of medium-length local films, HANDS LIKE SUITCASES (director Chris Cosgrave), SCOPE OF PRACTICE (Brandyn T. Williams) and THE OUTLAW: EVIL WOMEN (Aceifer and Fawn Genovese) was quite a spectrum of material.
HANDS LIKE SUITCASES was a literal blast from the past, made 17 years ago and showing a radically transformed Chris Cosgrave, who, in his youth, looked a lot like Ryan Gosling-- weirdly fascinating. But the filmmaking and its Asian film influences (John Woo most emphatically and some Jackie Chan in spirit) was phenomenal and a total shot of adrenalin. Unbelievably, I found Chris's Q&A and discussion of how he made some of the effects work and the various generations of dubbing and formats he used to get it from Hi-8 to DVD for the festival also a thrilling and inspirational segment. I know Chris only in the most superficial sense, but I came away from this screening really impressed by him as a filmmaker.
SCOPE OF PRACTICE was a solidly put together drama and Brandyn is another local filmmaker whom I've only spoken to and know briefly. But from what I've been reading over the past couple years from his FB posts and related social media, he always struck me as being very serious about wanting to be a quality filmmaker and always striving to achieve a high standard with any project he's associated. SCOPE was a good example of that, showing excellent production values all the way around in front and behind the camera. Bobby Gott had a small part in the film and came up during the Q&A as well, and that seems appropriate, because it seems all the films Bobby's been involved with also have a distinct higher level of production value (like B.O.Y.D. and BROKEN WINGS).
Aceifer Genovese’s EVIL WOMEN episode of THE OUTLAW continues the series' reputation for insane plotting, characters and visuals. Sometimes the low-budget, bare bones crew dynamic of the filmmaking would peek through, but for the most part it offered several memorable moments, including the casting of Penthouse's Jolene Hexx and also Bill Brown's brain searing appearance, the latter being something difficult to forget even when I saw him briefly on-screen the next day as a poet at open mic in FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS DATE FRIENDS. I met Ace a few years ago when he was involved with the filming of DefTone Pictures’ THE FINAL NIGHT AND DAY. Cool to know that Ace plans on continuing the Outlaw series “forever..!”

- Speaking of FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS DATE FRIENDS, local (Albion, NY) writer/director Rhonda Parker’s feature debut and student thesis was a delightful ensemble character study anchored by actress Amelia Favata and featuring solid performances all around. A romantic comedy with some dramatic elements, with nods overt and subliminal to filmmakers John Hughes and Kevin Smith, which Rhonda acknowledged were major creative influences during her Q&A (with a huge line of the film's cast at her side). The film also does a nice job of having an upbeat ending without tying up things too neatly. I really look forward to Rhonda's future projects, which should be interesting on their own, but also I hope to get to know her more as well because she seems like an intriguing personality.

- ELIZABETH BATHORY - I saw this locally made film once before at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival earlier this year and that's where I also met one of the stars of it, Tilke Hill, who, not surprisingly, won a Buffalo Dreams acting award for her part in it. This film is a good example of the acting talent in the area and also how the local horror genre film has many more possibilities to explore than the most obvious display of blood and screams (not that I'm complaining about blood and screams, I'm just saying that's not the only method of effectively working the genre). The film has excellent production values and an inventive use of its locations to get across the time period of its historical subject, including the Armory on Niagara St. in Buffalo acquitting itself nicely as Queen Bathory’s castle.

- There were also several short subjects worth noting, including:
- THE HEEBIE-JEEBIES, about two kids having problems getting to sleep because they think there’s a monster under the bed was pretty damn entertaining;
- GAVE UP THE GHOST - Thrilled I was able to finally see this Gregory Lamberson helmed, Jeff Strand written film (based on Strand’s short story) because I missed its premiere screening a few months ago. Shot locally (and in Greg’s house), the entire cast was delightful, but always glad to see John R Renna on the screen working that ridiculous magic of his, and although I only knew Drew Bialy's name from FB, it was great to actually see him in action, because he was pretty good! I think I also saw Drew in a short subject or two at a student screening of films at Buff State College earlier in the year as well;
- I finally saw 13 yr old Hope Muehlbauer's short film ZOMBIE KIDS, and man, not only did it not disappoint, it was one of my personal favorite films of the fest. Yes, this is the movie that choked me up. At the beginning, part of its charm is knowing the film is made by a young filmmaker, and there are moments you can point out that indicate that. But as Gregory Lamberson has also pointed out, the last act is astounding. Hope's choice and use of metal music throughout is excellent, but her filmmaking actually matures before your eyes and the timing of it provides an emotional wallop. And it's a freaking zombie movie featuring a cast of kids! Unbelievable awesome moment of the festival for me;
- CHOMP, from writer/director Lynne Hansen. It looked great and was very amusing, set in a world where some people think that zombies actually exist. Featuring a funny cast of experienced and inexperienced talent and a clever script, it was also interesting to hear the struggles Lynne had during the production to get the film made;
- A MALEVOLENT MOON – Writer/director Kenneth Yung’s film presents a young man, Will Mutka, riding a wave of good luck and ready to propose to his girlfriend but then has doubts which leads to some unexpected consequences. Fairly straightforward at the beginning but then takes a surprising turn and goes to an unexpected, darker conclusion. Yet another recurring festival example of me discovering a local filmmaker (this time from South Buffalo) whom I never heard of before (like Sam Qualiana and  Aleksandar Ivicic (among others) from past festivals) and whose work was pretty cool;
- SIGN was actually a commercial promoting local writer, filmmaker and Buff State professor Lou Rera's new book, SIGN and it was extremely well done, with great production values, two involving performances and shot in Silo City and directed by Joe Blodgett;
- Jamestown filmmaker Nigel Eastman's STARS was a very short film (5 minutes), somewhat experimental in tone, that was extremely well made and showed an atypical filmmaking sensibility that was partly a result of the original restrictions imposed on the filmmaker (there was a tight deadline for a previous contest), but during the Q&A, you got a sense that Nigel just looked at things a little differently already, and definitely not in a bad way. Hopefully we'll see more of this young dude's films in the future.

Finally, I also enjoyed talking to local actress Kim Piazza and host of WHAT’S THE BUZZ IN WESTERN NEW YORK on WBBZ-TV and hearing her issues with understanding Twitter, which amused me to no end, because I'm usually the odd man out with new technologies. Kim also hosted the Buffalo Dreams awards ceremony.
The only real “downside” to the festival was not making it to all the film screenings, a real impossibility for a variety of reasons. So, I'm still looking forward to seeing (SOME day) ARMY OF FRANKENSTEINS, CALL GIRL OF CTHULHU, THE DROWNSMAN, SEPULCHER, CHANNELING, AXE TO GRIND, ATHENA, JULIA, THE SEARCH FOR SIMON, THE GOD QUESTION, and definitely WITHIN. Also all the short subjects I missed. ARGGH!

Okay, hopefully more in-depth reviews of the films coming up! Except now I’m catching my wife’s cold or flu…