Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fantasmo Schlock-O-Thon: Volume 3

Hey Superfans!

First off, Rob and I would like to thank everyone who came out for our March Gi-Ant episode on Saturday night! This was the highest attended March Fantasmo we’ve ever had . . . which is something of a miraculous occurrence as March is traditionally our lowest attended Fantasmo of the year : ) If we had known there was such an interest in the insect kingdom, we’d have been showing giant bug movies every March! Interestingly, by pure coincidence last year we showed Matinee in March, which dealt with the director of a B-movie called MANT! Perhaps that was foreshadowing of things to come.

In any case, down to business. Even more exciting than our record-breaking March episode, as you know April is THE month you absolutely can’t miss Fantasmo. Yes, it’s time once again for our anniversary special known fondly as the Schlock-O-Thon. As we ring in our fourth(!) year of existence, we will once again celebrate by staying up all night and allowing you to vote on the films shown. And according to tradition, said films will be chosen from a carefully selected batch of some of the worst movies ever conceived. You may recall that last year our lineup (chosen by YOU) was: Gymkata, The Last Dragon, The Apple, Food of the Gods, and Solarbabies. I have to tell you that’s a near perfect evening of entertainment. So much so that I was a little despondent as to whether we could possibly top it again! Fear not true believers, we’ve got a stack of movies this year that will ensure round three is a bona fide contender! Here’s just some of the titles we’ll have on hand (including some faves that haven’t yet made the cut from previous years):

Roller Boogie
Corvette Summer
Breaker! Breaker!
Breakin’ 2
Troll 2
Incredible Two-Headed Transplant
Thing With Two Heads
The Beast Within
Midnight Madness
Action Jackson
Robot Jox
Ice Pirates
Spirit of '76
Revenge of the Ninja
Thunderbirds Are Go

. . . and what is sure to be the most memorable film of the night (and the only one not subject to a vote) . . .

Believe me when I tell you there’s everything you know about bad cult movies . . . and then there’s SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON! Prepare yourself!

So when will this unforgettable evening take place? Here are your Schlock-O-Thon Vol. 3 details:

When: Friday, April 18, 8:00 P.M.

Where: Chesapeake Central Library, 298 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322

One important detail to note - as we always do with our all-nighters, the doors will be locked promptly at 10:00 p.m. No one will be admitted after 10:00 p.m., so don’t be late! New this year to the Schlock-O-Thon, we will have yummy breakfast foods during our final feature! So if you stay to the finish, vitamin-enriched, sugary goodness awaits. Can you say Chocula my friends? I'm betting you can!

Hard to believe it’s been three years already! No better way to mark the occasion and say thanks for all of your support than an evening filled with roller disco, ninjas, creepy puppets, Scott Baio, killer worms, and so much more : ) We’ve said it before but it bears repeating, our reward lies not in awards/accolades, but rather in sharing quality films with discriminating cineastes such as yourselves. In the immortal words of Steven Seagal, you truly have a “superior attitude . . . a superior state of mind.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Great Scott!

This just in! A special guest will be joining us for our Gi-Ant episode this Saturday via the magic of telephone! Jacqueline Scott, leading lady in Empire of the Ants, will be calling us from sunny California to talk about the grueling experience she had while shooting this Bert I. Gordon classic! Ms. Scott has had a long career in film and television appearing in films/series such as Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Planet of the Apes, CHiPs, and Starsky and Hutch. So if you want to find out what it’s like not only to be attacked by giant ants, but also to be arrested by Erik Estrada, you definitely don’t want to miss this unique opportunity to ask those burning questions!! This very special episode now officially qualifies as the most “ant”icipated Fantasmo to date : )

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Empire (of the Ants) Strikes Back!

A mere week separates us from our enormous tribute to the giant killer ant genre, and I thought I would say a few words about our second feature Empire of the Ants. While the first movie we’re showing, Them!, is the undisputed Citizen Kane of the giant killer ant genre, I have a real soft spot for its 70’s drive-in cousin. I fondly remember as a kid in the late 70’s being utterly freaked out by the TV ad for this film, and subsequently begging my parents to take me (to the drive-in) to see it. Specifically, there was a shot of giant ants overrunning a docked yacht that has stuck with me to this day. I thought if they could get to us on the water, what hope could we possibly have! Had I been just a little older, and familiar with the name Bert I. Gordon, it would have saved me a few sleepless nights. What’s that? Haven’t heard of Bert I. Gordon? Well, chances are you know his work, even if you don’t know the name . . . particularly if you’re a fan of MST3K.

Bert I. Gordon is the mastermind behind some of the greatest Z-grade, giant monster movies ever made. A brief list includes: The Cyclops, The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth Vs. the Spider, Attack of the Puppet People, Village of the Giants, etc. For whatever reason, he really staked out a claim in the cinematic field of unusually large critters (and humans). Unlike some of the great giant creature classics (e.g. King Kong, Godzilla, etc.), Gordon’s films feature effects that aren’t terribly inspiring, but are nevertheless clearly done with love. They rely primarily on rear projection and large puppet heads, which are rarely convincing, but endlessly entertaining. Those of you who attended our Schlock-O-Thon last April were treated to another one of his 70’s classics, Food of the Gods, which is sort of a companion piece to Empire of the Ants. Both are based on H.G. Wells tales, the main difference being that Food of the Gods stars Marjoe Gortner and Empire of the Ants stars Joan Collins. And of course FOTG has rats instead of ants.

So is Empire of the Ants any good? You might conclude that it isn’t given the premise and pedigree. Not to mention the fact it doesn’t have the dynamic presence of Marjoe Gortner. Fear not! It features hammy performances, “interesting” special effects, and plenty of pure 70’s cheese for even the most critical of cult film fans : ) It is the very definition of a 70’s drive-in film, and absolutely qualifies as essential viewing! And if that’s not enough incentive, we’re also going to have a plethora of great trailers for films we’ll be showing at the April Schlock-O-Thon! You dare not miss it!!

Also, don’t forget this coming Friday, March 21, is the BIG season finale of The House Between’s second season! Believe me when I tell you it’s going to be a humdinger! You can catch all episodes from season 1 and 2 at www.thehousebetween.com or www.veoh.com .

Monday, March 10, 2008

Steven Seagal is Pistol Whipped!

As many of you know, I’ve been on a big Steven Seagal kick as of late after reading Seagalogy by Vern. This has led to me re-watching every major Seagal effort up through Fire Down Below in the past month or so. It’s been a rewarding journey thus far, but now I’m about to cross the threshold that separates the fair weather fans from the true believers . . . I’m about to begin my journey into the DTV-era full force. I’ve only previously seen Black Dawn (thanks to Fantasmo All-Star Craig’s well-timed Christmas gift) and Out For A Kill, both of which were mostly not so good. Before going into back catalog territory though, I decided to kick things off with the newest Seagal flick (released just last week) Pistol Whipped. Vern mentioned in the interview we did that he thought it turned out well, and indicated that Seagal was moving in a positive direction. His recent review on Ain’t It Cool News had me completely sold, to the point that I was looking way too forward to picking it up first thing on release day. Was I setting myself up for a tremendous disappointment, or was this to be the best Seagal movie in years? I’m happy to report that this one does not disappoint . . . for the most part.

In Pistol Whipped Seagal plays Matt (no last name is ever provided), a former cop presumed to be dirty by his colleagues. In addition to that black mark, he is also an alcoholic, addicted to gambling, divorced, and a lousy father. The film opens with a flash forward shootout, followed by Seagal having a heart-to-heart chat with a priest about his many foibles. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the opening was riveting, it felt very DTV from my limited experience, but I was pleased that Seagal was neither dubbed (that I could tell) or doubled. Plus the shootout features the classic Seagal trademark of firing his gun without looking at the intended target(s). From there, the plot kicks in when Seagal is strong-armed into a meeting with a mysterious gentleman known only as The Old Man (played by the great Lance Henriksen), who agrees to pay his gambling debts off. The hitch is that Seagal will have to assassinate an assortment of local bad guys. Cue lots of gunplay and broken bones.

First I’ll start off with what I didn’t like. Given that it’s a DTV title, at times Pistol Whipped has a cheap feel. But really that’s to be expected, and I can’t get too upset about that . . . it only makes me wish it had production values that were just a tad higher. I also didn’t like that it uses a lot of gimmicky jump cuts and slow motion shots that apparently are supposed to make the film seem stylish. Instead they come off as cheesy and amateur. You see this sort of thing a lot in low-budget movies, and it rarely works (even in big studio films for that matter). And finally, it doesn’t have a really strong villain. This in my mind is its greatest flaw. The best Seagal films all feature top notch villains (e.g. Henry Silva, Tommy Lee Jones, Eric Bogosian, etc.). Without a strong opposing presence, there’s an emptiness to the central conflict that really brings things down. Fortunately, the presence of Lance Henriksen and Paul Calderon in strong supporting roles helps to compensate somewhat.

All that being said, Pistol Whipped still comes out ahead for one simple reason – Seagal appears to be invested in the film (if for no other reason than he does his own lines and rarely resorts to a double). In the other DTV efforts I’ve seen, he really seems to be just phoning things in (perhaps literally in some cases). So much so in fact, that they don’t even seem like Seagal films in the least. In Pistol Whipped, the man is front and center for the majority of the film, and really conveys a sense of world weariness. Part of this is due to his physical appearance. I’ve seen comments where folks have said Seagal slimmed down for this a bit, but I sure can’t tell it. No matter, I think his size/shape actually serves this role well. He seems a bit like the Apocalypse Now-era Brando, in that he’s taken on an almost otherworldly quality. No longer is he the invincible hero, but rather an enigmatic shadow with traces of what he once was mixed in with intervening years of hard living.

Actually, an even better comparison might be with Stallone in the recent Rambo film. In Rambo, Stallone’s physical stature is overwhelming. He’s like an oak tree. Compare that with Stallone in First Blood Part 2 or Rambo 3, where he’s certainly muscular, but much leaner. Really, his Rambo 2007 is what one might expect to see after a 20 year gap. The same goes for Seagal. He’s never been the bodybuilder type, and his current look is not really out of line with what one would expect in the 20 years since Above the Law. It’s actually pretty natural, and I think maybe too much is made of this fact. Sure if you do a double-feature of Above the Law and Pistol Whipped you’ll get a bit of a start, but try doing the same with the following and see if a similar effect is not observed:

John Wayne: Stagecoach/The Shootist

Burt Reynolds: Deliverance/Cop and a Half

Malcolm McDowell: Clockwork Orange/Star Trek: Generations

Clint Eastwood: A Fistful of Dollars/Unforgiven

Harrison Ford: American Graffiti/Firewall

Mark Hamill: Star Wars/Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back

Ryan O’Neal: Barry Lyndon/Zero Effect

Steve Guttenberg: Can’t Stop the Music/P.S. Your Cat is Dead!

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The point is that Seagal takes a bit of a beating for essentially being human. At this stage of the game, I think it’s actually working for him in these sorts of roles. He’s almost 60, so it’s a bit unreasonable to expect him to look like he’s still in his early 30’s.

Despite any reservations some might have about his physique, rest assured he still gets the job done when it comes to fighting. That’s another area in which Pistol Whipped delivers. There is plenty of aikido on display in this one, at least to the extent one would see in post-Under Siege Seagal pics. Unfortunately (depending on one’s point of view) the aikido to gunplay ratio ends up favoring the latter, but at least the gunplay bears Seagal’s signature. Not only do you get the aforementioned firing while not looking at the intended targets, but you also get two of my other personal favorites: a) Seagal dramatically ejects a spent clip and in the process exposes himself to his assailants, and b) he plays with the slide action of his pistol by using his finger on the front of the barrel. You see these time and again in Seagal pictures, and they are always welcome fixtures.

Aside from Seagal’s mere presence, some solid action, and welcome Seagal trademarks, the film also works due to the surprising weakness (only moral) of Seagal’s character. I’m not well-versed enough in DTV-era Seagal to say for certain, but this does seem to be a bit more of a darker hero than we’ve seen him play before. His character in Marked for Death was disillusioned, and his rogue cop in Out for Justice a bit heavy-handed, but this guy is genuinely unlikeable. Again, he drinks, he gambles, he weasels out of visits with his young daughter, and just generally doesn’t give you a lot to work with in terms of engendering empathy. In addition to his physical stature selling the part, Seagal also adopts a mumbling Cajun(?) accent that communicates this guy is really on the rocks. Sometimes the words are barely intelligible, and incredibly this delivery is quite successful. I’ve seen reviews that have harped on this point, stating that Seagal just can’t act. On the contrary, I think this performance stands out as something quite different in his filmography. To the extent that . . .

. . . I would truly like to see Seagal do a non-action picture. Vern mentions in his book that Seagal is trying to put together and direct a film about the blues called Prince of Pistols. Given the title, I’m sure action is involved, but I wouldn’t mind a bit if it was strictly about music. Apparently Seagal has a pretty accomplished musical act, and to see him do a straight dramatic piece would be pretty interesting. If you were to transplant his performance in Pistol Whipped to such a film, I think you’d end up with something unique and oddly wonderful. Maybe he could get in a bar fight for old time’s sake, but otherwise I’d be comfortable if it was aikido free. Just a thought.

So in summary, is Pistol Whipped worth your time? I would say that if you go in with an open mind, and a bare minimum of good will, you’ll have no regrets. For those who don’t like Seagal much to begin with, I wouldn’t expect it to create any converts (best hope for that would be Out for Justice or possibly Marked for Death). In my case, while it is nowhere near the top of my Seagal list of favorites, I thought he turned in a worthy performance and gave us enough of his trademarks to qualify this a legitimate Seagal film. And you can take that to the bank!

Team Klaxar Returns Sho Nuff!

This just in - Klaxar's Focus Group returns to The Boot at 9:30 p.m. on March 26th! The film being skewered this time around is none other than the 80's martial arts/Motown classic The Last Dragon (featured at last year's Fantasmo Schlock-O-Thon no less)! For more details contact George Booker at: gwbook@hotmail.com.