27 Minutes in Heaven with Filmmaker Ross Patterson

You all know the story, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the USA, was out on a hunting trip with his buddies when a chance encounter with a werewolf left a couple of his friends dead and a chunk bitten out of his leg. What he didn’t know at the time was that werewolf bites give you polio. He was also not aware of the deeper conspiracy involving the Third Reich. Now, the history books may tell it differently, but that’s how Ross Patterson’s film FDR: American Badass begins, and it only gets better from there. In the most hilarious way possible.  Continue reading

Movies You May Have Missed: Phenomena aka Creepers (1985)

Before Jennifer Connelly danced with David Bowie, before she flew around looking like Betty Page with a guy in a jet pack, before she went A2A….she teamed up with Dr. Loomis, a chimp, and used her psychic connection with insects to hunt a serial killer at an Italian girl’s school. No really. That’s Phenomena.
As many young actors (and some Christopher Walkens) do, Jennifer took just about any job she could get early in her career. It’s a perfectly understandable method. There’s some actors who turn down work, but the only ones successful at doing so are the ones famous enough to get away with that, like perhaps Jennifer is now. Well, in 1984, she was flown out to Italy to star in a movie directed by cult horror legend, Dario Argento.

Seriously, “Suspiria” made ballerinas scary decades before “Black Swan”.

These days, Argento is lauded and loved as one of the true artistes of Horror cinema. The suspense and atmosphere of his films are as uniquely recognizable as an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, or a Bob Ross landscape. You’ll be hard pressed to find a “Top 10 Best Horror Movies” list without “Suspiria” listed.

Back to the subject at hand. Argento had heard stories of police using insects during murder investigations and got to writing this film. It would seem that he blended this with his penchant for serial killers, animals, and the supernatural to give us what some, even the man himself consider his best film.

The movie begins simple enough. A tourist is stranded at a beautiful roadside vista in the middle of the forest. She finds a house in the woods, the camera flips back and forth from her to some beastly thing chained to a wall and trying to break free, it does, she dies and is beheaded. The head is found, and brought, by police, to etymologist, Dr. McGregor (Donald Pleasence) who looks at is and tells them the murder was about 8 months ago. Simple enough, right?
Cue Jennifer Corvino (Connelly), escorted by Head Mistress Frau Brückner arriving at the Richard Wagner Academy for Girls. Jennifer is the daughter of a famous actor who just so happens to be the crush of her room-mate, Sophie. On her first night at the dorm, she begins to sleepwalk. She goes out onto the roof of the school where she witnesses one of the students being murdered. In shock, she wakes, falls, and stumbles out into the street where she’s hit by a car. The two boys driving the car, pick her up, put her in, and drive away. At this point, I could never tell if she was just freaking out, or they were trying to rape her, but either way, they throw her out of the car in the middle of the woods where she tumbles down the side of the hill and is awakened by a rescue chimp.

Come with me if you want to live.

At this point, you can forget everything you’ve just watched except for Jennifer, Dr. McGregor, Frau Brückner, the murders, and the chimp. IMHO, the movie could have just started here and been fine.

Now we get to the nitty-gritty. The chimp, named “Inga” leads Jen back to Dr. McGregor’s house. He takes her in for the night, but notices that her presence has a strange effect on the insects in his lab. He tells her that some people possess a sort of telepathic connection with insects and it seems that in her excited state, that connection is exacerbated. The next morning, she makes her way back to the school where she is almost immediately subjected to testing for her somnambulism.
That very night, Sophie is murdered and once again, Jennifer sleepwalks. This time, she is guided by a firefly to a maggot covered glove which she reports only to then be mocked and ridiculed as a freak by her fellow school-mates because of her “supposed” connection to insects (children can be so cruel). She pulls a “Carrie” and summons a swarm of flies which covers the academy. Nobody gets hurt, just scared, then Jenny passes out. Only now, instead of fearing her, they just say she’s crazy and try to have her committed to the loony bin…..

Mom!! Can I have some chocolate milk!?
How ’bout some human flesh?!

Speaking of loony bins, that’s enough of the story for now. You really need to just watch this. It’s crazy, convoluted, kind of all over the place, it’s got psychic bug powers, a crazy germanic power-bitch school-marm, Loomis in a wheelchair, a homicidal helper-monkey, a dwarf dressed as a little boy who’s also a mutant-monster-thing, a lake on fire, a pit of maggoty body-parts and fluids….everything that you can ask for to enjoy with your popcorn on a lonely Saturday night.
Seriously, there is no way to logically explain this film to anyone. I thought I could, but ultimately, no. Can’t do it. It’s like trying to explain “Eraserhead”. You just have to watch it. It’s good, you enjoy it, but you simply can’t figure out why and every time you tell someone why they need to see it, you end up sounding like a buffoon……..wait…did I just insult myself?

Now, why oh why did I “aka” this film “Creepers”?
When release in the UK and US, the film companies didn’t know what to make of this film, much less what made the gore in it contextual, so a bit of it was cut. Also, the distributors didn’t feel that “Phenomena” was catchy enough or as easy to say. So they cut the heck out of what little cohesion the film had and a few of it’s more gory scenes, slapped the name “Creepers” on it and tossed it like a chewed up bone to the rest of the world’s theaters.
To date, if you wish to acquire your copy, there’s only one “complete”/”director’s” cut available on DVD in the US and that is the Anchor Bay release. There are two minor scenes cut from that edition, but they were done so at the behest of Dario Argento himself.
So now you know! Head over to your local DVD acquisition site and pick it up!

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I – The Egg of the King

Berserk is ongoing manga series that has run since 1990.   The story appears to be set in an alternate world going through its dark age.  Kingdoms are warring for land using knights, giant armies, and hired mercenaries.   The series feels comparable to Game of Thrones as far as tone and violence.

The first story arc, Black Swordsman, sets you in  a  world of fantasy with demons, and monsters.  Back in 1997 they created an amazing 25 episode anime series based on the second arc of the manga called Golden Age Arc. The Golden Age Arc is a long flashback to what caused the world to become so dark.  It feels much more grounded in what could have been our past.   The Golden Age Arc focused on the early years of three major characters, GutsGriffith, and Casca while they lead the mercenary group, The Band of Hawks.   While we would have called this period the dark ages, The Golden Age Arc basically refers to the good old days before magic and monsters ruled the land.  What happens at the end of the golden age is nothing short of horrific.

The basic story of Berserk starts off following Guts, who seems to be a loner, that seems to think only of survival and swinging his giant sword.  In his travels he gains notoriety, and the attention of the Band of Hawks lead by Griffith who decides to recruit him.  Through their adventures together in the Band of Hawks, Guts learns to stop being a loner, and craves the companionship of Griffith as his friend.  Meanwhile Griffith is leading his mercenary army towards his dreams of having his own country.

Fans have waited for a followup series for years to continue the other arcs. It seemed it would never happen.  Finally, for the 20th anniversary of the manga, a new trilogy of movies was announced covering the Golden Age Arc.   If this trilogy does well STUDIO4°C will give the rest of the series the same treatment.

As you can see in the above trailer the new movie is gorgeous.   I’ve discussed this movie with several friends over the last few days and every single time I do, I have to get into how fluid the animation is.  The original berserk anime was gory, but this movie felt much more so due to the quality of the animation.  Every sword swing looked elegant and real.  In the original anime Guts cuts through body parts very quickly.  You would get a sense of where he hit them (the torso, an arm, or a leg), but generally without a lot of detail.  Later in the new movie there is a scene where Guts is fighting his way out of a castle.  As he’s doing so you can see exactly where he cuts into his opponents.  Everything just feels more real.

Because of this feeling of “reality”, some scenes have more gravity then the original anime did.  There is a scene where Guts kills someone he didn’t mean to.  Watching him deal with it had a lot more impact then it had previously in the anime.

The new movie totals in at 77 minutes, which is its biggest downfall.  It encompasses the first 10 episodes of anime which would be around 220 minutes.  In order to squeeze that much in, they had to remove and condense a few plot points.  Some of the plot points were minor and easy to miss.  Unfortunately, they chose to condense Guts’ younger years into a 30 second fever dream.  This movie would have done itself a favor to have been at least 100 minutes long and take a bit more time fleshing out characters.
Having read the source material (and watched the original anime), I’m well versed in the story, but I’m not sure how someone new to the story would feel because of how much it gets rushed and pushed together.

This film covers Guts first meeting with The Band of Hawks and his realization that he isn’t really friends with Griffith.  Unfortunately I don’t think this movie goes far enough to show why Guts would have ever thought he and Griffith were friends to begin with. There are also a cast of side characters in The Band of Hawks that haven’t had a chance to get fleshed out yet.  Hopefully in the second movie they’ll get more screen time.

Thankfully the second movie Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey has a runtime of 100 minutes.  Hopefully it won’t suffer the same issues as the first film.  That being said the first film is still a great watch for anyone that enjoyed the original anime or manga.  Even if you haven’t seen the original series, and you love action, check this out.  Hopefully the it won’t turn you off from what is a great series with a great story.

Viz is releasing the first film in America on Blu-ray and DVD on November 27, 2012, and the rest will follow over time, but there isn’t a current release date.  Viz also plans on streaming the film through their new service called Neon Alley, on the Playstation 3.

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Marvel No Way!

For years Marvel Comics has had a big problem. While they have made a ton of money from their movie properties, they seem to have an issue with selling . . . comics.

Just over 20 years ago, Marvel shipped over 8 million of copies of X-Men #1 to retailers. Now the only comics that sell well for Marvel are their special events and major crossovers.  The Avengers Vs X-Men crossover sold  around 175K copies an issue in July.  Standard top-tier titles haven’t fared anywhere near as well.  The next best-selling title for the month of July was Uncanny X-men which sold 66k issues.
The Avengers movie grossed over 600 million dollars.  In July the comic book sold 63k copies.

Marvel has tried to find a way to turn sales around for a while and just haven’t been able to accomplish it.  They relaunched Ultimate Spider-Man about a year ago.  Issue #12 sold 42k copies in July.  They tried it with Fantastic Four as well with two different comic titles (Fantastic Four, and FF), both of which sold well under 40k copies.

Despite the poor sales, for years Marvel was the #1 selling comic book company . . . until this past year.  DC took a huge gamble a year ago and rebooted the DC Universe with the what they called “The New 52”.   Since they made the change DC has outsold Marvel consistently, but not by much.

The DC Pew 52At NYCC in 2011 I was hoping to hear something exciting from Marvel.  I went to the X-Men panel hoping that they would revamp the line, and cut some titles.  Instead they announced more titles.   I think Marvel had something like 17 different X related titles getting released, which is just way too many [ed. Agreed!].  As a lapsed comic book reader that used to love the X-men I was looking to jump back in, but at $4 an issue and 17 different titles why would I bother.

The changes Marvel made last year just weren’t enough to help their bottom line.  To combat this Marvel has announced Marvel Now! which at first glance looks like a relaunch of the Marvel Universe.  They are canceling most of their top-tier X-Men and Avengers books and relaunching them with different costumes and creative teams.  The list of titles that Marvel is canceling and replacing can be seen at the Marvel NOW! wiki page.

Unfortunately this isn’t what Marvel needs to do.  Marvel needs to cancel EVERYTHING and start again.   They need to give lapsed readers a clean slate to come on board with. To make things worse they are adding extra titles.  So instead of making the Marvel Universe easier to follow they added even more complexity to the situation. The major plot point involving the Marvel Now! involves time travel . . . yeah, that’s going to go well.   As a lapsed Marvel reader this isn’t what I want to see happen.

This whole Marvel Now! initiative feels like an event mini series that will have everything back to normal next year with another major event.  Perhaps Marvel will eventually have the balls to do what needs to be done and reboot the universe with less titles.