Monthly Archives: March 2009

Steven Seagal Street Art

steven-seagal-street-artI swear to God I didn’t do this. It just appeared on a bollard near my workplace, just three days after my initial Seagal Gallery of Shame. Is the Mojo Priest set to break back into public consciousness?

Maybe the Seagal revival/reappraisal starts here? Maybe we need to reconsider the Chungdrag Dorje’s cultural impact? The great French cineastes on the 1930’s rediscovered the great Melies long after he fell into obscurity. Maybe it’s time we did the same for Seagal, before he disappears into the Direct-to-Video mire? But where to begin?

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4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days

4-months-3-weeks-2-days-montage3A while back some of the more extreme feminists took to daubing the slogan ‘all men are rapists’ on billboards and bottle banks around town. Not being a rapist myself I found it quite easy to dismiss the sweeping nature of the statement, yet a broader point about ‘the dominant nature of men’ was duly noted. Perhaps being a man I found the statement far too easy to dismiss, but then along comes 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days with the empathetic clout to turn me into a self hating man, with all the angst that entails.

A film about backstreet abortions was never going to be a cheery affair, hell, documentaries about legalised abortions can be even less fun. But I didn’t realize it was going to be quite this agonizing. With every detail lit and shot so clean that it almost felt sterile, the ordeal of having to watch the characters quietly writhe was accentuated by the fact the every shot hung for minute after agonizing minute. No music, no erratic camera angles or cuts. Just you, a slow camera, and a horrible horrible drama to sit and endure. More Ludovico technique then conventional film, the drama kept a tension so painfully taught and repulsive that you just couldn’t look away. Walking home in the dark I felt like a deer in the headlights, wide-eyed, unblinking yet equally skittish, flinching at every little rustle of noise.

Coming home to an empty house didn’t help either. Finding the first thing on the telly to be the recently deemed ‘totally-not-leery-or-sexist’ Rustlers microwave advert just made me feel like even more of a dirty-rapist-shitbag-pig. How am I supposed to sleep with the collective guilt of my gender on my shoulders? More importantly, will I ever start blinking at a normal rate again?

A quick-fix of Swingers (90’s cult classic not the sexual sub-culture) and a stiff drink reassured me that being a man is ‘ok’ and that abortions only happen in Eastern Europe. In the 80’s. To women. Not me.

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Axe (aka Lisa, Lisa)

axe-montageGoing into this project I was more than aware that I would have to tackle more than a few duffers on the DPP list. Plot holes, ropey make-up, terrible acting; it’s all part and parcel of what’s to be expected on my path through some of cinema’s trashier slums. There is however one technical fault which can never be excused, never be forgiven, and for that I name and shame George Newman Shaw. His unforgivable crime: for utterly failing to record the majority of dialogue in the short but shlocky AXE!

The failure of the film isn’t wholly his fault, as there exists no physical matter know to human science heavy enough to describe just how leaden the plot is. Slow pacing could be tolerated if we were lucky enough to actually hear what the characters were saying. Yet coherent dialogue seems to be a convention, nay a luxury with which AXE casts to the wind. In the process a dull film is magically transformed into an agonizingly infuriating experience.

Three shady men break into an apartment to await the return of a man. ‘Why’ only starts to become apparent once they stick a gun in his face. Not much exposition after that as the hoodlums then take turns kicking the camera about, just to really give us a subjective sense of what its like to get beaten up. Only this assault is beset with a sickening sense of vertigo accompanied by the sound of someone throwing slabs of meat into a table in the background. I know, suspension of disbelief and all that, but old George Newman Shaw really wasn’t weaving the audio magic.

Oh and did I mention the bongos? Being a budget production the soundtrack can only stretch to a demented man on a set of bongos, obfusciating the dialogue as much as humanly possible. Maybe the director was raised in a Beatnick café, and as such relates free-form bongoing (of the beat-poet variety) with sheer and utter terror. Maybe George Newman Shaw shared that terror and as such felt obliged to put them bongos right at the top of the audio mix. Maybe it’s George Newman Shaw on the bongos himself? Who knows? Who cares?

The plot plods on to through an empty convenience store, the thugs indulging in a bit of William Tell rouguery along the way, and finally settles in a scary house in the middle of nowhere. This tired old horror icon is home to a paralyzed old gent in a wheelchair and his shoe-less daughter. And in establishing this location the director takes every care to demonstrably show that every nook of this house is furnished with an axe. Just like the title of the film! Oh my, where could this be-headed?

One of the three stooges turns out to be the archetypal raper. I guess the balding one pulled the short straw when it came to casting. As per convention he of course gets it in the neck. The youngest thug turns unsurprisingly out to be a soft-touch. Uncertain of this questionable path he’s come into, he of course harbours feelings for the shoeless girl. He of naturally gets inexplicably shot by the police. And the third gets hacked to pieces along the way. With an axe of course. The film takes a good 66 minutes to convey all of this, and despite being this short you feel every second being wrenched away.

Buried and forgotten beyond the Video Nasties list, this film is practically impossible to find outside the odd Asda bargain basket. The bongos will linger in the memory, if not in my dreams, but in all other senses this film will be swiftly forgotten.

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Vidiotic (and other BBC Comedy Pilots)

vidioticmontageLiving in the UK I can quite unashamedly say that I am blessed with the generally fantastic services of the BBC, and better still the wonderful iPlayer. I pay my license fee and am more than content to do so for a standard of programming in television and radio which generally puts out enough to keep me contented while I whittle away on some boring and repetitive task at work.

Comedy comes high on my list of Beeb-based distractions, and for all the complaints regarding the perpetual broadcast of vapid crap like Two Packets and more recently the Horne and Corden Debacle there is some at-least-half-amusing gems that just sneak through. Some find their way into a whole series like Dan Clark’s How Not To Live Your Life. Others like the brilliant surreal Snuff Box, or 15 Storeys High will be commissioned for a series, perhaps two, but then end up unceremoniously buried in the arse-end of the schedules and never mentioned again. They inevitably end up finding a cult following on the interwebs, but it’s still a cruel disservice by the Beeb to the brains behind these shows.

A third breed will remain stuck in the realm of the single one-off pilot, and it is in this strangely cultivated forest of saplings that something truly new and leftfield can be found.

The flag first has to be raised for the truly brilliant Ketch! and HIRO-PON Get It On, a tale of friendship and alienation told from the perspective of two mohawked Japanese street performers. It first caught my attention on the iPlayer by billing itself as a silent comedy. On BBC3! Hard to believe I know, but there it was. Coming from a tradition of just larking of the streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe, the show was more comic mime than it was Keaton/Chaplin style slapstick, but it won me over with some brilliantly sweet characters and visual trickery which left me truly baffled. In an age where all inventiveness and camera trickery has been relegated to the backwaters of Youtube it is really refreshing to see some genuinely stunning acts of visual comedy. Their Backwards? sketch alone will live long beyond this so far singular pilot, yet it’s hard to imagine how they could stretch the concept beyond this one off. But still, more of the same would be more than welcome in the sea of bland otherwise known as BBC3.

The second lost pilot I want to highlight is Vidiotic, which was carefully buried at 02:15 last Wednesday morning. While my sleeping patterns are fortunately not quite so erratic anymore, I only came across it by virtue of the anytime/anywhere nature of iPlayer. And I’m so glad I did, because it’s brilliant in a delightfully cheap and naff way. To say shoestring would imply some semblance of a budget which was barely present, but its cheap nature gives an odd grounding. Being about two schmoes working a rundown video rental store, it had me in the first 30 seconds when I noticed that one of them was reading ‘Shite Unsound’ while wearing a MUSELY t-shirt. Cheap gags that felt as though pitched squarely at me. How could I not be hooked?

What followed was a rambling stumbling sitcom-cum-sketch show that took every chance to lampoon the nonsense of the film industry, and in particular the BBC’s rather glitzy-yet-braindead coverage of it. Highlights included voxpops for the fictional To The Manor Bourne and short film review asides on shlock horror films Body Melt (starring Harold Bishop!) and Shark Attack 3:Megalodon (starring Cpt Jack Harkness!) Both awful films simply and efficiently shot to pieces. A voice cameo from Andrew Marr and a guitar solo by Biff from the Back to the Future films also added to the shows slightly surreal edge.

I can easily see them pitching the show as a film reviews meets Clerks in the UK. ‘Think Peep Show but with films!’ they would no doubt say. Which is to perhaps over egg the pudding a touch, but hey a little ambition is no bad thing. I guess coming in with no preconceptions worked in the show’s favour, and without being too keen all I can say is give it a punt. Its kinda rubbish, but check it out on iPlayer, give them a few hits and maybe they can be granted some cash money to actually make a show of it. Why not? Rather more of this than more Packets of Crisps at two on a Wednesday morning.

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Anthropophagus (1)

anthro-montageOr How To Actually Make Sense of Absurd.

Approaching the DPP list alphabetically I didn’t anticipate that a sequel could possibly precede an original. Yet in the twisted world of video nasties such logic is par for the course, and unfortunately I have managed to see the sequel of Anthropophagus before the principle title. Being in this twisted sphere I thought the logic of such straightforward chronology would be pointless, as horror films with the same title can often have the scarcest narrative connections to each other.

Not so in the case of the Anthropophagi films, as Absurd suddenly makes a whole lot more sense in light of the first film. The blood hungry Greek is bestowed with a reasonable backstory, a raison d’etre to be halting around pestering poor civilians in their own homes. He is, you see, a normal man driven to eating his wife and child after becoming cast adrift at sea.

A normal man! Driven past the edges of sanity! To Cannibalism! The Horror!

Yet he doesn’t actually display many cannibalistic tendencies in the second film, nor does it seek to explain why he is in the States, these plot holes pale in the illuminating fact that the man was driven slowly crazy under a baking sun at sea.

The Greek setting also makes sense in the first film, casting the terror in the light of your typical charter holiday gone wrong. Donkey Punch did a reasonable job in doing that in a contemporary setting last year, so you could argue somewhat generously that Anthropophagus was well ahead of the curve on that one.

The visiting tourists at the center of the film lack any discernable character or motivation, and the inevitable dispatching of each one by one is almost welcome, if only to see the gore effects artists have a crack at something new. The film is also lent an uncanny edge as the gore-bound young folks settle on an island village eerily reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s ramshackle hotel in Mamma Mia! Body bits pop up all over the place, with a clever here, a severed head there, and a rotting corpse yon. None of the effects are particularly impressive, but they do ironically add a splash of colour to an otherwise washed out film.

If the wooden acting and shonky effects aren’t enough to dispel any sense of terror in the film, the wibbly wobbly Synth-lite soundtrack brings it wholly into the bland. John Carpenter can be more than guilty this, but where Halloween just about gets away with it, Anthropophagus is just plain discordant.

The (almost) Last Woman Left finale picks up the film as its sags towards a close, the stalker slumped dead with his own guts in his mouth. The thing to do, I guess, if you want guarantee a sequel. A bit of an extreme measure perhaps, outside any reasoned lines of logic, but functional none the less.

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Steven Seagal Gallery o’ Shame

Steven Seagal Gallery of ShameFrom l to r: Attack Force (Aussie cover), Mercenary For Justice, Today You Die, Shadow Man, Attack Force (UK cover)

So I had the mis/fortune of catching Steven Seagal’s gut-wrenchingly awful Attack Force on Five the other night. Rarely could I conceive that such an incompete film could ever be launched on the world, but sure enough, there it was on terrestial TV. Someone at Five must have a fine sense of humour and some deep pockets.

How the film could be quite so spectacularly broken demanded a bit of research, and it turns out that Mr Seagal himself is at the crux of the films failure. The plot was apparrently cut to shreds as the budget inflated and collapsed as financiers came and went. What should have been a film about alien invasions settled on merely being about vampires. Cheaper to just buy fangs and black contact lenses than bother with full blown CGI. And Underworld has been making money out of that old rope, so why not spin that some more. With Seagal of course! What could possibly go wrong?

Well warning signs came early on when Seagal’s character, Cmdr. Marshall Lawson, seemed to take on a voice of his own, like a man possessed. Only in a badly dubbed way. It turns out that Mr Seagal is very reluctant to take part in any of the post-production work on these direct-to-video films. Almost all films need some redubbing of poorly recorded scenes, and most actors are more than willing to oblige. Mr Seagal however is of the modern ‘take-the-money-and-run’ school of acting, and if it aint on the time sheet he aint bothering. As such the production team is forced to hire someone else in to come and inpersonate Steven Seagal. Badly.

It turns out this lack of co-operation extends to publicity work for these substandard DtV films. The consequence is that we are now priveleged with some of the worst examples of photoshopping to ever grace the covers of one actors’ recent ouevre. A turning point seems to be Seagal’s last major Hollywood film, Exit Wounds (2001) and that everything thereafter has just been a slippery slope down towards Attack Force.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, stay tuned for more soon.

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Heavy Metal in Baghdad

heavymetalinbaghdadMetal really aint the coolest of things and word that Vice magazine were producing a film about Iraq’s one and only axe-wielding band had the same disgenuine air to it as a hipster in a Maiden t-shirt. Yet for all it’s throbbing insincerity Vice have managed to pull off a band documentary that isn’t totally insepid.

Things start out on a bit of a wobbily path as we get to meet the band in their small rehearsal room, tucked away under a store in central Baghdad. The place is bedecked with hand-penned Metallica logos and grainy A4 print-outs of James Hetfield and co rocking out. It’s all a bit ramshackle, and at that point it’s hard to see what convinced the original journo that he had truly ‘discovered’ some amazing talent.

Seeing their fans queued up outside a hotel for their exclusive ‘Vice’ gig, the angsty teenage vibe is knocked up to eleven by a small posse of young men wearing long-sleeve band t-shirts that would make even a Spanish teenager shamefaced. Not pretty. But then this is a country where such satanistic/Americanistic garb could have them thrown in lockdown pretty much indefinitely. Nothing ironic or snide here, just a big old heart for metal and big willingness to say ‘fuck you’ to the turbulent status quo.

At this point the film starts to turn, perhaps on the sight of seeing a gaggle of Iraqi metal fans go crazy for the band, moshing frantically as they are sat kneeling on the floor. It’s as bizarre a sight as it sounds, but it’s a concession to the tradition of a circle pit that hotel management wouldn’t be too keen on. The band genuinely Rawq Out, and in true metal fashion the fans end up piling themselves on top of each other. It’s more metal than you could shake two devil horns at.

The documentary narrative skips forward a year or two and we get to see the band regrouped in Syria. They play another bizarrely seated-yet-banging gig, struggle to record a demo to send to the world, and generally moan about how awful things are for the Iraqi refugees. On being shown a rough cut of the first half of the film the band members get quite emotional at being reminded of just how locked-down and broken up their home town is. Any semblance of the life they had growing up has effectively been destroyed. Their little rehearsal room has been scudded to pieces, and ramshackle as it was, it was their portal out of rather shit times. For those who love it Metal can be a fine window for escape, and in a war zone it’s the only comfort these guys had.

In the end it turns out to be a lot like Ross Kemp in Afghanistan: seemingly ridiculous and farcical from the outset, but in the end quite simple in its focus on average people stuck in an extraordinarily awful situation. No bells and whistles verite documentary making, just sincere and revealing portraits. And at its heart reminds you what metal is really about. And that’s no mean feat.

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