Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Don't Laugh, This Is Replacing TV in 5 Years

It's the Best Viral Videos from this year! Enjoy, or rather "enjoy".

Weekend Box Office

Numbers Courtesy

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Walk, Don't Run

And maybe consider which direction to walk.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Orgin of a Gag on Facebook

I had the good fortune this weekend to be cast in a short independent film. Actually, I had the good forture to be cast in it last year, but it took a while to get the shoot together. It's a few scenes from a proposed full length feature about a college student struggling with brain disorder, and I play his callous guidance counselor who is trying to convince him to go on medication. Presumably if the short cuts together good enough to entice investors, I'm cast in the feature as well. Either way, I'm thrilled that they stuck with me this long.

Can't say the name of the feature. Frankly, it would get a few people in trouble. For example, we were shooting in the conference room of a condo in a Beverly Hills-adjacent area, and we were delayed for half an hour while we waited for the producer to let us in. He couldn't open the door until his wife left, because she wasn't supposed to know we were there. This kind of thing is common with independents - I took a producing course at Hollywood Film School where they specifically said don't bother with permits, just be ready to stall when the cops ask you what you're doing. Tell them the permit is back at the office and you'll send someone to get it. How long will it take? A little longer than it takes to get the shot.

So the Facebook gag: this conference room is in the lobby of the condo, and was doubling as a guidance  counselor's office. Looked a little ritzy to me but I dunno, maybe the kid's going to a private school where the staff has french doors and marble flooring. Anyway, one of the cameramen kept getting forced farther his left as they were framing a shot, until he was half standing in a potted fern in the corner of the room. "It's like I'm shooting in Vietnam here!" he quipped. Hence my gag:

Independent film production is like Vietnam: you start out with the best intentions but pretty soon you've lost half your crew and you can't remember why you started in the first place.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Anti-Christmas Movies

(Full disclosure: This is another re-edited TPN rescue. Well, about 75% of it, at least.)

The holidays have hit big time, and I'm tellin' ya the TV Yuletide assault in already in high gear. Just in the last week, I've seen bits and pieces of “Christmas Carol” adaptations featuring Reginald Owen, Alistair Sim, George C. Scott, Kelsey Grammer, Bill Murray (Scrooged: awful, awful) and Patrick Stewart. (no sign of the Muppets, The Flintstones, Mickey Mouse, Blackadder or Mr. Magoo as of yet.)

Ignorance and Want, from Richard
Williams' Christmas Carol

The 2009 George Zemekis CG version voiced by Jim Carrey is in heavy rotation on the premium channels (a fine interpretation, IMO) but the 1971 half-hour adaptation made by animator Richard (Roger Rabbit) Williams hasn't surfaced yet. This is a real gem among Christmas Carol adaptations-- It's a bit truncated story-wise, but it was painstakingly animated in the style of a 19th century engraving. It's also quite scary. Dickens' original story is quite scary in and of itself, but most production tend to pull punches so as not to frighten the kiddies. Not this one. A fuzzy upload can be seen online here.

As long as we're parsing Holiday entertainment, Slate has an article listing the five worst Christmas movies of all time. Two of the usual suspects are in the list: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and the truly weird Mexican Santa-vs-Satan Santa Claus.

All well and good to list bad movies, but I'm here to list my three favorite Anti-Christmas movies.

The anti-Christmas movie does not just point up the absurdities of the Holiday season, it actively tries to deconstruct the reasons and traditions of Christmas. Most of the time this is done in a spirit of irony, pointing out the sillier parts of what is undeniably an over-the-top holiday. I for one will argue that sappy, formulaic star vehicles like Jingle All the Way or Deck the Halls or Christmas with the Kranks or The Santa Clause trilogy in their own way do more damage to the spirit of Christmas than films that actively make sport of it. Fake sincerity is generally more pernicious and damaging than active mockery, a form of complicit betrayal, a treason of the season, if you will.

The Hebrew Hammer (d. Jonathan Kesselman, 2003) The titular character, the defender of Jews everywhere, is a superhero in the Mystery Men genre, thoroughly mortal and played with a streetwise flair by Adam Goldberg . The heavy of the piece is Damien Claus (Andy Dick), the evil son of Santa Claus, who kills his father and sets out to make Christmas the only December holiday. Central to his plan: making all Jewish children watch It's a Wonderful Life. The Hammer eventually defeats Damien and saves Hanukkah by-- and I'm quoting both Wikipedia and the film here-- “using Judaism's ultimate weapon (complaining and guilt).” This is a fun little film with a good heart and a message of tolerance, even as it rips on every ethnic stereotype you can imagine non-stop.

Santa's Slay (d. David Steiman, 2005). The opening scene was so stunning I had to see it all the way through. The Masons, a typical bickering middle-class family, are sitting down to Christmas dinner. Santa enters the house and proceeds to gruesomely slaughter everyone. Leading the cameo appearances as the Masons are James Caan, Fran Drescher and Chris Kattan. Santa is played by WWE wrestler Bill Goldberg. See a pattern here?

The premise of this film is that Santa is actually a demon who lost a bet with an angel and had to do 1000 years of community service as a good guy giving out presents. Now the bet is off and every Christmas he goes on a killing rampage. He's basically a thinly veiled lift of Robot Santa from “Futurama:” according to the film, before Santa lost the bet and had to be nice people spent Christmas hiding from him.

As weird and inspired as the opening sequence was, the film quickly goes downhill from there and becomes a holiday-themed gore-fest. Like The Hebrew Hammer this movie has a strange sort of Jewish bent to it, but unlike that film Santa's Slay is not well-written enough to convey any sort of message, which makes it fairly worthless entertainment.

Bad Santa (d. Terry Zwigoff, 2005). A holiday movie with 170 occurrences of the F-word, its protagonist is Willy, a perverted, foul-mouthed, alcoholic safecracker who badly impersonates Santa in department stores so he and his elf-sized partner can rob it after hours. Billy Bob Thornton does an impressive job of portraying a worthless, shiftless bastard with absolutely no redeeming qualities and lots of repellent ones. I'll venture an opinion about Mr. Thornton as Willy: he does a good job, but I never thought he was quite right for the role. He's too rangy and skinny, even though I can't imagine anyone else doing a better job on the voiceovers. Apparently, Jack Nicholson was interested in playing Willy, but ultimately had other commitments and had to back out. A shame: he would have been just perfect.

Wonderfully, Bad Santa never even gets close to a cheery holiday-themed message: in the end, there is redemption for Willy, but without spoiling the ending let's say it involves the Christmas sentiment of others, not the principal characters. It's the perfect antidote to the holidays.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Check out for more figures!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Matango: The Brady Bunch Connection

The sexy, sexy Italian one-sheet for Matango.
 This is the other old TPN post worthy of rescue (and re-editing).

In this article we're  going to discover why "The Brady Bunch" owes so much to Godzilla.

I had the pleasure of watching a Netflix DVD loaned to me by Chris, my business partner: Matango (1963). It was known in the US as Attack of the Mushroom People. It scared the living crap out me when I was a wee lad watching  "Chiller Diller Matinee" on Channel 44. Remarkable to see this film fresh and uncut, in 2.35:1 TohoScope, bright Fujicolor and subtitled Japanese. The channel 44 version was the one we ALL saw as kids: A heavily edited, clumsily dubbed, 16mm pan-and-scan print, run through a (no doubt) crummy film chain-- it was so washed out my recollections if it are in black and white.

This film was directed by Ishiro Honda, The Kaiji Eiga (Giant Monster Movie) master who directed Godzilla, Rodan and countless others. Matango is an unusual Honda film, an atmospheric horror movie with people-sized monsters.

Well, of course there's a range of Japanese action figures
available for Matango! The monsters depicted here
are much cuter than in the film.
The things that scared the piss out of me as a kid are still there: the ghastly, faceless mushroom people, the distorted laughter on the soundtrack, the air of gloom and slow death. Justifiably a cult classic.

A have heard all effective horror films play on primal phobias: violence, heights, enclosed spaces. (Daniel's brother Ed once surmised that if someone could realize a fortune if they make a horror film exploiting the number one fear in America: Public Speaking.) Matango works as a horror flick on several levels:

• The scary, lumbering mushroom folk, they're pretty scary in a monster-movie sort of way.

• The fact these fungal folks were once people and the characters are going to turn into them unless they can escape plays into fears of loss of humanity and Self.

Matango plays on fears of germs and filth and disease. The island the principals are marooned on is lush and tropical: the abandoned ship they take up residence in is covered with mold, dry rot and fungus. They manage to clean it, but the mold soon returns. For the fastidiously clean Japanese audience the film was designed for, the creeping corruption and rot must have been harder to take than the prospect of turning into an ambulatory shiitake.

This film was based on "The Voice in the Night," a short story published in 1907 by pioneering English sci-fi author William Hope Hodgson. Conversely, it has long been rumored that Matango was an inspiration for "Gilligan's Island," that iconic, unlikely comedy series from the 1960s.

Exhibit A: Cast of Matango. Left to right: "Writer," Bombshell,
Chaste Young Girl, Skipper, Rich Guy, First Mate and Professor.
Note the First Mate has a red shirt, as did Gilligan.
After a careful comparison of the two works, allow me to lay such rumors to rest: It was. TV Producer Sherwood Schwartz (who also created "The Brady Bunch") had a motive, opportunity and even tacit permission to swipe the basic premise of Honda's film.

The basic story common to both movie and TV show involves seven people from various walks of life on a short pleasure cruise. They get caught in a storm, marooning them on a deserted tropical island. Schwartz basically took this first half-hour of Matango and pitched it to the network, adding "and then hilarity ensues!" He left off the rising themes of violence, greed, lust, starvation, and death that drives the latter hour of Matango, replacing these with coconut shortwave radios and funny guest stars.

Exhibit B: flashback scene. The dialog in subtitles is that
of the "writer," explaining why his manuscript (on
the table) seems so derivative.
But the cast of "Gilligan's Island" is almost entirely present in Matango: Skipper, First Mate, Professor, Chaste Young Girl, Glamorous Bombshell, Rich Guy. He made one cast change, and a very telling one: Instead of Mrs. Rich Guy ("Lovey" Howell), the seventh castaway in Matango is a writer. He's the first character to, when things begin to get desperate, steal food from the others, and the first to eat the fateful mushrooms. He's a morally weak character who, in a flashback scene, plainly admits to plagiarism.

Puzzling evidence.