Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Butler Brothers return with The Undrawn!

The zany Butler Brothers from the Great White North of SubProd Productions are at it again! The creative minds who brought us the Larry & Burt Gut Rot webisodes and the full length feature The Notorious Newman Brothers are attempting to invade the intrawebs again with The Undrawn. This proposed webseries follows six depraved and perverted (not-so)super heroes working at SuperCorp for their idiot Boss who is trying to get them their own comic book deal.

Told in confessional style, think X-Men meets The Office, these superweirdos contain extraordinary powers that are really not that beneficial to society. Making their dreams of making the pages of comics even harder is the fact that they cannot seem to get on the same page...and probably never will with the hormone levels they maintain. 

SubProd has begun a Kickstarter campaign (click here) and are ever so close to making their vision a reality. If their past record is any indication, this will be a laugh riot that will not only entertain the heck out of us, but the guys are sure to add some more well-deserved awards to their mantle.

Take a look at the teasers below and see for yourself. Caution: Don't expect Superman or Wolverine to lend their support to these characters and don't look for DC and  Marvel to sign this pack to a deal anytime soon.

Meet In & Out. She is like one of those crazy, yet hot chicks but can teleport. 

IN & OUT from SubProd on Vimeo.

Bulletproof - a white gangbanger, whose power is that he's bulletproof. Duh.

BULLETPROOF from SubProd on Vimeo.

Rearview - one of those creeps living mom's basements but with an ability.

REARVIEW from SubProd on Vimeo.

Jack-Off - with sperm more powerful than a locomotive
JACK-OFF from SubProd on Vimeo.

Iron Gut - drinks but doesn't get drunk and speaks in accents. A total WTF?!
IRON GUT from SubProd on Vimeo.

Thought Whisperer - virgin hearing men's thoughts, who wishes she didn't.
THOUGHT WHISPERER from SubProd on Vimeo.

And finally "The Boss"...worse than Michael Scott
The BOSS from SubProd on Vimeo.

Of course we never see these superheroes' (mis)adventures with your support. So please head on over to Kickstarter and support SubProd if you can. Be a real hero...


Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: "The Road Warriors: Danger, Deat and the Rush of Wrestling"

By Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis
The Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal, are arguably the greatest tag team ever to grace their presence in all of professional wrestling. Led by their manager “Precious” Paul Ellering, their look, swagger and physical style rejuvenated the tag team wrestling scene for two decades and set the bar for all the teams that followed them into the sport. Their rise to top of sports entertainment spans several continents and just as many wrestling promotions, and now the inside story is dished about by one of the team’s co-founders, Joe “Animal” Laurinaitis, in The Road Warriors: Danger, Deat and the Rush of Wrestling.   

The one thing that sets this wrestling autobiography apart from the rest of the flock is that it gets to the wrestling action right off the bat. Laurinaitis tells us that he knows we want the meat and potatoes of the Road Warriors' wrestling exploits, so he keeps the pages of his youth and upbringing to a minimum. Joe was an accomplished athlete and weightlifter who stumbled into wrestling during his bouncer days with other soon-to-be stars such as Rick Rude and Scott Norton. With a child to support on his own, he decided to give wrestling a shot and make enough money to provide for his kid.

After his failure in a solo act as The Road Warrior, he quit the sport only to come back a year later to Georgia Championship Wrestling where booker Ole Anderson re-packaged him and good friend Mike Hegstrand into the Road Warriors. As Hawk and Animal, they were instantly given the promotion’s tag team championships to see how they could run with their new gimmick, and run with it they did. Mike and Joe were always being innovative, using heavy metal (Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”) as their entrance music, painting their faces to exonerate their characters, developing punishing tag team finishing maneuvers, and creating their look of leather and spikes to (kayfabe) strike fear into their opponents. 

Joe continues to explain their success in the States as well as Japan, and how their popularity always led them to be booked as the cream of the crop, holding several major championships. They finally became a force in the industry once they hooked up who Joe and Mike called the official third member of the team, “Precious” Paul Ellering. A brilliant mind, Paul helped shape them on camera in their promos as their quintessential mouthpiece, but also helped guide the team in business matters and politics off screen as well. Together, they dominated the American Wrestling Association until it was time to move on to the more publicized NWA, run by Jim Crockett. 

One of the most interesting facts in the book is just how intelligent the seemingly meathead-ed Joe and Mike actually were in real life. The fact that they were able to revolutionize and monetize their wrestling persona without the help of a marketing powerhouse like Vince McMahon aside, they were actually the inventors of Zubaz. Remember those pants from the 80’s and 90’s? Not only were they popular with the common weightlifters, but even NFL stars loved them! The Road Warriors were both mainstream in wrestling and fashion! 

Mike and Joe had such a strong relationship that they considered each other brothers, but they were separated by their individual extracurricular activities. Joe had re-married and his life was solely dedicated to his wife and children, while Mike got caught up in all of the cliché downfalls that pro wrestling had to offer, especially when it came to substance abuse. Sure, both liked to drink some booze with the boys and party on the road, but Mike took it to the next level by abusing cocaine and painkillers. For a long time, Joe turned a blind eye to Mike's indulgence until his self-destructive habits derailed their career when they finally made it to the WWF. It led to their suspension and ultimately their dismissal, even though Joe was a model employee and did not engage in Mike’s abusive lifestyle. Eventually it led to Hegstrand’s premature death and a burden that Joe still feels to this very day. He addresses his grief but does not bury his brother in the process and also does not spend a lot of time in his book pulling at our heartstrings.

Instead, Joe talks a great deal about their interesting time on the road and throughout many organizations. Subjects include their miserable time in WCW once Ted Turner took over, how their colleagues feared their rough and stiff style, his tenure wrestling with a hockey mask due to a legitimate injury, his dislike and fear of scaffold matches, their enthusiasm working in Japan, and their relationship with Ellering, such as when he was able to negotiate himself out of a contract with WCW due to being the true cerebral assassin he is in reality. He also interjects some funny stories, such as the time they delivered their finishing move, “The Doomsday Device”, to then boss Vince McMahon at a bar! 

Joe also answers the burning question many wrestling fans have wondered about for years - how did they feel about the many wrestlers who stole their gimmick? Demolition, the team McMahon created when he could not sign Mike and Joe away from Crockett, and the Powers of Pain, who the Warriors feuded with in the NWA. Funny thing is that they were all good friends before Joe got into the business. Barry Darsow and Bill Eadie were bouncers with him during that time in his life. He admits that the Warriors were totally ripped off with Demolition, but was happy that it was two of his pals benefiting from the situation. John Nord, Warlord of Powers of Pain, was also someone who Joe discovered in his region of Minnesota before he made it big. So there was never any animosity between them about heavily borrowing from his mindset. The only one who Joe and Mike had mild beef with in replicating their gimmick was with Jim Hellwig/Warrior AKA The Ultimate Warrior. He mentions that Jim started his gimmick as The Dingo Warrior in Dallas’ World Class Championship Wrestling, facepaint and all, once The Road Warrior gimmick was at its peak. Of course, that was then carried over for Jim to become the Ultimate Warrior in the WWF. When they eventually signed with the WWF, Mike and Joe were forced to change their moniker to “The Legion of Doom” instead of “The Road Warriors” because McMahon stated that he “did not want to confuse the audience with too many Warriors running around”. Since Mike and Joe invented the gimmick, they felt they were taking a backseat to someone who essentially stole their gimmick and was someone who did not have good wrestling talent or a mind for the business. But for the most part, Joe does not go the route of discussing too much about backstage politics or bad talking other wrestlers.

This is only touching the surface with the great tales you can read in The Road Warriors: Danger, Death and the Rush of Wrestling. It is a great read for wrestling fans that is not annoying lengthy and celebrates the legendary tag team. Joe talks himself up a great deal, but it comes across as someone who was having fun in a crazy business and is very confident that he made a success out of himself doing so, especially when things went horrible for him the first time around. Give it a look when you get a chance. 

3.5 out of 5 Angry Nashes


Thursday, March 22, 2012

They Came For Stiff: A Sami Callihan Story (2011)

Directed by Kenneth Johnson

From the creator of the fantastic documentary Pro Wrestler, comes another documentary about life in the independent wrestling circuit. This time around, filmmaker Kenneth Johnson focuses on one particular indie wrestler, Sami Callihan, as he prepares for the biggest match of his career in New York City. A seasoned vet on the indie circuit, he finally gets his brush with fame and will stop at no cost.

Callihan portrays the gimmick of a crazed wrestler, who has no regard for his own physical well being, putting his body on the line for the sake of winning his matches. He also has a reputation for working “stiff”, a pro wrestling term for a performer not going easy with his moves. So when you hear loud thumps from his kicks and punches, he is legitimately delivering them with about as close to full force as you get. Why does he work so stiff? Callihan tells Johnson, “They came for stiff!”

Recently released WWE star Dave “Fit” Finlay, has taken a booking for the minor league company Evolve and is matched up against Callihan in the main event. This is his dream match, since he has shaped his style against fellow stiff worker Finlay, so he must prepare his mentality and physicality for a real brawl.

Much like the style he demonstrated with Pro Wrestler, Johnson narrates very little dialogue or asks too many questions in film and lets his subject tell the story for us instead. Beginning with him preparing himself in his apartment, then in a car ride to the city and finally to the backstage area and ring for the match, Johnson allows Callihan full reign to be himself for the camera. Callihan talks about his passion for the business, lessons he learned about the business over the years as well as his wish to make it into a top company, such as the WWE. He realizes that he is getting older and his body is starting to pay the price for his physical style in the indies, so he wants to make it to the next level as soon as possible now that he has paid his dues. The match against Finlay is a huge opportunity for him to battle with a top name and get some needed press. You just never know when a scout might be in the audience, so he wants to make this match as memorable as possible.

Meanwhile, Finlay is in the twilight of career and is more of a level-headed individual than he has portrayed in the past with companies like WCW and WWE over the years. Wrestling runs in his family all the way back to the Titanic, when one of his ancestors wrestled for money in the belly of the ship for cash…on their lunch breaks! He sees a fire in Callihan and cannot wait to work with him. Paydays in organizations like Evolve are peanuts compared to the scratch he is used to making in the big leagues, but he seems like he is taking it all in stride and literally living to fight another day.

At close to 27 minutes, this short film will leave you wanting to see more. Callihan’s in-ring persona is a great extension of his real life personality, always the trademark of a successful gimmick, so he is a little crazy…but he is extremely likable nonetheless. Listening to him speak is an eye opener because inside the psychotic exterior, Callihan actually is extremely hilarious, but also sensible and level-headed, much like Finlay. And his drive and charisma to make it in the business should be an inspiration to anyone looking to climb up the ladder in their career, no matter what the job. Never take anything for granted, keep grinding and always do your best because you never know when it is your time to be noticed.

You can check out Johnson’s They Came For Stiff by purchasing it on his website (click here) for a nominal price. And keep an eye on Callihan because he has the look, drive and charisma to make his dream come true. Indie wrestling fans will also be happy to see appearances from Kevin Steen, Johnny Gargano and Alex Colon.

4 out of 5 Angry Nashes




Monday, March 19, 2012

Mother’s Day (2010 remake)

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

The original Mother’s Day is a cult classic from the 1980’s that is generally only remembered by fans of the horror genre. In an age where remakes are as prevalent as YouTube remixes, they usually wind up being terrible more often than not. They are produced with the production company’s intent to cash in on the success of past films and lure fans of the original into a world of unknowing disappointment. Luckily, writer Scott Milam scribed a rather intriguing story all too loosely based on the source material and offers moviegoers a film worth their time and money.

After a botched transaction, the Koffin brothers return to their mother’s house in order to reunite with the rest of their family and get the heck out of Dodge. To their surprise, mom lost her house to foreclosure, which is now inhabited by the (un)lucky new owners and their friends hanging out for a get together. One of the brothers, Johnny (Matt O’Leary), was seriously injured in their botched job, leaving Ike (Patrick Flueger) and Addley (Warren Kole) to call on their Mother Kofflin (Rebecca De Mornay) for a rendezvous at her old home while keeping the guests hostage. Once Mother along with daughter Lydia (Deborah Ann Woll) arrive on the scene, she is very genuine in the fact that if the guests cooperate, the clan will leave in piece. However, there are two conditions. One is that George (Shawn Ashmore), the doctor among the friends, does his best to keep Johnny alive, and two, that she can learn where the money her boys have been sending her is located. Even though the owners, Beth (Jamie King) and Daniel (Frank Grillo), claim to have never received anything addressed to her, Mother is not buying it and tensions start erupting when her funds are not being handed over.

As you can tell, this is not your daddy’s Mother’s Day. This is a whole new ballgame. The family members have increased with a female sibling to boot and gone is the notion that they are a bat-sheet crazy backwoods family. Addley is a bit of a loose cannon, but the Ike and Mother are extremely level headed, both containing some instances of compassion and portraying a more believable style of villain for this era. References are made to the original, such as Queenie and some of the deaths, but those miniscule tidbits are the only minor comparisons that can be made. Mix in some twists and turns as well as meaningful secondary stories and you will start to wonder why this film is even considered a remake at all.  It is like a film that just had the Mother's Day brand tag thrown on it for marketing purposes.

The acting is top notch from every participant, notwithstanding veteran De Mornay, who was the major reason that The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was such a huge success in the 90’s. King is extremely surprising in her performance as well...who know she had this type of talent inside of her. Overall, there is no bone to pick with any of the acting and director Darren Lynn Bousman is definitely not a remake hack…even his two Saw sequels (parts 2 and 3 only) were just as good as the original. Don’t let the two-hour running time scare you off either because the Bousman and Milam duo never let the film drag and make every second relevant.

Since Mother’s Day is a bit of an obscure flick outside of horror fandom, the thought of a remake instead of a long awaited sequel can easily be written off as another bad film in the remake bucket and easy way for Hollywood to rob moviegoers of their hard earned cash. That is until you watch this film and realize just how entertaining it really is. One has to wonder why this has never (and will probably never) receive its deserved U.S. theatrical release while countless, dime-a-dozen romantic comedies pop up in theaters every This Means Bore, I mean War.

Forget your memories of the 1980 original, don’t fear the remake jinx and make sure to find this one On Demand if you can. And most of all, here is wishing you all a very happy Mother’s Day.

4 out of 5 Creeper Santas


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Alternate Dimension: What If Hollywood Went Their First Casting Choices?

Over the years, many past Hollywood blockbusters' success have been attributed to excellent casting choices. Now imagine if some of your favorite all-time classics contained different actors in the lead roles. Would those films have been as successful, popular and memorable as they are today? Follow me through a portal to an alternate dimension where original casting choices were selected and your favorite actors were left sitting on the bench… 

Nick Nolte and Christopher Walken are the well-known original choices for the roles of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, respectively. But imagine if two young acting prospects who made it to the screen testing phase, Kurt Russell and William Katt, were given the nod over Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. Russell went on to have a very good career and got the chances to play some cool characters, so that is a wash. Except Ford would have remained working as a carpenter on homes instead of being a multimillionaire and hooking up with Clarissa Flockhart. On the other hand, Katt’s most notable role is in The Greatest American Hero, a show that went the way of Heroes, with a superb first season followed by a nosedive straight towards cancellation. Hamill’s claim to fame was as Skywalker, for which he was also held back due to typecasting, so would his career have flourished if a jedi he did not, mmm – per Yoda?

Solo with an eyepatch!
Let’s go back to Harrison Ford for a second. Even as illustrious as his resume reads, if you ask someone what are their favorite roles of he played, Solo would be first quickly followed by Indiana Jones. The first choice to be the adventurous archeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark was none other than Tom Selleck! Mind you, Selleck could have very well succeeded in the role, but instead the Lucas-Spielberg connection made Ford their man. Imagine if Selleck was Indiana. Would this have skyrocketed his career? Imagine the flipside of this alteration in the cinematic universe…Harrsison Ford as Magnum P.I. Harrison Ford in Three Men and a Baby and then a Little Lady. Harrison Ford in a guest cameo arch on Friends as Courtney Cox’s elder boyfriend. And finally, Ford signing autographs for $50 a pop next to Hamill at countless Sci-Fi conventions shortly thereafter. Just the thought of that should send shivers down your spine. 

Pretty dreamy, huh?

Corey Hart or Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly??!! Back to the Future is an almost perfect film, along with its subsequent sequels, but Michael J. Fox’s quirky portrayal of McFly made the film the classic as it stands today and hoisted his career into the stratosphere. We have all seen clips of Stoltz as Marty, and Stoltz is a fine actor with an excellent resume- don't get me wrong, but that would have been an absolute fail. Imagine if you will…"Mr. Sunglasses at Night" in the lead, as he was the original choice, shocking as that may seem. Never seen Hart act, so it is hard to gauge how he would have done, but if I were a betting man I would say that would have ruined the film and earned it a Golden Raspberry. Unless, he was the next coming of James Dean. Hart replacing Fox might have led him to star in Secret of My Success, then Light of Day (that one might have worked out), and then as Doc Hollywood. Maybe Hart could’ve saved the wreck that was Bright Lights, Big City. Nah…scratch that last thought.

"Don't time travel with a guy in shades, ya know."
Al Pacino turned down the role of John Rambo in First Blood after he learned that the Rambo character was not going to be more of a veteran psychopath (of course you would have loved that, Pacino). Pacino’s legacy is laced in gold, so this bizarre change in film history is not about future endeavors for the star actor, but rather for us as the moviegoers. The film would have still been a hit, no doubt. Close your eyes for a second and visualize Pacino, with headband tightly around his head, spouting this famous dialogue: 

“Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don't turn it off! It wasn't my war! You asked me, I didn't ask you! And I did what I had to do to win! But somebody wouldn't let us win! And I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting. Calling me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me? Who are they? Unless they've been me and been there and know what the hell they're yelling about!”   

Or how about: 

“Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment, back here I can't even hold a job *parking cars*! “  

Boy what I would pay to see that. 

However, Pacino does not maintain the brawn to fit the Rambo mold. Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone already hit pay dirt with Rocky and the following sequels, but he probably might not have been the big action star he is remembered as if Rambo slipped his grasp. Then, Pacino might have went down another road and starred in Cobra, which like it or not is a way better flick than Godfather III. Truth!

"You're the Disease and I'm the Cure, Fredo!"

Speaking of action stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme was the first choice for Predator. No, not Arnold’s part, but the actual intergalactic hunter. His martial arts skills seemed to be a perfect way to make Predator quick, agile and fearsome in hand-to-hand combat sequences. But let’s face it, Schwarzenegger would have towered over him like King Kong over an ant and realistically quashed him like a grape without those cool gadgets and weapons. Plus, we would have never experienced the joy of seeing him in No Retreat, No Surrender. Thankfully, the massively tall Kevin Peter Hall was chosen instead. The Predator’s intimidation factor lies in the fact that he is a hulking figure who matched the muscles of Arnold and made for a suspenseful final battle in that film. Still, imagine if JCVD was our Predator and during the big reveal when Predator takes off his mask, Arnold gasped: “You are one short m***** f*****!” instead. Hilarity would have ensued. We also would have been treated to everyone’s fantasy dream match: The Jean-Claude Predator vs. Danny Gover in Predator 2!!

"Get off dose stiltz, Van Damme!"

And what about Arnie? Sure he was a famous bodybuilder and was pretty successful in Conan, but what if he was never in The Terminator…easily his breakthrough role to super stardom. Believe it or not, James Cameron’s pal Lance Henriksen was the original selection to play the relentless killing cyborg from the future. If that happened, we would have been spared The Last Action Hero, but Arnie would also not have become the Guhva-nator yet Henriksen would still have probably followed the same career path. Definitely no T2 though. Arnie as the head vamp in Near Dark would have made for some surreal film moments.

The Terminator sure got creepy looking.

Leonardo DiCaprio was going to be Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. This really almost happened, but lucky for him (and very unlucky for us), Leo turned it down for mega blockbuster Titanic, a film constantly rammed down our throats The rest is history as Leo has starred in many high profile films and even had some Oscar nominations, plus pleased young girls everywhere who finally indulged Shakespeare with Romeo + Juliet. He probably would have gone onto a great career, following the heels of The Basketball Diaries, since fellow Basketball Diaries star Mark Wahlberg was considered a legitimate actor after his portrayal of Diggler, No role, and Markie Mark would still be jamming with the Funky Bunch…and John Cena would not have been able to rip off his look. Imagine if you will, Leo singing "The Touch" with John C. McGinley in Boogie Nights' touching scene.

One word…awesome! Had to put this pic in here again.
That’s it for this time, kiddos. Welcome back to the real world where Leo dates supermodels, Jean Claude Van Damme is still out of work, Harrison Ford turned over the whip to Shia LeBeouf, and Al Pacino belted “Woo-Hah!” And yes, my Photoshop skills are mad, yo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kaboom (2010)

                                                        Directed by Gregg Araki; Desperate Pictures

Take the cinematic elements of social satire, sexual awakening, conspiracy theories, science fiction, the pending apocalypse, and the supernatural, then combine them together. The result is an explosion...or a Kaboom. Director Gregg Araki takes his viewers on a crazy acid trip that is one of the most bizarrely entertaining experiences on celluloid which completely throws standard conventions of Hollywood film making out the window.

During his first week in the college dorms, Smith (Thomas Dekker) keeps having a recurring dream, with both familiar people and new faces of those he has never even met before, that culminates with him opening a door marked with the number "19" on it. Unfortunately for him, he never sees what is on the other side of this mysterious door and is unable to decipher the meaning behind it. Meanwhile, he is sexually undeclared with a crush on his beefcake roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) and his best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) is starting a relationship with a witch named Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida). Not like one of those emo goth chicks either, but one with actual supernatural powers.

Stella drags Smith along to be her wingman at a college party and ditches him when she hits it off with Lorelei, one of the strangers he recognizes from his dream when he first meets her. Some fellow partygoer offers him a drug-laced cookie, which he gladly ingests before running into a mysterious redhead who he also recognizes from his dream...who then proceeds to vomit on his shoe. 

During a trip to the coed restroom, he crosses paths with the beautiful London (Juno Temple), who takes him back to her place. After having sexual intercourse with her, he heads back home and sees the same redhead from the party being chased down by dudes in animal masks who obviously have bad intentions in store for her. She gives him a thumb drive, thus setting the rest of the film's zany events into motion. Detailing anymore would spoil the rest of this whacky picture, which is a challenging movie to review because of it so wild. You keep having a feeling of "what the heck am I watching", yet you can't help but see it through the end? 

What begins as an exploration of one bisexual young man's sexual coming of age morphs into a completely different sci-fi film once Smith downs the happy cookie at the party. Secret societies, psycho stalkers with magic powers, missing persons, tons of sex, and government agents begin to dominate the narrative. As Araki implements what should be serious material, he keeps the tone light the entire time. The real purpose of his film is to make a satire stuffed with many Hollywood productions' cliches which he mashes together to conceive his own love child.

Setting the unique atmosphere aside for a moment, the outstanding and believable performances from the leads are the cogs that make this film's wheels turn properly. Not only are Dekker, Temple and Bennett amazing, but smaller roles from veteran thespians such as Kelly Lynch as Smith's mom and longtime Araki favorite James Duval as stoner R.A. Messiah are welcomed relief as well.

Even though the story's main setting is at a normal everyday university, Kaboom resides in an alternate dimension based on our reality. Everything that should be considered strange for us in the real world is simply the norm in Araki's universe, whether it be the strangely empty college campuses, witches with superpowers, the end of the world, folks with telekinesis abilities, or international plans for nuclear destruction. It's all no big deal and just another day in the office. These elements are all deformed for comedy, both dark and mindless all at the same time.

Araki displays some sleek colorful cinematography beaming with technicolor within his many great set designs. As for the ending, you will either hate it or laugh at it until you cry. Never one afraid to take chances, the director returns to the mold of his many great bizarro 90's flicks such as The Doom Generation and Nowhere filled with uber amounts of sex and death.

From the mind of Gregg Araki comes the most unique sci-fi film you will ever see. If you are not turned off by something completely off the wall and unconventional to the point that makes you like you ate the "happy" cookie instead of our lead or if you are a fan of Araki's resume, make sure to leave your film snob at the door and watch a real Kaboom!

3 out of 5 Happy Cookies




Thursday, March 8, 2012

Head (1968) - in memory of Davy Jones

Directed by Bob Rafelson

In honor of Davy Jones’ passing last week, I wanted to honor his memory in a review of one of my favorite film guilty pleasures, Head. It is a challenging film to review that I have put off attempting for some time, but decided to try to tackle it for you all to enjoy in a belated tribute to Jones...

During the 60’s Beatles craze and their popular hit movie A Hard Day's Night, The Monkees were a U.S band created by the Hollywood machine for the sole purpose of having their own TV show. Consisting of actors Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones and musicians Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, The Monkees’ 1966 TV show was a bona fide hit, mixing the concept of a sitcom with one of the first versions of what would become music videos. Their hit pop songs were the brainchild of songwriters such as Neil Diamond, yet the boys never played a lick of their own instruments, only lending to the vocals. After the show’s first season, the boys demanded that they go on tour and learned to play instruments for the live events and were completely over the show by the time that the second season went into production.
Lacking the punch of the first season, the sophomore follow up was not up to par and thus its last. 

Meanwhile, the group wanted to be considered serious musicians, but remained synonymous with their TV show characters’ persona. This led them into making a film gauged towards the more adult, hipper crowd and leaving their bubble gum style far behind them. As widely documented - while smoking marijuana, the boys tape recorded several ideas during a binge in California that writer Jack Nicholson (yup, same Jack you are thinking of) used to write a screenplay under the influence of LSD. The result is director Bob Rafelson’s 1968 feature, Head.

In the vein of avant garde, Head is a non-linear film that showcases the boys' attempt to shed their manufactured image through several bizarre events. But no matter what the troupe does or suffers through in order to escape the clutches of The Big Victor (Victor Mature), who keeps them in locked away in a giant black box, they are unable to do so. The symbolism here is that Mature references the NBC TV studio and their recording company Rhino who kept them in a box, which is a metaphor for their TV image (a TV is a box in shape) and left them unable to truly express themselves artistically. The best example of the Monkees shattering their image was the Rafelson-Nicholson penned “Ditty Diego”, a song heard early on in the film that went along to the tune of their TV show’s theme song:

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees,
You know we love to please,
A manufactured image
With no philosophies.

We hope you'll like our story,
Although, there isn't one,
That is to say, there's many,
That way, there is more fun.

You've told us you like action,
And games of many kinds,
You like to dance, we like to sing,
So, let's all lose our minds.

We know it doesn't matter,
'Cause what you came to see,
Is what we'd love to give you,
And give it 1-2-3.
But, it may come 3-2-1-2,
Or jump from 9 to 5,
And when you see the end in sight,
The beginning may arrive.

For those who look for meanings,
In form, as they do fact,
We might tell you one thing,
But we'd only take it back.
Not back like in a box back,
Not back like in a race,
Not back so we can keep it,
But back in time and space.

You say we're manufactured,
To that we all agree,
So make your choice and we'll rejoice
In never being free.

Hey, hey, we are the Monkees,
We've said it all before,
The money's in, we're made of tin,
We're here to give you more,
The money's in, we're made of tin,
We're here to give you...

Gone are the goofy usual antics that boys undertook in a supposedly haunted manor, like in the TV show. In its place is serious content, such as the group’s feelings on the ongoing Vietnam War and shots at U.S. commercialism. Head jumps around with skits pertaining to things like the Monkees at their TV show beach pad, to a boxing match and to the trenches of a war battle, until they finally play themselves in a giant manufacturing plant constantly trying to escape the Big Victor and the box he stores them in. Essentially, they are trapped in this film with their every movement and spoken word choreographed by the creators, as evident in scenes where Rafelson, Nicholson and even Dennis Hopper come in from off camera and break the fourth wall to show they are indeed in the middle of shooting a flick.

The film in and of itself is a reflection on their real lives as a faux band made for the commercial masses and nothing more. They show how they have “sold out” as apparent in their scene where they star in a demeaning commercial where they play dandruff in a giant hairpiece…which is shown to be The Big Victor, driving the point home even further. The "box" is also a reference to an area that was made for them to hang out in during the series’ filming, so they would not wander off set during down time. At one point, the Monkees enter a canteen, only to have the other actors immediately get up to leave and give them looks of disgust. This stemmed from a real life event on the studio back lot while shooting the series, since no one took them seriously and did not want to be around them. During the same scene a cross-dressing waitress make comments that exemplifies their constant comparison to the legendary Beatles, with line such as, “(to Monkees’ drummer Dolenz) Are you still paying tribute to Ringo Starr?” and “Well if it isn’t God’s gift to the eight-year olds”. There is even a scene where Tork is whistling "Strawberry Fields Forever". The film is filled with so many of these subtleties that seem like they have no real importance, but in reality contain a deeper meaning. All of which you cannot possibly detect during a single viewing or having some back story going in to it.

In the final sequence, which is actually shown in the beginning scene to cite that the film is circular, the boys are so desperate to escape the constraints of the box and deconstruct their manufactured image, that they do something outrageous and uncharacteristic. They jump off a bridge and commit suicide. But alas, that was all part of The Big Victor’s plan as well, who sticks them back in the box to house them somewhere until he needs them again.

Head was supposed to be the death of The Monkees’ pop image, but instead was the death of The Monkees overall. The film was panned by all who saw it. Their young fans were turned off by it not being an extended version of their beloved Monkees TV program and the older crowd it was geared towards either didn’t get it or would not buy into this new state of mind these boys were selling. Soon, Tork would leave as well as Nesmith, and the band would drop off the radar until MTV aired a marathon of the series to a new generation in lieu of their 20th Anniversary.  

The truth of the matter is that as widely panned as Head was from a film perspective, it contained some of the group’s greatest songs. Even though nary a single busted into the Top 40, songs like “Porpoise Song”, “Circle Sky” and “Can You Dig It” are fantastic tunes that are open in discussing their dark subject matter that was hidden with tunes such as “Last Train to Clarksville” – a song about a man meeting with his girlfriend for one last fling before he is hauled off to war after being drafted because he might not be coming back. “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again” and “Daddy’s Song” are also pretty catchy and very non Monkeee-sque. But in 1968, the soundtrack, edited with clips from the film by Nicholson, was undeservedly trashed due to its connection to the film.

We all know that Rafelson and Nicholson’s careers skyrocketed, especially the latter, and we know that the Monkees kept coming back into the scene, sans Nesmith, from time to time for a trip down nostalgia lane. There are also a ton of cameos, including Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Teri Garr, and Annette Funicello. Meanwhile, Head gained a cult following that carries on to this very day as a film ahead of its time and one terribly misunderstood. A film originating well before VCRs were created has now has carried over to Blu-ray. This is a weird little flick that you should check out whether you are fans of The Monkees or not. An easy joke here is...Go Get Some Head!

Allow me to interject with a personal anecdote: I was a very little tyke when MTV brought back The Monkees in ’86. My sister and I loved watching the show and seeking out their records, which we found at local garage sales for a dime a piece. Don’t judge me – Amazon and eBay weren’t even a thought back then. When Head was released on VHS, we jumped at the chance to see this little heard of Monkees piece, but it was one giant “WTF?!” to me, and even to my older sister. But I LOVED “Porpoise Song”. My young mind didn’t understand 60’s “psychedelic” or anything like that back then, but the song was just simply cool to me. The internet didn’t exist, so we didn’t know the film’s back story and didn't know what was going on while watching it. Much like their young fans at the time of the film’s release, we expected a full length feature version of a Monkees episode and instead received one confusing bore fest. It killed any Monkees craze we were experiencing at the time, so I can see how the film failed back then with the kiddies who got a chance to see it on the big screen. In fact, I totally forgot all about it until I went to film school several years later, when one of my professors used it as an example of experimental filmmaking and avant garde. The rapid editing in the “Daddy’s Song” sequence and the use of reverse polarization in certain scenes was really trippy, man. I did some research on the film for a class paper and learned about the history of the film and with it, a whole new appreciation for it as an adult. If I may, I highly recommend anyone remotely interested in the film to do some Google searches on the film's legacy and the politics that went on behind the scenes at the time of its filming. Coincidentally, Nick at Nite started airing re-runs of their TV show during that same time, and I could not bear to watch it. What was I thinking when I was a kid? They WERE a manufactured pop boy band and not the same group that were in Head. It is too bad that the world never received more doses of this evolution of Monkee (he-he!) because if the Head soundtrack was any indication, they might have gone the route of successfully re-inventing themselves ala Madonna. The Monkees being a boy band, their pop sound and their TV show…I could care less about and am not really into. However, I will defend Head to the very end as a great film. I mean, look at the brains behind it…they went on to make little known flicks you might have heard of called Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider.  

Enjoy these clips and songs from the film…

4 out of 5 Crazy Monkeys


Monday, March 5, 2012

Shows You Should Be Watching: Shameless (US version)

In 2011, Showtime premiered their new cable series Shameless, an export of the UK hit from 2004. As usual, once a UK series hits it big, Hollywood cannot resist the urge to remake it for U.S. audiences and pass it off as an original form of entertainment. For every successful translation like The Office and Being Human, there are miserable failures such as Coupling, Free Agents and Teachers. Basically, the translations are usually more fail than pass or even never-will-be's like in the case of remaking Red Dwarf, Spaced and Absolutely Fabulous. However, Showtime invested into a concept that goes against every grain found in the usual family situational comedies found in the States, and the result is a smashing success. 

Shameless revolves around the everyday lives of the Gallagher clan, an extremely dysfunctional family residing in the poor South Side of Chicago. The family’s patriarch Frank (William H. Macy) is an absolute mess of a human being, who scrapes by in life using the most despicable methods. He is an alcoholic who does "shameless" things such as claiming cash social security from his deceased sister, borrowing money from gangster he has no intention of repaying and living off government checks for a bogus disability just to drink his life away. Making matters worse is that his eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is left to play mother and father to her siblings ever since Mom left town and Frank is a deadbeat…even though he still has a room at their home. 

Her sibling responsibilities include Lip (Jeremy Allen White), a genius who could be a very successful individual if he only applied himself; Ian (Cameron Monaghan), a closet homosexual who desperately yearns for a career in the military; Debs (Emma Kenney), the little girl with an old soul; Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), who is bound for juvy and jail when he reaches those respective ages to qualify; and little mixed baby Liam, who was not fathered by Frank. Then there are Kevin (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton), neighbors and close friends who treat the Gallagher as part of their family.

While each of them has their own plights in life, Fiona is the most tragic because she is playing the role of a single parent and holding several crappy jobs when most girls her age are out enjoying their youth. Things change when she meets Steve (Justin Chatwin), a handsome car thief who is accepting of Fiona’s situation in life, but genuinely cares for her nonetheless. However, the good-natured Steve is hiding the fact that he hails from a wealthy family and wants no part of the lifestyle of his white-collared, well-to-do family tradition. Essentially, he is from the anti-Gallaghers in life and is insistent to hide his true identity from Fiona.

Meanwhile, Frank downs copious amounts of booze and scams people in order to crash at their pad and dodge his angry family who want as little interaction with him as possible, although he constantly crashes the house for some type of hand-me-out. His latest victim is Sheila, an agoraphobe on the outs with her hubby with a promiscuous daughter Karen (Laura Wiggins). Since she never leaves the house, she is unaware of how much of a scumbag Frank truly is and believes him to be a righteous man who really cares for her.
As you can see, there are a lot of characters in show, each that are unique and likable to watch…yes, even Frank in a weird way. Each week, the family deals with a situation, most of the time involving them in some sort of scam to make ends meet, as they try to survive without the comfort of having caring parents to support them. Then there are series-wide story arcs, such as the inclusion of Karen and Steve for example, that continue through every episode. The show did well enough that a second season was ordered for this year, but it really deserves more press than it is currently getting at this time. As of this writing, not one bad episode has aired. Even the transitional season opener linking the first season finale and the second premiere was even thoroughly enjoyable. Thus far, each episode feels very fresh and hopefully the creators can keep it up for several season to come.

With all of his drunken proclamations he spouts to justify his lack of a morally upscale existence, Macy should have received an Emmy for last season and should definitely be in the running for one based on his performance thus far in season two. You really will forget that it is Macy you are watching and actually seeing the dreadful Frank Gallagher on your screen. That withstanding, there is not one weak acting job in the whole bunch, even from the little ones with excellent casting choices. Combine some dark humor with interesting story lines and an outstanding cast, and you have a full on hit for your viewing pleasure.

It is rare that a show concerning odd characters who contrast how the All-American family is usually portrayed on television are made completely affable and people you cheer for to succeed. Whether you subscribe to cable or have Netflix, Shameless is a show that you should definitely be watching, even if you feel a bit shameless for doing so.

Airs every Sunday night at 10pm ET on Showtime.