Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Blog and the Films of 2013

The year has come to an end and unlike most years, I'm actually going to take this time to do a brief post reflecting on the year that was 2013. First, this blog has seen a few changes. The biggest change being the name of the blog. Midway through this year, I took a class and used my writing for this blog as part of that class. People in the class understood (and hopefully enjoyed) the concept of the blog, but felt that my initial name, Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs: A Site About Film, didn't really make sense to the average reader. This was a problem I was aware of when I started the blog. The title was a reference to a song used in the immortal 1973 classic film The Wicker Man, and I figured anyone that was interested in my blog had probably seen that film.

Parting with that name was harder that I imagined it would be. While it may not have made sense to the masses, I loved it and always felt it catered to the audience that I was writing for. Former regular readers would lament over the loss of the name, but I find the new name to be just as fitting and appropriate. And so 3,616 Miles from Cannes was born. Here's why the name works for me.

1. The name pays homage to the Walter Salles short film 5,557 Miles from Cannes (AKA A 8 944 km de Cannes).

2. The name directly states how far my physical presence is from the city Cannes, which hosts the famous film festival.

3. The name is meant to give the sense that the films I write about will range from films that played at Cannes to cult titles that would never have a chance of playing at the film festival.

It's a name that I initially wasn't crazy about, but it has grown on me. Now, on with what people really care about at the end of the year. The top ten list.

But I hate top ten lists. Creating a top ten list is the "norm" for film blogs, but at the end of the year there are always movies that I haven't seen that I know I should have. At this moment, I have only seen 161 movies this year (expecting it to be at least 162 by the end of today), which is a fairly low number for me. And even less of those were actually from 2013. So instead of creating a traditional top ten list, I'm simply going to list ten films that I loved from this year in no particular order.

- Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
- Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)
- Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
- Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh)
- Stoker (Park Chan-wook)
- 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
- The World's End (Edgar Wright)
- Rush (Ron Howard)
- Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
- You're Next (Adam Wingard) / Mud (Jeff Nichols)

As any reader will note, there are a number of (probably) worthy films missing from this list that I haven't been able to see yet. And also note that because I hate end of the year top ten lists so much, I cheated and did the famous two films for one slot. And also note...where is Getaway?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Quest for Demons 6: De Profundis

Pictured above is a burned copy of a Japanese VHS of an Italian horror film called Demons 6: De Profundis (AKA The Black Cat, AKA Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat, AKA Demons 6: Armagedon and no, I did not misspell that one. That's how it's actually spelled on a Japanese VHS somewhere). A film of many titles, it was released in 1989 and was an unofficial finale to Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy. Unofficial because Argento himself did not direct this film. Rather, it was Luigi Cozzi, a protege of Argento's and a fine filmmaker in his own right. Later, Argento would finish the trilogy himself in 2007 with Mother of Tears. But that was nearly 20 years down the road. Between the years of 1989 and 2007, this was the only film that followed Suspiria and Inferno.

That's what sparked my initial interest in Demons 6: De Profundis. Despite the terrible reviews and the fact that Dario Argento didn't direct it, the completist in me had to see this film. So I sought the film out, and to my horror, no official DVD or Blu-ray existed. Period. Not in the United States. Not in the UK. Not in Italy. There is no DVD or Blu-ray of this film in existence. After countless hours of searching for an official release and coming up empty, I was on a treasure hunt and needed to find it in some form.

At first, I read on message boards that Netflix had the film streaming under the title The Black Cat. That was in 2011, and when I checked in on Netflix, I came up empty. Then, on another message board, I actually found the complete film streaming (and I think legally). It had been uploaded to YouTube (and I'll link below to the entire film) from an old Japanese VHS tape. But you know, there's something about watching a film on a computer that rubs me the wrong way, so I would have none of that. I needed to find a physical copy of Demons 6: De Profundis. And eventually, I found a guy who had a copy.

The gentleman, who was on the sketchy form of eBay known as iOffer, was selling a DVD copy of the Japanese VHS tape. So, essentially I would be getting the same thing that was on YouTube, but for $10 and on a burned DVD. Now on with the sketchy stuff. This guy did not accept PayPal. Why, oh why, would this gentleman not accept PayPal? Instead, he only used BitCoin (...no?) or a check/money order. Generally, I wouldn't send out a check to a random stranger without receiving the item first, but simply put...THIS WAS DEMONS 6: DE PROFUNDIS! So I did it. Ten dollars in the mail without any guarantee (besides the seller's rating, which was high...but it's iOffer...) that I would ever receive anything in return.

Week after week went by and tension built as nothing appeared in my mailbox. I had to contact the seller multiple times to check in and make sure that he sent the package. Then I started thinking that maybe I gave the wrong address. Maybe I gave the address of some person who looooves Italian horror movies, and was enjoying my copy of Demons 6: De Profundis while I had nothing. Over the course of four weeks, there were many paranoid moments, but I kept my faith in the US Postal Service and this iOffer seller the entire time. Yet nothing ever showed up in my mailbox. And just as I had lost all hope, it appeared. And it was glorious.

And the movie sucked.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Short Film Sunday: Director Takashi Shimizu

I recently noticed that The Dissolve posted and wrote a brief blurb about Takashi Shimizu's short horror film Katasumi (AKA In a Corner), released in 1998 just before the huge Japanese horror (J-Horror) boom in the United States. Back in the day (the 2000s, to be specific), I was a fan of the J-Horror movement. The works of directors like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hideo Nakata, Takashi Miike, and naturally, Takashi Shimizu, were always noteworthy and were a treat to seek out. Just as quickly as it arrived in the States, though, the genre seemed to fade into obscurity. Some of the directors moved on to projects outside of the horror genre, while others are still making the classic J-Horror films of old.

Takashi Shimizu is one of the latter directors, having recently made two films that received (I believe) direct-to-video releases in the United States: Tormented and The Shock Labyrinth 3D. Along with those, his first American film, titled 7500, has been finished for awhile and is waiting for a theatrical (or DVD/Blu-ray) release. While the J-Horror subgenre isn't necessarily booming at the moment, there's clearly still a market for that and Shimizu is still relevant in that scene.

Despite the current state of the genre or Takashi Shimizu, the short film that The Dissolve posted brought me back to that special time where J-Horror was the only horror to watch. Below is the film Katasumi, retitled in America as In a Corner. Giving this slightly over three minute short film a viewing, you see the talent that Shimizu really has in this specific genre. The ghosts that he creates (which would later appear in all of the Ju-On or Grudge films that he directed) embody everything that J-Horror is. I'm going to post links to two short films, this and 4444444444, also directed by Shimizu. This is my least favorite of the two that I'm posting, but it's still a solid entry in the Japanese horror film world.

The next film, 4444444444, is in my opinion the superior of the two for a couple of different reasons. The first is it introduces what is arguably Takashi Shimizu's most famous character, Toshio. Toshio is the young, pale ghost-boy from Ju-On who has always been incredibly creepy to me. Casper the Friendly Ghost he is not. The second reason why this is the better of the two films is the atmosphere that Shimizu creates. It's in the middle of the day, which is in contrast to most horror films. Generally horror movies try to use the nighttime to their advantage.  Despite this, Shimizu manages to make the daytime scary. The wind is blowing in an odd, ominous way. The setting, which seems like it should be populated by passersby or anyone, is strangely deserted. It simply feels unsettling and at a few seconds under three minutes in length, is a huge success in my opinion.

Takashi Shimizu may not have been my favorite of the J-Horror directors, but I have a great deal of respect for what he created, which were more direct horror films than his peers. Both of these films come from an anthology titled Gakkou no kaidan G, which apparently translates to School Ghost Story G. I haven't been able to find a copy of that film in its entirety, but these two shorts were plenty to rekindle the memory of the golden age of J-Horror for me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Filmgoing: The Good, the Bad, and the OhmyGodIamsoscaredrightnow.Areyouscaredrightnow?I'mscared.

Insidious: Chapter 2 opened in theaters this weekend, and while I'm not going to discuss my thoughts on the film, I will say that I was excited to see it. I showed up Friday night at the Orono theater nearly an hour early. This was in part because I'm bad at figuring out how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B, and also because I just really wanted to get going and see the movie. I waited for my brother, Joel, in the parking lot of the theater for a good twenty or so minutes, but once it finally got to the point where there was ONLY A HALF HOUR BEFORE THE FILM BEGAN, I bolted towards the theater entrance and purchased my ticket.

Overboard a little? Yes. I just wanted to make sure that at this screening I got "my seat," which is third row center. Long before the woman put up the "seating" sign up for Insidious: Chapter 2, my brother and I were at the front of the line, and then once the "seating" sign actually went up, I again bolted towards the theater, muttering under my breath "third row, center...third row center..." I'm very serious about my seat.

Once we were actually the first ones in the theater, with the others trailing behind by at least twenty yards, Joel asked...

Joel: Where do you want to sit?
Me: Third row, center.
Joel: Are you sure? It's a small theater and sometimes...

So I admit, at this point I was probably going a little nutty, but I just want my optimal viewing experience. It's what filmgoing is all about. It's the experience you pay the price for, and it should be a damned good one.

Unfortunately, on this day, third row, center was not the seat to have. Immediately after sitting down, a fairly large group of chatty individuals sat a couple of rows behind us. No big deal, though, as they were a couple of rows behind us and most chatty groups calm down after the film begins. It was fine, though it was a bad omen for what was to come.

As the lights went down and the trailers began, THAT group came in. You know that group. The group who can't arrive on time to the movies, and when they arrive late they say in a valley girl (or guy) voice, "Why's it so dark? I can't see. Where are some empty seats..." and they just stand in the entryway laughing, possibly getting their phones out before stumbling into the seat closest to, generally, me. This group came in, and I generally don't talk during trailers, but I looked over at Joel and mouthed something that I won't write in this blog. That group of what sounded like twenty sat right behind me. My blood pressure and "Film Rage" quickly elevated.

But I think, maybe this will be fine! It's just the trailers, and maybe they'll quiet down. Oh no, though. Oh no, they did not quiet down.

The entire film was filled with minor chatting, whispering, and outright loud talking. No matter how many times one looked back with an evil glance, the chatting did not stop. The worst part is what was actually coming out of their mouths. One girl seriously went on for about five minutes saying the following thing...

Girl: Oh my God! I am so scared right now. I'm so scared! (To Friend) Are you scared? I'm so scared!

Friend: Me too! I'm so scared! Oh my God! Are you scared?

Girl: Oh my God I AM SO SCAAAARED!

Meanwhile, Johnny Astute proved worthy of his name and made some astute observations to his girlfriend over our right shoulder, piecing together plot points which had already been made clear over a half hour ago in the film. He also cracked the always welcomed not funny joke on occasion, most of which the film had already made itself or at least alluded to. Johnny Astute, I applaud you and your infinite wit and wisdom.

My site is about film and filmgoing, and after this Friday night at the theater I just have to point out that there are two filmgoing rules that one should always follow if they choose to enter the cinema.

1. Don't Talk - This is a very simple, time honored tradition in the theater. No whisper goes unheard. No phone conversation is wanted. No joke is ever that funny that you have to say it right in the theater at that very moment. And most of all, nobody in that theater really cares what you have to say at that particular moment, because we did not pay to hear you talk. I don't care how scared you or your friend are or how clever you think you are. Keep quiet.

2. No Cellphones - Seriously! Cellphones! Just turn them off! The light that they emit when in use is annoying and it's just two hours. You can deal with that.

I take my film watching very seriously. Some would say I take film watching too seriously at times. Yet, these are two simple things that all filmgoers are asking for, and if you can't follow these rules then just stay home.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Fall of the House of Usher Blu-ray

When I get a title from either Arrow Video or Scream Factory, I get excited. Both of these companies are great and I try to keep up with their releases as much as possible. There was a dilemma this past summer, though, as Arrow Video was releasing Fall of the House of Usher, a Vincent Price/Roger Corman film that I (shamefully) have not seen before, on Blu-ray with a nice steelbook edition. I love my steelbook editions and the release date was towards the end of August. It all seemed perfect.

Perfect, that is, until Scream Factory announced a Vincent Price box set. This release is set to feature the Vincent Price classics The Pit and the Pendulum, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Witchfinder General, The Masque of the Red Death, The Haunted Palace, as well as Fall of the House of Usher. Sure, it's coming out on October 22nd and it doesn't come in an awesome steelbook package, but look at those titles!

As I grappled with what to do, to order the single edition of Fall of the House of Usher or the whole box set from Scream Factory, I just began to hope that Arrow Video owns the rights to more Vincent Price titles and I kept my pre-order for their release. It arrived today, and I have to say that I'm more than satisfied. I haven't given the disc a spin even, but the packaging is awesome. The artwork is a fantastic wraparound design which, if I'm not mistaken, is taken directly from the UK poster. Along with the nice looking steelbook, you also get a fairly thick booklet inside, which I haven't even opened yet. It is thick, though, which can't be a bad thing.

I'll update this blog when I watch the Blu-ray over the weekend and give my impressions on both the film and the quality of the disc.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Halloween 2013 Film Preparation

As a horror film fan, Halloween has always been a special time of year that can't come soon enough. Sure, I watch horror movies all year long, but there's nothing better than saving specific titles for the season (like...Halloween?) or stumbling across a film you've never seen before on TCM that just has that bit of Halloween magic. Along with saving titles and DVRing them, I've also been pre-ordering horror movies on Amazon all spring and summer, looking forward to that fine fall day when they finally arrive on my doorstep.

This past weekend, in preparation for the upcoming Halloween season, I stopped by an "indoor" tent sale at Bullmoose Music specifically in search of good films and horror films. If there was a film that was both good and horror, even better. The selection was not as good as I was hoping, but oh well. Each title was only two dollars, so I really couldn't complain with whatever I ended up with. Here were the selected horror titles.

1. Toolbox Murders (2004) - This remake of the 1978 film is directed by Tobe Hooper, and I've never actually watched it the entire way through. I've seen the beginning several times, but each time something else always came up and I never finished it. With Angela Bettis (of May fame) and Juliet Landau (of Ed Wood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) this has enough going for it to warrant a two dollar purchase.

2.  The Exorcist III (1990) - I've seen the original The Exorcist, of course, but I've never seen this sequel and really have no idea what it's about. There have always been ardent supporters of this film online, some that say it's superior to the original even. Written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of both the novel and film version of The Exorcist, this was probably my most exciting find.

3. Feast (2006 theatrical release) - I watched all of season three of Project Greenlight and thought that director John Gulager might actually have something with this film. When Feast was finally given a theatrical release in September of 2006, I took my wife on our first date to see it. Terrible idea. She hated the film and I disliked it. I've always meant to revisit it, as I actually liked the sequels, so for two dollars, why not?

4. The Ruins (2008) - I didn't love The Ruins when I saw it in the theater and I didn't hate it. It's just somewhere in between, which to me is a shame. I was a huge fan of Scott Smith's book and just felt somewhat let down by elements that weren't included and by some of the elements that were changed. Still, I'm glad I have a copy to reflect back on.

And of course, Reese's Pumpkins to top all of that off.

Along with those, I bought a copies of Intolerable Cruelty, Tigerland, and a bunch of CDs that I'd probably be too embarrassed to mention. A good start to the Halloween film season? I certainly hope so.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Getaway Review

Review: Getaway (2013)

Director: Courtney Solomon

Getaway. I'd seen the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, but that did not deter me from going to see this film. As a matter of fact, I was kind of excited to see it. Not because I thought that it was going to be good, but it couldn't possibly be as bad as the reviews indicated and might even entertain slightly. The (at the time) zero percent on the Rotten Tomatoes? 2002's Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever had zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes and I (shamefully) liked that movie.

Upon arrival, I felt good about the prospect of seeing Getaway. I was wearing my leather jacket, because if you're going to see a car movie, you have to wear your leather jacket. I went to the 10:00 PM showing on Thursday, and as I walked into the theater I noticed there were a few people getting tickets and hanging out in the lobby. Not many, but a few. I figured, of course all of these people are here to see the 10:00 PM first showing of Getaway. What else would they be here for?

Yet as I walked into the cinema, I realized I was wrong. Very wrong. It was 9:46 PM and there was nobody else in the theater. A fluke, I thought. There are bound to be more people that come in as the showtime nears. As time went by, though, it slowly dawned on me that I was going to be the only person in this theater watching Getaway. Even with the leather jacket on at this point, I didn't feel cool. I didn't feel cool at all.

As the film begins, we open knowing that something terrible has happened. And also that something terrible is about to happen to the viewers. Brent Magna, played by Ethan Hawke, sees a bunch of destruction in his Christmas decorated apartment and has flashbacks (of incidents he never actually witnessed) in black in white that show the audience the terrible thing that has happened to him: His wife has been kidnapped. The mysterious man who kidnapped his wife, played by Jon Voight and known only as The Voice, has Magna steal a car and create havoc on the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria, giving commands only by phone. The Voice says he'll let Magna's wife go if Magna does exactly what he says. So naturally, Magna does everything, including destroy hundreds of cop cars, most likely kill a majority of the Sofia, Bulgaria police department in these massive wrekcs, and harm several innocent people out simply enjoying Christmas. Does any of this weigh on him much? Yes, but as long as Magna gets his wife back, it's okay, right?

That's just one of the flaws of Getaway. The flaws within the film are many, though, but the most important and unforgivable are the car chase sequences. Yes, there's a lot of destruction, but each sequence is poorly edited, hard to follow due to excessive cutting, and overall confusing to watch. It's hard to keep track of where Magna is, what Magna is doing, and how he's actually evading the police. Just as you think everything makes a bit of sense as the cars go at high speeds, there's a random cut to some police cars randomly crashing and you think, where did that come from?

Then there is the fact that character development is relegated to Selena Gomez's character, known only as The Kid, constantly complaining about the situation she's been put in and Brent Magna just yelling and getting upset, then driving some more. There's really not much for Hawke or Gomez to work with in the script, and I felt bad for these two actors, especially considering the fact the Hawke had two movies released this year (The Purge and Before Midnight) which I liked.

I have enjoyed previous films that Getaway's director Courtney Solomon has been involved with, specifically the low budget horror and action films that he has produced, but as a director he clearly cannot handle an action film of this nature. Quick cuts, stationary cameras attached to cars, grainy footage, and constantly showing Ethan Hawke's character switching gears does not make for an exciting popcorn film. The major point of this film is to entertain with action, but with action sequences that are poorly constructed and marred by bad editing and camerawork, Getaway fails. And it fails miserably.

Grade: F