jueves, 15 de abril de 2010

My Favorite Female Directors

It’s very interesting to watch films from a female perspective, as most of the time you can see a sensibility that is missing in most male-directed productions. This is a personal list of female filmmakers that I consider the best. Now have in mind that these are simply my own personal opinions, so don’t get your vagina in a twist if you don’t find your own personal favorites. It’s completely based on my own personal tastes.

Leni Riefenstahl
In my opinion, the greatest female filmmaker to ever live. I know it’s a controversial pick, considering that her most famous work was the propaganda documentary Triumph Of The Will. And I’m no Nazi sympathizer either, I hate the fuckers, but at the same time I love Birth of a Nation, and DW Griffith was by all accounts a full-blown racist. A great film is a great film, even with it’s political ideology, and Triumph of the Will has influenced many films that have come since (just look at Starship Troopers). But because of her association with the Nazi party, Riefenstahl will probably never get the recognition she deserves as a filmmaker. And if the montage and production levels of Triumph Of The Will aren’t enough to convince you, why not look at her other works like her famous Mountain films like The Blue Light, which is a beautiful artistic achievement of the German silent era, or her documentary Olympia, on the Munich Olympics. Riefenstahl was a true pioneer of every technical aspect of the motion picture, and hopefully one day she will get the credit that she deserves.

Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat is my kind of filmmaker: she’s got the energy of a teenager and isn’t afraid of being shocking or confrontational. Pictures like Fat Girl and Anatomy Of Hell show us a bleak, destructive world where sexuality can be just as dangerous as it is appealing, and the film’s content can really make us question the line between art and pornography. In this viewer’s opinion, however, it is unquestionably art.

Allison Anders
The female version of John Cassavettes, Allison Anders’ pictures have been able to show us a world where different but troubled characters are able to interact in a very realistic but disfunctional enviroment. Her punk debut Border Radio is heavy on the influence of Cassavettes, but she was soon able to find her own voice in pictures like Gas Food Lodging and Grace of my Heart. Why she isn’t as famous as Scorcese is beyond me.

Kimberly Pierce
Pierce has not made as many films as some of our other filmmakers on this list, but her two main films, Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss (a very underrated film), are truly breathtaking works of art, showing us an ugly world with ugly consequences, where hatred rules above all, but in the end there is always a feeling of hope. She is a true artist, only making the movies she wants to make instead of going from one job to aother, kind of like a female Kubrick (only not as dull). I hope she gets to make more films in the future, I absolutely love her work.

Kathryn Bigelow
She’s recently become more famous thanks to the fact that she became the first female director to win an academy award for direction (over her ex husband, no less). However, film fans who know better have known her since the early eighties when she became, and still is, the best female practicionar in the action film genre. From having the best vampire movie ever (Near Dark) to an intense police drama (Blue Steel), a powerful action film about robbers who surf (Point Break) and a bleak cyberpunk future (Strange Days), the woman has made truly edge-of-your-sear experiences, and now that the rest of the world is finally catching up to her, is funny imagining what the future will look like, and the great films she’ll be able to produce. Go Kathryn!

Agnes Varda
In the French New Wave, Agnes Varda was one of the few females creating films on the genre, with Cleo From 5 to 7 to Le Bonheur. However, it’s Vagabond, the story of a young woman who lives in the wild streets, that really makes her shine as an artist. She’s not very known around the world except to fans of arthouse cinema, but I urge anyone who is into daring but subtle material to take a look at her films.

Ida Lupino
She might be known as a beautiful and glamorous actress from the 40’s in different film noirs, but her true talents shined as a director of low budget films, showing material that almost nobody dared to show. Outrage was the first mainstream film to deal honestly with rape, while The Hitch-Hiker predated the Rutger Hauer thriller The Hitcher by almost 40 years. The Bigamist showed a man who was married with two women, and Hard Fast and Beautiful showed the theme of a mother living through her daughter’s career. As you can see, these are all very confrontational subjects, and done during the 40’s and 50’s where movies were more ‘safe’. Ida Lupino was a true maverick.

Penelope Spheeris
Although she’s more famous for silly comedies like Wayne’s World and The Beverly Hillbillies, it’s her “Decline Of Western Civilization’ series that put her on this list for me. The three films are excellent, particularly the first and third ones. While the first one showed us the LA punk scene in it’s beginnings, it’s her third entry, showing us the group of punk rockers who live on the streets, that truly made the strings of my emotions sing. They’re shocking and not easy to watch, but that’s what great documentaries are all about, aren’t they?

Maya Deren
Maya Deren was an experimental filmmaker during the 40’s until the 60’s, making movies outside the mainstream and being some of the only truly independent films to be made at the time. Her short “Meshes in the Afternoon” has influenced many of the modern surrealist filmmakers like David Lynch, a work of truly nightmarish logic that gives us the limits of what film can do. She also made THE most interesting documentary on Haiti, The Living Gods Of Haiti.

And that's it! A special mention has to go to Doris Wishman, who made some of the most interesting, if not downright insane exploitation films of the 60's and 70's, Marguerite Von Trotta who made the great Lost Honor Of Katharina Blum, Mary Harron of American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol and Notorious Bettie Page, and to Catherine Hardwicke, who made the great Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, before she fucked it all up with Twilight.

lunes, 12 de abril de 2010

Justice League Of America

The 90’s were a sad, sad time for comic book adaptations. With the exception of the Batman and Superman animated series, we swam in a river of low-budget superhero flicks (the previously reviewed Fantastic Four, Captain America) and bad tv shows like Night Man. Many tried to make the cut, but almost none of them did. But there is one legendary pilot that is known for being way too goofy for it’s own sake, and that’s the Justice League Of America pilot. First of all, there is no Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman on this lineup, so don’t get your hopes up. The story involves Flash, Green Lantern (Guy Gardner), The Atom and Fire as they go about their superhero business trying to save the city from the evil Weather Man (really the Weather Wizard, but apparently that’s not realistic enough, right?) and having a new member join the group named Ice, who can create, well, Ice.
The main problem with this film is that it was written for television, so it’s full of really bad humor and the acting never rises from your typical sitcom type of performing. The actors are bland and forgettable, the saddest being Miguel Ferrer (who was in Robocop) who’s a genuinely good actor and is just wasted in this crap.
The only saving grace about this is the costumes, which look cheesy and hilarious. I’m very afraid of what the Green Lantern and Flash movies are going to look like after watching this, since I’m not sure just how convincing you can make them look on film. But nothing will prepare you for when you see the pudgy Martian Manhunter, who looks like he’s made out of hamburger meat. No wonder this thing never got beyond it’s pilot stage: it’s badly written and terribly acted and is nowhere near as cool as the source material it came from. Avoid.

La Rebelion De Las Muertas

Paul Naschy was a true legend, and a real inspiration for yours truly. While he worked mostly in horror, he made every kind of movie possible, and he made them his own. He’s kind of an auteur in a way, as everytime you watch one of his films you feel like you’re watching something exclusively by him, and not just because he stars in most of them. But well, that’s what I thought until I saw this wacko, bat-shit crazy bonkers of a horror movie.
The story is simple: Naschy plays two roles, that of a Hindu guru named Krishna, and his deformed psychotic brother Kantaka (I’m dead serious) who are fighting over the soul of a pretty young woman named Elvire (played by Romy, and yes it’s one of those one-name actresses). While Krishna uses the powers of good, Kantaka uses the powers of evil, which include an army of female zombies. You know they’re zombies because they’re wearing blue paint. Duh.
As I said, this movie is ridiculous. The story is basically a mystery over the Naschy character and whether or not it’s him or his twin, even though we know from the beginning that it’s Kantaka who’s doing all the evil stuff. There is some nice, gory death scenes and some ample nudity, but the most memorable aspect to it are the surreal Satanic sequences that Romy goes through, where we see Naschy, dressed as a grinning satyr, doing the spells. This is both creepy and hilarious, but you can’t really stop watching it.
Watch it on drugs.

Orca The Killer Whale

In the wake of Steven Speilberg’s mega-budget blockbuster and film classic Jaws, it seems that every producer under the sun decided to make a movie about a killer animal, be it a bear (Grizzly) or giant rats and chickens (Food of the Gods) and everything in between (Day of the Animals). But none of these exploitation rip-offs are as legendary, nor as strangely obnoxious as Orca The Killer Whale, made by Dino de Laurentiis, the same man who gave us Flash Gordon and Max Von Sydow in a Fu Manchu moustache.
But the movie is actually not bad. It’s story deals with a group of fishermen, led by the always-ready-to-overact Richard Harris, who accidentally hit a killer whale. They are able to capture it, but then the killer whale decides to give birth and abort it’s baby, a latexy fetus which the characters decide to hose away. The scene is pretty awful and disgusting, but it still makes you laugh in a morbid sort of way. Everything was watched by the whale’s ‘husband’ another killer whale, who we’ll call Orkey, who decides to go Charles Bronson on their asses and go on a rampage of vengeance.
It’s very interesting that everything about this movie even goes on, as they could have easily gone to live in the city and forget about the whole thing. But no, they live in a fishing town (of course), and Orkey seems to have the power of God behind it since it causes all sorts of disasters and explosions just to get the character to ‘face him’ in the sea. And this is where the silliness of the film comes into play. In Jaws, the shark was just that, a shark, a killing machine who, sure, could jump on boats, but still it pretty much was a dumb eating animal (until the sequels, that is). Here, the Orca is some sort of sacred cow who has a conscience and is able to think like a man, something that is repeatedly drilled home by the film’s hot lead, played by Charlotte Rampling. Frankly I listened to her more when she was dancing around half naked and in Nazi uniform, but hey to each their own.
Rampling is very good, but it’s Richard Harris who steals the show. He over-acts as always and takes the movie to an almost hallucinatory level of ridiculousness by how serious he takes everything, just like the script does. The special effects are also pretty good, and I wasn’t able to distinguish between the real and mechanical killer whales, just like in Jaws. So yeah this is a rip-off, and it’s also really ridiculous, but I think it’s a pretty good adventure movie and I recommend it nonetheless.

Shock O Rama

I am not the biggest fan of the Seduction Cinema crew. Not that what they’re doing is bad or anything, but after taking a peek at the tits, there’s really little to nothing to recommend about them, since most of their attempts at humor are just, well, horrible. They do have a lot of good-looking women however. Misty Mundae, AJ Khan, Julian Wells, Caitlin Ross, they’re all here, and they’re all memorable in this omnibus film that actually tries to be different from the norm.
Yes, it’s an omnibus, which means it’s different stories in one movie. The central story deals with a group of low-budget exploitation filmmakers trying to find a new actress to get naked in their latest opus. Here they begin to watch different movies, and it’s from these movies that the stories come from, with the exception of Misty Mundae’s story, Zombie This, which features her character, Rebecca Raven, fighting a zombie in a woodshed ala Evil Dead. The first story is by far the best, Mecharachnia, which features an alien visitor who takes over a car dump and creates a giant robot monster using the parts. I love it mainly because of it’s use of stop-motion animation, on the alien and on the monster truck (literally).
The third story, Lonely Are The Brain, is the longest and has the most sex. It’s very interesting, and puts out some good ideas. It’s cool to see the typical lesbian antics of AJ Kahn and Julian Wells go on full display with a better written horror story than your typical SC film. The ending, featuring an evil brain, is hilarious and the effect is top notch. It doesn’t have the imagination of Mecharachnia, but it’s still pretty cool.
Add to that a funny script, top notch cinematography and of course, a ton of lesbian sex, and you got yourself a pretty damn good horror omnibus film. Highly entertaining and highly recommended.

Twisted Nerve

Hywel Benneth plays Martin, a rather disturbed young man who lives with a very endearing mother and a stepfather that he really hates. He’s wealthy, he’s young, you’d think he’d have it all, but the one thing he wants is Susan, played by Hayley Mills (who was in those awful Parent Trap movies). He can’t just go and talk to the woman, no that’d be too easy. He decides to take a cue from his mentally-challenged brother and decides to act like a disturbed retard in front of her. For some reason Susan finds this very endearing, and soon Martin creeps into her life. But Martin is very jealous, and will stop everyone from trying to stop him from being with Susan, even if it means committing murder.
This nearly-forgotten British thriller is now mostly known by it’s main theme song. written by Bernard Herrmann, which was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1, during the sequence where Darryl Hannah walks in the hospital dressed as a nurse, ready to kill The Bride as she’s in a coma. It’s easy to see why he’d use it, as it’s very effective, from it’s beginning whistling to the loud bombastic and suspenseful build-up. But besides the music, this movie is very damn good.
The script and direction are very basic, and it’s no different than most psycho killer movies about disturbed young men that came out during the time, thanks to Psycho. However, Hywel is very memorable in the role, mainly because he’s so charming and good-looking, you’d never think of him as a psycho if you saw him in the street. Hayley Mills does fine, but my favorite character was her mother, played by Billie Whitelaw. She seems to be the only smart character in the film, noticing from the beginning that Martin is something of a nutbag, and in the end she sadly pays for it.
So if you want to watch a top-notch psycho-thriller that, while not offering something new, is still pretty cool and memorable, I recommend you watch this film. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go whistle the main theme now.


I’m a big fan of Tim Ritter, as I have said in my older review of Twisted Nerve. His Killing Spree is one of the greatest no-budget horror films of all time and it’s a movie that I constantly go back and watch again everything I get sick of filmmaking and need to get inspired. His movies are original, interesting and psychological, even if they have little to no budget. Creep in particular is very no-budgeted, but it still has some interesting points to it.
The story involves a real asshole named Angus Lynch (played by Ritter regular Joel D. Wincoop), who is just about the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, going around killing people and treating them like shit. He meets up with his stripper sister Kascha (played by 90’s sex scandal celebrity Kathy Willets) and both go on a killing spree, all the while a tough female cop (Patricia Paul) is trying to get to them both.
The movie’s main claim to fame is the fact that it does use Kathy Willets, who in the 90’s appeared in all the talk shows and was in a scandal for sleeping with some senator or something, I don’t know and I don’t care. She’s actually the movie’s biggest flaw, as her acting is non-existent and not even her stiff-hard fake breasts are able to make her interesting, which is a sad thing because the angle of a brother/sister incestuous killing team was the movie’s most interesting aspect. If Ritter had used a better actress, I’m sure this movie would have been better. But everything else is just cool. The murders are as over the top as always, and Joel D. Wincoop steals the show, playing one of the most unlikable but entertaining psychopaths in screen history. The ending’s twist is also really badass and completely came from left field. Touché, Mister Ritter, I had no idea it was coming.
So yes, this is a very low budget film, and suffers from a celebrity actress who really shouldn’t be there, but the film is really damn good and very well worth watching. Recommended to horror fans everywhere.

Dead Doll

I have a lot of instances where I go into a movie not really expecting anything, and end up really enjoying the picture. Case in point, Dead Doll. I wasn’t really interested in watching movies about killer life-size dolls because I find the idea a little uninteresting, and had already seen good examples of this type of film like Love Object, a very underrated film.
The film is basically a re-hash of a Frankenstein/revenge story, only with a sex doll. A temperamental artist gets a less-than-enthusiastic response to his latest sculpture from his girlfriend. Her harsh words cause him to fly into a rage, and he kills her. In order to hide the body, he crafts a sexy life-size doll and hides her remains inside. Her spirit begins to animate the doll and as the doll is passed from one owner to another, she lures men into using her for pleasure and then takes bloody revenge against them.
The acting and production values are pretty good for this kind of film, although I would be lying if I told you I didn’t find some flaws in the technical aspects once in a while. The idea of a doll who makes different people go insane is a good one, although to be honest I would have liked to have seen more women become obsessed and psychotic with the thing. But everything about this movie means nothing compared to our lead actress, played by Romi Koch. She is hot and is constantly naked, and kept me guessing her accent all the way through. Is she German? Romanian? Austrian? She really does look like a sex doll. Talk about perfect casting.
So yes, I enjoyed this picture, but I do have to give it it’s own warning. It’s not scary nor suspenseful, and most of the comedy falls flat on it’s face. But it is entertaining, and I guess we can’t really ask more of it, can we?

The Killing Of America

I am not a big fan of ‘death’ or mondo videos. If you don’t know what those are, they are basically compilation tapes featuring footage from other sources, mostly deaths and bizarre behavior. It was a genre created by the Italians in the early 60’s with Mondo Cane, and there have been many notorious titles, from Africa, Addio which features real executions and sickening footage of animals being hunted for the movie, to the infamously fake Faces of Death series, to the ones that came out on the 90’s which is basically autopsy footage set to really bad death metal music. I’m sorry but it’s very hard for me to watch this shit. You can only stand watching R. Budd Dwyer’s suicide so many times before it just gives you the urge to shower.
To that degree, I just saw a mondo film that could be considered art. That’s right, art. That film is The Killing Of America, which you probably figured out since you’re e reading the review right now. It was compiled by Leonard Schraeder, who is Paul Schraeder’s brother, the same man who gave us the script for Taxi Driver. Basically this is a filmic study of why the United States has become such a violent place, and why there is more gun violence on the US than in any other place in the world. We begin with the Kennedy assassination, which Schraeder sees as the match that lit the fire, and we go down onto the ranks of notorious incidents such as the Charles Whitman sniper shootings, the Manson Killings, serial killers like Ted Bundy, political assassinations, and random footage of people going nuts with guns, the most memorable being a man who takes prisioner a banker/stock broker (I think) and parades him around for three days with a shotgun beneath his chin. Talk about having a bad week!
If you feel the message of the film sounds familiar, yes, this movie will remind everyone of Bowling For Columbine. But the thing is, this was made 20 years BEFORE Michael Moore’s documentary, so it really shows how things haven’t gone better at all, they’ve gotten worse in fact! This is a very engaging film, and I recommend everyone who has a strong stomach and an interest in history and culture to watch it. But be warned: the movie is violent and we see everything in very explicit details. A powerful work of art.

Easter Bunny Kill Kill

Slashers involving holiday murderers are a dime a dozen, hell even I wrote a script called Easterkill, so if you’re going to do it, you better make something worth a crap. It has to have something of an original twist to it to diferentiate it from the long sea of Halloween and Friday the 13th imitators. And that’s exactly what you get when you watch this film, the brainchild of young auteur Chad Ferrin. That twist? This is a positive family movie! Along with all the bloodshed and gore, of course.
The story involves a retarded kid named Nicholas (Ricardo Gray) who loves Easter and his mother. The person he doesn’t love however, is his mother’s boyfriend, Remington (Timothy Muskatell). Remington is an asshole and a murderer who tells vicious shit behind Nicholas’ back, without the mother knowing. But that all changes when a killer, dressed in a bunny mask, starts killing people in the house after Remington brings along a wheezing fat pedophile and a group of hookers. All of the events are over-seen by a street bum (Trent Haaga, from Terror Firmer) who may or may not be more to the story than meets the eye.
Chad Ferrin is able to make a lot with a small budget. For starters, his film seems very personal, and the script takes it’s time to let us know the characters fully and let us really hate the bad guys, making their untimely demise even more fun. The acting is top notch. Gray is pretty good as a retard, and I especially loved his interactions with a bunny that the bum gave him at the beginning of the film. I was kind of thinking that Remington was going to kill the bunny at any moment, but that didn’t happen. I guess the director thought he was enough of an asshole. Special props go to Charlotte Marie, who plays the mother, not because she’s a very good actress, but because she looks like one of those hot black women you see in the Big Booty porn videos. Damn what a beautiful woman!
All joking aside though, this was a very solid, interesting slasher film that dares to be different from the norm. In a genre that is so full of imitators and cliches, it’s nice to see something that isn’t a ripoff and is able to stand on it’s own. Highly recommended.