Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Melbourne's Golden Age of Hong Kong Movie Ads 2

John Woo's Once A Thief ('96) did three weeks at Melbourne's Chinatown Cinema.

I got into its more light-hearted tone, even though I prefer Woo's heavier pics like Bullet in the Head and Just Heroes.

Nonsensical sequel -- not that the original made a terrible lot of sense! Still, the original was far more erotic.

The excellent Queen of Temple Street ('90), a serious-minded look at prostitution in Hong Kong, did zero business in Melbourne.

Armor of God 2 - Operation Condor ('91) was notorious for going way over budget.

I walked out of the cinema extremely bored and disappointed. While overshooting and overspending, director Chan (Jackie) lost sight of plot, pacing, and logic. Even the action was a letdown.

Wong Kar Wai's second feature, Days of Being Wild ('90), bored me to tears. As Tears Go By ('88) was his first effort. I didn't like that, either.

Sibelle Hu and Moon Lee visited the Chinatown for the premier Melbourne screening of Bury Me High ('91), a very ambitious, inconsistent actioner. They were very friendly and eager to answer the craziest audience questions such as "What are your favorite stockings?" and (to Moon): "Do you have a boyfriend, and do you kick him during arguments?"

"I'm too busy for boys," was Moon's answer.

Shot by Peter Pau (A Fishy Story, The Killer, Bride of Chucky, The Bride With White Hair), the film is set in an imaginery country where Vietnamese is often spoken and seen.

Dreary sequel.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dr. Lamb Lobby Cards #2

Lam Gor-Yu (Simon Yam) prepares to have sex with a dead girl in Danny Lee/Billy Tang's Cat-3 horror classic.

This sequence is beautifully scored, directed, and photographed.

Now available in its uncut form from XT Video, Austria.

The only drawback is the subtitles are terrible and the image is inferior to the original Hong Kong laserdisk.

Cracktown Not So Hot

It really pains me to say this, because I love the work of Buddy Giovinazzo, but I didn't find much too much to like in his new film Life Is Hot In Cracktown.

Settling in for the screening at Laemmle's Sunset 5

Written by Giovinazzo, it is based on a collection of short stories he wrote under the same title. The original stories were set in New York.

In the film, the setting is now Los Angeles, and we follow four groups of people whose lives have been impacted by the shitty economy, drugs, bad choices, and dysfunctional family structures. We see the cycles being repeated, and we see more bad thrown after bad. The picture Giovinazzo paints is grim, but not entirely hopeless.
Shannyn Sossamon

The director's great talent is his ability to tune in on life at its lowest ebb and make it compelling. In his previous films, he has demonstrated great sympathy for the fallen, the beaten, the abused and the flailing. These qualities are present in Cracktown. Unfortunately, the material has a too familiar ring. If you've seen Menace II Society, Keane, Juice, and Last Exit To Brooklyn, you've seen Cracktown.

There are a couple of very tense sequences involving a junkie who pulls a gun twice on a store clerk, and Giovinazzo uses drone-like scoring to great effect at times, but the good stuff is washed away by the stuff you've seen before.

Victor Rusak

Giovinazzo's Combat Shock, a study of a forgotten veteran's hellish existence back in America after Vietnam, seared my brain because it took, once again, a familiar premise, but stood it on its head with a subplot about a mutant baby, a quest for a job, and a tragic father-son relationship. Its power was its singular, unrelenting focus and audacious desire to penetrate the most sensitive of flesh.

The director's Maniac 2 - Mr. Robbie, a short subject, took the William Lustig original and totally upended i. It made its killer the host of a children's TV show whose mission was to kill parents who were abusing their children.

Both films, as well as No Way Home, possessed enormous power. Cracktown lacks that power. Perhaps it's because Giovinazzo is intercutting between four different stories, possibly diluting each one. Unlike Crash and The Dead Girl, the stories here don't intersect. They share a common milieu, but they're not moving towards an inevitable collision. To be fair, they do all reach climactic moments that are cut in parallel, but there is no sense of one resonating with another.
Kerry Washington delivers a strong performance as a pre-op tranny.

Some of Cracktown's visual gimmicks seem out of kilter with the subject. There are frequent jump cuts that rub against the emotional build of the material. Some of the music cues feel like they've been dropped on top of scenes. They don't emerge organically from the personal gristle.

Vondie Curtis Hall strikes again!

A final point is the lack of explicit content in this cut of the film. The director is notorious for his uncompromising set pieces and refusal to turn away from the grotesque. The result of a backyard abortion is shown, but it is short, dark, and a bit of a throwaway in terms of its relevance. Several shootings are off-screen or suggested. If the content wasn't so familiar, the lack of visceral imagery wouldn't really matter. But because the content isn't fresh enough to resonate, the more bashful depictions of violence and tragedy further dilute the overall impact.

The very believable Evan Ross.

The performances are pretty solid all 'round. Fifteen year old Ridge Canipe, who was probably thirteen or fourteen at the time of the shoot, is terrific as 'Willy', a resourceful young boy whose unemployed, strung out parents leave him constantly to protect his little sister.

Ridge Canipe

Canipe has a natural, electric presence. Desmond Harrington makes a forceful impact as the junkie boyfriend of pre-op tranny Kerry Washington (another strong turn). The scene in which he accepts that she will leave him is beautifully performed and written. Other standout perfs are Vondie Curtis Hall, who is always great, Shannyn Sossamon (as a weary but strong wife and mother), Evan Ross as a scary, ambitious gang member...

Edoardo Bellerini

Edoardo Bellerini as a sinking patriarch...

...and Victor Rasuk (pictured firing gun above).

I really wanted to love this. I wanted to get on here and write about how amazing it is.

I was disappointed. Perhaps Giovinazzo set the bar too high for me with his previous work.

No problem. I look forward to his next film.

I was still there when the final credits rolled.

Kudos to Lightning Media for giving Life Is Hot in Cracktown a small theatrical run.

Their website is at:

I blogged about Cracktown's talented director here also:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

TM Wright's Precious Children

Today I received a very kind message from Roxane A. White-Wright, the wife of TM Wright, one of the greatest living horror authors. I was informed that TM reads this blog occasionally. To be honest, I was shocked.

TM is having a couple of health issues, so I wish him well, and I hope he finds an acceptable way to maintain quality of life.

It seems like Roxane A-W-W is just the medicine he needs.

Take care, TM.

Although he is highly respected by established writers, genre journalists, and those lucky enough to have grown up with his distinguished prose (such as yours truly), his name is not one used casually in households. It should be, of course, for he is an original voice like no other, but the facts are the facts.

In his '81 Danse Macabre, Stephen King compiled a list of the 100 most important genre books. He then added an asterisk to 35 of those, noting that they were "particularly important".

Mr. Wright's Strange Seed, published just three years before King's list, got the asterisk (King's version of the Gold Star).

Perfect example of evocative back cover copy

I'd come across the book by accident. I read the back cover (above) and it was all over Red Rover for me. My life went into a holding pattern as I adventured between the covers of this amazing, original, life-changing piece of genre fiction.

It was "Are they really children?" that got me.

What a fascinating concept!

When you read the book, and its literary offspring, you will marvel at just how fascinating it really is.

Nice of Ian McShane to lend his mug
to the cover of Goodlow's Ghosts

Wright's work is difficult to sell in a sound byte because it's a slowly rolling snowball of gathering dread. It doesn't strike you like a lead pipe to the cranium. It works its way into your pores like chilled steam.

Wright's literary style, which often performs magic tricks with repetition (read The Playground for great examples of that), has an organic, ethereal timbre. Sometimes I think of Ambrose Bierce when buried in these books, or I think about the fact that Peter Straub is a champion of the writer. That makes sense to me. Straub's Julia, Ghost Story, and Shadowland do seem to exist in the same country as Wright's children do. Bradbury's October Country perhaps?

I think of Bradbury, too, and Poe -- not because the writing is alike; no, because the way the books make me feel is similar.

I feel uneasy reading Wright, but it's an unease that surrounds you with its inviting embrace.

If you're an admirer of Ken Greenhall/Jessica Hamilton, which I am, you will understand the inviting aspect of horror of this nature.

A slightly different shade of horror, but sharing Wright's focus, is Joan Samson's The Auctioneer, one of the most anxiety-producing novels I have ever read.

In Agustin Villaronga's supreme In A Glass Cage, the line "horror can become fascinating" deftly sums up the emotional machinations of being somewhat willingly pulled into the cloying, caressing dark.

As I mentioned in a previous blog on Wright, a movie of his book A Manhattan Ghost Story was announced at one time. I feel strange saying this, but I think it's better TV material than movie theater material. Cable TV preferably.

TV permits the slow burn. The feature film is an impatient creature. It condenses and compresses. It's too anxious to please.

A writer/producer like Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) would do good things with Wright's world.

Even with his features (American Beauty and Towelhead in particular), he has always favored character and tone. That's why he'd be a comfortable fit for Wright.

Alas, the movies are a different beast. Fuck the movies for now!

This cover takes me right back to the Nasty NEL's of the 70's and 80's

If you thought this werewolf was from a New English Library (NEL) Guy N. Smith novel, you wouldn't be a fool.

Writing as F.W. Armstrong, TM took a shot at the silver bullet brigade with this unusual corporate slant on the lycanthrope myth, and Tor marketed it like a pulp throwback.

The book's dedication -- "In Memory of Eric who could have licked a thousand time his weight in werewolves" -- has always fascinated me.

It wasn't at all surprising to see King grouping Michael McDowell and Ramsey Campbell with Mr. Wright.

I love Campbell, but I always found McDowell to be equally as original as Wright -- with a different focus, of course. His Cold Moon Over Babylon raised the same hairs for me as TM.

All the writer's books are distinguished by extraordinary covers -- well, at least 90% of them are. For the most part, they capture the tone of the work, and evoke an emotion or two.

I don't know who the artist is behind the Strange Seed/Children of the Island/Nursery Tale covers, but I'm sure you'd agree that they are incredible.

Back when I lived at home with my parents, I took a macro photograph of the lower half of this cover and blew it up to movie poster size.

I hung it on the wall above my bed. It was the last thing I saw before my troubled head hit the pillow for close to three years.

I still find it spellbinding.

Ramsey puts in a kind word here, and makes a good point.

More than a "one-man definition of (horror)", Wright's brand of horror is unique to the author. If he's riding a bandwagon, he's also driving it.

Yet another author takes a stab at the title The Island. Benchley did it, Guy N. Smith did it, and it's been done countless times at the movies.

It is one of the simplest, most evocative titles. Wright's approach to it is unexpectedly sublime.

Nursery Tale ('82), the sequel to Strange Seed, was a Playboy Paperback (!).

I'd like to imagine that TM sat down in the grotto at the Playboy Mansion with Hef and gave him a potted history of the horror genre after signing the book contract. I'm sure he'd like to imagine that, too.

Bill Thompson and Stephen King are acknowledged inside -- Bill, "...who helped bring Strange Seed into the world", and Steve..."...one of the few who understood it."

It is "In Memory of John Lennon".

An excellent book, but one of the few stock covers that felt out of sync with Wright's oeuvre.

Published by Tor in '89.

If you have not read TM Wright, I envy you the frisson of discovery.

I look forward to many more of Wright's precious literary children.

Upcoming is Blue Canoe from PS Publishing.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More Ad Mats Are Unleashed

More than passable Corman rip-off of Alien. An '89 production, so running a little late if it wanted to cash in on that.

I saw this on opening day at the Village East and came out a little perplexed.

Was it deliberately outrageous, or accidentally? Now it doesn't matter.

This bizarre coming-of-age flick is well worth catching (and owning).

Great Bryan Brown Aussie prison flick from 1980.

My brother Colin, who saw it before me, came home and was very pleased with its non-stop brutality and salty language. It's a gem.

A Dusk-To-Dawner to salivate over -- especially if you don't have a driver's license.

One of my own films. The marketing was terribly off. "From the Producer of The Wog Boy" was a miscalculation in terms of the demographics. The Wog Boy was (to me, anyway) a howlingly unfunny ethnic comedy from one of Australia's most obnoxious "comedians", Nick Giannopoulos; the film did do big business for reasons that make you shake your head about audience tastes.

However, the audience for Sensitive New Age Killer, which was originally and more accurately titled Hitman's Hero (but don't get me started on that!), couldn't have been more different, and I'm sure would have walked out of Killer feeling very deceived.

Anyway, the reviews were surprisingly positive.

I saw this Belgian movie at Lincoln Plaza. Sadly, I was one of two people in the cinema.

The reviews on the ad mat were not hyperbole. It IS a stunner, and was one of my favorite movies that year ('96).