Saturday, December 26, 2009

Avatar in the Valley of Vance

I'm not inspired to write much about Avatar; I'd rather write about Narciso Ibenez Serrador's La Residencia, which I saw on the same day and liked three hundred million times more; I'll get to that next.

Hayao Miyazaki's Naussica - In the Valley of The Wind is an absolute favorite of mine, a sci-fi ecology drama stunningly realized. James Cameron's clearly a fan, too, because he's stolen from it wholesale; then he added floating mountains stolen from Laputa - Castle in the Sky. Despite all that thievery, the film's still shockingly predictable.

Naussica - In the Valley of the Wind

Dances With Wolves
gets borrowed, too. Wholesale.

But it is the work of fantasy titan Jack Vance that Avatar draws from most blatantly; his Son of the Tree, in particular, suffers the greatest act of pillage. Works such as The Dragon Masters, Big Planet, and Planet of Adventure quadrilogy provide rich source material also.


Despite all these rich influences, the result is fairly bland stew.

Yes, the visual effects are striking, but the whole shebang made me nostalgic for the time when special effects would serve the story. The "game changer" (fuck!, I hate that expression) here is that a flimsy waif of a story is now serving the special effects. Is that really progress?

Is it reasonable to expect an amazing script from a $300 million movie? I think so. Do you?

Laputa - Castle in the Sky

Final nail in the coffin is the casting of the charisma-free Sam Worthington. I didn't like him in the Aussie Macbeth and I didn't like him here one bit. Also, his wavering between an Aussie and American accent distracted me unnecessarily.

I mentally slogged through this because every plot turn is excruciatingly predictable; I just sat and waited for the inevitable to come and go.

What I did I like? Zoe Saldana as the blue-skinned heroine 'Neytiri'; she's terribly sensual.

While examining the features of the film's native population, the Navi, it occurred to me that these folks all have noses like 'The Tenia' (Jo Prestia) from Gasper Noe's Irreversible. They just don't possess his savagery.

Despite Avatar's budget and hype, it still doesn't come close to the cinematic magnificence of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, the best integration of CG, live action, and storytelling yet.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hardcore Profits

I suspect those who vehemently oppose pornography (which depicts primal human impulses and desires in graphic detail) oppose reality in their own life. They oppose disclosure, live in a cocoon-like state of denial, and are determined to spread the shame that's been pounded into their skulls.

The above thought occurred to me for the upteenth time as I sat on a plane watching the UK documentary Hardcore Profits, a terribly pious, predictable piece of journalistic piffle hosted by a stuck-up English bloke (Tim Samuels) who spends the entire show "exposing" the fact that communications companies like Vodafone and cable systems around the US indirectly profit from the transmission of pornography over their signals and cables. My reaction was: So what?!

His ludicrous claim is tantamount to a judge claiming that the phone company facilitated child molestation because one of their customers called an underaged girl to set up a "date".

Samuels thinks he's a thoroughly clever clogs by confronting a Christian investment group with the mind-blowing(!) revelation that one of the companies they invest in also pipes pornography through their cable system. Again: So what?!

Tim Samuels is described on Wikipedia as a "British Michael Moore without the political agenda"; I say "poppycock" to that. This "award-winning" muckraker works like heck to get everybody's knickers in a big, thick knot about pornography being streamed through some of the channels various multi-nationals operate. He tries the oldest, most cynical trick in the book when confronting elderly churchgoers with news that some of the money they're putting in the Sunday collction plate could be going into the hands of pornographers(!). The connection he makes is as spurious as accusing a McDonald's worker of profiting from pornography by selling a porno director and his kids a dozen Big Macs.

Samuels' ultimate agenda, of course, is to get pornography removed from all screens (large, small, and mid-sized) by shaming anybody remotely connected to it.

At the core of this agenda is his own shame about sex

Isn't it always?

Like America's Christian Coalition, who have big issues with S.E.X., Samuels has no problem with companies that pipe extreme violence through their systems. It's accepetable, by implication, to show a head being blown off or a belly stabbed repeatedly, but burn ye in hell for common carrying graphic footage of fellow humans engaged in natural acts of sexuality (sex of any type between real humans is natural, by the way).

Companies like Vodaphone are not broadcasters; they don't cast anything out there broadly; they simply provide a democratic conduit through which media is piped.

Personally, I don't care for censorship of any type; I'm not troubled, however, if access to adult material is confined to adults. Samuels disagrees with me.

Clearly, he and his puppet masters don't trust adults, and probably doesn't themselves, either.

His next attempt to bolster his wrong-headed cause is introducing us to a bunch of thickheads in an African village who have had access to internet porn and pirated porn DVD's. Due to this exposure to pornography, Samuels claims -- and the thickheads admit -- they have taken to raping various village women in order to emulate the "evil" stuff they've seen on porn videos such as anal sex(!).

Not once does Samuels castigate these morons for rape or ask them why they think rape is acceptable in the first place. Isn't their thinking the the failure of education and an entire culture? Or is porn entirely to blame for their immorality and criminality? These raping rubes are adults, and it's very convenient for them, isn't it, to blame porn piped to their mudhuts, produced by US companies such as Anabolic Video, for their aberrant behavior?

Memo to Samuels: Porn isn't to blame. THEY are to blame. The lesson is simple: If you want to have sex with a lass, lads, ask first. If she says no, go play with yourself, or organize an all-male circle jerk.

This English twit, relentless in his pursuit of spurious cause and effect, then travels to LA to meet the head of Anabolic (like he's relevant to the discussion!). He asks head honcho Chris Alexander if he knows his videos are being seen by black villagers in Africa? Alexander, who isn't concerned, and isn't conscious of Samuels' agenda, is keen to promote his product, so he informs Samuels that his pornography has wide global distribution.

More than likely, the DVD's the village rapists saw were pirated; it's unlikely Anabolic has legit distribution contracts with a surfeit of African nations. Alexander's presence in the video adds nothing to Samuels' thesis.

Samuels' mission to eradicate porn by fanning global shame is a sad mission, indeed. It is ironic, too, that he confronts the multi-nationals on their (indirectly) profiting from porn while ignoring the amorality of their standard corporate practises -- practises that, as cited in the doco The Corporation, amount to sociopathic behavior.

In attacking hotel chains (most of them) that carry porn on their in-room channels, he's attempting to create a storm in an English teacup. Patrons are not forced or coerced into watching porn, and it is restircted to adults. Porn is a choice, as is a mainstream movie, a foreign flick, or a Jet Lee actioner. The fact that porn (graphic depictions of diverse sexual activity between human beings) is so demonized by idiots of this type is evidence that, in the 21st century, S.E.X. is still a big issue for the immature and seriously fucked up amongst us.

Samuel expects us to reel from the screen horrified that phone companies and cable companies and porno companies are making billions from porn (!). Again, so what?! Porn's a business, a legal business, with hundreds of millions of consumers. Porno makers have families, kids to put through school, wives, husbands, sons, mothers and daughters. They live next door and they're just like you and me.

Personally, I find myself reeling from the way banks and financial institutions rape their customers with outrageous fees and pathetic interest rates. I gape in in horror at the fact that banks lend my money to other people and reap profits from these people that I never share in. The exploitation of customers by big business is what horrifies me. At least porn delivers something tangible. When was the last time a bank delivered you an orgasm?

In a global village where the actual presence, and availablity, of child pornography has no correlation to the height of demonic fear associated with its existence, all sexuality now presents a threat to those who live pathetic lives of denial, insecurity, and fear (incited, for the most part, by religion).

The boogeyman, once nucleur, now swings a penis.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Giant Thank You To Everybody

This morning, the 109th Follower of this blog appeared. Less than twelve months ago, the blog didn't exist.

I started Phantom of Pulp because I've always had a strong desire to share my passions. I did it when I was a six year old, and I'm doing it forty years later. I'm the guy who's always driving to someone's house -- with my multi-system DVD player -- to show them an obscure movie or expose them to a bizarre book. With the internet and blogging, I figured it was time to share what electrifies me with many like-minded individuals (relatively like-minded, anyway).

I've always been attracted to the stuff you'll find on this blog. It feeds my hunger for brain food. It excites me. It fulfills me. It strokes my insatiable curiosity for everything. It makes life worth living and encourages exploration.

I didn't intend to create a horror blog or a movie blog or a book blog, and I know this doesn't fall into any of those categories. That's why I called it Phantom of Pulp. Pulp, top me, is the product of fertile, unfettered minds.

I post stuff that gets lots of feedback and no feedback at all. Reviews of current releases get quick responses. Reviews of older flicks attract comments, too.

Porno-themed posts run hot and cold, if comments are anything to go by. Porno paperbacks seem to hit the spot for a select few, while my pieces on extreme pornography assume orphan status; either nobody wants them, or nobody wants to be seen to want them. Who knows?

I'll keep posting because extreme pornography, to me, says so much about human nature and our extraordinary diversity as a species. Posts on illustrators such as Toshio Saeki (a favorite) are generally well received by a consistent few, as are posts on current and not-so-current horror books.

The 109 of you who officially "follow" this blog are, no doubt, as different from each other in some ways as we are similar in other ways. Those differences keep the feedback hopping.

Personally, I'm a creature of extreme contrasts. On a weekend, I can eat breakfast while reading Toshio Saeki, then spend the rest of the morning watching Fly Away Home before screening In A Glass Cage for a friend in the afternoon. Before I fall asleep, I will probably crack open an Enid Blyton picture book that has just arrived from England.

I am fascinated by everything. EVERYTHING! My intellectual curiosity is unlimited. Hopefully, this blog reflects that.

The words weird, disgusting, and shocking rarely enter my internal lexicon. I find some material confronting, but, almost immediately, it becomes fascinating to me and worthy of further investigation. New obsessions are as regular as sunrises for me. The richness of our world is something to celebrate. Those who push again the tide of mediocrity need to be honored, embraced, and encouraged. I honor them here.

I want to thank and honor my 109 official Followers and those who Follow this blog discreetly for allowing me to share my passions with you and for contributing to the enrichment of my psyche.

If you folks were running the planet, I wouldn't need this blog.

As filmmaking duty calls (THE CLOTH DAGGER, my new film, is in production), I wish you all a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!

See you in 2010.

Red Cliff of Boredom

Saw this close to a year ago and wasn't impressed at all -- in fact, it made me sad.

I was one of Woo's biggest champions back in the mid-80's and 90's when I wrote my Chinatown Beat column for Michael Helms' wonderful FATAL VISIONS magazine. I still think Bullet in the Head, A Better Tomorrow, Just Heroes, The Killer, and Hard-Boiled are masterpieces. I have countless DVD's, LD's, and VHS versions of all the director's works. My love for these films will never evaporate.

Watching Red Cliff, I found myself bored. So incredibly bored. For some reason, Woo has gotten it into his head that endless battle sequences are entertaining. Why have one hundred warriors when you can create a million more in a computer? Why shoot fifty flaming arrows when you can shoot fifty thousand?

That's it, I'm done with "epic" battle sequences. They're so repetitive and boring and uninteresting. It started with Troy and the Rings films and it hasn't stopped since. Half the action pics out there are just collections of battle sequences that go on and on and on and signify nothing but noise and chaos.

Red Cliff, apparently, has a story, and, according to John Woo, fascinating characters. Really? I didn't care. I felt twenty times removed from everybody in the movie. The arch, stuffy style applied to the so-called drama left me cold. Impossible, right, with actors like Tony Leung? Apparently not. I wanted everybody to die so the movie would end.

Woo's best films bleed with emotion because the characters are the focus. There is plenty of action, sure, but within the action (especially in Just Heroes, The Killer, and Bullet...) the characters are still the point of the movie, and their journeys are fascinating.

In Red Cliff, Woo tries to dazzle us and assault us and overwhelm us with non-stop "action" (which now equals high end computer game graphics) because he's convinced we want that. This approach is akin to a baby screaming into your ear for the entirety of a flight from LA to Melbourne. Half an hour in the air with that baby is enough. Three hours is a nightmare, and you want to kill the kid and kill yourself. Woo is so impressed with Big and Epic and Long and Loud it makes me wonder what drugs he's taking these days.

Scenes in which the camera/computer follows a perfect arrow on its perfect course towards a perfect target lack any sense of spontaneity or unpredictability. Everything is so carefully staged and executed, it's like watching a cartoon. I hate it with a passion. And I never thought I'd say that about the major elements of a John Woo movie. Doesn't Woo recall what made his Hong Kong movies so great? Doesn't he remember why he fell in love with the work of Jean Pierre Melville? It was the characters, John, the themes, the focus on feelings, the alienation, the war within themselves.

Every time I read an interview with Woo these days, he talks about future epics, thousands of extras, huge budgets, and how getting Red Cliff financed was a cinch. Seems the Chinese investors fell over themselves to throw money at this overstuffed epic.

I officially hate CG-enhanced, epic fight scenes, and I no longer await the next John Woo film with an anxiousness once reserved for Santa.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Scariest Film of the Year

The trailer for Precious, a drama about a fat, black schoolgirl, pregnant for the second time, living in Hell with her braindead mother, sells the film short. I had to drag myself to see it because the trailer turned me right off. It was so well-meaning and self-important and Oscar-baiting that I wanted to burn the theater down.

Check out the full title: Precious - Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Get the fuck out of here, right?! That was my first thought. Why that title? Why not go further and include a synopsis as part of the title, too? Or better, add complimentary adjectives about the flick.

Try this: The Amazing Precious - The Heart-Rending Motion Picture About the Mountainous, Knocked-Up Black Chick Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, the Black Chick Herself.

Does that do it for ya?

I'm sure you'll understand why I was driving around theaters to avoid this in its first week. Then, because I'm curious and because Paula Patton is hot, I decided to take the plunge.

It didn't help matters that Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry's names were on the credit roll. I've seen two Perry films and I never want to see another Perry flick again. As for Oprah, I didn't figure her for a producer of anything but warmed-over cinematic milk. Then again, that view is unfair to Winfrey because she did produce Jonathan Demme's powerful, dark, and confronting Beloved in '98. I guess we're so saturated with Winfrey's talkshow image that anything contrary fails to penetrate the prejudice.

Perhaps I should have been thinking of Beloved instead of The Color Purple when the Precious trailer was doing its rounds; Bastard Out of Carolina wouldn't have been far off the mark, either.

What I wasn't prepared for was a drama that has more in common with Buddy Giovinazzo than a talkshow host turned producer. I kid you not. This is one damn fine drama with a dark, dark heart and a consistency of vision. It's depiction of a black family of degenerates is uncompromising, and some of its grittier revelations floored me.

Gabby Sidibe (who is amazing) plays the illiterate teenager Precious. Though she takes some getting used to when she first appears on-screen, her spot-on portrayal of the character quickly fleshes her out (pardon the unintended pun). We learn that Precious has been impregnated by her stepfather for the second time. Her mother Mary, played by the combustible Mo'Ninique, is cool with the pregnancy, and is unsympathetic to the rape Precious endured. Abandoned by her partner, Mary spends most of her time beating Precious and destroying her self esteem with words and fists.

Suspecting foul play at home, Precious's teacher (Paula Patton) takes an interest in her well-being and encourages her to transfer to a school for socially disadvantaged slow learners. Despite her mother's protests, Precious begins a frightening journey that ends up ripping her world and the world of her mother apart.

In synopsis, I know it sounds like typical Oprah material, but, in execution, the events of this film are as graphic as any Buddy Giovinazzo film -- or an early Hughes Bros. flick like Menace II Society.

Details of Precious's abuse at the hands of her stepfather are surprising for a mainstream release. When questioned about sexual abuse by a social worker played with grim determination by Mariah Carey (who is virtually unrecognizable)...

... Mary recounts how when she would have sex with her lover, he would drag the baby Precious into bed with them and fondle her as an appetizer. She also describes how the same man would steal the milk from her nipples after Precious was born, depriving the child of sustenance. A flashback of the underaged Precious being raped is intense and disturbing, and reminded me (visually) of the dog scenes in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam (my favorite film of his). Mo'Nique's portrayal of Precious's mother is incredible and ranks right up there with great screen debuts such as Angela Bassett's bombastic bitch mother in Boys 'N' The Hood.

Director Lee Daniels sticks to the meat of the plot, keeping things visually and aurally interesting without overstylizing the details. Precious's penchant for daydreaming while being threatened or beaten is skilfully realized with a series of dream-like sequences.

Does the film finally collapse into cliche? No. I loved the ending. It's not what you expect at all.

Precious is being sold as something far less than what it is. Reviews have been positive, though, so perhaps it'll get seen.

Screw the horror remakes. This is the scariest film of the year.

A reader below (Mike Smith) has pointed out that Winfrey and Perry only came aboard the film after it was finished in support and distribution capacities respectively.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ad Mats Rise From Nostalgia's Grave

The ad mat tells us that The Capitol Cinema "shattered world records with two great action movies, WHERE EAGLES DARE and THE DIRTY DOZEN.

"Now," it continues, "comes the most sensational, action-packed thriller of them all."

Well...no. The most striking difference between Clay Pigeon ('71) and Where Eagles Dare/The Dirty Dozen is that Clay Pigeon is totally terrible and the other pics are arguably two of the greatest war/action pics ever made.

Even the occasional slice of nudity could not save this mess.

It shattered no records, either.

One of Australia's best filmmakers, John Duigan, wrote and directed this gritty classic about homeless youth.

Duigan also directed the magnificent Lawn Dogs, Flirting, The Year My Voice Broke, and Romero.

I snuck into the city (downtown Melbourne) to see this movie because I knew it'd be something special. It bowled me over with its realism and unsentimental truth (and stellar lead performance by Kim Krejus).

Sadly, it's not available on DVD. A VHS was released.

Very mediocre Richard Fleischer film featuring an indifferent Michael Caine in the lead.

Slavery as entertainment has been well served in the cinema with works such as Farewell, Uncle Tom and Mandingo. In Ashanti, the subject is a dead one, and not even a diverse cast could rescue it from oblivion.

Should have seen this '77 trash classic at a drive-in because it's perfect drive-in candy. Since I wasn't old enough to drive or own a car at the time of its release, impersonating an 18-year-old by showing up at The Palace in a suit and lowering my voice several octaves was my only course of action.

The film is a celebration of being young, dumb, and full of cum. It didn't depict a lifestyle most Australians enjoyed, but its anarchic spirit was universal.

Director Sam Grossman's only other film was the 2000 sci-fi flick Static.

Wasn't a big fan of this, but always loved the ad mat.

At the bottom of the ad, the co-features are listed. I would have headed to the long-defunct Moorabbin or Frankston Drive-ins to see it with the far superior Who Slew Auntie Roo.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dogma Unleashes Its Latest

Tohjiro, who has been directing some of the world's most groundbreaking, taboo-pushing pornography for some years now, has unleashed a torrent of fresh product in the last couple of months including the plainly titled Enema, Jet Vomit starring Marin Izumi; the flick is another in the M-Drug series.

Japanese pornography is sweet seasoning for the sexual anthropologist, and, in a country not constrained by the barbed wire of religion, it conveys a direct line between mind and body.

Totally Virginal M has inspired this provocative image.

Starring Saki Tsuji (of No Bra Salon - The Ultimate Treatment), the director subjects the actress to every known kink and had her exclaiming in a post-orgasm interview: "I lost myself completely."

Bondage Chair - The Complete Works is a mind-bending compilation of the strongest scenes from the director's Bondage Chair Trance series.

I admire Tohjiro's brave choice to go chair-only in the art and leave the rest (and, believe me, the "rest" is something to write home about!) up to the imagination of the carnel connoisseur.

Tohjiro capped the year off with the penetrating Complete Body M (with Marin Minami) while simultaneously running the Tokyo-based adult shingle and overseeing a stable of individualistic directors including Tenum, the Russ Meyer of Dogma.

Tenum's Boob Secretary (with Yuka Haneda) would have earned Russ's respect, although the lack of pubic hair would have rubbed Russ the wrong way as he preferred his females furry.

The director's Third D-1 Climax Open Audition (all 280 mins of it!) has been excerpted on various on-line venues and is something extraordinary and bizarre. With its glossy production values, it has the convincing appearance of a legitimate Japanese TV show, except it boasts volcanic X-rated content and a great sense of humor.

Original inspiration for this sex marathon, and the US sex marathons of Annabelle Chong and Co., was the Dutch Chick's Fuck Marathon, which was produced in the early 80's and was presented in a giant box on 2 x 2 hour VHS cassettes.

Alcohol Medicine Sex, with Hikari Hino (no relation to Hideshi), is an example of Dogma's enebriation genre.

Tohjiro, who created Dogma after pioneering independent erotic production in the 90's, has built a not modest empire that has taken full advantage of the internet's borderless nature.

Only one US company, kink.com, that has also focused on fetish, has enjoyed success similar to Dogma (moreso, actually!) working from an expanded business model.

Because of US content restrictions, kink's content is softer but no less interesting than Dogma's.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ninja Aasassin

I still remember seeing Sammo Hung's Pedicab Driver on the big screen and marveling at the exquisite choreography of the brutal fight scenes. Hung, who is a masterful director, deftly draws for us the geography of the setting before tackling the action. Once the action begins, he assaults us, but never disorients or confuses us, let alone makes us nauseous. He designs a sequence that becomes art through its amazing aesthetics and pitch perfect editing.

In James McTeigue's Ninja Assassin, we get action choreography that is obliterated by misguided shooting and editing techniques. Clearly, someone got into McTeigue's head and fucked him up with theories suggesting chaotic action needs to be recorded and cut equally chaotically. Of course, this brainiac approach is akin to aborting a beautiful fetus with a rusty coat hanger.

Fuck this Hollywood bullshit!

Ninja Assassin represents a sad situation because it does have plenty good going for it, despite the fact that it steals set-ups (and images) wholesale from The Story Of Ricky, Ichii The Killer, and a hundred Shaw pics.

The training sequences with Sho Kosugi are strong, dark, and brutal. Kosugi is excellent, and the sequences he appears in feel like they were shot by another director. Korean-born Rain is well cast as 'Raizo', the supreme Ninja whose "issues" with Kosugi force him to go rogue. The lame contemporary story involves a government agency's hunt for modern ninja warriors who are being hired internationally as assassins (yawn!). Raizo is hunting them, too, and they're hunting him. None of this is well thought through, so coincidences and contrivances are piled high. As is typical for this genre, the script provides a framework to hang action sequences on. Nothing wrong or unusual about that. That IS why we're watching.

Unfortunately, aside from an impressive opening sequence inspired by Ichii The Killer, Ninja Assassin gives us very few reasons to watch.

My advice is to head to the DVD store or to your collection and run a mini festival of your own right away. Be sure to include Revenge of the Ninja, Burning Paradise, Sword of Vengeance, Lone Wolf and Cub (series), Operation Scorpio, Drunkenmaster 2, and Beach of the War Gods. These magnificent titles will reset your expectations just in case you've been deceived by this nonsense (as some have).

Rain does Fan Siu-wong

It's interesting how short many of this film's action sequences are because the reason points to the film's failings. The scenes are short because you can't watch material cut by ADD-ridden morons for longer than three or four minutes. Can you imagine for one moment watching the glorious final battle of Wang Yu's Beach of the War Gods if it was shot and cut this way? Wouldn't happen.

Criticisms I have read of the film have focused on its lack of illumination in key fight scenes; this criticism is valid. The film is very dark at times, and I found myself asking: If you want to showcase action, why hide most of it in shadow? Dipshits! Of course, it's the scenes themselves that really suck, and it's hard to see what's going on already because the cutting, fake blood, and spastic camera work are creating an unholy, expensive mess. Let's make it clear: These contemporary fight sequences are not fight scenes, they are fight soup -- sticky, steamy melanges of randomly tossed in ingredients that steam, boil, and burn until the kitchen stinks. There's no finesse to the coverage, no feel for the ballet of combat. The choreography, when you can see it, is strong, but it's stolen by retards who spend their days jerking off to CG-laden fantasies and blowing their loads on giant LCD screens .

In its final twenty minutes, Ninja Assassin becomes Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (replete with burning building), and Rain becomes Fan Siu-wong (replete with long hair and bloodied face).

Fan Siu-wong does Fan Siu-wong

This thievery of a humble, low budget classic reminds us that shitloads of money can't buy originality or love for this martial arts soup.