Monday, July 20, 2009

GOING RETRO RIGHT BACK TO PUNCH-OUT


This has been a rough week or so on the "up and coming" pop culture tip. So I have been digging through the crates to keep myself entertained. For reasons that require too much explanation, the other day I had to sit down and watch MEN IN BLACK. It had been ages since I first saw it, and my recollection of the movie was that it was completely cornball. This time through it wasn't so bad. Does it hold up over time? Sort of. The effects are pretty good. Vincent D'Onofrio is at the top of his game as a meat-puppet possessed by a giant cockroach-alien. I don't find the movie so cornball anymore, but perhaps I am being nostalgic.

I was still feeling retro, so I took a run at Tony Scott's remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123. Now I knew it wasn't going to be half as cool or groovy as the original. What I didn't know is that this film, when standing as tall as it can, only rises to the level of original's kneecaps. I had all of this hope that Scott had come up with a soundtrack to rival the original. But when Jay Z's 99 PROBLEMS played and continued to play throughout, my dissapointment was immeasurable. John Travolta is a hack. Sure, he is believable as a prison-sex-crazed, subway jacking loonie, but his performance is boring. Denzel does the "nice guys finish last" routine well, but he was better when he really squeezed the trigger in TRAINING DAY. In fact, all of the people in this film, right down to Gbenga Akinnagbe (of Chris and Snoop on the WIRE) have done better work elsewhere. This movie played like a bunch of actors trapped in
summerschool. They were all capable of better.

Next, I had to deal with some people who were all aglow about Tim Burton's CORALINE so I took them into some retro EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Scissorhands is so 80s it hurts. Dianne Wiest is in there, basically transposed from her mom-job in THE LOST BOYS. Johnny Depp really does steal the show...still after all of these years. Winona Ryder whistles through her teeth when she is doing the old woman role at the beginning and the end of the film. Everyone in this movie is worth it. Alan Arkin is constantly drunk, and my understanding was that this was Vincent Price's last role. Of course, the most twisted player in this whole film is the normally benign Anthony Michael Hall who gives a convincing performance as the villain.

Having exhausted my retro movie-blitz for the time being, I got my mitts on PUNCH-OUT for the Wii. It was time to go back and put in some serious retro gaming work.

When the original PUNCH-OUT came out in the arcade back in the 80s, I pumped many a quarter into it and couldn't get very far. I felt that the game was the hardest thing that Nintendo had dropped on arcade-going gamers at the time. I recall reading the instructions on the PUNCH-OUT cabinet time and time again but not being able to completely "get it." Perhaps I just wasn't ready for it. Years later I played PUNCH-OUT on the SNES and got a little further, but I still didn't glean absolute enjoyment.

Enter a new millenium and the Wii. I am here to tell you that PUNCH-OUT is some of the most fun I have had with that system outside of ANIMAL CROSSING. Yes, the patterns of the your opponents are telegraphed and learnable. Yes, they are also the same patterns that you have known for years. But there is something else. This game mixes it up more. The patterns might work for half of the game, but when you are defending your title, things change. Glass Joe
might have been a basic punk when you were working to get your belt, but in title defense, he is now a major punk. King Hippo might have taken mad sucker punches to the belly on your way to the top, but when you get your championship belt, Hippo has a manhole cover taped to his stomach and defies you to get a decent hit in.

The quotes that these characters pop off with are a lot of fun too. Glass Joe speaks french. Von Kaiser is a German. The Disco Kid is happy go-lucky who tells you when he is about to plug your face with a "here it comes!" Soda Popinski is a Russian brute who can whip out a soda bottle at any minute and chug it, bringing his strength bar back. But by far, the most fun character is (still) Bear Hugger from Salmon Arm British Columbia. When he connects, he yells
"Salmon Arm!" He sits in his corner between rounds drinking maple syrup and bragging about eating raw fish.

Gameplay is simple enough. The dodging/ducking is something that might take some getting used to. You dodge or duck for just a second, then you are back in harm's way. This makes timing a big part of this game. Timing can only come with the comprehension of patterns. The comprehension of patterns will come if you put in practice rounds. All of this wrapped up and under the tutelage of the chocolate bar loving Doc Louis and makes the game worthwhile and a serious sweat-breaker every time you fire it up. Be sure to strap your Wiimote on, because you WILL be throwing fists. I managed to punch my coffee cup out in the middle of a serious bout with the Sandman, and it was hard to explain to the owners of all of the papers and magazines that I soaked.

If you want some well-animated gaming retro, PUNCH-OUT for the Wii is it. In a lot of ways, it stands up on its own today without its almost 30 year history.

Nintendo...wow. I have been thinking a lot about what they represent and how they do it. In a lot of ways they are the Disney of video games. Their whole universe is a lot of fun, and the adult themes are hard to find underneath it all. It is a safe world that you can plug into and not have to worry about the evil lurking around the corner. Well, maybe there will be a beast in your next round, but that beast will be kind of cute.

I am not going to spoil the unlockable character at the end of the game. However, if you want to see him in action, you should click this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVWnwPml7aY

Yeah, it has been a rough week in regards to what is coming out in the theaters. I am not big on HARRY POTTER, and the first 10 minutes of BRUNO made me so angry that I just bailed. What I needed this week was a bit of the retro, and I got it. PUNCH-OUT was the retro fix I needed. Plus, I am going to continue looking for that retro fix from this game for quite some time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW VAN DEN HOUTEN, DIRECTOR OF OFFSPRING

"You make a movie because you have to, not because you want to."
-Andrew van den Houten



You know what we need? We need a horror film that is going to rip our collective face off. We don't need more of the numbing torture-porn or completely gratuitous boob-fest films that have been so prevalent in the last five years or so. What we need is a return to the classic horror films that provide a solid plot, just enough splatter, just enough gore, and just enough of the unnatural to jangle our sensibilities.

The list is short, but there are a few films of late that have hit or come close to hitting that mark. HATCHET scratched the surface of that elusive old-school chill. DRAG ME TO HELL definitely brought back the kind of splattercamp horror that wrecked us when we were kids. JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER is another example of that 80s-vintage flavor of pre-CGI, but well-written horror film.

According to the above criteria, it looks like the next potentially "respectable" horror film to drop will be a little cannibalistic ditty called OFFSPRING.

When I finished interviewing Andrew van den Houten, the director of OFFSPRING, I hopped on my Twitter account and announced it to the Mediasaurs followers, embedding a link to his site. In one of the responses I got, an old high school friend tweeted, "Awesome! Glad you didn't get eaten!" Andrew has created a film that generates the giddy quality of wary anticipation you get when you expect a film to hit those proper horror notes.

OFFSPRING is written by Jack Ketchum who has been famously referred to by Stephen King as "probably the scariest guy in America." With a story by a man of such a reputation, the tale of "survivors of a feral, flesh-eating clan...chowing their way through the locals" is surely going to deliver the gore that ensures this film a hard R. It is not for kids.

Andrew van den Houten says that OFFSPRING is for, "anyone who appreciates classic horror, a juicy storyline and blood, guts, and gore." This is what a genre besieged with horrible PG-13 Japanese remakes and sadistic straight-to-DVD, back-alley, torture-rack fests needs. OFFSPRING is a film from a guy who cites as his favorite directors Cronenberg, Lynch, Hitchcock, Lumet and Spielberg in one sentence. He also cites the original HALLOWEEN as his all-time favorite horror film.

Assuming that like me, audiences are growing tired of torture-porn and it will soon lose prominence, I asked Andrew what he thinks audiences will be looking for from the horror genre. "[P]eople are more into thrillers, psychological horror and slashers," Andrew says. He recognizes Hollywood's obsession with remakes noting, "remakes are good, but if it is redundant or unneccessary, then it sucks" and citing AMITYVILLE HORROR as an example of one of those mistakes. He closed his opinion on Hollywood remakes with the interesting suggestion that someone should re-do THE LORD OF THE FLIES and do it straight from the book.

The press coverage for OFFSPRING has been fantastic for an independent horror film. A Google search for the film turns up Youtube clips, IMDB references and all of the horror website power-brokers from Bloody Disgusting to Fangoria.

Sure, there is superior marketing for this film afoot, but Andrew van den Houten has been working hard pumping out a horror movie a year and getting attention for some time. You can secure his films HEADSPACE, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (another Ketchum story) and HOME MOVIE through a mixture of Amazon.com, Best Buy, Blockbuster, and Hollywood Video. The marketing is a dizzying whirligig of companies that you have heard of and others that you have not. But the truth of the matter is that there is a ground-level buzz about Andrew's MODERNCINE and the films that they are bringing to the table.

Andrew van den Houten directed his first feature length film, HEADSPACE in 2006. He is a graduate of Emerson college and is only 29. In order to finance HEADSPACE he hit up 49 investors including friends and family. It was a rough road, and production was stopped three times as the money ran out. Then he would show what he had accomplished so far and get the money rolling again. It took five months to film a 42 day shoot. However, HEADSPACE went on to win best screenplay and best cinematography awards at the New York City Horror Festival.

My biggest question for Andrew was how did he secure Sean Young (BLADE RUNNER) or Mark Margolis (the "espacio" bomber from SCARFACE) for HEADSPACE? The truth of the matter is that van den Houten was still flying high on the critical success of a short film called SURVEILLANCES which he produced in 2003. "If you want to see our range," he says, "you should see our short films" of which he produced five and directed two. Through the notoriety he achieved for his work on short films, he was able to get the attention of people in the business and make connections that led to working with such actors as Young and Margolis.

But Andrew's filmwork is broader than horror. For instance he recently produced an R-Rated comedy called MADE FOR EACH OTHER. Furthermore, he informed me that his company is looking into producing another comedy.

In five years, he plans to be producing and/or directing two to three movies a year and possibly a TV show as well.

Based on Andrew's accomplishments in the horror genre so far, his commitment to the classic elements of horror, and what I have seen of it so far, I am betting all-in that OFFSPRING will deliver what I believe horror fans are hungry for: splatter, the unnatural, and a decent plot. OFFSPRING is currently showing at film festivals, and there is more information on screenings at its official site.

-Mediasaurus Rex


More of my writings can be found here. You can contact me by email at admin@mediasaurs.com

THE LAND OF THE LOST AND TERMINATOR SALVATION - A DOUBLE BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

Both of these movies are big for the summer,and they have a lot in common. Read on.

My attachment to LAND OF THE LOST is a deep one. As a kid, I used to hustle all angles to watch the Krofft Superstars reruns after school 5 days a week. SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS was usually what I got stuck with, but from time to time, THE LAND OF THE LOST was on, and that was what I was after. I was interested in the horrible special effects and the constantly elusive main storyline. Were these people ever going to get out of this land? Furthermore, would I ever be able to see the pilot that was referenced with some serious banjo action in the theme song? Well, my father recognized the interest level, and with a few well-pulled strings, he was able to secure an afternoon for my brother and myself with Wah Chang, the special effects man behind it all. My afternoon with Wah Chang and the things I learned from him are for a different post. But what needs to be made clear here is that I HAD TO SEE THIS MOVIE.

Surprisingly, LAND OF THE LOST is not much like the original show. The pseudo-seriousness of the original series has been thrown out of the window with the baby and the kitchen sink. There are no kids around. This is adult fare, with nonstop breast groping, double entendres, and a hallucinogenic interlude that would've made Hunter S. proud. This film contains a few laughs, but it belongs in the recesses of one's mind, much like the original. The new film feels like the old series, but it doesn't. The world feels like the lost world, but it isn't. The dinosaurs are in place like in the original lost world, but then again, they aren't. The new LAND OF THE LOST is literally a "dirty mirror" view of an already compromised story. The wholesome, family nature of the original has been erased, and an unshackled, more sensual nature has been constructed. The film feels like it has assumed that I am still at my parent's house watching crappy television. It treats me like I still eat crude sugary foods and over-processed snacks yet I am in my late 30s. I don't see how else they could have presented it.

I decided to use TERMINATOR: SALVATION as my LAND OF THE LOST chaser. But if I am to follow through with the metaphor, it felt like I was in the wrong bar, and the bartender was spilling the drinks.

I went in to this film knowing that it was hated by most. Sometimes that works for a movie. Sometimes a bunch of bad press makes a lousy film slightly enjoyable. The problem with TERMINATOR: SALVATION is that like everybody else, I had already seen most of the key scenes in the promo blitz. I felt that I was merely playing connect the dots between already familiar scenes, and that gave a general, pedestrian deja vu vibe to the entire film.

The TERMINATOR: SALVATION plot starts somewhere along the many time-traveling plot-lines that the Terminator series has foisted upon us over the years. The main idea is the "big secret" that was given away in the preview trailers, namely that the Terminators have managed to replicate a human so well that he doesn't know he is a robot. This is amusing at first, but only hints at the existential potential and becomes tedious. The references to the previous movies are all there including a boom-box playing "You Could Be Mine."

In short, bi-ped killer robots are ridiculous, impractical, and basically silly. The original TERMINATOR was a b-movie featuring a musclebound, inarticulate Austrian. Somehow we are now supposed to accept this series as something more along the lines of the Matrix series with Christian Bale. But the bottom line is that it is still a b-movie, trading on b-movie concepts that really don't have the substance that MCG would argue justifies a fourth film.

By the time the CGI Arnold shows up at the end, any self-respecting filmgoer has lost all interest and is waiting for the thing to end. I know that is how I felt.

LAND OF THE LOST is a celebration of the impossible, and it hurdles in that direction with abandon. TERMINATOR: SALVATION is a celebration of the impossible as well, yet somehow it desperately clings to the possible. The Terminator series could use a shot of Will Farrell. The series needs to aim itself at the teenager sneaking into the hard R-rated film like I used to. TERMINATOR: SALVATION is a light PG-13. It is not of the same tribe as the original. The Terminator series started as nonsense. Most sci-fi has an element of nonsense, but the stranglehold on nonsense that the Terminator series carries is so far-fetched, that the only direction its sequels should pursue is that of self-parody. The heavy-handed seriousness of it all isn't just hard to take, it is completely impossible.

John Connor needs a trip to the LAND OF THE LOST with Dr. Will Marshall ASAP. Now THAT would be a good movie.

More of my writings can be found here. You can contact me by email at admin@mediasaurs.com