You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2010.

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A prodigal son has returned to Buffalo, not only to shoot and film, but also to set down roots once more. No it isn’t Vincent Gallo. For all the controversy that native filmmaker receives—who, let’s be honest, really grew into an artist post-high school in NYC— it was refreshing to see a full house for a Western New York premiere screening at the Market Arcade. Friends, family, film fans, and fans of their city all came out to see, as writer/director/star Peter McGennis said before the show, all those latent treasures Buffalo has to offer. Having completed a wonderful collaborative experience in NOLA for his first feature, Buffalo Bushido saw him come home to do it again as the memories washed over and a three-year odyssey materialized onscreen. Talking about how his ‘process equals his product’ and that he can start on a path as an indie filmmaker free from the constraints of the Hollywood system, you begin to understand his deep-rooted connection to Buffalo. With a dark, personal tale to tell, McGennis chose to stay loyal and ‘paint on the wonderful canvas of this city’. If his creativity and fearlessness in building a unique vision—complete with animated vignettes from Jeremy Appelbaum—is any indication here, In and the currently filming Queen City have found their way on my to-see list.

Tragedy seems to be at the core of this project, from its inception straight through to the premiere, unfortunately missing his wife, unable to attend due to a death in the family. The idea of the movie itself came from an interior need to honor an old friend who died too young, Brendan Pfalzstaff, the little brother of a friend with whom he still remains in contact. Not until an early scene, hearing the screeching of tires and seeing the hockey helmet tumble down the street, do we realize how personal a tale it really is. Taking his surname by calling the lead role Davis Pfalz, Buffalo Bushido concerns two lost souls forever connected through childhood hardship—split apart after horrific events changed their lives, one working through her troubles to make a life for herself as a nurse while the other moved in and out of his own mind, both cosmically knowing that some day they would meet again. It may have taken fifteen years, but Davis finally decided he needed to come home and face the cataclysmic moments that altered his perspective on life, rendering him to be an introverted and intense beast, allowing a simple thing like the word ‘retard’ to cause all self-control to cease and the red of anger take over.

That sort of aggression is almost necessary to wake up and begin to feel again, especially when one has been numb for so long on drugs, sex, and depression. The time locked up allowed him the opportunity to read up on philosophy and eastern traditions, returning to the samurai way that his father instilled in he and his younger brother Brendan early on. It became a purpose to his existence, a set of laws he needed to follow in order to lead a proper life. A pilgrimage home to Buffalo was the final step; to confront his friends Shawn and Sadie, to remember all the good times and the bad, and to face Torchy, the punk who along with he and his two friends was involved in Brendan’s demise. Guilt has been projected, has been falsely placed on them all, and no one has ever truly gotten out from under it. It was the defining moment that led each character on the path of some hellish years; only when Davis comes back to forgive those he has harbored anger towards can he once and for all forgive himself. As a result, there are multiple instances of tear-stained confessions and emotional outbursts to allow all the pent-up feelings free, forming a powerful film despite some flaws.

You get an idea of McGennis’s love for Buffalo right from the start. Utilizing a ton of flashbacks throughout the film in order to slowly uncover secrets as characters unearth each, the opening credit sequence is the motherload of montage time transitions. We are shown street signs that hold more meaning to a local than anyone else, Forest Lawn Cemetery shooting by, and the inside of an NFTA bus bringing McGennis’s Davis into town. Cinematographer Chris Santucci does wonders with some great abstract framing of the bus driver’s hands and McGennis’s torso cropped free of his head or his head disembodied with the cityscape showing through the window behind. The aesthetic remains throughout, making many scenes memorable for their beauty of composition, showing exactly what we need to see in close-up, oftentimes in silence to let the visuals be absorbed. Along with that come great transitions between reality, memory, and hallucination as events spark Davis’s mind to wander away into his subconscious or his imagination, allowing for one of my favorite performances to exist—Bruce Glover’s Soup/Javier. He is an old homeless man that’s been around forever, a sort of mystical visage of sage wisdom, the samurai life-instructor of Davis, cropping up on the streets and as the fictional desk clerk of the long-closed Lennox Hotel.

And here is where my biggest problem with the film lies. I could nitpick McGennis as an actor, but once you realize the sort of schizophrenic and all-around messed up creature he is, the performance works in its robotic delivery and serene matter-of-fact attitude, even if it always seems a bit off. What stood out was how despite the brilliant job McGennis does at making sure the audience knows what is real and what is not—if you think Javier is really working at the hotel and all those buckets and plastic tarps are just ‘remodeling’ accoutrements, then you’re as batty as Davis—he still finds it necessary to shove the ‘revelation’ down our throats with repetition and a Fight Club montage of previous scenes unfiltered by the lead’s mind. He does so well to not pander to us, letting the story unravel in due course and get us invested in how far Davis will go to close the book on his brother’s death for the most part, but it is all slightly ruined by his heavy-handed slap across the side of the head as though we had sleep-walked through everything before. He does redeem himself with an amazingly authentic and appropriate ending that only a film devoid of big studio cash could get away with.

To get to that finale, though, the journey down the rabbit hole needs to occur. We must discover what happened with Sadie and Shawn during the fifteen years previous and the truth behind their idyllic stories fed to Davis. Jesse L. Martin, another Buffalo native, shines as the grown-up version of one and Leila Arcieri steals the show as the other. Her Sadie is a jumble of emotion with so many feelings that have been hidden too long coming to the surface as soon as she sets eye on her old friend, not only looking to help him through whatever is going on, but to also get closure for her own troubles stemming from Brendan’s death. John Savage comes into play as an over-the-top parole officer that’s a bit off his rocker too, but entertaining nonetheless and Lord Jamar is great in a pivotal scene as the elder Torchy. But the true star is Buffalo and the sites put on display like the Lennox, Symphony Circle, Children’s Hospital, and the Peace Bridge in a very important, cyclical role. It’s rare to see Buffalo depicted without another city standing in, and despite the dark, depressive themes to the film, does show through with a positive sheen. Credit for that lies with McGennis, one more product this city has spawned with the creative juices to do some great things. If Buffalo Bushido is one step on his continued growth as a filmmaker, I’d be happy to continue on the journey with him.

Buffalo Bushido 7/10

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[1] John Savage (Vendetti) and Peter McGennis (Davis)
[2] Bruce Glover (Javier)

Recently asked to be a part of an alumni art show at my old high school Kenmore East, in conjunction with their 50th anniversary celebration this year, I was left without a clue as to what I should submit. Suggested to send over a design piece I had done, the prospect just didn’t appeal due to the fact that putting a logo or an ad on the wall never really screamed out ‘art’ to me as far as a gallery setting. And if I wanted to show a creative fine art piece, I’d either have to whip something up quick or dig out some old college project, aged five years or more. So, I needed to improvise.

Thinking about what I could do to meld the two art forms, the idea struck to find Buffalo locations that I had photos of and make them into a commodity by branding a graphical representation of each. The beauty of this was that I wouldn’t have to do much heavy lifting, but still could let the creative juices flow and craft something brand new.

With that came Buffalo, Consumerized—I still am unsure that title even makes sense. The piece consists of images of four locales cropped uniquely and superimposed with both a logo and design motif, making the photographs double up as a sort of poster advertisement. The photos used of the Central Terminal, The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, Dipson’s North Park Theatre, and the Richardson Complex were taken during the past 6+ years, and the logos for BECHS and Dipson were actually created as college projects. The icons for the other two were designed and each frame composed as such. It was a great artistic outlet that I may continue on with, doing a few each year to increase the series.

They are printed on Kodak Professional Metallic stock from and framed in pairs. I then sent them off for the show along with an artist statement that I made sure was as pompous and self-indulgent as I could make it. It’s an art show … that’s what’s expected, right?

The KE Formers Art Exhibition opens May 6th from 5:00pm to 7:00pm with an awards ceremony at 5:30pm, and continues on in the Ken East porch area until May 14th. I’m looking forward to going as this is my idea of a high school reunion. I get to see some new work from old friends Alyson O’Connor, Leah MacVie, and Deanna Saracki among others and, heck, maybe they’ll even be in attendance.

And for those bored and interested in the aforementioned artist’s statement, enjoy:

The main impetus of my design style is to not only create an image that stands for the product, but to also enhance it. By using clean-cut geometric forms and pared-down graphics, I try to stylishly represent the essence of the project at hand—creating an icon that’s memorable and grabs the eye. Photography only adds another layer, giving the graphic a visual representation to play off against, an indelible image to fully connect the two in the viewer’s mind. Kenmore East’s Art Department helped me to discover this outlook into a medium that only consisted of paint, pencil, and clay at the time. My first experience with computer art and graphics took place within these walls, completely changing the way I looked at the world as a result. Everything is now a breathtaking angle to photograph or a piece of history worth glorifying; a memento mori capturing the exact instance that overtook you, melding the past with the present as something to go back to even if it’s long gone.

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Previously known as the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival, the actual event will be holding its ninth annual incarnation, but it will be the first under the name 360 | 365 George Eastman House Film Festival. It’s a six-day ode to film, full of features, documentaries, shorts and children’s programs, bringing both new and restored old classics to the big screen. According to the press release, this will be the first time a major film archive will have aligned with a contemporary film festival, something that is an amazing coup, especially with its ability to screen a work such as the 1948 British masterpiece The Red Shoes.

The programming expands into panel discussions, master classes from industry professionals, public and private parties, and informal “Coffee With” events for networking purposes. Along with all that is an impressive special guest list including director James Ivory on opening night as he is honored as a George Eastman Honorary Scholar before presenting his newest work, The City of Your Final Destination, starring Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney. Oscar winning film editor—and Scorsese regular—Thelma Schoonmaker will also be presented with an award, the Susan B. Anthony “Failure is Impossible” Award, directly before the screening of The Red Shoes on Saturday, May 8th, which was directed by her late husband Michael Powell. The festival organization’s strong ties toward showing the achievements of women in all aspects of filmmaking is a driving force behind this honor.

I myself will be getting in on the action by driving up to Rochester Friday afternoon to partake in three films that day and another three or four on Saturday, including Powell’s classic. With three theatres showing films simultaneously, and a fourth room open for panel discussions, there will be no shortage of things to see and experience, all within the George Eastman House complex. I’ll admit that my main driving force is to see Oscar nominated animated film The Secret of Kells, but with Harry Brown also playing, I figured staying for two days would give a chance to see a few more that I may never have another chance to catch again.

The fun all begins on May 5th—with the Ivory presentation at 6:30pm—and continues on until the festival’s completion May 10th. The website, located at has plenty of background information, a downloadable film schedule, and the ability to purchase tickets for individual shows or a multitude of packages. It’s all shaping up to be a pretty great time, held at cinema’s birthplace. My enjoyment of their logo also makes it that much more appealing to me. So I judge some books by their cover; I’m thinking this is one time where it will work out.

360 | 365 George Eastman House Film Festival
May 5-10, 2010

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The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival closed out its fourth annual entry, ending a pretty great eight days of cinema. Attendance might have been stunted due to a plethora of activities in Buffalo, including a Salman Rushdie talk that prevented me from going to opening night and the brief return of Sabres hockey to the playoffs, but that did little to dampen the spirits of organizers, volunteers, or filmmakers. What makes this event uniquely great in comparison to an event like the Toronto International Film Festival is that you don’t have the big name movies coming through, luring you away from the lesser-seen fare where a festival visit could be your only chance to watch. Rather than dismissing an indie feature you’ve heard nothing about in order to check the new Coen Brothers flick that will be coming to a theatre near you in two weeks, you are completely open to seeing work from up-and-comers, art created by a writer and/or director’s own blood, sweat, and tears.

Checking the website online got me into the mindset that some high-profile stars would be coming around for a visit, but unfortunately none panned out for the shows I was able to make. The special guests that did make an appearance, though, trumped any A to B-list actor that could have come—they were the passionate and creative people behind the films which were strung together on a shoe-string budget and for the simple goal of making something personal and resonate. It is one thing to partake in the obligatory clapping for the hard work put into each film once the end credits roll, but a completely different beast when the people you’re cheering are actually in attendance, letting the praise soak in. I would have liked more to get up afterwards and say a few words, perhaps involving the audience in an informal Q&A like some, but I’ll take what I can. The unfortunate negative of attending for reviewing purposes—don’t get me wrong, I love watching movies and would probably opt to see more than leave the theatre for a party anyway—is that I had to miss out on the get-togethers across the street as the Bijou Grille. I’m sure chilling with the talented filmmakers would have been a great time.

Instead, however, I was able to catch twelve features and nine short films during the week run of the festival, by far trumping the previous high of last year’s three full lengths. Allowing for more movies to be shown after 5:00 was the main reasoning for such an increase, giving me no excuse why I couldn’t hop on the 33 to make it for an evening of cinema after the day job’s whistle blew. Heck, I even used Game Two of the Sabres/Bruins series as a reason to see more films. Saturday the 17th was originally going to solewly consist of me watching Yuri Tsapayev’s Contractor’s Routine and possibly attending his after party following, but being downtown for a 1:00 puck drop meant a short ride down Main would bring me to the Market Arcade in time to see most of a Short Film block, as well as the local political comedy Bravo Sierra. Thankful of this happy coincidence, I was able to experience a couple fantastic mini-movies, including a wonderful senior project, St. Gertrude, by Emily Johnson at SCAD—she’s a graduate of my old high school Ken East, so singling out is warranted. And Bravo Sierra, well let’s just say it was an uproarious good time with a pretty packed theatre relative to the other screenings, all having a good time seeing what would soon win Best WNY Film at the award ceremony during closing night.

The rest of my visits saw a couple comedies, a sci-fi faux documentary in Lunopolis that really took me by surprise, a local horror entry in *Cemetery, a throwback 70s car chase thriller in RAGE, and even a pretty informative documentary about the topical debate on vaccine usage with Autism: Made in the U.S.A. For the most part, each film, whether great or just okay, had some redeemable quality to show the talent of those behind their creations. All the local stuff brought with them friends and family to experience the debut on the big screen while others looking for added exposure and press played small but infectious crowds of film-lovers. I do think that a festival like this is more valuable than just the show of audience members, though, because it is a screening to put on the movie’s resume, an opportunity for fans to tell their friends to check something out when it hopefully gets distribution somewhere, and a vehicle to gain some internet buzz that may help spread the word further. In that respect, I do hope my reviews can serve a purpose and be used to push the work and open doors for future endeavors.

And that is the most enjoyable part, for me, of going to this festival each year—meeting filmmakers that are confident in their work and willing to go the extra distance to gain an audience and achieve success. Last year connected me to a talented director named Jeff Orgill with his comedic gem Boppin’ at the Glue Factory, making its way to Netflix soon. Seeing more movies in 2010 meant the possibility of more connections made through the world of Facebook and Twitter. Some were from those unable to attend that saw the reviews—one of which, Jerry Cavallaro, filmed an intro specifically for those at his film Stuck Like Chuck and is perhaps the most tenacious promoter ever as he looks to fund a sequel to film in November—and others who made it in for their screening and the festivities going on in conjunction with the festival. Not only was it great to see David Crabtree and his cast and crew come in to answer questions post-screening of Broken Dreams, but also that they stayed and attended screenings the rest of the week, making new friends and supporting others showing their work. Connecting with Lisa Ford, director of The Teacher, and Jay Pulk, of Copper Penny, was also a bonus—the latter a film I was unable to catch but hopefully will be able to in the future.

Elias Plagianos and star Joshua Burrow of The Crimson Mask all made it into Buffalo for their screening, as did the Sandra Feldman of A Touch of Grey, both films solid work worthy of checking out. I won’t lie that it wouldn’t have been cool to see the trio of cast members from closing film Christina, but unfortunately they couldn’t make it as Stephen Lang was busy filming Conan in Bulgaria and Nicki Aycox shooting her show “Dark Blue”. Director Larry Brand and producers were in attendance, though, and luckily too since the film went on to win Best Director, Actor, Actress, and Film a short hour later. Shot with low light, Christina did show one limitation to the Fest being the second venue, the Riviera Theatre and its lack of a strong projector or pitch-black room of the historic building. I overheard Brand himself saying it was way too dark, but being such a character driven work, the film itself wasn’t hurt by the display.

I do wish I could have seen more films, but you can’t fault the festival for including so many that some days made you choose by having two screens going simultaneously. It is great to see that interest continues to grow and along with it the quality of work too. Thankfully some filmmakers, like Greg Kaplan, are kind enough to send me a copy of their film for review, (I’m Not Here (and she’s not there)), a job that I am more than willing to take part in not only to give a written piece that may hopefully promote the work, but also because I’ll take any opportunity to see a movie I missed during the Festival’s initial run. All the work seen was deserving of its place on the schedule, a couple—Contractor’s Routine and Christina—making their way onto my top ten of 2010 now having completed a third of the year. And, if nothing else, I gained a new bank of names to keep tabs on, social media site friends to stay in contact with, and memories of some great cinema that, without Bill Cowell and his staff’s efforts, I never would have had the opportunity to see, let alone know about. Perhaps some of the short films may make their way onto a future issue of Wholphin, allowing me a second viewing, and perhaps the creatives behind each will hit it big the next time out. Thanks to the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, I’ll be able to say I new it all along, ever since I saw one of their early films years ago.

Laundry Day 5/10
Hens and Chicks 7/10 – winner Acting Honorable Mention, Best Youth Performances, Beatrice Miller and Diego Torrado
St. Gertrude 9/10
Cadillac 8/10
Badfish 5/10 – winner Best Comedy
Bravo Sierra 7/10 – winner Best WNY Film
The Teacher 8/10
Contractor’s Revenge 10/10

Stuck Like Chuck 6/10
The Beneficiary 9/10
RAGE 7/10

The Copper Penny 9/10

Broken Dreams 7/10 – winner Best Supporting Actress, Nicole Gerth
Lunopolis 7/10
Soulmates 6/10
*Cemetery 5/10

Canine Instinct 7/10

I’m Not Here (and she’s not there) 6/10
Sotto il mio giardino [Under My Garden] 9/10 – winner Best Short Film

A Touch of Grey 7/10 – winner Best Canadian Film
The Crimson Mask 7/10
Hot Tamale 5/10

Autism: Made in the U.S.A. 8/10
Christina 9/10 – winner Most Promising Director, Larry Brand; Best Actor, Stephen Lang; Best Actress, Nicki Aycox; Best Film

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[1] Contractor’s Routine red carpet shot courtesy of the film’s Facebook page.
[2] Bravo Sierra red carpet shot courtesy of the film’s Facebook page.
[3] Andrea Lodovichetti courtesy of Canine Instinct’s Facebook page.
[4] A Touch of Grey red carpet shot courtesy of the film’s Facebook page.

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Can I get away with using a film’s one word hyphenate title as it’s succinct description? Frankly I don’t care what your answer is to that question because, no joke, Kick-Ass kicked ass. This is the epitome of comic book brought to reality. What the new wave of graphic novels contains is ultra-violence, witty banter, and stories that are more than just good guy versus bad. People look to Dark Knight as what a comic based film should be, but on further review, is it really? It might be the best film based on a comic, but not the best comic book movie. Nolan did an amazing job on his Batman films, but they are really just well told dramatic action thrillers with superhero characters as their cast. That pulpy geekdom was still missing due to its realism and dour aesthetic, that splash of fun Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s work has in spades. I was never once taken out of the action as I constantly waited to see what new craziness Dave Lizewski would get into over his head.

But Kick-Ass isn’t truly about its titular character; the main plot deals with an ex-cop who was framed and thrown in jail when he chose not to be on mobster Frank D’Amico’s payroll. Damon Macready helplessly had to hear about his wife’s inability to deal with being pregnant and about to have a child alone, soon devoting the rest of his time in prison to become a lethal killing machine, biding time until he can meet his daughter and enlist her into the life of revenge that consumes him. Everything after release leads to the moment when he can face D’Amico and retrieve his pound of flesh; knowing it won’t bring back his wife, but also accepting the fact it will surely make him happy. Seeing the fervor for which young Mindy takes to the life of weaponry and violence is a bit jarring, but then you remember it’s a comic. She is a fictional character with the skill and precision of an accomplished assassin. Looking about twelve years old only gives her more of an advantage—the innate quality to disarm any opponent before they even know a fight has begun.

While Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are the real heroes—well maybe antiheroes since they are killing and maiming without regard for the sanctity of life, despite the victims’ checkered pasts and affiliations—they are nothing without Dave’s creation of Kick-Ass, the phenomenon that allowed them to get out into the world and begin their quest, turning practice into action. A normal high schooler—the kind of kid that goes about his business unnoticed, besides an oft-mugging, with friends as irrelevant to the other students as himself—Dave decides one day that he’s had enough. Ordering a costume online and going out to find trouble commences the chain of events to follow. It’s not your run-of-the-mill superhero exposition, however, it is definitely as harsh and authentic of an origin story you’ll get. He’s an untrained geek who’s never been in a fight before because he’s too quick to give up whatever the bullies desire, so the outcome of his first ‘mission’ is soberly pitch-perfect. And the fact that each instance afterwards shows shades of that same failure, using him as the reason normal people don’t become superheroes, you are more willing to believe in the father/daughter duo as they are far from sane.

Along with the revenge story and the hyper-stylized action sequences to satisfy any fan looking for well-choreographed fight scenes, come some uniquely approachable characters. Vaughn said in an interview that he spent hours trying to find the right actor to play the film’s namesake, never thinking that a Brit with a fake American accent would be the one to do it. Aaron Johnson is absolutely fantastic in this role, playing the kid in way too deep to perfection. He is so awkward and nervous that he pretends to be gay in order to get close with the girl of his dreams, but even when wearing the costume he shows a false sense of courage only goes so far. Not the guy to run into a burning building from selflessness or have the stomach to commit murder without provocation, his inability to be super is crucial to the film’s success. The real psycho killers aren’t without their own human ticks either, though. Chloe Moretz’s Hit-Girl may be more mature and intelligent than her age reveals, yet she still keeps a sense of childish humor beneath that hardened exterior, asking for a cuddly puppy as a birthday gift. Nicholas Cage’s reaction to that joke is priceless too, as well as his portrayal of Big Daddy front to back. Becoming a vigilante was a necessity for him, but he does it well. Pulling a robotic William Shatner once the mask is on shows how detail-oriented he is, breaking up his words to not allow for speech pattern recognition.

Mark Strong’s string of villainy continues with D’Amico, allowing for some humor in his deadpan delivery when interacting with employees and his son. Being that Chris is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, wanting nothing more than to be trusted with the ‘family business’, only adds to the whole tough guy Dad with an asthmatic dork as a son cliché. But that’s okay because it’s a comic book film meant to entertain, utilizing all the common tropes integrated with a real world environment. The juxtaposition of a little girl jumping, flipping, juggling knives, firing guns, and destroying any human being standing in her way is done for fun, not to spark controversy and enrage a prudish public who think their young children will want to follow suit. Kick-Ass is an R-rated film, and for good reason. This isn’t a kid’s movie; it’s an action flick full of carnage and tempo changing battles in close quarters with rock music blaring in the background. Moretz’s killer instinct is unrivaled and Cage too takes part in some well-orchestrated dances of death. There is teenage angst, familial tragedy—how great is Dave’s mother’s death—comedic friends, absurd eccentrics roaming about, and an effectively constructed story of crime, justice, and revenge. Throw in a bazooka and a jetpack, (admittedly one of the aspects preventing me from giving the movie a perfect score), and you’ll see this is pure, unadulterated, bloody fun. I can’t wait to see it again.

Kick-Ass 9/10

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[1] Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) in KICK-ASS. Photo credit: Dan Smith
[2] Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, left) and Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong, right) in KICK-ASS. Photo credit: Dan Smith

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How great is it that the credits for A Nightmare on Elm Street list Robert Englund as playing Fred Krueger? Even though his character is called Freddy throughout it and all subsequent films, the first installment never anticipated the kind of pop culture phenomenon he’d become. Billed as the new ‘masterpiece of fantasy terror’ from the director of The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left—I guess I never realized how popular those two were—this is what I most associate with the name Wes Craven. And Hollywood continues to go and remake them all despite their somewhat young ages, with a new Scream trilogy in the works to complete the cycle. What I didn’t remember, however, was how serious the original Nightmare was. All the entries to follow made Krueger into a jokey caricature of the villainous manifestation he began as. I can only hope that the newest re-imagining will go back to when that dark abyss of malice existed, before Roseanne and Tom jumped aboard.

Hellraiser and its sequel will always be my favorite 80s horror due to their aesthetic and overall creepy crossover of fantastical mythology and reality. Having only seen Nightmare once, or at the most twice, I definitely sold it short in how effective it was at bridging that same void. The idea to create a monster that kills in your sleep, existing on a plane of consciousness that can only be reached when your inhibitions are down, yet still inflict whatever damage in dream in the real world also, is quite ingenious. But Craven goes even further by instilling a sense of history and purpose to Krueger—he isn’t picking these kids at random, he has a vendetta to settle. A child molester and killer in his former life, the parents of Elm Street took matters into their own hands once a judicial clerical error set him free. With all the sequels jumbled in my head, I could have sworn I’d see his fate sealed in a blaze of gasoline fire as young Nancy is told the story, but I guess that only occurs later on down the line. Instead, we see a foursome of high school friends cope with the fear of the unknown, something they themselves can’t fathom. If only they knew of the horrible secret their parents have been hiding, perhaps something could have been done.

Every victim is crucial to Nancy’s life, our heroine at the center of the tale. Daughter of divorced parents—both had a hand in Krueger’s demise—she is also a friend of Tina and Rod, as well as girlfriend of Glen, the boy across the street. Soon realizing that the four have begun to experience a collective dream state, conjuring up the same burned face, knifed-glove wearing terror, it is Nancy who discovers the only way to be saved is to not fall asleep. It is the perfect catch-22 because the longer they all stay awake, the more prone to catnaps and daydreams they become. No longer solely worrying about what to do at night, the kids begin to nod off during class, while taking a bath, and even sitting down as guard for another. Freddy comes calling as soon as the brain begins its REM slumber, wreaking his own brand of horror by scrapping his knives against metal, cutting himself open to show the maggots ravaging his decomposing body, and relishing in the labored movements he takes, torturing his prey with the anticipation of violence. I would never laugh at someone who saw this film upon its release in 1984 and seriously couldn’t sleep without fear of his own bogeyman coming out to play.

What makes it all so effective, besides the terrifying performance of a make-up clad Robert Englund—who unfortunately devolves into more cultish prankster in sequels than the serial killer who speaks little more than raspy, growled taunts—is the atmosphere created by Craven and company. The score still stands up almost thirty years later, never becoming a hokey 80s-style overbearing nuisance. Mixed with the foggy mist of both the boiler room each dream eventually leads and the nightly outdoor jaunts on Elm, you will find your heart racing a bit, waiting to see what might happen to Nancy and her friends, constantly wondering if and where Freddy is, lurking for that opportunity to jump out and slice. Add to all that a few amazingly well done death scenes and A Nightmare on Elm Street really does become the film that brought gruesome terror back to the cinema. It was now possible to delve into a new world of possibilities for the genre, entering imaginative places where anything was possible. Looking back now, I can honestly say that without Craven’s vision, Hellraiser may never have been made.

The other casting then becomes second fiddle to the art direction and tone. Englund is a big part of course, but it is interesting to see just how little of his prominently placed personality later on is actually included. More a physical manifestation of fear and death, it is his body language and amoral attitude that resonate without the need of one-liners or close-up quips. Hiding his face and keeping him in the dark is far more effective than the risk of him hijacking the tension by coming out of the shadows. As for the others, I will admit that I thought Amanda Wyss was pretty effective as Tina, portraying the fear realistically at all times while Jsu Garcia’s Rod is a bit heavy-handed and Johnny Depp’s Glen somewhat amateurish. But you give both the benefit of the doubt, as well as Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy, because they are young frightened teens. The innocence and naturalistic emotional range supercedes the acting talent that may be lacking.

You won’t worry too much, though, especially when events like a bed devouring someone, a tub opening up into an infinitely deep sea, and characters crawling around on the ceiling with blood pouring out—what a great effect, assumedly with a room built upside-down—soon occur. Even the ending is thought provoking in its open-endedness. Was everything that happened an elaborate nightmare? Was the ending a new dream starting back at the beginning, or is it Nancy dealing with new issues by imagining all who died back at her side? Whatever the true meaning, I’ll admit that the sheer fact a sequel was made one year later belittles its effect. For that split second of letting the film wash over me without thoughts of what was to come, the feeling of dread was palpable enough to prove that, in its time, A Nightmare on Elm Street truly was a masterpiece of its genre and still a benchmark legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 7/10

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French director Romain Gavras could very well be my new favorite visionary. With all the hype surrounding the new M.I.A video—not as violent necessarily as I thought it’d be, but definitely NSFW, (as most of his videos aren’t), and vicious in its authenticity—I had to check his work out. His personal Vimeo page contains five of his music videos, all but one, (The Last Shadow Puppets), the musical creations of dance/electronica/electro hip-hop acts. It’s a pedigree of some international favorites and thankfully they all allowed their director to orchestrate mini-movies, oftentimes using their own sound effects and noises above the song being played, to stand apart from the MTV-mainstream by creating conversation with their political themes and aesthetic.

The Last Shadow Puppets: The Age of the Understatement
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This is by far the most ‘music video’ of Gavras works; the two singers walk around some sort of Russian town in their Beatles-esque trenchcoats, singing the words being played. It’s a great example of the director’s eye and ability to create intriguing frames of pure beauty. Watching the large group of military officers singing the background vocals, seeing the young figure skater do her routine and stop perfectly centered under a sign of foreign words, the ornate church interior as a priest waves his incense, and the swooping camera on its crane flying through it all is quite the spectacle.

Simian Mobile Disco: I Believe
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Here is an example of turning the music video into more than just a band onscreen selling their product. It is also a film that shows the song being sung, but instead of the actual artists, it is a young man from a rundown, beat-up town. Always looking directly into the camera, he and the people around him are a surly, defeated bunch, partaking in everyday work or just sitting down as the frame passes by. Complete with the grainy stock that makes it appear as though it was shot decades ago, Gavras puts onto film a slice of life—impoverished people looking to live their lives unbothered, but also unafraid to ham it up for the camera towards the end.

DJ MEHDI: Signatune
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Gavras decides to create an entire story around these techno beats, portraying a kid who is about to go to battle with his car, the auteur showing his comical side in the process. Reminiscent of a Saturday Night Fever homage, the lead character leaves his home and parents in his souped up car, arriving at the competition site, lined up with revelers and fellow enthusiasts. The kid has a swagger about him and the stoic stare that many of Gavras’s characters portray. Just don’t be surprised when the cars aren’t lined up at a drag strip—this contest is more akin to the music playing and beats a-booming.

Jus†ice: Stress
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It is with his fellow countrymen, Jus†ice, that Gavras takes the darkness that loomed in the work above to full effect. Depicting a gang of hoodlums wearing jackets with the band’s symbol on their backs, this video is unadulterated carnage and rage. Property is smashed, people are beaten, fires are started. What makes this work stand apart, however, is in its ability to bring us as the viewer into the destruction—not necessarily as a willing participant, but as a follower doing nothing to stop them. Much like the film Man Bites Dog, the camera crew itself becomes involved as the boom-mic operator is in the action as a molotov cocktail is thrown into a deserted car and the cameraman himself eventually ends up the last soul around to be harassed, putting a memorable end to the journey of violence.

M.I.A: Born Free
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And that brings me to his most recent work for M.I.A, the oft-talked about Born Free video. This is the culmination of everything he had done before—a strong political comment on a quasi-Nazi state at the hands of the American police force, redheaded boys the population being hunted down and taken. What Gavras does so well in all his videos is utilize the music as his metronome to cut and pace the visuals to. Crescendos and tempo changes all affect what he is depicting onscreen, a road map in tone and power rather than words being interpreted. There is a humorous moment at the start as a cop turns to the camera and mouths the ‘boom’ that pushes the song into its abusive progression, just as the apartment building raid is commenced. Using impressive tracking shots and slomotion to add drama, violence has never been so mesmerizing.

I’ll admit that I felt it was all a bit tame at first compared to the buzz around the internet, the profanity and grotesquely naked intercourse that’s interrupted in the search for a red-haired boy the only things making the video unsafe for work. Most of the beating and aggression is actually off-screen—we only see the swing of the arms and batons, never the actual contact with flesh. But then the bus load of captives makes its way to the new form of concentration camp, one more sporting and enjoyable for the sick, twisted minds of those rounding the helpless up—although a contingent of them are underground, looking to begin an uprising against the oppression. Here is not only where the graphic quality of death becomes more brutal, but also where the visual splendor of boys running through a minefield and soldiers watching and screaming as their vehicles drive by takes control.

Most likely a commentary on being born free in this great nation of America, yet still dealing with the oppressive state of our government and military, all the underlying messages—agreed or disagreed with—are only an added layer to the visual strength and indelible imagery that won’t soon be forgotten. If anything will make a song or an artist stick with you to remember and purchase, it is the work of Gavras and his willingness to push the envelope as he creates challenging and memorable pieces for artists unafraid to take the journey with him. I hope he makes the jump into feature films soon, his Jus†ice documentary A Cross the Universe already becoming something I need to see.

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A trio of short films by Italian director Andrea Lodovichetti screened during the 2010 Buffalo Niagara Film Festival. His latest, from 2007, is the Babelgum award-winning Sotto il mio giardino [Under My Garden], which I’m sure went a long way in him receiving the Best Shot Film award at the festival. Based on a story by Roberto Santini, the film concerns a young boy with a fascination for ants and how they always work as a collective for their queen, even risking their own lives for the benefit of the group. During his studies of the creatures, he discovers some turned dirt in his background, an area where an anthill has formed into the boy’s garden. Piquing his interest, Marco remembers how the neighbor’s wife has not been seen in some time. Sneaking over the fence to take a look inside the house, he finds a naked young woman walking about, causing him to believe the man has murdered his wife and buried her under his garden.

Marco’s own mother is absent, recently moved to America, and so he is alone for the moment with his father and nanny, exploring the grounds while Dad is at work, delving into his research books and playing with his friend Sara. Uninterested in ants, Sara is more inclined to flirt with the boy, at one point even telling him what kind of underwear she is wearing. He, being only eight, shrugs off these advances and begins to concoct his theory of homicide, wondering what he can do to prove it. Just as ambivalent about the ants, Sara could care less about his unfounded hypotheses, tending to ignore his talking about those subjects until he either stops or leaves. But the temptation to turn this man into the authorities—a man he feels is bad because of the way his father won’t greet him despite his mother always having smiled hello—is too great, leading Marco to not only write a letter telling the neighbor he knows what was buried under the ant’s nest, but also a diagram and note to the police, requesting them to come and investigate.

Alessandra Pellegrino and Stefano Bottone are both fantastic as the children, playing their roles perfectly despite no formal training. Lodovichetti even says in behind the scenes footage that he was surprised at how well Bottone knew when and where to act, timing his actions without the need of direction or multiple takes. One scene was actually changed on request of the children, knowing how the instance should be played out and proving to be correct. Bottone is wonderfully accessible in a role that is simply a curious boy who idolizes his father and adopts his outlooks on life. He watches the ants, unafraid to die for their queen, and decides to be brave himself, risking his own innocence to capture the criminal and solve the crime he knows has been done—if his father doesn’t trust this man, than he shouldn’t either. But above all else, you see the love he holds for his mother, missing her and yet excited to hear about America, even though she left without saying goodbye. When the police do finally come in response to his letters, the policewoman in charge talks to the boy with a maternal understanding; he opens up to her and revels in that female figure of compassionate authority he has been missing.

Besides the acting and some wonderfully shot compositions—from the half-clothed neighbor spied on through a window, interesting angles used for simple shots like Bottone sticking a letter in a mailbox, and, a rarity of late, allowing two characters to exist in frame during a conversation rather than cutting back and forth to reaction shots—the story itself is what sticks in your memory after the credits roll. Throughout the entire endeavor, you begin to wonder how far the game Marco plays will go. Will the neighbor forgive him for his accusations, will he angrily seek revenge like the harsh faces he makes at the boy infer, or did he perhaps actually do what the boy thinks? Rather than necessarily answer these questions straight out, Lodovichetti and company decide to subtly uncover the truth to what is going on, proving how the boy may be correct in his wild imagination, but perhaps getting the victim and culprit wrong. Answers to his past are revealed and the gravity of what his investigations lead to is a welcome surprise, making what I assumed would be a funny anecdotal conclusion to the seriousness of his imagination even more dire and contemplative than I ever would have thought.

Sotto il mio giardino [Under My Garden] 9/10

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Watch the film for yourself at Babelgum by clicking here.

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After some ill-received thrillers and a misfire with the script of Halloween: Resurrection, I’m not exactly sure why Larry Brand gravitated to writing and directing a very small, three character piece dealing with emotional turmoil at the end of WWII. I can only assume that this has been a passion project of his for some time and I applaud the newly formed Michigan-based 8180 Films for supplying the money to get this expertly acted and shot piece into theatres. Reminiscent of stage play-to-film adaptations like Oleanna, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Death and the Maiden, Brand’s Christina completely takes place in the oddly luxurious apartment of the titular German character on the night of her American G.I.’s return. The room is dark, the electricity goes out, but love is in the air as Christina and Billy ready for their journey across the Atlantic to start a new life together. It’s never that easy, though, as a police inspector soon arrives, dredging up past secrets that could risk unraveling all their plans; dark deeds hidden by a fractured mind of fear and distress, uncovering the pasts these two star-crossed lovers never thought would ever come to the surface.

The closing night feature, as well as winner of Best Film, at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, Christina shows the kind of power that can be yielded from a well-crafted story, drawing you in deeper and deeper with every peeled back layer. Berlin has fallen and destruction is all that’s left. People are still missing, buildings are destroyed, and many soldiers await their chance to go home. Fresh from a disciplinary hearing stemming from a lapse in judgment involving him and the black market trade of stockings, Billy needs to see his love even if he should remain on the base until departure in six weeks. Christina has been cleaning and cooking an Americanized meal for her lover, hoping to prove her worth and make him need her as much as she needs him. While readying the apartment, however, she makes sure to keep all her windows blacked out and her bedroom door closed, speaking softly to an unknown entity beyond the door to stay still and be quiet upon his arrival. It’s an intriguing mystery that soon becomes forgotten when her cheerful façade of love and adoration takes over, dotingly keeping her boyfriend occupied with kisses, food, and dancing—all the while making sure he does not open the bedroom door.

Jordan Belfi and Nicki Aycox play the pair, he an aspiring journalist and her learning English to sustain a life abroad and away from the horrors experienced in her country the past few years. Belfi shows some good acting range, something that his role in HBO’s “Entourage” lacks, although his part there is a favorite quasi-villainous one of mine. He is protective of Christina and willing to forgive anything that occurred in her past because the present is all that matters to him. He’s made mistakes of his own and is looking to start fresh just as much as her. Aycox, though, is revelatory as the lead here. Handling the accent and fumbling of English to perfection, you sense that perhaps her disposition is a little too sunny. When Belfi’s Billy slips and jokingly calls her a Kraut, an unseen anger flies forth with a clear-headed force that breaks through the kind demeanor, showing a glimpse of the person she has been hiding beneath. Not the only one with secrets, however, Billy also receives his moment of clarity when called a hero. All the optimism and outlook towards the future drains away, leaving a broken man that has seen death firsthand. He is no hero—yet those sentiments may not stem from the battlefield, but instead from his lack of fortitude in exposing injustice to save his own neck.

So, what seems at first to be a simple reunion to bide the time until they can leave Europe behind soon becomes an airing of transgressions, some minor and others unavoidably worse. Right when Christina is about to tell Billy of a secret child, conceived with the apparition of a childhood classmate one night when she visited her old hometown, a knock on the door changes everything. Inspector Reinhardt enters and starts to throw accusations around—all of which are deflected with a wavering confidence by Christina before the guilt of truth is too much to bear. The Inspector’s sole purpose in their lives is to alleviate his own sense of guilt, realizing the hundreds and thousands of people he watched be taken in the night without ever lifting a finger to intervene. He understands now that in a world of crime, one small life can sometimes be forgotten, but he refuses to give up on the child he has been searching for, the one life he might still have a chance to save. It is this child that he believes Christina is the mother of, but in order to get to the truth he must watch the denial wash away from the young woman, feeding her the facts about her real identity, her means of sustaining the style of living she has, and the horrors accomplished in order to survive during a time where living didn’t seem like a viable conclusion.

Reinhardt is the catalyst for all conflict to occur in the film, the voice of conscience that is itself jaded and broken like the others. No one is perfect here and they are all on the cusp of a new world for which to live and exist without the worry of what came before. But you cannot run away from the truth so easily; the mind may work its hardest to cover up horrendous actions, but they will always surface in some form. Stephen Lang tries his hardest to steal the show from Aycox as Reinhardt, but I do believe only ends up matching her skill—they are both phenomenal. The two are playing out the charade of her psyche, chipping away at the years of forgetting while Belfi is forced to sit back and listen, his pleas for the policeman to stop slowly dissolving into silence as the story begins to take shape. The horror of war wasn’t only fought on the frontlines, but also in the residential homes of mothers and children, never knowing if the next bomb would fall on their rooftop, killing them too. Christina shows us the hard decisions and the weakness of the mind to perform such unthinking deeds, all culminating in the unavoidable conclusion, perfect in its devastation.

Christina 9/10

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[1] Stephen Lang, Nicki Aycox and Jordan Belfi in Christina
[2] Nicki Aycox in Christina

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The debate about whether or not vaccinations are attributing to Autism in children has been raging for a while now. High profile celebrities have gotten involved—the most vocal being Jenny McCarthy whose own son was diagnosed with the disorder—and producer Gary Null has created a documentary to make the message spread even wider. Autism: Made in the U.S.A. is an intriguing look at the two sides of the argument through both medical evidence and firsthand accounts from parents who not only saw their children get diagnosed, but some who watched as a normal child suddenly devolved overnight, no longer able to speak the words from a day before. It is a touchy subject because of the amount of money put towards political campaigns on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, so no one in a place of power is looking too close at staging an overhaul that could cost billions of dollars. But as one professional in the film says, if 1 in 6 kids were being kidnapped, the government would be compelled to step in. So why won’t they when that ratio is being trapped inside by neural disorders, the worst being a completely non-verbal Autistic?

Autism is like most documentaries of this kind, namely a series of talking heads explaining studies taken and recovery methods experienced. No matter what is said, however, any film depicting cause and effect for the means of reform is looking at the side it agrees with. Sure, one can blame the CDC and other government organizations for refusing to contribute their views on the subject to the filmmakers, but at the end of the day each viewer must make up their own mind. I do believe that this film is a great launching pad for getting your feet wet with the subject, though. Being born in the early 80s myself, I can clearly see a paradigm change in the new generation being educated today. My own school district has recently made it necessary for a second teacher to be instituted in each classroom for extra help towards the special needs kids, so hearing the statistics coming from the pediatricians onscreen hit home. Yes, some of the increase of cases, (ADHD and other ‘mild’ forms included), can be attributed to the number of parents having their children tested and also the number willing to take the medicated way out and just accept their child’s fate. But the trend of mercury-based vaccines cannot be ignored.

The people involved here aren’t trying to posit that America’s vaccine schedule is the lone culprit, but it also doesn’t turn a blind eye to the problem. Containing Thimerosal, the vaccines included in the newly formed timetable of the 90s are literally injecting trace amounts of mercury into newborns’ systems. Not only was the product untested on children so young—some straight out of the womb—but the combination of so many cultures in the body at once also wasn’t. How anyone can expect a small child with a developing immune system to process all those diseases at once is a valid question. Looking at the classrooms I was involved with through primary and secondary school shows that we did alright with the few vaccines given to us, so why the huge increase? Understandably, MMR seems to be central to the issue at hand, one given to us as well, so perhaps the new Thimerosal concoctions are to blame. At least it looks like the preservative is now currently being phased out because watching through a microscope at what mercury can do to the nerves of the brain was quite the eye opener, not to mention the evidence of a closed door meeting on behalf of key players that had evidence it would do just that.

But the issue of pharmacology is much broader than just with the subject of Autism. I think a great anecdote told here—although admittedly secondhand—concerns the founding father of the CDC and his desire to publicly state how not only would he and his wife never take a flu shot, but that the influenza vaccine itself was a sham. Fired for this viewpoint and the risk of losing tons of money since the flu shot is the one vaccine repeatedly used each and every year, he jokingly asked why else anyone thought he was now teaching at a university instead of heading up the organization. As a result, the film does focus a lot of energy on the financial gain those in power have at stake, as well as how many studies clearing dangerous products were not only funded by companies with a direct involvement to the product but also conducted them. It’s a disgraceful thing to think about, especially now at a time where the government is seizing more and more control over our healthcare. For all we know New Jersey—coincidentally the state with the highest increase of Autism in the past couple decades—won’t be the only state mandating all these vaccines to be taken in the near future.

Through all the facts, figures, and overabundant use of a motif featuring a child’s photo fading to black, it’s the accounts by parents of Autistic children that hit home hardest. Seeing the devastation on their faces is enough to make you stop and listen, whether you end up agreeing or not. Thankfully, some parents decided to take matters into their own hands, creating organizations to help others like them cope and to help diagnosed children recover from the disorder. Yes, these parents, above all else, want you to be aware that recovery is not only a possibility but within their grasp. By instilling a dairy-free, gluten-free diet, as well as cutting fast foods, and going as organic as one can, Autistic children have shown amazing strides of improvement. As one doctor says, being labeled as an alternative medicine provider despite her classically trained background is ok if it gets the job done. Another, who explains how hospitals will label recovery cases as ‘spontaneous remissions’ without looking at how many are a direct result of his work, says they can call it whatever they like. Diet and nutrition isn’t something pharmaceutical companies can put advertising dollars towards to turn a profit, so if they have to disregard proven theories and methods, so be it. At least there are still some pediatricians willing to accept the blame for blind allegiance and work towards correcting the mistake rather than burying their heads in the sand, unwilling to accept they might have unwittingly helped in handicapping a generation.

Autism: Made in the U.S.A. 8/10

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jared’s tweets

  • RT @ava: True story. 8 hours ago
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