Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Mud"; When you can't find Paradise, there is only Crawfish and Unrest

"You can't trust love; it will up and run out on you". That is what the main character Ellis is told in this film by his father, who is getting ready to go through a divorce. It takes a lot for me to say a movie is perfect, and I swear that someday soon some flick will get one or two stars from me. But this is where my readers and film connoisseurs get their dinner and dessert to boot.

Director Jeff Nichols said that he wanted to bottle the excitement and pain of being a teenager and as far back as the 1990's; had envisioned Matthew McCaunoghey as an actor in it. Paying homage to the lifestyle; river culture, and scenery of Arkansas, this is the biggest production ever shot in the state.

Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as his adolescent sidekick Neckbone are making their way down the Mississippi when they find a boat that is high up in the tree from floods of the past. They poke around inside and find that a fugitive (McConaughey's character Mud) is hiding inside. Both are coming of age early because of the roughneck culture of the area; yet still hanging on to their childhood in different ways. The parallels to classics like "Stand by Me" are abundant; but not overused or earmarked too much. We are shown a man who has killed someone out of his love for a woman, and is marooned until some form of help arrives.

As any teenager would have to ponder, the two boys make a decision to trust Mud. They know that he is inherently dangerous, but they immediately think that he is not a threat to them. So many good things happen here; the usual throwback to Mark Twain doesn't even scratch the surface. You can almost smell the river catch and hear the old Ford trucks try to start up in the morning.

These characters are something concocted even deeper than the first layer of Americana; deep in the creekbanks and Piggly Wiggly stores of the south. This America is not as concerned with texting and Iphones (yet), and family roots are so troubled and encompassing that they could shift a home's foundation. The fixation with the river, old motors, salvaged parts, and first pangs of teenage love even bring to mind the way the first "Karate Kid" movie spins its plot.

Seeing Joe Don Baker cast as the leader of the ring that wants Mud dead is perfect, as is Sam Shephard in the role of a neighbor across the river who may or may not do something for Mud. About 45 minutes into the film we are shown more sunrises, more tension, small dirty hotel rooms, and Reese Witherspoon's character of Juniper is amazingly taut and fitting for the storyline.

As more and more happens, you are not lost in the script, or production values. Yes, the end is a bit different and feels like it had a different director's touch. It seems that pictures like "No Country For Old Men" are inspiration here for themes like desolation and loner issues. When a movie closely examines not only the plot at hand, but the whole landscape it takes place in with painstaking effort, it has to be selected by me as a triumph.

The vision of a class that could never find paradise but can only find unrest and crawfish; is impeccable. I went in preparing to be engrossed and went far beyond. If you have experienced teenage love, divorce, or being on the lamb, this film will speak to you. All I can say is "Bravo" and let the sentiment wash over you; we all have abandoned boats or salvaged motors dancing around in our subconscious somewhere.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Low and Clear" The Bonding power of Brooks, Barbs, and Bull Trout

In this heavyfooted, soaring documentary about two different men who take a journey to Canada, Nothing is left guarded; and this is the stuff documentary dreams are made of. We are shown JT Van Zandt, delicately gliding out to the Gulf one morning, amidst a few palms and orange sunrise. He tells us that there is no way to hide the personalities that come out when fishing, in a quiet early morning honesty with an almost dreamlike surrounding.

When asked to be privileged enough to pre-screen this before release, I gladly excepted with the utterly wrong notion that it was a documentary about fly fishing. I knew I would not be bored, as I like the outdoors, but I simply do not love them as much as some people. Doesn't matter. Break down all your preconceived notions and buckle up for a ride with two different people who met in the mountains of Colorado. JT first tells us in the Gulf that first morning that "It's as if you are seeing a beautiful woman, you don't have the ability to do anything except what naturally comes in the situation" while fishing.

The first time we are shown Alex known as "Xenie" in the film, he is swearing profusely at the steep winds and inability to do things exactly his way during a quick cast of the line. He is a timber man, an ultimate Paul Bunyan; who hauls wood around the mountains and has a passion for fishing maybe unmatched by anyone alive. He keeps meticulous records, and has tens of thousands of photographs of catches. I thought of the 1970's novel "Sometimes a Great Notion" about Hank Stamper, the logging man of the Pacific Northwest.

Immediately recognizing that Xenie's temper is absolutely what makes him a good fisherman, JT makes a few phone calls and organizes a trip to Canada with his nearly long lost pal, who lives on his own terms while JT is very caught up on the phone, in a marina rental/refurbishing type of business. Even though he is close to the water, JT feels as if his fishing has been neglected, and the two set off to Canada to do what they do best.

As the two start to clash and still embrace what they love with the anguish of any fine artist or author, one of the top three moments in film of the last year occurs. Xenie makes his first catch of the trip, kneels in the water and proclaims, "I'm healed!!!" and giggles and nearly cries with glee. The rushing water, snow capped peaks, and freshness of it all takes you right along with them, feeling your boots a little wet and the different lures in your flannel pocket.

A pristine craft produced by Kahlil Hudson from Alaska; someone who has Discovery Channel notches on his belt, this really begins to soar about 20 minutes in. We are told that the mountain men who made America don't get much respect anymore, and about the lost culture of the respect of land. Living in Colorado for seven years myself, I saw some of the familiar peaks and valleys off of I-70 that I had known and wandered in. These catapulted me into a heap of questions needing metaphysical and spiritual answers in my college days.

A profile of how the most peaceful valley can breed angst, I am amazed at the perfection in this story. "Film lite" or watered down fluff has a certain potential for profit these days. And when you give people something gritty that is not film lite, like "Kids" amongst other films showed us in the 90's, we true connoisseurs chew it slowly and value it's integrity. "Low and Clear" is a homage to the stress of a relationship, the beauty of America, and the sorcery of fine craft.

We all need healing in these times of near feudalism and strife, and here we are given a sliver. Hopefully convincing cubicle dwellers, students, and stressed out people everywhere to don hiking boots and get out into the wild, "Low and Clear" shines immensely, an achievement of the most exciting caliber.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"The Beach"; not the usual tourist trail

Danny Boyle started something special as his forte when He put out "Trainspotting", a quirky, foot tapping humor that he then coats over as a director with rich visuals. "The Beach" is a tale of a forbidden island in Thailand and the consequences of trying to share it with others. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Richard, a college age American who is looking for something different, and starts out in Bangkok.

Right in the beginning we see one of director Boyle's touches, credits that illuminate a bit like the street lights of Bangkok. Many film viewers with myself included thought from the previews that this was going to be some sort of "Blue Lagoon" movie, all romance and just plain lame. Well, there is some romance, but what Boyle captures well is the spirit of traveling in a place like Asia. Years later in "Slumdog Millionare" we see him overlay the same rich tint to the nation of India, a more developed, choreographed film.

Even though parts of this movie are way overacted by DiCaprio and the rest of the bunch, the real treats here are the visuals. With the clear water of the paradise island and the journey, special care is taken to inject a sense of ambience into the movie. There are scenes of outer space, stars, and reefs under clear water that are very rich, and the idea is to make you feel as if you came out of a loud dance club and into this paradise. It is not old school cinema by any means, but it's ample.

Richard meets Francois (Virginie Ledoyen) and her French boyfriend (Guillaumme Canet) while in Bangkok and convinces them that a map he has acquired from a fellow traveler named Daffy (Robert Carlyle) is where they need to go, a promised land of blue waters and plentiful marijuana crop. Daffy is played by the same actor who was Bigby in "Trainspotting", crazily throwing a glass of the deck in a pub in that film, injuring a woman and laughing. After talking the couple into coming with him, they have to swim across a break to the island, and immediately encounter hostile marijuana farmers there.

Richard's biggest mistake is giving some surfers on the mainland of Thailand a copy of the map to the island, and they finally show up. They are killed brutally by the marijuana farmers who have made the rest of them promise to never tell anyone else where the island is. I won't spoil the rest, but just before this is where the movie gets slightly worse. It is very flawed, and in no way a masterpiece.

The best real purpose of it is watching for the visuals and exotic locale of Thailand. The over acting comes in the forms of yelling, high fives, and some weird communal activities on the island. But the first half is fun watching them get there and learn to survive. I have a soft spot for this movie, and it is definitely not for everyone. Some of my favorite places are remote parts of Hawaii and so I pop it in when I am craving to get somewhere warm.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Slave Surfwear; Kauai's Hawaiian clothing legend

Dave the Slave is a guy that coined that name by working so hard on tile and stone contracting, making sure that he could take one awesome surf trip every year. One year that trip was in Nicaragua, and he sent a picture of him shredding there back home. After his buddy wrote "slave" as a funny caption on the return email, the idea for a whole product line festered quickly in his brain.

There are plenty of surf entities and lifestyle brands these days that are a dime a dozen, but this is not one of them. To get a brand to stick out, the graphics or drawings they stem from have to be original. A circle with some type thrown in won't do; something truly representative of the spirit of the surf and the pristine feel of the entire island is needed. These designs make you think of the islands, and all the extreme sports that are plausible in paradise.

Too see their list of apparel and story, click

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Anthony Bourdain Goes Deeper then Ever Before: Congo

I had been told that the season finale for Anthony Bourdain's new "Parts Unknown" show was probably the best one ever done. Going through an immense personal crisis in my life, I avoided it for a few weeks; even though I knew the other critics were probably right. Even though it is one of my favorite shows, I wrongly thought that he would break bread with some tribes in the bush, and maybe have a few difficulties along the way, like some little river cruise. When the night finally came to watch, I gave it my attention.

The first thing that I did not realize was just how in ruins almost the entire place is. Occupied by Leopold of Belgium and rid of literally hundreds of thousands of it's inhabitants, so much of what used to be there is in farther abyss than we could even perceive in our country. You really have to imagine the most ruined destination you have been through with grass growing all over and just a few old rails and concrete blocks sticking out. Mile after mile.

Anthony points out well here that the land is rich in resources, but has been mismanaged to it's utter breaking point and basically left to rot like a carcass. Flying out of an airport in a very old prop plane that used to be for royalty, they are roughing it way, way more than even the Amazon. This is truly no man's land, and a gift of a bracelet from the 1930's is a highlight of the show. There are parallels here to the Libya episode, but here in the Congo, everything has done happened, left, and there is not even a caboose to watch go away in the distance after you have been ran over. There is just not much left but struggle.

Speaking of cabooses, It is amazing that there are proud people in the Congo that work on failed old railroads and also a library full of moldy volumes. Not being paid at all for God knows how long, they still show up. To see this up close in real life was probably a shock, we know Anthony has seen poverty before, but... this is a desperation of a very pillaged land. From a production standpoint, there are probably times during this episode where the shooting was simple; but most likely not. Libya looked difficult at times too; but this area most likely took the cake.

I think the reason why this was such a grand finale was they way in which Anthony encountered chaos and turbulence. He knew he always wanted to go here, and also knew that when he did it was deemed to be a bit hellish, as the "Heart of Darkness" references insist. And while finally on a boat going down the river, cooking appeared very, very difficult. Most of us here in the states would have given up. In the morning the guide takes some shots of hard liquor, probably a very rough roadie's start when you already are maybe rationing your water.

I had went back to visit the Boston episode of Bourdain and loved it just as much, for the pub culture and commentary. During "The Layover" when he goes to Montreal, there is some incredibly fine dining shown and his usual engaging excellent style. But I think he was really taken aback by this location, beyond primitive; basically destroyed. He is starting to obviously miss his family and things are getting more raw. This Congo episode is really a must see, and sooner the better.

A great one to watch after this would be an older show where he goes back to work a shift in the busy restaurant he got his start in; traveling the globe like he does now did not come overnight, or easily. Knowing everything foodie and beginning to know everything culturally, he will be seen as an authority on globe trotting for a long, long time. He has fallen in love with everything from Venice to Vietnam; and wears his heart on his sleeve for the duration.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Skater Quick Profile: Natas Kaupas

Image copyright Santa Cruz, inc.
Natas was a skateboarder that was truly ahead of his time; he was one of the most innovative street skaters of the 1980's, and far beyond. Doing amazing tricks on curbs, spinning on fire hydrants, and maybe the first to do wallrides, banging yourself harshly against a vertical wall with no ramp or transition to ease you in. It is said that he had one of the first attempts to do a railslide down a handrail at a contest in Oceanside, and later perfected stand up grinds down handrails.

He had a certain fluidity and prowess that was the opposite of a deep end pool rider or vert skater, but came up on the scene at a time when streetskating was making major waves. in 1986, there were many great street contests in California, Atlanta, and the rest of the US, and things like launch ramps and trashed old cars were made into gnarly obstacles.

People like Natas, Steve Rocco, and Julien Stranger really made a big name for themselves, as kids nationwide started to realize they could skate whatever obstacle they had handy, especially curbs. "Wheels of Fire" and "Streets on Fire" were great Santa Cruz videos that really highlighted his ability to do shove its, no complys, wall rides, and many, many more tricks on the streets.

Catching any of the clips of him available on YouTube and elsewhere will show you that back in the day when street masters were born, they controlled the board under their feet like no one had ever achieved before. The setting of Santa Monica, Venice and elsewhere with long curbs close to the beach are still some of the funnest to watch videos of skateboarding ever; where technical tricks were starting to blend quickly with the basic fundamentals of skating.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"The Mosquito Coast"; Harrison as an inventor gone awry

Far from the epic adventure and thrills of the Indiana Jones franchise, a picture came out in 1986 that was under the radar for quite some time. "The Mosquito Coast" was a story of an inventor named Allie who takes his family to the lush foreign jungle, to escape consumerism and the capitalist structure of the states. Supposedly Jack Nicholson was the first pick for this film, and although that could have been a good choice; Ford is still a silver lining to this tale.

Helen Mirren is his wife, and a young River Phoenix is one of his sons Charlie. Some said this was boring and others like to comment on how it is Harrison's only movie that perhaps has not even made its money back. Being the son of missionaries who traveled to Bangladesh and other locations in Southeast Asia, I was drawn to it immediately. Shot mostly in Belize, the spirit of the jungle is definitely conveyed well. Allie invents in ice machine that does not impress the family's landlord, who is disappointed that the asparagus on the farm has not been tended to.

 And he is a die hard atheist, not impressed by the efforts of local missionaries to convert and mold the natives. After arriving in an area that he deems perfect, Allie begins to build a civilization, with massive water systems and buildings. He even invents an ice machine that forever transforms the jungle economy and keeps the locals in amazement. As he slowly goes mad, he starts to mistreat his children and wife more. Even though it may never be said out loud, they are most likely yearning to get back to the states. After a violent conflict they all end up at the coast, where they build a lean to and Allie lies, telling them that America has been destroyed by nukes.

They almost perish in a storm, and it is quite painful to watch the family stranded by the sea, with a man who is now delusional. In the end of the movie the family drifts down the river again, starving and very distraught. A few other key things happen that I will not spoil, and we are shown a portrait of someone who went so far over the edge that he takes others down with him. A simple parallel to "Apocalypse Now" is not justice; this is an entirely different jungle tale. Some of the best parts are Allie's early rants about what is happening to America, and while in states of pre-delusion; he is half right.

This is not a movie for a "big night" on the blu ray, or for your blockbuster viewing of the week. But it could be perfect for a Sunday afternoon or a college class on social studies or political science, there is a lot to be said here. You have to go in a bit guarded, because it becomes a little dismal. But Harrison's performance is stellar, he seems utterly committed to success... a bit like Jonny Depp in "Ed Wood".

There are plenty of things wrong with the film. As a fan of things like Anthony Bourdain and having traveled a lot myself I can cuddle up to it a bit more. But anyone who loves film will surely enjoy watching a very mainstream actor take on a very deeply disturbed person. It is not epic, but so valuable in many ways. "The Mosquito Coast" shows us a much different heart of darkness, not as bloodthirsty; but still with a yearning for the barter of the villages and the lapping mouth of the river.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Manhattan Portrayed as Purgatory: "Jacob's Ladder"

Billed as both quaint and devastating, "Jacob's Ladder" is truly in a category on a bit of an island; it is one hard movie to figure out the first time you see it. Tim Robbins plays Jacob, a Vietnam era veteran who starts on the ground in the war, with some deafeningly slow and loud chopper blades, a hell of a lot of confusion, and enemy fire. Many of his comrades start convulsing and having lethal problems, and shaking like epileptics. Jacob runs into the jungle and is stabbed by an enemy, abruptly and spookily.

Then we bounce to a shot from the floor of a New York City subway, where he is now a postman. He is unable to get out of the turnstile area and while another train passes, it looks like there are some sort of morbid ghosts on board. We see the woman he is now living with (Elizabeth Pena), who also works with him. They seem to have a claustrophobic yet normal Big Apple relationship, both working as much as they can. Jacob gets an incredibly high fever one night, and is thrown in a bath of ice. He sees some of the most hellish visions yet, a morgue, a mental hospital, and even places resembling the gore of the first "Saw" movie.

Whenever he goes awry he is back on the tweaking table with his chiropractor Louis, who is akin to a supernatural figure, the only one who can steer him on track. Jacob also lost a son before the war, and is haunted by visions of him in his Saturday morning pajamas and other tender family times. This has the ability to mess with him letting go or dealing with any of these wild things happening to him, and he meets with some old war buddies. Now the government says they were never in Vietnam, and his other buddies are seeing intense and otherworldly things as well.

Through some hard to follow happenings, we see that Jacob was killed by a fellow troop, and that they were given a drug called "The Ladder" to make them more aggressive. It is evident that now the whole time in New York has been a journey while dying, and it is horrifying. This movie can really get under your skin and can be a bit anguishing but is a true B movie hit. The story is told very trickily, and many viewers wouldn't have it any other way. When Louis is repairing Jacob on the table, he tells him a memorable thing, "If you are frightened and you are holding on, You will see devils. But if you have made your peace, the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth".

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hawaii surf design spotlight: Eric Arakawa Surfboards

The North Shore of Oahu is definitely where a lot of the surf action takes place, and this is where Eric Arakawa designs now calls home base. Creating a product that has been ridden in many major competitions and events worldwide, he has traveled to many of the surf hotspots around the globe to enjoy the feeling of riding a wave and creating the coveted medium to do so. Rated amongst the top ten creators of surfboards in the world by Surfing Life Magazine, he utilizes the highest technology and bona fide island style gut feeling to create his product. Shortboards, Fishboards, minis and longboards are all among the wonderful creations offered up by this company. Hawaii is a land that requires respect when treading the waters and paying homage to its traditions, and this iconic surf brand is all encompassing when it comes to the spirit of Aloha and feeling the power of the North Shore waves. For product line info and details, go to their website:

At this Link.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Flashback for Sci-Fi followers: "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

An excellent 1951 classic., "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is a story of an alien that comes to our planet with the aide of a robot to give a profound message to our human race. The great images, stealth silver outline of the crafts, and depiction of a landing in Washington, DC are all killer elements of this wonderful sci fi blast from the past. The fear of the alien beings, premonition to Cold War themes, and an aim to promote a strong United Nations were elements of the film. Many true Sci-Fi devotees claim it as one of their favorite black and white films ever, and Arthur C. Clarke himself ranked it very high. At a time when curiosity of the unknown was peaking, and an economic boom was festering the probability of exploration in later years, there is many ways in which this film came along at the perfect time.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sao Paulo and Star Trek; not Two Elements you'd imagine to Collide

"Star Trek; Into Darkness" was a great film that maybe didn't even need much promotion beyond trailers, because.... it's Star Trek, a timeless classic. However as part of a high tech promotion, a room in the Sheraton Hotel in Sao Paulo, Brazil had a themed room with quite the array of bells and whistles. Super cool diagrams on the walls, delta shields on pillows, and an assortment of remote control LED lights are among the things to play with. The room was only there for one month and cost 700 dollars a night to stay in, but was probably quite an awesome experience. Of course you got tickets to the movie, and one very out of this universe evening of sleep.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Orange is the New Black"; First Impressions

Said to have already been renewed for another season, "Orange is the New Black" is the story of Piper Chapman,(Taylor Shilling) who is sent to prison for being in possession of a large amount of drug money. Created by the brainchild that served us up "Weeds", the expectations for the series were high. I got the chance to sit down and go through the first two episodes tonight.

At first I was skeptical and did not know if the leading character of Piper would appeal to me. Jason Biggs, of the "American Pie" franchise, is cast as Piper's fiancee, and I felt so neutral about him that I had no idea if I would enjoy this journey. He is really quite endearing as the perhaps half-employed writer who has to take her to prison and see her off to being locked up. She is the epitome of someone who would "not make it" behind bars, delicate and not street smart.

I was a fan of "Weeds" but was leery going into these first episodes, and should not have been. It is refreshing, dark, and shines enough light into a scary place while reminding you that you do NOT want to be there. The flashbacks are really set up quite perfectly. We see some of the same old cast of  "Weeds" and they are given ample room to shine and show us their same quirks with another storyline.

Every prison story is just a little bit different. But this one taking place in a women's prison is actually quite refreshing. There are the same sexual stereotypes that go along with the setting but they are played out a little differently than normal. Without really giving too much away, some of the best things that could happen to Piper happen, and some of the people she would want to see least are also there to greet her. No one wants to be behind bars, and there are many things that are inappropriate about this story.

It really has to be that way, because each prison is its own take of Hell on Earth. With only two episodes down, I can see some interesting alliances, and enemy forces at work as well. You really do wince when watching Piper first hit the cell block, and just calling her and her fiance "yuppies" don't do them justice. They have their own special kind of hipster love; with funny little quirks. Reminding us of where we don't want to go is part of what "Weeds" got popular for, and I have a feeling that I and much of the rest of the viewing world will be eating up the remaining episodes of this show quickly. Even if it is sneakily by flashlight, after lights out.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Buscemi bleakly navigates his way through kidnapping, "Fargo"

When you are dealing with the Coen bros telling a story about a struggling car salesman who arranges to have his wife kidnapped, you know that it's probably going to be quirky, strange, and desolate. Billed by Siskel and Ebert as their favorite movie of 1996, "Fargo" shows us the story of Jerry Lundegaard, who is under pressure from his boss at a car lot to upsell features; and it's all really not working for him. He is cast perfectly as someone who no one seems to care about; his problems are real but his father in law (Harve Presnell) and wife (Kristin Rudrud) naively think he will keep plodding along.

As his pressures escalate, he talks a convict at his car lot into introducing him to introducing him to two criminals who will kidnap his wife, while pocketing some of the ransom from his rich father in law. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stromare play the two crooks that are hired, and their dual combo of sleaziness is rigidly perfect.

Buscemi plays the ultimate con man, not nearly channeling the dominance or organization of his role in "Boardwalk Empire". Stromare is a Nordic, angrier, more pissed off criminal who really does not say much. A cop is killed after stopping them for not having license plates, and immediately afterwards a couple who witnesses this is shot by the criminals as well.

Enter Marge Gunderson, (Frances McDormand), who shows up at the homicide. She is very pregnant and has the true northern accent; this is her signature role as a woman who is painfully simple but has her police wits entirely intact. One of the real treats of this movie is watching her navigate the case while having to be utterly physically uncomfortable.

 Her candor is perfect and her charm is so subtle it's like taking a strange pleasure in scraping the ice of your windows. And in the locale of this movie, there is plenty of ice to scrape. The first meeting with the ransom gets utterly botched, and Buscemi is shot in the face. Jerry's father in law is shot here, and things escalate into madness. The best things about this movie are Marge's persistent persona of investigation, and watching Jerry try to hide a secret.

We are led to believe that he does love his wife; that this was probably just a scheme to get money. The real element of choice film here is watching things get worse for Jerry. A tale of a man's problems takes extra craft to spin this well, and it is a signature role for Buscemi as a crook whose main nuance is having no real care for anybody in the world.

This is a top notch film; and it's themes of desolation are Paralleled by "No Country for Old Men". The two films would be great to watch together on the same evening, to expose yourself to the true quirks that make the Coen recipes taste so good.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

“Town Red”, the Gutsy Zombie Short Film From the Garden State”

As of late, the zombie craze has taken over mainstream movies and television.  Various Hollywood franchises have taken a stab at this genre, and many have been successful at differentiating themselves from one another in order to create a loyal fan base and successful films. Not so difficult when you have millions of dollars and a massive professional crew at your disposal. Up and coming directors, on the other hand, have an even greater task to tackle if they want their work to stand out from the rest. 

They must not only create something unique and appealing, but they often do it with a bare bones budget and a crew smaller than a football team. Independent filmmakers, like Ryan Geiger, writer/director/producer of Town Red, spend countless hours working on their films wearing many hats in the process, no doubt sacrificing their own livelihood and sanity for months or perhaps even years. 

Shot over the course of four months last year, “Town Red” is the story of three men who attempt to survive  a horrific zombie plague that has wreaked havoc on their town. Patrick, (Geiger himself) is a religiously steadfast man who, in the opening scenes, faces a heartbreaking decision that causes him to sacrifice decades of precious memories in a matter of seconds. His working assistant and lifelong friend, Jeffrey (Michaiah Castro), is a fatally loyal man who  remains by Patrick’s side throughout every bend in the plot. 

Neil (Michael Jefferson) one of the few survivors  left in town is a selfish country thug with a rotten attitude. Possessed by a heart full of hate and prejudice, Neil is willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to get out of town and flee to safety in a neighboring state.  When he arrives at Patrick’s garage in need of a vehicle, a large confrontation occurs, ultimatums are handed out, and deep seeded family secrets surface.

The nature of the zombie portrayal in Town Red is quite unique compared to many of the zombie movie prototypes. George Romero’s, early classics, for example, portrayed zombies as a class of rabid beasts that attacked in mass numbers by taking over shopping malls and even entire cities, needing the power of helicopters and special forces to gun them down. Other successful zombie films such as 28 days later and Walking Dead, also address a potential zombie apocalypse from the mass perspective. While these films will always stand out as benchmarks in this genre of film, it is refreshing and thought-provoking to watch a film like Town Red that deals with the notion of a zombie plague on a more personal and elusive level.   
Town Red stands out as a film with a heart in a class of films that typically concerns itself mainly with gore and danger.  The film ultimately draws a parallel between a zombie outbreak and the many socially infectious behaviors that already invade our daily lives. Through this, Geiger asks us to consider the question: when human beings are pushed to their limits and stripped of absolutely everything, who are we? Who do we become? Even scarier, do we stay exactly the same?  

Monday, July 8, 2013

"The Killing" Tv show now in third season

I have only watched the first two seasons of "The Killing" but I really did like what I saw. I wrote a full feature on the show for Hypursuit a few weeks back and it was obvious that it had a large following. For me the rainy location, whole seasons to solve one murder, and brooding characters were great. It seems that right now a lot of shows are over-technicalized and very busy. I love "Fringe" and I also like "CSI". They just kind of have their own time and place, and "The Killing" from AMC somehow just stepped up and filled that void for those who liked things to unwind. The location couldn't be better, and I was really hooked instantly. From a network that brings you "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men"; these are probably storyboards and plots that are not just dreamt up overnight. You can see my full take on the show:

here at this link.

Coming Back Cinema Presents the Road Warrior screening in LA

At Los Feliz 3 Cinema in Los Angeles, they are showing "The Road Warrior" on Wednesday, July 10th. This would be a chaotically pleasant outing indeed, to re visit the mohawk brandishing thieves who terrorize the survivors inhabiting the Australian desert landscape. Filled with action and car stunts that are respected to this day, the movie is one of a kind and one of the funnest sequels ever. Full of fuel rationing, apocalyptic messages and bits of very stark violence, it's one of the greatest cult classics ever made. Brutal in many ways and with a simple plot; it's still easy to re visit multiple times, and have a blast on each return. Easily one of the best films of 1981, experiencing it on the screen would be a film lover's supreme treat.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Its safe to go in the water and watch: "Jaws 2"

Everyone around knows that "Jaws" was a masterpiece, and many were very obviously worried that when the sequel "Jaws 2" was released it would not even come close to measuring up. Some people argue that it does not, and while in some ways that could be true; it is a highly watchable sequel. The barrage of merchandising was much more elaborate; trading cards, towels, and models were made. I was able to get the full set of trading cards online two years ago and one of them has a great still of the shark coming up behind the waterskiing woman! It is generally viewed in the film world as the best Jaws sequel.

Another high point is that at least of course Roy Scheider is still chief Brody; that would have been a little different to swallow another actor taking over those reins. In the beginning some divers are shown taking pictures of Quinn's boat from the first movie, and are attacked by what appears to be the ominous great white breed of shark. Then the shark moves closer to the town, who have already endured this dread before. One of my favorite scenes is that of the waterskier; close to shore a woman is devoured by the shark, and these sequences provide as fun a watch as some of the ones in the original film. Some of the shots are right at water level and really instill the fear of being hunted in the water.

The driver of the boat mistakenly uses a flare gun and kills herself when gasoline spills on her. The way in which it all goes down is pretty high on the "chomp-a-rific" gore scale, and the movie really fought for a PG rating in 1978. When the mayor gets angry again at Brody for the shark warnings, it is not stale, the pacing is good and its fun to watch the town under siege and panic once again. There is a great scene where the chief mistakenly fires at bluefish while watching over the beach; and he forbids his son to go sailing; making him get a job for the summer to keep him safe. Brody is then fired, and since we flirt with this a little in the first movie it's nice and heavy to watch it be brought to light in the sequel.

Brody ends up going after the teenagers who take sailboats out, and there is a great chomp scene of a helicopter pilot. The shark then goes and terrorizes the teenagers on some modified sail and pontoon boats. Having one of the girls be so scared she goes into shock and unable to speak is also a good horror based touch. These different boats make for a nice change of dinner plate for the shark to eat off of, and the ending where Brody comes to the rescue is suitable. The success of "The Godfather II" was churning behind this one to make sequels a big thing, and "Rocky II" was a big one opening shortly after this. Some say it is predictable and we don't get all the sheer horror of the first; but it can be watched again and again; and it is actually somewhat of a blueprint on how to not completely ruin a sequel. It is great to revisit; and captures a fairly revolutionary time in film making.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Early Sneak Peek trailer released for Ridley Scott's "The Counselor"

When it was announced that Ridley Scott would take the helm for a Cormac McCarthy novel's translation to film, many wondered just what it would be like. "No Country for Old Men" was a divine masterpiece, and this tale of a lawyer in too deep with the drug trade probably will be as well. Many have questioned the cast of Pitt, Diaz, Cruz, and Bardem's ability to shine; I have no doubt that it will. Drug dealing tales are always fast paced and salivary; the double crossing, hot locations and briefcases full of contraband will always tide the viewer over. Yes, Penelope has been in other drug movies (Blow); but this one should have a certain kick to it to get viewers excited. When I read McCarthy's "Cities of the Plain" I was engrossed; the desperado entity meeting all the other elements involved should create wonderful fireworks for a film.

Surfing without Paddling; attractive even if Cheating

Everyone on a surfboard has imagined at one time not having to do the hard work of paddling out, turning around and sometimes.... just waiting for a long time for a wave. Even though it could be considered not purist, so could the use of jet skis, which really enable pros to go where they want to in the water right away. This battery powered motor is built into some surfboards, at a cost of close to five thousand dollars. A bracelet remote controls the motor, which also kills automatically upon wipeout. Long ago the valiant riders of the South Pacific and California would have scoffed at this, but at speeds of up to 12 mph; you'll have a little bit of arm power left to sling the cooler of beer close to the campfire later.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Depression Era Gem: "Road to Perdition"

Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law are at the forefront of this story about a connected man and his son who are on the run and in search of those who murdered the rest of their family. After finishing "American Beauty", director Sam Mendes wanted to have something that focused more on imagery and not as much diolouge; this was part of it's criticism, but also part of it's acclaim. Tom Hanks is Michael Sullivan, who works in Rock Island, a smaller city in Illinois crime ridden 1930's. Tyler Hoechlin is the child actor who plays Sullivan's son, a twelve year old who witnesses a murder.

The party who was in charge of the witnessed murder kills Sullivan's wife, and other son, and the two head out to Chicago to seek work with Al Capone and find the wherabouts of the murderer, named Connor. Before all this we get a glimpse of life before the incident, and Paul Newman is excellent as the local Rock Island crime boss. When the Capone crew is asked permission to work for and kill Connor, they do not oblige, putting Michael and his son is a predicament. They begin robbing banks that house Capone's laundered money, in hopes of making an exchange.

Some people did not enjoy Jude Law cast as a henchman hired by Capone to kill Sullivan, who broodily photographs his victims. For a few reasons I highly enjoyed him in this, he seemed a little crazy and not as hard edged as some gangsters. There is a scene in a diner where he begins to actually talk to Sullivan and his son, and they quickly realize its a setup. Sullivan teaches his son to drive the getaway car, and the movie shifts gears into a bit of a father/son classic. When i first saw this, I did not know it was based on a graphic novel, which has got to be kind of a nice specimen, a gangster novel instead of monsters and superheroes for a brief change.

Sam Mendes had attempted to make a gangster film here that avoids the same themes as others, and I widely think that he has. It is a bit hard to re watch because of the somewhat surprise ending and some drawn out moments. Some critics felt detached from it, like they did not have the ability to care about the characters. 2/3 of the way through, Sullivan is injured and the two have to stay with a couple on a farm; at this point we see some wonderful things happen; that engrossed me a bit more in the relationships. This is one of my favorite roles for Tom Hanks, who is known as a a take him or leave him actor.

There are some great scenes of the 1930's car rolling through the Midwest, and with that moving car, there is a theme of comfort, as if Sullivan, the boy, and the car are one. The best thing about this is that if you are able to be pulled into it quickly enough, it sticks with you; and there are some cold sensations that the winter, rain, and robberies conjure up in you. When you as the viewer ride with Sullivan and his son in the old car, there is a bit of foreboding doom. But there is also a glimpse of a land with promise; that was being eaten by the economic and criminal cancers of the era.

Horror Movie list from the 1970's!

The 1970's were a very defining time for horror. While there were some movies that didn't meet the bar, this inclusive list is full of a lot of the ones that did. "Young Frankenstein", "Halloween", "Piranha" and "The Swarm" are many of the fun ones on the list. Sometimes the long pauses, imperfect editing, and glitches of the genre have a lot to do with these great movies. This was the decade where a lot of real terror came to screen, and of course launched the slasher films in higher volume. From big blockbusters like "Alien" to other treasures like "The Brood", it's one fine period of horror that could be known as the best. It doesn't always take computer generated effects to get you to jump out of your seat! Here is the website with the list:

100 great 1970's horror films: 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Great Vintage Venice Beach Photos

This website shows vintage surf shots of Venice Beach, in a collection by David Scott. A place where the Lords truly ruled the pier, the atmosphere was not always picture perfect, and somewhat of an attitude was always present. In ways it does not look exactly the same now, but you can still feel some of the old spirit lurking. Just like a wave that has not quite manifested yet, it's not always a bad thing to lurk. The website is:

click here for Venice beach shots

Ace does fly High indeed; in Scorsese's "Casino"

It's a harrowing thing to be told of all the secrets of the desert and threatened to be buried out there yourself. The 8th film by Scorsese featuring the iconic Robert De Niro as Sam "Ace" Rothstein, "Casino" is the story of a gambling professional hired by the Midwest arm of the mob to oversee the fluid operations of the Tangiers in Las Vegas. The outfits overseen by the character in real life were the Stardust, Hacienda and Fremont casinos in the newly booming desert empire in the 1970's.

What many claim is Joe Pesci's maturely signature role, he plays the true enforcer behind the scenes, making sure that the mob gets money off the top and everyone stays in line. Rothstein's wise move of always making the right bets for the mob in the beginning really pay off (for a while) as making him a golden child of the teamsters, who are not allowed to go past Kansas City to make money.

Full of wonderfully crafted scenes that guide you through the operations, security, lavish entryways and valet areas of the casinos, the narraration splits between De Niro and Pesci perfectly, as Pesci's temper really, really starts to get the best of him. To say the least, he stomps on, intimidates, steals money from, and extends his smart middle finger in the direction of anyone who crosses him. "Goodfellas" is an obvious gangster masterpiece, with the same craft of showing you the players like illustrious mobbed up individuals with their own unique traits. The sheer fact that the blinking lights, rows of slots, and violent humor gets to go a step further here with the locale make it that much better.

 The issue of very lax gaming laws in the 1970's is the reason why Rothstein is allowed here in the first place; you could at that time operate while your license was pending. As in many other epic plots, a woman enters the scenario and changes everything. When I first saw the film I thought Sharon Stone was not going to belong, that she was hideously miscast. Nope; she is a hustler named Ginger who as Rothstein tells us "can keep a man up for days before sending him home broke and disheveled".

A hybrid of true gold digger with another bipolar side possessing a bit of heart, her ex boyfriend Lester (James Woods) is a constant thorn in Rothstein's side, and he cannot see her attraction to the loser who sometimes "doesn't have enough gas money to pick up his own check". Her and Rothstein marry, and she eventually goes down a path of addiction and deceit. Many other scandalous things happen and red flags are raised on Rothstein's gaming license; with a true to life ending of what usually happens when you try to cheat the establishment. Full of music like the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and The Moody Blues, there is a hardcore type of jangling going on here that can make you feel like you are eating a steak buffet at 4 in the morning.

 "Casino" is one of those depressing tales that doesn't depress you all the way, watching someone take over like Rothstein is a cinematic adventure. Webs of production don't get spun like this every day in Hollywood, and it is a trademark; a homage to a bustling time when you could stand up straight and take what you wanted if you had the balls to.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rewind to the Masterpiece about Replicants; "Blade Runner"

Los Angeles in 2019 is portrayed by Ridley Scott here with such painstaking effort that it could be said there are few films on the planet that trump it. Performing at not so hot levels in the theaters; it has since been recognized as a nearly immaculate cult classic. Dustin Hoffman was originally sketched in the storyboards, and was thought to be the pick, but Harrison Ford became the lead man after his performance in "Star Wars" and his keen interest in the story.

As so many great films are, it was plagued from the beginning; and also took a risk with lesser knows actresses Darryl Hannah and Sean young. Even Scorsese himself was a bit interested in the root derivative of the idea, the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Lighting instructors everywhere praise the film for its neon look, futuristic stark visions, and success with the constant element of rain.

Harrison Ford is Rick Deckard, who is brought in to hunt down replicants, robots built for menial tasks that are not supposed to be back on Earth after four years of existence. One of them has shot an interviewer in a questioning, and he is flown over a futuristic array of pyramids to investigate. On the ground, there are Japanese sushi bars, modern urban decay, and technical gadgets which do resemble those of present times. We are shown that Rachel, (Sean Young) is a replicant who believes her memories are real, and is upset at the suggestion they are not.

On the new blu ray that has just been released with many versions and workbook saga and a documentary, it is shown that Sean Young was cast perfectly; Ridley liked her iciness and she was almost just like a doll. Rutger Hauer plays a great villain in this movie, laughing demonically with streak blonde hair and having an amazing standoff with Deckard in the end. When interviewed, Hauer says it was hands down his favorite performance and movie.

What audiences saw as flaws were pacing, introduction near the middle of a strange array of puppets and different feel in the cast. With the action not being constant even having a perfect standoff in the end, there are some identity confusions; and those who get frustrated with the typical A to Z plot did not understand the symbolism. The parallels to the future, and warnings about a world where the lower class is breached from any hope by means of technology, scanners, and profile tests were very landmark at the time. The true achievements of "Blade Runner" are the futuristic flying scenes, Deckard wistfully wondering what his journey will end like, and the portrayal of a world full of spinner cars and devices that were painstakingly invented by the crew.

 As the spinners fly by the sides of buildings with an almost 1984 or "Brazil" themed warning of some sort of colonization, it was evident that Ridley Scott really was "exploring pain" since just witnessing his brother's death. Pitted up against "ET", "Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan" and "The Thing" was another reason why this sci-fi film was a bit disappointing at the box office. Re visiting it now is always a treat, and the driving element of Deckard questioning if whether he himself is human wins the serious viewer over. So far ahead of it's time and so delightfully grim; I cannot shun this film by giving it any less than the full five stars.

online hotspot; Girl on a Board

Every once in a while you need to look at a website that is far from the norm, inspiring, and not monotonous in the least. Girl on a Board definitely measures up. Dedicated to girls everywhere who surf and skateboard, this was created by Lucy Bleu, who started skating when she started walking. Interviews, scene babes, and custom building instructions are just a fraction of the fun you will find on this blog. Originally appeared on hypursuit, a lifestyle and diversity blog I write for.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Like Catnip for the Sci-fi Connoisseur, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" still amazes; 35+ years later

Released in November of 1977, "Close Encounters" is one of those movies that invoked so much magic and awe in the audience, it left them driving home wistfully thinking of their own origins; and the entire galaxy. Richard Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary, an electrician in Indiana who sees UFOs while on a night call and is mesmorized by them completely, following them until it even derails his marriage. Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Gene Hackman all turned down the part, originally thought by Speilberg to be played by Steve Mcqueen. While on the set of the masterpiece "Jaws", Dreyfuss slowly coaxed Speilberg into being the leading man for this gem as well. In the beginning we are shown some ww2 planes left in the desert strangely, minus the pilots.

Then, we are shown the predicament via air traffic control of two planes having a near collision with a UFO, startled. 3 year old Barry in Indiana is woken up when his battery operated toys start moving on their own, and goes out the door to chase the beings. In one of the best moments in movie history, Roy is stuck at a railroad crossing looking at his maps when a ufo slowly buzzes over and shines a light directly on him. the crossing sign shakes, the truck battery goes awry, and he is genuinely terrified. Some highway patrolmen chase the UFOs, and another grand scene with them flying through the toll booth is shown. Eventually Roy becomes so obsessed that he makes a model of Devil's Tower in his basement, where the United Nations has constructed a communications center and landing pad. Roy is accompanied by Jillian, a woman who also is interested in the UFOS, to the landing site to witness a final spectacle of interstellar wonder.  

People in the industry joked that the 3.3 million dollar effects budget at the time could be used to make an entire other film, but if you go revisit this classic, you will be glad they stuck with it. Jillian is Barry's mother, who has been taken by the aliens. When they sneak onto the landing site, the night sky by Devil's Tower with the lit landing pad looks like a perfectly painted surreal setting, and hints of global governance tell us that even back in 1977; the whole world would attempt to join over events concerning interstellar peace. When the craft lands, the beings are somewhat like the "grey" aliens portrayed in later films, but curiously friendlier. The missing airline pilots along with young Barry are released, and a few other choice events happen.

Said to be a homage to his younger days when Speilberg saw meteor showers with his father in New Jersey, this film is almost like a child's dream; wherein all elements of hostility are ruled out in the end. If you revisit this film you undoubetdly may drag along a bit in the middle; but as many masterpieces the beginning and end are essential. "ET" was a bit more lovable and may have had more heart, but "Close Encounters" is the big daddy of the alien genre; and many buffs will raise a glass to it for decades to come.   

"Heat" by Michael Mann: The City Of Angels' Epic Saga bathed in blue

Bathed in a sea of blue, Los Angeles has almost never looked better. This epic crime drama from Micahel Mann is said to be his best, what he wanted to do with "Thief" from 1981, with a bigger budget. Al Pacino is Vincent Hana, a cop who is in another failed marriage, burnt out yet still on overdrive. Robert De Niro is Neil McCauley, a man who did time in Folsom who still takes down scores from safes and banks. Val Kilmer has a good supporting role as one of De Niro's henchmen, and these guys really do not mess around. In the beginning we see Neil steal an ambulance and the first score is an armored truck. They hire some help that goes a little crazy and kills the driver, and sparks start to fly left and right.

Many did not like the length of this film, and at almost three hours that is understandable. A very ambient musical score, and McCauley's hard nosed desire for one last retirement plot make this picture sizzle. The layers of blue are shown to us in perfect form, when Val Kilmer is asleep on McCauley's floor after a fight with his wife. De Niro sets his gun on the counter, gets coffee for them both, and we see the Pacific Ocean behind them in it's early morning glory as Kilmer stumbles up. Michael Mann also achieves these perfect shots in "The Insider", in which he shows us Russel Crowe standing by a lake getting ready to testify against big tobacco. The simple, modern apartment which still has no furniture is the homage to the man who has everything but wants just a little more.

Amy Brenneman plays Eady, the lonely artist who McCauley meets in a bookstore. At first completely snubbing her, he falls for her lost persona, a delicate woman who moved out West. His desperation for companionship is a wonderful theme, and the real treats in this movie happen when Pacino and De Niro sit down together for Coffee. McCauley is told that "now that he has been sat down with in person, I am not going to like it when I am going to have to take you down". He returns the qoute by telling Pacino he neither will like it; and the stage is set for climax. a portrait of the busy highways, secret information being sold, banks letting themselves be ripped off for insurance money, and shoot outs in broad daylight, "Heat" is a modern winner of a film. Taking from some of the best dramatic scenes of his TV series "Miami Vice", Michael Mann shows us what the big boys do here when they sit down to making an epic gangster movie.