Bloody Italiana + Rare S & P

17 03 2008

So recently I’ve been spending quite a bit of time checking out the Bloody Italiana blog. No, not just because my girlfriend writes for them but because the site is a wealth of information on 70’s and 80’s Italian genre cinema. This is an area of film that I go in and out of being obsessed with–spurred on by the fact that Ennio Morricone worked with so many of the great Italian genre directors like Lucio Fulci, Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Leone, and even that weirdo dood Dario Argento. While the blog focuses mainly on horror and giallo, it’s still a great starting point for anyone interested in expanding their cinema horizons. Great educated writing on sweet stuff.

And speaking of Lucio Fulci, here is a version of the title theme for his film Zombie as played by my guitar/drum duo Standards and Practices from a Halloween show we played in ’06. Check it…

Zombie Title Theme


Sukiyaki Western: Django

4 03 2008

As soon as I heard that Takeshi Miike was remaking Sergio Corbucci’s Django with a mostly Japanese cast, and that it would be set in the 1100’s with guns, I was instantly hooked. I felt like this movie was made for me, and after finally seeing it (thanks Internet), I can say that this is one amazing movie mash up.

I was dubious at first, because I had only seen two other Miike films: Audition and Iichi the Killer. I loved Audition, but very strongly hated Iichi. Audition was so disturbing, but Iichi just seemed like a boring way to watch violence. But I love Corbucci’s original Django. I first discovered the film in a long closed Fan video store called VideoMania, and had recently re-fallen in love with it after my girlfriend gave me the new Blue Underground DVD release for my birthday. I was so impressed this second time that I wrote a song for the lead actor Franco Nero called Nero (woah…the creative forces at work here are SERIOUS). So I was very surprised late last year to learn that this very film was getting the Miike treatment.

The film opens, of course, with Quentin Tarantino in front of a mountain-scape painted background. He cuts into the stomach of a snake who had just partially devoured a chicken egg. He takes the egg out and wipes the blood off while behind him, a few thugs get ready to kill him. As soon as they speak, you realize that they are all Japanese and no matter how good or bad they are with English, they are all speaking it. Tarantino sets up the story as a battle between a gang dressed in white and one dressed in red before quickly killing the thugs and then beating the egg he recovered with chopsticks. AMAZING!

The film quickly establishes a great atmosphere through the combination of broken english, and many film genre conventions from Westerns Italian and American, Samurai films, and cartoons (anime), and it all blends together to create a completely unique little movie. There are too many great scenes and ideas to list here, but I will just say that like a lot of great mash up artists (Madlib comes to mind) Miike throws a ton of ideas at you, and they all work together–even when he forces his actors to speak a foreign language (much like Italian directors did).

Now, I hope that this movie will get a theatrical release in the U.S.

Double Josephs + Ennio

26 02 2008

This weekend (on Saturday actually), I had the great pleasure of watching 2 great Joseph Cotten movies with the gf. She is a big Cotten fan, and before this weekend I was just indifferent about the man but all thats changed now thanks to The Third Man and Hellbenders. If your keeping score, this is the second time I finally saw a film classic at the insistence of my girlfriend (and also Darcy James Argue), and the second time I can say (type) WTF! The Third Man was a great mystery about Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten), who goes to Vienna to meet with an old friend, only to find out that this friend recently is involved in much illegal activity, and he’s probably dead! Cotten always keeps it interesting, and could definitely carry the film by himself, but his “old friend” Orson Welles nearly steals the show. The amazing Zither score also helped this movie along. Great great stuff.

Next is Hellbenders. This is an Italian Western by Sergio Corbucci that tells the tale of a Confederate soldier (Cotten) after the Civil War who leads his sons on a mission to steal money and smuggle it back to their home by hiding it in a coffin. This movie is a total turn around from The Third Man in many ways. Now Cotten is the (real) bad guy, and the movie consists of watching his whole scheme slowly fail. It’s an interesting way to frame a movie and would not have worked without the acting powers of Mr. Cotten combined with the amazing Leo Nichols AKA Ennio Morricone (thats right, he went by “Leo Nichols” in the American credits). I’m kind of obsessed with the score for this film, which is why I adapted the main theme and a couple other parts into the Glows in the Dark cover version I Crudeli. But anyway, like Corbucci’s great film Django, we get to see a body-less coffin serve as a means of ruining lives. It’s definitely not your typical plot device and so repeating it in this film is less about rehash and more about a creative choice being examined from a different perspective. Just for the sake of things that sound awesome, here is Ennio Morricone’s title music from The Hellbenders/I Crudeli. Enjoy!

I Crudeli (from The Hellbenders Soundtrack)

Also, my gf has been embarking on an even larger Cotten journey on her blog!

Venomous Writing

21 02 2008

New inspiration is leading to a new song for Glows that will be a mini tribute to the 6 stars of the Shaw Brothers classic Five Deadly Venoms. The song will in some form consist of 5 interlocking short patterns, one for each Venom, and then something extra for the student. I plan to delve into more Shaw goodness in the very near future, but this song will mark my first foray into the world of the Shawscope. Since starting Kung Fu Night, it’s been really hard not to get inspired by these films. Our trombone player Reggie Pace has already written a song inspired by the Shaws called Iron Palm that he wrote for his amazing brass band No B.S. We watch a wide variety of films in the genre, but we always find our way back to the Venoms. For those who are like “Why is this post?” I’ll list each of the stars and try to explain:

The Lizard: Kuo Chui
The Toad: Lo Mang

The Centipede: Lu Feng

The Snake: Wei Pei

The Scorpion: Sun Chien

The Student: Chiang Sheng

After this film (directed by the amazing Chang Cheh), this group of actors became known as the Venoms, and starred in many many films in different combinations and in many different wigs, mustaches, open-chested costumes, and leopard print boots. The Lizard was almost always the main hero, while the Centipede was usually the double-crossing villain with the wavy hair. What makes Five Deadly Venoms so great is that it was the first of these films, and because it was so successful, its double-crossing backstabbing plot became the basis for many films to follow. These movies vary greatly in quality, but always feature amazing martial arts and acrobatics courtesy of the Venoms. Some of these films can be really tedious but the good ones (as in the film Crippled Avengers) are mind-blowingly brilliant.

What makes these films so great is the amount of pure workhorse energy that went into each and every one. Even though the sets and costumes were often recycled, the Venoms always challenged themselves to make the fights and stunts increasingly better. It didn’t matter who was the good guy and who the bad guy, what mattered was that these guys were working their asses off, and all their work was up there on the screen (well, on my TV screen on Kung Fu Night).

I think the lesson learned from their films is that the most important thing you can do is to keep working and refining. Most of my favorite artists work or worked this way, and it’s the approach I take as well. As soon as I get this song done and rehearsed a version will appear here—either that or I’ll can the idea and “Unpublish” this post.

Just kidding.

Diary of the Dead AKA Romero knows film school!

19 02 2008

So, my girlfriend and I were lucky enough to be slightly near an area that was showing the new George Romero film Diary of the Dead this weekend. I was excited, but also a little wary after hearing the guys on the Mondo Movie podcast rip the movie a new one. I tend to agree with them on most things, and they are great at championing harder to see films, but luckily after seeing the film I can say that I disagree with them.

Diary of the Dead is a brave new venture for George Romero. Basically he reset the time line in his collection of zombie greats (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead) to the first night of the outbreak, and we see everything through the eyes and cameras of a Pittsburgh student film group. The film opens with pretentious narration from the girl in the group that finished the film within the film, and she talks about how she edited the footage together and added music because she wants to scare us. With that opening, I was prepared to hate it, but the movie is actually pretty good, and what I thought about more than anything is just how well Romero captured that film school vibe of being pretentious and arrogant and put it in the middle of a real dangerous situation.

The problems that these kids deal with are all about wanting to capture whats happening, and how far they are willing to go to get the truth. Unlike Cloverfield where the kids run off to go rescue the main character’s pseudo love interest, the story here deals with people realizing theres a danger, and also having to deal with the fact that if they don’t show people what is going on, no one will know the truth.

The key to all of this is that these are film students, and they all act accordingly—in spades. All the language they use is very “educated” and they are dealing with all of these existential problems like the brutal choices of “should I help people I care about or continue filming them being killed?” and the whole reason it works has to do with the fact that these are real film school personalities to the tee, and unfortunately they would have to deal with these same issues whether in the middle of a zombie outbreak, or going to Target to buy the Twin Peaks Gold Box Set (complete with the original uncut Pilot). So on that level, I liked the film a lot because Romero got that scene right, and seemed to have a great time doing it. Even though the mood is pretty dark, Romero still manages to inject just the right amount of humor into the film to keep it going, and its very obvious that he had a lot of fun shooting-which also shows. The highlight of this being an amazing Deaf Amish guy!

It’s a very different film, and really took some thought to wrap my head around, but I came away happy that Romero was excited again and I look forward to what he comes up with next. Yes, the narration is bad…real bad, and the music generic, but they only serve to strengthen the movie’s film school-ness, and work to add a weird layer of humor to everything.

Citizen Kane…or “WTF was I waiting for?”

13 02 2008

I’ve been what some may call a “film” “nerd” for many years now. It started in high school with a recommendation to rent Reservoir Dogs, and continues today in writing jazz songs based on movies and finding the rarest films in the world to obsess over. Where I differ is that I don’t think this makes me better than the casual film viewer, and actually it probably makes me worse, or at least “more lame.” As a film nerd, I have come to appreciate most of the classics, the Kubricks, the Malicks, the Bergmans, the Hellmans, the Altmans the et als, but I had never seen Citizen Kane until last night. I know, its weird that I went that long considering it tops a million lists as the number one film of all time, but alas thats what happened. I have had this film on bootlegged VHS for years, but given the copious amounts of praise for it, I was unable to bring myself to actually sit down and watch.

But all that changed when my girlfriend Netflix’d it and we watched it last night. She really introduced me to Orson Welles with his film F for Fake which is completely amazing, and so too is Citizen Kane. What really amazed me about it is the level of energy the film projects. The first 15 minutes alone are so fast and experimental that it totally made me forget that this film was made in the same year as the title of one of Spielberg’s worst: 1941. There is just so much going on, and the frantic pacing in the scenes combined with the editing just make really giddy cinema. The film never drags, and never runs out of great ideas. Even knowing the big surprise ending ahead of time (I won’t spoil it, but everyone know about the “Rosebud” thing) didn’t bother me, and I was amazed that nothing in the film insults the audience’s intelligence. What surprises me the most is that it’s a film that makes you think, doesn’t spoon feed you anything, is plotted very differently than most dramas, and Hollywood actually likes and respects it!

After the film, it occurred to me that one of the main reasons I had avoided the Kane for so long was that it always topped all the big lists. I figured that if Hollywood and their amazingly crappy method of rating films (Oscars/Golden Globes/S.A.G etc.) liked this thing, than there was no way it could actually be any good. But after the film, it’s obvious that this praise from Hollywood is out of a weird kind of envy. No one has come close to making a film like this, and outside of people like Todd Haynes and P.T. Anderson and old Nicolas Roeg, no one is even trying. Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine is a virtual re-imagined remake of Kane, and Anderson’s There Will be Blood follows a similar arc, and both of these films are completely incredible on their own merits. The Deal Yo? Why does Hollywood respect Kane, yet not learn anything from it? It seems like only the best even attempt to be influenced by the Kane. And then theres MichaelBay!

Cinematic Titanic is sweet

17 01 2008

So Mystery Science Theater 3000 is pretty much the most amazing show ever. If not always consistently great, the concept remains brilliant and even the worst episodes always contained at least one or two amazing jokes. It’s been years since the show was on, and even longer since it’s creator Joel Hodgson was involved, but now Joel is manning the helm of a new project called “Cinematic Titanic” that once again tackles the realm of the terrible movie, with amazing riffs by the man himself along with 4 other MST3K alumni (J. Elvis Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl, and Frank Conniff.)

The crew’s first victim, “The Oozing Skull” is itself an amazingly crappy brain-switching film about a huge ogre, a righteous midget, and a woman who pretends to be trapped in handcuffs in a basement dungeon, and some other crap about car trouble. This movie is pretty much unwatchable without the Titanics, and they actually DO make it a worthwhile experience. It starts out kind of slow, but once they get rolling (at about the 15 minute mark), it gets quite hilarious and doesn’t let up. I loved hearing all of them (especially Joel–who is still amazing), but I think that the MVP of this first episode was Frank. I’m biased, because I have always loved Mr. Conniff’s awkward deliveries over the years as TV’s Frank, but getting to hear him make obscure music references and knowing that I was probably the only one laughing was oddly comforting.

Read Frank’s take on this phenomenon here.