At Least the Rum Tastes Good

Movies of 2020

This week brought news that Warner Bros. Pictures will release Wonder Woman 1984 on its in-house streaming service, HBO Max, on Christmas Day – a week after opening in foreign countries that have kept the coronavirus under control. By my count it will be only the third blockbuster-scaled American movie to be released since March. Blockbuster #1 (Christopher Nolan’s Tenet) was an experiment to see if theatres could still summon audiences in a pandemic, and #2 (Disney’s Mulan) was an experiment to see if theatres could be bypassed altogether. The first experiment was an unambiguous failure, and the second has been inconclusive. Disney Plus, home of Mulan, now has over 70 million subscribers, but the Disney Company has reported its first annual loss in over 40 years, and so, most of this year’s would-be blockbusters are still leapfrogging across next year’s calendar. That is, unless a streaming giant will adopt these white elephants. The asking price for the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, is reportedly $600 million, but not even deep-pocketed Netflix and Apple have been willing to pay.

If Sony wants $600 million, then I’m guessing the movie has cost at least $500 million to make and market, including the cost of two separate marketing campaigns built around two separate scuttled release dates. $500 million is probably typical for movies like this, and the business model almost makes senses when movies are routinely earning double, but it’s funny how completely the entire model collapses if just one element – movie theatres – is removed. It’s also funny how obscene and ridiculous $500 million for a movie looks during a time of mass death and 30% unemployment.

Continue reading “At Least the Rum Tastes Good”

Something Weird Video: A Personal Canon

I like almost every topic we’ve ever covered on my smash-hit podcast The Important Cinema Club, but there have been certain weeks when the subject of the episode did not exactly correspond to what I was in the mood to watch. If, for example, you’re going to immerse yourself in the dense, formally overwhelming, emotionally draining work of Andrzej Zulawski, it’s best not to do so with one eye on the results of a U.S. presidential election.

This week, however, I had no such problem getting in synch, because the subject was Something Weird Video. I’ve written on this blog before about the venerable Seattle-based rescuer/distributor of cinematic detritus, but a quick recap: founded it 1990, Something Weird has been vitally important in preserving and promoting the work of mid-century exploitation filmmakers like Herschell Gordon Lewis, David F. Friedman, Harry Novak, Joe Sarno, Michael & Robert Findlay, Doris Wishman, and Andy Milligan. Beyond these marquee names, the company has also made available all manner of flotsam, ranging from cartoons and commercial to Christian educational shorts and drivers-ed scare films to burlesque shorts, stag films both gay and straight, and rock-bottom hardcore adult features.

Continue reading “Something Weird Video: A Personal Canon”

Notes on Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

October 30 will mark the 10th anniversary of “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert used the clout they had built during the Bush years to stage a massive protest for… civil discourse. The rally had the same thesis as Obama’s “Red States and Blue States” speech: most of us generally agree on most things, but we get distracted and divided by a negative force called “politics” and negative people called “pundits.” Stewart’s message was that we all need to calm down a bit. We need to advocate for our beliefs, whatever they may be, while respecting the other side, which is presumably not so different from or side. A deeply ideological event that loudly scorned ideology, “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” is a shining example of bad liberal comedy. So too is Stewart’s recent film Irresistible, which carried almost the exact same thesis. By contrast, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a good and even admirable liberal comedy. I do, however, have some misgivings. A good liberal comedy is not the same as a good leftist comedy.

Continue reading “Notes on Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Scary Movies

Movies don’t scare me very easily. I’ve seen a lot of them by now, so I can usually tell when a jump-scare is about to happen, and I’m conscious enough of the artificiality of the medium that I rarely need to remind myself, as per Last House on the Left, that “It’s only a movie… it’s only a movie…” Gripping as The Shining is, I know that Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are two famous movie stars playing dress-up.

This is not to say that movies have never scared me. In fact, in my younger days I used to be a bit of a fraidy-cat. As the calendar says Shocktober, I’d like to take you on a tour of the horror movies that left cigarette burns on my brain and turned me into the broken and haunted man I am today.

Continue reading “Scary Movies”

The Paul Marco Story

When Edward D. Wood, Jr. died – homeless and penniless – in 1978, none of the Hollywood trade papers ran an obituary. Two years later, critics Harry and Michael Medved named his Plan 9 from Outer Space “the Worst Movie of All Time” in their influential book The Golden Turkey Awards, kickstarting a process of posthumous canonization that culminated with Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood (1994). By the time the Disney Company came knocking, many of Wood’s colleagues and collaborators had emerged from obscurity to bask in some of the fame that eluded Wood in his own lifetime. Of them, no one sought or enjoyed that glory more than Paul Marco.

Paul Marco earned his footnote in film history by playing the recurring role of “Kelton the Cop” in three Wood films, tying Bride of the Monster (1953), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and Night of the Ghouls (1959) into the same “cinematic universe.” A proto-Barney Fife, Kelton was the bumbling, stumbling comic relief: getting knocked out by zombies, complaining to his bosses about being assigned so many “spook details,” and generally giving viewers a little levity amidst the gravely serious sci-fi/horror surroundings.

Continue reading “The Paul Marco Story”

The Making of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!

Have you ever watched classic films like Freaky Farley, Monsters Marriage and Murder in Manchvegas, Slingshot Cops, and Local Legends and found yourself asking what minds could have produced such work? Wonder no more! I’m proud to announce Motern on Motern: Conversations with Matt Farley and Charles Roxburgh, a new book by myself and Justin Decloux about the greatest horror-comedy auteurs that Manchester, New Hampshire has ever known.

In the tradition of Hitchcock/Truffaut, Bergman on Bergman, and This Is Orson Welles, Motern on Motern is an exhaustive film-by-film interview book with Farley and Roxburgh about their eccentric oeuvre. It’s a story of wrangling zero-budget productions and tangling with fly-by-night distributors. It’s a story of friendship, community, and the agony and ecstasy of filmmaking. It also features bonus interviews with Motern Media cast members and a never-before-seen Farley Roxburgh screenplay.

“Will Sloan and Justin Decloux have created the definitive work on two of cinema’s most inspiring artists. Matt Farley and Charles Roxburgh make films for all the right reasons, if not always in the precisely right ways, and their output and methodology merit study by any gestating independent filmmaker.” – Simon Barrett, writer of The Guest and You’re Next

The book is available for preorder at Gold Ninja Video for $15 here.

It’s also available as part of a limited-edition collector’s set with a spectacular new Blu-Ray of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, the Farley/Roxburgh favourite Creature from Black Lake, and a Kevin McGee trading card here.

It is also coming soon to Amazon.

The following sample chapter covers the production of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! (2012).

Continue reading “The Making of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!”

The Star Ratings Roger Ebert Would Have Given

Have you ever wondered what the late and beloved film critic Roger Ebert would thought of today’s hottest movie releases? Wonder no more! Though the Pulitizer-winning critic passed away in 2013, I have been able to gaze into my crystal ball and decipher with 98% accuracy what Ebert’s star ratings would have been.

Over the past few days I have been wowing Twitter with my extraordinary revelations, which have met with both wonder and controversy. Now, I have decided to also share my findings here for posterity.

Continue reading “The Star Ratings Roger Ebert Would Have Given”

TIFF Memoir

An event calling itself the 45th annual Toronto International Film Festival kicked off last Thursday with a drastically reduced slate of films, a mix of streaming and socially distanced public screenings, a limited and entirely virtual press gallery, and celebrity Q&As held via Twitter. As someone who has himself been tasked with reconceiving square-peg events into the round hole of the pandemic, I sympathize with the dilemma faced by TIFF’s executives and organizers. It’s a no-win situation, but they’ve made a festival. Good for them. That said: this is the first TIFF in many years that I won’t be participating in. It’s nothing personal. I just don’t want to go to a movie theatre right now, and I also don’t want to pay $30 for a virtual screening when Tubi is available on another browser.

TIFF occupies such a disproportionate space in Toronto film culture that kvetching about it is a hobby for local cinephiles. But the fact is, I love TIFF. I love seeing movies when they are shiny and new, and I love seeing famous people, and I love waiting in a line that stretches around the block, and I love the particular energy that overtakes the patios on King Street for 10 days every September. I love the whole thing. As a teenager, I remember watching a local show called Reel to Real where critics Geoff Pevere and Richard Crouse would stand on a street corner in Yorkville and talk about their festival experience between screenings of Where the Truth Lies or Head in the Clouds, and I have never fully outgrown the fantasy of wanting to be on that street corner with them. TIFF has done a commendable job of finding ways to show movies this year, but the festival isn’t the same without the street corner. I hope it will be back next year.

Continue reading “TIFF Memoir”

The Gary Graver Story

(The following was first published in The Important Cinema Club Journal in February 2019)

In 1970, a young cameraman named Gary Graver cold-called called his hero, Orson Welles, to offer his services. Graver (born in 1938) had seen Touch of Evil as a teenager, and wondered why the director of this great film had been given so few opportunities to work. Graver told Welles that if he ever needed a cinematographer, he was available, and money was not an issue. Welles brushed Graver off, but called him back later that day. Only one other cinematographer had volunteered his services to Welles: Gregg Toland, who shot Citizen Kane. Clearly this was a sign. So began a collaboration that lasted until Welles’ death in 1985. Together, Welles and Graver pursued a bewildering number of projects, from for-hire hackwork to Welles’ final masterpieces.gary-graver-star-wagon

Graver did exactly not come with Gregg Toland’s pedigree. When he met Welles, he had been working regularly with Al Adamson, the drive-in auteur behind Satan’s Sadists and Dracula vs. Frankenstein. But Welles had also been exiled to the fringes of Hollywood, and was shooting in the sorts of impoverished circumstances in which Graver also toiled. Used to operating fast, cheap, and resourcefully, Graver brought these skills to Welles’ late works. Over time, Graver’s duties extended far beyond the camera: he became Welles’ all-purpose gofer and right-hand-man. Whenever Welles performed a magic trick on TV, it was always Gary who was “plucked from the audience.” They are said to have spoken on the phone almost every day. Continue reading “The Gary Graver Story”

Video Stores I Have Known

Sometime in the late ‘90s, when I was still just a lad, my dad laid out to me the future of entertainment. Soon, he said, the internet would advance to such a point that it would be possible to watch every movie ever made without leaving your home. You would have some sort of plug-in on your TV through which you could search for your desired title and “rent” it instantly – no video store required. When would such a development come to fruition? Not for a long time, my dad said, but “they’re working on it now.”

I had mixed feelings about this prognostication. On the one hand, even at that age there were movies I wanted to see that were not available at my local Blockbuster – and thus, may as well not even exist. On the other hand, my family’s weekly trip to Blockbuster was my most treasured weekly ritual. Dad and I agreed that nothing would replace the special feeling of browsing a video store’s aisles. Well, twenty-and-change years later, it’s safe to say that most people have found the video store experience to be very replaceable. As of this writing, two video stores remain standing in downtown Toronto (Bay Street Video and Eyesore Cinema), which is two more than most cities have. God bless them, long may they reign. Continue reading “Video Stores I Have Known”