Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop SOPA and PIPA from Censoring the Internet!

The internet is under attack! There is legislation being considered that will make our internet as heavily-policed as China's or Iran's, allowing sites to be shut down indefinitely without any due process or evidence of misuse. The internet is the last true democracy left in the US. Click below to help protect it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Reviews at

Hey all! I have a great new review written, but it's been snapped up by the very intelligent, who have offered to take me on as a freelance contributor. As a result, I will no longer post reviews here, but at For a direct link to my new review for Warner Herzog's hypnotic 'Heart of Glass' (which I'm assured has nothing to do with the Blondie song by the same name) click here.

Thanks for your readership.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Head (1968)

Directed by Bob Rafelson
Written by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson

I got "Head" (no jokes, please) as a part of a multi-film set. I was intrigued by what I knew about it, that Jack Nicholson had cowritten and that it was more or less a movie about the music group The Monkees. Not being a big Monkees fan myself, I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a layered psychedelic experience unlike any other that transcended genre and managed to be both light and extremely head-y. (Sorry, I have a weakness for puns. I know it's no way to get a-head in life *snicker*)

The film contains elements of the following genres at various points: concert film, Beatles'-style "day-in-the-life-of-the-band" video, mockumentary, western, sketch comedy, horror, political satire, adventure, epic, madcap comedy, romantic drama, and a very large dose of psychedelica. But in addition to that, it has subtly clever dialogue ("Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"), and is written to reward repeat viewings. It even has a segment that I'm fairly certain is a reference to 8 1/2, one of my favorite films of all time and another great example of a film that completely obscures the boundaries between reality and fantasy.
This film is all about distorted reality. The first distortion is the most obvious: drugs. Most of the music sequences are just pretty escapist fantasy scenes featuring combinations of sound and color for people to zone out on psychedelics to. Though members of the band refer to the film as a kids film, the posters at the time of the release emphasized "Not Suitable For Children". At one point, Micky is in a harem, surrounded by dancing girls, smiling widely and smoking from a hookah. In another, the whole band has shrunk down and been sucked into a vacuum where they find a (relatively) giant joint roach, which Micky calls a "zoomer". But the druggiest parts of the film aren't druggy because there are drugs in them, but because they're edited like an acid trip, with lots of color distortion, slow-motion and mirroring effects. I wouldn't advise this film for actual hallucinators though. The latter third gets a little dark and might induce "a bad time".
The second distortion of reality in the film is the media itself. Early on in the film, a bank of televisions shows different scenes from different genres as the Monkees sing cryptically "We hope you like our story / Although there isn't one / That is to say, there's many / That way, there is more fun!" The televisions appear to show random assorted material, but on rewatching, every scene shown actually occurs later in the film. Throughout the film, the characters repeatedly find themselves suddenly in a vastly different circumstance and genre than before. They even jump around chronologically throughout scenes of the movie. In one of my favorite scenes (the one that is a reference to 8 1/2), Peter (who is referred to elsewhere as "the dummy" of the group) finds himself in a sauna with a Hindu yogi (in 8 1/2, the main character has a very dream-like discussion with a Catholic Cardinal in a steam bath). The yogi proceeds to explain that the human mind has no way of differentiating between sounds and images and the actual experiences they represent. Therefore images from TV, music that we listen to, things that are part of our cultural consciousness, whether it's cartoons, an opera or footage from Vietnam, all gets interpreted by the subconscious as hard fact, experienced first-hand. The film is like a documentary of the process of the subconscious cycling through the assorted and disparate information it's given. The resulting confusion accounts for part of the film's disjointed plot.
The film industry itself is depicted in the film as a giant, dangerous factory full of uncaring middle managers who continually usher the Monkees into a large, black steel box. The film makes it seem like the Monkees are indentured servants to their director, label and even fans. They express frustration with a lack of creative control. Repeatedly throughout the film the Monkees try to rebel against the process of making the film itself, walking off the set and busting through the fourth wall in a jaded attempt to find reality again. In the mockumentary filmmaking portions the Monkees are treated like a disease by the other cast and crew in craft services ("I can't eat with those damned kids around" "Those guys are just awful" "Well if it isn't God's gift to 8-year olds"). In one scene, after a successful live performance, the Monkees are literally torn to shreds by their adoring fans.
Apparently most of this stuff was based on the real life making of "Head". According to the Wikipedia page for the film, the band brainstormed the plot of the movie with writer Jack Nicholson and writer/director Bob Rafelson one weekend while consuming copious amounts of marijuana. When they learned they weren't receiving any writing credits for the film, all of the Monkees (save the drummer, Pete) walked off the set and refused to act again until the terms of their contract were renegotiated. The cast and crew of the film really did hate the Monkees, and regularly left Craft Services en masse to avoid eating with them. And due to the Monkees' habit of wandering off of the set between shots, a large, black box was constructed with a heavy steel door to act as their personal waiting room in between takes.
If the process of filming weren't hard enough on the group, the film's critical reception at the time of its release was ice-cold. The Monkees effectively alienated the fan base they'd built on their clean-cut family-friendly images from their popular TV show while completely failing to draw in a new hip, adult audience. Only in retrospect did this film find the turned-on, groovy audience it was looking for, finally attaining its well-deserved cult status with college students and the art house crowd many years after its initial release.
So what does "Head" have to offer modern day groovy guys and gals? Monty-Pythonesque humor and transitions, a strong anti-war message (still pertinent today), groovy psychedelics, a film about filmmaking (which I personally love), random cameos ranging from Jack Nicholson (blink and you'll miss it) and Annette Funicello to Frank Zappa (pictured above), and more zany antics than the average Beatles' film.
As for my favorite Monkee (based on the film), I would have to pick Pete. He's the warm-hearted simpleton who lets an ice-cream cone melt down his hand rather than throwing it away because "There are starving Chinese". He's called "the dummy" of the group, but watch him closely. He will ultimately become the most enlightened one. The most fun Monkee to watch would be Micky, who energetically manhandles a Coke machine when he comes upon it in the desert only to find it empty. He later blows it up with a tank.
I gave "Head" (no jokes, please) a 9/10. If you are a fan of mystery, horror, suspense, documentaries, dramas, love stories, concert films, westerns, sketch comedy, action, or any of the other genres this film encapsulates, chances are this film will have something for you. So light up some.... incense, and get ready for a groovy trip back in time...

For those of you interested in "Head" (no jokes, please) and other American cinema from the late 60's and early 70's, I highly recommend the American Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set, available on DVD and Bluray. The set includes "Head", "Easy Rider", "Five Easy Pieces", "Drive, He Said", "A Safe Place",  "The Last Picture Show", and "The King of Marvin Gardens". This and other recommended viewing below:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Support my film, "In a Grove" in an online movie trailer contest!

I have entered two trailers for my newest film, "In a Grove" in a indie movie trailer contest. My entries are currently in third and fourth place, ratings-wise. Please support my movie by registering for the contest site and rating and commenting on my trailers. With your help, I can make it to first place!

It's easy, it takes less than 5 min, and it won't cost you a thing. All you have to do is click on this link, click the "Register" link in the upper right of the screen it takes you to, create a username and password to register as a rater / reviewer on the site, and rate and comment on my trailers!

The contest ends TONIGHT at 9PM, so victory is within grasp. For people who want to do even more to support us in this contest, send your friends a link to this article or post it on your facebook to spread the word. You can also "like" my film on Facebook (see facebook link-->). The more help I can get, the better my chances of winning and getting some publicity for my movie.

If you want to go above and beyond to support my filmmaking career, check out my previous efforts on

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Free Box

There's a Portland-based web comedy show that's dangerously close to being discontinued by it's very talented cast and crew for the simple reason that it's not profitable to give away great comedy for free. "The Free Box" has been entertaining denizens of the World Wide Web since Drew Hicks and Jon Meyer started the show a few years back. Since then the show has grown considerably in scope and the laughs have grown proportionally. Fans have been clamoring for more new episodes, but are you actually willing to support the show with your greenbacks? If you are, you are in for a treat. "The Free Box" has set up a "pledge" system through in order to raise funds to continue the show. In addition to the great feeling you get supporting young people with boundless talent and potential, "The Free Box" is offering prizes as well. A 5$ pledge will get you a bumper sticker of the show's most memorable catch-phrase: "We ran out of dish soap". Larger pledges mean more and larger prizes, up to whole seasons of the show on DVD. Big-money pledgers (500$-1000$) get the cast and crew of the show to write and perform a song commissioned by you and to make it into either a music CD or a music video DVD. It's an all-or-nothing pledge system, meaning that if the boys and girls from "The Free Box" don't reach their 5000$ pledge goal, those who have pledged aren't charged. But the real tragedy would be if we allowed this great show to die. Money is the "magic dust" that makes great TV and movies possible, so please sprinkle some of that magic dust on "The Free Box"!

The season 1 DVD includes hilarious commercials from the creators of the show (including the "Junk in the Box" short that became the show's logo). "What'd you expect?" This set and each of the smaller prizes are awarded for pledges of 50$ or more. 100$ pledges get the as-yet unreleased season 2 DVD as well as all the smaller prizes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010)

Directed by Samuel Bayer
Written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer

Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.

Alright movie fans! My new full-time job has prevented me from reviewing as many films as I would have liked this last week and a half or so, but this one was just too big to keep under my fedora.

The newest installment in the famed series "A Nightmare on Elm Street" restarts the series at it's dark beginnings, expanding on events that were only mentioned briefly or alluded to in the original "Nightmare" movie.

The teenaged children of Springwood are being stalked in their dreams by an eerie man in a striped sweater, fedora and a glove with knives for fingers. The film opens at the Springwood Diner, where Nancy (the hero of the original), Kris (her best friend) and Quentin (Nancy's boyfriend) watch horrified as one of their friends commits suicide with a steak knife while screaming that he's being attacked. I felt like this was a fairly solid opening. The initial dialogue in the diner is a little contrived as it's obvious main purpose is to quickly introduce the main characters. The death scene however, is a great first kill for Freddy. Because witnesses saw the boy kill himself there are no supernatural loose ends that might merit further police investigation. In other words, a death that the parents of the community can mourn as a tragic fluke without worrying enough about their own children to do anything about it. A perfect start to a new "Nightmare".

Well, almost perfect. One of the big problems with this movie is acting. For the first third of the movie, I thought that Nancy (played by no-name actress Rooney Mara) had some kind of speech impediment or learning disability. She speaks like she's having trouble breathing and looks like she's zoned out on some heavy medication. I blame "Twilight". Those terrible "glam-pire" movies have sullied what it means to be a horror movie heroine. Instead of tough, passionate and resourceful, like Heather Langenkamp's original portrayal of Nancy, Mara's version of the character is frail and waif-like, bookish and brooding. It sickens me to draw a comparison between such a good series and such a bad one, but in her worse moments, Mara's Nancy seems like a carbon-copy of the hideous and reprehensible character Bella from the "Twilight" series. 

The devolution of horror heroines (left to right): Heather Langenkamp as Nancy in 1984, Rooney Mara as Nancy in 2010, and Down's Syndrome Bella.

In all fairness to Rooney Mara, even Heather Langenkamp was a terrible actress when she first stepped into Nancy's shoes. The key difference between their performances is that Heather knew how to scream and act frightened. Mara's acting in the remake was of such a low intensity that it almost seemed like Freddy Krueger was an annoying ex-boyfriend who won't stop calling; obnoxious but ultimately harmless. How is the audience supposed to be afraid of the villain when the heroine is so lethargic?
The story of this new "Nightmare" film is actually very good. The writers have taken characters and situations from the original and re-imagined them in a modern setting, with an increased focus on Freddy's back-story (which was only alluded to in the original). In the original "Nightmare", Nancy's alcoholic mother reluctantly reveals that Freddy Krueger was a perverted school janitor who killed (and possibly molested) little children. "...the lawyers got fat and the judge got famous, but someone forgot to sign a search warrant in the right place and Krueger was free, just like that." The parents of Springwood corner Krueger in an old abandoned boiler room where he had taken kids to do terrible things to him, and set it on fire with him inside, killing him and ultimately turning him into the vengeful dream demon we  all know and love. In a deleted scene from the original "Nightmare", Nancy's mother goes further to reveal that all of the main kids who are being targeted by Freddy had older siblings who Freddy had killed when he was alive, but when the kids were too young to remember. Watch the deleted scene here:
My idea of the perfect "Nightmare" origins story would be a portrayal of Freddy when he was murdering the first batch of kids as a living man. The film would chronicle all of his alleged kills (around 20) and end with his fiery death at the hands of the town's parents. They could even use this deleted footage from the original (touched up digitally so it looks shiny and new) as a way to tie the new prequel to the original. The new "Nightmare" didn't take this path, but rather tells a story that weaves parts of the original into something new. 
In the new film, Krueger is not killed for killing children, but for allegedly molesting them. He seems more sympathetic in the new film because the parents choose to kill him without even trying to let the law handle him. In the first flashback dream sequence, we see him chased into an abandoned warehouse(?) by the angry parents. As they set the fire, Freddy looks scared and is screaming "I don't know what you think I did". All in all, we're set up to question whether or not Freddy was ever really guilty of the crimes he was killed for.

Whether or not he's a child molester, Freddy is pissed and out for revenge on the kids whose "stories" got him killed. Killing is clearly what Freddy's best at. The kill scenes are pretty solid, and are mostly recreations or homages to the fantastic death scenes in the original "Nightmare". Some of the classic visuals have been redone fairly well. Kris' death scene is a more brutal homage to Tina's death scene in the original. Her terrified boyfriend watches in horror as she's thrown against the ceiling and walls by an invisible force. While it lacks the charm of the "rotating room" special effect in the original, it's a scene that will make fans of the original smile. Certain other effects from the original are worked into the remake in a different context than in the original. Some scenes, like the bathtub scene are almost shot-for-shot.

What Jackie Earle Haley fails to do well is be scary. The makeup artists were supposedly using real burn victims as the inspiration for Freddy's new face. What these talented professionals came up with looks like a cross between Voldemort and Two-Face. Freddy's new, reptilian look is in no way creepier than Freddy's face in the original. I didn't even like the "updated" Freddy face in Wes Craven's "New Nightmare" (perhaps the best of the "originals"), but at least it bore a stronger resemblance to his old face. 
Another big mistake with Freddy this time around is that he's over-featured in his own movie. In an effort to provide fans with the maximum amount of fan-service, Freddy all but juggles and does tricks for peanuts. He's practically got more lines in this movie than Nancy, and the lines he does have are mostly bad puns and one-liners. While Robert Englund's Freddy did have his share of one-liners, they only got really cheesy in the sillier "Nightmare" sequels (like when he says "Welcome to prime-time, bitch!" while shoving a woman's head into a television screen). The original was so scary because like "Alien" and other great horror films, the villain was barely seen or heard. The lines he did have were creepy and unsettling, and most importantly didn't sound like he was rehearsing for a stand-up comedy act.

Freddy in "Nightmare 1" is also only seen fleetingly, in part, from a distance, through fog, in the dark or indirectly lit. The overall effect is that we never get a very good look at him and our imaginations are allowed to go crazy. Freddy has more than a few close-ups in the new "Nightmare", and is often well-enough lit that his make-up and attire seem more garish and carnivalesque than creepy. While I have many friends who laud Jackie Earle Haley for his portrayal of "Rorshack" in "Watchmen", I can only say that he made a decidedly sub-par Freddy Krueger. Like George Lazenby, the oft-forgotten actor who played James Bond for a single movie after Sean Connery abandoned the role, Haley has a very hard time filling the shoes of his predecessor. 

I'd give the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" an 8/10. The "Nightmare" series has been fairly consistent in one thing: the odd-numbered movies are good, the even ones are terrible. This has held through the first eight movies (with "Freddy vs. Jason" as the last bad one), and it holds true for number nine as well. Overall, this is a solid entry in the series. It is true to the feel of the original without being overly derivative. While the lead actors were mostly disappointing, Rooney Mara grew on me a bit towards the end. It's not Shakespeare, but it's an entertaining homage to one of the best horror films of all time.

The first eight films have been recently released in these cheap 4-film packs. Only the odd-numbered ones are good, but even the even-numbered ones are entertaining. If you're a "Nightmare" newbie, stick to the first four. If you like 'em and feel adventurous, check out five through eight.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mike Bazanele's "In a Grove" Teaser Trailer

The very first sneak-peak at my new short film "In a Grove", which is based on the Ryunosuke Akutagawa short story of the same name. Other adaptations of this story include Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" and the Star Trek: TNG episode "A Matter of Perspective". The story is so popular in Japan that it's title "In a Grove" (Yabu no Naka) has become a common idiom for a situation in which no conclusion can be drawn because evidence is insufficient or contradictory. I'm very pleased with how this trailer turned out. While the teaser trailer includes only black and white footage, the final film will alternate between black and white and color. The haunting acid-western theme used in the trailer was graciously furnished by Little j and Ed Wrzesien. Enjoy!