Saturday, January 30, 2016

Short Film: The Hobbit (USA / Czechoslovakia, 1966)

As of yet, all Short Films of the Month presented here at A Wasted Life were presented because we found them good. Here, however, is one presented because we think it sucks. And sucks enough to be interesting, sort of.
Did you, like us, see Peter Jackson's overly long and drawn out and oddly uninvolving trilogy and think, "Well, it can't get worse than this"? (OK, in all truth, we only saw the first two instalments; we decided not to bother with the third one.) Thing is, it was already worse twice before: in NBC's "execrable" kiddy animated kiddy musical version from 1977, and in this formerly presumed lost animated short film from 1966.
Wikipedia explains the facts: "The 1966 short animated film The Hobbit! was the first ever film production of The Hobbit. It was directed by Gene Deitch in Czechoslovakia. American film producer William L. Snyder [14 Feb 1918 – 3 June 1998] obtained the rights to the novel from the Tolkien estate very cheaply while it was still largely unknown, with the proviso that he produce a 'full-colour film' by 30 June 1966, and immediately set about producing a feature-length film, with screenplay by Deitch. The project fell through, but after the explosion in the novel's popularity, Snyder realized that his contract had not required the film to be of any length: he therefore instructed Deitch to create a 12-minute film based on his earlier work so that he could retain his rights. He later sold the rights for around $100,000 (not adjusted for inflation). The final project has very little to do with the source material." According to imdb, "The film was screened once in a Manhattan theater on June 30, 1966, the day the contract expired."
Not everyone hates the short. Eye for Film, which says "it's still a treat for completists and an enjoyable little film in its own right", has the following praise: "Brought to life by the beautiful illustrations of Czech painter Adolf Born, which will strike a chord with anyone who grew up watching kids' TV in Europe in the Seventies, this is a whimsical tale that will continue to charm younger viewers today. Excitement is provided by the swelling orchestral music of Václav Lidl, and Herb Lass' narration delivers on drama whilst maintaining a reassuring, bedtime story tone. Although there's no animation in the conventional sense, flashing lights lend impact to the scary sequences and there's so much detail to enjoy that the eye never wanders."
Decide for yourself.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Incubus (USA 2006)

(Spoilers — but, like, who fucking cares?) Written by Gary Humphreys, who also wrote True True Lie (trailer), another unknown movie likewise filmed that same year in Romania, which, going by a landscape pan near the start of the movie, looks like it might be a beautiful country worth going to. Incubus, however, is not a movie in any way worth watching.
AKA Fear Factory, the original title of Incubus gives hope to some form of sex horror movie, as the literal translation of "incubus" — a male version of a "succubus" — is an evil spirit that descends upon women as they sleep for sexual intercourse. But the film jettisons the fine points of the term and, instead, claims that an incubus is simply some demon that invades your dreams. Wrong — like everything else about this direct-to-digital flick.*
* This movie's minor claim to fame is that it is the first movie ever released specifically as a direct-to-download movie: it premiered on the Internet and was released by AOL on Halloween, 2006. There is a lot of crap on the Internet. 
In all truth, a more fitting title of this "movie" would be A Total Piece of Shit, and that is what we will call it as of now. A cut and dry template for a career-killing movie that doesn't even succeed at being funny bad, A Total Piece of Shit excels only in the amount of boredom it induces. And while it is easy to understand why non-actors with no career might accept a part in a flick like this, it is sad to think that anyone who ever had any career at all, even a minor one like that of Tara Reid, would stoop so low. (To fall any deeper would require a co-starring role with Richard Grieco — see: Webs [2003] and Raiders of the Damned [2005].)
The plot of A Total Piece of Shit is a predictable as the movie itself, and is driven primarily by one laugh-inducing, head-shaking, unbelievable, and bad decision after the other on part of the youthful fodder-cum-wannabe characters. Five minutes into the movie, after a badly lit and shot chase and kill scene in some locked-up compound, these six stock characters are introduced and it quickly becomes obvious that they are not only bound to die and that they probably subconsciously want to die, but that they are all bona-fide candidates for the Darwin Awards: every decision made in the movie, like most of the dialogue, is not only illogical, but screams "Kill me!" Indeed, we have seldom seen a movie in which the characters all deserved to die more than they do in A Total Piece of Shit.
Our six idiots — semi-Final Girl Jay (Tara Reid), her brother Josh (Russell Carter), and friends Peter (Christian Brassington) and Karen (Monica Barladeanu of Caved In [2006 / trailer] and Fall Down Dead [2007 / trailer]) and Holly (Alice O'Connell) and token Afro-American Bug (Akemnji Ndifernyan) — survive a nasty car accident (unscratched!) while returning home from a camping trip in the mountains of Montana, a camping trip that obviously involved no camping equipment but does involve Karen wearing "five-hundred-dollar boots". Of course, they do the logical thing of wandering off the road and across the countryside and, since they're going to freeze if they stay outside, breaking into the first fenced-in and locked-up building they happen to stumble upon — by rappelling (!!!) 30 meters down through an opening on the roof. (Here Karen, who early on shows herself to be the stupid bitch, proves to be the smartest one there by turning around and leaving. By dint of the film's closing scene, she actually turns out to be the movie's true Final Girl.) Trapped in the compound, they stumble upon the so-called incubus, a sleeping murderer (Mihai Stanescu of Catacombs [2007 / trailer]) instantly recognized by Jay. ("It's the guy who bit off his tongue...") Only, instead of being put to death as reported to the press, the bad boy had been handed over to bad people conducting bad experiments. As can be guessed, once the non-teen teen idiots enter the compound, the rest of A Total Piece of Shit is basically about them running around a lot and making more stupid decisions, all of which lead to them dying one by one.
In any event, any person with a brain — and probably even those without one — won't find anything mildly of interest in A Total Piece of Shit, which drags on for way too long and does nothing but stumble from one annoying stupidity to the other, torturing all viewers (or at least those that don't save themselves by falling asleep or turning the movie off) with interminable, noxious boredom. We can only guess A Total Piece of Shit was made as a tax deduction and not as a serious project, for no one making a serious movie (unless truly untalented) would make a movie like this, a movie so moribund and lethargic and unintelligent and uncreative that its overriding and all-encompassing inability and carelessness doesn't even manage to garner giggles. (How carelessly was the movie made? Well, one character kills his possessed girlfriend and doesn't even blink. They use flashlights even when the lights are on and complain that the batteries are getting low. And — perhaps the most subtle of all the mistakes — characters who have bitten off their tongue talk totally normal moments later.)
Nothing exciting happens, nothing scary happens, nothing is well-shot or well-acted, nothing is in any way interesting or involving or worth wasting your time on in A Total Piece of Shit. We saw A Total Piece of Shit so you don't have to.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Beyond Hypothermia / Sip si 32 dou (Hong Kong, 1996)

(Spoilers.) A lean, mean, moving, and unjustly forgotten movie from the tail end of the Golden Age of Hong Kong bullet ballets, Beyond Hypothermia is well worth searching out. What makes this move particularly noteworthy, aside from the competent direction by former John Woo assistant director Patrick Leung, the top-notch editing, and the tight story, is that it manages to merge both what one expects from a multi-violent, blood-drenched Hong Kong killer flick with a surprisingly non-maudlin but touching love story. That it should end tragically is, of course, expected, but that the movie as a whole should be so effective, so successful, is not.

Opening with a bruised and bloody hand reaching for a bullet, the scene initially seems to have nothing with the narrative that follows, but by the end of the movie the circle closes and everything suddenly makes sense — tragic sense. There is no hope, there is no love, and there is no future for killers; and whether driven by a desire of vengeance or by not knowing anything else in life, the final result is the same: you not only kill your darlings, but die yourself.

The plot concerns a nameless hitwoman (the beautiful Jacklyn Wu), raised without a past by her "aunt" as a soulless killer whose cold actions are mirrored by her unnaturally low body temperature. She is less a human than an empty shell and a killing machine, but buried beneath the skin of the literally cold-blooded professional, the longing and desire for love and human companionship struggle to become free. A lonely woman lacking both a past and a future and in need of male companionship, she is slowly warmed by the delicious noodle soup made by the slightly thick-headed, friendly, and equally lonely man (Sean Lau, of Return to a Better Tomorrow [1994 / kill count] and Black Mask [1996 / trailer]) running the noodle stand across from where she lives. He dubs her "Pretty Ghost" due to her beauty and the way she appears and disappears without warning, and slowly an affectionate relationship develops between them. But the successful completion of a hit in Korea causes that now-dead man's bodyguard (Sang Woo Han) to go off the deep end. He leaves a long, bloody trail of (intentionally and unintentionally) dead bodies as he slowly hones in on the mysterious woman who killed his boss, losing more than just the little humanity he had in the process. In that sense, he is the reverse of "Pretty Ghost": as she warms and thaws out, becoming ever-more human, he becomes ever-more bloodthirsty and cold, soulless, and irredeemable — something he realizes himself in the final scene.
In all truth, were the two core narrative threads of Beyond Hypothermia — a relatively kitschy love story and a blood-drenched shoot-'em-up flick — separated, neither would be all that impressive despite all the stylistic panache and flash of the presentation. What makes Beyond Hypothermia so special is that it manages to follow the templates of the two genres so closely while achieving a balance that both works without seeming trite and that also gets the viewer solidly involved with the narrative and characters, to the point of even caring for the figures (or at least the two lonely leads).
The technical finesse of Leung's camerawork and staging matches well with the don't-waste-time screenplay by Roy Szeto (whose other projects include, among others, The fun kung fu zombie political parable We're Going to Eat You [1980 / trailer], the dead-horse-flogging A Chinese Ghost Story III  [1991 / trailer], the disappointing The Assassin [1993], the intriguing The Phantom Lover  [1995 / trailer] and the trashily fun Mutant City [1992 / trailer]). What truly carries the movie, however, and what truly helps make Beyond Hypothermia transcend being simply another flashy, well-made Hong Kong spectacle of flying dead bodies, are the two leads.
Both Wu and Lau are amazing in their respective extremely sketchy roles and manage to make their characters both more rounded and sympathetic than the extremely linear and low-fat script should allow. Wu manages to go from a convincingly heartless professional killer to a woman in doubt to a woman suddenly feeling moments of joy (probably for the first time in her life) with her facial expressions and body language alone, and as a result she makes a killer (so cold-blooded that she barely pauses when killing a child) likeable and an object of the viewer's interest and affection. Lau does likewise, presenting himself as a not-too-bright but extremely engaging man whose heart and love goes out to a mysterious woman, and who does everything possible to catch her interest. By the end of the movie, the viewer really wishes that the two would, could, somehow, ride off into the sunset. Instead, we get a massive shootout, an almost nihilistic last line (from Lau) that literally hurts in its irony, and a sad finale that even leaves even a room full of beer-swilling dudes silent.
True, some aspects (like how weapons are delivered to the heroine) occasionally instigate giggles in their inanity, but one is given little time to mull over such things; they are, in the end, perfunctory aspects that must be resolved quickly to get to the given point of the scene: that the killer is a perfect killer, that she is totally heartless, that the nemeses is introduced. And speaking of the nemeses, Sang Woo Han is a bit one-note in his characterization of the out-of-control, revenge-driven bodyguard, but luckily neither his haircut nor his beady-eyed, blinkless stare do all that much damage to the movie. The biggest flaw of Beyond Hypothermia is without a doubt the dated synth music that swells up in full-blooded 80s/early-90s tastelessness whenever there is a tragic or emotional scene. It is a further credit to the film and the filmmakers that despite be saddled with such a crappy and cheap-sounding aural nightmare, Beyond Hypothermia remains so effective, so tragic, so stunning.
It is time that this forgotten move was rediscovered. Give it a go: it might be the first Hong Kong bullet ballet that your women's-film-loving other half might like.
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