Archive for the ‘Masks’ Category

Manborg

The bad news is that sometime in the near future, the armies of Hell are coming to Earth.  Mankind simply does not currently have the resources to withstand their necro-technological might.  The seas will run with the blood of billions and the SuperBowl will presumably be cancelled.

The good news is MANBORG.

A soldier who is mutilated and left for dead by the ravenous hordes of Hell, the hero who will be come to be known as Manborg is reconstituted and outfitted with a cybernetic weapons system powerful enough to turn the tide.  He is re-captured by the Hell armies and forced to fight in an arena alongside a trio of super-powered martial artists — #1 Man, Mina, and her brother Justice — who will become his new friends and help him combat the overwhelming forces of Count Draculon, and at this point I admit I kind of lost the plot, but who cares?  MANBORG is so silly it’s beautiful.

This is a real movie I’m describing. I’ve seen it.  (Three times now!)  It wasn’t a dream.  I’m awake, and stone-sober.  MANBORG is an actual thing that exists.  You can experience it too, and I highly suggest that you do.  I can’t answer all of the questions you will probably have.  For one thing, the origins of the film remain hazy to me, as if shrouded by Hell-fog or the smoldering fires of an infernal battlefield.  IMDb lists the film’s creation date as 2011.  It traveled the festival circuit in 2012.  It appeared in stores on DVD in 2013, where I grabbed it immediately.  Could you resist that poster artwork?

MANBORG was made by a Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6. They’re a bunch of guys who make movies on the cheap, pitching in on each others’ projects in every function including stepping in front of the camera.  The director of this particular outing is Steven Kostanski, who shows an impressive command of genre-cinema film-checking.  The movie, like Manborg himself, is a lumbering patchwork Frankenstein’s monster of other movies: ARENA, HARDWAREROBOCOP, TERMINATOR, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, RETURN OF THE JEDI, HOWARD THE DUCK, ROBOT JOX, DR. STRANGELOVE, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, MORTAL KOMBAT, G.I. JOE, and TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE.  To name only a few.  If you, like me, spent countless sugar-fueled late nights in front of a TV screen mainlining action movies, you will be in hog heaven with this flick.  It’s not quite accurate to say that MANBORG is a snug fit on a shelf with some of the more esteemed films on that list, but it would be absolutely true to maintain that MANBORG completely captures the giddy rhythms of euphoric movie-love.  The way you felt when you were talking about these movies, the way you still may feel when talking about them; that’s the spirit in which MANBORG was made.

Another thing about the making of this movie:  The production budget for MANBORG was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.  That probably wouldn’t even cover the price of the yellow tarp for a Scientology tent on a Tom Cruise movie.  It’s hardly any money when you’re talking about mainstream filmmaking.  However:  In absolute sincerity, I insist that this is incredibly impressive work for that budget.  Sure, it’s goofy-looking, but that’s intrinsic to the charm of the thing.  It says a lot about these filmmakers that they could stretch the money as far as they do.  It suggests that they have a future in so-called serious movies, if that’s what they want, although I kind of hope they don’t.  I want to see more movies like this one, although I’m fine with re-watching this one until then.

There’s something fantastically charming about this movie, the way it simultaneously feels like a bunch of film-fanatic friends getting together to make a movie and still invites just enough suspension of disbelief to enjoy as a somewhat corny, bizarrely sincere addition to the ranks of bizarro action movies.  In other words:  Even as you know it’s a goof, you still feel like going with it.  Because it’s just more fun that way.  And I don’t know, man — there’s even something touching to me about the fact that I could walk into Best Buy and see MANBORG sitting on the shelf.  Right in between MAGNUM FORCE and MARS ATTACKS!  This is one for us.  The weird kids.  The movie freaks.  The up-all-nighters.  We made it!  Feels like home.

 

P.S.  Be sure to stay through the credits for the trailer for… BIO-COP!

 

Read more about MANBORG at the official MANBORG site: http://www.astron-6.com/manborg.html

 

Listen to Brian Wiacek’s authentically-radical score here:  http://manborg.bandcamp.com/

 

 

And say hi to me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

manborg  ManborgTeaser_Mina Scorpius

lilguy   Baron

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THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is a phenomenal oddity, even amongst the ranks of indie-horror and little-known cult movies.  Producer/director Charles B. Pierce and his writing partner, Earl E. Smith, crafted the story from a real-life occurence, the “Texarkana Moonlight Murders” committed by a serial killer who was never caught.  Pierce and Smith are slightly better known for their 1972 Bigfoot movie, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, which took a similar halfway-a-documentary approach to material even less rooted in fact.  Pierce also worked as a set decorator on films like COFFY, DILLINGER, BLACK BELT JONES, and THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES.  He reportedly became friendly with Clint Eastwood, to the point that he supplied the story for SUDDEN IMPACT (the Dirty Harry movie with Sondra Locke) and arguably even the line, “Go ahead, make my day.”  So we’re talking about one of those mildly-obscure but noteworthy figures — not everyone can be Eastwood-famous, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of filmmakers with stories to tell, both onscreen and behind-the-scenes.

What makes THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN such an endearingly bizarre curiosity is the tone of the movie.  It plays something like a prehistoric America’s Most Wanted episode, only spookier, sillier, and way weirder than any straight-faced reality-TV true-crime documentary ever.  It also falls in an interesting zone on the continuum of essential horror films of the 1970s, coming two years after THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE — with its deadpan John Larroquette narration — and two years before HALLOWEEN, with its unforgettable masked killer.  Either inspiring or predicting the canny casting choices of HALLOWEEN, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is filled with unknown actors, with two significant exceptions.  In HALLOWEEN, the veteran character actor pursuing the killer was Donald Pleasance.  In THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, it’s sturdy Western star Ben Johnson — oddly enough, playing a Latin character, Captain Morales of the Texas Rangers.  In HALLOWEEN, the ingenue with an attention-getting name was Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis.  In THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, it’s Dawn Wells…. You know, Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.   I think I mentioned this movie isn’t entirely serious.  (Mary Ann is actually not at all bad in the movie though!)

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN shuttles through genres and tones frequently throughout its brief running time.  Some parts, the ones that establish the towns where the killings took place, are as dry yet nostalgically appealing as a 1950s educational film.  Occasionally, the tone veers wildly into ridiculous farce, such as when a deputy (played by Charles Pierce himself) draws the short straw and is forced to dress as a woman in an ill-advised attempt to draw out the killer.

But the actual horror-movie scenes are by far the most memorable.  The scenes where the masked killer stalks and attacks his victims have a sloppy, unpredictable energy and a weirdly-detailed specificity.  There’s a scene where the hooded murderer straps a woman’s arms around a tree face-first, ties a knife to a trombone, and starts stabbing her in the back as if he’s playing an instrument.  It’d be funny if it weren’t so absurdly horrible.

Oddest of all, the climactic scene of the film recalls nothing so much as a Western.  (The film’s title has that vague vibe also, come to think of it.)  Towards the end of the movie, Ben Johnson’s Captain Morales and his sidekick Ramsey (Andrew Prine) spot the Phantom Killer in broad daylight and chase him through the woods until they reach train tracks.  They get a few shots off, but the killer uses the passing train to escape.  I don’t know about you, but the last time I saw Ben Johnson near a moving train it was in THE WILD BUNCH.  And that was based remotely off of real life too.  What’s so intriguing about the invocation of Western tropes is that, THE WILD BUNCH excluded, many Westerns ended in triumph for their heroes.  This surely doesn’t.  The Phantom Killer escapes, and as the movie tells us, he was never caught.  While the movie takes its liberties with fact, this part of the account of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders is resolutely true.

Somehow, even after decades of true-crime accounts since, the experience of watching THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN manages to make the knowledge of this cosmic injustice feel haunting and eerie.  It’s one of the most oddly genial serial-killer movies you’ll ever see, but that ingratiating quality can be disarming.  It’s still a pretty damn freaky little movie.

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is coming to Blu-Ray soon, courtesy of Scream Factory (the horror division of the DVD label Shout Factory.)

Breeze through my small town on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

If you heard the song first, the way I did, you’re already picturing mental images that are pitched somewhere between John Hughes and John Woo. It sounds like an ‘eighties action movie. The video takes that film-friendly sound and runs with it, towards some pretty unusual, memorable, and maybe even culturally progressive places. (Let’s just say Murtaugh never rode on the back of Riggs’ motorcycle.)

Great song, great video. You’re probably going to dig it. The album is out now.

Find out more at the official site: http://twinshadow.net/

And find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

Movie Review: THE TOWN (2010).

Posted: September 24, 2010 in Crime, Masks, Movies (T)

 

Can we talk about costumes for a second? There are many things that I believe make The Town a really satisfying movie, but one of the elements that makes it so convincing is the costume design. And I’m not just talking about the masks: The skull masks used in the opening robbery, and the eerie nun masks used in a later robbery (as made famous by the movie’s poster and billboards), are pretty remarkable, and I’m not sure how any future bank robbery movie will top them.

 

But the detail observed in the regular, every-day clothing worn by The Town’s principal cast and all of the people around the periphery is equally effective. Costumes are one of those crafts in cinema that you’re not supposed to notice until you’re supposed to notice them (or unless you’re a rigorous movie freak like me and mine), which is why strong costuming in a movie is often easy to overlook. But just take a closer look at the outfits on display in The Town, and how they build character – from the tracksuits worn by Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner’s blue-collar career criminals (they’re not the same guy but they kinda dress like it), the bang-me barfly get-ups worn by Blake Lively’s troubled and needy character, the young-professional outfits chosen by Rebecca Hall’s bank manager character, the subtle distinctions between the suits favored by Titus Welliver’s local detective and Jon Hamm’s ambitious federal agent, and the off-the-rack casual boringness of Pete Postlethwaite’s deceptively threatening florist-front gangster. We learn a little bit about these people even before they tell us their history and their thoughts. Clothes are character.

 

Ben Affleck understands this, as director, and so does his costume designer, Susan Matheson (who previously worked on The Kingdom and a bunch of Will Ferrell movies.) So I’m just saying, before we give abundant (and deserved credit) to the actors and writers of this movie, let’s give some credit to Susan Matheson and her crew. And to Ben Affleck, who is a smart guy and a talented guy and who knows that surrounding himself with talented collaborators is going to make everyone look better. (He also has cinematographer Robert Elswit and editor Dylan Tichenor on board, both of whom have worked on every Paul Thomas Anderson movie to date.) Okay, so now on to the story:

 

I’m not going to be the first person or the last to liken The Town to a kind of Heat Junior, with Ben Affleck and Jon Hamm standing in for Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The French poster for The Town even has this to say about it: “Un Thriller Redoubtable Dans La Lignee De Heat!” I have no idea what most of that means, but it’s obvious that for once, the French and I happen to be on the same page. I love Heat. I’ve seen it a ridiculous amount of times. (Especially considering the running time.) I adore its sincerity and even its imperfections. It’s a big blue balls-out modern classic. But I’ll tell you something: As a humongous fan of that earlier crime epic, the comparison with the younger flick doesn’t bother me one little bit. The Town may not entirely capture the scope or the atmosphere that marks the best moments of Michael Mann’s work, but I am entirely happy to see any new movie that takes it as an influence, and has a similar sense of ambition to it. Ben Affleck and his people are shooting for the moon here, and forget about hitting the stars – they hit me right where it counts, in my movie-loving heart.

 

The Town was originally a novel called Prince Of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan, a talented crime novelist who later wrote The Strain and The Fall with Guillermo Del Toro. It’s the story of Doug MacRay, a local Boston boy who had a promising hockey career in front of him but ended up pulling robberies with the neighborhood crowd. On a bank job, Doug’s partner Jem impulsively takes a hostage, a assistant manager named Claire. She’s blindfolded and eventually let go, but the fear eventually arises that she might be able to identify them. Worried about what Jem might do, Doug insists on being the one to follow Claire. He gets too close, they meet, and eventually fall in love. So you’ve got the conflict of him wanting to protect her by not telling her the truth, and the pressure of local crime bosses wanting him to get back to work when he’s feeling the urge to retire, and the efforts of local police and the feds to bust up the gang. It’s a sprawling, multi-character spin on a very simple high-concept romance. And it’s pretty great.

 

Ben Affleck is really good in the movie, directing himself as a guy who’s torn in several different directions: between history and hope, between his girl and his buddies, between responsibility and free will. His performance gets at this very relatable masculine dilemma, of having something you know you have to tell your girl that she won’t like but that you don’t want her to hear from somewhere else – while playing that very human concern against the plot-based cops-and-robbers conflict.

 

As his opposite number, Jon Hamm is really bold and interesting. He’s not afraid to play his character as a total dick, even as technically you could say he’s on the side of the good guys. He can be charming when he wants or needs to be, but at the same time he’s almost viciously determined to catch these crooks. He seems to take it personally in a way that you’d almost prefer that federal agents not take their jobs so personally. He makes it easier to root for Doug MacRay and his boys to get away with it, let me put it that way.  It’s funny – I realized after the movie that, having not seen Mad Men (I know, I know), I’ve only ever seen Jon Hamm in comedies, on SNL and 30 Rock. This was the first dramatic work I’ve seen from the guy, and now I’m just as impressed with him as the rest of you are.

 

Obviously Jeremy Renner is pretty terrific too, as the hot-tempered sociopath Jem. I say “obviously” because this is his first role off of his career-elevating showcase in The Hurt Locker, but in truth, he’s been playing this particular kind of role, the strangely likable bad guy, for many many movies now (most notably in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.) Renner is taking on a pretty generic bank-robbery stereotype – and I can say that because I’ve written one myself – that of the hair-trigger-tempered cowboy of the gang who is on an increasingly bleak trajectory, but [along with the strong writing of the piece] he’s able to  invest that role with all kinds of fascinating shading. Jem is a guy who doesn’t see a way out of doing what he’s doing, and isn’t deep thinker enough to even consider it. Doing bad things is just what guys like us do, he thinks, and eventually it’ll buy us enough comfort that we can stake out enough beers and barbecues to last until a heart attack and not a cop’s bullet does us in. He figures that if he’s gonna be a bank robber, there’s no one he wants next to him more than his best buddy, who grew up with him and looks at him like a brother. Jem doesn’t even realize that he’s pulling Doug down. He just doesn’t see it that way. Renner plays all of this without saying it – again, his character couldn’t even think up that much self-awareness, let alone say it out loud. It’s pretty fantastic character work.

 

The entire cast is that good, from Blake Lively, who I’ve only ever seen on magazine covers, to Chris Cooper, who plays the soul of the movie out in just one scene. I’d single them all out but I took all that space writing about Jeremy Renner. And there’s so much else to like about this movie: The local flavor which comes from shooting on location, the love of “real people” faces that Affleck first showed in Gone Baby Gone(sometimes he’ll dedicate entire shots to images of walk-ons and extras, just to let the camera capture their unique faces), the solid musical score, the exemplary photography (Elswit!), the interest in the human stories amidst all the car chases and gun battles (all of which are thrillingly-staged, by the way), and the palpable emotion that so many modern movies just don’t have.And the humor! The way I’m talking, you might not know that The Town is as funny as it is. The climactic heist, not to ruin anything, happens at a location that just has to draw a smile on the face of a New Yorker like me. (It works if you’re a Boston local too, I’m sure.) That’s how this movie operates: It’s serious, but it’s funny too. It’s no comedy, but there are small moments of genuine laughs that make clear that, unlike so many other films in this genre, this is no kind of resolutely morose enterprise. That’s life, man – sometimes the funniest and weirdest little things happen right in the middle of the most dramatic moments of your life.

 

I’ll tell you something real right now: Ben Affleck may well have been studying Michael Mann as he was preparing to make The Town, and first of all, if that’s the case then he didn’t fall too short of the mark. But here’s another big compliment: What I’m really reminded of here is nothing less than early Eastwood. Look at the parallels: Actor-turned-director surrounds himself with exceptional talent and after a solid debut, raises the scope of his work significantly with his second feature. He shows a smart grasp of genre, an interest in subverting myth, and all kinds of promise. Let’s see where this goes, but it seems pretty damn encouraging so far. Is The Town a perfect movie? Maybe not, but who needs that anyway? All we need are strong genre flicks with a ton of heart, and that’s just what we got with this one.

 

@jonnyabomb