Archive for the ‘Stop-Motion’ 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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Pacific Rim Elysium (2013) Anchorman 2

There are some potentially great movies coming out this year. Go anywhere else on the internet and you will read about movies like PACIFIC RIM and ANCHORMAN 2 and THE WORLD’S END and ELYSIUM. I’m excited about those too. There’s also all the obvious nerd bait like STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and HUNGER GAMES 2 and THOR THE DARK WORLD. Not really my thing, but it’s certainly understandable if those are the kind of titles that make your heart do a happy dance.

But step off the beaten path with me. Let’s take a moment to give some attention to the real weirdos out there. Let’s look at some of the movies of 2013 which no one in their right mind is looking forward to. I’m not talking about intentional cult items like MACHETE KILLS or ESCAPE PLAN. Those movies are that guy or girl at the party who’s trying too hard to be sexy and therefore failing big for exactly that reason. I’m talking about the ugly guys or girls who just don’t give a fuck what you think they look like. They just wandered in off the street because they got a whiff of the guacamole dip.

This isn’t about schadenfreude.  Well, not really. I mean, I’m no saint. There are a couple movies I wouldn’t mind watching crash and burn. In that category are ENDER’S GAME — written by a bigot, directed by the guy who made X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE; sure, no way that pairing could go wrong — and a pair of Vince Vaughn movies, one where he hangs out at Google for an entire movie and another movie where he plays a sperm donor, because no one learned anything from THE SWITCH and holy Lord do I ever not want to see or ever be asked to think about Vince Vaughn donating sperm.

But generally, my natural good nature wins out and I am a sweetheart who only wishes the best for everyone. Still, there are some movies coming up in 2013 whose very existence perplexes me. And that in turn makes me curious. Call me a a jerk, a creep, a kook, a contrarian, a nihilist, an anarchist — I’ve been called all of those things before and that was only this morning at the nunnery — but I like really bizarre movies that make no rational sense, and I like it even better when those movies turn out to be entertaining.  So the following bunch is a group I’ve got my eye on in 2013 (some are getting real close now!):

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Assault on Wall Street (2013)

ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

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Java Heat (2013)

JAVA HEAT (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s the caveman version of HEAT!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Mickey Rourke may actually be an Al Pacino, but Kellan Lutz is no Robert De Niro. I mean, maybe he is. I’ve only seen him in ARENA. He did not come off too brightly there. Also, his name is Kellan Lutz.

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Robosapien

CODY THE ROBOSAPIEN (May 28)


Why It Could Be Cool: “From the producer of SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, and IRON MAN…”

Why It Probably Won’t Be: …And the director of SOUL SURFER!

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Sinbad The Fifth Voyage (2010)

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:

Pseudo-stop-motion-animated skeletons!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Skeletons aside, this looks impressively bad. Like ten dollars worth of stolen garbage. I bet you Sinbad doesn’t even do his MacDonald’s milkshake routine!

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After Earth (2013)

AFTER EARTH (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Will Smith! A clone of Will Smith! Space! Volcanoes! Monkeys!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: M. Night Shyamalan.

But that also means it could be as funny as THE HAPPENING. At this point, Shammy is probably done for as a serious director. But as a director of hilariously-solemn unintentional-comedies, he’s got a better shot than most.

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Axe Giant

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN (On DVD June 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Well, it’s a horror movie about the legendary giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan.  Ain’t a thing I can say I’ve ever seen before, and brother, I’ve seen plenty.  Also, while there are no signs from the trailer or the official site, there’s still a better-than-average chance of a cameo from Babe The Blue Ox.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Actually, I have no reason to expect it won’t be amazing.

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Hammer of the Gods (2013)

HAMMER OF THE GODS (July 5)

Why It Could Be Cool: It’s a movie about Vikings!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Vikings that say “Kiss my axe.”

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R.I.P.D. (2013)

R.I.P.D. (July 31)

Why It Could Be Cool: I’ll never not have hope for a movie that has Jeff Bridges and James Hong in it, and unlike most of the huge movies this summer, this one seems to have a sense of humor about itself.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: It’s trying way, way hard to be both GHOSTBUSTERS and MEN IN BLACK at the same time. See if you can spot the big, gaping difference.

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The Frozen Ground (2013)

THE FROZEN GROUND (August)

(No trailer yet.)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Cage versus Cusack. Hate to paraphrase myself so quickly, but: It’s like HEAT for weirdos.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  This comes to us from 50 Cent’s production company, Cheetah Vision, and yes, 50 Cent co-stars in the film.  50 Cent’s movies are becoming an obsession of mine — not because they’re particularly awful, but because they aren’t particularly good, despite often tremendous casts.  Also, NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.  He’s so famous yet his movies are so under-the-radar.  But that’s a much longer conversation.  THE FROZEN GROUND is based on a true story.  John Cusack plays Robert Hansen, the notorious serial killer, and Nicolas Cage plays the Alaskan cop who hunts him down.  It’s no secret that Cage, once (and still) a tremendously gifted and unconventional actor, took a severe detour into mostly silly movies.  It’s less commented-upon that John Cusack has kind of done the same thing.  There’s an outside chance that a movie teaming the two of them could end up being great, but even if it doesn’t, it can still be colossally entertaining.

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Don Jon

DON JON (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the smartest actors around and this is the first movie he wrote and directed.  He seems to have brought his old accent from LOOPER along, and that was surely a fine movie.  Scarlett Johannsson, who is also great, is his co-star, and she looks particularly phenomenal in this trailer.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  Well it still could be.  There’s a ton of major talent involved. But I have to admit, and you probably should also, that if it were anyone other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt making this movie, there’d be plenty of cause for agita.  It’s hard to escape the suspicion that JGL came up with this movie back when Jersey Shore was hot.  It’s tough not to notice that Scarlett is using one of her SNL accents.  It impossible not to consider that porn addiction is pretty difficult to make charming on film. And on top of all that, Tony Danza.

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The Butler (2013) The Butler (2013)

THE BUTLER (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool: There are a lot of good actors in this movie.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Watch the trailer. Listen to and look at all the shit those good actors are made to do, say, and wear. Listen to that music. Have you done all three? Great! Now your incontinence is cured!

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Gallowwalkers

GALLOWWALKER(S) (release date unknown, may actually have already been out for two years)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s exactly BLADE, but then also a Western!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

I mean let’s be reasonable with our expectations here.

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Bookmark this page because I will be updating it as I discover more beautiful treasures!

@jonnyabomb

Going on the internet to talk about the greatness of Army Of Darkness is like going on the internet to talk about the greatness of boobs.  It’s kind of been done a few times already.  But I can’t help myself.  I love this movie.  It’s completely ridiculous.  I love it because it’s completely ridiculous.

Army Of Darkness, or Bruce Campbell Vs. The Army Of Darkness if you want to go by official titles, is the culmination of the story of The Evil Dead.  In 1980, twenty-something director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell (among others) went into the woods and came back with The Evil Dead (1981), the story of college students who are picked off by malevolent demons in a cabin in the woods.  This movie was such a massive cult success that it led to a sequel, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987), which was essentially a remake of The Evil Dead.  Evil Dead 2 retained Bruce Campbell as hapless hero Ashley Williams and the cabin and the evil book known as the Necronomicon which unleashes hell, but otherwise was a totally different movie tonally.  I named Evil Dead 2 on my list of 13 Essential Horror Movies, because even while I feel it’s adequately creepy and spooky where it needs to be, it’s at least half a comedy – truly, no one has been as successful at merging the genres of horror and comedy as Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were with this film.  That’s an entirely different essay, however.

Army Of Darkness goes further into comedy than even Evil Dead 2 did, approaching the neighborhood of parody at the outer city limits, though never venturing that far. Really, Army Of Darkness is an old-fashioned swashbuckler in a horror-movie costume.  It’s barely scary anywhere in it.  That’s not an insult.  Army Of Darkness is filled with so much joy that it can’t help but inspire joy – like the best work of Tim Burton, this movie loves scary stuff and Halloween stuff and skeletons and monsters so much that it couldn’t possibly be scary, because the sense of glee is so thoroughly palpable.  In my opinion, it’s the world’s greatest Ray Harryhausen homage.  Army Of Darkness is for the people, like myself, who fervently believe that the skeleton swordfight scene in Jason & The Argonauts is the greatest action scene in cinema history.

For those who haven’t had the immense pleasure, I’ll quickly explain how we get to the skeletons.

Army Of Darkness picks up immediately where Evil Dead 2 left off.  Our hero, Ash, has read in the pages of that dark book, the Necronomicon, a legend of a man who fell from the sky and helped fight off the great evil which Ash and his friends accidentally re-awakened in the modern age.  At the end of Evil Dead 2, Ash managed to open up a portal which sucked all the evil out of our world, but got sucked through the portal himself, along with his shotgun, his trusty Oldsmobile (actually Sam Raimi’s), and his chainsaw hand (long story).  He realized, to his horror, that he’d been sent through time, back to the medieval age written about in the Necronomicon.  Trapped in medieval times and hailed as a savior by primitive screwheads.

Army Of Darkness hilariously picks up on the idea that Ash is far more horrified to be stuck in the medieval past, amongst pretentious British nerds in suits of armor, than to be besieged by hideous winged demons, or Deadites as they’ve come to be called in this era.  The primary fun of this movie isn’t just to watch Ash wearily combat yet another hell-demon, but just as much to watch him annoyed by the proper ways and the hero worship of the medieval folk, who initially distrust him and eventually hang on his every word.  Ash has a style both old-school irreverent and contemporary ugly-American.  He’s like Bugs Bunny meets early-‘80s Eddie Murphy – no respect for anybody, no interest in hiding it.  Actually, he’s quite a bit ruder than that.  Let’s be honest, as much as all us fans adore Ash, technically he’s a total dick.

Ash, to a woman who tries to apologize for distrusting him:  “First you wanna kill me. Now you wanna kiss me. Blow.”  Try to imagine any other protagonist in any other film series getting away with a line like that.  Try to imagine any other actor in the world getting away with a line like that.

Yet, even as we revere Bruce Campbell for his performance, no one ever seems to wonder what became of a single other member of this cast.  They’re all basically just golf tees for Bruce to take swipes off.  They all have bad British accents, even the ones who probably are naturally British.  No offense – they’re all perfect.  The bull-in-a-china-shop nature of things is so intrinsic to the comedy that more nuanced supporting performances wouldn’t actually work.  Would you ever want to know what happened to the drivers of all those crashed cars in The Blues Brothers, or how they felt about it?

The plot, such as it is, in Army Of Darkness kicks in when Ash goes to retrieve the Necronomicon in an attempt to find a way to be returned to his own time.  He screws that simple task up so brilliantly that he awakens the entire army of the dead, a horde of thousands of skeletal warriors led by a monstrous, decomposing ruler who is a doppelganger of Ash himself – named Evil Ash in the credits and played by Bruce Campbell, both details which I’m sure come as a major surprise.

When the skeletons start marching towards the castle, the movie becomes truly unglued.

Glue has its uses.  It’s a sensible product.  It binds surfaces.  It maintains structure.  But sometimes, you want to let go a little.  Sometimes you just want to be like a kid again.  Sometimes you just want to eat paste.

Army Of Darkness is just gloriously, overwhelmingly, profoundly unglued.

The epic skeleton battle is Harryhausen meets Howard – not Ron Howard, even though the similar medieval epic Willow came out just five years earlier, but Moe Howard.  You know, of the Three Stooges.  Sam Raimi is an avowed fan of the Stooges, and in Bruce Campbell he has a leading actor who is fully capable of enacting that level of brilliant slapstick.  Every time I take a couple years away from this movie, I return to fall in love with its ridiculous energy all over again.  What cinematic pleasures are much greater than watching a caped Bruce Campbell getting in slugfests with sword-bearing skeletons?

And the skeletons talk.

And the skeletons also have bad British accents.

And most of the skeletons are as fake and as unconvincing as a politician’s integrity.  But that doesn’t slow anything down for a minute.  In fact, the fakeness, the places where the movie shows its seams, actually go a long way towards making it as wonderful as it is.  It feels like somebody (Dino DeLaurentiis, specifically) gave a couple million dollars to a prankster.  Army Of Darkness has the giddy energy of the home movies you might have made in the backyard with your buddies.  It often feels – in the love scenes, in the sequence where S-Mart employee Ash retardedly teaches villagers and knights how to fight, in the scenes where the skeletons run from the fight and the human beings rejoice – like some kids watched some old movies and tried to recreate them.  At the same time, there are excellently-paced and energetic scenes – like the early one where Ash battles the demon witch in the sewer pit – that Raimi reveals himself as the brilliantly original and accomplished world-class film director that he is.

This is why this movie, and Raimi and Campbell and their people, are so beloved by millions of film freaks.  They feel like they could just as easily be our friends, because they love the stuff we love as much as we love it, only their home movies are probably much better than ours, and their filmmaking talents are obviously so prodigious.

Sam Raimi went on from here to become an A-list director, most notably with the Spider-Man films of the 2000s.  Bruce Campbell has proved to be an odder fit for Hollywood, to his credit.  There just aren’t too many venues suited to his unique talents – the guy looks like everybody’s idea of a movie star but he has the energy and the ability to rival the most popular physical comedians.  Campbell is like a three-way cross between Kirk Douglas, Jim Carrey, and Superman. I guess if you aren’t Sam Raimi, it’s hard to know what to do with a guy like that.  I feel like the Coen Brothers could do something great with Campbell, and I really wish they would, but for now he works just outside the mainstream, working in TV as a day job and occasionally turning out something incredible, like his performance as an elderly Elvis Presley in Bubba Ho-Tep.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there’s nothing quite like the alchemy between Raimi and Campbell, and there’s nowhere better to find it than Evil Dead 2 and Army Of Darkness.  Campbell turned in a trifecta of fun performances in Raimi’s three Spider-Man movies, but the Evil Dead movies are the purest expression of this iconoclastic collaboration.

There are no other movies quite like these ones.  What a better, stranger world it is that they exist.

@jonnyabomb

mad monster party

1967’s Mad Monster Party? (the question mark is official) is a Frankenstein’s monster of a kid’s movie, patched together from two wildly different brands whose heyday was the late 1960s: One is MAD Magazine, the irreverent periodical famous for comic strips and jokes and parodies, and the other is Rankin-Bass, the production house responsible for holiday perennials such as Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, among other things (such as the horrifying animated version of The Hobbit).

As it goes with Rankin-Bass holiday-themed features, Mad Monster Party? is a stop-motion spectacle, generally square in tone, innocent and sweet yet vaguely disturbing, loosely-plotted, and half a musical. This one is feature length, a whopping ninety-something minutes. It’s the story of Baron Boris Von Frankenstein, presiding member of the World Organization Of Monsters, who is looking to retire. He wants to leave his empire to his clumsy, good-hearted, Jimmy-Stewart-soundalike nephew Felix, and has a monster convention at his remote tropical island where he plans to make the announcement. Some of the monsters conspire to usurp Felix’s rightful place. Stuff goes haywire.

drac

The MAD sensibility is represented in the script co-written by Harvey Kurtzman, a founder of the magazine and widely acknowledged as one of the greatest American cartoonists, and in the character designs by Jack Davis, another one of the best-known MAD cartoonists. Jack Davis also did many movie posters, for films like It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World and National Lampoon’s Animal House (it’s his artwork that accompanies this article). His caricature-heavy style is most apparent in Mad Monster Party?’s version of Count Dracula, who strongly resembles Grandpa Al Lewis from The Munsters, and in the designs of Baron Von Frankenstein and the Monster’s Bride, who are voiced by Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller respectively and are drawn accordingly. Jack Davis’s style meshes comfortably with the Rankin-Bass house style, which is overall more prominent (the dotted eyes of protagonist Felix, the adorability of characters like the Hunchback and the Mummy contrasted with the surprising hideousness of the Werewolf and the Creature, etc.).

I didn’t remember this one as well as I do Frosty or Rudolph. There are a few reasons for that. One is that this movie has one of the most haphazardly-structured stories I have ever seen, even for a children’s cartoon. Certain scenes go on way too long, certain plot digressions are highly unnecessary, and the musical numbers are generally jarringly at odds with the themes and tone of the rest of the story. The pace of the movie is bizarre, although that’s in keeping with most of Rankin-Bass. Probably due to the MAD influence (particularly that of Kurtzman, the Little Annie Fanny co-creator), the movie is a little too horny. The characters drop more than a few risqué double-entendres and other weird Frenchisms. And lastly, the ending is astoundingly unusual – although if I reveal it here you’ll only want to see it more – the story ends with the extinction murder of all of the monsters, with the last two surviving characters marooned in a lifeboat. Then one of them reveals her inevitable, imminent death to the other. I have to say, the weirdness of it all only served to make me fonder of Mad Monster Party? But I admit to having a somewhat skewed sensibility, as befits someone who runs a semi-regular Halloween column.

skeletonband

Mad Monster Party? was re-released on DVD last month.  You can definitely watch it with kids you love – it’s certainly safe for that – just be prepared to dodge a couple uneasy questions.  It’s also corny as anything, but that helps make it lovable.

@jonnyabomb