Cult

Gelateria (2019, Christian Serritiello and Arthur Patching)

Once it’s clear directors Patching and Serritiello are going to be able to keep Gelateria going, the question becomes how can they possibly end it. The film opens with a lone figure on a rocky beach, yelling into the sea. The water has sound, the yells don’t have sound. Given how the film ends… it’s possible the whole thing’s circular to that first scene, possible it’s not. Doesn’t matter. Probably.

The first half of Gelateria is an absurdist walking tour of art venues, starting with Serritiello going to old friend Jade Willis’s concert. Serritiello’s so good it’s weird to think of him as the director too. He’s what gets Gelateria the initial buy in. He’s just staring at the unseeable woman across from him as he narrates from a journal; Serritiello’s really good at the regarding for the camera bit, he’s taking it seriously, the film’s taking him seriously.

So, I guess it does make sense he’s one of the directors too.

Anyway. Serritiello is going to that Jade Willis concert. The film still hasn’t established how absurd it’s going to get, not until after Willis yells at Serritiello for abandoning him and the dialogue’s not great. Then all of a sudden the film breaks the established narrative distance and mixes it up on the floor and looks up from Serritiello’s position (on the literal floor) and the world is totally different. Willis, who’s quite good, is taunting Willis, egged on by onlookers, and the film begins to establish its boundaries.

Serritiello is going to run along in a bit and look into a barber shop, where there’s a great bit with two customers on the phone. It’s nonsensical but excellent because of the acting, which seems to set Gelateria on steady ground only to immediately go shaky again. Turns out Serritellio’s passing the film off to a third customer, Daniel Brunet. His phone call is about hiring someone to speak Italian during his party on a yacht.

Serritiello, Willis, the other phone actors, they were acting. Brunet is mugging. It’s an immediate problem.

Brunet’s party turns out to be a five person affair in what appears to be a double bed cabin. It’s silly and if Brunet weren’t exaggeratedly odious it might even be funny. Things immediately improve when Simone Spinazze shows up. He’s the Italian hired to speak Italian for the amusement of Brunet and his guests. Once he’s done being made spectacle for terrible WASPs, Spinazze goes to work waitstaff at an art show. That sequence, which is where it becomes clear the film can keep up this momentum, ends in singer Joulia Strauss shooting someone.

She then runs out, gets into a waiting getaway car and speeds off with accomplice (and the other director) Arthur Patching. If it were a different kind of film, there’d be something to look at with Strauss actually having used the art show as a cover to perform a hit.

Anyway.

After Patching stashes Strauss in a safe house with the requisite birds (go with it), he then runs into Carrie Getman, who’s out bird-calling at night, passing the film off to Getman. When then get Getman’s sequence, which is basically her life set to a terrible self-help tape.

Take a breath, only halfway in.

Though actually the second half, which starts with a phenomenal animated sequence is all about how an artist ships her paintings off to a gallery on a remote island and then the gallery never gets in touch so she goes to investigate. There’s bingo involved, a hamburger joint, and avant-garde community theater. It’s all fairly awesome as far as the “plot” goes, with some excellent supporting performances in this section.

Unfortunately, the artist protagonist is played by Patching and Serritiello in drag as a grey-haired British lady. They alternate, which doesn’t matter much as they don’t get any significant dialogue, with Patching probably doing it more? Though the character gets introduced with Serritiello.

I mean, it’s fine for the absurdist comedy thing and all but it might have been funnier if they’d played it, well, straight. Especially given the acting possibilities for the outrageous odyssey through this sleepy little town.

Gelateria looks great, moves great, sounds great (Jack Patching’s score is excellent). Given the directors wrote, edited, photographed, and starred, it’s definitely all thanks to Patching and Serritiello—with major props to Tiago Araújo’s animation; the animated sequence is just what it needs to be to bridge the sections of the film. The film—running just over an hour—is one hell of a sprint. It never slows down, never tires, always kept moving smooth thanks to the directors’ masterful editing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written, directed, edited, photographed, and produced by Christian Serritiello and Arthur Patching.

Starring Carrie Getman (Eleanor), Tomas Spencer (PC George Hartree), Christian Serritiello (Zbigniew), Jade Willis (Tom Rigby), Simone Spinazze (Giovanni), Arthur Patching (Alfie Dunn), Daniel Brunet (Julius Row), Joulia Strauss (Joulia Strauss), Julie Trappett (Priscilla), and John Keogh (James Flannigan).


Six-String Samurai (1998, Lance Mungia)

Released in 1998, Six-String Samurai makes the big move of using a very familiar piece of music from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack (Misirlou, which is also the music on the Pulp Fiction trailer) during a big action sequence. It’s not a bold move, because Samurai hasn’t got any boldness. It even walks back being tough enough to kill kids, which turns out to be a major bummer later on; but it’s a big move. You lift from a popular movie you’re not directly referencing but you’re desperately hoping has gotten audiences ready to give your lesser effort a pass. I also wouldn’t call it a courageous move—director Mungia is awkwardly safe—but it’s not something you see every day. A movie “homaging” a four-year old film with a straight face. I mean, it works in spoofs… maybe they were hoping it’d go far for them in Samurai, which isn’t a spoof but has the ingredients to be one.

While the plotting is sort of good—Samurai isn’t (but always seems like) an adaptation of a wacky but good indie comic from the late eighties or early nineties—samurai rock and rollers, all sorts of different gangs—cavemen, a bowling team, musical guests the Red Elvises, a heavy metal death gang, some Soviets—a post-apocalyptic setting. Maybe British, commenting on the U.S. but not well, instead just going for whatever works in the moment. Mungia and lead Jeffrey Falcon wrote the script, which is mercenary for its occasional laughs; if it were a Muppet movie, it’d be amazing, which is kind of hard to explain but also not. If Six-String Samurai were a bunch of Muppets and a human kid, it’d be amazing. The dialogue’s for a Muppet movie. When the death metal gang starts talking to each other like it’s “Fraggle Rock,” you can see the missed opportunity.

But until the end, it seems like Samurai might make it to the finish line. Only it doesn’t, because it’s got a bad ending where it turns out Mungia isn’t just nodding to… get ready… Kurosawa, Leone, Coen, Tarantino, Rodriguez, Lucas (as in George), he’s also got a whole Wizard of Oz thing he wants to throw in for momentary effect. Again, not ornate or committed enough to be desperate, but pointless. Mungia’s desperate to homage.

So it’s kind of weird how well he directs about forty percent of the action scenes. While Mungia doesn’t make a good kung fu movie or a good Western, he does make one hell of a samurai epic. When Falcon’s out there slicing and dicing, it’s some great samurai cinema. Shame Mungia can’t shoot a sword duel, but it’s only one of so many shames. Some of the problem with the action is James Frisa’s editing. It’s one of those cases where Mungia does things wrong, Frisa does things wrong, then they enable each other on other things gone wrong. Samurai does a lot with slow motion to cover Mungia not actually being able to direct the action and it gets really tiresome. Compounding it… Frisa’s editing isn’t good. It’s a vicious circle and usually keeps Samurai from accomplishing anything. Save those samurai action scenes—and just the action parts, not the setup or wrap-up. Mungia fumbles those parts like normal.

Kristian Bernier’s photography is good throughout. Lots of wind in the film in the first, which works to great effect. Unfortunately, as the gale mellows, lead Falcon—playing Lone Wolf—accepts Cub Justin McGuire.

Though—and it’s weird because it came out before–Samurai has a much better story for Star Wars: Episode I than Star Wars: Episode I has for itself.

Anyway.

The problem with Samurai and what ultimately does it in is McGuire. It’s very hard to cast a good kid lead in an adventure movie for all ages, it’s harder to cast one for an R-rated action movie… there’s no shame in not getting it right. Sadly, Mungia and company get it not just a little wrong, they get it astoundingly, increasingly wrong. Though if they were really making the movie and thinking it was fine—which seems to make sense, given how not good Falcon’s line deliveries get (and appear dubbed much of the time—his stunts are great, he was a stuntman)–but to not see what McGuire’s doing to your movie….

It’s like having an adorable little puppy who’s so annoying you want to kick it.

But there is an odd sincerity to the McGuire character, the young orphan who needs protecting and ronin Falcon’s the only one available–but it’s still bad and it’s not a cloying addition. It’s the film’s biggest swing and the resulting miss is what breaks Samurai’s last string.

Maybe if Falcon were a great lead but he’s not even a good one. Samurai is impressive for its creators’ tenacity and ability to get investors, Falcon’s physical movement, the samurai action, and the photography. The rest… nope.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lance Mungia; written by Jeffrey Falcon and Mungia; music by The Red Elvises and Brian Tyler; director of photography, Kristian Bernier; edited by James Frisa; production and costume designer, Falcon; produced by Leanna Creel; released by Palm Pictures.

Starring Jeffrey Falcon (Buddy), Justin McGuire (The Kid), Stephane Gauger (Death), Clifford Hugo (Psycho), and Kim De Angelo (Mother).


Eegah (1962, Arch Hall Sr.)

Eegah is a rather bad, rather weird, and yet spirited budget King Kong picture—with a prehistoric Southern California caveman instead of a giant ape. Sure, there’s the teen idol aspect to it, but once the film commits to damsel in distress Marilyn Manning madly crushing on survived since the Stone Age Richard Kiel and the film basically then being about Manning and dad (director Arch Hall Sr.) trying to keep Kiel preoccupied so he doesn’t remember to rape Manning… okay, maybe it’s a little bit more than just a budget King Kong. Though Kiel running amok in riche South California in search of true love Manning has an almost earnest quality to it, especially since Manning’s actual boyfriend (Arch Hall Jr., son of producer-director-costar Hall Sr., natch) is kind of a dipshit. He’s a wanna be blond Elvis in 1962, complete with band; he gets three big numbers in the film… maybe more actual songs but three showcases. The first act of the film plays like a promotional video for Hall Jr.; hey, he can “sing” and he can “act.”

Though it’s probably unfair to get on any of the actors for their performances because the whole thing is looped, presumably by the original cast but who knows; the sound person didn’t, you know, record the sound. Hall Sr. probably should’ve paid a little more. Though maybe the dubbing gives Eegah some of its charm… also maybe not. It’s never entirely clear if the film has charm or just seems like it ought to be charming. Because of the dubbing, it’s impossible to know what Manning’s original intent was during the attempted rape scene. It’s literally contradictory and very rough. In the middle of this silly pseudo-monster movie (but biblically accurate, the film reminds a couple times) there’s this plot development about the impending sexual assault, then the actual sexual assault (with daughter Manning sacrificing herself to save father Hall Sr., so, there’s something there too)… and it never gets dealt with. Other than Manning mooning for Kiel because she realizes what a lamer she’s got in Hall Jr.

Even though Hall Sr. kind of gets that Manning is hot for Kiel. And Hall Sr. is vaguely creepy around Manning. Though it seems more like a budgetary problem than anything actually creepy… wait, no. There’s a scene where Manning wants to pamper Hall Sr.; they’re being held captive by Kiel and Hall Sr.’s ego is bruised. He’s a famous adventure writer and this caveman who survived thanks to sulfury water is one upping him and about to rape his daughter. So Manning gives Hall Sr. a shave.

That shave leads to Kiel wanting a shave and Manning realizing without his hundreds of thousands of years old caveman beard, Kiel’s kind of hot in a giant way.

Kiel’s “dialogue” consists of grunts and gibberish, frequently saying “Eegah,” which convinces questionably competent adventurer Hall Sr. its Kiel’s name. Because he goes around saying his name to himself. And go around he does. When Kiel’s chasing the heroes in their dune buggy—the film’s very big on Hall Jr.’s dune buggy. It’s a shock he doesn’t have a musical number while driving it, though I suppose he does do an expository monologue about dune buggies during their ride, which is also something. There are occasions where Eegah is almost accidentally good, like when Hall Sr. gets dropped off by helicopter—or maybe it’s just because it’s cool to see “M.A.S.H.”’s Korean landscape again–and it’s this intense, silent sequence of shots, with Hall Sr. no doubt calling in some favors. In lieu of good sets or complex shots or… tripods, Hall Sr. has helicopters and really nice cars and….

Oh, crap. I forgot the swimming sequence.

So while Hall Jr. sings a song about another girl—all of his songs have a girl’s name in them, never Manning’s, because he wants her to think he’s a player—Manning swims around and twirls off the crappy water slide in the country club Hall Sr. got permission to shoot in. Or didn’t get permission. But it’s a long song, long swimming sequence, weird swimming sequence. One can only imagine Hall Sr.’s “swim sexy” direction to poor Manning.

So, yeah. There’s some icky stuff to Eegah, especially if Manning is supposed to be sixteen.

The film’s weird. And often terrible in amusing ways. It’s impossible to take seriously in pretty much every way. Unless you’re interested in early sixties Southern California visuals. Or for examples of how not to light people on location. Vilis Lapenieks does some stunningly inept lighting.

Eegah is one of those movies where you wonder if the making of stories are better than the movie, but it’s still weird enough to be amusing. The weird also covers some of the iffy material. Though… the third act does actually have a lot more potential than the film realizes. I can’t believe I forgot about the third act.

There’s this fight scene between Hall Jr. and another band member. The other band member wants Manning. There’s like a dance off before the fight, with Hall Sr. and some other old guy standing there commenting on it pseudo-obliviously….

It’s all just so strange. It’s ineptly produced, with terrible sets, yet it still manages to be weird in ways unrelated to being too cheap or not, you know, good. Eegah’s sort of bewitching. And sort of not.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Arch Hall Sr.; screenplay by Bob Wehling, based on a story by Hall; director of photography, Vilis Lapenieks; edited by Don Schneider; music by André Brummer; released by Fairway International Pictures.

Starring Marilyn Manning (Roxy), Richard Kiel (Eegah), Arch Hall Jr. (Tom), Arch Hall Sr. (Mr. Miller), and Lloyd Williams (Mr. Kruger).


Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy (2019, Tim Mahoney)

When I decided to write about Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy, it was because I wanted to make the wee dick move of putting it in Stop Button’s rarely used “Cult” category.

Thought it’d be funny.

Controversy, which never suggests it’ll be anything but writer-director-star Mahoney setting up a flimsy straw man and knocking over while making fun of mainstream scholars and, eventually, Israeli women–Controversy suggests I need a new category for “Bullshit.” And I could get into why I saw Controversy, but eh. I could talk about the manipulative, condescending misinformation ads Mahoney’s partners run “before” the film, but after the theaters showing it cut down the lights on the Fathom Events stream. There’s a lot surrounding Moses Controversy, including the only real “controversy” and the one Mahoney doesn’t even acknowledge… you know, was there really a Moses. Because… probably not? Like, let’s be real.

After trying to identify all of Mahoney’s manipulations, I immediately understood why the “God Awful Movies” guys take notes. It’s hard to keep up with all the blithering nonsense. It’s an assault of it. And there’s a question about how much Mahoney is knowingly manipulating—the whole thing seems to boil down to his dad being a deadbeat and Mahoney wanting the Bible to be true so his superstar single parent mom wasn’t wrong about it. And not just kind of true. Literarily true. The Patterns of Evidence series starts with Exodus, now God Gave Us Alphabets (spoiler, sorry), meaning Mahoney will probably get to parting the Red Sea sometime in… 2040. He’s got a lot to get through. Especially the way he wastes two hours—plus the intermission—to come up with some fanfic about God creating the alphabet and giving it to Joseph so Moses could write the Torah to share with Jews and infect the world. It’s not even as cool as the androids spreading aliens in Alien 6. But, if you wanted to give Mahoney some benefit of doubt, maybe he just wants to acknowledge his mom’s accomplishments.

Might be nice if he acknowledged her actual accomplishments instead of her churchy-ness, but whatever. He might be coming from a good place.

Though, then there’s all the deceitful bullshit he does, like suggest Douglas Petrovich is some kind of art historian and not some Bible school truther. Mahoney doesn’t just do it to cover how his Bible guys don’t have any actual street cred, he also lies about Chris Naunton (Egyptologist for hire, think Indiana Jones if Indiana Jones ran a WordPress site with the ads turned on). Apparently meeting in a building means Mahoney’s interviewee should have that building’s organization mentioned on their credentials.

So it’s probably no surprise when he interviews Orly Goldwasser, the only woman interviewee, he doesn’t do it in her office but outside in Jerusalem. Where he can put subtitles up when she speaks English and then cuts her to appear like she’s a dismissive contrarian. One of the other fine Christians in the audience loudly referred to her as “Goldmonster” when she’d come on screen.

And it’s actually kind of strange, because before Mahoney does the whole “God gave me the ABCs” thing, he seems like he’s going to do “Why don’t you mainstream scholars think ancient Israelites could have come up with an alphabet, are you saving they’re not very smart.” Then cut to Mahoney digging on Goldwasser. Though she doesn’t get the brunt of the attacks. The film’s… ha. Wocka wocka—film. Okay, sure. The film’s two villains are retired professor William G. Dever (I’m actually shocked Mahoney didn’t dig on Dever’s Harvard Ph.D.) and actual sitting George Washington University professor Christopher Rollston. Rollston comes out okay in the end because apparently he does believe Moses was real and could read and write. But until that end, Mahoney takes him through the mud. Not as much as “agnostic but we all know he means atheist” Dever; it’s really mean too because of all the actual professors (well, except Goldwasser who seems to have no idea Mahoney’s going to diss her so bad in the final product), but of most of the professors—Rollston’s the nicest to Mahoney. Yes, the old retired guys like Dever do treat him a little bit like a dope. Because he looks like a dope sitting listening to them. Only, he might not actually be sitting listening to them because Mahoney fakes a lot of reaction shots throughout. He also looks into the camera and narrates, but the teleprompter app on the iPad he carries around the whole movie like he’s a serious interviewer keeps screwing up and he can’t find a rhythm. Or doesn’t know he should have a rhythm. Really, who knows. Who cares.

The heroes in the film are either from Liberty University or Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; neither school has any direct connection with the film. Oh, right. How did I forget.

Mahoney wears around Columbia Sportswear shirts the whole movie with the tags really visible, which is something to pull off because his cameraman often can’t figure out how focus works. On a digital camera. He must have been fiddling with it.

So, yeah, you could assign Mahoney some possible earnestness but then it turns out he’s making a big show out of wearing this brand… who aren’t official sponsors so… is he maybe getting shopping points on their website. I mean, there’s even a shirt with a tag on the back brand identifying. It’s something to see. Something you shouldn’t see, sure, but something to see.

Mahoney’s best pal in the movie is David Rohl (who can’t even bring himself to agree with Mahoney one hundred percent of the time). Rohl is the cool archeologist guy in Egypt or whatever. Where he’s an archeologist doesn’t matter because the only time he takes Mahoney into a cave to look at a relic it’s a CGI recreation. They don’t go to the actual historical site. Because it’s bullshit.

Rohl appears to be the one who came up with Mahoney and Patterns of Evidence’s idea of 1500 BCE Exodus or something. Earlier than real fake historians would’ve put it. So he agrees with Mahoney on the whole God created the alphabet thing and gave it to Joseph who gave it to Moses who Jesus said wrote about him (in that alphabet but, you know, not really) and so it’s all true. The Patterns Mahoney keeps talking about are either his immaterial questions or a linear timeline. He uses the term for both, but really, the timeline thing… it’s incredible. He’s just talking about cause and effect yet can’t seem to… think his way around the idea.

I’m trying to think of anything else before I stop subjecting us all to this response. I didn’t write down all the dog whistle phrases like mainstream but there are a couple other ones. There was one moment the audience laughed when Mahoney pulled one over on the smarties and I laughed too because Mahoney says they answered a question but didn’t actually ask it, just cut their responses the way he liked. Because it’s bullshit.

If I were going to start writing about this kind of crap, I would have to create that “Bullshit” category.

Okay, last thing. Mahoney and his lousy CGI team (you can forgive the million people in the desert who’d never be able to eat long enough to get to Mount Sinai unless they went Donner). They rip off the Raiders of the Lost Ark ark. Not well. But they try. And it’s crap.

Because of course it’s crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Mahoney; released by Fathom Events.


Tell Your Children (1936, Louis J. Gasnier)

Tell Your Children, or Reefer Madness, is sort of mundanely bad. Sure, Carl Pierson’s editing somehow pads shots to make the sixty-six minute movie drag even more than it does because of the terrible script and bad acting, but the script is just dumb and bad. There’s nothing exciting about it, other than to see how the movie is going to be anti-pot propaganda without any facts or any quality in the delivered message movie. For instance, Joseph Forte’s school principal who lectures parents (and the audience) about the evils of “demon weed” marihauna… Forte’s giving the performance like he’s a cheesy villain. It’s a weird take on the character, who otherwise might have been—if not sympathetic—at least… sensible. Forte comes off like a loudmouthed dips hit.

Though no one comes through the film well. Lillian Miles and Dorothy Short are the least terrible. They’re also not amusing. Together with Thelma White, they’re the film’s main female characters. Kenneth Craig, Dave O’Brien, Carleton Young, and Warren McCollum are the men. The men get more to do, so much even though Short’s top-billed she’s got a lot less to do in the film than little brother McCollum. See, Young and White run a dope spot. People come by and smoke marijuana cigarettes, presumably paying for them at some point but the film never shows any cash changing hands between the teenage pot junkies and their older dealers. O’Brien and Miles are recruiters. They try to get the high school kids to go. They hang out at the local soda joint, where the seedy owner helps transition kids from egg creams to ganja. Again, unclear how the business actually works, except of course it wouldn’t work because Children is just sixty-six minutes of bullshit.

Craig and Short are the straight-edge kids. They don’t go to the dope spot, even though McCollum starts going daily. All these kids are in Forte’s school and he takes an interest in them—at least as far as their possible marijuana use goes, but not if there’s home abuse—and Forte doesn’t notice anything with McCollum. Neither does sister Short. Even after McCollum runs somebody over because he’s hopped up on dope. The implied marijuana crisis never comes to anything.

Because it’s a really dumb, bad script. Plotting, dialogue, pacing, everything.

Then Pierson’s editing—especially his terrible use of sound—makes it even worse.

Back to the story. Somehow straight-laced Craig ends up at the dope spot and Miles seduces him, which is fine with O’Brien because he’s got the hots for short. The trysts lead to tragedy, mostly because O’Brien’s used so much reefer he’s lost his mind.

There’s a somewhat adequate trial sequence—the film’s not competently made, but you can tell director Gasnier isn’t working in the best conditions. He’s got some decent medium and long shots, he just doesn’t have sound on them. When he goes in for close-ups and the actors are poorly delivering the script’s lousy exposition… well, Gasnier’s just possibly okay in very different circumstances; he’s very clearly not a miracle worker. Because if he were a miracle worker, Tell Your Children wouldn’t be such an inept piece of crap. Sure, it’s lying propaganda, but it’s also an inept piece of crap. The latter is way more important than the former, as it’s so inept you can’t imagine it working as propaganda.

It’s a bad movie. It’s occasionally funny in that badness, but mostly it’s just bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl and Paul Franklin, based on a story by Lawrence Meade; director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh; edited by Carl Pierson; produced by George A. Hirliman; released by Motion Picture Ventures.

Starring Dorothy Short (Mary), Kenneth Craig (Bill), Lillian Miles (Blanche), Dave O’Brien (Ralph), Thelma White (Mae), Carleton Young (Jack), Warren McCollum (Jimmy), Patricia Royale (Agnes), Harry Harvey Jr. (Junior), and Joseph Forte (Dr. Carroll).


Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018, Sam Liu)

The first act of Gotham by Gaslight is rough. It establishes Batman (Bruce Greenwood) in the Victorian era. He’s fighting with Fagin-types while “Jack the Ripper” is attacking prostitutes. Jim Krieg’s script, which will go on to impress at times, is rather problematic with the first Ripper victim. Director Liu’s already opened the film with male gaze (on a cartoon) and the whole thing just seems skivvy.

Then Jennifer Carpenter gets introduced (as a costume-less Catwoman) and Greenwood gets more to do as Bruce Wayne and Gaslight starts getting… okay. The animation is cheap and terrible, but a lot of the establishing shots are good. The smaller the scale, the better the visual. And the animation isn’t like an attempt at detail and then a fail, the animation is very, very simple. When the third act does a bunch of action, it’s a shock how well Gaslight executes it; there hasn’t been any good action until then.

The setting helps. And Krieg’s script. It gets smarter once it’s no longer about the real Jack the Ripper but about some Batman animated movie stand-in. It’s a narrative cheat, but it turns out to be fine because then the whole movie becomes a serial killer thriller. Both Greenwood and Carpenter are investigating on their own, their paths crossing, with Greenwood in and out of tights. And if Greenwood and Carpenter didn’t record their banter together, their performances are even more impressive.

Also good is Anthony Head as butler Alfred. Performances get a little less sturdy after him. Scott Patterson, for example, is fine, but Yuri Lowenthal is tiring. Grey DeLisle is annoying in both her roles. Gaslight lets the supporting cast go way too broad.

But the mystery is good. And the characters are good–at least Greenwood and Carpenter’s. There’s character development, there’s light steampunk (very light), there are even occasional neat shots from Liu.

Frederik Wiedmann’s music is another of Gotham by Gaslight’s essentials. Wiedmann gets the right mood every time (though his score does just sound like a riff on Elfman). There’s real suspense in Gaslight, real surprise. And the mystery is barely manipulative in moving the viewer through. It’s cool.

And Krieg’s pacing, in general, is good. There’s quite a bit of setup, then some longer action sequences. Those sequences involve the setting. Because Gaslight is well-conceived. It’s just not well-executed, its production values are too low. Carpenter, Greenwood, and Wiedmann’s contributions are strong enough, however, to win the day.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by James Krieg, based on the comic book by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola and the character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Frederik Wiedmann; released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Starring Bruce Greenwood (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Jennifer Carpenter (Selina Kyle), Scott Patterson (James Gordon), Anthony Head (Alfred Pennyworth), Grey DeLisle (Sister Leslie), Yuri Lowenthal (Harvey Dent), John DiMaggio (Chief Bullock), Bob Joles (Mayor Tolliver), William Salyers (Dr. Strange), Tara Strong (Marlene Mahone), and Kari Wuhrer (Barbara Gordon).


Incubus (1966, Leslie Stevens)

Incubus is the day in the life of a dissatisfied succubus (Allyson Ames) who, after killing three men in the ocean and condemning their souls to hell, decides she wants a challenge. Her sister, also a sucbus (and played by Eloise Hardt), counsels her against the impulse. But Ames won’t be dissuaded. She wants to condemn a clean soul to hell. How hard can it be.

Well, given the clean soul she comes across is recovering war hero William Shatner, turns out it’s going to be quite hard. Because Shatner has the one weapon Ames can’t defend herself against–love.

So Hardt decides to pay back Shatner for defiling her little sister with love by bringing up an incubus (Milos Milos) to assault Shatner’s little sister. Ann Atmar plays the little sister. While Shatner’s supposed to be this great guy–and he’s reasonably likable (everyone’s speaking Esperanto poorly so it’s a little hard to get attached)–he’s always abandoning Atmar for Ames. And since the film takes place over about a day, it’s a lot of abandoning. And bad things always happen to Atmar when Shatner’s gone, which he never acknowledges.

Shatner doesn’t speak a lot. He’s got a lot of lines, but they’re short. Director Stevens has some tricks to hide the Esperanto–Ames and Hardt have one scene where their mouths are blocked from view during what must have been difficult Esperanto passages. None of the actors are “native” Esperanto speakers; often acting and the actors getting their lines spoken are mutually exclusive activities. Ames is the best. She’s at least sympathetic.

Atmar ought to be really sympathetic but she’s not. Though it’s more Stevens’s script’s fault than anything Atmar does or doesn’t do with her performance. It’s a lousy part.

Great photography from Conrad L. Hall–at least when it’s not day-for-night–and terrible music from Dominic Frontiere.

Incubus’s greatest strength is its straightforward plotting at the beginning–Ames kills a guy, wants a better soul, argues with Hardt, goes for a better soul. Sure, there are a lot of scenes with Ames walking by herself around Big Sur, but Stevens has earned some goodwill after the frankly vicious killing of that first guy. It’s not really disturbing, but it implies Incubus isn’t messing around. At least, not entirely. After the demonic symbol opening titles and, you know, the freaking Esperanto, the film’s already a little goofy. For a while, it seems like it might not end up goofy.

But it’s a story about a succubus who wants to condemn a clean soul so she can become a demon–she needs to show off to Satan, who’s a giant bat in a fog machine–it’d be hard for Incubus not to be goofy.

Stevens’s script runs out of ideas fast. His direction doesn’t. While he does ignore Atmar a little too often, Stevens is otherwise high energy. It’s not always good direction, but Hall shoots most of it well so it at least looks great. And during the bumpier periods, Incubus gets by on the strange factor, which wouldn’t have been present in the same way on release. Even when things start to get real bad in the third act, there’s a pre-Captain Kirk Shatner fight scene. Unfortunately, he’s fighting Milos Milos, who doesn’t get anything to do when he first arrives, then does. Once he does, Incubus starts getting worse fast.

Milos looks like a beatnik doing a Karloff Frankenstein Monster impression. Just the walking and stature, but doing it exaggerated. Everyone in Incubus except Milos can keep a straight-face–including Hardt, who keeps one so long it ends up hurting her performance.

Again, terrible music. It’s hard to say how Incubus might’ve worked without the Esperanto, the Milos Milos, the Dominic Frontiere music. It might not even have needed better day-for-night photography.

Actually, without the Esperanto, Incubus’s script would be way too slight. Even with the Esperanto, there are those long dialogue-free passages… Sed kiu scias?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Leslie Stevens; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Richard K. Brockway; music by Dominic Frontiere; produced by Anthony M. Taylor; released by Mac Mahon Distribution.

Starring Allyson Ames (Kia), William Shatner (Marc), Ann Atmar (Arndis), Eloise Hardt (Amael), and Milos Milos (Incubus).


Ragnarok (1983)

Ragnarok is a “video [comic] strip.” There’s no animation, though occasionally there are electric crackles, just panning, scanning, and zooming across illustrations while three voice actors perform multiple roles. There are sound effects–minimal ones, which sometimes works to great effect, sometimes doesn’t. There’s no credited director or editor. The illustrators get credit, as does writer Alan Moore. It’s a shame the editor doesn’t get that credit though, because they do a fantastic job. Even when Ragnarok hits the skids, the editing is good.

The video strip is split into three chapters, with the second one just a setup for the third. The first, however, is easily the most impressive. It’s this taut space Western with a prospector and his claim under attack from a gang of hooligans. Will Ragnarok–a peace-keeping regulator–get there in time to save the prospector? The voice acting on Ragnarok is never great, but it’s better in the first part, and the hooligans (and the prospector) are all awesome. Lots of personality both in the performance and in the script.

Moore closes the first chapter with some musing about the universe, man’s place in it, and even a prospector’s song. It’s kind of awesome, which makes what follows all the more disappointing.

The common denominator for trouble is the lack of banter. It’s where Moore shows the most personality with dialogue. The second chapter, which has Ragnarok investigating a distress call and finding a super-intelligent Tyrannosaurus Rex from another dimension bent on conquering the universe, has very little banter. It has some–Ragnarok mouthing off to his computer interface, which has a heavily pixelated female appearance and the moniker Voice–but the well-spoken, psychically-powered, megalomaniac T. Rex hasn’t got any chemistry with Ragnarok. They’re both playing the straight sentient and Moore writes Ragnarok as something of a buzz kill anyway. When he’s got good company, he’s fine; without it, he’s dull.

And that dullness fully eclipses all in the third chapter–except the editing, of course–as the T. Rex finds its way to Ragnarok’s home base and wrecks havoc. Moore introduces a new supporting cast of terrible characters, from an overbearing, questionably talented commanding officer called “Mother”–it’s not clear if she’s actually mother to all the regulators (the bad guy in the first chapter was called “Father”, maybe a further adventure would’ve introduced cloning backstory)–to a dimwitted female sidekick for Ragnarok. The T. Rex appropriately calls her “Simple Jane,” so Moore was intentionally playing her as a dope? Not a good sign.

There’s a lot of lame fight “scenes,” without much detail in the illustrations, and the showdown between the T. Rex and Ragnarok leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the third chapter itself.

Still, it’s competently executed and the voice cast does work at it. It’s just a shame Ragnarok never lives up to the potential of the first chapter’s writing or does justice to whoever did the rather solid editing on the video strip.

1/4

CREDITS

Character origination by Bryan Talbot; written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Mike Collins, Mark Falmer, Raz Khan, Ham Khan, Don Wazejewski, and Dave Williams; released by Nutland Video Ltd.

Voices by David Tate, Jon Glover, and Norma Ronald.


Escape from Tomorrow (2013, Randy Moore)

Director Moore snuck cameras into Disney World (and Disneyland) to tell the story of a creepy dad who goes insane while on the last day of the family vacation. Moore, who also wrote the tedious script, has reasons for the insanity, but they’re all nonsense because Tomorrow is more about showcasing the guerrilla filmmaking and ogling. And Moore seems to know he doesn’t have a cohesive narrative, so he throws in a bunch of pointless subplots. Almost everything in Escape from Tomorrow seems to be taking a shot at Disney, but it’s more taking a shot at the culture of Disney World guests. Or the lack thereof.

As far as the guerrilla filmmaking goes… Moore’s okay as a director. Given the constraints, some of the shots are impressive. Lucas Lee Graham’s black and white photography is good, though reading about how the shots were planned months in advance as to get the light right since it was an uncontrolled environment actually makes it seem less good. Escape from Tomorrow never looks like it wasn’t digitally desaturated in post. It’s less impressive if these shots were the best they got.

Soojin Chung’s editing is awful. Again, might be Moore’s fault, might be the guerrilla filmmaking constraint, but it’s awful. Especially since it’s supposed to represent protagonist Roy Abramsohn’s descent into madness.

The ogling. Let’s talk about the ogling because it’s the inciting incident of the whole stupid thing. Abramsohn is at the park with his family. Frigid wife Elena Schuber, Oedipus complexing son Jack Dalton, and perfect daughter Katelynn Rodriguez. After being fired and not telling Schuber (she’s a bit of a nag, after all), Abramsohn starts stalking a couple teenage girls, bringing son Dalton along for the trip. Moore’s really bad at the humor in Escape from Tomorrow, starting from the first scene when Dalton locks dad Abramsohn out on a balcony. Moore plays it for Oedipus, not for laughs. Laughs would’ve been better, given the intellectual paucity of the script. Moore also bombs every other comedic possibility, which is even worse considering Abramsohn is far better playing dumb dad than potential pederast.

Now, I’m assuming the actors playing the teenage girls weren’t actually teenagers. However, Moore seems to use that excuse to turn on an exceptional level of male gaze, completely free of irony or even knowing exploitation. Again, the script is many levels of dreadful. Though original. It’s kind of original. If Moore had just ripped off The Shining, Escape from Tomorrow would’ve been much better. Instead, there are similarities and, in those similarities, the film showcases how it’s worse for being original than if it were just aping other movies.

And then there’s the whole subtext about Disney World being gross because of the white trash. Only Moore turns it up to eleven and makes the white trash example an evil disabled obese man.

Schuber is fine in a hard part. She’s supposed to be insufferable and suffering. She’s supposed to be righteous, but she’s also supposed to be frigid (Abramsohn scopes his teenage targets as consolation to Schuber shutting him down). She’s also, the film determines, an unideal example of not just a woman, but a mother.

Oh, and Moore introduces the idea she’s lying to her husband about being the son’s father. Another plot thread Moore completely drops because he’s really bad at the whole writing thing.

There’s occasionally some good music from Abel Korzeniowski. When it’s not good, it’s not Korzeniowski’s fault, it’s because the action is so dumb, nothing’s going to make it right. And by dumb, it’s usually not a dumb turn of events, it’s a failed attempt at conveying something visually. Chung is a terrible editor; Moore’s mediocre composition is the only good thing about his direction.

Tomorrow isn’t even better for being short because the second half of the film, when Abramsohn’s cheating on his wife and taking the daughter around the park to stalk the girls, drags on forever. There are like four endings to this stupid thing, each one worse than the previous.

And, what’s funny… I was onboard with it for a long time. It’s technically pretty neat, though Chung’s editing is even worse when they’re using digital effects to compensate for the shooting constraint, and it could have easily gone somewhere. Instead, it goes nowhere. Because Moore has absolutely nothing to say. Not about madness, not about marriage, not about parenting, not about Disney World. Escape from Tomorrow is a pointlessly offensive juvenile attempt at edginess.

There is no escape.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Randy Moore; director of photography, Lucas Lee Graham; edited by Soojin Chung; music by Abel Korzeniowski; production designers, Sean Kaysen and Lawrence Kim; produced by Chung and Gioia Marchese; released by Producers Distribution Agency.

Starring Roy Abramsohn (Jim), Elena Schuber (Emily), Jack Dalton (Elliot) and Katelynn Rodriguez (Sara).


Batman: The Killing Joke (2016, Sam Liu)

There’s a lot to be said about Batman: The Killing Joke, both the comic book and its animated adaptation. It’s another of Alan Moore’s unintentional curses on mainstream comics; listening to his dialogue spoken… it’s clear he was hurrying through the Batman stuff. Or Kevin Conroy just doesn’t do it right. I don’t know. Because Killing Joke is also the big deal reuniting of Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. These two guys helped legitimize voice acting in animation. It became a thing. So is Conroy supposed to be doing his traditional Batman or is he supposed to be doing what the movie needs? I know my answer, but I’m not an “Animated Series” fan. Batman: The Killing Joke is a precarious proposition.

So what’s inexplicable is why there’s this misogynistic “Batgirl” short stuck on the front. It was obviously intended to be a special feature and not part of the movie proper because Liu’s downright ambitious with the Hamill Joker stuff. The flashback stuff is all crap and Liu screws it up worse, but the Joker stuff is awesome. The Batman stuff sucks. It’s earnest though, it earnestly sucks. The Batgirl opening, with dreadfully cheap animation (especially compared to the “feature” portion of the film), clearly has a story behind it. Like it was entirely farmed out and there’s some terrible overseas meninist who wanted to tell this frankly disgusting story about Batgirl being incapable as a superhero because she’s a woman. The dialogue’s real bad too. Screenwriter Brian Azzarello has some almost quite good lines in the feature, so it probably wasn’t him. It’s very cartoony, very simple language, short sentences. I’m not even sure it’s really Conroy voicing Batman, he doesn’t talk enough. And then in the feature, he can’t shut up.

Batman: The Killing Joke is far more controversial out of stupidity than anything else. If the “Batgirl” short really was something crappy your overseas studio’s C unit threw together in two weeks and the first draft of the script actually features a period joke, hire someone else. Hire anyone else to rewrite it. Because it’s really nasty and if it were actually what Killing Joke were doing–reconfiguring the entire Batman mythology in a really cheap animation style, which is what the “prologue” implies, Killing Joke would be worth talking about seriously as a film, as an adaptation of a watershed (intentional or not) moment for comic book brands. It’d be important. But it’s not. It’s a crappy, cheap, terrible prologue. And the producers don’t even have the stones to lay blame. They actually let Liu and Azzarello on the hook for it. I mean, the opening twenty-eight minutes of Killing Joke are some of the worst minutes of animation I’ve seen. There’s no visual rhythm. There’s objectification of Batgirl, who’s a cartoon. There’s a gay stereotype sidekick. There’s no narrative rhythm either. It’s like there’s an app for randomly generated screenplays with nods to social relevance and buzzwords and sex (oh, yeah, the opening slut shames Batgirl).

But there’s no apology in the “feature.” There’s no acknowledgement. There’s a bridging sequence set years after the prologue where the director (Liu?) again objectifies a cartoon character and Batman then gets to ruin her night without actually talking to her because she is a slut after all. She slept with him. And he’s old enough to be her dad. What’s so strange about the prologue is it knows what it’s doing. It knows how it’s condemning her, demeaning her. It’s intentional. And gross. And not part of the actual Killing Joke adaptation. But it’s forced upon viewers as such. These DC animated movies started out with ninety minute runtimes in hopes of syndication sales down the line and they never broke that mold. Killing Joke was going to run too short. There’s an explanation for why they made these choices, but it’s not an excuse. They don’t get a pass. It’s about not taking those adaptations seriously enough. They’ve had standouts over the years, but they’ve missed a lot of opportunities in some cases and just made terrible films in others. Would The Killing Joke be worth it as a short? No. Hamill’s great. The animation is pretty good with too many exceptions, particularly the boring Batman. Conroy’s not my thing. He’s not good with the dialogue. It’s not the right casting or not the right direction, which means commercial wins over artistic there too.

Real quick–the “feature” characterization of Strong’s Batgirl (but just alter ego Barbara Gordon) is pretty lame. Azzarello doesn’t care. But he’s not hostile. She actually gets something of an arc. And Strong is worse in the feature part than she is in the opening. In the opening she’s just got a crap script. In the feature, she’s got a less crappy script but more dramatic necessity and she doesn’t bring it. Though she’s not good. Even with Azzarello’s writerly misadventures trying to ape the original comic writer’s dialogue style; she should get to chew on those lines, but she doesn’t. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except she started the damn movie as narrator–the “prologue” has very nice bookends–which doesn’t figure into the rest of the film. It hangs Strong out to dry. She went from being dumb high energy to smart low energy. I mean, as is, The Killing Joke just begs for discussion–the movie kind of one-ups Superman II, which ethically castrates the Man of Steel for eternity, by ending up implying Batgirl making Batman acknowledge his sexual attraction for her meant she should end up paralyzed so she could never know similar male affections, and never again from him. It’s weird how intentionally gross it all works. It’s like someone at Warner Animation hates Liu and Azzarello and loves they’re credited on all this nastiness. Because the feature part does all right by Strong’s character. It doesn’t do well, but it does all right. Liu does have some missteps with the implied nudity (because it’s not a cartoon if it doesn’t have nudity, you know, for kids), but he finds his footing. He’s not doing cheap butt shots like in the prologue. He’s not interested in the female character enough to do anything, positive or negative; he’s there for Hamill.

When The Killing Joke was announced, I assumed it’d be crappy. When it started, with that super-cheap animation, I wasn’t surprised. DC animated movies never surprise me with their cheapness. But the “feature” portion is better than I would’ve thought, but it’s still not good. Liu’s enthusiastic but he’s not good. He’s not creative enough, especially not considering you’re taking the super-realism of Brian Bolland and turning it into a not at all super-real cartoon. It’s all supposed to be good enough because the idea of Killing Joke as an animated movie with Conroy and Hamill is cool. That prologue is supposed to get a pass because they just had to make the movie a certain length for the theatrical screenings or something. It’s Killing Joke as a cartoon, give it a pass.

It doesn’t not get a pass because of the prologue. I mean, it won’t get a pass with that prologue, I’m not going to argue for that kind of Vanilla Sky appeasement. But its fail is in Liu’s limited imagination and fundamentally weak rendering of the story. He’s too static, he’s too faithful to the original panels and he’s utterly tone deaf with this characterization of Batman.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Brian Azzarello, based on a comic book by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis; produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Sam Register; released by Warner Home Video.

Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (The Joker), Tara Strong (Barbara Gordon / Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), Maury Sterling (Paris Franz), Brian George (Alfred) and Robin Atkin Downes (Detective Bullock).


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