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Here
are a few more glimpses at some crap from my collection
— basically I’m just skimming through the teetering piles
and randomly pulling things out for discussion in the column.
I haven’t always seen them beforehand myself, so sometimes
the films covered here will be surprises to me as well.

I’ll
be at San Diego Comic Con this weekend (July 22-25), perusing
the DVD retailer and bootlegger tables for potential material
for future columns (even though I’ve already got enough
stuff in the stacks to last another year). Also, if you
have a short film or feature that’ll be screening out there,
let me know where and when I can catch it — or better yet,
have a copy of it on DVD you can slap in my hand.

Got an interesting
film suggestion? Know of something good in the works? Just
want to tell me I’m rubbish?  Drop me a line at dave@chud.com, and
I’ll respond to any letters in future columns.

PREVENGE

Korean
writer-director Chan-wook Park came to the attention of
quite a few folks when he kicked them in the gut with his
kidnapping-gone-awry drama Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
Then he calmly picked viewers up, pulled off their arms
and jammed the jagged bone protrusions into their lobes
with his follow-up Oldboy, about a man trying
to ascertain why he was inexplicably imprisoned for fifteen
years. Brutally affecting films, to be sure. You should
track them down, posthaste.

Before
he was battering our intestines with those vindictive tales,
Chan-wook made a military thriller called JSA
(also known as Joint Security Area), set on
the dividing line between bitter enemies North and South
Korea. When the film begins, an ambitious young Swiss Army
major (who is cute but not quite pocket-size) arrives to
investigate a strange incident at a quiet border station
that resulted in the deaths of two soldiers. Acting as the
neutral mediator (as the Swiss often do, in addition to
being famous for cloying cheese, which the film also occasionally
serves), she finds herself stonewalled by the three surviving
men (including Kang-ho Song of Mr. Vengeance
and the acclaimed Memories of Murder) and
flummoxed by the evidence. But although she starts to uncover
the answers she sought, things become increasingly complex
when the circumstances and depth of the men’s relationships
slowly surface.

Unlike
many directors, who kick off their careers with a winding
character piece before moving on to more accessible big-budget
commercial fare (consider the career arc of Bryan Singer
as an example), Chan-wook seems to be on an opposite trajectory,
crafting far more challenging tales while refining his filmmaking
abilities. But despite his increasingly accomplished filmography,
JSA does not deserve to be overlooked thanks
to strong performances and gorgeous cinematography, and
a poignant observation on the ludicrousness of war, without
delving too deep into the politics of the North/South Korea
situation. Sort of a swirling version of A Midnight
Clear
with no holiday spirit and fewer chiseled
actors, the film is less a murder mystery than an optimistic
story of how friendships can form despite adversity.

Hmm…
a message of hope and tolerance? Maybe Chan-wook should
direct the next X-Men film… it would have
a few twists in it, that’s for damn sure.

YOU
KNOW… FOR KIDS!

I’ve
previously made mention of a "reverse influence" on Asian
films — as Hollywood continues to import boatloads of films
for potential remakes, Asian movies are becoming increasingly
glossy, emphasizing style over substance in an attempt to
capture the profitable popcorn crowd. I cite the recent
Japanese movie Returner as a prime example,
a whopping sci-fi flick that’s almost shameless in its desire
to be entertaining, but about as filling as a couple of
Pocky.

Before
dazzling audiences with eye-candy FX and Takeshi Kaneshiro’s
perfect hair, Returner writer-director Takashi
Yamazaki also toyed with similar themes (aliens, time-travel,
robots) in a more kid-friendly flick called Juvenile.
If you yanked out E.T.’s glowing innards and rammed a crate
of circuitry inside him, you might get something along the
lines of this feathery fun flick.

A
group of youngsters discover a crater in the woods, at its
center a small silver sphere. When this strange metallic
object reveals itself as a talking robot named Tetra, one
boy takes it home, hides it in his closet and provides any
mechanical components it requests. Before long, Tetra is
walking around and reprogramming the lad’s Playstation 2
in order to "train" him on a futuristic battle machine.
Meanwhile, an invasion by rather inept extraterrestrials
has commenced, and the children befriend a scatterbrained
scientist who assists in thwarting the attack.


Made
for the kids but still agreeable to adults, Juvenile
owes a considerable debt to Spielberg’s boy-meets-alien
flick (not to mention Close Encounters of the Third
Kind
, and maybe a little Goonies).
It’s zippy and unabashedly merchandise-ready, but the child
stars (who include a younger version of Returner‘s
cutie female lead Anne Suzuki) mercifully suppress the Annoyance
Factor, which goes a long way in a flick like this. The
slapstick tone and corny themes of puppy love and kid-empowering
wish-fulfillment (along with some gaping plot holes) obviously
concentrate on a younger audience, but Juvenile
is clean fun and intelligent enough to hold appeal for anyone
who can appreciate the Spy Kids movies and
has fond memories of The Explorers and Flight
of the Navigator
.

After
all, what kid didn’t dream of befriending an otherworldly
being (Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath included)?


PROSE
AND CONS

Thanks
to a particularly enthusiastic literature professor, I once
found myself engrossed by the works of William Shakespeare
(a "Bard buff"?) and their penchant for intricate vengeance
and bleak conclusions. But while Kenneth Branagh’s comparatively
frothy Much Ado about Nothing is perhaps my
favorite filmed adaptation, I admit Shakespeare’s antiquated
parlance can seem impenetrable, which is why I’m always
intrigued by films that offer new approaches to the material
Titus, Ian McKellan’s Richard III,
Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, etc.

The
British production Othello transposes Bill’s
racial tragedy to London’s modern day Metropolitan Police
Force, where John Othello (Eamonn Walker) is the black man
in a white environment. After quelling a race riot, Othello
is promoted to the recently vacated commissioner position,
bypassing his trustworthy best friend Ben Jago (Chris Eccleston).
While Ben appears supportive, he’s secretly steamed about
the situation and immediately begins hatching a treacherous
plot that sets his dark-skinned comrade against the love
of his life.

Longtime
TV helmer Geoffrey Sax and Bridget Jones’ Diary
screenwriter Andrew Davies efficiently ditch the original
play’s dense diction for this solid retelling, which maintains
the story’s dramatic beats. I always found Walker to be
the real standout of HBO’s penis-packed prison series Oz,
his mellifluous voice here providing Othello with appropriate
gravitas on the way to the inevitable unhappy ending, while
Keeley Hawes makes a fine object of his affection. But Eccleston
gets the meat as the deceptive villain, and his variation
of Iago spits tempestuous daggers through the fourth wall
as he schemes a circuitous revenge, making this Othello
all the more worthwhile.


A rancorous Eccleston pops up again in another contemporized
play adaptation, this time as protagonist Vindici in the
blood-soaked Revengers Tragedy. I’m not familiar
with the original 17th century work from Thomas Middleton,
but I’m assuming it doesn’t take place in the same burned-out
glam-rock future London as the film.

As
the story begins, a bus rolls into town and Vindici (Eccleston),
its sole living occupant, disembarks. Financially and emotionally
destitute, Vindici has returned after ten years to exact
revenge against the Duke (veteran Derek Jacobi) and his
five sons for poisoning his wife (and the majority of guests)
on their wedding day. Fortunately no one except his family
remembers him, so Vindici insinuates himself into the coterie
of the Duke’s eldest son and heir Lussurioso (the always-brilliant
Eddie Izzard), and begins using the brothers’ lust for the
throne against each other.

You
may remember the film’s maverick director Alex Cox – he
helmed the cult fave Repo Man and the Sex
Pistols biopic Sid & Nancy before retreating
with films like the bizarro spoof Straight to Hell
and an Akira Kurosawa documentary. His punk-styled take
on the material is enlivened by his excellent cast (though
the accents and grandiloquent vernacular occasionally necessitate
the use of DVD subtitles), with Eccleston’s cheerfully demented
nihilist and Izzard’s flamboyant sybarite at the forefront,
helping (along with a decent score by tubthumpers Chumbawamba,
who get knocked down, but they get up again) overcome a
slender budget for an inventively incongruous translation
of old material.

A
LUC AT THE PAST AND FUTURE

Long
before getting involved with lethal assassin gal Nikita,
futuristic taxi commando Bruce Willis and imminent Skywalker
parent Natalie Portman, filmmaker Luc Besson launched his
career with a no-budget black-and-white sci-fi debut called
Le Dernier Combat.

This
artful and wordless post-apocalyptic tale follows a wasteland
loner (Pierre Jolivet) as he infiltrates a nearby encampment
of bandits to seek a power source for his homemade aircraft.
Leaving his sanctuary behind, he travels to a derelict city
only to find few remnants of civilization, notably an antagonistic
marauder (common Besson collaborator Jean Reno) whose persistent
efforts to enter the stronghold of a doctor are met with
frustrating failure. Our heroic survivor befriends the doctor
and ultimately throws down with the barbaric foe for the
"prize" — not life-sustaining food or water, but a female
companion (even the proverbial End of the World doesn’t
prevent guys from thinking with their little Mad Max).

Aside
from occasional flourishes (fish storm!), Besson’s depiction
of a savage and desolate future may seem fairly standard
to anyone with a video store membership, but his presentation
is entirely dissimilar to, say, Warlords of the 21st
Century
or Hell Comes to Frogtown.
The veritable antithesis of his gaudy, impatient cosmic
opus The Fifth Element, Besson’s direction
here is deliberate, relying on creative visual compositions
and panoramas. The decision to dispense with dialogue (vocals
are an apparent victim of whatever caused a planetary cataclysm)
means his expressive actors must sell the bizarre, humorous
and poetic moments as they "discover" things we take for
granted — namely booze, speech, friendship and chicks.

With
Besson currently spreading himself increasingly thin on
the writing and producing ends of the movie business (a
dozen projects are in some stage of development), it’s interesting
to visit his comparatively relaxed, and surprisingly touching,
origins.

DRIBLETS

Some
interesting miscellany from the CHUD message boards and
beyond:


Ika: The Calamari Wrestler is a Japanese
film about a giant squid who wrestles men and mutated creatures
from the deep. At least, that’s what I’m assuming it’s about,
based on the title, trailer and website. Sometimes I wish
I understood Japanese. Other times I think I might be better
off with my ignorance. You can see the trailer HERE
or check out the site HERE.

While
we’re on the topic of insane Japanese stuff, boundlessly
energetic mad bastard Takashi Miike’s next film Izo
seems to have samurai, yakuza, time travel, gunfights
and a whole lot of weirdness (which should be assumed with
Miike, I guess). You can see the trailer HERE.

In
a way, I’m grateful Jackie Chan’s recent US releases haven’t
performed that great, because it means he goes back to Hong
Kong and works on the sort of movies that made him famous
in the first place. The resilient stuntmaster returns with
a new entry in perhaps his best franchise with New
Police Story
, which co-stars a bunch of new generation
faces like Nic Tse, Charlene Choi and Daniel Wu. Check out
the trailer HERE.

For
those awaiting the mythical "extended cut" of
director Zhang Yimou’s gorgeous historical martial arts
epic Hero, wait no longer (or just a little).
The 118 minute cut is finally now getting released in China
this month, and the three versions of the new DVD will feature
English subtitles, so plan to hit your local Chinatown or
online reseller for a copy soon.


(source: Monkey
Peaches
)

STEAM

Thanks
to all for your letters of non-hatred.
Send
me more comments, suggestions, and coupons for Russian brides
to dave@chud.com, and
I’ll reply to any letters in future columns. Thanks for
reading and writing!

After
reading about the crimes of The Monster Squad
not being available on DVD, it suddenly dawned on me that
I owned the film on Video once upon a time on VHS (PAL system)
So I took a good look in the attic and found it in near
perfect condition.

So
I sat down and watched a good old classic. the sound and
picture quality is bit sketchy for the first 10 mins or
so but apart from that its perfect.

I
am now wondering do you know if the soundtrack is available
on CD?


-Mark

p.s
The werewolf transformation sequence is one of my favourites
of all time

DAVE
SAYS
: Someone’s missing out on a lot of cash by not
rounding up DVD rights to Monster Squad, judging
by the amount of emails I got after talking about the flick
in a previous column. As for the soundtrack, I don’t think
it ever got an official release, so you’re in the same boat
as a lot of fans — I’ve seen the bootleg soundtrack at
cons, but nothing official. Give a look HERE.


And every movie would be better with Jon Gries as a werewolf.


All this international DVD talk has got me in the market
for an all region player. I’ve tried a few of the more traditional
outlets- Best Buy, Circuit City, etc.- with no luck except
a muttered "try online." My question is this: Could you
recommend any good sites to find them on, and can you suggest
a model or two that you see as wise, yet not insanely expensive,
choices. Thanks for any help you can give me.

-Steve

DAVE
SAYS
: Probably the most common question this column
creates — "How can I see all that questionably wonderful
stuff?" Well, they won’t have codefree players at chain
stores because to make most players region free, it requires
a firmware upgrade (which corporate stores are not allowed
to do as it would mean opening the box. Plus I’m not entirely
sure of the legality of altering firmware…).

I
have a Jaton and a cheap Daewoo, but the Malata models also
all seem to get good marks. HK Flix has a bunch of different
models from less then a hundred bucks, it’s just a good
idea to get a pro-scan model with proper PAL conversion.
I’ve ordered from them in the past and they’re pretty reliable.
Their site is here: http://www.hkflix.com.
Hope that helps!

I
found out about a project the other day that I just had
to pass on to you. Your underground column deals with plenty
of foreign material. Not anime, I know, but you might get
a kick out of this anyway.

Working
for an animation studio, I sometimes get some pretty strange
unsolicited emails. Usually they’re from Indian, Turkish,
or Korean companies looking to farm out animation jobs for
us.


I received a whole barrage of emails the other day from
a Korean agency (website HERE)
regarding shows in production, looking for distribution.
The one that caught my eye made me laugh enough to watch
the online trailer. Hoo boy, hold onto something and get
ready for SPACE BIBLE.

From
their website:
=====================================

Title:
SPACE BIBLE Genre: Animation Category: Religion Format:
2D-3D Type: OVA Duration: 30min x 7 Language: Korea, English
Year: 2004 Production: Hyun Young Enterprise Co., Ltd. Product
Info.

The
Bible may be a little pedantic for today’s children. The
Space Bible is constructed to overcome this barrier for
our children by reproducing the same stories as an interesting,
SF action adventure. While the 7 recreated stories are rigorously
faithful to the original stories and relate the basic religious
messages such as forgiveness and peace, they also deal with
some current issues like cloning and genetic engineering.
With the intention of global distribution, English has been
used from the planning stages of the production.


Synopsis: A long time in the future, Noah, a space scientist
received a revelation from God. God had told him to leave
Eden for another planet called Canaan. There was to be a
great expansion of the sun in which Eden would be destroyed.
To escape, Noah began to build a space shuttle with the
help of his family. Although some people made fun of him
and thought his actions ridiculous, Noah lifted off in his
new shuttle with his family, those that believed in the
revelation, and fertilized animal eggs. Soon after Noah
had left Eden, the sun suddenly expanded and destroyed the
planet. The journey to Canaan was long. After ten generations
on board the shuttle, it became very crowded. As time passed,
people on the ship except for Abraham and his family began
to forget about the existence of God and lost interest in
his words. To them, Eden was only a myth from the distant
past. After a long journey, the spaceship reached its destination.
What the people found was disappointing. Canaan was not
the paradise that they had dreamed about. People decided
to move to other neighboring planet with better living conditions.
However, Abraham and his family remained on the planet as
God had ordered. Even with the better living conditions
than Canaan, settling down was not easy on the neighboring
planets. A lot of work had to be done to develop the new
frontier. The work was dangerous and the new settlements
lacked man-power. The answer to all their problems, they
thought, seemed to be massive reproduction or better known
as cloning. People built "Placenta" for reproduction and
slowly imagined themselves as God as they reproduced workers.
The number of clones expanded astronomically. Although cloning
was seen as the answer to their labor problems, it created
a greater danger. These clones were not content to remain
as workers. They wanted to rule and control the planet system.
For their goal, the clones realized that they had to increase
the reproduction at "Placenta" and to destroy them. It was
belief that had the power to unite people of the universe
in order to defend against enemies such as "Placenta" clones.

============================

Pretty
wild, huh? Let me tell you, the sight of Space Noah (Moses?)
parting the red wormhole is something to behold.

A
link to video footage is HERE.

-
Mike

DAVE
SAYS
: Um… weird. I don’t think I ever imagined someone
saying "The Bible’s okay, but it needs more spaceships
and nebulas!"

I
wonder if they’ll start putting copies of this in hotel
rooms.


As i read your description of this film (Haute Tension),
I couldn’t help but notice the remarkable similarities betwen
the plot and the novel Intensity by Dean Koontz,
which had a hack job TV mini-series treatment done to it.
The intro sounds remarkable similar, but Dean Koontz books
have yet to have even a halfway decent reatment to film.
Wonder if you noticed this at all.

-
Ernie

DAVE
SAYS
: As I haven’t seen the miniseries (I do know the
great John C. McGinley is in it) or read the book (Koontz
causes me to snore), I can’t comment on the similarities
they might share, but you’re certainly not the only one
to notice, it turns out. Apparently when Haute Tension
screened at Sundance, the writer/director was questioned
on the topic at a Q&A and admitted he’d read Koontz’s
novel but said "The beginning is quite similar, but
it’s a classic story: two girls in a house with a killer
… It’s a tribute to all slasher films."

In
fact, someone (likely a big Koontz fanatic) has even added
a "written by" credit for Koontz on the IMDB listing
for Haute Tension (remember, IMDB is not always
entirely accurate), but to be totally honest, nothing about
the film’s setup seems so original to me that someone would
have to plagiarize it…

DOWN
BELOW

I’d
like the UNDERGROUND to also be an environment for smaller
filmmakers (in budget, scope and height – I don’t discriminate,
wee folk) to publicize their wares, particularly genre material. 
Everyone deserves a chance, yeah? After all, even Oscar
winner Peter Jackson started with an independent sci-fi
horror flick that featured spilled brains and vomit tasting. 
So if you’ve got an independent film and you want to expose
yourself, drop me a line at dave@chud.com
Put some pants on first.

 

Greetings,
Do you think you could spread the word for our little film
fest request for submissions?

My
name is Nik Palmer. I am a volunteer organizer with the
Carnage Gaming Convention. http://www.carnagecon.com

Carnage
gaming is a 3 day event taking place November 5-7 2004 at
the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT. The Lake Morey facility
is a beautiful place that includes the Lakeside Theater.
This theater is equipped with DVD and VHS projection, has
120 seats, a 10′ x 22′ wide screen and surround sound speaker
system.

As
part of the events, we will host a gaming oriented film
festival. These films and selected shorts would fall into
the following genres: Action, Animation, Fantasy (Sword
& Sorcery, Magic, Paranormal), Horror, Science Fiction

The
Carnage gaming convention typically draws about 300+ attendees
and some extra guests. Our demographic is typically male
between the ages of 20-50 and females between the ages of
20-35 with an interest in history, fantasy, and science
fiction.

Our
plan is to offer a selection of films to the attendees.
If you have a film you are interested in showing or know
of a film that would be of interest, please contact the
film festival organizers at: npalmer@clubgraves.com

Thanks
for digging into this edition of DAVE’S UNDERGROUND, be
back soon with more treats from beneath eye level. Feel
free to send any suggestions or comments to dave@chud.com!