Book Review: Eaten Alive, edited by Jay Slater


If you were to ask me to recommend one book to someone who is looking for an introduction to the world of Italian horror, Eaten Alive is the book that I would recommend.

That’s largely because this book was my introduction.  Way back in 2006, I came across a copy at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas and I bought it.  I bought it because, at the time, I was already into horror movies.  However, after reading the reviews and the essays in this book, I discovered that I wanted to learn much more about Italian horror.  Outside of Suspiria and a few giallos like Blade in The Dark, the first Italian horror movies that I specifically tracked down and watched were the movies that I read about in this book.  If not for Eaten Alive, I would never have seen the wonderfully macabre and disturbing Beyond the Darkness.  This was book was also my first real exposure to Lucio Fulci.  If not for this book, I never would have seen Zombi 2.  I never would have discovered the Beyond trilogy.

In fact, considering that Arleigh and I first bonded over Italian horror, it’s doubtful that I would be writing for this site if I had not made that decision to buy Eaten Alive.

As for the book itself, it’s a comprehensive overview of Italian cannibal and zombie cinema.  Along with containing information about every Italian cannibal and zombie film released in the 20th Century, it also features interviews with stars like Ian McCullough, Catriona MacColl, and GIovanni Lombardo Radice.  (Radice even reviews one of the films himself.)  The majority of the films are reviewed by Jay Slater but there are also contributions from writers like Ramsey Campbell and Lloyd Kaufman.  (In fact, Kaufman writes a rather stirring defense of one of the more controversial films to be found in Eaten Alive, Cannibal Holocaust.  Campbell, meanwhile, thoroughly destroys Nights of Terror.)

Seriously, if you’re interested in learning more about Italian horror or if you’re already a fan, this book is a must!

Let’s Talk About Sharknado 4!


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Last Sunday night saw the premiere of Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens!

For the fourth year in a row, SyFy and the Asylum allowed us to take a peak into the shark-filled life of Finn Shepherd (Ian Ziering) and his family.  Also for the fourth year in a row, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film was practically a national holiday.  Long before the film even started, #Sharknado4 was the number one trending topic on twitter.  I actually live tweeted the film twice, once for the east coast and then a second time for my friends on the west coast.  That’s right — I sent out over 300 tweets about Sharknado 4 on Sunday and I’ve never been more proud of myself.  Live tweeting the latest Sharknado is a lot like wishing someone you barely know a happy birthday on Facebook. It’s a part of the ritual of social media.  It’s like the Internet’s version of a Thanksgiving parade or a 4th of July fireworks show.

After four films, it’s easy to forget that Sharknado started out like almost any other SyFy film.  The first Sharknado film featured no celebrity cameos and very little of the self-referential comedy that has come to define the series.  In fact, I didn’t even see Sharknado when it first aired because it premiered, opposite a Big Brother eviction show, on a Thursday.  It was only on Friday morning that I discovered that Sharknado had become a phenomena, largely due to the fact that celebrities like Mia Farrow had decided to live tweet it.

After all this time, it’s easy to forget just how much we veteran live tweeters resented that attention that was paid to celebrities like Farrow, the majority of whom were virgins as far as live tweeting SyFy was concerned.  (The fact that the majority of Farrow’s Sharknado tweets weren’t that good only added insult to injury.)  The media acted as if those celebs had invented live tweeting.  They also acted as if Sharknado was the first entertaining and over-the-top film to ever premiere on SyFy.  Among those of us who had been live tweeting SyFy film long before the premiere of Sharknado and who had loved pre-Sharknado movies like Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Shark Week, there was more than a little resentment.

But you know what?  I watched Sharknado the following Saturday and I had a great time live tweeting it.  The next year, I made sure to watch and live tweet Sharknado 2 the night that it premiered.  The same was true of Sharknado 3 and I even ended up casting a vote on the question of whether or not April should survive that film’s cliffhanger.  With its cheerful absurdity and determination to continually top the glorious absurdity of each previous entry, the Sharknado franchise won me over.  In fact, the franchise won over not only me but hundreds of thousands of other viewers.  Sharknado has become very much a part of our culture.

As I mentioned above, Sharknado 3 ended with a cliffhanger and that alone indicates just how big a deal Sharknado has become.  Sharknado 2 was made because the first Sharknado was an unexpected success.  Sharknado 3 followed because Sharknado 2 had proven that the first one was not a fluke and that there was an audience for these films.  However, by the time 3 was in production, there was never any doubt that there would be a Sharknado 4.  Sharknado 4 also ends with a rather abrupt cliffhanger, leaving little doubt that there will be a Sharknado 5.  At this point, not doing another Sharknado film would be the same as canceling summer all together.

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As for what Sharknado 4 was about … well, does it really matter?  At this point, we know that there’s going to be another sharknado and that Finn is just going to happen to be nearby when it strikes.  We know that landmarks will be destroyed (in this case, Las Vegas is thoroughly ravaged during the film’s first 30 minutes).  We know that Al Roker will show up and say stuff like, “There are reports of a Lightningnado near Kansas…”  (Both Roker and Natalie Morales apparently survived being attacked by sharks during Sharknado 3, though Morales does have an eyepatch in 4.  Matt Lauer is nowhere to be seen so I assume he wasn’t as lucky.)  We know that celebrities will appear in a cameos and that the majority of them will be promptly eaten by a flying shark.  We know that Finn and his family will eventually have to use a chainsaw to battle the sharks and we know that at least one person will be rescued from the inside of a shark’s stomach.

We don’t really watch a movie a like Sharknado 4 for the plot.  We watch it for the communal experience.  Last Sunday was Sharknado Day and it seems like the entire world was on twitter, talking about Sharknado 4.  The majority of us weren’t tweeting about the plot.  Instead, we were acknowledging that we had picked up on the in-jokes and the references to other films.  When April (Tara Reid) showed up alive and was revealed to now by a cyborg, many references were made to the Terminator — both in the film and on twitter.  When we learned that David Hasselhoff has been rescued from the moon, it was time to make jokes about The Martian.  When it was announced that a sharknado was headed towards Kansas, I made a Wizard of Oz joke on twitter.  Three minutes later, in the movie, a house fell on a character who could charitably be called a witch.  We briefly got a shot of her feet sticking out from under the house.

(I should also mention that Gary Busey shows up, playing a mad scientist.  The fact that Sharknado 4 could find prominent roles for both the Hoff and the Busey says a lot about what makes this franchise so endearingly entertaining.  Considering that Penn Jillette was in Sharknado 3, you have to wonder if the franchise will eventually feature every single person who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice.  Who doesn’t want to see a flying shark bite off Piers Morgan’s head?)

(Actually, as long as I’m mentioning stuff — here’s my favorite inside joke.  Finn and his family are driving through North Texas.  Just judging by the hills and the mountains in the background, this scene was not actually filmed in Texas.  Anyway, they stop off at a general store where Dog Chapman — the bounty hunter — sells them a chainsaw.  When the sharks attack Texas, a chainsaw-wielding army is waiting for them.  Among that army is Caroline Williams, who starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  On the one hand, everyone viewing will immediately get the chainsaw joke.  But only the dedicated horror fans will truly understand why it’s so brilliant that Caroline Williams was credited as playing a character named Stretch.)

At this point, the Sharknado franchise is no longer just a series of films.  Instead, it’s a deliriously over-the-top experience.  In these times of partisan rancor, it briefly did not matter if you were a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican.  For two hours on Sunday night, if you were watching and live tweeting Sharkando 4, you were a part of a gigantic family, a community of people with an appreciation for over the top silliness.  Sharknado 4 brought this country together.

That’s not bad for a film about a bunch of flying sharks.

If you missed Sharknado 4 the first time, catch it when it’s shown again.  Just make sure that you watch it with a friend, someone who you can trust to make you laugh.

And, for God’s sake, enjoy yourself!

Life’s too short not to enjoy a Sharknado film!

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Pop Up Fly: SQUEEZE PLAY (Troma 1979)


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Welcome to the wacky, wonderful world of 70’s sexploitation comedies. Today we’ll be dealing with two Great American Obsessions: boobs and baseball! (Actually, it’s softball here, but why quibble).  SQUEEZE PLAY is brought to you by Lloyd Kaufman and his team at Troma Entertainment, the folks responsible for such cinematic gems as THE TOXIC AVENGER and CLASS OF NUKE EM HIGH. Let’s slide right into the plot of the movie, shall we?

SQUEEZE PLAY is your basic Battle of the Sexes romp. The Beavers are the champs of the Mattress Workers Softball League, and the guys on the team have been ignoring their women folk for softball. This is causing much friction between them (and not the pleasant kind!), especially our two leads, team captain Wes and his fiancée Samantha. Things change when Mary Lou, a pretty heiress on the run, comes to town and demonstrates a killer arm (seems…

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For Your Consideration #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (dir by James Gunn)


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As of right now, as far as I’m concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film of 2014.

Now please understand, I live in fly-over country and that means that there’s still quite a few films that I need to see.  Next week and through the new year, I plan to see Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Wild, and quite a few other films.  And any one of those films could, potentially, become my new favorite of 2014.

But, as of right now, Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite.

Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that will ever get a major Oscar nomination.  It’s unfairly dismissed as being pure entertainment or just a summer blockbuster.  A few critics group have been nice enough to mention it but, for the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that’s going to be given serious consideration for the big awards.

Except, of course, by me.

Below are ten reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy deserves serious consideration:

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1) Never underestimate the importance of escapism.

Usually, when a film is described as being “escapist entertainment,” it’s a back-handed compliment.  The implication is that the film may be entertaining but it has nothing to do with real world issues and therefore, it’s not as important as other films.  We’re allowed to enjoy it but we’re supposed to feel guilty about it.

But you know what?

Sometimes, we need to be able to escape.  That was certainly true this year.  2014 will not be remembered as a great year for humanity.  From January to December, it’s been an endless parade of cruelty and intolerance.  And no, we should never pretend that we live in a perfect world.  We need to be aware of what’s happening outside of our own little corner of the world.

But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t earned the right to escape for 122 minutes.  In fact, I would argue that 122 minutes of pure entertainment is something that we need to make time for if we are going to remain strong enough to face and perhaps change the realities of the world.

In short, when I walked out of the theater after watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I felt better than when I had first taken my seat.  I felt happy.  I felt enthusiastic.  I felt ready to face this fucked up world of ours.

There is a place for pure, unadulterated escapism in cinema.

Not every film has to be a somber, self-important mess like Man of Steel.

Thank God.

2) The unappreciated subtext of Ronan

However, Guardians of the Galaxy is not pure escapism.  Much as in this case of The Purge Anarchy and Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, there is a deeper subtext to the film.  You just have to be willing to look for it.

One of the more frequent complaints about Guardians of the Galaxy is that the villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), isn’t particularly interesting and it is true that, when compared to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Iron Man’s villains, Ronan does seem to be a bit bland.  His goals and his motivation are pretty simple.  He destroys stuff and he kills people.  Why?  Because he’s the bad guy.

But, let’s take a closer look at Ronan.  Ronan is a fanatic who believes that only his way is the correct way and only his beliefs are pure.  Anyone who has different beliefs must be unpure and therefore, if they don’t agree to convert to his way of believing, Ronan is justified in destroying them.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

For all the complaints that Ronan was a one-dimensional villain, the same can be said of Joseph Kony, Kim Jong-un, and Jihadi John, and Fred Phelps.  The same can be said about a lot of evil people but that does not make them any less evil or dangerous.  Ronan may be a simple villain but he’s also the type of villain that we can find all over the world.

The one thing that all Ronan-style fanatics have in common is a complete lack of imagination and humor.  When Peter Quill stood up to Ronan by dancing, it was more than just a crowd-pleasing scene in a big action movie.  It was a call-to-arms to not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the Ronans of the world.  It was a plea to not let the fanatics among us steal our imagination and our right to find joy in our own individual way.

In short, it was a lesson that the entire world needs to learn.

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3) I Am Groot

Yes, yes, I know.  At this point, we’ve all had to listen to hundreds of friends, relatives, and strangers who have gotten it into their heads that they can perfectly imitate Vin Diesel saying, “I am Groot.”  But, seriously — there’s a reason why everyone fell in love with that catch phrase and that’s because both Diesel and the film do more with those three words that most actors can do with a four-page monologue.

And if you didn’t tear up when you heard, “We are Groot,” then I’m sorry.  You may be too cynical for your own good.

4) Introducing … James Gunn!

If you’ve read my review of Super or Arleigh’s review of Slither, then you know that James Gunn has long been a favorite of ours.  One of the joys of the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has been watching him become a favorite of everyone else as well.  And he deserves every bit of that success.  Working within the confines of the summer blockbuster genre, Gunn has created a film that works as both a superior action movie and as a quirky comedy.  With Guardians, James Gunn proved that it is possible to make a mainstream film without selling out your own individual style.

5) Introducing … Chris Pratt!

Even before he played Peter Quill, Chris Pratt was one of those actors who I have always been happy to see on screen.  He just has such a naturally likable presence.  But nothing he had done previously had prepared me for the pure joi de vivre that he brought to the role of Peter Quill.  Whether he was trying to convince people to call him Star-Lord or hilariously attempting to “rally the troops” or daring Ronan to a dance-off, Chris Pratt was a joy to watch.  If nothing else, Guardians of the Galaxy is the film that proves that Chris Pratt is a star (perhaps even a Star-Lord).

6) And let’s not forget Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro

Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro are both such quirky and unpredictable actors that I’m always happy to see either one of them on screen.  Having both of them in one movie is even better.  Rooker is perhaps the only actor alive who could not only be believable as a blue-skinned alien with an Alabama accent but who could also make that character into one of the most compelling in the film.  As for Del Toro, I know that his defiantly eccentric performance was controversial but personally, I loved the strange energy he brought to all of his scenes.

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7) And …. everyone else!

One thing that I really loved about Guardians of the Galaxy is that there were no wasted roles.  Every character — from Peter to Zoe Saldana’s Gamora to John C. Reilly’s upright military guy to the people who only had a line or two — felt real.  For a lot of viewers (including me), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was an easy favorite.

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However, if I had to pick a best performance, I’d go with Dave Bautista as Drax.  Bautista did so much with so little.  As written, Drax is a physical dynamo with a need for revenge and absolutely no sense of humor.  That’s a pretty standard character for a film like this.  However, Bautista did so much with that character that poor, literal-minded Drax ultimately became one of the most intriguing characters in the film.  My favorite Drax moment came when, in response to hearing that everything goes over his head, he explained that nothing could go over his head because he would reach up and grab it.

8) That soundtrack

I have to admit that I didn’t care as much for Interstellar as some people did.  One of my big problems with the film came down to Hans Zimmer’s score.  It was so loud and overbearing that I actually found myself covering my ears.  But what really bothered me was how unnecessary it was.  Whenever Matthew McConaughey or Anne Hathaway made a profound statement or the spaceship started to shake, the music would suddenly blast in my ear.  It was like having Hans Zimmer in my head, repeatedly shouting, “IMPORTANT!  IMPORTANT!  EXCITING!  EXCITING!”

BLEH!

And it made me appreciate how much I loved the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy.  By using songs that you would never expect to see in a science fiction epic, that soundtrack both mocked the genre’s natural tendency towards self-importance and also forced us to take another look at familiar scenes.  From the minute Peter started dancing to Come and Get Your Love, I knew that I was watching a special movie.

9) The Prison Break

From planning to execution, this was without a doubt one of the best action sequences of the year.  From Rocket laying out his overly complicated plan while Groot tries a much simpler method in the background to Peter asking for the guy’s leg to the use of The Pina Colada Song, this was a perfect scene.

10) And finally … Dancing Groot!

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And those are just a few reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film I’ve seen this year so far.

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(For a differing opinion, check out Ryan’s review here.)

 

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Guardians Of The Galaxy”


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Here’s a question I can’t see any rational human being asking themselves, but apparently someone did : what would happen if you took bog-standard Marvel Studios super-hero fare, threw in a couple dozen extra jokes, and scooped a heavy layer of incredibly lame ’70s “power-pop” numbers like “Please Go All The Way” and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” on top?

The answer, of course, is director James Gunn’s newly-released Guardians Of The Galaxy, and if I’d been that hypothetical irrational person I just alluded to maybe I’d be a couple million bucks richer thanks to this film rather than sitting at home writing a review of it. So kudos to you, whoever you are, for your idea to bring this C-grade (at best) team of also-rans from their frequently-cancelled printed pages (there have been, what? Four or five Guardians  series to this point, and none has lasted more than a couple of years) to the big screen and making DisMar — a studio that has apparently entered “too big to fail” territory — hundreds of millions in box office receipts. I hope they compensate you handsomely, though given their track record I wouldn’t bet on it.

As for the rest of us, well — if you like this sort of thing, then this will be the sort of thing you like, but if you don’t, you won’t find much here over and above what you’ve already come to expect, despite the best efforts of Gunn (who also co-wrote the script with Nicole Perlman) to inject a little bit of personality into the proceedings. Any Troma alumnus who makes it to the big leagues like this (which reminds me, be on the lookout for a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo from Lloyd Kaufman — oh, and one from Rob Zombie, too — and one from Nathan Fillion — and one from — well, you get the point here) deserves a pat on the back, to be sure, but there’s only so much our intrepid former low-budget maestro can do in the face of Marvel’s juggernaut-by-the-numbers style of production. Truth of the matter is, take out those couple dozen extra jokes and horeshit songs I mentioned and this thing is completely indistinguishable from its peers like Iron ManThe Avengers, or Captain America. Not that many folks seem to mind — but we’ll get to the sociological implications of this flick in due course.

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First off, credit where it’s due : Chris Pratt has displays admirable “regular-guy charisma” as Peter Quill, the self-proclaimed “Star Lord,”  leader of our planet-hopping mercenary crew; Zoe Saldana continues to her series of impressive acting turns as Gamora (and looks damn good in green body paint);  pro wrestling star Dave Bautista showcases a surprising level of humanity for a bulky alien brute;  and Bradley Cooper brings a fair degree of enthusiasm to his voice-over work for Rocket Raccoon. Vin Diesel could probably be said to do a decent enough job as Groot, the living tree, as well, but I think he just recorded one line that they play over and over again in an endless loop, so let’s not go too overboard in praising his efforts.

Anyway, the cast is good — even if its two most accomplished members, Glenn Close and John C. Reilly, are given precious little to do — but the material they have to work with is positively atrocious, and you know the old line about trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. By and large the “humor” in this film feels forced and pre-planned (“okay, it’s been two minutes — time for another semi-snappy one-liner”), and when Gunn tries to play it straight, the emotional “beats” he’s going for fall flat and and hit the ground with a thud. Some of the pseudo-momentous dialogue in the “important, character-defining” scenes is so strained I literally had to wince. Ladies and gentleman, this script is just plain bad.

It’s also incredibly simple and, frankly, hackneyed. At the end of the day all we’ve got going on here is a regulation-issue “misfits forced by circumstances to work together and find their inner heroism”-type story, with a dash of “keeping a dangerous object out of the hands of the wrong people” thrown in for good measure. All the CGI in the world (and frankly some of that is surprisingly half-assed given this flick’s enormous budget) can’t cover that fact up, nor can all the precisely-timed melodrama, cribbed-from-a-greeting-card catch phrases, or mega-noisy battle sequences. I give Gunn props for trying to bluff his way to being the last guy at the table, but in the end he can’t do much about the fact that Marvel has dealt him an empty hand. Shoot — his two most interesting characters are pieces of computer animation that aren’t even really fucking there.

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I do believe the director and his cast tried their best to incorporate some heart into their beast — the kind of heart that Rocket’s creator, Bill Mantlo (and please, I implore you, do what I did and donate the same amount of money you paid for a ticket to this movie to help pay for Mr. Mantlo’s continued medical care by visiting gregpak.com/love-rocket-raccoon-please-consider-donating-to-writer-bill-mantlos-ongoing-care/ —- last I heard, Marvel’s not giving this guy a dime) always brought to his scripts — but the “Marvel Method” for films is as set in stone as it always has been for comics : give the punters the illusion of something different, but for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, make sure you’re not actually doing anything truly different at all.

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I’m slowly coming to a depressing conclusion, though — maybe the problem isn’t everyone else, maybe it’s me. The entire goddamn world is part of the Merry Marvel Marching Society now, and try as I might, I just can’t get on board. When Gunn shows Stan Lee behaving like a lecherous old creep in Lee’s studio-mandated cameo this time around, the audience in the theater howled with laughter and all I could think was  “hey, wait a minute, don’t they get it? This is what the guy is really like!”

And then it occurred to me — maybe they do get it, they just don’t care. Yeah, Lee is a rather slimy individual who takes a lot more credit that he deserves for pretty much everything, and yeah,  he’s left a trail of destitute and broken actual creators in his wake, and sure,  he even stole the idea for “his” Stiperella TV show from an honest-to-goodness stripper who he regularly spent all that money he earned from other people’s labor on, but — Stan Lee “won.” And American society loves a winner, right? We barely blink an eye when Wall Street scumbags fleece us out of trillions of dollars in order to save them from a mess they created by dint of their own greed and hubris, but when poor single mothers get  a paltry $200 a month, we’re up in arms. We even have the temerity to call them “takers,” while referring to those just-mentioned white-collar crooks as “the productive class.”

Yeah, they’re so “productive” that they can’t even run banks that make a profit while getting free money from the rest of us in one hand and charging us interest with the other. But I digress. America is no longer a nation that roots for the underdogs, or the “have-nots” — we’re too busy giving everything we’ve got the the “already-haves.” And maybe it’s high time I learned to check my brain in at the door and play along. It would save me a lot of grey hair and I’d probably find it really easy to make new friends.

What kind of friends would I be making, though? The folks in the theater I saw Guardians Of The Galaxy at laughed at every one of those cookie-cutter one-liners I was bitching about earlier. They got lumps in their throats at all the plastic-passioned “emotional turning points.” They hooted and hollered at the pre-determined outcomes of every generic battle. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, exactly when they were supposed to do it — and all I wanted to do was stand up and scream at the top of my lungs : “Dear God, is this really all you fucking people want?”

Apparently, it is.

Trailer: Guardians of the Galaxy (2nd Official)


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As promised by James Gunn over three days of teasing this trailer over the weekend we finally have the latest trailer from his upcoming addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Guardians of the Galaxy.

The trailer seems to expand more on some of the scenes shown in the firs trailer and still keeping most of the plot outside of the “losers team-up against Ultimate Evil” being introduced with this trailer. We do get something that people have been wondering about since the first trailer and that was how would Rocket Raccoon and Groot would sound. It’s still weird hearing Bradley Cooper’s voice come out of a suited-up raccoon, but Vin Diesel definitely nailed it as Groot. Though that’s not saying much.

We get a few more brief glimpses of Ronan the Accuser and, what should make hardcore comic book fans smile from ear-to-ear, the severed and floating head of a Celestial (2100 foot Godlike cosmic beings) that either will serve as the home base for the Guardians or for the Collector (Benicio Del Toro’s character).

It’s still a couple months away, but Guardians of the Galaxy seems to be getting the tone of Marvel’s cosmic side just right. We still haven’t even seen Michael Rooker’s Yondu character.

Guardians of the Galaxy is set for an August 1, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Guardians of the Galaxy (1st Official)


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“What a bunch of A-holes.”

It’s finally here and though one had to sit through Bill O’reilly talking with Jimmy Kimmel. For some such a chore was worth the wait.

Marvel Studios’ entry into the very busy 2014 Summer Season will be the James Gunn-directed space opera called simply: Guardians of the Galaxy.

It has Rocket Raccoon and that’s all I needed to see.

Guardians of the Galaxy is set to unleash itself on the public on August 1, 2014.

A Quickie From Lisa Marie: Lollilove (dir. by Jenna Fischer)


In the role of Pam Beesley on the American version of The Office, Jenna Fischer has served as a role model for artistic, red-haired receptionists everywhere. (I write this, of course, as an artistic, red-haired receptionist.)  However, before she played Pam on a sitcom disguised as a documentary, she played herself in 2004’s Lollilove, a satire disguised as a documentary.

Lollilove tells the story of Jenna and James Gunn (played by Fischer and her then-husband, Slither director James Gunn), a young, idealistic Hollywood couple of decide that they want to do something good for humanity.  After giving it a lot of thought (at one point, we see that Jenna has written “Charity is hard!” in all caps in her diary), Jenna and James decide that their purpose in life is to pass out lollipops to the homeless.  Recruiting Hollywood friends like Judy Greer, Jason Segal, and Linda Cardellini (all playing themselves), they set out to make their dream of homeless people sucking on lollipops a reality.

Clocking in at a brisk 64 minutes, Lollilove is like the Office’s slightly more psychotic cousin.  In the best tradition of transgressive art, Lollilove is fully committed to its ludicrous story and, to its credit, it never wavers from pursuing its story to its ludicrous (if all too believable) ending.

A large reason why the movie works is because of the lead performances of Fischer and Gunn.  Lollilove probably features Fischer’s best work outside of the Office and Gunn proves himself to be as good an actor as a director.  Both of them bring a manic sincerity to their crazed alter egos.  Mention should also be made of the homeless of Los Angeles who play themselves in the film’s final scene.  Yes, when the “fictional” Gunns hand out their inspirational lollipops, they’re giving them to the real homeless. 

And, it must be said, some of the homeless do seem to appreciate the gesture.

(As an added bonus: Lloyd Kaufman has a cameo in which he plays a priest and it has to be seen to be believed.)

My Top Ten Books About The Movies


I love movies and I love books so I guess it would stand to reason that I love books about movies the most of all.  (I also love movies about books but there are far fewer of those, unfortunately.)  Below are my personal favorites.  I’m not necessarily saying that these are the ten greatest film books ever written.  I’m just saying that they’re the ones that I’m always happy to know are waiting for me at home.

10) Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture by Theodore Gershuny — This is one of the great finds of mine my life.  I found this in a used bookstore and I bought it mostly because it only cost a dollar. Only later did I discover that I had found one of the greatest nonfiction books about the shooting of a movie ever written!  Gershuny was present during the filming of a movie called Rosebud in the early 70s.   I’ve never seen Rosebud but, as Gershuny admits, it was a critical disaster that managed to lose a ton of money.  The book provides a fascinating wealth of backstage gossip as well as memorable portraits of director Otto Preminger and actors Robert Mitchum (who was originally cast in the lead role), Peter O’Toole (who took over after Mitchum walked off the set), and Isabelle Huppert.   If nothing else, this book should be read for the scene where O’Toole beats up critic Kenneth Tynan.

9) Suspects by David Thomson — A study of American cinema noir   disguised as a novel, Suspects imagines what would happen if George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life fell in love with Laura from the movie of the same name.  Well, apparently it would lead to Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond having an affair with Chinatown’s Noah Cross and to one of George’s sons, sensitive little Travis, getting a job in New York City as a Taxi Driver.  And that’s just a small sampling of what happens in this glorious mindfuck of a novel.

8 ) Profondo Argento by Alan Jones — Long-time fan Alan Jones examines each of Dario Argento’s films (even Argento’s obscure historical comedy The Five Days of Milan) and proceeds to celebrate and (in many cases) defend Argento’s career.  Jones also interviews and profiles several of Argento’s most frequent collaborators — Daria Nicolodi, Asia and Fiore Argento, Simon Boswell, Claudio Simonetti, Keith Emerson, George Romero, Lamberto Bava, Michele Soavi, and many others.  Jones’ sympathetic yet humorous profile of Luigi Cozzi is priceless.

7)  Spaghetti Nightmares by Luca Palmerini — Spaghetti Nightmares is a collection of interviews conducted with such Italian filmmakers as Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci, and others.  Among the non-Italians interviewed are Tom Savini (who, as always, comes across as appealingly  unhinged) and David Warbeck.  (Sadly, both Warbeck and Fulci would die shortly after being interviewed.)  What makes this interesting is that, for once, Argento, Fulci, et al. are actually being interviewed by a fellow countryman as opposed to an American accompanied by a translator.  As such, the subsequent interviews turn out to be some of the most revealing on record.

6) Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford — Landis and Clifford’s book is both a history and a defense of the old grindhouse theaters of New York City.  Along with describing, in loving and memorable detail, some of New York’s most infamous grindhouses, they also write about some of the more popular movies to play at each theater.  Along the way, they also offer up revealing profiles of such legendary figures as David Hess and Mike and Roberta Findley.  Reading this book truly made me mourn the fact that if I ever did find myself in New York City, I won’t be able to hit the old grindhouse circuit.

5) Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower — Fulci has always been a terribly underrated director and, indeed, it’s easy to understand because, in many ways, he made movies with the specific aim of alienating and outraging his audience.  It requires a brave soul to take Fulci on his own terms and fortunately, Stephen Thrower appears to be one.  Along with the expected chapters on Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy and on Zombi 2, Thrower also devotes a lot of space to Fulci’s lesser known works.  Did you know, for instance, that before he became the godfather of gore, Fulci specialized in making comedies?  Or that he also directed two very popular adaptations of White Fang?  Thrower also examines Fulci’s often forgotten westerns as well as his postapocalyptic sci-fi films.  And, best of all, Thrower offers up a defense of the infamous New York Ripper that, when I read it, actually forced me to consider that oft-maligned film in a new light.  That said, Thrower does admit to being as confused by Manhattan Baby as everyone else.

4) Immoral Tales by Cathal Tohill and Pete Toombs — Tohill and Toombs offer an overview of European “shock” cinema and some of the genre’s better known masters.  The book contains perhaps the best critical examination of the work of Jean Rollin ever written.  The authors also examine the work of Jesus Franco and several others.  This is a great book that reminds us that the Italians aren’t the only ones who can make a great exploitation film.

3) Eaten Alive by Jay Slater — This book offers an overview of the Italian film industry’s legendary cannibal and zombie boom.  Along with reviewing every Italian movie to feature even the slightest hint of cannibalism or the living dead (this is one of the few books on Italian cinema that discusses both Pasolini and Lucio Fulci as equals), Eaten Alive also features some very revealing interviews with such iconic figures as Catriona MacColl, Ian McCullough, and especially Giovanni Lombardo Radice.  Radice, in fact, also contributes a memorable “guest” review of one of the movies featured in the book.  (“What a piece of shit!” the review begins.)  Memorable reviews are also contributed by Troma film founder Lloyd Kaufman who brilliantly (and correctly) argues that Cannibal Holocaust is one of the greatest films ever made and Ramsey Campbell who hilariously destroys Umberto Lenzi’s infamous Nightmare City.

2) The Book of the Dead by Jamie Russell — If, like all good people, you love zombies then you simply must do whatever it takes to own a copy of this book.  Starting with such early masterpieces as White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie, Russell proceeds to cover every subsequent zombie film up through George Romero’s Land of the Dead.  Russell offers up some of the best commentaries ever written on Romero’s Dead films, Fuci’s Beyond Trilogy, Rollin’s Living Dead Girl, and Spain’s Blind Dead films.   The pièce de résistance, however, is an appendix where Russell describes and reviews literally ever zombie film ever made.

1)  All The Colors Of the Dark by Tim Lucas  — This is it.  This is the Holy Grail of All Film Books.  If you’ve ever asked yourself if any book is worth paying close to 300 dollars, now you have your answer.  This one is.  Tim Lucas offers up the most complete biography of director Mario Bava ever written.  In fact, this may be the most complete biography of any director ever written!  Lucas examines not only Bava’s life but also every single movie that Bava was ever in any way connected to, whether as a director or as a cameraman or as the guy in charge of the special effects.  This is 1,128 pages all devoted to nothing but the movies.  This is the type of book that makes me thankful to be alive and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tim Lucas for writing it.