Albert Pyun’s “Tales” Stand Tall

Albert Pyun’s “Tales” Stand Tall (photo)

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In the independent filmmaking world, Albert Pyun is a little more independent than most. Having made his directorial debut with “The Sword and the Sorcerer” in 1982 after serving an apprenticeship under Akira Kurosawa, Pyun carved out a unique niche as a director of low-budget, high-concept genre films starring casts slightly past their prime.

Some will think that’s a charitable description for Pyun, who has been derided as “the new Ed Wood,” but consider that his pairings of rap stars and action stars (beginning with the 1997 Ice-T/Christopher Lambert team-up “Mean Guns”) begat the trend Joel Silver popularized in the early naughts, and he was once just two weeks shy of directing “Spider-Man” (which he’ll explain below).

These days, Pyun’s movies rarely see the inside of a theater, but that’s made him a pioneer in another arena: streaming video-on-demand. With his latest film, “Tales of an Ancient Empire,” a spiritual “not for children” sequel to “Sword and the Sorcerer” starring the aforementioned Lambert and fellow titans of the fantasy genre Kevin Sorbo, Pyun is teaming up with Magic Rock Entertainment to bring the film directly into homes nationwide beginning on July 21st.

06172010_KevinSorboTalesofAnAncientEmpire.jpgIt kicks off with a live webcast of the film’s premiere on the eve of Comic-Con in San Diego where fans will be able to interact with Pyun and some of the cast during a post-screening Q & A via Twitter and Facebook. In the mean time, I had some questions of my own for the man about his long, unusual career.

More and more filmmakers are having to get used to the fact that their film will likely not have a theatrical release, but you haven’t had one in a while. Has that made it easier for you to embrace VOD?

When I started making films, there were only [maybe] 300 films released in the world in the entire year, so to be one of those 300, you had to jump through the hoops of making sure that the film was viable. Nowadays, with all the different platforms that are available and how easy it is for everybody to make a movie, people still need some type of a vetting process for their film and their ideas to make sure that it’s viable in the market.

I learned early on that once those other markets came online, like home video and cable, they were all viable outlets that got the film out to a much bigger audience than theatrical ever would. Theatrical is not something that filmmakers should think about initially. They should think about how to connect to their audience and then figure out what the best platform will be to connect to that audience. Theatrical is a little vanity-oriented. [Filmmakers] see it as validation it’s a real movie, and I’ve never seen that.

06222010_sowrdandsorcerror4.jpgWith “Sword and the Sorcerer” in the ’80s and “Sorcerers” in the ’90s and now this film, you seem to return to the fantasy genre every once a decade. What keeps you coming back?

I enjoy the fact that it allows you to put your imagination on the screen unbridled and I enjoy creating worlds — over half my films are about creating an entire universe that came out of my or our writers’ imagination. Last year, the film I enjoyed most was “District 9” — I like movies that transport you to a different setting and the way the stories can play out there in more imaginative ways than contemporary ones.

But you also went through a period in the ’90s where you were making some pretty gritty films usually featuring rap stars.

There weren’t many rap movies being made — I think “Mean Guns” was the first pairing of a traditional action hero, in that case Christopher Lambert, with a rapper, which was Ice-T. There were a lot of those movies after that, but I think my place in the industry has been to stay ahead of the curve in the concepts. In the late ’80s, visually, rap was pretty interesting and I liked what the music was saying, so I tried to bring that to the movies. Also, those were the first movies I tried to do digitally.

Air France lost half of the three movies that I did with Snoop Dogg and Big Pun and Fat Joe, so they had to be made from just the remnants — just half of shot movies. There was a little bit of a problem.

06172010_IceTMeanGuns.jpgYou mentioned the pairing of Ice T and Christopher Lambert, who I know is in this film as well. How do you go about casting?

First, I find a story that I want, and then look around for what would be the most [interesting] on a limited budget because I’m always on a limited budget. Generally, it’s pretty risky because they’re not things that people normally would imagine. I did a film called “Brainsmasher,” where I had Teri Hatcher and Andrew Dice Clay — that was a weird sort of mix. [laughs]. I try not think too much about the commercial side of things, just who would make the most interesting casting combination. That’s why a lot of the casts for my movies have been pretty weird, pretty interesting.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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