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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.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

A Russian potato chip company’s viral twist on “Celebrity Deathmatch.”

A Russian potato chip company’s viral twist on “Celebrity Deathmatch.” (photo)

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A Russian potato chip company whose name translates as “crunch” has come up with a campaign that translates as “crunch without rules.” The formula: pit two pop culture icons against each other in pencil line drawings (they look like Don Hertzfeldt without the color), let them get all “Celebrity Deathmatch” on each other, make all the sound effects and music with your mouth.

If you’re not up on the Napoleonic Wars, it’s helpful to know that Mikhail Kutuzov was the Russian Field Marshal who defeated Napoleon in 1812 in order to make sense of this installment, but otherwise the videos pretty much speak for themselves — huzzah still dominant American pop culture!

Anyway, most of the battles in this fun group of videos are evenly matched. Some, of course, bend the rules — in the battle of “Dam Vamme vs Steven Steagal,” Van Damme is incapable of breaking a bottle on his head and ends up being an ineffectual janitor while Seagal laughs.

Given Seagal’s girth and the fact that his scenes now require him to basically stand around so that the editing can conceal the fact that he can’t move (and given that Van Damme, all things considered, is still in terrific shape), it’s unclear why this should be.

My favorite of the group is “Pac-Man vs. Mario,” which follows spatial logic that will make instant sense to anyone familiar with the classic “Super Mario Bros.” — it’s the first level, beat for beat, with a twist. For the cream of the movie-themed crop, there’s “Scream vs Broker,” which is unexpectedly timely in light of next year’s “Scream 4.”

In the original franchise, the killings were all kinds of meta-snide. Now, the “Scream” killer is out there exacting economic justice, impersonating the voice of the broker at the finale as if he were Robert Patrick in “Terminator 2.” This from a country whose rage at the economic higher classes is even greater than it is here — the joke’s barely in jest.

[Photos: the “Crunch Team Versus” marketing campaign, Red Medusa animation studios, 2010]

Five Simple Rules for Mermaid Movies

Five Simple Rules for Mermaid Movies (photo)

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Technically, Ondine — the title character of Neil Jordan’s new film — isn’t a mermaid. When she winds up in fisherman Colin Farrell’s net in the middle of the ocean, his daughter (Alison Barry) becomes convinced that she might be a selkie, a mythological seal-human hybrid of European folklore that the father and daughter take in as one of their own.

But, after all, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, and a mermaid by any other name would smell just as briny. Whatever you want to call its subject, “Ondine” certainly follows many of the rules of mermaid movies established by its cinematic predecessors. To wit, here are some rules to live by when your average Joe pulls out a mermaid from the sea (oh, and beware landlubbers, some SPOILERS be near):

06042010_LittleMermaid.jpg1) They’re about testing the possibility of impossible love.

Most mermaid movies, “Ondine” included, are about love in the face of great obstacles. They wind up working nicely as metaphors for any kind of relationship between people of different societal groups. As a mermaid and a human, Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) and Eric (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes) from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (1989) face the same sorts of problems that hound many interracial or interfaith couples: disapproving parents, societal guilt and pressure.

In the sequel “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” (2000), the always contested question of how to raise their children. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve also got to contend with storms, shipwrecks, evil witches and Faustian bargains on their way to their happy ending. Not an easy road to walk (or sea to swim) for anyone, but it’s pretty typical of the enormous odds usually stacked against mermaid/human lovers on screen.

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