Category Archives: Movies

“Make Out Party” Seeks to Blast Hollywood Norms on a DIY Budget

by Legendary Lew

I become very intrigued when I see projects like this one in development.

Writer/director Emily Esperanza is crafting a DIY no-budget film that, from the looks of the pitch video, is a hybrid polyamorous child of John Waters, jd films and indie queersploitation festival movies.  They’re getting support from Full Spectrum Features, a non-profit co-producer of the project.

As the Seed and Spark website describes it, “Make Out Party is a no-budget, high-style comedy of errors that follows three vibrant characters though a day of misadventure as they set out to attend hostess Mary Woah’s Make Out Party.”

Regardless of how the final product comes out, I’ll say this: I’d be much more interested in how this type of film gets made, with its challenging ideas and blasting of accepted cultural norms, than the next high-budget, soulless Hollywood product.

If you want to help the movie get completed, contribute to their Seed and Spark campaign.

Nemesis of the Controversial Documentary “Tickled” Dies

David D’Amato speaking to Tickled co-director, Dylan Reeve at a film screening

by Legendary Lew

David D’Amato, the subject of last year’s controversial documentary Tickled has died, according to the film’s directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve with confirmation via The New York Times’ Obituary section.

D’Amato was alleged to have been behind a fetish film company called “Jane O’Brien Media,” which paid lucrative sums of money to young men for tickling films. The documentary uncovered bullying tactics and blackmail perpetrated against some of the men appearing in and assisting with the tickling fetish shorts.

With legal and even thinly-veiled personal threats against them, Farrier and Reeve set out to discover who was behind “Jane O’Brien Media.” That trail led to D’Amato who, according to Tickled, was the sole source of funding for the fetish films. D’Amato’s past disturbing criminal history was also exposed in connection with the creation of tickle fetish films.

The news of D’Amato’s death was a bit of a shock, given that Tickled was only just given a very broad release on HBO. (Last year, it was granted a limited theatrical release and available on iTunes and Amazon on Demand).

With D’Amato’s passing and personal legal threats left behind, I have a feeling more accusations may pop up. A number of posts on TKLFrat and Tickling Media Forum (TMF), two outlets for the tickling fetish community, have expressed condolences.

Others expressed no sorrow. One case in point: the post by TMFJeff, a co-founder of TMF who was on the receiving end of one of D’Amato’s lawsuits. He explained how he was practically forced to censor any discussions about D’Amato on his website, in order to keep the forum from being shut down:

Years and years ago, after he got out of jail, he sued a bunch of Internet companies including Google and Yahoo, for five million dollars. Among those named were me personally and the company that was hosting the TMF at the time. Nobody wants to be sued for five million dollars, but I wasn’t that worried because it was an obviously ridiculous suit.

But our hosting company wanted no part of it. I got a call at about 8:30 AM one day from their lawyer who said I had four hours to take down the TMF. It wouldn’t have been a huge deal, just a few days of downtime while we found a new host, but who needs that headache? So I said “What if I just put his name and alias into my spam filter, and make it impossible to have discussions about him on my site? Would that satisfy you?”

They agreed, so that’s what I did, and that’s why he’s been on the blocked list for so long.

David D’Amato may be dead, but I have a feeling some of the stories of his damage may continue to emerge.

BTW, I interviewed Dylan Reeve last year regarding the movie Tickled. Be sure to give it a listen right here.

Legendary Lew is the co-founder of The Underground Multiplex, host of “Mediatrocities” and the upcoming “Vital Media Show.” An avid collector and expert of weird movies, music and TV, he also hosts monthly rare board game nights and invites you to join us in Chicago!

 

Female Trouble The Musical?

by Legendary Lew

I’ve long been a fan of John Waters’ trashy classic Female Trouble with its amazingly crazy dialogue and situations that still hold up today.

That’s why when I first heard the Mel Henke classic swinging lounge album “La Dolce Henke” (described as a Playboy Magazine on record), I knew his wild rendition of “All That Meat” somehow fit with the film.

It’s been a few years brewing in my head, but I finally decided to make my very first musical mix combining the two great pieces. This is my way of convincing John Waters’ and others that Female Trouble should indeed become his second musical.

Hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the First Look at the New Feature “Path of Egress”

pathofegressby Legendary Lew

Trance Productions presents a new locally-made Chicago crime thriller from director Vincent Baran. Path of Egress features a large cast and, having seen some working clips of the film, looks very sharp indeed. (Full disclosure: I appear in the film briefly and am friends with leads Tyler Pistorius and Paskal Pawlicki).

From the youtube site:
A story about three close friends; Ray, a mover for a mob boss named Bub, Udjenzo, one of Bub’s best hitmen, and Leigh, Ray’s childhood friend who attempts to prove himself by providing information about the perfect heist, so perfect, that it convinces Ray to bring it to his boss. Bub, a man who never gets his hands dirty, decides to oversee the job himself. Consequently, Ray is pulled in by the FBI who make him question his friendship with Leigh.

Keep on the lookout for its appearance in film festivals this year. We will keep you updated.

 

Happy Holiday from TUGM, Plus a Movie Recommendation

Netflix Can’t Duplicate Anything from the Video Store Experience

Chicago's Odd Obsession Movies, one of the indie video stores still surviving despite Netflix and cable

Chicago’s Odd Obsession Movies, one of the indie video stores still surviving despite Netflix and cable

by Legendary Lew

Film School Rejects recently posted an interesting article by Colin Biggs, who advises Netflix to take on staff recommendations for movies instead of relying on analytics for viewer’s next entertainment choices. It’s an interesting idea and one that Netflix could perhaps give serious consideration.

I’m a former personal video consultant (yes, that was actually the title of the job I had at a video store) of almost twenty years in three different video stores. I’ve helped film and TV fans choose entertainment from 1998-2016. One of the three video stores I’ve worked in failed miserably and closed in less than two years. The other two  struggle to keep on, but they have done so, even while Blockbuster Video has collapsed all around them. So I think I can give some insight regarding Netflix and having paid employees make thoughtful recommendations to customers.

My main thought on this is, “It’ll probably suck.”  Why? Allow me to give several reasons for what would be an almost certain failure:

1.  Netflix was Built on Dehumanizing the Viewing Experience

You can argue that Blockbuster Video separated viewers from the movie theater, but Netflix took the idea one step further in this ingenious, creepy ad. Note how the Netflix customer sits comfortably, relaxed and alone in his chair while various unfocused others in the background scramble to reach the video store that shutters and darkens like a prison.

Of course, there could never be a mention that you could actually meet other film fans face-to-face in video stores or that, due to different circumstances, late fees could always be negotiated or waived. I’ve done that plenty of times to keep customers.

This personal viewer isolation was definitely in Netflix’s DNA–so much so that you could not phone nor visit Netflix regarding DVDs lost or broken in the mail. You could only email to unseen, unheard associates. Even if you wanted to work at one of Netflix’s distribution centers  across the country, finding their locations was like a search for government hangars performing interplanetary alien autopsies.

2. Any Paid Video Consultants Would Probably Not Be Allowed the Freedom to Suggest Their Own Movies and TV Choices

Netflix is now in the business of producing streamed entertainment. Despite strong attempts to de-emphasize their rent-by-mail service, the company still offers it and acknowledges the die-hards who stick to it. However, DVD subscriber membership is dropping yearly to less than 5 million today–down from almost 15 million in 2011.

Thus, it should be no surprise when DVD.com (Netflix’s mailing service) releases a YouTube ad in April and garners less than 700 hits in five months. Note how the approach is much more subdued than the 2004 ad above. There’s even a lack of voice over. Stay awake if you can.

If Netflix were to hire its own “personal viewing consultants” to guide you through different choices, what do you think the chances are they will compel employees to suggest only Netflix programming? If they are like any other place I worked for that had competition, those chances are pretty darn high.  You can also bet those unlucky consultants could only suggest what’s currently available:

“Sorry, Mrs. Haggerfield. We love that movie too and highly suggest it. However, we just removed that film from our catalog yesterday.”

Suddenly, Mrs. Haggerfield feels no less frustrated than the late video return customers in that 2004 ad.

3. Video “Clerks” Would Need to be Redefined and Respected

This point is most crucial. I will always contend that Blockbuster Video’s greatest failure was not its powerlessness against Netflix and cable. It was the lack of good, expert customer service. Yes, I am sure that many former Blockbuster clerks knew their stuff, handled unruly customers well and were competent retail employees.

However, Blockbuster Video did not value the extra knowledge of eclectic or rare finds. It didn’t make much sense for me as an employee to apply my expertise on films if a similarly positioned co-worker had no idea who the world famous filmmaker Fellini was. Knowing the “top ten” movies and having enough new releases to please every customer was enough. Eventually, though, any film fan with an ounce of curiosity will seek out something different, and the Big Blue was ill-prepared for that.

With media becoming cheaper to produce, many more independent works are being created. It’s truly impossible for anyone alive to take in all good movies and TV shows, so the knowledge of unknown or unappreciated works has more worth. Consuming so many different films from different countries over the span of 100+ years takes an enormous amount of time and money. Theater ticket prices are expensive. Include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, HBO and a host of other online/cable offerings and it all adds up. (No wonder piracy is popular). Paying a college-aged clerk minimum wage won’t cut it. Nor is it respectful of customers’ demands.

One reason Biggs’ suggestion falls short is because there’s no mention of the context in which films are viewed. As a personal video consultant, I had to answer questions like, “What film would you recommend as a suitable Halloween movie for my two sons aged 10 years and younger?” This was an actual request I fulfilled for actress Joan Cusack. (She and I eventually agreed that Jason and the Argonauts was good for her adventure-seeking boys). I’ve had rental requests for DJ dance parties, Thanksgiving family entertainment, dating–straight and gay, art galleries, business meetings, depression cures, frat parties, teachers’ research projects and more. These specific types of demands are the ones that really test you.

So what would Netflix need to have satisfactory staff recommendations? It would need very well-paid experts on different genres of film. Those persons would take no other responsibilities for Netflix, except to watch as many films/TV show  in their designated categories as possible. They would need to have the freedom to suggest works Netflix doesn’t carry, but another service might. They would need to know local independent films with limited DVD/online releases. And they would need excellent customer service savvy to care about each individual’s particular need. Netflix has a legendary business growth plan currently, but given its past history with vast catalog mail rentals, they would be foolish to try inching back. You’d be better off going to independent video stores that survived the Netflix onslaught.

lew-win_20160713_205425Legendary Lew is the co-founder of The Underground Multiplex and former personal video consultant of almost 20 years. He’s a writer, producer and host of the podcast “Mediatrocities” and the upcoming “Vital Media” series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Lessons From the Box Office Failure of Ghostbusters 2016

Courtesy: Funny or Die

Courtesy: Funny or Die

by Legendary Lew

The news is now out that the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters is a box office failure. Reports are coming in that the Sony Pictures feature, directed by Paul Feig, will end up as much as $75 million in the red.

Finger-pointing is bound to bubble up like the flasked, hate-laced goo in Egon’s laboratory and, indeed, it may be signaled by Feig’s promise to never direct any future classic movie reboots.

Well-covered on social media is the tussle between pro and anti- 2016 Ghostbusters, sliming each other with accusations of misogyny, racism and shameless pandering to women. After Cinemassacre’s James Rolfe posted a video stating he would not watch the 2016 Ghostbusters based on what he perceived (along with 1,000,000+ viewers) as a poor trailer, he was attacked in social media unfairly as being misogynist. Coming to his defense was Comic Book Girl 19 making some very good points about how the criticisms against Rolfe were misguided. About halfway during her video, she brings up more valid points regarding Sony Pictures and its enterprise, so I urge you to watch her video as it’s really worth watching:

I would like to go further, however, because we’re now wading through another flood of social media outrage on Twitter, this time over remaking Ocean’s Eleven as the new release, Ocean’s Eight, with women in the leading roles once held by George Clooney and Matt Damon.

If you’re one those numbskulls bitching about how a once male-dominated movie remake can’t be good because women, you’ve no idea what the real issue is. If we don’t get the lessons right about what’s going on with blockbusters nowadays, we’re doomed to have this social media nonsense repeat, so I would like to offer:

3 Lessons We Should Learn from the Ghostbusters 2016 Failure

1. Ghostbusters is Not Strong Movie Franchise Material

I can just hear all the clicks as people turn away from the page at this point or hurry down to breathe dragon fire in the comments, but hear me out.

If a movie is to be timeless, then it must be able to stand on its own merits over long periods of time. It’s completely reasonable to re-evaluate certain movies considered classics but showing signs of poor aging. A few examples I can think of are Gone With The Wind, The Graduate and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. (BTW, the reverse can be true as well with such movies as Buster Keaton’s The General, It’s a Wonderful Life and White Dog.)

Ghostbusters should go through an honest re-evaluation. Peter is introduced as a con-artist who delights in torturing students and is a sexual predator to female college students and eventually to Dana. Some of the special effects, such as the dogs, are great. Others look cheesy nowadays, reminding me of the now-hilarious squid attack scene in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Yes, CGI has advanced since 1984.

Egon and Ray are one-dimensional characters, a major flaw that Ghostbusters 2 tries to correct with a copycat script. And speaking of GB2, didn’t the first GB establish that the quartet of buddies were news worthy heroes in NYC and even get the mayor possibly reelected? If so, why then de-establish the GBers and have them go through the very same plot devices a second time? How many times are they going to be incarcerated or isolated before they’re dramatically called up for services when the city goes to Hell?

I find it totally understandable that Bill Murray had major trouble with the series. The first GB was mildly entertaining with some good special effects and Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis stealing every scene they’re in. Sony should have left well enough alone.

2. Sony Pictures is Remarkably Irresponsible

I agree with Comic Book Girl 19 that Sony saw the value in generating a sexist and racist fight on social media regarding GB 2016. Who thought that removing damning reviews from Sony’s YouTube account and leaving vehemently sexist and racist comments was a good idea?

This irresponsibility follows a long line of incredible blunders Sony’s made over the years. James Spaltro made the infamous claim as director of infomation security in 2007 that spending significant amounts of money in cybersecurity wasn’t necessary. Making such a claim was an unintentional challenge to hackers. Playstations were hacked four years later, causing an outage for as many as 77 million accounts. Then, in 2014 Sony went through a catastrophic hack that released private emails and personal information of many Sony employees. Some former employees stated that Sony’s cavalier attitude towards cybersecurity was a disaster waiting to happen.

The hacker group, Guardians of Peace, claimed the action and eventually caused an international incident regarding Sony’s pending release of the comedy, The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. Washington got involved when the Guardians of Peace threatened to bomb theaters showing the bomb (believe me on this, I’ve seen it).

Earlier this year, Sony settled a class action lawsuit for $8 million brought on by employees whose information was compromised in the massive hack.
If all that weren’t enough, Sony is now in the middle of another hack-related lawsuit, this time by the production company of the film  To Write Love on Her Arms. The drama, involving a teenager’s battle with drug addiction and depression, was dropped from theatrical release consideration after the hack exposed the movie to piracy online. Sony’s response so far has been to claim they “had no obligation…to take any anti-piracy measures whatsoever.” They may have the legal edge, but this sure doesn’t make them look good.

Allowing a Ghostbusters PR campaign to feed off what Comic Book Girl 19 calls a “false flag” feminist issue gave Sony hope that people would read GB 2016 as a women empowering film, when in fact, it’s simply a cynical, lazy attempt to target women for on-screen ads. This is right in line with their history of callous business attitudes.

3. Sony Pictures Really Doesn’t Give a Shit about Ghostbusters Fans

The final point is the most depressing one to me.

You can currently watch the recently released documentary, Ghostheads, which shines the spotlight on several diehard GB fans and what the movie means to them. The stories are all warm-hearted: a GB group that visits young cancer patients in hospitals; a woman who quelled her alcoholism after becoming a fan; and a few stories of how family members connected to each other, thanks to the movie.

All of these stories are good and could have made for a fine film. However, like ghosts hidden in paintings and water pipes waiting to be released, Sony’s specter hung over the entire project waiting to spring in at the right moment.
That moment came at the end of the doc, when 60 GB fans were invited to the Hollywood studio screening of the first trailer. They each received a paper certificate and a lapel pin. Now, keep in mind, the people invited did the PR work for Sony on a stalled franchise that the company had no idea what to do with for a long time. Those fans, through their work and dedication to the film they love, helped Sony make a ton of money.

A paper certificate and lapel pin? Hell, they should have been flown first class to Japan and met the president of Sony.

What I’ve posted here is not meant to discourage you from being a fan of Ghostbusters. If the movie means a great deal to you, indulge in the fantastical pleasures. Bond with your children and grandchildren as Peter, Ray and Egon set out to save NYC from ghosts. Socialize with other fans who’ve had their lives changed by the film. There’s really nothing wrong with that.

My point is that Ghostbusters is a classic case of a movie viewed as merely consumable product by a company that doesn’t care about what the movie has meant to so many millions of people. The way Sony handled this property and their own history of bad judgments prove it.

Many of us have had childhood memories and family bonding involving corporate products. Our example was dinners with Kentucky Fried Chicken, long before their current trademark change to KFC. They were fond memories, but not so much that I’m walking around dressed like the Colonel (or a chicken for that matter). The reason is that at some point, either understood immediately or occurring later, we, like most people, can separate ourselves enough from the product to have proper perspectives on how its presentation is designed to manipulate us.

But what do you do when your deep connection to a company’s damaged product is broken? In the case of KFC, I learned how unhealthy the ingredients were. The solution was easy, because there are alternatives. You can seek out other restaurants serving fried chicken or prepared in healthier ways or even make your own chicken dishes at home.

In the case of Ghostbusters, owned by a company that has a hold on your memories, who you gonna call?