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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

So, I was able to sit down for a couple of years and pump out a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.

And now, you can follow me on Twitter under the name: Stipp

This week saw Alex Billington take flight to Cannes and the raves that Pixar’s UP has been getting is far too much for me to bear as I slowly wade my way to the day when the screening happens. As well, I’m getting things together in order to bring you an interview with *the* Ari Gold from ADVENTURES OF POWER.

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LAND OF THE LOST

Couple of bits of information for you kids this week as we head in closer to the premiere of LAND OF THE LOST on June 5th. I got sent a link to an online game set up for the film and, while it doesn’t have the same panache as the online game for DAWN OF THE DEAD, it is at least worth you checking out as I will have tickets to the advance screening in Phoenix:

CHAKKER GAME:
Will, Holly, and Rick are in trouble, and Chaka is the only one who can save them! Help Chaka maneuver across the treacherous terrain, avoid contact with all kinds of Land of the Lost critters, and finally rescue his friends! Try your hand at the rescue mission at www.landofthelost.net/game and challenge your friends to join in!

GIGANTOR

gigantorv1_3d2Have any of you ever sat in wonderment at a cartoon?

I have heard in hushed whispers about the glory that is this black and white beauty of a cartoon, Gigantor and I recently had the opportunity to check out the DVD that has collected this series in one slick package and should be on anyone’s list of DVDs worth spending your money on. I think, apart from the fact that when this series came out in 1966 it was envisioning a world set in the year 2000 the show has an exuberance that is lost on most of the caffeine injected action cartoons that have been produced in the last few decades.

Forget your G.I. Joe, your Tranzor Z, this series made me reflect on what was quite possibly the wet dream of every young boy who watched this program. Yes, some of the footage obviously overlaps from one episode to the next but, please, we’ve already established that even Walt Disney reused animation from his films to be used in other films. What makes this series so nerd cool is the embrace of modern technology which, if you again realize this was made in 1966 was quite impressive. The press release follows and I couldn’t have enjoyed this trip down a memory lane I never was down before…

Never fear, the great GIGANTOR returns this spring to save the world from evil criminals, enemy robots and hostile aliens. The influential cartoon series> about a giant heroic robot and the young boy that controls him blazed a new trail for Japanese animation in America. Long unavailable on home video, E1 Entertainment presents the classic cartoon in a newly packaged 4-DVD collection of 26 uncut episodes in their original air-date order, with bonus interviews and commentary, six complete Gigantor comics on DVD-ROM, and a brand new collectible 16-page booklet. GIGANTOR: THE COLLECTION –VOLUME 1 arrives in stores May 5, for $39.98 from E1 Entertainment.

In the “future” year of 2000, young Jimmy Sparks has control of a virtually indestructible flying robot built by his father. Gigantor was originally designed as a weapon, but has been reprogrammed as the ultimate guardian of peace. With the help of Dr. Bob Brilliant, secret agent Dick Strong, and Inspector Blooper, Jimmy and Gigantor must battle to save the world from a never-ending as sault by ruthless villains.

Gigantor began as the brainchild of Japanese cartoonist Mitsuteru Yokoyama (Giant Robo, Sally the Witch) who released 92 anime episodes in Japan in the mid ‘60s as “Tetsujin 28-go.” The series was soon acquired for broadcast in the United States, adapted for U.S. audiences by producer Fred Ladd (creator of Pinocchio in Outer Space, “The Big World of Little Adam”), and aired for two seasons (52 episodes) starting in 1966. GIGANTOR: THE COLLECTION – VOLUME 1 features the first 26 of these uncut, black and white episodes, digitally transferred from the original 16mm film. Enlightening extras include an in-depth interview and audio commentary on select episodes with director/producer/writer Ladd, and an interview with anime historian Fred Patten from Animation World magazine. In addition, this deluxe set features special DVD-ROM content – issues 1-6 of the Gigantor comic book series from Ben Dunn and Antarctic Press, published in 2000. The 4-disc set also includes a 16-page collectible booklet with a brief history of the series, episode summaries as well as rare archival press materials/photos.

MODERN TOSS - INTERVIEW

modern_tossOne of the most strange and wonderfully enrapturing series to air this year has to be Modern Toss. The best way to explain this show to someone who has never before come near its beauty is imagine a live action and animated program that uses foul language in ways that are not only creative but wicked, toss in a British sensibility, some strange series regulars, weird premises and wrap it all in laughter. What you come up with is Modern Toss, a program, to quote Wikipedia, that stars some of the following animated harbingers of anger:

  • Mr Tourette: a French sign-writer who produces offensive signs bearing no relation to his customers’ instructions. This usually culminates in his customer being totally unhappy with the work and Mr Tourette calling them “some kind of cunt”.
  • Alan: a sociopathic, scribble-like creature who plays extreme practical jokes on his middle-class brother-in-law, usually involving Alan turning up uninvited to a social event, causing a large amount of destruction to the tune of “I Like To Move It” by Reel 2 Real before running away, leaving his brother-in-law to shout “Come back, Alan, you wanker!”
  • Prince Edward, Royal Entrepreneur: the prince tries to make money out of anything associated with the Royal family, no matter how tasteless.
  • Citizens Advice: irate and often illogical complaints from members of the public about goods, services and employers, usually concluding with the question “where do I stand legally?”

Created by Mick Bunnage and Jon Link ,Modern Toss started as a comic book that starred some of the series’ regulars. The comic made its way a couple of years later to a late-night television in 1996 on Channel 4 and finally, 3 years later, made its way to IFC. The program makes you scratch your head, wonder at its idiosyncrasy and marvel at its ability to be entertaining even though you may not have a firm grasp on what’s happening. It’s worth seeking out and I recently had a chance to catch up with Mick and Jon to talk about their series.

CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Gentlemen. How are you doing?

MODERN TOSS: We’re doing well.

CS: Great. I have watched the first three episodes and I am absolutely blown away by what I thought British humor, traditionally being more reserved, sly, what have you, was supposed to be. I shouldn’t say shocked but I was surprised by the level of sort of in-your-face comedy.

TOSS: Was it the bad language?

CS: Well, it was quite a change of pace from what I’ve come to expect from what British comedy has to offer.

TOSS: It was an experiment. I normally don’t let people like us near the telly but things are going well so far.

coverpackshotCS: Where did this begin? Where did the real genesis for Modern Toss come from?

TOSS: Well, we both used to work for a magazine in the 90’s. And we drew funny little cartoons to pass the time really and started sticking them in the magazine. One of them was about a cockney villain who just went around punching people in the face and that worked out very well and that’s how we got started. Then we did another cartoon after that which was about violence in the workplace that worked out well.

CS: And can I ask about the genesis of some of these characters? Obviously you have lots of different things going on here but I’m really interested to learn how Drive By Abuser began.

TOSS: Oh, that’s a tricky one. He’s not sophisticated but he does make us laugh….a sort of poet on a motorbike.

CS: He seems to just take pleasure from such mundane things and his whole persona is predicated on overreaction to the most simplistic things.

TOSS: Yeah. He’s trying to make friends as well. Trying to make conversation, really. Not that anyone understands what he’s trying to do but he’s doing his best.

anotherbookthumbCS: And then from there, one of my favorites is Alan, who doesn’t say hardly anything but where did he come from?

TOSS: Yeah, Alan. He’s a bit like a force of nature really. He’s everyone’s kind of troubled friend. Not a lot of family support around Alan. If you are having weddings or christenings, for heaven’s sake, don’t invite Alan.

(Laughs)

CS: This is my first entry into the series so this is all new to me but for you gentlemen, this is going on three years. You have obviously lived with it for a few years, so how has it progressed? When you first started you must have had an idea of where you wanted to go and what you wanted to do with it, so how has it grown for you?

TOSS: I don’t think we had a plan really. It’s all a big adventure for us. We kind of make it up as we go along. We started off with a comic and we had to learn how to do that and we didn’t really have a plan. We had a vision but no plan. Didn’t know where we were going. It’s developing all the time.

CS: And how did it go from being just a comic until someone said, “You know what, I’d like to see this on TV.” There are so many comics out there. Who took a shine to it and said, “I really want to turn this into something?”

TOSS: We’re a bit old fashioned in a way. It’s not a very normal thing in England. Everyone does narrative stores now. I think maybe that’s what made us unusual. We put in as few words as possible. We bring it right down to the basics and don’t worry about the drawings. We usually take the first take and that’s something we stick with. There’s no polishing.

cottonbagCS: And now you just released the newest comic, Volume 5?

TOSS: Yeah. Complete with plastic bag.

CS: I saw that bag – I want that issue just for that bag.

TOSS: We’re going to take America by storm and apparently somebody has put it up on a website.

CS: I am going to buy it and went through all 3 episodes last night and really enjoyed it .

TOSS: We’re going to send one of those bags to Obama as well.

(Laughs)

We think he’d really get on board with the message.

(Laughs)

CS: That brings up a good point. This kind of show wouldn’t fly on our network stations here. What do you think about the way we consume our content here in America? We don’t like our bad words or nudity – we reserve that for our really far off channels, whereas every other part of the world doesn’t have a problem with it.

TOSS: British TV is still pretty conventional – there are a few channels that show our stuff but not many. It’s mainly about celebrity, comedians, and such like that. And our stuff is pretty much out there, even for England. How it’s going to go down in America is unknown.

CS: Mr. Tourette, if I had a favorite, he would be mine. He is so bizarre with the nonsensical words that he comes up with but I find myself just endeared to the character. Where did this guy come from?

TOSS: France.

(Laughs)

answer4I think people like him is because he does what he wants. He’s got a good attitude for work. It would take like an English plumber to get some of the jokes.

CS: The show, and I think you should be commended for it, which I like, it never goes for the cheap gag, it’s pretty minimalist but it’s straight forward. I look around me and I see a lot of shows where you try to dumb everything down and this show doesn’t compromise in that fashion.

TOSS: Yeah, we’re dumb enough.

(Laughs)

The company that commissioned it in England just pretty much left us alone and we just did what was right. It just worked. The best kind of comedy programs are the ones that take few chances anyway.

CS: Ah, but that’s where some people can get into trouble where they see that they can make a quick buck or make a name for myself if I just do what everyone expects or wants.
Was there ever anyone trying to speak in your other ear saying maybe you should make this more consumer friendly? You said you were left alone but was there anyone trying to get their way?

TOSS: No. They just left us alone.

CS: What are you gentlemen doing now? Volume 5 of the comic book series just came out, are you producing more episodes of the show?

TOSS: At the moment, we are going to do a live version of it but it’s pretty sketchy beyond that, especially in England. Doing PR for an animation type series at the moment but not part of the sketch show. There are different things we are developing.

CS: Regarding that, when I look at what you’ve done with this show, is this something you think you can keep doing? I know there are some leanings to at least the way I perceive things is when you have a really successful show in England, you do a few seasons and then you are done with it basically, whereas here, we just keep cracking them out year after year and people just never leave. Is there a time when you will say, “I’ve said everything I want to say?”

TOSS: No. We started with a comic, then TV stuff, and live TV stuff and back to comic. We’ve never run out of stuff.

CS: Well I think if you were to compare I think this is something very real to the two of you and there has been no compromises with what gets on the screen.

TOSS: That’s right. We just go for it.

CS: Thanks gentlemen, so much, for talking to me. I really enjoyed the show.

TOSS: Thank you, Chris.

PHOENIX FILM FESTIVAL - BY RAY SCHILLACI

PFF Highlights: And the winner is…

2fe7736d47a285c17728669ec586Let me queue you in, I have never been a documentary fan, although I have been more open-minded to them of late. I think I was originally turned off to any educational media at an early age with a combination of far too many viewings of “Mr. Wizard” (a kid’s science show in the late 50s and 60s) and Disney’s “Jiminy Cricket” children’s educational show, “I’m No Fool” – the 16mm reel still endlessly rattles in the back of my head. Much later in life I was to discover that documentaries could be as powerful and more effective than the average cinematic experience with my first viewing of 1978’s “Scared Straight!” a group of cocky juvenile delinquents (Are there any other kind?) spend a no holds barred day with actual convicts – “Oh Bubba, I’m too young to be somebody’s bitch.” Fast forward to this year’s crop of fine documentaries at PFF. What a pleasant surprise had by all. It was no easy feat picking “Best Documentary”. It eventually came down to a couple of emotionally powerful one-two punches, “The Way We Get By” and “Shooting Beauty”.

I’ll cut to the chase; “The Way We Get By” won Best Documentary by a nose, and I will challenge that on a technicality, of course this is just my opinion and I’ll explain later. That is not to take anything away from the winner. “The Way We Get By” is a valiant achievement by director Aron Gaudet, capturing the lives of the senior citizens who’ve found a higher calling by greeting our military men and women who come and go to the Iraq war. This older set shows their resilience and support of our troops (and not necessarily the war) with handshakes and hugs, and the power that accompanies these small but grand gestures.

Over 800,000 soldiers and Marines have been met with warm and heartfelt enthusiasm at the Bangor International Airport 365 days a year. This is a far cry from what are men and women experienced after Vietnam and it is a point beautifully driven home. The story focuses on three of the seniors, Bill Knight, Joan Gaudet and Jerry Mundy who let us get more than a glimpse into their world and views. They struggle with the conflicts that many Americans are facing today and couple it with the wisdom of their years while doing battle with loneliness, and for some poor health. This is in no way maudlin or manipulating. This story could have gone the easy route and just tugged at our heartstrings, instead it approaches the subject matter with an insightful wallop that makes us think rather than cry. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are teary moments, but they are not relied on to move this informative piece along and it makes us appreciate director Gaudet and his players all the much more.

Especially thought provoking is WWII veteran, Bill Knight. An eccentric lost soul after the death of his wife, Bill grapples with bouts of uncomfortable solitude and the inevitable short time he has left on this world. Gaudet’s close-ups on this tired old trooper capture more meaning than anything said. It is Knight’s thoughts and recollections of years gone by that set the mood for the entire piece. Yet the movie refrains from being a downer with the reaction of our troops to the seniors and their well-placed intentions. It is in these moments that the movie really shines capturing warmth and a crossover appeal between generations. This is truly a captivating experience for all. With that being said, on to something really special…

shooting-beauty-1As mentioned before, I am not taking anything away from the winner, but the later film, “Shooting Beauty” goes beyond the call of duty as a documentary and as a film in general. There are few times in cinema history that one is swept away with a wave of emotions and taken on a journey that is so unique, the experience sets it apart from the rest. The films that come to mind; “Elephant Man” “Cinema Paradiso” “Life is Beautiful” and dare I say, “E.T.” (Set aside the crass commercialism that accompanied it) These are films that are to be experienced and not just seen with a bag of popcorn and soda. They put us through a meaningful emotional journey and that is exactly what “Shooting Beauty” does with one exception – it is not scripted. Director George Kachadorian and his partner/wife, Courtney Bent beautifully captures the human drama (and comedy) of their tale of triumph of the human spirit, unconquerable by adversity.

Aspiring fashion photographer, Courtney Bent, has an enjoyable refreshing visit with a small group of people with severe cerebral palsy and other disabilities. Her attempt to capture the experience with her camera becomes hindered when she inadvertently discovers that her own deep-rooted prejudices blurred her vision, developing pictures that are depressing and dark. Taking a step back, Ms. Bent comes upon a revelation; why not have the group take the pictures themselves and capture a unique journey that can be shared by all. This is no easy task having to create makeshift apparatus to enable the group the freedom to shoot how they see themselves. Thus we are taken on a remarkable odyssey bringing us into a world rarely seen that is as informative as it is poetic.

Kachadorian and Bent had to be guided by the hand of God to encapsulate the remarkable lives of these people. Bent’s unusual assignment turns into a fascinating look into some very genuine people. Mary Joe, EJ, Ernie, Cheryl, and Kerri are just some of the amazing personalities that end up making us laugh out loud at their veracity and crush our hearts with the love and affection that we (in our world) can barely imagine. Especially standing out amongst the group is Tony Knight who provides wonderful motivation with his view on a world that attempts to treat him different, and Tom Herrick, the loner, whose life is not only heart wrenching, but ultimately born again by the camera experiment. Watching him come out of his shell is like witnessing the birth of a butterfly for the first time.

What transpires from all of this will leave you cheering for everyone involved. This documentary is an eye opener, and I am hard-pressed to even describe the wave of emotions this film evokes. This is probably why it won the Audience Award at PFF. Perhaps now is the time to let you in on the reason it may not have won Best Documentary. Both documentaries are very powerful and focus on worthwhile subjects, but “The Way We Get By” was a far better film technically. The problem with that thought is, people with disabilities photograph much of “Shooting Beauty” and they are not professionals. This is the charm and power of this ingenious documentary, which for my book puts it as the very Best Documentary I’ve seen in years. Kudos goes out to George, Courtney and the wonderful people at UCP Day Experience Program in Watertown, Massachusetts.

I had the pleasure of chatting with George and I was surprised to discover that he was still seeking distribution at the time and representatives of PBS had turned him down. I could not fathom how this was possible nor could so many others at the festival. Last I heard, a prominent documentary filmmaker had caught a screening and made a quick call to HBO. HBO contacted him right away. No word yet if they have picked it up. Currently they are running in the festival circuit with great and well deserved word-of-mouth.

Next highlights from PFF will include air drumming, a social dysfunctional gamer generation, and “Clerks” meets “The Breakfast Club” (may not sound appetizing, but it is appealing). None of which are documentaries. Till then, stay Swine free and happy!

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