Monday, December 17, 2012

Return of the Son of Video Vault

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Once, a long time ago, I was approached by friends at a little daily newspaper, The Progress, in Clearfield, Pa. to write a regular film column to spruce up the paper's weekly lifestyles page.  Amy Barrett-Duke was in charge of the paper that I had once worked for, having taken the reigns after my wife had left the job to work for the Department of Public Welfare.

Amy named the column The Video Vault and I spent my time looking for good films that most people had missed.  I wrote the column in one form or another for - my God - ten years.  Almost exclusively without pay.  Mostly because it was fun.

And while I wrote this column, The Progress almost never laid it out properly.  Or they had some copy editor changing my copy and misspelling actors' names after I had poured over the copy with a fine tooth comb so they couldn't possibly mess it up.  And they were never able to sell the column locally to any of the numerous independent video stores even while I tried in print to drive the paper's readers to certain local video stores.

A perk I got, was that one store, Adventure Video in Philipsburg, Pa., run by a friend, Lenny Martin, would give me films for free before they were released to video so I could prepare a column to hit right when the film was available to rent.  As it turned out, a few people would look for the column and then go and look for the film I was featuring at the store.  And Lenny would make a buck on a movie that nobody saw coming.  Nice.

I mean, I was writing about French movies in Central Pennsylvania to an audience that was all about the latest slasher movie.  But I knew better.  I know quality when I see it and I believed that if you informed people about a great little film they'd missed - even if it was subtitled - you could give them something very rewarding.  You could share film art and you could have a conversation in the middle of nowhere about it and people would respond.  And, you know, people did respond.  The motto of Video Vault was and is:  "Life is Too Short for Bad Movies."

Another friend, Sam Ettaro, who was working at a little multi-media start-up called Harmony Multi-Media, saw my content as fodder for a Video Vault segment that he would produce for one of the local television outlets, WJAC in Johnstown, Pa., and online.  It didn't last long and we only did a few pieces, but I thought we could mix print, television and the web to craft the Video Vault into something really cool.

Did not work out.  Sam, who I saw as a brilliant creative mind, was squeezed out of his company in an awful lawsuit.  The Progress would not work with other providers in television or the web, seeing them as competitors rather than seeing the benefit of using crossover media to mutual benefit.  Long story short, I covered film for about ten years with no direction but my own and never made a nickel off it.

I think the column helped the local independent video retailers, though, even while their market was being eaten up by big chains, cheap sales at Wal-Mart and the advent of Netflix... and now the powerful advent of video on demand.  And the video stores where I live are still alive and kicking.  And they still make an honest effort to get copies of those little films that nobody ever heard about that Video Vault was so devoted to.

I used the column to publicize locally a young filmmaker from Curwensville,  Pa.  Levi Abrino graduated from Penn State in a dual major and then went on to the prestigious Tisch School of Film at New York University where he continued to pursue a career in film.  I put his student films on local video store shelves for people to rent for free and wrote articles devoted to that.  I spent time as a local producer for his NYU films and wrote about that.  One of Levi's good friends, Luke Matheny, won the Oscar in 2010 for his short film, "God of Love," on which Levi served as editor.

The nice thing about not being paid for something is you can do what you want.  Some things never change.

So with that in mind, I bring to the Voice of the Mountain the reincarnate of the column so dear to my heart.  Like the Frankenstein Monster, you can't kill it, so I bring you a film column:  The Return of the Son of Video Vault.  My aim, as always, is to find movies you've missed that you ought to see.  Remember:  Life is too short for bad movies!

Son Of Vault

"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale"
2010 - Jalmari Helander
Rated R / 84 minutes

Here's a rare and interesting thing; an original, effective and interesting horror film.  It explores Christmas in the way only a filmmaker from a Nordic country could do, setting itself up in the dour whiteness of the arctic north amid Finish takes on the Santa Claus myth that are wickedly creepy.

I mean, certain films by Lars von Trier or, even more precisely, "Let the Right One In," just soak into that rather depressive tone that fits so neatly into those cold white landscapes and Director Jalmari Helander… Heh-heh.  Helander… is right there with those other directors.

Some Santa myths explore a more Grim's Fairy Tale take that centers on child guilt and punishment and Helander exploits this terrain almost perfectly.

The film centers on young Pietari (Onni Tommila), who lives in a remote part of Finland and is thinking about whether he's been naughty this year as Christmas Day is barreling closer and closer.  The boy thinks maybe he shouldn't have crossed the border to see what the American miners have been excavating in the ominous mountain that overlooks his isolated home.

Of course, Pietari is a true believer in Christmas - as any good film on the topic needs - but, even though he attempts to atone for his mistakes,  he cannot imagine what Christmas Day might hold.

You need to make an effort to see this bumpy chill fest.  It is rated R, but your teenagers will love it and it isn't inappropriate.  I was able to catch it on Netflix where it was available for screaming… uh… streaming video.

In the inevitable year-end discussions of the great Christmas films, it is high time we had a competent Christmas film in the horror genre.  I know this sounds antithetical to the season, but, no joke, this is a great little Christmas movie.


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