Saturday, January 17, 2015

SUPERGIRL (1984)



America needs heroes.  Sure, terrorism, child trafficking, Ebola, unkempt hooliganism, and general chicanery hang over Americans like a belligerent cloud of tense uncertainty.  Luckily, these fears can be channelled into a movie villain, usually a deadly serious British actor with devious eyebrow control.  A musclebound, spandex-clad, whitebread hero comes along and shoots CGI into his uppity face after 2 1/2 hours of posturing, lackey pummeling, and whatever plot, after which all is right with the world and the audience can leave the theater and head over to Walmart to pick up a garden hose, a pallet of frozen corn dogs, and a pillow for a morbidly obese cat without fear of being wiped out by a foreign plot from a plotting foreigner.  Of course, watching a movie doesn’t make it any less likely that one would be indiscriminately blown up, but fear is the more insidious enemy, eating at the souls of many men instead of exploding a few to bits. 


This, my friends, is the superhero film in my nutty nutshell, and Supergirl could be seen as a subversion of this basic plot dynamic, however accidentally it achieves this.  Superman is the purest embodiment of the desire of the American spirit to witness the decimation of anglo-villainry via CGI and spandex.  Supergirl clads her cousin’s spandex but lacks the heroic force of his computer effects, instead content to partake of girlish endeavors like changing outfits and talking about boys.  It would be easy to decry the lack of a strong and forceful female hero, but after all, she’s a Supergirl and not yet a Superwoman.  There’s the old adage “with great power comes great responsibility”, but she’s still an irresponsible teenager with plenty of the former and little of the latter. 


Well, let’s back up a bit.  On a planet deep in outer space, a drunk Peter O’Toole is wearing what looks to be Star Trek Cosby sweater; that is, if the cast of Star Trek wore Cosby sweaters.  Whether he got so drunk that he just didn’t care whether or not he was wearing a Star Trek Cosby sweater, or indeed if he had to get cosmically sloshed in order to be able to stomach putting on a Star Trek Cosby sweater is a mystery that I fear will remain hidden within the darkest corners of the galaxy for as long as time persists. Anyway, he borrows a magic ball from the “gods”, and it’s basically a hippie version of the ball from Phantasm.  Instead of drilling a hole in some poor bastard’s head, it powers a hippie planet, and I’ll let you the reader decide which is preferable.  Needless to say, it’s not something you would want to, say, drop on the floor or spill beer on, being that it is the life blood of an entire race of people.  Why these gods would let a drunk dude play with it is beyond me, but O’Toole is truly a charming motherfucker that could probably sell a sombrero to the headless horseman.


Mere seconds after whipping out the hippie Phantasm ball, a not yet super Supergirl uses an orange wand to create a dragonfly that rips a hole through her planet and sends the ball hurtling into space. I hate when that happens. I should have mentioned that the planet is basically a bio dome made out of saran wrap.  Either way, Supergirl has a couple of days to retrieve the ball before this balllessness unleashes a space holocaust upon her own people.  I don’t want to tell aliens how to live their lives, but perhaps you might think about child proofing your planet. Holocausts should not be in within easy reach of children. 


This is quite different from the typical superhero dilemma, being that the hero is the colossal threat against humanity (or an alien race that is indistinguishable from humanity), but borne from naivety and not out of some dumbass twist ending where the superhero and the supervillain are actually two sides of the same personality.  It’s basically a setup for a morality tale for kids, sort of like a superhero version of a 70’s after school special where a kid accidentally sets fire to his parent’s house after falling asleep while smoking weed, and as a result has to raise money by staging a musical inspired by Foghat lyrics in order to raise enough money to build a new house before his parents come home from vacation. The lesson in both cases is that you should always be mindful of any consequences that your frivolous actions may reap, and the absence of malice is no excuse.  You’re not going to be lucky enough to be bailed out of setting large domestic fires by unlikely and frankly moronic plot machinations.  Instead, you’ll probably be charged as an adult for involuntary manslaughter. 


Anyway, the ball plops right into Faye Dunaway’s lap, a power hungry witch who lives above her means and guzzles down champagne and caviar despite being behind on her bills.  The hippie Phantasm ball pretty much gives her power to do anything as soon as she gets the hang of it.  In the span of 5 minutes, the ball has gone from a toy to the power source for a planet to a magical device that allows you to cast any spell you want.  It’s sort of like a perpetual deus ex machina in spherical form.  More importantly, a power hungry witch with vague but maybe unlimited powers is a dangerous threat to humanity, and the alien race is at the brink of extinction without the ball, so this is clearly some important plot shit if I’m putting the pieces together correctly.  

Thankfully, Supergirl shows up to save the day.  However, the first two human beings she meets are truck drivers that try to rape her, so she beats them up in as inoffensive a manner as you can beat up two truck driver rapists because kids are watching and whatever the fuck.  It seems like an odd sequence in a film with a naive innocent hero seemingly aimed at young girls, but I think it functions in a similar way to the cliched action movie scene where the hero beats up some rowdy rednecks at a bar in order to show them off as an asskicker.  It’s like every Steven Seagal movie where he walks into a bar and some fat drunk lumberjack makes fun of his ponytail so he snaps his arm and makes his elbow go off in a direction that defies space and time.


Naturally, Supergirl immediately frolics through nature and takes a nap next to a bunny. She then notices that a female boarding school is right next to her nap spot, so she naturally decides to enlist in school, utilizing her special power of clothing changes to go from her Supergirl outfit to a schoolgirl outfit. Again, she is stuck in immature girly mode, frolicking with bunnies and nature and changing outfits instead of taking responsibility for her actions.  She quickly integrates into the schoolgirl milieu despite being an alien, becoming more popular in her first hour of school than I did during my entire run at high school.  She ends up rooming with Lucy Lane, sister of Lois Lane, and one of her teachers is Peter Cook, pseudo-boy toy of Faye Dunaway.  So, through no direct effort whatsoever, she ends up getting an "in" towards the evil villain and also securing an ally that might help her enlist Superman to help at some point, which doesn’t happen though because Superman is “on a peace keeping mission millions of light years away”, so Lucy could have been anybody really.  This might seem like an unbelievable coincidence, but you can look at it as a karmic upturn after almost being double raped the night before. Some days you get raped by truck drivers, and some days, the truck drivers get raped by you.  So to speak. 

Meanwhile, Dunaway is chilling in her crib, an abandoned amusement park blasting Howard Jones presumably because Rob Zombie wasn’t around yet. How one acquires legal residence in an abandoned amusement park is a mystery that I hope to solve exclusively in order to secure residence in an abandoned amusement park and be able to mock those who lack the awesomeness of being able to live in an abandoned amusement park. Among her posse is Peter Cooke, resident stuffypants and fashion fuddy  ruddy.  Here is the film’s best line of dialogue: 

Cook (wearing a ridiculous leather jacket): “I want to make a serious proposal.” 

Dunaway: “In that outfit?” 

Brenda Vaccaro is her other friend, bringing the catty thunder in an anachronistic but no less fun acting style that resembles a veteran tough-as-nails actress in an early 60’s musical whose advice to the young ingenue with boy and stage problems is to have a stiff drink and maybe another and maybe seven.  Because this is a conflict between a catty milf and a naive girl, the movie quickly revolves around a dude, namely Hart Bochner.  Dunaway uses her powers to taint some Schlitz beer (that is, more tainted than it already is) to create a love potion to snag Bochner, but he wanders off, leaving the carnival and wandering through town traffic before locking eyes with Supergirl and falling in love with her instead. Love potions surprisingly gets a pass when roofies get no pass whatsoever.  I think it’s in the name.   If they were called “rape potions”, I doubt most people would find them romantic and cute.  

Anyway, this battle over Hart becomes the focal point of the movie instead of, you know, saving two separate civilizations and whatever the fuck. This might sound stupid and offensive (well, it is kinda stupid), but bear in mind that the naive selfish girl hero would presumably run off to the mall with Bochner and make out with him in his LeBaron in the parking lot and say “like whatever” to being a hero.  However, she instead chooses the grown up choice of ixnay on the space holocaust, taking responsibility for her actions and powers and becoming a woman in the process. Dunaway, on the other hand, is stuck in her girlish selfishness to the end, revealing that being a grown up is not a matter of age, but rather about taking responsibility for your actions and caring for those around you, instead of just catering to your immediate desires.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

BEYOND THE GRAVE (2010)


Exploring a post apocalyptic world would be pretty awesome minus the remnants of whatever caused the apocalypse (like nuclear fallout) or whatever mutated nutbaggery results from said fallout (like a zombie homeless guy with an extra head). Basically, you have your run of a once generic and boring world that has been newly imbued with character and creepiness, where mystery awaits around every corner. If that gets boring, you can visit the closest mall and steal as much shit as you want without fear of being walkie talkie bitch slapped by a mall cop with a Buford Pusser complex. Instead of being surrounded by interchangeable assholes, you might also occasionally bump into someone who has an interesting story to tell. 


Beyond the Grave takes place in such a world of decayed wonderment thanks to the gates of hell opening up.  However, it's Brazil instead of generic American suburbia, so the landscape teeters between beauty and decay, which is even better than a half rubble outlet mall. Either way, a world-weary Mad Max-esque police officer is after the body hopping embodiment of evil who offed his family, which is the kind of no fun shenanigans that occurs when the gates of hell open up. This spirit now manifests as an exotic female badass accompanied by a gang out of a post-apocalyptic spaghetti western, if that was such a thing (I guess it is now). There’s a gas mask wearing cowboy, appropriately enough, and his counterpoint in the form of a bow and arrow toting tribesman of some sort, a Brazilian version of a Native American character from a Spaghetti Western, who were usually played by olive-complected Italians covered in a bit of shoe polish or Burt Reynolds covered in even more shoe polish. There’s also a Once Upon a Time in the West-esque harmonica dude whose playing causes people’s ears to bleed; basically a Blues Traveler harmonica solo at a slightly higher volume. 


Along the way, the officer bumps into a wandering young couple so dour they act like they just got out of the theater after an 18 hour Bergman marathon. With that setup, one might expect an existential fairy tale of sorts where the officer goes to any length to hunt down the killer and protect the young couple, who represent the last vestiges of humanity. However, things don’t really unfold that way. The film usually moves slowly in an existential doom kind of way, but quick developing swerves break things up, creating an odd pacing that makes it unique but also cutting into that existential doom “the gates of hell are open and fuck if I know how to close them so why bother” hopeless atmosphere we all know and love. 


Oh yeah, there are also zombies. Fucking zombies gotta pop up in everything nowadays. However, they’re not much of a threat except when somebody gets careless. I can’t imagine ever getting so complacent in my life that I take a zombie for granted, but I guess you get used to shit after a while. Instead, the zombies are more like shambling signposts of one’s future destiny, like the 65-year-old guy in the cubicle across from you with sickly pale skin leathered from decades of fluorescent light exposure and sunken eyes that are more soulless than an all-white delta blues cover bland playing the grand opening of a Whole Foods. 


The film utilizes the standard tropes of people either withdrawing when faced with the stress of living in a hell soaked post-apocalypse or attempting to combat the threat by pumping out their chests with military bravado. There’s the pregnant girl who retreats into her childhood while also preparing for the domestic life of a mother, as if innocence and everyday living can block out a zombie apocalypse, which it kinda does so that seems like the way to go. Then there’s the dude who looks suspiciously like an Opie farmboy Nazi stormtrooper, and I say “suspicious” since I didn’t know Brazil had Opie farmboy dudes. He uses the zombie hell apocalypse as an opportunity to conjure up his inner Nazi in an attempt to militarize in the face of a grave and omnipresent threat, adopting a role he really isn’t suited for but probably spoke to his inner maleness via the conduit of having watched too many episodes of Hogan’s Heroes (which would be more than three). Upon reflection, both approaches make respective sense considering the context, but glanced at individually, they look like a couple of raving nutballs. However, in an insane world, what was once nutbaggery becomes reasonable. 


On paper, Beyond the Grave is a Robert Rodriguez-esque genre hodgepodge, where a Mad Max-esque cop has a fight with both a cowboy and a samurai (I forgot to mention that the officer dude gets attacked by a samurai in a bar), and the Fulci-esque plot of random zombies popping up after the gates of hell are opened, and other such genre callbacks. However, it mostly plays out as an observational, arthouse exploration of a world, where pulpy tidbits are treated as realistic texture, and this “realism” is enhanced by the lack of a score throughout most of the movie. Maybe it’s best described as Jim McBride’s low budget post-apocalyptic fairy tale Glen and Randa crossed with Grindhouse, and I mean the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino aesthetic, and not the theaters where you would get up to go to the bathroom and trip over a dead bum covered in urine from head to toe, inspiring one to ponder the bum’s final moments. Did someone urinate on him to the point of death? Did a drunk get up to go to the bathroom and see the dead bum there and say to himself “oh, I’ll save myself missing a minute of the movie and just piss on this bum, considering people expect bums to smell like piss anyway”. Or, just maybe, a drunk decided to piss all over a bum who was living in the theater in order to shame him. The bum, so distraught and ashamed of being covered in urine and unable to take a shower, having to watch "Hercules vs. The Rock Monster" 37 times that week, and just being a bum, finally takes that cyanide pill given to him while serving in Vietnam. It’s that kind of character and human interaction that is missing in today’s on-demand, “oh I got a blu-ray of a drive-in classic shipped from Amazon” world. The point is, you can’t really bring back the grindhouse experience, but you can rip off old movies, and Beyond the Grave does the latter. Something about artists that steal instead of borrowing or whatever the fuck.