Saturday, July 31, 2010

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) - the rapiest movie that ever raped its way into the rape-o-sphere

Our heroine Camille Keaton rents a cabin so she can relax lakeside and write a feminist novel. Unfortunately, the locals (i.e. men) are not as mature and sophisticated as she is.

I trek daily into town on my rusty Schwinn, a baseball card stuck in the spokes, sort of an overloaded metronome to distract from the appalling noises dictated through progress (like, that beeping sound garbage trucks use when backing up). Of course, as a sensible man, I don’t use a baseball card that could possibly become valuable in the future, and usually go with someone like Mario Mendoza or Bill Buckner.

Anyway, as the resident out-of-town film buff, I can’t avoid fielding questions from the locals as I trudge from errand to errand. This particular day, I headed to the butcher’s shop to pick up some hot dogs, a most debauched savory, I readily admit. Of course, the butcher blurts out a question.

“Hey duke, I want to get more into Italian cannibal films. I want the sickest, most horrifying of the lot. Whatta ya got?”

My eyes curiously fixated on a jar of pigs feet, I quickly retort, sans eye contact: “Cannibal Holocaust. No doubt. Can’t go wrong.”

“Well, but they kill animals in that, don’t they? That’s going a bit too far. So…besides that I mean?”

(Sighing defeatedly) “If you really want to stare into the depths of horror via the Italians and their cannibals, Holocaust it is. Look, I gotta run. I have much to accomplish and precious few years left.”

I stop by the barber shop to get a cut and a shave (and maybe my tips frosted a tad, if I’m feeling adventurous), and I brace myself for whatever turgid questions human beings are typically supposed to answer. Invariably, the barber will ask for a recommend.

“Say duke, I really dig the Rambo films and want to explore some of those cheap ripoffs. Whatta ya got for me bud?”

With curious confidence, I quickly rattle off: “If you want Rambo, and you want cheap, and you want ripoff, you want Deadly Prey. No doubt about it. None.”

“Yeah, but that’s a little too cheap, isn’t it? I mean, what about something like a real movie?”

Understanding that I am imprisoned in an uncomfortable chair, with a greasy peon hovering above me with a pair of deadly scissors, I try to avoid any potential conflict, realizing that my own pride is not worth getting a sharp object shoved into my lower brain stem.

“Yes, I’m quite sure you are right in all of which you speak, but I am drawing a blank on this topic. Perhaps it’s the onset of some sort of rare disease. I best not overwork my memory for fear of further damage.”

“Yes, I understand. I hope you feel better. So…are we going with the frosted tips today Duke?”

(ruminating with great intensity) “Let’s do this shit.”

Looking fresh and feeling confident, I hit the last bit of business on my checklist, strutting over to Fiebershlack’s Discount Coasters to pick up a couple Picasso coasters for the new maple end table, staying one step ahead of the incorrigible company I keep and their wayward coffee mugs. Quickly locating the items, I race to the counter, only to be greeted by the Assistant Manager:

“Hey Duke! Buying coasters today?”

I initially stew in confusion at this typically illogical human, before retorting with: “Yes…you are quite correct. That is most definitely the case.”

Undeterred by sarcasm, instead his face fills with accomplishment before asking: “So, Duke, let me ask you a question. This may sound a little weird, but...I, uh...wanted to ask you about rape movies.”

After an interior sigh, I quickly blurt: “No problem. Shoot.”

“Well, I’ve been watching some of this stuff, your Last House on the Left types and what have you. Heck, I just saw Rape Squad this week. Great stuff. Anyway, while I gotcha here, I wanted to ask you: what’s the rapiest movie ever made? I mean, I wanna watch something, like, super duper rapey.”

“Well, if you want rape, you want I Spit on Your Grave. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

“Yeah, well…but, isn’t that supposed to be depressing? I mean, Rape Squad was a heckuva lot of fun.”

Quickly coming up with an excuse to avoid a conflict between polished intellect and rambling incoherency, I spout henceforth, hoping to daze him with an onslaught of words.

“Now, excuse me, I have to go. I have an important interview with an oil magnate. He’s seeking to hire someone as a secretary for a substantial pay rate, and I feel that with my extensive education and visionary ideas, he would be remiss not to bring me on board to his corporate system. If it is survival of the fittest within the marketplace of ideas, it is I who possesses the intellect to parse things for the grocers of capitalism, so to speak. Also, I too am quite lacking in capital…hence the bicycle. So...good day to you sir!

I pedal away, wiping the sweat of human interaction from my brow, and quickly head home, while poor Bill Buckner takes yet another beating.


Few people are ready for OBLIVION. They say they want to walk along the edges of the earth, but really, they just want to laugh while watching a video showing some helpless bastard falling over a cliff. So, as I posited to the fellow from the coaster store, there is only one film you really need when discussing rape as a cinematic model, and that is I…Spit on Your Grave (as the voice over guy for the trailer puts it).

If cinema is like a road, a world moving from point A to B, and the road is a metaphor, I Spit on Your Grave presents rape as a metaphor for life (doing the math). Some of us aren’t readily equipped with vaginas (although I do have access to one occasionally…very occasionally), and also don’t find ourselves occasionally surrounded by drunk rednecks who view women solely as meat receptors. Instead of ogling and murmured sexual threats, some of us journey amidst silence, resigned to taking it in the nether regions by the controlling interests of a world steeped in arbitrary rules cemented before we came to be. Therefore, we can still empathise with this situation, a human struggle to survive a rape onslaught along a spare cinematic road to hell.

The lovely Camille Keaton, cinematically violated like no other before or since (we’re talking like 45 minutes of screen time), her face rubbed into the dirt and grime of human ugliness. She is our humanity, beaten and raped into an unrecognizable pile of mush. Afterwards, she quickly swings by a church asking for forgiveness, a perfunctory ritual that helps to quelch any ingrained societal morality. So begins her cold rampage for revenge.

She uses her body on this existential quest, not as a fulfillment of some sort of fantasy, but rather a cold and detached means to an end. After all, these male pigs only understand things in (very) base terms, viewing females as masturbation tools. This tactic proves mercilessly effective, as these especially dimwitted males seem to think that she enjoyed being raped for 45 minutes and left for dead, a bloody shambles rising from the grave for more. She likes it rough, I suppose.

In the end, humanity conquers all, as Camille is the only real human being in the movie, and the only one to survive ( the math). In this sense, I Spit On Your Grave is an optimistic work about the human spirit shining through darkness. Camille could have easily withered up and died, but instead, marched forward through adversity. One of these obstacles is her own moral compass, but these fellas thoroughly cemented themselves, through their actions, as subhuman monsters that needed to die. Camille, a victim turned hero, had the fortitude of will and spirit to do what had to be done.

P.S. For a proper defense against the alleged immorality of the film, check out Joe Bob Briggs’ commentary on the Millennium Edition DVD released by Elite. I was going to touch on this aspect, but the review was already hitting 1300 words, and JBB does a better job than I could anyway.

Friday, July 30, 2010

THE ROAD (2009) - I guess the apocalypse is not as much fun as I initially hoped it to be

it's a cold, cold world...leaving a long time for sleep; dead, with a long time to dream

I believe the best movies are road movies. The road is very enigmatic. The road is life.
-Monte Hellman

The road is an open metaphor, fraught with danger and discovery. A film is an accumulation of time, going from point A to B; a journey in motion. Unfortunately, when you cutaway from the road, you cut into the metaphor, so to speak. Specifically, there is the voice over at the beginning, forced in to over explain the backstory over a montage. This shifting of the context of time, introducing the film as an overarching story of the apocalypse, takes focus away from their day to day, moment to moment struggle for survival along this road, a metaphor for life many of us can identify with.

I think it would have been much more powerful to immediately thrust the viewer into this desolate land. Just because it’s a post apocalyptic tale doesn’t mean you have to sit around and explain the apocalypse. The film also seems to rely a bit too heavily on the flashbacks of their wife and mother, perhaps trying to provide an emotional center to the film. All it does is distract from the father and son relationship; the true heart of the story. However, once the movie gets going, it’s a very effective and faithful adaptation, with two excellent lead performances by Viggo and the kid (and Robert Duvall as the withered old man).

There’s gotta be a place for me, under some green growing tree…clear cool water running by, an unfettered view of the sky…but I don’t know where I’m bound.
-Johnny Cash, I Don’t Know Where I’m Bound

Father and son travel undeterred to their destination, a better place that rests on the coast. Surely things will improve if they keep moving. This hope for a better place keeps them alive enough to be able to seek out that which may not exist. Maybe it’s only a mirage, the top of the hill that Sisyphus suspects exists but cannot see, but at least this enigma gives them a reason to live. They must...keep moving...

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.
-Dr. Johnson

The man and boy are a team of conflicting values. The boy still has the idealism of youth and only knows the world in which he finds himself. He lacks the horror of having watched this earthly paradise crumble into ash. Where as the man sees evil around every corner, the boy sees sadness. The father and son balance each other, and without this balance, the man’s heart would probably turn ugly and cold. His humanity is tied to this boy. The other humanoid scavengers that prowl the land, the roaming beasts, are free from the horrors of humanity (and the beauty).

An old man, hungry and cold, is desperate for a meal. Surely, the boy says, if we can make things right with the world in this small corner, the rest may follow. The man knows, perhaps cursed with a rational mind, that no such hope exists. Just a finite series of steps left to travel. Cold and dark as it is, at least we can huddle together.

The old man is blind as a bat, his mind eroded, drudging forward alone. Believing that what remained of humanity was like him, corroded and worn (or worse), he suddenly hears a child’s voice. Shocked by this sudden presence of youth, he believes the boy to be an angel and, for a moment, he thinks, surely there is hope; the cycle of humanity is not yet broken. The boy is an angel, yes, but of the earthly and practical sort, unlike the invisible demons that still hover over this wasteland, like spiritual vultures of infinite patience.

He’d carve the boy a flute from a piece of roadside cane and he took it from his coat and gave it to him…after a while the man could hear him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin…the man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves.
-Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This is my favorite passage from the novel, and one of several bits of quiet introspection from the father about his son. These bits are mostly lost in the translation from book to screen, as you might imagine. This passage shows him in quiet reflection on how the child can appreciate a simple pleasure while on the outskirts of the apocalypse, living in the moment, as it were. However, the father remains resigned to time's irrevocable arc, the inexorable fate that hangs above them like a pall of gray ash.

Friday, July 23, 2010

INCEPTION (2010) - these dreams within dreams within dreams are starting to give Carl Jung a headache

This dream sequence shows a distinct Escher influence. My dreams are never that cool looking, and instead are usually along the lines of me showing up at my high school wearing my pants on my head.

Say you’re playing connect the dots with a movie plot, going from A to B to C (see Avatar). You accomplish this goal, and feel a slight sense of accomplishment afterwards. Now, say you’re watching a different movie and go from A to B to C, when a character walks into the room and starts spouting exposition, saying something like “maybe you shouldn’t be so hard and fast in the acceptance of your own reality. Did it ever occur to you that maybe that “C” is ACTUALLY THE LETTER “U” FLIPPED ON ITS SIDE?!?” Holy mackerel Morpheus, that is some deep stuff right there!

So, you go from U to the letter V, eventually arriving at Z. Now you’re stuck. Suddenly, another character walks into the room and says “you know, you can wrap around from Z back to A!’s called thinking outside the box”. Well, so on and so on, until you finally reach C. Mission complete. Not only do you feel like you've just had a fun afternoon well spent, and that you've really accomplished something, but YOU JUST HAD YOUR FRIGGIN’ MIND BLOWN! What you thought was reality was really just a mirage that sits on top of the real reality. Here is a film that managed to do all of these things. It must be a super masterpiece. I give it infinity stars.

However, as the resident devil’s advocate (when I’m not Satan’s little helper), I might suggest that all you are left with is a connect-the-dots puzzle that is completed, coupled with merely the illusion of accomplishment and profundity. A cynic, when confronted with the same puzzle, might pull out the answer key at the back of the magazine (Highlights for Children, I guess) and gone on with his life. You know, like dealing with shit in the real world. Look at it this way; if a film is a Rubik's Cube, albeit one that is more complicated than most, all you are left with after completing the puzzle is a cube with different colored sides. It doesn’t actually do anything; I mean, you can’t use it to improve your life in some way. I guess you could roll it like a die, or maybe bounce it off somebody’s head for a laugh.

If a movie like, say, Inception (or The Matrix movies, or Unbreakable, or whatever), is so profound, such a peeling away of the onion that is reality, what are the fans of this film doing with all of this new found knowledge? I see a lot of “this is the most profound masterpiece in existence, and if you don’t agree, you are a big stupid dummy.” Saying Rex Reed should be shot out of cannon and into a brick wall for not liking Inception is hardly the product of an enlightened mind. I don’t see Matrix fans, having been inspired enough by the “deepness” of these films to become Buddhist monks, or professors of philosophy. They complain about people who don’t agree with them, and then go about their daily routine exactly as they did before (i.e. World of Warcraft supplemented with internet porn). The only real effect, it seems, is that they enjoy being part of a group that proclaims them smarter than those not worthy; the dummies that don’t “get” a certain film. This is the very core of “pretension”; that is, waving around your membership card for the smarty pants club.


Inception has one sorta great scene, where Leo is explaining the various dream rules to Ellen Page in Paris, when she realizes that they are actually in a dream. There’s a cool mirror image of the city folding in on top of itself, and then a bit with a series of (literal) mirrors. The film initially seems interested in the real exploration of dream states, the problems of separating your reality from how your brain processes this reality, and how dreams and reality can mirror and influence each other. Unfortunately, the scene, in retrospect, is really just exposition coupled with some rad special effects.

Inception wants to combine a heist film and a Matrix-y action film on top of one another, not a dream within a dream, but an action scene within an action scene. In order to achieve this, they need characters to walk into frame and explain magical rules to the audience, including how physics can be defied for some “awesome” Neo-esque action scenes that can’t be done in the “real” world. The film has little to do with dreams, and even less to do with reality. Christopher Nolan knows that the film would be called idiotic if, say, the characters drank magic potions to defy gravity or to teleport between separate crosscutting realities (or three). This “reality vs. dream” paradigm sounds profound and interesting, but it’s really just an action scene enabler.

A film I thought of while watching this one was Dreamscape, which takes a complicated dream conspiracy plot and plows through it in 90 minutes (instead of 150), embracing its ideas through a sci-fi pulp aesthetic. Inception could have ditched its faux-ideas (and cut out a half hour) and just gone the action thriller route. However, as it stands, I didn’t find the action scenes particularly interesting or exciting. The long finale has a heist dream within an action dream, but they remain fairly separate from each other, undercutting the excitement of the individual scenes. There is also little suspense since these sequences don’t have to follow the laws of the real world. A character does make up some rule that a person will slip into a coma or something if they are killed in a dream within a dream, but you can’t just force in an invented element of danger and expect a scene to become compelling.


I guess even the ideas spouted as gobbledygook plot points might stick in the minds of the viewer, therefore arousing their curiosity enough to seek out actual knowledge on these subjects. That's fine, but if I made a movie and had a character yell out “Bertrand Russell totally kicks ass!”, I don’t think I should get credit if someone is inspired to seek out his works and eventually learn some profound lessons. You know, stuff that relates to the actual world around us, rather than a movie only interested in relating to itself.

Monday, July 19, 2010

TAINTED IMAGE (1991) - it taint happening folks

these visions haunt our heroine Kate, perhaps symbolizing that she is totally batshit crazy or whatever

Here is another uber-obscurity that's not even listed on IMDB (as of this writing), a la A Dozen Ways to Die. It rests in the astonishingly narrow "regional psychological horror" category, along with Disconnected (1983) and maybe The Disturbance (1990) (and possibly nothing else). Unfortunately, where as the other two beat the odds to be somewhat effective little thrillers, Tainted Image fails in the Roman Polanski ripoff sweepstakes (insert joke about the rape of a comatose 13-year-old girl).

Well, Kate's mother just died, and she has since been experiencing "visions", like seeing her mother's tombstone bleed for some reason (I guess it symbolizes that death is super creepy and stuff), and some flashbacks to a troubled childhood (pay attention for some exciting plot info). Her boyfriend with the horrible fro-mullet tries to console her, but as the film is a ripoff of Repulsion, she remains frigid in the face of uncouth groping. Then again, maybe she's just honestly repulsed by this schmoe. On top of his hair and general annoyance factor, he tries to sound smart while reading the newspaper, decrying that "Bush is a Communist!". I don't know what paper you're reading pal. Maybe you meant "Bush is a pussy". Worst of all, her neighbor is the most annoying human being in the hell that is her daily reality, a fat faux-southern whale of bitch who looks like she just got kicked out of an audition for a John Waters movie. She constantly yells at her not to have sex and "live in sin", yet constantly hits on her boyfriend. I say let them have each other and move to California, or at least murder the fat cow for the sake of your own sanity.

Kate works as an art gallery guide, droning on about abstract expressionist form or whatever. She's also taking a painting class, concocting banal sky scapes and what have you. Her pretentious teacher chimes in with some good advice, telling Kate that she should try and channel some of that negative energy into her work (maybe a cool painting of a tombstone covered in blood). He also pontificates on and on about Munch's "Scream" painting, setting up later plot developments (and a somewhat righteous Carrie ripoff). Whenever a movie forces you to sit in on a class, the lesson always relates to future plot points somehow (especially in horror films). It's sorta like the reward the film gives you for suffering through school again.

So, it's clear that Kate is starting to crack. She's becoming paranoid that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she stares outside of the window at a giant Motley Crue sign carved into a basketball court, and the soundtrack of her inner mind combines low rent chanting, tuneless organ noodling, and some other music that sounds like one of those new age tapes played backwards. Her teacher tries to console her by offering to "help" her (i.e. some nookie), and her boyfriend suggests she and him go see the new Woody Allen movie to get her mind off of things (that is, distraction through nebishness). Thankfully for characters in these N.Y. area films (although usually ones that take place in Manhattan), there's always a new Woody Allen movie playing. Boy, the Woodman keeps churning 'em out.

I know I'm supposed to share in Kate's mental dissolution, but it's hard to take her seriously with such a brutal goomba accent. She might work as a bad blind date for Costanza on Seinfeld, but unfortunately, you need to be able to take her seriously within a slow burn psychological horror film. In effect, the movie has to sell the reality of Kate's surrounding, in order to sell the crumbling of her reality. Not only that, but, alone on an island, she has to sell the crumbling of her interior world. Unfortunately, amateurish performances destroy this reality across the board (and slack editing further undercuts the actors). In other words, every actor annoyed my pants off, and I wasn't even wearing pants at the time.

Tainted Image is a great example of a movie that sounds great in theory, but is completely lifeless in execution. It's (mostly) not interested in providing any B-movie thrills, but solely trying to build off of Repulsion and The Tenant, a colossal task for even an experienced crew with an actual budget. A much better example of a similar tale would be the previously mentioned Disconnected, starring C-movie goddess Frances Raines in the Catherine Deneuve role. While still ultra cheap, the lack of a budget somewhat works for it instead of against, creating a drab world that Frances is completely alienated from. She tries to engage in normal human behavior but fails, in scenes acted out in real time. Tainted Image, on the other hand, is more symbolic in nature, which is always dicey territory for any film. Her dreams symbolize her crumbling mental state, instead of providing psychological insight into a real character. In other words, it's better to show someone honestly coping with a lack of marbles, than to just show that they have increasingly less and less marbles. If you follow me. You know what...I need to work on my metaphors. I really do.

FAKE-OUT (1982) - fun and lunacy in Las Vegas, or a savage journey into the heart of Pia Zadora

Telly Savalas looks on as Pia entertains the shit out of a Vegas crowd no doubt coked out of its collective gourd.

For a winner, Las Vegas is the nicest town on earth. Pia Zadora is a fucking winner. I myself don't fit into this category, no. Instead, I am stuck in the loser's circle over in Reno, sweatily grabbing another nickel for the slots outside of the neighborhood grocery store. No plastic palm trees and high-grade formica for me, no sir. If Pia had a friend like me, she's in worse trouble than I thought. No, I never romped with Pia, only admired her from afar, as ugliness and failure has no place on the floor of the Desert Inn.


Pia Zadora's star never lit up the imagination of the human race quite like it should have. Perhaps she shouldn't have been forced into dramatic roles, and instead rocked the universe through a series of musicals, sort of a disco pixie Elvis. Then again, The Lonely Lady is easily one of the most entertaining Hollywood concoctions of the 80's, featuring Pia as a struggling screenwriter continually raped (both literally and figuratively) by the Hollywood machine. However, she won a Razzie for her performance, so maybe the public at large wasn't as impressed with the film as I was. Fake-Out (released on video in the U.S. as Nevada Heat) teases us with this Las Vegas showgirl cinematic model, but it's mostly a remake of Matt Cimber's earlier blaxploitation film Lady Cocoa (1975).

Fake-Out and Lady Cocoa take place in Vegas and Lake Tahoe, respectively (although what's the difference, really), and star miniature stacks of sexual dynamite (Pia and Lola Falana, respectively). They have bigwig gangster boyfriends, and are sent to prison for refusing to testify. They quickly reconsider prison life, and are set free to turn state's evidence. In the mean time, they are both escorted around town by a bodyguard cop, enjoying a lot of casino action and shopping action and what have you, while assassin stooges of their boyfriends try and silence these sexpot dynamos. This includes Mean Joe Greene in the case of Lady Cocoa, who plays a creepy killer that perpetually stalks Ms. Falana, never uttering a single word. I guess the filmmakers think that a football player won't be able to memorize dialogue.

Ms. Zadora, diminutive goddess of the stage, is not exactly built for prison life. However, she finds a positive outlet for her energies (and talents) by teaching an aerobics class, becoming the star of her own bouncy hooskow cabaret.

Of course, after all of this legwarmer action, our sweaty starlet has to hit the showers, leading to a patented Pia posterior shot:

Unfortunately, when you're as cute as a button and stand five feet one in high heels, you're prime lesbo meat for your fellow inmates. Being practically naked sure doesn't help matters.

It doesn't take Pia long to agree to testify against her gangster boyfriend, and so she is free to strut the streets, allowed to bounce around Vegas with a cop watching her every move. Thankfully, she returns to the bubbly personality we all know in love, despite just having been raped in prison.

Here Pia unwinds like any Vegas starlet worth her salt, soaking in a bubble bath with a glass of white wine:

Curiously, she later tries to seduce her cop/bodyguard, and does so wearing a towel. I guess she figures that if this look inspired multiple women to rape her, surely a man would not be able to resist a consensual version of the sexy towel pose. However, he's one of those "by the book" professionals, but eventually gives in to her sassy charms (he is a mortal being, after all).

You'd think she's be tense about the upcoming trial, or having to meet up with her boyfriend and pretend she isn't a turncoat. Oh yeah, and there's some dude periodically shooting at her. However, she's a force of nature that has no time for such unfabulous details, preferring to point her attention to something more interesting like...SHOPPING!

This is Vegas after all, and our little pizzazz cherub is certainly in her element. She hits the casino floor like Ike hit Tina, repeatedly and with gusto.

If Pia looking and acting fabulicious isn't enough to keep you entertained, there are some truly ludicrous action scenes. Here are a couple of them, including what looks to be a VW Rabbit (or another sub-sub-compact) giving chase onto a swimsuit competition stage. I'm shocked that it took until 1982 for someone to come up with the runway car chase.

Well, all of this action and violence starts to rub off on Pia's bubbly exterior, and even her face gets scratched up at one point. This gives her the opportunity to convey some of that patented Zadora pathos.

However, she toughens up, knowing that she needs to survive this ordeal, to live on as an iconic beacon for a select troop of lost souls (mostly gay, I freely admit).

She gets her man in the end, teaching any children in the audience a valuable lesson. That is, don't schnook those criminal types, and instead, find a partner who has some upstanding morals. Those gangster/mafioso types may have sex appeal (and money), but the relationship will only end in heartache, and possibly with you being weighted with a concrete block and dumped into a lake.


Pia went on to star in the previously mentioned The Lonely Lady, as well as the brilliant new wave musical Voyage of the Rock Aliens. I'm glad these curios live on, but lament all of the glitter showtune masterworks we potentially missed out on. The ironic hipsters may laugh, but Pia is exactly the kind of entertainment the world needs. Sassy, sexy, and exuberant, belting out standards and originals with flair (mostly standards), rather than wearing a hoodie, standing on stage with her back to the audience, mumbling about important stuff or whatever.

So, while the Pia Zadora revolution never quite got off the ground, I trudge forward carrying the flag (the above still with the phrase "Viva Zadora!"), surrounded by a nonplussed populace, like a dying Maoist clinging to his little red book. I march forward, a fucked-up cleric with a bad heart, for a religion of winners, a club of big spenders that wouldn't have me for a member; just another Saturday night for the Sixth Reich.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992) - the state of virtual reality post Nintendo's Power Glove

Poor Jenny Wright attempts to breathe life into a paper thin southern sexpot role. At least we get to see some of her sexpottery at work.

I saw this one in the theater during its initial theatrical run, and as a video game nerd at the time, I was more than a little impressed with the virtual reality technology of the whole thing. Rewatching it now, no longer capable of being distracted by shiny 3D graphics, I am left with a giant pile of garbage. I know this movie has a decent reputation, and I can usually find something to hang my hat on in most genre fare, but Christ on a stick this movie blows. I mean, why not just run with the title concept and have a guy mow grass and leave it at that. How does he work his way around a bush resting in the middle of the lawn? Should he bother to bend over and pick up the candy wrapper, or just plow through it like a mad man? Instead of these (very) vaguely interesting concepts, we are left with a bunch of VR related foolishness.

So, you need to fill roles for a brilliant computer scientist and a local retard gardener. Let's see...I know! We'll hire Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey, respectively. Ummm...okay. Presumably, the casting director wanted to hire actors who might actually convey their characters, and maybe come across as believable in their roles. Therefore, I have to assume that these casting decisions were mandated by the studio. Some suit came barging into a room, screaming "YOU'RE FUCKING CASTING BROSNAN AND FAHEY! WITH THESE TWO ON BOARD, WE'RE GONNA BE ABLE TO SELL THE SHIT OUT OF THIS PIECE OF GARBAGE! NOW...WHERE'S MY FUCKING LATTE?!?!". Not only that, but Fahey has the worst simpleton farm idiot costume in film history. Forrest Gump would be ashamed of this asshole (if he had any shame).

Well, Fahey takes care of Pierce's lawn (hence the title), living the life of a content dimwit. Pierce is working on some sort of experimental virtual reality, and uses Fahey as a guinea pig (this experiment also apparently involves drugs). Well, Jeff becomes smarter and smarter as a result, developing telekinesis along the way (and even developing the where with all to fix his fucked up hair). On top of that, it turns him all studly and what not, and he quickly hooks up with local southern harlot Jenny Wright. After all, as my perverted uncle always said, if there is grass on the field...mow the lawn.

So, not only did Brosnan invent the first completely immersive virtual reality system, but he also invented a machine that will grow people's brains, rendering them super smart and even giving them psychic powers. Oh yeah, it also helps you get laid. Yet Pierce works out of his basement with little fanfare. Me thinks he needs an agent.

The entire film is built on the moral quandary of whether someone should be allowed to have supreme intelligence, and the potential disasters that can result from such intellect fueled megalomania. However, this entire concept was handled infinitely better (and with actual plausibility) in 2001: A Space Odyssey with HAL, and also wasn't the entire crux of the story. Here, this concept doesn't hold up in any scientific sense nor in a narrative logistic sense, and the character could not be more poorly written. Fahey cannot convey a farm simpleton to begin with, and no one would act the way he does with each new brain boost. He essentially plays a video game and turns into a super intelligent James Bond villain. First of all,
why the fuck would playing a game even have this effect? Where is all of the conflict and fear that comes with someone experiencing a mysterious increase of intelligence? After all, if Forrest Gump woke up one morning with even average intelligence, I think he would be pretty fucking confused by such a monumental change.

OVER THE TOP (1987) - trucking across the vast expanse of America just to break some poor schlub's arm

You see, when Sly puts his baseball cap on backwards, it's like a switch that goes on. He feels like another person...a truck, maybe. Oh, and the HGH certainly helps.

“the final lesson will come in the crazy neon hoopla of Las Vegas – at the World’s Arm Wrestling Championships where – for Lincoln Hawks – something more than winning the championship is at stake – something like the sum total of a man’s life…”

-plot description for the Over the Top novelization

In the vast junkyard of cinematic wreckage, there are many a film wrongheadedly constructed from thoroughly uncinematic concepts. One such story forms the backbone of Over the Top, a film about a truck driver who drives to an arm wrestling championship. In other words, here is a story about a guy who turns a wheel for an hour (occasionally shifting gears) to get to a place where he can bend his arm for the final half hour (or so). It’s hard to imagine that they made a big budget movie based around this concept. Not only that, but someone wrote a novelization of this story. Oh yeah…I actually bought the fucking novelization. I don’t know which one is more insane.

However, I can’t rightfully criticize a book that uses the phrase “crazy neon hoopla”. Many critically acclaimed books could only dream of creating such a fabulous turn of phrase. I’d like to comment further on the writing, but I’ve only gotten as far as the front and back covers. Regardless, against all odds, the film overcomes this thoroughly unscintillating concept and a shitty script (and a terrible co-lead performance by the kid that plays Sly’s son) to tower above all arm wrestling movies past, present, and future.

Digging deeper, there is a little more to the story than initially appears. Sly (his character is named Lincoln Hawks, but is sometimes referred to as "Lincoln Hawk", which is a level of sloppiness few filmed scripts can claim to have achieved) and his son are reunited after ten years, and Sly forces him along on an 18-wheeler road trip. Their long standing separation is totally artificial, as Sly was kept away from his ex-wife and son by evil asshole Robert Loggia, who even told the son that Sly was a drug dealing scumbag. Their relationship is initially hostile, but quickly turns around with a Kenny Loggins montage at the dawn of a new day, as this is how problems were rectified in the 80’s. I for one don’t understand why he would even want to bond with this annoying ass kid who continually unfurls terrible dialogue, like water balloons of stupidity breaking over the side of my face (if you could fill a balloon with dumbness, I mean). He even asks Sly why he doesn’t have any books in the front cab of his rig (like the Over the Top novelization for example, or maybe the Cobra novelization). There is a good god damn reason why truck drivers don’t read on the job. Books on tape, on the other hand…they have no excuse. Crack open a book on tape you big lug.

Robert Loggia role as the villain of sorts is as hamfistedly written as they come, but man, he’s fucking ace at playing a screaming slimebag under any circumstances. There is also Susan Blakely as the dying mother, giving a wonderfully cancery performance of thorough cancerocity. However, as you might imagine, the movie belongs to Sly. While not a great actor by any stretch (and I mean any), here he gives perhaps, just perhaps, his greatest performance, adding pathos and heroism to a role that should be bereft of both, in a script equal parts inept and cloying.

Of all the movies I own on DVD, Over the Top is certainly one of the most difficult to justify. There is the fall back answer of nostalgia, and that the arm wrestling lexicon in the film has worked it’s way into my real life arm wrestling exploits, like when a dude says “my arm is a spark plug…and I’m gonna light you up!” (that also works if you’re playing volleyball in the backyard). In fact, if I happen to be arm wrestling someone, there is exactly zero chance that Over the Top won’t be quoted as some point. There is also the pitch perfect Giorgio Moroder soundtrack, featuring the talents of Sammy Hagar and Robin Zander (of Cheap Trick, of course). Moroder seems to be at his most genius when forced into the crassest of corners. There is a scene where father and son enter the toughest trucker bar in the world, and a Frank Stallone song is blaring on the jukebox. In this hotbed of potential violence, it is the nepotism-fu on display that stands out the most. Anyway, there is a glimmer of genuine heart that you usually don’t get with these Golan-Globus attractions (the masters of fast food B-movie foolishness). Love conquers all may be a cliché, and a manipulative one at that, but it can also occasionally ring true.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

OUT OF BOUNDS (1986) - a movie about Jenny Wright's hair and some other stuff or whatever

here is an early role for Jenny in a Yello video, portraying a stylish object of 80's coke fueled desire

Anthony Michael Hall is an underrated actor if there ever was one. He completely and thoroughly embodied the 80's nerd, yet was probably knee deep in cocaine and pussy throughout the era, rather than programming his calculator watch like most people suspected. That's what's known in the acting business as "hiding your technique".

Anyway, here he plays a similarly geeky farm boy, fleeing for the hip neon excitement of Hollywood. The trip turns dangerous when Anthony accidentally grabs a suitcase filled with 7,000 kilos of heroin (one of those typical airport baggage mix-ups). Anthony is going to be staying with his brother, but his plan hits a bump in the road when an evil drug dealer murders him. The police suspect Anthony was responsible. He must've flown into L.A. to live with his brother, the only person he knows in the area, and then shot him for no reason. I guess. So, he is forced to flee from both the dumbass oinkers and a drug dealer, and does so by (quickly) touring Hollywood circa mid-80's, transforming into a street smart bad ass along the way. This tour is guided by aspiring actress Jenny Wright, embodying a particularly L.A. brand of stylish 80's quirk.

He notices this exotic specimen, this stylishly sleek force of nature, and immediately imagines having sex with her in the washroom. What a way to join the mile high club, even if only imagined:

Awkwardly, his fantasy is broken up by her physical manifestation, but she turns out to be quite outgoing and personable, eager to converse with a lame looking stranger on a plane (unlike myself, who avoids so much as eye contact when flying). She mentions where she works, and also that she acts on the side, appearing in such hits as "Massacre in Blood City" and "Cycle Sluts From Hell". I'm unaware of the former, but the latter must've been awesome enough to inspire the early nineties gimmick band of the same name. Their music isn't remotely interesting, but this video is pretty righteous, and probably the sole reason for their "success":

After Anthony grabs the heroin and finds his brother dead, he visits the coffee shop where Jenny works. Like every waitress in Hollywood (and every stripper, for that matter), it's only a stopgap on her path to stardom:

She hates having to deal with schmucks on their power lunches (power schmucks, I guess), so she instead decides to join Anthony on his little adventure. Meanwhile, there is some subplot involving the evil dealer and some junkie chick. I wasn't really paying attention, as the girl's apartment had this awesomely distracting Joan Jett poster:

So, Jenny invites Hall over to her Hollywood Hills pad, which sorta looks like what would result if an adobe townhouse licked a toad:

Jenny wears a bodacious leather jacket with "rocket" written out in sequins, perhaps predicting her career arc (or maybe a heavy metal tribute to the Space Shuttle Challenger). She also has a pronounced penguin fetish (or possibly...oh wait, no, it's definitely a penguin fetish):

Notice her tiger striped tights above. Her external style perfectly fits with the interior of her pad:

Which corresponds to the interior of her car:

Beauty and personal style integrate with vehicle and home, all extensions of her inner personality. Well, Jenny notices a creepy sketch of Anthony on T.V. and quickly becomes worried:

After a heart to heart, she believes his far fetched story about wayward heroin and the chaos it hath wrought, and so begins their parade through Hollywood. At this point, both Anthony and the plot become ciphers to Jenny and her unique beauty (and her hair, of course):

I don't know about you, but my eye/brain is not directed towards the back of Michael Hall's head (or the inside of his head). Well, you may remember Jenny from Near Dark, probably her definitive role, where she twisted her "Nagel girl with curves and cheekbones" structure into a couture farm girl vampire of sorts:

Later, in Young Guns II, she expanded this western-esque motif to an actual western (well, a sorta western):

This scene is reminiscent of a scene early in her career, where she also used a nudity motif. The film is The Wall, and she's the one wearing pink hot pants.

Back to the movie, where the suspense of...JESUS H. CHRIST LOOK AT THAT HAIR!!!

Here the light hits it from a different angle. Good lord she rocks. Well...I lost my train of thought.

Oh yeah, they're running around Hollywood, staying one step ahead of the fuzz/cartel, bumping into curious locals along the way, including Stiles from Teen Wolf (an 80's stamp of approval if there ever was one). Here they bump into a metal chick at a local record store:

The whole thing is a wonderful portrayal of L.A. style, filmed in wide angles, canted and askew, the camera roving and gliding. Here, the interior of a club captures the So-Cal smog and sun as dance floor aesthetic:

Of course, their are also the primary colors, both fluorescent and neon. Here is a shot worthy of Wong Kar-Wai (or, maybe more to the point, Christopher Doyle):

This particular club is the perfect place for Siouxsie Sioux and crew to bust out no less than "Cities in Dust":

Along with this Siouxsie track, the soundtrack hits the then zeitgeist on the head with tracks by The Cult, The Lords of the New Church, The Smiths, and, uh...Night Ranger. Oh well, close enough. Anyway, Jenny is not yet a fixture of the silver screen, but she is a star through her own physical manifestation, reflecting the style of the city in ways a real star would never be able to do. She even predates clothing irony by wearing a yellow raincoat in a desert town that very rarely sees precipitation:

Well, they have to plan out how they are going to navigate this town whilst being hunted from opposing camps. While Jenny was initially a tag along , the unlikely pair quickly become a team:

As an unforgiving world closes in, they huddled together in the dark, finding solace and strength in each other:

They become separated at one point, so they fight to reunite, instinctively knowing that they need each other. The stress of the situation and lingering concern over Anthony's well being, amongst deeper concerns, starts eating away at Jenny's usually bubbly and confident exterior:

Later, Anthony prowls through a club searching for Jenny. He thinks he finds her, only to notice that it is in fact some other girl with similar hair. I guess Ms. Wright's trendsetting style is sweeping the land:

It isn't until he notices a special pair of legs, showcasing a singular pairing of leotard and shoe, that he feels safe again:

Her warm smile becomes a welcome home for this nomad lost in a chaotic new land:

They embrace rapturously, momentarily freeing themselves from the uncaring grip of a bureaucratic society that wants to destroy them for crimes they didn't commit:

This eccentric tour guide is looking more and more like a neon angel, on the road to ruin, perhaps. However, they find strength in numbers...two, to be exact. They wisely head for the hills of Hollywoodland, escaping the crushing fist of the city while looming above it, as if mocking their pursuers. They finally get to celebrate each other's company with a picnic, ironically lit by the cold skyscrapers that exclude such social misfits:

Finding themselves alone, they are able to finally confide in one another. She admits that she lied about being in those movies. So, if he were to rent a VHS copy of "Cycle Sluts From Hell", he's going to be gravely disappointed that not a single one of these sluts was fleshed out with the thespian grace of a Jenny Wright. She also admits that, despite coming across as hip and connected, nobody really knows her. As she puts it, "I've been alone in this city for a long time":

She may express the L.A. zeitgeist better than anyone, but she is, ironically, disconnected from the surrounding populace, where as Anthony is an outsider, unwelcome from word go. These two lost souls, unable to connect with others, find solace in each other. They embrace as two angels fluttering in the night, soaring above a neon metropolis:

As they kiss, they dematerialize, two spirits detached from the physical realm. Their molecules sway together, a serenade traversing a moonlit sky...

Radiating and fading away...

Fading...fading away...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

PRISON HEAT (1993) - the WIP film that has the guts to use shower scenes as a metaphor for human rights violations

Here is the U.S. theatrical poster for Prison Heat. To think that as late as 1993, you could see a trashy woman in prison movie in a theater. Boy, those were the days (the nineties).

Four sprightly American girls, more sympathetic than some of the dumb bimbos you typically come across in these women in prison films, are thoroughly enjoying their European vacation together; an independently strong group of broads looking to broaden their horizons. They currently find themselves in Greece, enjoying the unibrows on the locals, when the lead girl suggests, out of the blue, that they should drive to Turkey, which I guess is the Euro equivalent to driving to Florida. The long drive is made tolerable by an all girl rendition of “Oh Susannah” (or intolerable, if you’re the audience), as when a movie has to scrape the public domain barrel for a song, the options are pretty limited.

Of course, the girls are immediately arrested upon crossing the border, and tossed into one of those Turkish prisons made famous in Midnight Express. I guess in Turkey they have the right to beat the shit out of you before imprisoning you for no reason. The lead girl pleads with the officials that she has rights and whatever as an American citizen, habeas corpus and what have you, but they just smack them around and demand a strip search. The warden even takes a knife to one of the girl’s bras (played by the ample Lori Jo Hendrix), in case she might be smuggling subversive material between her tits. The prison is already filled with mostly hot young Turkish stuff, who apparently were sentenced to prison just so they could take showers while the guards pantingly watch on (and the audience, of course). I don’t know who enacted the “you can arrest hot chicks for no reason” law, but I think it’s probably an outdated remnant from a patriarchal society. Not that I’m complaining.

So the rest of the film is mostly a regular woman in prison film, the main difference being that the girls are wearing their street clothes instead of blue jumpsuits (or lingerie), and the interior of the prison has some exotic Turkish touches, not as cold and streamlined as the American counterpart. There are the typical power struggles with the guards and the powerful lifer inmates, along with some good old fashioned cat fights. Oh yeah…shower scenes. Lots of those.

The girls run afoul of a prowling lesbian heavy played by Toni Naples (of Sorority House Massacre II and Deathstalker II), who is curiously also an American. You’d think they would find common ground, but no, Toni just wants to molest the girls and smack them around. She manages to grab a hold of Lori, easily accessing her breasts (remember, her bra was conveniently ripped apart earlier in the week), grabbing her crotch likes she’s kneading bread. Lori is also raped soon after by the warden. I don’t know why she’s the one to get repeatedly sexually abused out of all of the women, but I think it may have something to do with Lori’s willingness to do nudity. Afterwards, she takes one of those “rape after” showers that chicks always seem to do (shoehorning in another shower scene). She also vomits in disgust, which admittedly cuts into the eroticism factor.

The lead girl comes up with a brilliant plan, and tries to seduce Toni the lesbo, inviting her to join her in the shower and help her clean her breasts. The lead girl sticks a razor to her throat, impolitely asking her to leave her girl group the fuck alone. The scene starts off as another seemingly gratuitous shower scene, but alas, no, what with the important plot points involved. The warden decides to rape Lori again, this time in the shower. Rather than continuing to alternate shower scenes and rape scenes, this segment innovatively combines the two, keeping the audience on its toes. All of this rape seems to be taking a toll on her, so she grabs a mirror shard and slits her wrist (but thankfully survives).

The girls have really had enough at this point, and so begins their escape plan, skirting with suspense (somewhat) along the way. Their plan seems to revolve around showing their supple bodies to the dumb, horny guards. I’m surprised any women’s prison that employs male guards doesn’t have daily escapes. Lori also helps out by being raped once again, but this time she’s armed with a knife, turning her sorrow outward and sticking her sharp implement where it belongs. Not to give it away, but they do eventually escape intact, celebrating on the way out the same way they came in, warbling “Oh Susannah” with an accompanying synth, molesting my earhole one final time.

While we may consider the film to be an attack on the Turkish government and their historical disregard for human rights, I think a bigger inspiration was that they wanted to film an American style WIP flick in Israel (subbing for Turkey) to save money. However, whether intended or not, the film reminds me of stuff like the hundreds of human rights activists that were mysteriously assassinated during this time period. Not only did Turkey regularly disregard the international community, spitting on the United Nations, but they also paid off local Hezbollah to murder (supposedly) prominent Turkish citizens who asked that their government maintain a minimum standard of human rights. Not to mention their outdated prison system, where American girls can be imprisoned just for being bodaciously stacked.