Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THE INITIATION OF SARAH (1978) - Carrie-sploitation rendered as sorority house tragedy

Here's the opening of the film, although you can watch the whole thing currently on Netflix instant watch in the U.S.. Canadians might be S.O.L. on this one. I hope not eh.

Sarah is painfully shy, but thankfully she has a hot sister (Patty) that takes pity on her (pity tinged with love). Normally, Sarah would spend her summers at home, but Patty invites her to the beach. However, a local studmuffin swimmer happens upon them and offers to teach Patty a special swimming maneuver (no doubt a variant of the breaststroke), ditching Sarah in the process, and showing what happens when you try to hang out with your hot sister at the beach. Anyway, as a faceless male who isn’t wearing a shirt, he immediately tries to rape Patty (made for TV rape, but still), all in full view of invisible wallflower Sarah. Thankfully, this supposed wallflower manages to summon up some telekinetic powers, causing the dude to fall over. While not quite as exciting as a karate chop to the balls, it successfully puts the kibosh on the sister rape, and that’s what’s important.

Well, we flash forward to the fall, where the sisters leave home to begin college together, as a team. The wily reader may find it curious that these sisters are both in the same year of schooling. Maybe their mother plopped them both out within a 17 month span, refusing to give her vagina a well deserved break in the interim. Unfortunately, Patty was forcibly squeezed out too soon, leaving her with a less developed brain, causing her to be held back a grade in school. Oh wait, Sarah was adopted. That totally makes sense. After all, the sisters could not be more different from each other, unless one of them was Asian or something. I’m glad rich whitebread parents adopt disadvantaged children from third world countries, if for no better reason than you can quickly discern which kids are adopted. Anyway, the villain is quickly established when they drive by one of the head sorority bitches who stands around and judges them. She’s played by Morgan Fairchild and wears a sweater tied around her neck, which, in this case, is all the character development you really need.

The sisters scope out the local sorority houses, hoping to pledge themselves into a Greek institution (that sounds vaguely dirty, but I am unable to connect the dots here). I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that socially awkward angst + telekinesis + pledge hazing = trouble (if my math is on point). Well, they happen into Morgan’s sorority, and a portly pledge quickly explains that this particular sisterhood only cares about money and looks, while academics are completely ignored (along with substance and basic morality, it would seem). In a sad twist of fate (via a cunt-ruled hierarchy), Morgan wants Patty to pledge but refuses to even consider Sarah, driving a potentially catastrophic wedge between the two sisters, potentially breaking up the team, as it were (not to mention possibly taking away Sarah’s only friend in the world).

Taking a break from all the human drama, the sisters happen upon a very angry dog. Sarah again uses her powers to telekinetically communicate with the dog to leave them the fuck alone, maybe convincing it that there's a squirrel convention going on nearby. Their sorority house tour takes them to the PED house (not “performance enhancing drugs”; just some Greek numbers) where the girls actually do homework and stuff, instead of just sitting around all day feathering their hair (Morgan Fairchild in the seventies, natch). Sarah seems to actually enjoy the company of these “weirdos” (to the extent that she can enjoy company), but her high falluting sister is less than impressed. While they are pretty much polar opposites, potentially being driven away from each other into competing cliques, Patty does look out for her sister, even attempting to fix her hair and make her look all pretty like. However, during a phone conversation, their rich bitch mother tells Patty to go ahead and ditch Sarah and join the rich bitch sorority. She explains that she pities Sarah, but her mom tells her to grow a pair and not be swayed by such trivial emotion. After all, Sarah's not really a sister and a daughter, but an object of pity who is lucky someone even bothered to give her a place to live. Unfortunately, Sarah overhears the conversation, getting psychically riled up again. She stares angrily into a mirror until it cracks, leaving only her own fractured portrait. While not as explosively exciting as maybe watching her shoot lasers out of her eyes and blowing shit up, it all seems rather fitting under the circumstances.

Of course, Patty gets into Morgan’s sorority, and Sarah into the PED house. As part of her pledging, Patty is cruelly forced to proclaim in front of her sister that she will no longer associate with PEDs, “pigs elephants and dogs” (so THAT’S what it stands for; I probably shouldn’t have assumed it was Greek). This sets off Sarah yet again (as it would anyone), and her anger causes a piano to nearly miss crushing her sister. As it happens, a group of guys were lifting the piano just as Patty was walking underneath. I don’t know why assholes are always trying to lift pianos five stories with a couple of bungee cords. You can’t carry the fucking thing up a flight of stairs? At least it’s not as bad as when two guys carry a big pane of glass across the street during a chase scene. You know, a cop is in hot pursuit of a criminal in a motorcycle chase when, suddenly, two schmucks carry a piece of glass across the street, oblivious to the sound of roaring engines. The biker criminal narrowly escapes smashing through the glass, but the cop is not so lucky, crashing through and flying 120 feet in the air as crime wins again. My point is, why the fuck do people need glass transported by hand instead of by truck? Does an office building get a new window put in, and they pay some movers to carry the old window to a trash dump across the street? Even if they actually have some asinine reason to do so, how about you use the fucking crosswalk? Boy, I’ll rant about anything. Either way, this is the most batshit insane movie/T.V. cliche ever devised. To think someone would even have the balls to try it once boggles the mind.

Well, the house mother of PED is played by Shelly Winters, which is a bit of an omen, I guess (or maybe totally fitting). PED sister Tisa Farrow gives Sarah a tour of this creepy sorority house straight out of a horror movie (well, this is sort of a horror movie, I guess), while Morgan tours Patty through a brightly lit sorority house palace of sorts. To further accentuate the difference between the two sororities, Morgan Fairchild is very Morgan Fairchild-esque, while Tisa is highly skittish and neurotic, whose sole pastime is playing the violin in a sad and empty room. She even mentions that she got “sent away” a couple of times. I guess she’s a bit depressed about being the lesser Farrow, and by lesser, I mean she never got to schnook Woody Allen. Well, I hope not. You know, I wouldn’t put it past him actually. I need to stop dwelling on this point lest visuals begin to pop into my already diseased noggin.

Well, Sarah actually does attend a class at some point (they make you do this in college for some reason, even if you’re totally hungover). She is asked to write a paper on the “duality of personality” by her studly teacher, potentially inspiring Sarah to explore her secret ability (amongst other potential inspirations). The next scene is practically drawing room comedy. Morgan invites Patty for coffee, dragging her away from her sister, and Tisa asks Sarah if she too wants to go for coffee, and she frustratingly says “the whole world’s drinking coffee! No thanks!” The teacher then pops in and asks her, again, if she wants to dig on some java, and she happily agrees. However, she senses him getting close to her and bails, scared of any potential human connection. Then again, maybe she just really hates coffee. I guess she’s like the opposite of Too Much Coffee Man, that is, "Absolutely No Coffee Under Any Circumstances Woman". Anyway, she does eventually sit down with the teacher and, for the first time, discusses her “power” with someone (first time in the film anyway). This bodes well for Sarah, as she appears to be ashamed of her powers (on top of just regular shame), and she has apparently found someone who can understand her both analytically and as a scared little girl who remains an outcast incapable of connecting with people. Also, he’s, like, bodaciously hot and stuff.

Morgan cruelly makes fun of Tisa and her violin (which is sort of like insulting Tori Amos’ piano), and Sarah knocks her into a nearby fountain with her mind. She then stands up for Tisa, and concurrently herself, laying a speech on Morgan about how she is ugly on the inside and doesn’t care about other people’s feelings. It seems that wallflower Sarah has finally stood up for herself in more direct, human fashion, instead of relying on an ability that is mysterious to others (and even herself really). Her speech seems to actually inspire Morgan to rethink her cunty ways, and she tells Patty that she may just pledge Sarah after all. This sets up the prolonged finale, both wacky and tragic, where Sarah’s previously subtle and believable powers (to the extent that telekinesis is believable) amp up to something else entirely. There’s a possible satanis ex machina (that’s like the hand of god intervening during an ending, but with Satan instead), along with a cameo by the hedge maze from The Shining. It’s called a fucking climax folks.

Of course, the whole thing is a big ass Carrie ripoff, but a highly worthwhile one. Brian DePalma’s film works as an operatic gothic laced with religious satire, while The Initiation of Sarah turns it’s eye squarely on Sarah’s basic human plight, a teenaged outsider unable to fit in, too stricken with shame and esteem issues to develop meaningful relationships. It’s the sort of quaint human story you find in a lot of 70’s made-for-TV movies (and even after school specials), dressed up as a thriller of sorts. Gimmicky touches and psychic powers aside, it works wonderfully well as an emotionally honest portrait of a character many of us can relate to (assuming you’re not a stuck up bitch/douchebag/young Republican). A lot of the credit squarely goes to Kay Lenz in the titular role, a woefully underrated actress. Check out Clint Eastwood’s Breezy for further evidence. It’s one of those May-December romance deals (as opposed to a January-February romance, which is a toddler boinking a newborn), co-starring William Holden. If you doubt her prowess, let me just point out that she played the ugly dork sister despite being super hottie Kay Lenz, and I bought her character every millisecond she was on screen. In Hollywood, they would normally just take some hot actress, wrap her hair up, put glasses on her and call it a day. After all, when a “typical” Hollywood audience is enjoying a piece of entertainment about people who are ugly/fat/emotionally tortured or otherwise “socially defective”, they don’t want to have to identify with people who are unattractive and/or lacking in confidence. No, the audience needs something to fix their eyes on as popcorn is collectively shoveled into a sea of faceless heads.

P.S. This was written as part of Stacie Ponder's Final Girl Film Club. Check out her review here.

P.P.S. This is the first in a series of reviews for sorority/fraternity pledge horror films. I will explain this better soon, and maybe come up with a catchy/not ungainly name for it as well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

HOME SWEET HOME (1981) - I'm thankful that, no matter how annoying the holiday is, you're at least gonna get an awesomely dumb slasher movie out of it

Here are some murders from the film. The lack of lighting during the night scenes is purely for atmospheric effect. Namely, the atmospheric feeling that you're watching people being killed in complete fucking darkness.

While we’re certainly all appreciative of the pilgrim’s efforts in settling this fine country, laying the groundwork for future strip malls from sea to shining sea, one glaring issue has passed without comment for far too long. Namely…why did they have to bullshit the Indians?

If you’re gonna wipe out Tonto and the gang for their land and resources, fine. However, when Captain Tomahawk wants to celebrate a kindling friendship with a big ass turkey, at least show him a modicum of respect and tell him to go fuck himself, letting him know that the teepee bulldozing will commence shortly. Don’t put on a fake smile and feign a friendship just so you can snag some biscuits and what have you.

Thanks to these disingenuous forefathers, once a year, I have to sit around all day surrounded by nutball relatives, trying desperately not to slit my wrists with the top of the cranberry sauce can. Unfortunately, the holiday shows no signs of stopping, even though the original spirit is all but dead. The only unique signifier left for Thanksgiving is the turkey itself, which is hardly a reason to put up with all of the hours of torture and what have you. Hell, it’s three in the morning right now; I can head down to the 24 hour grocery store and grab some microwavable shit. I don’t need a holiday to eat some goddamn turkey.

Jake Steinfeld, “Body by Jake” himself, no doubt feels the same way I do, but without all that social conditioning to hold him down. He repeatedly injects PCP directly into his tongue, which allows him to overcome that deep seeded notion that he should give a shit about other human beings. He’d gladly snap your neck or suplex the shit out of an old lady if his whimsy points him in that direction. Well, what if he was surrounded by a bunch of annoying assholes partaking in their Thanksgiving feast? Home Sweet Home has the investigative chutzpah to answer such a question.

First things first, a little old lady crosses the street, fumbling her groceries along the way. Jake comes speeding along in a stolen station wagon, too hopped up on life (and whatever PCP stands for) to bother slamming on the brakes, thereby avoid hitting this pile of dust. One shrieking bloody mess later, Jake laughs maniacally at his handiwork. If you’ve already embraced the deep end, you may as well enjoy yourself.

Boy, Home Sweet Home really takes the car trouble motif and runs with it. Father goes out to get gas for another vehicle, but, unfortunately, the battery in his jeep dies, so he happens upon a station wagon that’s been apparently abandoned because of it’s own bout of car trouble. He goes under the hood, trying to sneak the battery out, but Jake does a butt smash off the top ropes (it’s like an elbow smash, but with your ass), crushing dad’s pathetic noggin. A bit awkward maybe, but it got the job done. Mom and another girl spend much of the time driving around looking for wine, but get pulled over for speeding, the car trouble here manifesting itself in the form of the highway piggie patrol. Mom cleverly shows him her tits to get off the hook, but they soon run out of gas anyway. Unfortunately, flashing your tits cannot power an automobile, so they are stuck, at least until they happen upon a gas station and the mother can strip down to get some free unleaded (or maybe just use a credit card).

More troubling than the lack of dependable automobiles, however, is the son of the family, a mime/asshole/fake Ace Frehley triple threat. He runs around with a guitar and one of those amplifier backpacks, hurling out-of-tune honkey blues at people, just to spite their sense of tonality. He’s an annoying brat, but honestly so; a defeated weasel, hiding behind a self-concocted paintjob distancing his humanity while smothering his loneliness. Either way...please stop doing that. You’re making my ears sad.

His attempts to connect with others through music and juggling prove to be ineffective, leaving him to resort to naked honesty when he asks the married chicano if she wants to roll his proverbial tamale. He manages to overcome this suffocating societal formalism; that is, a lady whose hand is legally taken and, therefore, becomes verboten territory. When he finally brings himself to speak his mind, the other woman does not understand the language, and his spirit is thereby crushed by the proverbial fist of irony. Their only communication when she calls him a “estupido bruto”, which I think is spanish for “big dumb asshole”.

Jake finally makes short work of these turkeys (wait a second…hee hee!), cutting both the power and phone lines (even Jason knows that if you’re gonna cut one, you might as well cut both). The most interesting murder is when the mime tries to get Jake to spare his life by playing him some licks. Rather fittingly, Jake just electrocutes him with said guitar (hopefully that’ll teach him to stay out of the music business all together). Left to survive are, unsurprisingly, the only two people who aren’t assholes; final girl Jennifer and little Angel. Jennifer is the functional rock of the movie, dealing with the situation at hand the best she can, and Angel (played by Vinnessa Shaw, who later turned up in one my favorite movies, Eyes Wide Shut) applies more of a zen cutsie approach, looking adorable and saying “I wuv you!” despite all of the imminent horrors of the holiday (not to mention that steroid freak running around killing people).

Notice how they mention her being in a film at 5 years of age, but gloss over the details. I guess the media would like to whitewash the film's existence out of the historical record, but I refuse to play along.

Steroids? Oh wait, I’m thinking of Lyle Alzado. He’s the one that was on the juice. I get them confused sometimes. I always thought Jake Steinfeld starred in that wrestling sitcom Learning the Ropes with Steph from Degrassi Junior High. Silly goose, Jake is the one who injects PCP, which means he needs to be killed three separate times during the ending of a Thanksgiving slasher and still manages to survive. I, on the other hand, waddle home every year from turkey day both thoroughly defeated and five pounds plumper.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER (1975) - sometimes a fine line separates a hero from a fool

Michael Moriarty plays a detective fresh out of the academy. He is partnered with a well worn N.Y cop (Yaphet Kotto) who immediately finds him amusing, joking that he looks like a hippie. This bemusement quickly turns into confusion, tinged with a sliver of sorrow. Yaphet guides Moriarty through times square, a parade of “scum” plowing ahead to rhythms of urban disaffection, lamenting in voice over that "the problem was that he never should have been a cop...someone should have told him right at the start 'hey man, this shit's not for you'. But no one told him." As it turns out, Moriarty’s father was a cop, and his brother may have been next to follow in his father’s footsteps had he not been killed in Vietnam. Michael found himself wearing his brother’s shoes, ill-fitting as they were. While he may have been helped down this path by a sense of duty or parental pressure, he does say at one point that “I was gonna be what a modern cop should be. Enlightened. Humanistic.” Maybe he wasn’t cut out to be a cop, but he figured he might as well make the best of it by injecting a bit of idealism into a particularly cynical branch of the profession. Yaphet sees Moriarty walk through the precinct door, quickly pegging him as a naive soul who’s completely out of his element. Sometimes first glances can be dead on.

We quickly notice that Yaphet is totally in his element within this "jungle", as he puts it, exhibiting a sense of humor and an odd sense of joy. His brand of street justice is completely removed from any sense of idealism or even proper police procedure. Yaphet roughs up a black criminal (a pimp maybe) whom he had previously warned to stay out of his precinct, and Moriarty later asks "how can you be disrespectful to your own people?" Yaphet retorts "I'm not a black man. Those Panther muthas, they're black men." In other words, he became “the man” when he agreed to be a part of this faceless hierarchy of “justice”, at which point his blackness was forgiven, so to speak. They later come across a legless homeless man (possibly a Vietnam vet) who is raving about two dogs and their owners, causing a big scene. While Yaphet yells at the man, warning him once again and eventually kicking him down the street after the homeless man bites him on the leg, Moriarty humorously concentrates his efforts on consoling the dogs. Yaphet dumps the homeless man’s wheeled board into a dumpster to teach him a lesson, but Moriarty rescues it and helps the man back onto his threadbare wheelchair of sorts. As they continue to patrol times square, Yaphet reflects in voice over "I've never seen anything like the way they took advantage of him. He loaned some of them money when they were hard up. He wouldn't arrest them when he got an assignment. He hated that. He kept trying to do what he could for those scum. Some cop." Yeah, a helpful soul maybe, but a terrible cop.

They break up a drug deal, and Yaphet stops Moriarty from arresting one of the perps. After the apparent criminals run away, Yaphet explains that one of them was actually an undercover cop. He adds “you’ve got to know who the actors are, and never move until you know that.” Moriarty then notices a young girl standing on the sidewalk conversing with some shady characters, and he worries that her parents may be looking for her. Yaphet dismisses her as a “junkie whore” and tells him to leave her alone. Ironically, she is also an undercover cop (Susan Blakely), and apparently an effective one at that, as even street smart Kotto doesn’t notice. His lesson to Michael about not trusting the character surfaces proves worthless, as he just can’t seem to let go of his faith and trust in humanity.

Michael, lowest on the totem pole, is given a “bullshit assignment”, ordered to locate a times square runaway who happens to the daughter of a politician. His superior officer tells him to “file a report and go through the motions, and don’t pick her up if you find her”. He quickly ignores these orders, becoming obsessed with finding this girl and saving her from the streets. As luck would have it, this “runaway” and Susan Blakely are one in the same, and the case is merely a ruse to lend credibility to her undercover identity, but Moriarty remains oblivious of this until it is too late. He is doggedly committed to a futile quest that only exists in his mind, not realizing that he is a pawn in a façade, and this confluence of misjudged surfaces ends in heartbreaking tragedy.

Oddly, Moriarty’s quest ultimately leads him into a department store elevator with a black militant drug dealer, pointing guns at one another, deadlocked. A tense hostage situation ensues as police and media trickle in, including Yaphet, who attempts to negotiate with the criminal. You would normally expect to see Yaphet set up to be the hero, the grizzled cop that eventually warms up to the naïve rookie and saves him in the end, but instead, his attempts to do the right thing in the third act prove feeble. He’s present during most of this long and pivotal hostage scene but, after the initial dialogue with the drug dealer, he is forced into a bystander role, helpless to affect the situation. He barely even speaks, and neither does Moriarty, who is paralyzed with fear. Whether on the inside looking out or the outside looking in, these two heroes are impotent in the face of oncoming catastrophe. Ironically, it is the criminal that wisely comments on the situation, saying “you probably didn’t want to be a cop anymore than I wanted to be what I am. You noticed it’s ‘them’ and ‘us’. They’ve already stopped worrying about you. They are gonna blow this elevator up, and it’s gonna solve their whole problem. And you think they’re on your side.” Michael foolishly thought be could become one of “them”, but in order to do so, he would’ve had to adopt their principles and ways of thinking, trading his “humanism” for a much more cynical view of the world.

Report to the Commissioner is unique among it’s mid 70’s NY crime movie peers (like Dog Day Afternoon, for example), a social parable that eschews action scenes while maintaining that unmistakable street grit. Adapted from a book (which I haven’t read), it maintains the structure of a novel, what with the jumps in time and voice over from different characters. It is easy to view Michael as representing a disillusioned faction of post-Vietnam youth. This is not a story of villains being brought to justice or good triumphing over evil, but a tragic tale where moral codes are rendered useless within a system built on deception, identities both unclear and ever changing. The film that most comes to mind is Taxi Driver, released a year later. Both protagonists become obsessed with rescuing an apparent young prostitute from the horrors of time square. Travis Bickle’s quest is entirely invented in his own mind, but Moriarty’s goal is a complete farce that he is ordered to complete, a futile quest mired in bureaucracy (Kafka-esque, it would seem). They are both anti-heros disgusted with the immorality they see around them, but Bickle eventually externalizes this anger and frustration as violence, while the much gentler Moriarty internalizes it as anguish and sadness.

In my opinion, this movie is Michael Moriarty’s greatest showcase, a NY method actor who some may find hammy (or a complete nut altogether). Here he is perfectly cast as a man whose internalized turmoil can’t help but externalize itself in some form, a reservoir of emotion he doesn’t quite understand and can’t control. Along with a host of great NY character actors from the period, we also have the criminally underrated Yaphet Kotto in a crucial supporting role. While his character could have been a total cliché, the requisite “grizzled cop on the edge”, he manages to bring his unique blend of humor and emotional gravitas to the role. For example, during the hostage scene, even standing there seemingly doing nothing, Yaphet’s always expressive eyes convey a man who is used to being in control of the situation, always having an answer for the chaos around him, but suddenly finding himself in a situation that lacks any sort of rational solution. His street logic is no match for this widespread social dynamic, a disease invisible to even the trained eye of a detective. His character transitions from a cynical but fun loving cop that seems to enjoy his job (despite being mired in a cesspool) to a man that goes on a quest of his own, hoping to “rescue” Moriarty when he is eventually brought up on murder charges. When they were working together, Yaphet would make fun of him, puzzled at this odd bird. However, he can’t help but be affected by Michael’s humanity amidst this hopeless situation, and tries to do what he can to save this man before he is coldly crushed by a tangled bureaucracy to which he remained oblivious.

some of the audio is out of sync, btw

P.S. This was written as part of Lost Video Archive's "Week of Yaphet Kotto" blogathon. Here are the other pieces. Check 'em out!

Monday Nov. 15th
Unflinching Eye - Alien
Raculfright 13's Blogo Trasho - Truck Turner
Tuesday Nov. 16th
Lost Video Archive - Raid on Entebbe
Manchester Morgue - Friday Foster
Wednesday Nov. 17th
Booksteve's Library - Live and Let Die
Thursday Nov. 18th
Mondo 70 - Drum
B Movies and Beyond - The Monkey Hu$tle
Cinema Gonzo - Report to the Commissioner
Friday Nov. 19th
Illogical Contraption - Eye of the Tiger
Ninja Dixon - Across 110th St.
Lines That Make Things - The A Team (TV episode)
Things That Don't Suck - Blue Collar
Saturday Nov. 20th
Breakfast In the Ruins - Bone
Lost Video Archive - The Park Is Mine

Sunday, November 14, 2010

THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE (1990) - buy a ticket, roll your dice, take a ride, and just be happy you're out of the house

Quick, dear reader: Which one of these men aren't properly respected? Answer: both, although Rodney managed to turn it into a virtue.

Humor can do oh so much more than merely entertain bored schmucks. It also helps to shine a light on our human differences, allowing us to laugh at them, instead of these differences driving us apart, harvesting anger and fear. One such humorist that fits this ideal is Andrew "Dice" Clay, and I feel the need to illuminate his comedic art, for fear he may be lost to history. Some of my favorite bits of his include (say them out loud using your best Diceman impersonation for best results):

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Why is this faggot sitting on a wall? Because he's a homo, OH!"

"I was with this broad, and she started complaining, 'Dice...GUHGUHGUHGUHGUHGUHGUH', and I told her 'if my balls were in your mouth like they should be, I wouldn't have to listen to you complain. I've got two of them. They're both fucking phenomenal...OH!"

And, of course, my personal favorite "Anne Frank...I fucked her! GUHGUHGUHGUHGUHGUH...OH!"

While many may view Clay's humor as passe, a collection of neanderthal tirades against women, gays and minorities that remains a relic of a less politically correct past, I think these people are missing the point. Clay has the BALLS (two of them, as he previously explained) to voice the more base attitudes that lurk within the male psyche (like a fear of strong women and/or anthropomorphic eggs) and present them in a humorous context so that the audience may laugh at them from a distance while getting closer to the truth (that last bit is one of the many smarty pants zen thingies I'm famous for). It's unfortunate that he seems a bit lost to history, but if he returns in a big bad way, don't call it a comeback. He's been at the top of his game for years. You've just been asleep at the wheel buddy boy. As I've always said, bet against the Diceman and you'll roll snake eyes. Yes, I'm a master of puns. You're welcome.

I'm blastin', outlastin', kimda like Shaft, so you could say I'm shaftin'. Brilliant...and he can act! (well...recite dialogue)

Regardless, we can still go back in time via the magic technology known as VHS and/or DVD (for the high falluters), re-entering a point in history when throwing heaps and piles of money into star vehicles for Andrew "Dice" Clay seemed like a brilliant idea. I could've dissected Brainsmasher: A Love Story, Albert Pyun's mostly unheralded action comedy that is exclusively about Clay beating up ninjas for the hand of Teri Hatcher (I don't quite follow the logistics of how that works, but if it nets you Teri, why ask why). Instead, I will tackle The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, which is not only the definitive entry in the Dice-sploitation genre, but also fits snuggly into the late eighties/early nineties mini-genre of overblown and overdumb camp detective/cop movies (Last Boy Scout and Tango and Cash come to mind). Fairlane takes this shopworn base and aims for transcendent L.A. vapidity with all of it's might, separating itself from those in the genre who merely aim for big budget, high concept stupidity.

Well, the "plot" concerns a rock n' roll detective named Ford Fairlane who is hired to solve the murder of the lead singer (Vince Neil) of "Black Plague" (a band that uncoincidently sounds exactly like early nineties Motley Crue). This sets up a convoluted investigation that takes Dice all over Hollywood, bumping into an oddball onslaught of characters, including Morris Day (of "The Time", of course), Sheila E., David Patrick Kelly, Kari Wuhrer, Ed O'Neil, Robert Englund, Josie and the Pussycats (?, and featuring Pamela Adlon), and Tone Loc (for street cred, of course). Priscilla Presley also shows up, seemingly reprising her role from The Naked Gun, but played "straight" (if humor isn't your bag). Oh yeah, Dice's arch nemesis, an evil record company suit, is played by, yes, Wayne Newton. That fucking Las Vegas stench has spread to Hollywood somehow. Thankfully, good does conquer evil (or pompadour vs. plugs, if you prefer) when Dice throws a milkshake in Wayne's face and sets him on fire. Whatever gets the job done, as I usually proclaim when forced to pontificate in reductive sound bites. Most curious to me is comic genius Gilbert Gottfried's role as a shock jock modeled after Howard Stern. Ironically, Gilbert got to be well known from his many appearances on Howard's show, including crucial early bookings where he impersonated, you guessed it, Andrew "Dice " Clay. Whoever said that life is one big cycle and that everything is connected is really really smart. Like fortune cookie smart (minus the MSG, of course).

In the end, the "investigation" is a bullshit clothesline for some pure Diceman antics, as true a star vehicle as Hollywood has ever concocted. The movie is not really about an investigation, nor a fable of how the sands of justice quickly sift through the pork greased fingers of the law, nor even the music industry's propensity to value commerce over music (this last one seems to be an actual point that the filmmakers wish to convey, cutely determined as they are to point out the obvious). No, it's about one Andrew fucking Clay Silverstein (I added the "fucking" part for emotional effect; the Silverstein bit is his actual last name, and not a sly dig at Jewish masculinity). He's a true rebel, pissing squarely in the face of any and all rules of decorum (the biggest one being, ironically, don't urinate on your superiors), as evidenced by his opening monologue: "I wish the music industry and the rest of the globe would suck my dick...Tracy". This is essentially as deep as the character development descends, but when the audience is forced to step in such a shallow hole right off the bat, it doesn't bode well for this hoary path laid forth by the screenwriter(s) (probably seven hacks circled around a table, buried up to their noses in cocaine). Again, the script is not about humor, nor drama, nor even a send up of detective movie cliches. Alas, it is about vapidity, and only of the type that seeps across the smog of greater Los Angeles, assuming greatness is measured in light and motion and form. Luckily, they found one of the very few earthlings that can illicit laughs and "balls out" early nineties entertainment via a specific strain of rebellious causation under such suffocating constraints (i.e. dialogue that is funny to hacks who happen to be balls deep in nose candy). I have taken the time to compile the "funniest" lines from the film, showcasing our hero as he turns dialogue straw into cinematic gold (or solid copper at the very least).

Since this cinematic "artpiece" is completely devoid of any "content" (assuming the literary mode of classical film criticism) , we can focus on motherfucking STYLE, paying special attention to Dice's impeccable timing and physical gesturing. Despite what the meatheads may conclude (word of advice: ignore all meatheads, unless you are extrapolating humor from an ironic base), Clay's comedy lies not in the punchline, but in his aggro-male confidence during delivery. He's the cock of the walk, and to such an absurd degree that the humor explodes forth in the form of the audience tripping over a fake cock while walking in front of him whilst cursing the crotch gods (metaphorically speaking, as it were). Look no further than the scene wear Dice busts into an impromptu rockabilly number that is frankly shitty beyond belief. As if he didn't already think highly of himself, he exalts in pop ecstasy "hey look at me, I'M FUCKING ELVIS!". It's all a cock blasting posture meant to expose the masculine mind, so that scholars, while dusting off documents of popular culture while sifting through the ruins of the apocalypse, can finally, against all odds, become attuned to the obvious, all to the tune of a song and dance so wretched that it cannot possibly pose as any sort of distraction from the anthropological merits within. If you're not buying what I'm selling (and most of us are, after all, salesmen, in one way or another), jump forward to the scene where Dice heads back to his beachfront house after it was ransacked by a couple of Wayne Newton cronies (the worst kind, folliclally and otherwise). He finds his puppet koala lynched, and explosions and asses and whatever ensues for the last half hour or so, where the rubber meets the proverbial road, crashing through plot roadblocks to hit a stretch of pure cinematic highway (still totally dumb, but...whatever yo). Say what you will, but the sorority house scene is cinema in it's purest form, assuming you equate purity to the movement and form of the female body (i.e. you're a dude with loin-based taste). As a quick aside...god bless the Greeks. Sorority houses? Just fucking brilliant.

Laugh as they will, but many a historian seek to document faithfully while missing the obvious with equal aplomb. Yes, the Diceman postured his way into the American consciousness, but his current act, a post-modern screed where he complains about being a Jewish dinosaur who was once too cool for school until the school passed him by. Yes, mere posture is rendered irrelevant when run through the great equalizer that is time, but, alas, anti-posture slyly sits in the shadows, impervious to the general eye, always ready to pounce should acute eyes of pop culture rubble get off their high horses and get real.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PUNK VACATION (1987) - nowhere near as exciting as a holiday in Cambodia

take notice of the awesome fashion and general lack of punk rock ethos

Boy, life in small town America sure is great. People are honest, bald eagles soar unabated, and commies (or whomever the enemy is this month) are nowhere to be found. A local father owns a semi-profitable diner (very semi) with his two lovely daughters (Lisa the oldest has a pair of bitchin' eyebrows, for what it's worth) helping out, serving apple pie to true Americans. Lo and behold, some "punk" comes through town, trying to get a cola out of the soda machine. It eats his forty cents and, since he is angry at the man, and the man is responsible for creating modern technology, he starts punching the machine repeatedly. Well, the father notices this punk rock commotion and sticks a shotgun in his face, inspiring the punk rocker to get on his bike and split. After all, forty cents is no excuse for such a fervent assault on American innovation. Unfortunately for the family, he is a member of a big angry punk gang, and forty cents is a big sum of money to somebody who is essentially unemployable. The gang soon returns to the scene of the soda pop assault, sexually assaulting the adorable younger daughter (Lisa is spared, but only because she ran off earlier with her pig boyfriend) and murdering the father, thereby destroying this true blue American family. Way to piss in the face of old glory guys.

this is a pre-off screen rape still of the youngest daughter

While you're probably wondering how listening to punk rock music would lead one to commit such unspeakable crimes over a mere forty cents, these are a special brand of punkers only found in the movies. They don't sit around having a T.V. party, enjoying some free sushi while blaring Black Flag on a boom box covered in punk stickers, cracking Ronald Reagan jokes. Instead, they show a general hatred of society seemingly just to annoy the squares, and they dress in a confused combination of goth, burnout, metal, and punk styles. Basically, it's the 80's version of those 50's troubled teen movies, where groups of unruly kids are running around getting their kicks, up to no good for no good reason just because it pisses off their parents (except the 50's kids at least had a consistent style). Where as the enemies to 50's society were specific archetypes (greasers and commies), everyone in the 80's who didn't dress "normal" or seemed foreign was considered a potential threat. Therefore, punks in movies could be any young person dressed scruffily or abnormal, and any foreigner could be an evil terrorist. Look no further than Invasion U.S.A., where Chuck Norris has to defend honest American families from a terrorist group that consists of a wide range of 80's ethnic stereotypes (Arabs, Mexicans, Eastern Europeans, etc.), whose only apparent motive for killing innocent Americans and blowing up their shopping malls and what have you is their collective hatred of freedom and/or apple pie and/or Bruce Springsteen.

These punks are on "vacation" in this small town, living in an abandoned barn. I doubt these "punks" have real careers or are going to school, so I guess they are just tired of living in the city, and want some fresh podunk air and maybe have a little fun with the locals. However, their little rape and murder games pissed off older sister Lisa, who's about to take the law into her own hands (despite her boyfriend being a cop, but I guess she has no time for whatever red tape he has to deal with). She tracks down the punks to their hide out, but, since hot chicks tend to make shitty vigilantes, she ends up tied to a tree in her underwear (at least she looks fantastic in her failure). She wisely tries to get friendly with the punk girls, admitting that "one of my best friends became a Scientologist". I guess that's her only brush with the outsider mentality. Being that this is 1987, this Scientology dig is pretty ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, it's basically become a big brainwashing cult ponzi scheme, all designed to make money, which hardly makes it a viable comparison to the punk rock ethos (even though these are fake punks). Remember, if you want to be a real punk, you have to get rid of any money you acquire immediately, maybe get that Japanese Minor Threat import on red vinyl, or perhaps several cases of generic beer.

Thankfully, Lisa's cop boyfriend and his black partner infiltrate the punk's hideout to save her. Why they would keep her hostage in her underwear is not exactly clear, but they do blare some cool synthy "punk" music and do some rad dance around her as she's tied up, and that's pretty awesome (this is the only instance of punk music in the entire film, and it's really more post-punk anyway). The badged porkers immediately rescue Lisa, and this sets off a meager yet elongated chase scene that continues until the next day. Lead punk girl Ramrod does get in some good rants in against the boys in blue and the redneck town (and she even manages to namedrop the "military industrial complex" along the way). She also inspires her troops with a (ironically) Patton-esque speech, working them into such a frenzy that one dude even whips out a pair of nunchukus. That's fucking punk rock right there.

The film is essentially Greydon Clark's Skinheads with hair (and some big hair to boot), minus the campy dialogue (which, considered it came from the mouths of angry skinheads, is no mean feat). The whole affair lacks any forward impetus, what with a confused bunch of poseurs hanging out after having committed a heinous crime, and local law enforcement instigating a tepid showdown. The movie is basically about FASHION, and that is where it succeeds (check the clips for proof). Unfortunately, it seems as if the "punk rock ideal", in a lot of social circles, is solely an application of style, rather than a social movement, and this movie is no different (except that the people aren't real, of course).

Most insufferably of all, WHERE IS THE FUCKING PUNK MUSIC? I know it's a low budget film, so they couldn't license The Clash and The Sex Pistols and what have you, but they could have easily recorded some local band slamming through power chords in a garage, the lead singer screaming about an unabashed hatred for the whore that is a society unquestioned by the masses. Hell, the guitars needn't even be in tune. Instead, we get a lot of generic action synth, and a main theme that sounds suspiciously like a Wang Chung instrumental, which is a compliment of sorts. Keep in mind that I'm no Wang Chung apologist, but the synth instrumental score they did for To Live and Die in L.A. is pretty damn good. However, most of the songs on their albums are complete shite, except for the superb Dance Hall Days (also featured in the TLADIL.A.). Anyway, this song is about as punk rock as Punk Vacation, so go Wang Chung tonight and stick it to the "military industrial complex", whatever that is.