Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains is a punk rock fantasy that would have us believe an arena of already brain-washed punks (or skunks as they call themselves, here) would sincerely listen to Ray Winstone lecture them about how they’ve been marketed to by a fraudulent female punk band that is more fashion than fury. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains is a satire, but it fails to mock the simple notion that no rocker pushing 30 is going to be able to talk any sense into a crowd of consumerist teen rebels. That’s just farce.

This movie was fun as a kid, but it’s more funny than fun once you are over 30 and no longer trustworthy. I think I’ll stick with Out of the Blue

Detour (1945)

DetourArgue all you want, but Detour is horribly flawed. Roger Ebert uses an analysis by Andrew Britton to question if lead actor Tom Neal can be a trustworthy narrator. It’s interesting to consider that the dialog he speaks directly to the audience is not a woeful plea for sympathy, but a lie he’s trying to sell to the audience and maybe himself. Regards of what it is, I find it horribly agitating and disruptive. A direct address to the audience is just not something used to seeing in cinema and because its really on his voice that addresses the audience it feels like an after thought. Because the entire film is full of faults this choice does not feel like like a sure-footed decision by a daring director, but a corrective decision. Most of the decisions made in Detour are due to economy more than experimentation. Which is not to say Edgar G. Ulmer is not a good director. That   Detour is entertaining as it is stands as proof that he is good and very inventive. Still, it feels that to appreciate this film you also have to appreciate the circumstances under which it was made, the creative problem solving that brought it together, and the analysis that often sounds like excuses or apologies.

Battle Royale (2000)

Battle RoyaleI have not watched Battle Royale in over a decade.  Here are 5 Random thoughts I have after revisiting the film.

1) The Battle Royale or BR-Act was created after a massive student walk-out. Never is it really stated why there was such a massive walk-out. We are told that it had to do with a decline in the Japanese youth’s respect towards authority, but everything we are told about the decline of Japanese civilization comes from the perspective of those holding power.

2) Few of the students in the class chosen for the Battle Royale complain about school or the abusive powers of authority. Many recoil in shock when they find out that they have to kill one another or when they watch a classmate get killed, but few ever complain about the conditions of school or society that caused them to rebel, walk-out, protest, or whatever they did to help degrade society. It leaves me wondering if I am missing something. Was Japanese society at the turn of the last century already witnesses an unraveling of its social fabric by the youth of the country? Was there simply something in the air that signaled a drop in respect for tradition and authority was imminent? And what was causing the youth to act out? Were they pushing back against a schooling system that was pushing them too hard or were they falling under the influence of Western civilization? Most most intriguing is how Battle Royale simply asks audiences to accept the deplorable behavior of Japanese youth with little evidence. Compare this with Punishment Park, a film that used the war protests and actions of groups like the Weathermen as a basis for its vision of a brutal future.

3) Is Battle Royale more a send-up of teen melodramas than a dystopian nightmare? Most of the students concerned about expressing their lustful feelings for each other before they die. The vomiting forth of pent-up emotions and suppressed lust comes erupts awkwardly, like a John Hughes film. Petty differences are put aside by some, while others relish the opportunity to use the BR-Act as a chance to strike back at their tormentors.  Battle Royal also follows the teenager slasher trend of making slutty girls pay for their past transgressions while virginal school girls survive…or at least one does.

The Third Man? A Carol Reed reference by way of NBA JAMS?

A Carol Reed reference by way of NBA JAM?

4) Knowing nothing of real hacker culture I could be way off the mark when I speculate that hacking software does not always involve cartoons characters slam dunking basketballs. Again, I plead ignorance.

5) What’s the logic of throwing ringers into the mix? The two transfer students are far superior at the Battle Royale and their inclusion helps raise the death toll quickly, but are they necessary? The rules of the game already ensure that the regular students have to kill each other if one of them hopes to survive. So, you don’t need merciless hunters to bring about a winner. Plus, if Takeshi Kitano‘s character is rooting for one of the girls two win, the inclusion of theses ringers does more to damage her chances of surviving. Since they are more like hardened killers than bad students forced to kill one another. Of course, I’m arguing about a scripted story with a predetermined outcome. But, I’m also saying that if the day ever comes that Battle Royale becomes necessary and real I’d forgo the idea of throwing in ringers as transfer students.

Black Shampoo (1976)

Mr. Jonathan is hairdresser / Lothario who does far more than a woman’s hair. When he’s not satisfying his sexually starved clientele he’s a mean fighting machine looking to win back the receptionist who has been stolen away from him.

Made one year after Shampoo starring Warren BeattyBlack Shampoo is one of the oddest twists blaxploitation has ever taken.  With its odd mix of styles the film sexploitation, blaxploitation, even gayploitation (if that is even a genre) this film mixes action, comedy and romance in a way that only director Greydon Clark and writer Alvin L. Fast are capable of doing.

Black Shampoo often screeches to a halter for the sake of showing some serious skin. Clark knows that sex sells and many of his exploitation films try to take this philosophy to the bank, but often in such head scratching ways that his films become either brilliant forays into the unexpected or bungled messes. It really depends on how you look at it and how much you demand a film stick to convention. Personally, I’ll take unexpected, even wonderfully crazy, if I’m looking to be entertained. Show me something I could not think up on my own. A black hairdresser kicking ass with chainsaw and partying at a gay rodeo…where else am I going to see that?

 

The Evictors (1979)

When a film promises me Vic Morrow as its star I expect something special. What The Evictorsdelivers is a less than stellar, down-right, subdued performance by Vic Morrow. The film’s story centers around a house with a violent history. When new tenants move in, the violence continues, but its not hard to figure who’s trying to scare or kill off the home’s new owners. Made as a period piece, The Evictors does a good job capturing the look of various eras, but that should be no surprise. Director Charles B. Pierce made most of his living as a set decorator. I can’t think of two many other set decorators who also directed. Pierce has made at least great two creepy, southern horror films - The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). The Evictors is in the same vein, but not as successful.

Kiss Me Deadly

How is this Mickey Spillane's latest H-Bomb?

How is this Spillane’s latest H-Bomb?

The Robert Aldrich film Kiss Me Deadly is based on a Mickey Spillane novel of the same name. However, A.I. Bezzerides‘ script adds the film’s most memorable elements of nuclear espionage and a Los Angeles backdrop, things that appear nowhere in the novel. One thing the two Kiss Me Deadlys share is Mike Hammer. Perhaps that name just doesn’t mean much to me. I don’t watch this film because I want to watch a Mike Hammer story. I watch it because of the touches Bezzeride’s script add to the story. I want to see a noir film with atomic paranoia set in the Los Angeles underbelly. So, why bother adapting when you could just write an original? The Coen’s Brother’s Miller’s Crossing takes liberally from Dashiell Hammett‘s The Glass Key, but that book and author are given no credit in the film. Would anyone have cared, or even noticed, if Bezzerides or Aldrich borrowed Spillane’s plot? All they’d have to remove was that name – Mike Hammer. Would anyone have cared? Remember, this was years before Darren McGavin or Stacy Keach developed the character on screen.

30th Century Man (2006)

I remember an internet friend – those kind you know only online, but have never met face to face – writing extensively about Walker. It was intriguing, but far too in depth. I needed a primer. What I needed was a good entry point and guide to Scott Walker.We all have cultural blind spots. Even when I feel confident that I know a little about a lot of things, I come across some topic or subject that I know squat about. Scott Walker is one such thing. I’m partially embarrassed to admit that until recently I knew absolutely nothing of the singer Scott Walker, Okay, I knew this song, but I never knew who sang it.

If the point of a documentary is to share something of the real world then 30th Century Man is a good documentary.  It is, however, not a film you have to watch. There are long segments of this film where the visuals serve little purpose or add next to nothing to my understand of the film’s subject. Watching others listen to Walker’s work is an interesting element, but it doesn’t pay off. No matter how famous the listeners are, their reactions to the music are too internal to register on camera. Yet, when Brian Eno quips that today’s musicians are adding nothing to development of modern music he’s right. Especially, when we get to hear Walker’s more recent music. Walker is century’s ahead of the pop musician of today.

Let’s hope that at least one of today’s pop artists progress in the wonderful and weird ways that Scott Walker progressed.

The Blob (1957) + Beware! The Blob (1972)

The Blob is a matinee flick wherein Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut play very old teenagers who cannot get adults to heed their warnings about an intergalactic menace. It’s a classic, but it’s overshadowing an equally entertaining blob film.

Beware! The Blob diverges little from its predecessor’s plot. Again, a gelatinous life form is unleashed and few believe the teen witnesses. Filled with far more humor, Beware! The Blob is a surprisingly fun sequel filled with great bit parts by Richard StahlGodfrey CambridgeGerrit GrahamBurgess Meredith, and many other.

Poking fun at its genre and source material this Larry Hagman directed horror comedy, mixes farcical jokes with traditional scares. There is some low-budget, but inventive camera work and special effects, not to mention some of the wackiest dialog I’ve heard in ages. “Hey let’s go to your place and have an avocado sandwich, on whole wheat bread, with alfalfa sprouts, and Monterey Jack cheese.”

You’d have to watch Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch to find a similar comparison between The Blob and Beware! The Blob, with the first film setting up a premise and the second film having fun with the premise while also poking fun at it.  Joe Dante directed both Gremlins films. His directorial style is a more polished and pointed version of Hagman’s direction, perhaps even influenced by it.

I am quite surprised that it took me so long to stumble upon this gem and to do so uninvited. I cannot recall anyone ever suggesting it to me, nor reading about it in any books or magazines – even those that deal mainly with b-movies. Frankly, I’m shocked as Beware! The Blobis one of the most enjoyable popcorn flicks I’ve seen in some time. I also now get the reference made by WFMU’s Beware of the Blog.

Rollerball (1975)

Rollerball predicts a corporatized future where the most popular sport is a no holds barred, semi-motorized version of roller derby. It’s vision of the future is part Ikea, part Eames, and part Playboy advertisement. It’s masculinity meets mod.  What’s so strikingly wrong about its vision of the future is just how it is so low-key and unadorned with advertising. Rollerball is a far cry from NASCAR. Though, I’d much preferred to have seen a future as stylish as the one in Rollerball and not as slobbish as the future we are living in – minus the bloodlust, an corporate monopoly, of course.

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness is a John Carpenter film that asks us to consider the possibility of a physical embodiment of evil. Located in the basement of a boarded up church lies a vessel containing the anti-christ.  As the evil escapes its holding tank an army of undead surround the church. Religion and science work together understand and contain the force of evil that has laid dormant for eons.

If there is a great fault with this film it casts a gang of less than stellar stars, including Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount as unlikely and not too memorable research students working to save humanity from ultimate evil. A budding romance between Parker and Blount’s characters is meant to draw us in emotionally. While most of the other students simply serve as hapless victims. In the end, I cared little for any of characters and too much for the unexplored history of evil incarnate.

Prince of Darkness does offer up one of the more chilling visuals in horror cinema. It’s a broadcast from the future year of 1999. The image of a dark figure exiting an abandoned church is wavy, broken up by static, and accompanied by garbled audio. What we can make out from the message informs us that in the future they have developed a transmitter strong enough to broadcast into dreams.  The film has a hard time explaining the physics behind how messages from the future can be transmitted into dreams. It is just one of a few interesting ideas that is never explored enough for my liking.