Ever since Marlon Brando’s Johnny in The Wild One was asked, "What are you rebelling against?" and he answered, "What have you got?" youth rebellion has been a mainstay in movies, making for some good, bad, and often subversive films. From Rebel Without A Cause to Wild In The Streets to Rock & Roll High School and Over The Edge -- all films that have elements of screwing the man. Altamont Now, directed by Joshua Brown, is more of a spoof of the genre but still keeps the spirit alive.
Like the late '60s films of Peter Watkins (Privilege, Punishment Park) or Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, Altamont Now has faux-documentary elements and mixes in a lot of old B-roll using numerous film sources. Unlike the acid pace of those films, this has a more modern, hyper visual and editing style that helps contribute to the movie's anarchy. The film opens a la Blair Witch Project, reporting to be lost footage; luckily that angle is never really pushed (unlike the recent fake doc Catfish where the directors are still doing press claiming the obviously staged film is real). The "this is lost footage" claim is actually making fun of an already stale storytelling element. We never for a second believe that it works as a documentary; when only two people are in a room, there always seems to be a third person in the room working the camera.Continue Reading
Black Snake Moan
Black Snake Moan opens in the deep, poor South, as “Ronnie” (Timmerlake) leaves to join the Coast Guard. He leaves, in his wake, his white trash girlfriend, “Rae” (Ricci) - a young woman of dubious morals. As soon as his bus has left, Rae falls under “the sickness” and spreads her legs all over the small town. She is left for dead in the middle of the rural countryside, and found by a God-fearing former blues man turned farmer named “Lazarus” (Jackson). He nurses her back to health, keeping her hostage in hopes of curing her wicked ways, with the help of the Lord. In her salvation from sin, he hopes it will also be his own.
This is truly a unique, bizarre, and well-crafted story about a very specific slice of life. Although it takes place in present day, the film feels almost like a work of the 1970s.Continue Reading
Blood for Dracula
When I caught wind that Andy Warhol produced trashy cult films in the '70s, I rushed to find everything available. Trash, Heat, and Flesh were introduced to me first, and all of these are directed by Paul Morrissey. What's also funny about this movie and all of the Morrissey/Warhol collaborations is that they star one of Warhol's troubled muses from his photography career, Joe Dallesandro. There is also a rumored cameo from Roman Polanski, but I've been too in awe of the cheesy story to keep an eye out for him. Blood for Dracula is perhaps one of the cooler variations of Bram Stoker's Dracula tale. This is due, in part, to Udo Kier's sickly performance as the famed blood-sucker. In short, it is a version that presents the villain in a pathetic light, which ultimately turns the entire move into a satirical mess. Count Dracula and his dying sister are in a bit of a bind. Both are extremely ill and fear that the next slumber they have in their tombs will be their last. Unlike most other Dracula tales, these two require a special kind of blood to feast on: the blood of a virgin. Just when their future looks bleak due to all the promiscuous girls in town, the Count's servant convinces him to have a vacation in a city with more religious convictions. They decide on Italy, and upon arrival, hear of a family with four marriageable daughters who are interested in suitors.
Before they arrive, the parents (Vittorio De Sica, Maxime McKendry) of the four girls decide to coach their daughters and emphasize the importance of the Count's inquiry and his request for a virgin bride. Little do they know that two of their daughters have frequent rendezvous with their manservant, Mario (Joe Dallesandro). Once the Count arrives, he goes through some trouble explaining the coffin he has brought with him and is escorted around the grounds in a wheelchair because he's so weak. He also goes through many comical efforts to remind his hosts that he has a special diet. One of the funniest and most pitiful scenes is when he is desperately in need of nourishment and his servant returns with bread soaked in a girl's blood. It has this odd and somewhat intentional resemblance to a drug addict blissfully indulging in his latest "hit." When the need for blood becomes unbearable, he moves in for the kill and begins visiting the two daughters who are the most attractive. It just so happens that these two are the ones who are involved with Mario and their blood makes him sicker than he was before. Everything boils down to the other two daughters. He creates a bond with the eldest, and she is the one who is honest about her past suitors, thus ultimately of no use to him. The only one left is the youngest, who the parents claim is too young to marry, and is also a prude. But before he can get to her, Mario beings to snoop around and notices that his two lovers' behavior has grown more than mysterious since Dracula's arrival.Continue Reading
Before director David Lynch got too carried away with his so-called genius, before his television show Twin Peaks brought him into the home and consciousness of the casually pretentious, before he would slap any old weird images together and have people call it art, back in ’86 he made his best film...Blue Velvet. It had much of the surreal oddball touches we’ve come to expect from a "David Lynch film," but instead of relying on hammy artifices, it’s just simply a haunting, funny, and beautifully crafted film. Though it’s challenging and can be considered an "art film," it’s still one of Lynch’s most accessible films and works just as well as a straight suspense movie.
Before Blue Velvet helped push David Lynch further into the "auteur" big leagues, he had already had some major artistic success. His first feature film, the horror, sci-fi, surreal Eraserhead became an instant cult film for both its disturbing imagery as well as the humor in its strange pacing. He got an Oscar nomination for his next film, the beautiful and disturbing studio picture, The Elephant Man. He was miscast as blockbuster director for Dune; the adaptation of the popular sci-fi novel was a massive bomb, both financially and creatively. Though Blue Velvet was produced by the big-time producing Dino De Laurentiis Company and was even originally sold as a mainstream thriller, it was Lynch’s return to his roots with an original screenplay, not developed for him, but by him and his own weird mind. Lynch and the film were obviously embraced by Hollywood. With Blue Velvet he would score another Oscar nomination for directing, but it meant he would never go back to being a "director for hire."Continue Reading
One of the most magical theatrical experiences I ever had was catching a super advance screening of Bubba Ho-Tep at an event that star Bruce Campbell had attended to intro his most famous feature film, The Evil Dead. Bruce brought it along as the surprise first half of a double bill and, for the unsuspecting audience, we had no idea of the absurd, scary and hilarious ride that we were in for. I often wondered if this experience skewed my love of the film more toward the favorable because of the whole night surrounding it, but I have since revisited the movie numerous times and I still love it just as much as the first time I’d seen it, if not even more!
It opens with a title crawl that gives us the following definitions:Continue Reading
To be considered the "second coming" of anything is a huge weight to carry upon one’s shoulders. Caravaggio is the story of Michelangelo Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), a painter who is seen as the new Michelangelo amongst his supporters, and a priest who discovered him while he was a teenage prostitute. The film shifts between three stages of Caravaggio’s life: his adolescence, his middle-aged years, and finally, his last few days on his deathbed where he dies slowly, in agony and in exile. The entire film is set in a timeless Vienna, part regal and part modern, which seems to be the norm in Jarman’s films.
In his adolescence, Caravaggio (Dexter Fletcher) is a hustler, using his paintings to make extra money on the streets or taking direction from his "guardian" to return home with the male buyers when their interest is not in his paintings. His work is mainly mimetic and consists of still-lifes of fruit or people, and eventually falls into the hands of a priest whose church looks after Caravaggio once he becomes gravely ill for the first time. He then begins a sort of commission for the church in exchange for money and support, ironically or purposefully similar to the late Michelangelo in reality. This sponsorship continues into his adulthood, but his work changes from the simply mimicry of objects and people into the bold representations of them. With each painting, he uses live models to recreate sorrowful, if not gruesome details of the human condition.Continue Reading
Apparently there is something timeless about the Oedipus complex, as well as the fear of a catastrophic death. We play with the idea of the world coming to an end and cities crumbling to ruin in almost every action or sci-fi film. The thrill is exhausted, and the same is true of the over-saturated use of Freud. However, with Guy Maddin's Careful I venture to say that one may view a radiant and technically stunning movie about fear itself. The borders we create with other human beings, both relatives and strangers, are shifted in a way that is cult-like, similar to the backwards villages that were the foundation of our society. To add to the old feeling of a place filled with religious fanatics is a looming fear that is as outrageous as it is interesting.
In the town of Tolzbad, we find a group of people who must must never be careless or loud in their activities. In the past, the sound of an animal or a sneeze could potentially cause an avalanche from the mountains nearby. The fear of this tragic death has lead to several procedures and guidelines that should prevent it from ever happening again. Animals have had their vocal cords cut; children are gagged while playing until they are old enough to understand the consequences of their squeals; windows are covered with sheepskin, and all instruments are muffled. On top of the sound restraints are general warnings; never hold a baby by a pin, don't climb the mountains without proper gear, etc. The unison of superstition and nervousness provided more of an insight to a time long gone than the use of technicolor (or hand tinting?) throughout the film, or the silent-era design.Continue Reading
Cecil B. Demented
There was an attractiveness to having this be my first John Waters movie. As a growing cult fanatic, I found it odd that I'd never seen any of Waters' films, and, I'll admit, I assumed that he was too much of a staple in the cult-world; his fans seemed to be fond of him more than the movies. Moviegoers and Waters fans, from many different tastes, claimed that this was his worst movie. The steadfast remarks intrigued me, so I went and saw it at a revival theater thinking, "…well, it can only get better, apparently." The struggle to not judge the film too harshly was diminished as soon as the introduction credits came on. Mismatched red and black marquee letters (common for revival theaters) poked fun at mainstream cinema by having fake titles like Forest Gump 2 appear on the lineup and dissolve into a cast or crew members' name. From the beginning it was clear that Waters was a man who liked details, and I was allowed to then be rid of doubt. The movie opens with a buzz over actress Honey Whitlock's (Melanie Griffith) premiere of her latest mainstream flop. The premiere is in Baltimore, and she turns just about every silent moment to herself into an occasion of bantering and disrespect of the town and its civilians. Meanwhile, a young group of misfits has infiltrated the theater's staff at the venue which is to house the event. Whispering mini-manifestos into walki-talkies for encouragement and prepping their alarming amount of explosives and ammunition, they eagerly await Honey's arrival. Their mission, headed by Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff), is to kidnap the star and force her to act in their one and only underground film. Their message: take back the cinema, or more appropriately, death to bad cinema (as in blockbusters). The kidnapping is completed, but there is a casualty, so soon the group is wanted for murder. Still, they a...Continue Reading
If I had to sum up Cry-Baby in a sentence for someone, I would say that it is the wet dream of John Waters. Not since Kenneth Anger has there ever been someone who plays on the homoeroticism of hairless leather-daddies and rockabilly culture with such style. The movie also has what I would consider to be a dream cast for Waters, with Johnny Depp leading the pack. There's also his late muse, Ricki Lake, and small performances by Iggy Pop, Mink Stole, Joe Dallesandro, and a cameo by Willem Dafoe. To boot, the soundtrack is also outrageously good, featuring some of my favorite doo-wop, rockabilly, and psychobilly songs.
To compare this gem with other greaser vs. socs movies would be placing an emphasis on the more typical parts of the story; a nice town in 1950s suburbia is split in two, with its elite on one side and the trailer-trash on the other. But you have to remember that this is not The Outsiders or Grease, nor a jailhouse/Elvis flick. In fact, it's a parody of such movies. Waters takes the road-rebel genre and turns it into an opportunity to direct an over-the-top musical about teenagers and star-crossed love. The result is a story about a young man named Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Johnny Depp), a juvenile delinquent who prides himself on the ability to shed a single tear when confronted by his emotions. Behind him, sporting leather jackets with his name on the back, is his gang, referred to by the town as “drapes.” Perhaps the name comes from the emotional curtain of hair that keeps half of their faces in shadow. There's his plump and pregnant sister, Pepper (Ricki Lake); the fiery Wanda (Traci Lords); and the oddest couple to ever hit the screen, Milton (Darren E. Burrows) and his gal, Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire). Their rivals on the playground are the suburban “squares,” and like other movies with the same theme, these characters are given little screen time and are presented as the enemy. The starlet among them is Allison (Amy Locane), a blonde who's seen as the most talented and beautiful among the rich. Allison and Cry-Baby lock eyes while getting a polio shot in the gymnasium. The sight of her makes him shed a tear, and the rest is history.Continue Reading
I readily admit that among my favorite films some are more naturally enjoyable than others. I’ve enjoyed the films of Guy Maddin and Godard and Bergman I’ve seen, but their films are generally not those I’m going to put on after a few drinks on a Saturday night. That sacred time slot is reserved for The Girl Can’t Help It or All about Eve or True Romance. A really brilliantly made film designed to be popular with lots of people is my favorite kind of film, truth be told. Ed Wood is a superb film that should have been a hit with audiences but was inexplicably not. I’d lump similarly marvelous entertainments, Quiz Show and L.A. Confidential, into this category as well. The fact that they were celebrated by critics and not particularly popular with the public is just another piece of evidence that I don’t understand the American public very much at all.
Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s lost classic. He was sent into movie director purgatory because of its dismal box office performance and it took several films (mostly remakes) to regain his stature as an auteur with box office clout. Ed Wood is Burton’s ode to the auteur, in this case a hopeless kind of auteur. It’s a celebration of the kind of director who stays defiantly, naively, but always sincerely true to his own cinematic vision. Ed Wood the man is notorious as one of the worst directors who ever made movies in Hollywood. Burton uses Wood's life and career as a means to examine the pressures on an artist as he tries to turn his vision into reality. The film is also a touching story of friendship between a Hollywood monster movie has-been (Martin Landau playing Bela Lugosi) and the ultimate Hollywood outsider working on the fringe of the poverty row film industry. It’s also a love letter of sorts to a Hollywood that no longer exists—Hollywood the small town with its crazy hat-shaped restaurants and eccentric, seedy show people. Not since Edward Scissorhands had Burton made such a personal film about the life of an artist.Continue Reading