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
Donnie Darko is one of the quintessential cult film of the 21st century. It maintains style and story while simultaneously asking the most existential questions relating to God, good and evil, purpose and place. All the while it presents the music, pastimes and feel of the '80s better than films made during the time did. More realistically, at least. It also showcases and/or introduces the talents of an ensemble cast and has a truly righteous soundtrack.
Our protagonist shares the same name of the film. Donnie, the middle child of a wealthy family in Middlesex, Iowa, stands out from his peers and community in many ways. His earlier years, we later discover, were quite troubled. He sees an expensive shrink twice a week and takes medication. He's bright, though hard to discipline in school. He sleepwalks, ending up all over town in various places - compelled by an imaginary man in an eerie rabbit costume who calls himself Frank. One particular sleepwalk allows him to cheat death when a mysterious jet engine crashes into his bedroom on the same eve. The event changes Donnie's life and the lives of everyone around him forever. This is the film's skeleton, more or less. The flesh is much more enticing and can be considered a religious fable of sorts, where Donnie could easily represent Christ and all supporting characters provide an amalgamation of arch-angels, prophets, messiahs, and the anti-Christ.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
Over the decades, Tim Burton has made himself into a brand name (mostly off the success of his earlier films). While he is a master of images and ideas inspired by comic books, B-movies and campy pop culture, the story and payoff rarely lived up to the potential. After an impressive run of films about outsiders like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands (and the box office bonanza of Batman and Batman Returns), Burton peaked with what is still his best movie, a biography of the beloved, transvestite director of horrible films, Edward D. Wood, Jr., titled appropriately enough Ed Wood. The flick follows Wood in his “Golden Period” of the 1950s and his collaboration and friendship with has-been horror icon Bela Lugosi on three quickie cheapies, Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster and his Citizen Kane, Plan 9 from Outer Space. All three films are on the Mount Rushmore of so-bad-they-are-good movie classics. Wood’s best qualities may have been his enthusiasm and an ability to build a stable of oddball friends who took part in his projects. Burton has managed to craft both a moving tribute to a talentless dreamer and a perfect scene-for-scene recreation of those hilarious films.
The film is shot in gorgeous black and white by cinematographer Stefan Czapsky (Last Exit to Brooklyn), and instead of the usual Danny Elfman score this one is provided by Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings), who brings a fun mix of sci-fi and conga room. Based on the book Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey, the script was written by the screenwriting duo of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who were hot in the quirky bio business, also penning The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon, as well as the Problem Child movies and TV series). Ed Wood marks the second of at least seven films Burton has made with Johnny Depp. And the casting of Depp at the time was really ingenious; who knew the pretty-boy had such creative chops? Depp wonderfully infuses Wood with an ah-shucks charm; everything seems to give Wood zeal. Always the optimist, Wood believes in everything, whether it’s his inept actors, sets, shots or his girlfriend’s sweaters--or the belief in the stardom of Lugosi who, at this point, was a heroin addict with failing health and is played beautifully by Martin Landau. When Wood sees Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), a TV psychic, make ridiculous predictions, he believes him. He spots Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson (George "The Animal" Steele) in the ring, and instantly sees a great actor. And these random people that Wood meets along the way and in whom he believes join him in his own dream of making movies, and in turn believe in him. It's a motley group that includes Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray), a homosexual in search of a sex change operation who is most memorable as The Ruler in Plan 9 from Outer Space, and eventually the horror show hostess Vampira (Lisa Marie), plus assorted goofy crew members. They forge an "Island of Misfit Toys" style family; think Wes Anderson without all the preciousness.Continue Reading
Everyone told me that by the time I got into the early works of John Waters, I'd be blown away. Starting late in his career held its charm, especially with Cry-Baby and Serial Mom, but knowing that he was heavily inspired by the Kuchar brothers and cast eccentrics as wonderful as Divine did give their argument some weight. Female Trouble has not only become one of my favorite cult classics, but one that has helped me put the glorification of its many themes into perspective. On that level, the movie is way ahead of its time by approaching child abuse, violence, and habitual self-destruction as something inevitable and relevant to movie-goers. When you think about it, those issues are touched upon in the majority of American films, though, in retrospect, filmmakers don't often twist these observations into dark comedy.
Like all of his films, it's set in Baltimore, but stars his cream of the crop, Divine, and the wonderful Edith Massey. It's split into several chapters, the first being an introduction to Dawn Davenport's (Divine) youth in 1960. She and her best friends Chicklette and Concetta rant about how much their high school and parents suck and what they hope to get for Christmas. Dawn is expecting black cha-cha heels and vows to raise hell if her parents don't comply with her wishes. Christmas Day comes and she gets a pair of standard black shoes, causing her to throw her mother into the tree and disown her parents. She runs away and gets knocked up by a guy who picks her up hitchhiking (also played by Divine). With a new baby on her hands and him M.I.A., she begins her career as a stripper, prostitute, and petty thief.Continue Reading
Flesh for Frankenstein
If ever trash could have class, this movie would meet the criteria for it. While it boasts a ridiculous concept, even for horror, it plays with aesthetics and story in a truly merited way. This may come as a shock to most, but this is my first "Frankenstein" movie, and I am certainly glad that it is. Somehow the desire to see Frankenstein movies has not yet exceeded curiosity, and that may be due to the similarities between them all. From the first few scenes, it's clear that this movie is unique among the batch, and was therefore a special treat.
The Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) and his wife/sister (Monique van Vooren) live in Serbia with their two creepy children. The movie starts off quite slow and shows the two children's obsession with their father's medical tools and laboratory as they perform mock operations in secrecy. From there, we see the Baron and his assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging), in the lab among several incomplete corpses. It just so happens that the Baron is a perfectionist who's gone off the deep end and wants to create a super-race that will be under his command. His wife knows nothing about his medical experiments, but is frustrated about the excessive amount of time he spends in the lab. Finding a man and a woman to breed the new race was impossible, so the Baron decided to piece together the best parts of several human beings. The zombie female was easy enough to find, as was the body of the male one. Once those two transformations were complete, the maniacal team begins the search for a man's head—equipped with a one-track mind that could turn no woman down.Continue Reading
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Night on Earth) creates a film unlike any other with Ghost Dog. He manages to blend the coda of Kurisowa’s films about Feudal Japan with the characters and locales of an American mobster movie. In concept it may sound like the potential for a trainwreck, but in the hands of one of the leaders in independent cinema, it makes for truly original filmmaking. Jarmusch does a great job of utilizing this mixture of genres, not relying on cookie-cutter stereotypes, but rather, finding a way to flip everything on its head. The result is colorful characters that exist in a reality that is fresh and not found anywhere else.Continue Reading
For the sake of argument, let’s agree that catharsis can come from viewing tragedies. We watch movies circulating around slums and the darkest corners of imagination not only to get a clearer understanding of them but also because we come away feeling a little more alive and grounded in our own circumstances. But there is a unique squalor of America not found anywhere else in the world. A sort of squalor of choice or adaptation where people dwell in their own filth and close-mindedness willingly, and with perceptions that someone forced to live in such a way might not understand. So in response to this catharsis, I’ll be the first to admit that Gummo sort of hit me like a drug. Say, heroin for example. I couldn’t quite grasp what was going on, but in the trailer when I heard Madonna’s voice singing, “In the midnight hour, I can feel your power, just like a prayer, you know I’ll take you there…” over cigar-smoking, cat-torturing youth, a boy in filthy bathwater, a tornado and a happy albino woman dancing in a parking lot, I was pulled into a trial run. But since it also induces a fever-like edge of comedy, I’m going to write this review in the form of a mock prescription.
If you like to be pulled out of yourself in order to see the irony and falsehood of the pursuit of the "American Dream," Gummo might be for you. Set in the tornado-stricken city of Xenia, Ohio, it features the lives of two boys, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton), who spend their days killing cats to sell to butchers, riding bikes with mismatched parts, sniffing glue, having sex, and philosophizing about life in an eerie way that only a person living in this reality can. Their town is filled with strange and disturbing people who are rooted so deeply in their own bitterness, racism, and boredom that their actions can only be received as a cult-like unison of abandon and self-destruction. Chloe Sevigny plays Dot, who along with her sisters Darby and Helen, occupy themselves with a benign sense of vanity and seclusion similar to Little and Big Edie in Grey Gardens. Not exactly hard to watch, but still strange.Continue Reading
Jubilee is like a savage Shakespearian play where the past and present are joined in a marriage of destruction; a pas de deux of chaos.
Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is given a gateway by her Lord, John Dee (Richard O’Brian). With his powers he manifests the angel Ariel (David Brandon) who is able to take her from the past into the future in order for her to see the outcome of a world overturned by an absence of rulers and order. Throughout her journey, he acts as a sort of Greek chorus, yielding actions and prophesying bleak ends.Continue Reading
Not to downplay this movie, because it’s wonderful, but the prime reason to see it is Werner Herzog, who, if you didn’t already know, is absolutely hilarious. Reason number two is that this is the only American film that is classified as a Dogma film under the Dogme 95 criteria. Whether you think the movement is a pretentious load of bull or not is irrelevant. The requirements, while altered I’m sure, are a welcome change in terms of the crystal-clear hoopla thrills that we’re used to. This film employs an array of interesting techniques and improvisational performances that should not be missed.
The story follows a schizophrenic young-adult named Julien (Ewen Bremner), and his dysfunctional family. His brother Chris (Evan Neumann) is a high-school wrestler who aims to please their domineering father; his sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) is mousy individual who is pregnant with Julien’s child; and their father is an impatient bully who you find yourself siding with anyways. Oh, and there’s grandma (Joyce Korine), but she’s kind of like a prop. The entire movie is shot with grainy film stock (possibly 16mm), and is presented in a way that resembles a crazy reality TV show. Julien can be seen hanging out with his handicapped friends, mumbling to himself or others on the street, cross-dressing around the house, etc. The most memorable and heart-breaking of his activities are his phone calls to his deceased mother. He sits in one room, while his sister is in another, and they have conversations over the telephone where she pretends to be their mother. Obviously this is not good for his condition, but it also is one of the few moments that allows you to understand that he has good intentions and is simply lonely.Continue Reading