Of rock, roll, and such

Yes, more movie reviews (I'll do something more inspired one of these days, but for now I'm too lazy to get more funny book covers or somethin' together). Three of 'em are documentaries on bands, thus the tres' clever title.

Okay, so it's not clever. For clever you gotta go to my Twitter account... and then discount around 65% of what I post there, which is, frankly, a bit stupid. Then there's the 15% or so that's just tiresome and vulgar. But the rest, really, sheer gigglepants gold, swear to god, you'll be telling your grandchildren those jokes. And they'll be using that as proof of your senility when they have you sent to a home, where you'll die sad, alone, and exploited, and it'll be my fault.

But, totally worth it, 'cuz some of the jokes are about farts!

Anyway, onward, inward, and upward, with some side-to-side hip action...


Big Fan (C, 2010) Character study of a pathetic sports fan, “Paul from Staten Island” (Patton Oswalt in an incredible performance), whose entire life centers around the New York Giants, or, more specifically, on being a fan of the Giants. He isn’t interested in anything else -- he works in a parking garage booth and turns down better jobs, probably because having to show up for a day job would interfere making his late-night calls to sportstalk shows on the radio. He lives with his mother and bears her humiliating scorn (which is simultaneously painful to watch and the most hilarious thing I‘ve seen in months), and has only one friend, who’s as pitiful as he is. Paul gets his entire self-worth from calling in to the radio show, and spends his whole day on composing his mundane, unclever rants, mostly because they impress his friend (who’s dumber than him) and because he feels “known” on the radio more than he does in real life. His calls are his identity and the source of the only rivalry he has any chance of winning, a vendetta with an enemy caller, “Philadelphia Phil” (Michael Rapaport). One night he tries to meet the Giants’ quarterback and gets beaten half to death for his trouble, but he refuses to press charges because it’ll hurt the Giants. He’s conflicted about letting the guy get away with beating him up, but he’s pathologically married to his fandom. It’s kind of like an episode of Hoarders -- funny yet disturbing, as only true obsession can be. Patton, who by nature is one of the funniest humans on the planet, manages to keep a lid on it and creates a portrait of a believable weirdo; he’s playing a guy you’ll recognize as someone you’ve met, or maybe even are (although hopefully not to this degree). From Robert D. Siegel, the writer of The Wrestler, to which this bears some similarities.

Color Me Blood Red (C, 1965) aka Model Massacre. Mildest of Hershel Gordon Lewis’s infamous gore trilogy nonetheless had the goriest VHS box, one of those oversized jobs you only seemed to find at mom-and-pop outlets, featuring a shot of a girl with her guts hanging out. A jerk artist of limited skill can’t get respect for his cartoonish monster paintings because he’s not very good with color. When one of his models accidentally cuts her finger, he discovers that blood is just the shade of red he’s been looking for. He tries using his own but gets too faint to paint, so he starts murdering people to use their blood. When those paintings get critical respect he needs to make more and more of them. There’s a lot of blood but the gore is limited to a rather weak disembowelment and a wormy corpse that gets dug up, plus a gunshot to the head. It’s mild compared to the others in the trilogy but the quality of the filmmaking is an improvement over Blood Feast, with passable acting.

Slasher Index has a pic of the infamous box art that freaked me out when I saw it at a local rental place back in high school...

Trailer here.

Somebody put the whole movie up... as usual, dunno how that's legal, but there 'tiz:

Deer Hunter, The (C, 1978) I’ve seen this three-hour epic maybe a dozen times and I’m starting to wonder if it should really be considered a good, much less great movie. There’s wonderful cinematography (from Vilmos Zsigmond what other kind do you get?) but there’s really no story and the directorial style doesn’t really work. Cimino apparently wanted to take on an “immersion approach” to characterization and have us learn about the protagonists by watching them, and that’d be fine if they were doing anything substantive... but they don’t, because most of the time’s spent watching a wedding (probably because the church made for pretty film). All we really learn about these guys prior to Vietnam is that they like joking and giving each other a hard time, and that Robert DeNiro is fed up with John Cazale for always forgetting his gear. Then, off to Vietnam for an intense (but also intensely misrepresentative) scene where DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage (all still together, which is damn unlikely) are captured and forced to play Russian Roulette by the Cong. I get that it’s a metaphor for war, but why have the whole Vietnam war be represented by something that wasn’t even happening? It doesn’t ring true. After they escape, Walken -- for very unclear reasons -- goes nuts and has a long career in underground Russian Roulette gambling (again, did such a gambling scene even exist? Seems like there’d be too many complications). Savage comes home without his legs, and DeNiro comes back as pretty much the same take-care-of-business leader type, but a bit bothered by what he went through. There’s no fundamental change, because DeNiro readjusts (albeit awkwardly) and Walken and Savage withdraw and avoid it all. When you add in some heavy implausibilities (DeNiro going back to Saigon and finding Walken, who’s become a zombie-figure) you end up with too much suspension of disbelief for no reason. A lot of what Cimino was condemned for when he made Heaven’s Gate is actually on display here, too, but people were too awed trying to figure out what he was doing to call him on it, so this won best picture. Call this an empty chamber that went by before the pin hit the shell on Heaven’s Gate. The picture is too reliant on the audience imposing meaning upon it, because it actually says very little on its own. But, it does have a great cast and a nice look, though, and it’s definitely a film you should see and evaluate for yourself.

Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son-Of-A-Bitch (C, 2010) Documentary on an unlikely national treasure, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead. Cameras follow the rock'n'roll icon through his apartment (he's a hoarder but a fairly neat one by my standards), his favorite haunts (such as the Rainbow Bar, where he frequently plays a trivia machine), and on the road. Despite the title, Lemmy comes across as a pretty nice guy, rather quiet and self-effacing and quick with a kind word. He does have an enormous collection of Nazi memorabilia which reflects a historical interest rather than a political bent, although it’s still a bit troubling when he shows up in a uniform to look at a tank. He’s no Nazi, though, as he seems to have no racism (the love of his life - who died from a heroin overdose - was black; although she’s barely addressed in the film, her death had a deep effect on Lemmy and his subsequent relationships). Lots of other musicians (too many to list, but including Dave Grohl, everyone in Metallica, Joan Jett, Ice T, Henry Rollins, Scott Ian, Ozzy, Slash, etc.), former members of Motorhead (Fast Eddie, anyway -- Phil Taylor must’ve been busy), and other famous folk (such as wrestler Triple H and Billy Bob Thornton) tell Lemmy stories (often about how it’s a big mistake to try to keep up with his drinking), and Hawkwind show up, mostly to talk about drug use. It’s amazing that Lemmy’s alive and coherent, given all the drugs he’s done and the oceans of alcohol he still swims in on a daily basis. Of course it helps if you’re a Motorhead fan, but since Lemmy has literally been around since the dawn of rock and roll and has participated in most of it (he even used to roadie for Jimi Hendrix), this is a good historical document and I’m glad someone made it. The DVD has hours of extras that are almost as good as the film.

Stay tuned for the end and Lemmy'll tell you a joke!

1931: Once Upon A Time In New York (C, 1974) aka Piazza Pulita, Pete, Pearl, and the Pole. Spaghetti-western minor-leaguer Tony Anthony pulls a Leone ten years before Leone did and makes a spaghetti-gangster flick. Anthony is a small-time hood with a gramophone in his car. The mob hires him to deliver a body back to Sicily, but he figures out the corpse is stuffed with money they’re trying to smuggle out of the country and offers a rival mob half if they’ll help him hold up the funeral. They do, but then they stuff him when he wants his cut, and he doesn’t appreciate that all. Determined to get his revenge on the betrayers he works out a plan, luring his enemies with topless photos of their leader’s kidnapped girlfriend. That doesn’t work out too well and Tony ends up getting a foot sliced up with a razor and gets a ride through a coal processing plant. He’s left for dead, but comes back for revenge with one of those magic movie shotguns that never need reloading. At times this movie acts like it wants to be a goofy parody, only to turn around and get bloody, violent, and grim, and the direction is artless (and hurt by the DVD’s full-framing and rough quality) but somehow manages to have some style despite itself. Odd and worth a look.

Pyx, The (C, 1973) aka The Hooker Cult Murders. Karen Black is a junkie prostitute who falls to her death from a Montreal skyscraper while wearing an inverted cross and clutching a pyx (a carrying case for the Catholic host). A couple of detectives try to track down what led to her death, while flashbacks to her life make that a lot easier on us. More bodies of people connected with the case pile up, while flashbacks show us that Karen’s madam/drug supplier had hooked her up with some wealthy and powerful clients who were interested in conducting a Black Mass. Stylish and atmospheric (some creepily beautiful songs by Karen add to that) but slow-paced. DVD prints are all pretty dark and rough. The choppy narrative style can lose you pretty easily if you don’t concentrate, but it’s worth the effort, and gets eerier as it goes.

Clip here.

Rolling Thunder (C, 1977) One of the all-time classic revenge pictures is about as straightforward as such stories get. William Devane comes home from Vietnam after being a P.O.W. for seven years. The torture he endured in the camp left him emtionally deadened and nearly impervious to pain, and his marriage didn’t survive, but he has a son that he’s eager to get to know. But a group of evil thugs show up, wanting a box of silver dollars (around $2,500 worth, one for each day he was in captivity), and they try to torture it out of him by shoving his hand in a garbage disposal. That doesn’t work so they murder his wife and son. When he gets out of the hospital with a metal hook hand, all he has left is a desire for revenge, and he gets right to work on it, cutting down a shotgun and hitting the road with a P.O.W. groupie to track down the bastards. When he finds them he looks up his war buddy (Tommy Lee Jones) and they load up and roll in smoking. Paul Schrader wrote it and the violence bears some resemblance to scenes from Taxi Driver (Schrader has a thing for hand-injury -- it shows up again and again). It’s very basic but well-told and is such a grindhouse classic that Quentin Tarrantino named his distribution company after it. It’s been ghetto-ized on DVD, not released for years while fans clamored for it and then finally put out as an overpriced, inferior-grade DVD-R. But, it’s good to have it available in any form.

Spoiler, but it's badass ("I'm gonna kill a buncha people."):

Secret To A Happy Ending, The (C, 2009) Documentary on the Drive-By Truckers is a great treasure for fans (and, from what I've seen, can also interest people who know nothing about the band, as well). The band members (including Jason Isbell, sadly no longer with the group) explain their backgrounds, history, and relationship, as well as the Muscle Shoals environment that spawned the band. Patterson Hood came into the business honestly, since his dad was a session bassist who worked with a lot of the greats. You also get some backstory behind a lot of their songs and meet people who were the subject for some of them; Mike Cooley even drives you past some areas from "Zip City." There are a lot of testimonies from fans (including professors), and a bit on the artist who does their distinctive album art. And along the way you might pick up some insight into the South, too. Overall, a high-quality report on a top-notch band.

You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984
(C, 2010) This well-done, highly informative documentary plays like a more-regionally-specific version of American Hardcore and is a must-see for punks. All the area bands (such as Articles of Faith, The Effigies, Naked Raygun, Strike Under, Big Black, etc.) are discussed, as well as the local venues where they played. Most of the old punks have held up well (and so have a few of their grudges, like a feud between Vic Bondi from Articles of Faith and Steve Albini, but there is something about Albini that inspires ire), and the history is well-put-together and supported by some great vintage footage of bands, many of whom are forgotten and hard to find records by anymore. An entertaining and valuable document. If you want more (and you will), there's also a documentary specifically about Naked Raygun, What Poor Gods We Do Make, which is also recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome stuff. Could not agree more about Big Fan. Just a brilliant movie in every way. I've also never been a huge Deer Hunter fan. It has some good stuff but pales mightily in comparison to Apocalypse Now and Platoon.