Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Television Review: THE PARK IS MINE! (1986, Steven Hilliard Stern)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tommy Lee Jones, Yaphet Kotto (FREDDY'S DEAD, ALIEN, BONE), Peter Dvorsky (VIDEODROME), Helen Shaver (THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR), Carl Marotte (MY BLOODY VALENTINE), Lawrence Dane (DOUBLE JEOPARDY, BEAR ISLAND), and a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream (RISKY BUSINESS, FIRESTARTER, SORCERER, THIEF, THE KEEP).
Tag-lines: "For 72 hours, Central's Park's about to become...Private Property."
Best one-liners: "Those sick sons-of-bitches! They're sending in the Viet Cong to get me!

Holy shit! I didn't know they made TV movies this good ever, much less in 1986! Now, right off the bat, THE PARK IS MINE! gets your attention. It's title isn't even much of a title. It's not even a request. It's a demand.

Now as far as angry 'Nam vet movies, go there are only two categories, and the categories are these: "Totally awesome" (EYE OF THE TIGER, CUTTER'S WAY, FIRST BLOOD) and "Fleshburn" (FLESHBURN). THE PARK IS MINE! falls squarely into the "Totally awesome" category, and for several key reasons. Here are the top ten:

#1. No need for a set-up.

A lesser movie would have taken the premise- "Nam vet takes control of Central Park for 72 hours in order to protest Nam vet treatment" and wasted like 45 minutes with Tommy Lee Jones thinking about doing it, putting his laborious plans into motion, deciding whether or not he should really go through with it, etc. THE PARK IS MINE! is having none of that. Right off the bat- WHAM- we start off with a suicide in a mental hospital. Then- WHAM- Tommy Lee Jones is reading the suicide note of his incarcerated Nam vet buddy- who had a plan to take over Central Park, but knew he couldn't go through with it. He's planted the real bombs, the fake bombs, the booby traps, the barbed wire, the AK-47s- everything Tommy needs- already. So Tommy Lee Jones just has to read the note, take like 5-10 minutes to decide whether or not to do it, and then we're underway, cause everything's immaculately planned.

The only drawback to this is perhaps that we missed out on a kick-ass montage sequence set to some rockin' 80's tunes of Tommy Lee Jones planting all this stuff, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make in the name of fast-paced narrative flow.

#2. Tangerine Dream.

Tangerine Dream turns in one of their all-time best scores here. Gently pulsating Euro-rhythms? Check. A hazy, dreamlike atmosphere? Check. Evocative 80's metropolitan sounds? Check. An ever-so-gradual build in intensity that perfectly compliments the suspense? Check, check, and double-check. The soundtrack is perfect. And this is a TV movie. Stick that in your craw.

#3. Yaphet Kotto.

He's been eaten by the Alien. He's beaten the shit out Freddy Kruger with a ball bat. He's dropped grenades from a cropduster while blasting James Brown in order to help out Gary Busey. He's run alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger on futuristic gladiatorial TV. He's played Othello. He's worked with Paul Schrader, Larry Cohen, and Rod Serling. He's played a Bond villain. He's even been on MURDER, SHE WROTE. And, you know what? You probably don't even know who he is, you sorry sonofabitch. Well, maybe you do. I'm sorry I called you a sonofabitch.

Well, regardless, Kotto here is the classic beleaguered cop who begrudingly begins to respect/earn the respect of the supposed madman he's supposed to be shutting down. Kinda like Tommy Lee Jones in THE FUGITIVE, Vincent Gardenia in DEATH WISH, or Robert Ryan in THE WILD BUNCH. Cliched as it is, I've always like that kind of plot development, and here is no exception. Plus, Yaphet Kotto is a serious badass.

#4. Classic anti-'THE MAN' sentiment.

Even though Tommy Lee Jones hasn't hurt anyone, they say "We got caught with our pants down, and my ass gets cold in the breeze." That's right. A bunch of stuffed-shirt pencil-necked bastards who've never had their buddies ripped apart by shrapnel before their eyes wanna tell Tommy Lee Jones to go fuck himself. They're gonna lie to him, try and snipe him when he's talkin' to his wife, make under-the-table deals, distort the facts, and be all-around goddamned piss-heads.

At their fore is Canadian Peter Dvorsky (Harlan from VIDEODROME) as "Dix," perhaps the greatest frustratingly realistic "evil nerd" character actor ever.

#5. Tommy Lee Jones harshly intoning, "Get nekkid."



#6. Tommy Lee Jones' actual demands.

He's not in it for revenge, or money, or terror, or political demands. He just wants everyone to take a moment to think about their lives. Yeah, that's right. "There's a lotta people like me in this city. Who don't feel any control over their lives." He's making radio broadcasts about his philosophies, and listing crimes and injustices that have been swept under the collective carpet. "Think about how you treat people, and how you want to be treated."

He's like the Gandhi of action heroes.

#7. "I'm from Queens, and, eh... I'm all for de guy."


#8. A televised interview with an old lady who's just like the smarmy old lady in THE RUNNING MAN, and this a year before THE RUNNING MAN.


#9. THE PARK IS MINE! T-shirts.

Yeah, and I totally want one.

#10. Mercenaries?!

Mercenaries, the most vile outsourcing of all. Yeah, when it all comes down to brass tacks, the corrupt officials of the city would rather send in ex-Viet Cong and Eurotrash mercenaries to eliminate Tommy Lee Jones, rather than let him peacefully retain control of the Park for his last 24 hours.

Damn! Lemme know how that works out for you, mercenaries. This really pushes the film past that final, wonderful point of ridiculousness. It's the point where you check the video box again to make sure it wasn't made by Italians. Then there's a moment of pride when you realize that North Americans, too, are sometimes capable of spit-take inducing, unhinged cinematic madness. And it's this final element is what truly cements the film's status as a classic. A perfect movie. Basically, the only thing missing is Donald Pleasence. Donald Pleasence would be so 'at home' in this movie, that words can't even explain it. But that's forgivable, cause it's possible he was too busy appearing in every single other 80's movie.

Five, glorious, shining stars.

-Sean Gill

Updated Browsable List of All Reviews, March '09

#
52 PICK-UP (1986, John Frankenheimer)

A
ACTION JACKSON (1988, Craig R. Baxley)
ALL THAT JAZZ (1979, Bob Fosse)
APPALOOSA (2008, Ed Harris)
APRIL FOOL'S DAY (1986, Fred Walton)

B
BALTIKA EXTRA 9 (2008, Russia)
BATTLE IN HEAVEN (2005, Carlos Reygadas)
BEAT STREET (1984, Stan Lathan)
BIG BLOW (2000, United States)
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970, Dario Argento)
BODY PARTS (1991, Eric Red)
BOXING HELENA (1993, Jennifer Chambers Lynch)
BROKEN ARROW (1996, John Woo)
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992, Fran Rubel Kazui)
BULLETPROOF (1988, Steve Carver)

C
CANDYMAN (1992, Bernard Rose)
CHAMPAGNE COLA (2009, United States)
CLASS OF 1984 (1982, Mark L. Lester)
COFFY (1973, Jack Hill)
COPYING BEETHOVEN (2006, Agnieszka Holland)
CRITTERS (1986, Stephen Herek)
CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE (1988, Mick Garris)
CRITTERS 3: YOU ARE WHAT THEY EAT (1991, Kristine Peterson)
CRITTERS 4: THEY'RE INVADING YOUR SPACE (1991, Rupert Harvey)
CUTTER'S WAY (1981, Ivan Passer)

D
DAGON (2001, Stuart Gordon)
DEAD & BURIED (1981, Gary Sherman)
THE DEAD POOL (1988, Buddy van Horn)
DEADLY WEAPONS (1974, Doris Wishman)
DEEP RED (1975, Dario Argento)
DEMONS 2 (1986, Lamberto Bava)

E
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... (1953, Max Ophüls)
ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA PROCUREMENT (2009, United States)

F
FACE/OFF (1997, John Woo)
FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS (2008, John Gulager)
FEAST III: THE HAPPY FINISH (2009, John Gulager)
FIRESTARTER (1984, Mark Lester)
FIREWALKER (1986, J. Lee Thompson)
FLASHDANCE (1983, Adrian Lyne)
FLESHBURN (1984, George Gage)
FOXY BROWN (1974, Jack Hill)
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989, Rob Hedden)
FROZEN RIVER (2008, Courtney Hunt)

G
GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE (1991, John Carl Buechler)
A GIRL CUT IN TWO (2008, Claude Chabrol)
GRAN TORINO (2008, Clint Eastwood)

H
HANG 'EM HIGH (1968, Ted Post)
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (2008, Mike Leigh)
HELLBOUND (1994, Aaron Norris)
HIGH SPIRITS (1988, Neil Jordan)
HOMECOMING (2005, Joe Dante)
HOOPER (1978, Hal Needham)
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959, William Castle)
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (1989, James Isaac)

I
INFERNO (1980, Dario Argento)
IRISH POTCHEEN (2006, Ireland)

J
K

L
THE LAST SHARK (1981, Enzo G. Castellari)
LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 (1990, Jeff Burr)
THE LETTER PEOPLE, EPISODE 1- MEET MR M (1974, Elayne Reiss-Weimann & Rita Friedman)
LIFE AT THE OUTPOST (1979, Skatt Bros.)
LONE WOLF MCQUADE (1983, Steve Carver)

M
MACSHAYNE: WINNER TAKES ALL (1994, E.W. Swackhamer)
MAN ON WIRE (2008, James Marsh)
MANHUNTER (1986, Michael Mann)
MARY (2008, Abel Ferrara)
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986, Stephen King)
MISSION TO MARS (2000, Brian de Palma)
MISTER LONELY (2008, Harmony Korine)
MURDER ROCK (1984, Lucio Fulci)
MY OWN WORST ENEMY (2008, Jason Smilovic)
MY WINNIPEG (2008, Guy Maddin)

N
THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986, Jean-Jacques Annaud)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD (1989, Stephen Hopkins)

O
THE OCTAGON (1980, Eric Karson)

P
THE PARK IS MINE! (1986, Steven Hilliard Stern)
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953, Sam Fuller)
PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981, James Cameron)
THE PIRATE MOVIE (1982, Ken Annakin)
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965, Mario Bava)
PREDATOR 2 (1990, Stephen Hopkins)
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987, John Carpenter)
PUMP UP THE VOLUME (1990, Allan Moyle)

Q

R
THE RAGE (1997, Sidney J. Furie)
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981, Steven Spielberg)
RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985, George Cosmatos)
RAMBO III (1988, Peter MacDonald)
RAMBO IV (2008, Sylvester Stallone)
REAL COTTON CANDY (????, United States)
RED DRAGON (2002, Brett Ratner)
THE RESURRECTED (1992, Dan O'Bannon)
RHINESTONE (1984, Bob Clark)
ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979, Joe Dante & Allan Arkush)
ROCK 'N ROLL NIGHTMARE (1987, John Fasano)
ROLLER BOOGIE (1979, Mark L. Lester)

S
SEINE GROSSE ERFOLGE (1969, Heino)
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988, Wes Craven)
SHARKY'S MACHINE (1981, Burt Reynolds)
SILENT LIGHT (2007, Carlos Reygadas)
THE SILENT WORLD (1956, Jacques Cousteau & Louis Malle)
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008, Danny Boyle)
SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981, Walter Hill)
ST. IDES MALT LIQUOR JINGLE (1992, Ice Cube)
THE STAND (1994, Mick Garris)
STAR CRYSTAL (1985, Lance Lindsay)
STEPFATHER 2: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY (1989, Jeff Burr)
STRAIT-JACKET (1964, William Castle)
STUCK (2008, Stuart Gordon)
THE SUBSTITUTE (1996, Robert Mandel)
SUSPIRIA (1977, Dario Argento)
SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975, Jack Hill)

T
THE TAKING OF POWER BY LOUIS XIV (1966, Roberto Rossellini)
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974, Tobe Hooper)
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986, Tobe Hooper)
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 (1990, Jeff Burr)
THE THIRD MIRACLE (1999, Agnieszka Holland)
THE TINGLER (1959, William Castle)
TOMBSTONE (1993, "George Cosmatos" & Kurt Russell)
THUNDER ROAD (1958, Arthur Ripley)
TROUBLE THE WATER (2008, "Tia Lessin & Carl Deal")

U
V

W
W. (2008, Oliver Stone)
THE WANDERERS (1979, Philip Kaufman)
WAXWORK (1988, Anthony Hickox)
THE WILLIES (1991, Brian Peck)
WINNING (1969, James Goldstone)
THE WIZARD (1989, Todd Holland)
THE WORST WITCH (1986, Robert Young)
THE WRESTLER (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

X
Y

Z
ZIP ZAP RAP (1986, Devastatin' Dave the Turntable Slave)

Monday, March 30, 2009

GO-GO KILLERS! Interview with United Stages!


Note:  This interview is no longer available from United Stages' website– I have presented it here, in archival form.

Seeing Stars: An Interview with Sean Gill and Rachel Klein
Imagine that you’re a ferocious and calculating girl gang deb in any B movie made in the 60s and 70s. You’ve been wronged by every small-town boss who ever thought he could own you because his family was rich and you were under-aged with a juvie record longer than Jerry Lee Lewis’ bangs. At last vengeance will be yours starting in May at the Sage Theater thanks to Go-Go Killers! creators playwright/filmmaker Sean Gill and director/choreographer Rachel Klein. Together they’ve ganged up to declared war on the powers that B.
In your new show Go-Go Killers! you combine dance and theater. Could you call it a “dancical?”

Rachel Klein: I might be swayed into calling it that. We aspire to create the same magical flow between our dialogue-driven scenes and dance numbers that you might see in a classic musical. If a character’s rage or passion for a particular moment can only be expressed through a full company fight-dance, then so be it! That is just a natural occurrence in the world of Go-Go Killers!
Is Go-Go Killers! as B movie inspired as the title suggests? Do girl gangs vie for turf?

Sean Gill: It’s sort of an amalgamation of several different B-movie genres, with violence-prone go-go dancers like in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, retrofuturistic underground lairs like Danger: Diabolik and ludicrous girl gang wars like in Switchblade Sisters. It takes place in Manhattan, 2019: the outlying lands have been scorched by a “Warming Catastrophe” and the greedy, malevolent ruling class reigns supreme with a cast-iron grip. These avaricious overlords fear one thing, and one thing only: ferocious, calculating girl gang debs who roam the countryside and have declared war on their corrupt masters. As far as vying for turf, if another gang were to stand between predator and prey, a spit-take-inducingly brutal fight-dance would surely not be out of the question.
Please finish this sentence: I love B movies because..…

Sean: Of the endless possibilities. It’s basically the only genre where you can have neon spandex, loads of ass-crack and hard-hitting social commentary in the same breath. It’s raw, unfiltered and not clamoring for the attentions of the critical elite. It doesn’t even know what the word “elite” means. It’s an unpredictable, unstable beast where a crime flick prologue could easily turn into a sci-fi thriller, a Tennessee Williams-esque family drama or a murder mystery at an aerobics studio.

Rachel: I agree with Sean. B movies, or “genre films” are extravagant ideas executed in a realm with little to no boundaries. I find the charm of this genre exists because the creators and actors are completely committed to the scenarios, no matter how outlandish the circumstances. Examples of this include Jane Fonda’s portrayal of Barbarella, who is absolutely committed to saving the galaxy, while zooming around in a pink spaceship with shag carpet walls, or the honesty of each vicious verbal confrontation over men and turf in Teenage Gang Debs. If there were even a shred of “wink and nod” in these performances, the allure would be destroyed.
Sean, why do you and Rachel make a good creative team?

Sean: She’s always looking for new ways to engage people, to make the theatrical experience more immediate, intimate and absorbing. More visceral. As a filmmaker, these are the sorts of sensations I want to appeal to within my audiences, and, as a playwright, I’m lucky to work with someone who can genuinely envision them on stage. She also harbors an obsession with colors that pop and costumes that sparkle; something about them releases a childlike energy within her, which, when combined with the deranged enthusiasm I draw from poorly-dubbed movies where characters are named “Trash” or “Hot Dog,” it hopefully creates an atmosphere where tawdry thrills and serious art can collide.
Rachel?

Rachel: Sean and I compliment each other’s stylistic sensibilities very well; he writes a world of untamed action, usually stemming from the collective cultural memory. He is magnificent at reshaping nostalgia to tell his own story, which is the perfect framework for the specificity and physicality of my directing approach. Together we aspire to create pulp entertainment for the stage. We also have cultivated a developmental working relationship where we bounce ideas off of each other constantly. Our collaborations usually succeed in that they are a shared vision from the beginning of the first drafts until the closing performance.
Ideal audience in the front row?

Rachel: Tura Satana, Charles Busch, Justin Bond, Mary Woronov and (ideally!) Paul Bartel.

Sean: Maybe Jack Hill, Russ Meyer (R.I.P.) and, what the hell, Enzo G. Castellari.
What’s next? What genre are you tackling next?

Rachel: I have a couple projects lined up that I am directing. Hound by John Patrick Bray, which is a twisted take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos, and John Van Druten’s witchcraft-tastic Bell, Book, and Candle next fall. However, I would loooove to explore doing a play inspired by gritty teenage bad-ass movies from the 1980s—like Class of 1984, Beat Street, Surburbia (the punk movie, not the Bogosian film), Repo Man and Tuff Turf. It would be fantastic to work on a punk high school play because that genre embodies an extraordinary defiance and standoffishness. The characters alone would be exciting to work with: the agony of high school with the added drama of a teen/adult power struggle, covered in the mandatory studded leather attire and intense eye makeup. Plus the soundtrack would be loads of fun to find!

Sean: I’ve got a couple genre films in the works with my Black Hole Adventure (Choose-Your-Own Adventure meets Flash Gordon in The Twilight Zone) and an Italian-style post-apocalyptic New York City gang movie with influences like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Rappin’. Theater-wise, I’ve got several projects on my slate, though I’d obviously be collaborating with Rachel on this bad-ass punk nonsense. I’d probably class up her list of influences by inserting Lambada, Deadbeat at Dawn and Street Trash as further points of departure.
Thanks very much!

©2009, United Stages.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Film Review: SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975, Jack Hill)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Director Jack Hill, auteur of COFFY, FOXY BROWN, SPIDER BABY, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, and scads more of brilliant flicks, Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, Monica Gayle.
Tag-lines: " They'd Rather Kill Their Man Than Lose Him."
Best one-liners: "Get your hands off me, you fat pig dyke!"

"I lost my eye for this gang!" SWITCHBLADE SISTERS is insanely awesome, it's awesomely insane, it's off its meds, it's off the chain, and, ya know what, it's swinging that chain in your face and then punchin' you in the mouth. And then it's laughing about it. It's OTHELLO meets TEENAGE GANG DEBS meets ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL at the drive-in. But wait, it really is OTHELLO. The girl with the eye-patch is Iago! Lace is Othello! That guy Dominic is Desdemona?! Yes! That's amazing.



It's so over-the-top, one might mistake it as manufactured by Italians, a Spaghetti girl-gang film, if you will. Well, Jack Hill's layin' it out, and lettin' those Italians know they're not the only ones that can do operatic genre films well.


But then we got dopes askin' questions like, "If the gangs are powerful enough to make the school principal kowtow to their every whim, why do they even still go to school?" Or "Why is the opposing gang about as fearsome as the school newspaper staff?- wait, I think they ARE they school newspaper staff!" Well, this movie takes your dumb questions like that, tells ya to 'Cool it,' 'beat it,' and 'shove it,' punches you in the guts, slices your face, and screams 'Can ya dig it, chippy?!'


I believe Chekhov put it best: 'If in the first act you present a pile of empty cardboard boxes in the girl-gang hideout, in the last act, someone must be karate-kicked through said pile of boxes.' Here, let me give you girls five stars.
LinkWait, put those blades away. No, I wasn't tryin' to start nothin', honest!

-Sean Gill
Link
And SWITCHBLADE SISTERS warrants special mention as one of my all-time favorites and one the key influences on my forthcoming play, Go-Go Killers!

COMING SOON: Reviews of FOXY BROWN and SPIDER BABY.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Film Review: DEADLY WEAPONS (1974, Doris Wishman)


Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 75 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Chesty Morgan (DOUBLE AGENT 73, Fellini's CASANOVA , Harry Reems (DEEP THROAT, SHERLICK HOLMES, DEVIL IN MISS JONES), Richard Towers (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), Philip Stahl (KEYHOLES ARE FOR PEEPING).
Tag-lines: "Seeing is Believing! 73-32-36!" AND "See the mob get 'BUST'-ed when Chesty takes her revenge!"
Best one-liners: See immediately below.



"Yehh-eah-ahh! You got the job!"

Chesty Morgan stars as a successful New York ad exec (...) who is drawn into a horrific circle of sleaze and revenge via breast smotherings when her two-bit punk lover is murdered. (It must be noted that all of the NY scenes look as if they were filmed at the cinematographer's grandmother's house in Santa Monica.)

This phone call takes place at Chesty's high-rise Manhattan office building where she is a successful ad exec.

Now it's difficult to tell if Chesty is on Quaaludes for the duration or if she's just mortified to be appearing in this fine film, but regardless, it lends the film an air of despondency which partially undermines the campy proceedings. As in MANOS and films of that ilk, the makers of DEADLY WEAPONS lack a rudimentary understanding of the language of cinema. There are bizarre cutaways to everything from the carpet to the sidewalk to portraits of dogs. Continuity isn't just thrown out the window; it's tossed, screaming, into the void of space. The seams of the patchwork plot are held together by a deluge of phone calls- it's safe to say that useless phone calls outnumber deaths by cleavage by a ratio of at least 15 to 1.

But that's a good thing. Because...



Then there's the soundtrack- a hodgepodge of Jimi Hendrix meets Perry Como ripoffs and smoove jazz that is surprisingly one of the stronger elements of the film.

Anyway, Chesty finally seeks her revenge against:

Captain Hook ("You call me Captain Hook one more time, and I'll kill you!"),

and the other guy (who has a mustache so intense that I believe if Sam Elliot were ever to see it- much like the legend of the sax player who threw his instrument in the East River after hearing Charlie Parker play- he would shave off his 'stache that instant), and after she's finished with the smotherings, this film delivers a family-related denouement so nihilistic, I would daresay call it Shakespearian.

And then it ends on a freeze frame. You're gonna sit there in a daze for a moment after it's finished. You might even purse your lips, furrow your brow, or stroke your chin. But you're definitely gonna be asking yourself, "Where do I go from here?"

-Sean Gill

Friday, March 27, 2009

GO-GO KILLERS! NEWSREEL: EPISODE 2 Online!



The second in a series of several to be released in the weeks leading up to the debut of GO-GO KILLERS! on May 8, 2009 at the Sage Theater in Times Square.

You can watch the first episode HERE.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Film Review: THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988, Wes Craven)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson (MONA LISA), Zakes Mokae (BODY PARTS, Tony-Winner), Michael Gough (TROG, Alfred in the Tim Burton BATMANS), Paul Winfield (WHITE DOG, STAR TREK II, SOUNDER).
Tag-lines: "Don't bury me...I'm not dead!"
Best one-liners: " The way Dr. Schoonbacher spoke of you, it was as though you could walk on water! Now I know why. Shit floats!"

Shit the bed! This movie is crazed- it's talkin' gibberish and foamin'at the mouth! Somebody better put a bit between its teeth before it hurts itself! This movie realizes that there is a line, and it crosses it with nails-through scrotum, head decapitatin', scorpions-in-the-mouth flourish. This movie made so little sense that they added a Bill Pullman narration track in post, and then there's still parts that make the tax code look like a coherent narrative.

So we've got a movie that earns maybe three stars and an extra pat on the back for wack political subtext and being a damned lunatic- but then I started reading about the production, which is as psychotic as the movie itself.

Cast and crew having collective hallucinations of cows with TV sets for eyes, Wes Craven and his producer getting dragged to a voodoo ritual and almost having to drink pig's blood, the writer taking the "walking dead" drugs and locking himself in his room and doing God knows what for 72 hours- damn! This movie is epic! And it claims to be based on a true story! And there's even a few clever nods to NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. So if you're in the mood for a trippy film that will have even seasoned moviegoers going 'WHUTT?!,' then, by gum, hit up THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. (And why it's called THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW makes only slightly more sense than the most esoteric portions of the film.)

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Film Review: BEAT STREET (1984, Stan Lathan)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rae Dawn Chong, written by Andrew Davis (the director of action favorites such as UNDER SIEGE, CODE OF SILENCE, and THE FUGITIVE, and cinematographer of Paul Bartel's directorial debut, PRIVATE PARTS).
Tag-lines: "The music and break-dance explosion of the summer!"
Best one-liners: "You better eat your eggs before I break your legs."

BEAT STREET is a completely sincere, loving appreciation and depiction of early 80's outsider art in New York. There are some fantastic fashions, wrap-around sunglasses, neon colors, a subway breakin' battle, and spit-take inducing virtuosic dance moves, but this is an art film.

Comparing it to BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO or BODY ROCK (as awesome as those movies are) is like comparing THE SEVENTH SEAL to BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY. This is about creating underground art, and our characters include a graffiti artist, a DJ (back when that could be still be categorized as art), a composer/choreographer (played by a young, vibrant Rae Dawn Chong), and a breakdance crew.

The story unfolds with the simplicity of Altman or Renoir, passing from scene to scene, from character to character with complete fluidity and naturalism.

Conflict arises in a variety of forms: police who mistake dancing for fighting, the sleazy business end of art, and a Nihilistic tagger named "Spit." The character of Spit, only briefly glimpsed, becomes a malevolent presence in the film, not unlike the red-coated figure in DON'T LOOK NOW. A talentless tagger who defaces the beautiful murals of our protagonist, Spit is as inscrutable as he is detestable. Not only do our outsider artists have to deal with "The Man," but also the frustrating concept of an unskilled vandal, masquerading as one of them. And thus is the plight of marginalized self-expression. Four stars. Only prevented from a fifth by some very questionable choices made by (hopefully) non-actors.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Film Review: BODY PARTS (1991, Eric Red)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jeff Fahey (THE LAWNMOWER MAN, WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART), Brad Dourif (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, DEADWOOD), Kim Delaney (MISSION TO MARS, DELTA FORCE, HUNTER'S BLOOD), Zakes Mokae (DUST DEVIL, OZ, Tony-winner for MASTER HAROLD... AND THE BOYS), editor Anthony Redman (LONE WOLF MCQUADE, BAD LIEUTENANT) and director Eric Red (writer of NEAR DARK, BLUE STEEL, and THE HITCHER).
Tag-lines: "It will scare you... to pieces."
Best one-liners: "I now have a murderer's blood in my blood."

Man, Jeff Fahey was totally on a hot streak in the late 80's, early 90's. Kind of like a latter-day, less mainstream Roy Scheider, he was given myriad chances to shine- and he did- but his star somehow refused to take hold.

Fahey, 1991.

Fahey, 2008.

Thankfully, his career's been given a real resurgence lately thanks to PLANET TERROR and TV's LOST, but anyone who thinks Fahey can't carry a feature need look no further than BODY PARTS. Amputation is such a visceral, unsettling motif- since the dawn of cinema, masters like Lon Chaney (THE UNKNOWN, THE PENALTY) have exploited it to tremendous effect. Then came the trend of 'killer's body parts transplanted to make ordinary people killers' genre which kind of envelops everything from FRANKENSTEIN to THE HANDS OF ORLAC to MAD LOVE. BODY PARTS hitches on to these rich traditions, combines it with the modern-day medical thriller and a script adapted from a novel by the writers of DIABOLIQUE, VERTIGO, and EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and it makes for a film that feels at once conventional and inventive, and one which truly remains unnerving until the very last frame. The editing, by Abel Ferrara-regular Anthony Redman, and the visuals, by Dutch cinematographer Theo van de Sande, are crisp, glossy, terse, and accentuate each other perfectly. Fahey is on fire- he makes everything involving the arm gruelingly realistic, and you continually feel his pain and exhaustion. He gives us a man in psychological turmoil, a loving father, and a steadfast asskicker without once disconnecting from the character and going over the top. We've got an awesome supporting turn from Brad Dourif as well as a manic, grotesquely-inspired artist.

There's even a sweet barfight scene reminiscent of THE FLY where we get to see the murderous body parts in action.

Four solid stars. For a similar feel, also see Dario Argento's TRAUMA, his 1993 medical thriller which also happens to contain a neck brace car chase, multiple amputations, and the acting talents of Mr. Dourif.

-Sean Gill

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food Review: BIG BLOW (2000, United States)



Stars: 4 of 5.
Maker: Big Blow.
Home Country: United States?
Where procured: Dollar Store in Akron, OH.

Moving is kind of a traumatic experience. You realize in advance, of course, that you'll be throwing out many of your possessions, ranging from useless trash to things that might hold some personal relevance. You can plan all you want; deciding that everything in this column is to be kept, and everything in that column is to be thrown out, but ultimately, it's probably going to devolve into a shitstorm where something that was precious yesterday is getting tossed without second thought, just so you can keep trucking through the hideous crap you have to do on moving day. Regrettably, Big Blow was one of those casualties.

I and this bag of Big Blow have been through a lot. I came into its possession nine years ago at a Dollar Store in Ohio after a bout of hysterical laughter prompted me to lay down the $1.06 required for me to be its new owner. There was something about it, and not just the fact that it was named Big Blow. It promised 101 pieces, and the bloated little mascot with his sprig of orange hair and googly eyes was the perfect poker face for the product. "Did they know what they were doing when they named the gum BIG BLOW?" is the question of the day here. And the little googly-eyed guy seems to simultaneously be feigning ignorance AND be sayin' "Yeh-ey-yahhh- we know it's dirty!" kinda like the guy in DEADLY WEAPONS who says "Yeh-ey-yahhh- you got da job!" But, anyway, almost ten years later, I still don't know the answer to this question, and now I fear it will be like some ancient stone tablet, crumbling into dust, and indeed lost to time itself.

From 2000 to 2009, the bag of BIG BLOW was 'around.' It made whacky appearances when houseguests and visitors would ask for gum; these happenings were initially met with some degree of good humor, but after getting pulled out again and again and again, they began to be met with eye-rolling and disdain, which merely made them more pleasurable- more rib-ticklingly self-indulgent. At some point, the bag was actually opened, though I don't think any of the contents therein were actually consumed. Certainly not by me. In any event, Moving Day, 2009 rolls around, and I'm faced with some tough decisions. Three days earlier, it'd have been unthinkable, but the day of, I'm resigning myself to shedding a great many things, and what do you know, BIG BLOW ends up on the chopping block. The feverish moving mind is telling me BIG BLOW is a big part of my life. But the feverish moving mind is also telling me sometimes you have to purge the things you love in order not to be defined by your things. And maybe I don't want to be defined by just BIG BLOW anymore. 'Hey, who's he?' 'Oh, yeh, that's BIG BLOW guy.' Maybe we just don't want to be at that place forever.

Anyway, the moving mind has a lot of wisdom, but not a lot of restraint: so it tells me- maybe one last BIG BLOW- for the road. Sure. Why not. There's bound to be lots of preservatives in this. And you don't actually eat it, you just chew it. Undoing the wrapper, I'm noticing it's kind of firm. A little rigid. Yeah, well, you know what, a lot of gum is rigid until the saliva gets it going. Well, to make a long story short, that last BIG BLOW was not a great idea. I probably could have broken a tooth. It did not yield one iota, and remained as stiff as a little chunk of cement. Kind of like those ancient stone tablets I think I was talking about earlier. Then I threw out a bunch of other shit that was dear to me. But the trick is, if you do it all at once, maybe you won't remember. But there's no forgetting some things. Some things like BIG BLOW.

So four stars, good buddy. Surely, if nothing else, the nine years we spent together has earned you four stars.

-Sean Gill

Friday, March 20, 2009

GO-GO KILLERS! NEWSREEL: EPISODE 1 Online!



The first in a series of several to be released in the weeks leading up to the debut of GO-GO KILLERS! on May 8, 2009 at the Sage Theater in Times Square.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Film Review: FEAST III: THE HAPPY FINISH (2009, John Gulager)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 79 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clu Gulager, Tom Gulager, Diane Goldner.
Tag-lines: "They're Not Leaving Till They Get Dessert!"
Best one-liners: Anything involving Clu Gulager and "dipshit."

I am a Gulager family apologist. A Clu Gulager disciple. Just see my review of FEAST II. But I can't really in good conscience give this more than three stars. For me, the FEAST movies function as the perfect vehicle for Clu Gulager to wander around while clutching a throat wound, waxing poetic on his days as a marine, and crabbily mumbling that everyone is a dipshit. And as long as they're doing that, they're golden.

Clu and son Tom.

With each ensuing film, however, most of the other elements continue to lose their luster (i.e., ridiculous amounts of bodily fluids, scatological humor, and the abrupt killing off of characters that are traditionally permitted by the genre to survive). How many new "action hero"-type characters can we introduce and kill off in unexpectedly humiliating ways? How many times do we need to see one of the beasts hump something? In my opinion, its the writers that get weaker and weaker. They're fresh out of ideas, and are barely running on the fumes and scraps of SCREAM 2 and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. However, director John Gulager tackles the material with such unrestrained glee that it's difficult to fault him. (Though I could have done without the lengthy strobe light scene, among other things.) And the actors run the gamut from merely amusing to legendary. But still, I marveled at the fact that I was watching a 2009 new release that had a scene after the end credits... featuring Clu Gulager! It was difficult to wrap my head around that one. I count myself lucky to live in a world where Clu is still making movies. Now somebody give Clu the money to finally make HIS (twenty-five years in development) terror flick, FUCKING TULSA: AN EXCURSION INTO CRUELTY. If ever made, it's going to be so damned seminal, that it will probably induct an entirely new era of how we even look at film. It's gonna be a lot better than FEAST III, I can pretty much guarantee you that.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Question of the Day

Film Review: BOXING HELENA (1993, Jennifer Chambers Lynch)


Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 107 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sherilyn Fenn, Bill Paxton, Julian Sands, Art Garfunkel, Kurtwood Smith.
Tag-lines: "Beyond love, beyond obsession, there hides something beyond reason."
Best one-liners: See Paxton quote below.


Why would Jennifer Chambers Lynch have to wait fifteen years after her first movie (BOXING HELENA, 1993) to make her second (SURVEILLANCE, 2008)? It seems to me, the answer would either be:

A., BOXING HELENA was TOO good, racy, cutting-edge, and brilliant to be accepted by the mainstream, or,

B. the film totally sucked.

Unfortunately for us all, the answer is B. The actors are fine, but have been far better directed elsewhere:

Sherilyn Fenn (TWIN PEAKS),

Julian Sands (NAKED LUNCH), and Art Garfunkel (BAD TIMING). Jennifer steals quite a bit from Daddy David- her lead actress, the cinematographer, and several stylistic elements such as the use of slowed-frame-rate slow motion.

Let me give you and all burgeoning filmmakers a piece of advice, Jennifer. NEVER USE SLOWED-FRAME-RATE SLOW MOTION WITH THE INTENT TO BE SERIOUS UNLESS YOU ARE DAVID LYNCH. You may share his last name and possibly 50% of his genes, but you do not share his uncanny ability to transform corny into scary or banality into mystery. This film is a sprawling, pretentious mess of self-indulgence, faux-Cinemax skin-flickery, and plot twists that only confound and piss off instead of shock and amaze.

Even the dad from THAT 70'S SHOW is appalled.

There are two reasons, however, that the film garners two stars and doesn't fail entirely:

#1. The baroque visuals. Though this has everything to do with the production designer and cinematographer and nothing to do with Jennifer Lynch.

#2. Bill Paxton.

Note leather pants.

The man strolls out of left field and into this movie, wearing leather pants and a see-through shirt, hangs around long enough to show his ass and make some smarmy comments, and then leaves, exclaiming "Hasta...WHATEVER!" as he departs.

Bravo, Paxton. Obviously you ignored whatever Jennifer Lynch told you to do.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beverage Review: CHAMPAGNE COLA (2009, United States)


Stars: 2 of 5.
Maker: Key Foods.
Home Country: United States.
Where procured: The Key Foods on Greenpoint and McGuinness in Brooklyn.

Now, Miller High Life is all about proclaiming itself to be "the Champagne of Beers," which I've always found to be a rather presumptuous slogan, and one which flits rather dangerously with hubris in the Classic sense. (Though I must admit, if I had the time and resources, I would someday very much like to build a pyramid of champagne glasses and, safely perched high above, pour Miller High Life into them from the topmost champagne glass down.) I would find it similarly presumptuous if I were to find that a soda claimed to be "the Champagne of Colas." Furthermore, if I were to locate a beverage purporting itself to be "Champagne Beer," I would find it, to use the parlance of Mr. T, completely "abso-ludicrous." So imagine my surprise when I discovered on the rusty, dusty shelves of a local grocery: "Champagne Cola." Moreover, I found that it was not presented by Henriot, Philipponnat, or Dom Pérignon, but by none other than the illustrious KEY FOODS. And on top of that, at the time of purchase, this "Champagne Cola" was available in no less than 3 LITERS at a go!

As one might be able to derive from my Food and Beverage reviews, I am never content to simply imagine what the contents might be like, but naturally have the inclination to find out for myself. Call it what you will; curiosity killing the cat, or Pandora opening the box, but by using the platform of the Food and Beverage Review, I can now at least claim that my martyrdom was for the greater good. In any event, I had to find out... and I did.

The most pressing question when delving into a carbonated beverage of significant volume is: "Which is of more importance to me- keeping it carbonated, or keeping it cold?" Room temperature can be staved off by repeated trips back to the freezer, at the expense of carbonation. De-carbonation can be staved off by hanging tough and continuing to pound it down (see this eternal question posed by the ignominous BALTIKA EXTRA 9). Three liters of Champagne Cola are no small task, even with the help of others. As the above photo may have already spoiled, I did not finish. But the photo alone does not tell the entire story- I did not finish...IN THREE MONTHS! Indeed, I allowed this half-drank beverage to sit in my refrigerator for a quarter of a year, mocking me daily for my lack of discipline. But this is not designed as an outlet for mere self-castigation. What did it taste like, you wonder? Well, if you've ever encountered the beverage "Sparks," it tastes EXACTLY like that. What of the champagne, you wonder? Well, suffice it to say that Key Foods' Champagne Cola has far more in common with Orange Marshmallow Peanuts than it does with Champagne in any of its forms. In fact, it really doesn't have a lot to do with "Cola," either, being more consistent with a Lemon-Lime/Orange soda than anything approximating Cola. So it exists as a mislabeled enigma, perhaps fully realized only in the fever dreams of its makers. There's really no more to say about it.

In closing, a little bit of research reveals that "Cola Champagne" is rather popular in the Spanish-speaking world. Perhaps Key Foods' Champagne Cola is somehow related; or, at the very least, attempting to cash in on this lucrative market.

And, an even more disturbing facet that my research unveiled was that "Champagne Candy" is becoming popular amongst the "wedding crowd."

Presumably it has more to do with Champagne the bubbly French beverage than Champagne the Cola, though if this affair has taught me anything, it is that nothing involving champagne can (or, indeed, should) be truly taken for granted.

-Sean Gill