Lovedolls Superstar (1986)

Lovedolls Superstar (1986) video cover

director David Markey
viewed: 07/19/2016

Lovedolls Superstar is a sequel to Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984), and when I first saw it on VHS back in the 1980’s, in the days before ye olde internet, I knew a bit about it.  It featured a soundtrack that included Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Meat Puppets, the Dead Kennedys, and lots of SST bands.  And we knew it was a sequel to a movie that we’d never seen.

And those Redd Kross dudes, too.

With a budget slightly above its progenitor, Superstar picks up right where the other left off, opening with clips of the first film.  Shot on Super-8 as well, it picks up the story of the flash-in-the-pan stardom of girl gang rock band, the Lovedolls, and reunites them with a new guitarist, facing a mid-1980’s of sell-out exploitation, religious cultism, and even some revenge.

Two years out didn’t shift a lot in the world of the film, though director David Markey and co-writers and stars Jennifer Schwartz, and Steve & Jeff McDonald honed their filmmaking skills a bit and were a bit more ambitious the second time around.

I guess it’s not surprising that it was hard to appreciate so much back in the day, especially without the context of the first film.  Really the pair of punk flicks are a nice sampling of alternative filmmaking and the teen and rock’n’roll movie genres.

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984)

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984) DVD/VHS cover

director David Markey
viewed: 07/18/2016

Taking DIY  from punk rock to celluloid was a bit more obscure an effort in 1984.  David Markey’s Desperate Teenage Lovedolls was virtually guaranteed cult status.  The film’s connections in the LA punk scene center around Steve and Jeff McDonald of Redd Kross, who star alongside Jennifer Schwartz, Hilary Rubens, Janet Housden, and Kim Pilkington is gloriously shabby 8mm.

It’s less punk than really gutter rock’n’roll, the lifestyles of tough street kids throwing together a band and riding LA’s tawdry tickets to fame with bouts of sexual exploitation, drugs, beer, and music.

Schwartz co-wrote the film with director David Markey and its notoriety inspired a sequel two years later, Lovedolls Supserstar which allowed for some moderate upgrades in musics, production values, and other elements.

But what gives Desperate Teenage Lovedolls its value is its pure DIY nature and attitude.

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014)

 Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014) movie poster

director Florian Habicht
viewed: 07/18/2016

Decidedly not a concert film, Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets is a documentary about the great Sheffield band, Pulp, their final concert on a reunion/farewell tour, their fans, influence, and hometown.  Like the band, the movie is a lot of things perhaps to a lot of people.  And while it might leave you wanting more Pulp, director Florian Habicht manages to create a portrait and a landscape at once.

As a document, it won’t give a viewer a definitive anything.  You get some music, live, some accompanying dancers, sung by a choral group, by people in a cafe.  You get some band history, flashes really.  You get some personality interviews, namely with lead singer Jarvis Cocker and other bandmates.  But with fans and locals as well.

I was living in Sheffield when Pulp’s signature album Different Class came out in 1995, and it was pretty clear that “Common People” was a classic from the day it was released.  What’s always been interesting about this band who hailed from the Northern city of Sheffield was that they existed for more than a dozen years before making a record that made them world-famous, and then vaguely miserable with said fame.

Cocker’s confessional storytelling lyrics have always grounded the band in their time and place, a uniqueness celebrated here in this odd, idiosyncratic film.  And even though with truncated performances and odd local interpretations of their music, I found myself liking the film.  Maybe it’s natural to be left wanting more.

Black Narcissus (1947)

Black Narcissus (1947) movie poster

directors  Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
viewed: 07/17/2016

There is Technicolor, and then there is TECHNICOLOR!!!  And beyond that, there is TECHNICOLOR!!! in the hands of Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, and Jack Cardiff.  Especially if it’s been restored and presented by Criterion.

The lurid lushness of over-saturated color has never been as stunningly realized as in Black Narcissus.  Between A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948), Cardiff, Powell, and Pressburger created three of the most amazing samples of Technicolor on film.  The only other filmmaker whose Technicolor technique has knocked my socks off was Mario Bava, but this British trio were the tops.

Amazingly, this film about British nuns in settling a school and hospital in the Himalayas, which beyond its vibrant hues also creates an amazing sense of place and location, was shot entirely in England, and almost entirely at Pinewood Studios.  It’s a masterpiece of visual effects and cinematography, a completely artificial world so compellingly drawn and realized that it becomes more real than real.  As vivid as the most incredible dream.  If only we all had such production values.

The story of these repressed young nuns, opened by the exotic and majestic beauty of their home upon the mountain, is almost secondary by contrast.  But the themes of erotic awakening are aroused by the ever-present winds, swirling throughout the former seraglio.  Eventually it comes down to a dramatic confrontation between Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) on the cliff where the bell rings.

This movie is stunning.  Utterly stunning.

I watched The Red Shoes a few years back and its images continue to flit through my brain to this day.  I’d seen Black Narcissus about 20 years ago on VHS, and while it failed to blow me away as it did this time, the images, too, have hung with me all along.  Now perhaps, for good.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters (2016) movie poster

director Paul Feig
viewed: 07/17/2016 at the AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

First and foremost, if you are going to hate this movie because of its female cast filling the re-boot, then fuck you.  If you hate re-boots in general, fair enough.  Hollywood is creatively bankrupt, ’tis true.  But if you hate them because they are ladies, you are an imbecile.

The new Ghostbusters will never be as good as the original for one clear reason: it’s not an original film concept.  Perhaps the most underappreciated thing about the original Ghostbusters (1984) was that it was an original concept by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and as great as that movie was at the time, as fun as the characters were, coming up with something new for the cultural canon is something that the new Ghostbusters cannot begin to claim.

But you know what?  It’s good.  It’s fun.  In a lot of ways, it’s quite refreshing to swap out your typical re-boot mentality by gender-swapping the leads (even though they are all new characters, not literal versions of the originals).  Kate McKinnon is great, but so are Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth.  They’re a fun group and they are fun together.

My kids and I, we all enjoyed it, maybe my 12 year old daughter the most.  The end gets a bit CGI-heavy, but what action/fantasy/science fiction movie these days manages to avoid that?  It could have been funnier, sure, but what movie couldn’t be improved upon?

It’s good fun.

The Alligator People (1959)

The Alligator People (1959) movie poster

director  Roy Del Ruth
viewed: 07/15/2016

How’s this one for a change?  A movie that looks a lot more ridiculous and campy than it really turns out?  Case in point: Roy Del Ruth’s 1959 horror/sci-fi flick, The Alligator People.

If you’ve seen the late-stage Alligator person monster, you know what I mean.  It’s very very silly and yet also kind of cool.  Make-up artist Dick Smith (who would go on to greater things like Little Big Man (1970)) is credited with the works, and I gotta say, I kind of like the monsters.

It’s a super-weird ludicrous story about a newlywed husband who runs off from his wife on their honeymoon, only to have her track him back to his Bayou home.  He was a victim of an accident and then a further victim of crazy science that looked to regenerate healthy body features but turns people into alligators.

Lon Chaney, Jr. plays, as Joe Dante succinctly puts it, “drunkenly….a hook-handed gator-hating Cajun”.

Effectively shot by Karl Struss, The Alligator People, which you know is silly stuff going in, for some reason is just a lot more fun and kinda cool than you might think.

She-Wolf of London (1946)

She-Wolf of London (1946) movie poster

director Jean Yarbrough
viewed: 07/15/2016

She-Wolf of London loses points right off the bat for being a monster movie without a monster.  Part of the Universal Horror canon, it fits better with other random general horror films than with The Wolf Man (1941).  It’s a bait-and-switch that can only disappoint.

A young June Lockhart stars as Phyllis Allenby, a young heiress who thinks she’s a werewolf, killing folks in the London fog near her stately home.  You’d have to be half-blind to not realize at least halfway through that she’s being set up by her seemingly kind Aunt Martha (Sara Haden).  If you could even care, after waiting for the fuzzy-faced monster to show herself, you’re a different kind of film-goer than I am.

You know, knowing it’s not a monster movie might make it a decent little film, but it’s hard when you think you’re getting a werewolf when no werewolf exists.

It comes from Jean “The Devil Bat (1940), King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), The Brute Man (1946), Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)” Yarbrough and a Universal horror branch running low on ideas.

Reds (1981)

Reds (1981) movie poster

director Warren Beatty
viewed: 07/14/2016

Epic is as epic does.

Reds is well-likely Warren Beatty’s most personal magnum opus.  Perhaps if Reds had gotten more love, he might have made more films as director than he has.

It’s been said that “Everybody wants to be a director!” probably going back to the time before cinema itself.  But Beatty made Reds before actors-turned-directors really won kudos and Oscars.  It lost out Best Picture to Chariots of Fire (1981) which I’ve never seen and at present, I doubt I’ll ever see.  That said, Raiders of the Lost Ark also lost out to Chariots of Fire that year.  But the Oscars have never been kind to actually great films.

Is Reds a great film?  It certainly strives for it.  Beatty gives it his dedicated all, with great cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, music by Stephen Sondheim and Dave Grusin, a fine script by Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, and a cast that included Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton (who did garner an Oscar), Gene Hackman, Paul Sorvino, Jerzy Kosinski, and scads of others (this is an epic, after all).

And truly, it’s a story of true merit, based on the lives of John Reed, journalist and socialist who wrote “Ten Days that Shook the World” and his lover and fellow journalist Louise Bryant.  Set in the heady days of WWI and leading up the the Russian revolution, it’s a radical picture for Hollywood perhaps of any era, what with the Communists as the good guys, when only a couple decades ago many were blacklisted for even tenuous associations.

What truly elevates the film, though, is the innovation that Beatty achieves by interviewing “Witnesses”, the real actual people who knew either Reed and/or Bryant.  These people appear as elderly talking heads against a black background, giving varying degrees of context, at first almost seeming nonsequiturs, but ultimately adding verity and reality to the fictional sprawl of the epic tale with a connection to the document.  Tremendously innovative, it lifts the film, from the good to possibly great.

 

Blind Woman’s Curse (1970)

Blind Woman's Curse (1970) movie poster

director Teruo Ishii
viewed: 07/11/2016

Wacky mishmash that it is, Teruo Ishii’s Blind Woman’s Curse fuses genres in weird ways, melding the yakuza film and horror with elements of comedy.

Though it starts off with a bang, Meiko Kaji leads a clan of dragon tattooed fighters seeking vengeance for a murdered relative.  The tattoo runs across the backs of all, with Kaji’s being the head.  In wreaking said vengeance, she accidentally blinds her victim’s sister, whose bloodied face is immediately lapped upon by a black cat.

Serious elements of weirdness abound, and the movie is an entertaining one, but it’s no Horrors of Malformed Men (1968), Ishii’s previous film which was completely utter batshit crazy.  Tatsumi Hijikata shows up, playing a weird hunchbacked servant.

Actually, seen as a straight genre film, it’s radically odd.  There are storylines interwoven and characters that seem significant that seem to disappear.  It might be less confusing on a second viewing, or maybe some of that narrative noise is intentional.  The comedy aspects of the film tend to lessen its overall impact and quality.

Still, pretty worthwhile.

We Are Still Here (2015)

We Are Still Here (2015) movie postet

director  Ted Geoghegan
viewed: 07/10/2016

While a lot of people noticed all the homages and references in Ted Geoghegan’s horror film We Are Still Here, I was a little more keened in on the cast.  Noted “scream queen” Barbara Crampton heads a solid cast including Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, and Lisa Marie in this haunted home story set in rural New York state.

It’s set in the 1970’s, I guess for style (and maybe a lack of technology), and it follows a couple, Crampton and Sensenig, who abandon the city after the death of their only son.  My favorite characters were Fessenden and Marie, their spiritualist hippie friends who come to help them through their grief and potentially reach out to the world beyond.

At 84 minutes, it’s almost deft, but Geoghegan who also wrote the script, seems to want to pack a lot into the story.  There are plot twists and histories spelled out that complicate what might have been more effective if kept a bit more in the moment.  I try not to surmise what could “fix” a film generally, but for every little element that worked, there were others that fell a bit flat.  So, in the end, I found it a mixed bag.

I would have liked to have seen more of Fessenden and Marie’s characters, almost an alternate universe Ed and Lorraine Warren a la The Conjuring (2013).