Idiocracy (2006)

Idiocracy (2006) movie poster

director Mike Judge
viewed: 07/29/2016

Given how the current American election has evoked many a reference to it, it seemed an apt time to watch Mike Judge’s Idiocracy.  The comedy about how modern natural selection preferred the ignorant to the intelligent, the movie envisions a future ruled by the dumb, eaten alive by corporations, and devolved to the brink of extinction.

Yes, it’s easy to see why this dystopia springs to mind these days.

Only, how many people have actually seen this movie?  Because, despite some amusing cultural critiques, it’s patently terrible.

Mike Judge has evolved himself from the creator of Beavis and Butthead, which itself was a highly apt cultural critique of its time.  Between Office Space (1999), which gave birth to any number of memes to King of the Hill, which showed the ability to develop characters and story alongside social criticism to his latest incisive skewering in Silicon Valley, Judge has proven himself time and again to be funny, relevant, and inventive.

But Idiocracy…come on.  For every joke that works there are dozens that fail.  Luke Wilson is affable but Maya Rudolph is ridiculously wasted in her role as a prostitute with a brain.  It’s hideous looking with the cheapest of FX and an aesthetic that looks like it was done on the weekends by someone studying for the Associates degree.

I wondered if it might have been better as animation.  20 years ago, when I was taking an animation class and I praised King of the Hill, the other (younger) animation students recoiled because its aesthetic was so low-end.  So, who knows?  Honestly, though, one episode of Rick & Morty, … heck, five minutes of Rick & Morty is 1,000 times funnier and more incisive than Idiiocracy.

You know, it’s still apropos of 2016, election and all.  Devo-lution.  We’re living it.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) movie poster

director Terence Fisher
viewed: 07/26/2016

I always liked declarative titles like Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed or Destroy All Monsters.  Maybe it’s that verb: destroy.  I dunno.  I gets me.  Here.

It’s kind of sad but it’s been almost a decade ago that I set myself the plan to watch the Hammer horror cycles of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy.  Starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), there are only 7 movies in that cycle.  But in the interceding years, for the hundreds of movies I’ve watched, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is only the second of the films (5th in the series) that I’ve watched.

As a kid, I’m pretty sure I’d seen them all at one point or another.

My intent had been to watch them in order, but that didn’t happen.  So I can’t contextualize this one in comparison to the others.  What is interesting about it, though, is that it seems to carry forward on a through storyline from the prior films, all of which starred the inimitable Peter Cushing as the villain Dr. Frankenstein.

Here, in London, he doesn’t even have a monster.  He’s hiding in plain sight, trying to recover the mind of a fellow mad scientist who has actually gone mad.  He’s trying to recover the means to freeze a brain so that it can be transplanted into a new head.  In his pursuit, he forces young man and his fiancee into aiding and abetting his misdeeds.

Like a number of these films, Terence Fisher steers the ship, and the film carries along at a decent clip, never stalling out, keeping things moving.  It’s not overly stylized but largely entertaining.  Many have noted a very untoward rape scene that feels entirely out of place and unnecessary, apparently added at the producers behest and against cast and crew’s desires.  It does indeed make Dr. Frankenstein more deplorable, but it’s just…yeah.

Not sure where Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed falls in quality ranking of the Hammer Frankensteins.  I thought it was pretty good.

The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) movie poster

director Jack Hill
viewed: 07/25/2016

Campus radical Kate (Jo Johnston) goes undercover as a college cheerleader to write an exposé on vacuousness in sports culture.  But on meeting Andrea (Rainbeaux Smith), Lisa (Rosanne Katon), and Buck the all-star quarterback (Ron Hajek), her exposé transitions from cultural critique to uncovering gambling and game-fixing.

That’s hardly all.  There’s a subplot with her former lover and editor and fellow campus radical, inflected with jealousy, sets a gang rape in action and tries to discredit her among her cheerleader pals.  There’s a fair amount of plot, plot to spare, if you will, in this sex comedy.

Not writer/director Jack Hill’s best effort, The Swinging Cheerleaders never really stoops to “bad”, if you will.  But it never really gets its shit together either nor does it become outrageous or for that matter hilarious.  When the action kicks in toward the end, it tries to go slapstick.

I don’t know what else to say about it.

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)


The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) movie poster

director Peter Weir
viewed: 07/24/2016

Peter Weir made many very good films over several decades, a spectrum of styles and stories from The Last Wave (1977) to Witness (1985) to The Truman Show (1998), there is a lot of range.  So maybe it’s not so strange that his debut feature, the 1974 The Cars That Ate Paris, is both obscure and yet influential.

Though it had direct influence on both Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000 (1975) and George Miller’s Mad Max (1979), The Cars That Ate Paris is less well-known and less successful. For which the latter may be the cause of the former.

It’s an art film posing as a trash film.  Maybe that’s more in the marketing than in the make-up.  The title reckons of drive-in movies, but it’s really metaphorical.  This fictional town of Paris in rural Australia does become devoured by their car culture.  Of course, their car culture consists of causing car accidents to wayward travelers, then mending the people that survive and turning the wrecked vehicles into proto-punk demolition derby things, fueled by the village’s youth.  I guess that is a hard story to market easily.

The tone falls into the cracks between comedy and exploitation action and something more stylish, artistic, and profound.  Which is why it’s hard to know exactly how to feel about it.

But it does have this iconic VW bug covered in spikes and more than a few germs of ideas lurking to inspire other future film-makers into something more significant.

Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory (2016) movie poster

director Andrew Stanton
viewed: 07/24/2016 at the Alamo Draft House – New Mission, SF, CA

Pixar’s Finding Dory got pretty good reviews, but I wasn’t terribly bothered about seeing it, big screen or small.  My 12 year old daughter, though, given her druthers for a movie outing, opted for it.  And truly, as my kids break on through into their teens, I realize that my need to see the latest animated fare is on the verge of falling away.  So, I willingly embrace it.

I’ve commented before on Pixar’s once magical touch and how it’s been whittled down to a mere mortal hand.  The fallibility is less human and more corporate, of course.  Movies that didn’t need sequels now get sequels, this one 13 years out from Finding Nemo of 2003.

Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks are back as Dory and Marlin, and Andrew Stanton is also back with another story of fish seeking family across the ocean.  This time, it’s Dory, she of the bad memory, looking for her family who turns out to live around Morro Bay, CA.

I guess they were running low on new fish.  This time we’ve got a beluga whale, a whale shark, and most notably a 7 legged octopus (Ed O’Neill).

You’d have to be a real grump not to enjoy it pretty well.  But it’s far from innovative, fresh, original, or overly compelling.  Often, even in a weak Pixar film, the innovations of their animation technology are stunningly on display, but nothing really stood out for me in that regard here.  I might even consider it moderately forgettable.

But my daughter enjoyed it.  And I’m glad we went.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) movie poster

director Taika Waititi
viewed: 07/23/2016 at Embarcadero Center Cinema, SF, CA

Taika Waititi’s star is rising, shooting off sparks like crazy.  A couple earlier films may have laid some groundwork, but after co-directing the instant cult classic What We Do in the Shadows (2014) with Jemaine Clement, Waititi parlayed the directorial role in the upcoming Thor movie.  And in between those things, he made this odd and charming little feature.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople brings backwoods curmudgeon Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) together with chubby young Maori teen Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) together in a strange bedfellows friendship movie.  Waititi adapted the film from a 1986 novel, Wild Pork and Watercress by New Zealand author Barry Crump.  These buddies are thrown together when Hec’s wife Aunt Bella (Rime Te Wiata), the giant-hearted backwoods auntie, drops dead.  A couple of twists find the duo on the run in the dramatic and stunning New Zealand wilderness with more benign than malevolent police forces after them.

Julian Dennison is by and far the heart of the picture.  Neill is good, looking a lot like Ernest Hemingway, as the wily grump.  It’s a sweet and amusing film.  My 14 year old son loved it, certain sure my daughter and ex-wife would enjoy it too.

I liked it overall, niggled a bit by some of the music, some of the flourishes and editing, which infect the tone a bit.  It’s inherently likable.  But I didn’t love it.  As many have noted, Waititi’s upcoming Thor film should prove interesting.

Radio On (1979)

Radio On (1979) movie poster

director Christopher Petit
viewed: 07/22/2016

I discovered Christopher Petit’s 1979 British road movie, Radio On, from Time Out’s list of The 100 Best British Films.  Before that, I’d never heard of it, but there were a number of films on the list with which I was unfamiliar.  The soundtrack has more stars than the movie itself, featuring David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, Lene Lovich and Devo, a coolness factor for 1979 still hep today.

Petit borrowed more than the “road movie” idea from Wim Wenders, he borrowed his cameraman, Martin Schäfer, who brings to the picture its other real highlight, a crafty black-and-white aesthetic interpretation of London and the byways out toward Bristol in the dumps on the edge of Thatcher era of Britain.

Petit, though, locates a cipher in his lead, Robert (David Beames), a radio DJ, seeking a mystery of his brother’s suicide.  Story is more of a red herring than a plot, and one could say the same for characters in the film as well.  The most interesting is a German woman looking for her babydaddy and baby, or maybe Sting who shows up as an Eddie Cochran nut at the location of his deadly taxi crash (no, not interesting, but notable.)

Really, it fits in nicely with the films that Jim Jarmusch would go on to produce, or even those that Bruce McDonald would make in Canada, or however many other indie-like road movies featuring music and musicians, seeking the soul of their country in black and white.  Petit doesn’t have the flair for humor or character that Jarmusch or McDonald do, nor the deeper sensibilities that Wenders could tease out.

The result is a somewhat disappointing thing.  Kind of interesting.  Kind of not.  Maybe more interesting in context with other films of the genre.

My son didn’t care for it at all.


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.