Friday, January 28, 2011

Lifeguard (1975)


Playing a Southern California beach maven named Rick Carlson, Sam Elliott portrays the quintessential ‘70’s dude, complete with moustache and convertible Corvette. Nearing that age where being a lifeguard seems more creepy than appropriate, Rick contemplates a career and thus lifestyle change to the point that he begins to tear his chest hair out figuring his next move.

An old friend he bumps into offers Rick a job selling Porsche’s at his dealership. And then an old girlfriend offers a rekindling and likely marriage if only Rick could make the sales job work toward at least a semblance of upward mobility. To help him make his big decision, Rick does what any quintessential ‘70’s dude would do and has sex with a 17 year old girl from the beach.

Once Rick shamefully runs out of wind early and loses the annual lifeguard competition for his county team, he proceeds to make the attempt at becoming a more civilized adult. The old girlfriend takes him in and Rick even tries out being somewhat of a father to her young son. But Wildman Ricky isn’t trying to put up with the fake, rich bullshit that goes with selling high-performance vehicles, so you know there are going to be bumps in the road.

Plus, get this…Rick really loves the ocean. At his high school reunion, a woman asks him the name of the hotel in Hawaii where he had won that surfing championship. Instead of answering her question, Rick spaces out at the memory of his past glory and responds with a flighty, nonsensical “ah, yeah.” The guy gets high off the sand between his toes, the bikinis in full array, the gulls squawking at his perfectly feathered hair-do. It’s the thrill of the save, the water being pumped from a lung that makes this stud with a golden tan tick. How you gonna change that?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lost Angels (1989)


Adam Horovitz aka King Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys stars as a bratty Los Angeles teen rebelling against any and everything in his path. Tim Doolan is the young man’s name and each of his unloving mother, his absent father, his neanderthal half-brother, his lackadaisical girlfriend, and his wannabe vato friends are blatant idiots. As abundantly dumb as any of them, Tim gets tricked into admitting himself to a psychiatric ward upon being released from juvenile hall. Next thing he knows, he’s being forcibly strapped down to a bed by a team of psycho ward bouncers who inject him with get-right juice.

When Tim wakes up, none other than Donald Sutherland is there to persuade him to become a more functional junior member of society. It’s serious business, yet the whole time you can’t help thinking that suddenly Mike D and MCA are going to break through the doors to bust Ad Rock out of there. It’s actually kinda difficult as a fan of the Beasties to watch dude acting like such a kook, hanging out with blockheads, getting the shaft handed to him left and right. Horovitz’s acting is flimsy at best. You watch and you genuinely want him to pull it off, but he never fully succeeds at not having you think he’s going to start rhyming (and stealing) at any given moment.

Worse than that, there’s a sad girl in the hospital courtyard with Tim and the other troubled teens who smears her own poop on her stripped-naked body not just once during the course of the film, but twice. Evidently the makers of Lost Angels didn’t think that a single smeared poop scene would be enough. That should tell you all you need to know about the movie, in that it’s a frenzied spectacle that’s hard to look away from, no matter how much you know it to be a stinker.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Richard Pryor, Here and Now (1983)


Recorded in New Orleans at the famous Saenger Theater, Richard Pryor actually has to get the crowd to pipe down before he can even begin his set, asking the random hecklers: “you gonna out-drunk each other?” Claiming to be five months sober himself, Pryor retains his sharp edge, not only ripping the raucous crowd left and right with one-liners, but tackling more serious topics with the perspective of a changed man.

Whether telling the story of trip he had taken to Zimbabwe, or considering the perils of nuclear war, Pryor not only tickles the funny bone per his side-splitting norm but also adds the element of liberated thought to his repertoire. Even when he goes into doing his classic Mudbone routine, the history of Mexican and American relations gets addressed with a certain degree of seriousness. Of course, leave it to the New Orleans crowd and they’d just have Pryor snap at their continuous outbursts with insulting dick jokes all night.

Where else but New Orleans is someone going to request an autograph from Pryor in the middle of his performance? Or better yet, where else is someone going to give Pryor a gift of a hermit crab in a cocktail glass in the middle of his performance? Pryor handles it all like a legendary professional, never letting the low-brow audience significantly discombobulate his high-profile showcase. Really, it just shows how much of an amazing improviser Pryor could be, bobbing and weaving his way toward any and every laugh in the vicinity.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fishing with John, Volume 3: Thailand with Dennis Hopper (1992)


John Lurie is an actor and a musician, best known for his leading role in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise and as a founder of the Lounge Lizards, and as the vhs box puts it: “John Lurie knows absolutely nothing about fishing, but that doesn’t stop him from undertaking the adventure of a lifetime by traveling with his special guests to the most exotic and most dangerous places on Earth.” With Volume 3 of the Fishing with John series, John takes Dennis Hopper on a trip to Thailand in search of the much-fabled, but seldom-seen giant squid.

As Lurie and Hopper are guided by locals along the Andaman Sea, video narrator Robb Webb pokes fun at the absurdity of their mission. “Somewhere in this ocean there are squid 59 feet long and weighing more than a ton. It is not likely that they inhabit these parts, but one never knows.” More of a tongue-in-cheek talk-show than anything else, Fishing with John is as funny as it is surreal, with Lurie and Hopper candidly acting more like uncle and nephew than professional counterparts.
High on dramamine, they hook a sting-ray that they can’t figure out how to unhook, play ping-pong on the beach, visit a shady pirate outpost, and share tea with Buddhist monks. They do in fact spend much of the program trying to catch fish, but their true overriding intent is revealed by Webb as even more plainly practical: “Whether there is such a thing as a giant squid or not, life is still beautiful.” Other episodes in this series feature Matt Dillon in the Amazon, Tom Waits in Jamaica, and William Dafoe on Long Island, and they figure to be just as quirky and as interesting as this one.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Terrorist (1998)


In the jungles of Southern India, where Tamil rebels pit teenage girls strapped with machine guns against the repressive Indian army, being tapped by your commanders to play the role of suicide bomber is an esteemed honor. With 30 successful combat missions under her belt, 19 year old Malli proudly accepts the assignment of killing India’s prime minister knowing full well that she will also be blasted to smithereens in the process. She’s trained her whole life to be a devastating guerilla and lives by the words of her martyred father: “Oh, comrade, be vigilant, you can sleep after death, until then fight on.”

Malli’s journey from the militarized zone to the big city where she plans to intercept the prime minister is wrought with emotional turmoil, enough to make her cast doubts over her ability to carry out her mission. The personalities and more-peaceful sensibilities she meets along the way leave profound impressions upon Malli as her entire world slows to the pitter patter of a fading rainstorm. Can she bring herself to strike that final bolt of lightening, the one that delivers shockwaves with its revolutionary fury?

Actress Ayesha Dharkar, who plays Malli, effectively contrasts a soldier’s robotic resolution with the tender longings of a young woman yet to experience all that life and love have to offer. It’s that psychological push and pull that takes The Terrorist beyond just a film worthwhile for its exotic locales. Make no mistake, the places and especially the people in this film are astoundingly beautiful. They just happen to be in a fight with their lives for their freedom is all.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Street Fight (1975)


It’s not enough that Ralph Bakshi’s mixed-media animation captures hip nostalgia with an intense swirl of authenticity, or that his social commentary pushes the envelope in every conceivable direction. But in the case of Street Fight, Bakshi hits on all cylinders, casting Philip Michael Thomas and Barry White as upstart gangsters from the “cracker-barrel” circuit trying to hustle up big league Harlem utilizing every “down home” trick in the book.

Scatman Crothers narrates as ultra-black heroes the Rabbit and the Bear expertly put a debilitating move on the Italian Mafia, a revolutionary take-over. The blacks versus whites dynamic goes full tilt as cartoon blood sheds on both sides from a machine gun rattle of racist crossfire. Fortunately, Rabbit and Bear’s friend the Fox lends his cunning hand in the fight against the Godfather and his squadron of transvestite sons. Intricate schemes and smokescreens abound as underworlds clash in the most psychedelic of manners.

The vhs box for Street Fight, which was originally titled upon theatrical release as Coonskin, comes with the warning: “this film offends everybody!” The jive talk alone is side-splitting, let alone the pornographic embellishments, the outlandish revenge fantasy, and the over-the-top parodies of classic fools. This isn’t a movie for the faint of heart and Bakshi, who also produced the equally risqué Fritz the Cat and Hey, Good Lookin’, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pixote (1981)


This dramatization casts genuine Brazilian street kids running amok with few other options available to them other than violent crime and vice. The main character of the film, Pixote, is merely 10 years old and the movie begins with him being thrown into a reformatory where conditions are deplorable. Watching a tender pre-pubescent go through the dregs of what might as well be an adult prison…well, at the very least it makes you want to reach through the screen and wipe the grime off of Pixote’s seldom-washed face.

Upon escaping the dreadful reformatory, Pixote and his friends take to the streets of Sao Paulo picking pockets, then wind up relocating to Rio in order to deal drugs and pimp a drunkard prostitute three times their age. Of course, things get pretty hairy, in over their heads and all, but the kids prove themselves relatively savvy. Then again, drastic circumstances are eventually going to overtake children criminals and that’s just the way it is, from here to South America to anywhere.

A pre-cursor to later juvenile delinquency films including Menace II Society, Le Haine and Cidade de Deus, Pixote demonstrates the bleakness of urban poverty in all its gore and tragedy. These kids are certainly doing plenty of wrong, but how can they be rightfully blamed coming up as they do? It’s just good that there are filmmakers out there wanting to show us just how messed up things can get, so that those on the outside looking in might actually see the vulnerably precious humanity inherent to the situation.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, Volume 1: UFO’s/Strange Skies (1980)


Science fiction luminary Arthur C. Clarke comes right out the box on this one, stating bluntly: “UFO’s are very common. If you’ve never seen one, you’re either unobservant or you live in a cloudy area.” It’s amazing to consider how attitudes have changed in 30 years since this program originally aired. Today, someone as famous as Clarke would catch all sorts of flak for being so adamant about the universal presence of UFO’s.

In 1980, people still wanted to know as much as possible about unexplained phenomenon. Nowadays, there better be some diffusing joke attached to any talk about strange sightings or the peanut gallery will be quick to slap an aluminum dunce-cap on your head. The UFO’s portion of the video does indeed spend some time debunking certain photos from consideration, but other evidence presented isn’t so easy to reject. In 1978, an airplane off the coast of New Zealand spotted multiple saucer-like, luminous objects following them on consecutive flights, all captured on both camera and radar. Upon investigation of the evidence, scientists concluded that “no known explanation can account for all the facts.”

Beyond mere UFO sightings in the sky, Clarke addresses close encounters as well. Several people tell their stories about visitors to their farms…it’s always farms. Clarke isn’t convinced that aliens would be so sneaky, intimating that their arrival/return would be far too spectacular for anyone to miss. But he does also go on to say: “You may wonder; what should you do if you do meet a man from space? Be very polite and be prepared for a long journey.”

With the Strange Skies portion of the video, historical speculations on the canals of Mars and the existence of the planet Vulcan receive proper documentary treatment. The ability to curiously explore why people once believed something that we now know to be untrue, without a snide attitude attached, has become a lost art. Just like anyone intelligent today, Clarke ultimately dismisses the misguided conclusions of others. He’s just more empathetic as to why they would believe such things, and he’s not out to be a dick over how he’s superiorly smarter than them. I mean, he even tackles the Star of Bethlehem in a wholly respectful manner. The measured analysis on vastly interesting topics makes me want to watch the other 5 volumes of the Mysterious World video series.   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tribes (1970)


Having grown up a full-blown hippie, Adrian Stone gets drafted into the Marines and his groovy, mystic ways clash with the unbending stringency of boot camp. Jan-Michael Vincent stars as the starsailor recruit and his screaming company drill sergeant is played by Darren McGavin, better known for playing the dad in A Christmas Story. The dialogue of this movie is awesome. Here are some choice excerpts:

1. Hit the deck! Do push-up’s until I tell you to stop. One, two, three…stop! Why aren’t you wearing skivvies? I never wear shorts, sir. On your feet! What do you mean you never wear shorts? I like the freedom, sir. Now hear this! There will be no freedom in this camp! Is that clear? Sir, yes, sir!

2. Hey, where are you from? Oh, lots of places, I’ve been all over. Well, what did you do? Whatever comes natural. Kinda hard to get an answer out of you, isn’t it? You ever been in one of those communes? Yeah, for a while. Well, is it anything like the magazines say it is, you know, free love and everything? Well, that was a small part of it.

3. Took me a long time to realize that yesterday can’t be changed and tomorrow can’t be controlled with any certainty. I just kinda shoot for the minute.

4. You scored higher than anyone in the platoon on these tests. Did you know that? Sir, no, sir. Says you only had a year and half high school. What happened? They kick you out? Sir, no sir. I quit, thought it was a waste of time, sir. You think learning is a waste of time? Sir, no, sir. But what they had to teach me just didn’t interest me., sir. Then you tell me how you learned so much to score like this? Sir, I don’t know, sir, just hanging around, I guess. You trying to snow me, lady?

5. I’ve just about had enough of this. You know you’re out of your head, man. You know you’re messing with these guys’ minds. Hey man, so does Uncle Sam.

6. I will not stand for any more smiling during drill! Is that clear? Sir, yes, sir! I will not stand for any more lotus positions! Is that clear? Sir, yes, sir!

And that’s just the beginning of it. Tribes originally aired in 1970 as a made-for-television movie and even with a G rating, it possesses that cutting edge quality that made the boob tube great back in the days of flower power.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sugar Ray Leonard: Sports Champions (1983)


Nothing short of fascinating, this video reveals quite a peculiar look at boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard as he contemplates retirement over a detached retina circa 1982. The documentary follows Leonard as he boards the Queen Elizabeth II for a boat ride across the Atlantic. On a luxury liner evidently booked as a Sugar Ray themed cruise to London, the former Olympic champion not only signs autographs and grants a public interview, but he also dances and sings badly with the house band and get this, he spars an exhibition with one of the ship’s deck hands.

And that’s right when the video gets serious, as Sugar Ray falls into some sort of instinctive boxing “trance” that has him quickly depart from clowning around with his fully amateur sparring partner to stinging the poor guy left and right with sharp professional jabs. So this random bloke gets riled up enough by Sugar Ray to really fight back and manages to whip a punch right into Leonard’s damaged eye. Oops, he shouldn’t have done that as Sugar Ray then proceeds to knock the deck hand the hell out, in this tiny room on a ship in front of about 30 old people. It’s literally jaw-dropping footage, especially clips of Sugar Ray continuously popping dude in super close, slow motion.

Upon arrival in London, Sugar Ray hangs out with the don Bob Hope and then proceeds to ask a bunch of Brits if they think he should actually retire…they almost all say yes. After meeting with a former opponent Dave Boy Green, and explaining to him exactly how he almost killed him, Sugar Ray unleashes yet another wow moment when he not only denies that his eye was injured while boxing but blames it on his elementary aged son. Without even being able to cite an instance, he reasons that surely Ray Jr. just might have scratched his eye playing basketball in the front yard. As Sugar Ray puts it, we “play a lot of basketball.” Oh my!

The video ends with Leonard hosting a tear-jerking ceremony in his hometown of Baltimore to announce his retirement in November ’82. Of course, he would go on to fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler within a year from then. It’s just supremely hilarious and surreal that for 50 minutes Sugar Ray acts out every indication that he cares enough about his health and his family to stop boxing, yet it’s so easy to see through his façade at every turn, knowing full well that he would undoubtedly fight again. HBO’s Real Sports eat your heart out on this one, a true vhs gem.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Naked Prey (1965)


A group of rude white colonialists on safari in Africa plunder elephants for their ivory. They also happen to piss off a particular tribe of natives along the way. So, they are routinely captured by the tribesmen and tortured to death. The chief conjures up creative ways to finish off each of his prisoners. One white hunter gets costumed as a chicken and then chased down by village women who beat him with rocks fastened to the end of sticks. Another white hunter is basted with terra cotta then barbequed into human pottery, while yet another is tied down face-first in a ring of cobras.

And then there is the last white hunter, the one who tried to keep his buddies from dishonoring the tribesmen in the first place. The chief offers this man a fighting chance. He’s stripped naked and given a running head-start. Then one at a time, the tribe’s best lion hunters chase him down with their spears. Problem for the tribe is that the white man miraculously kills the first lion hunter who comes after him. And then the race is really on.

With outback skills in full effect, actor Cornel Wilde not only stars in this classic action-adventure, but he’s also the producer and director of the film. None of the weekend warriors on the Discovery Channel have anything on this dude. As a kid, I initially watched The Naked Prey aired on network television right after Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and hardly realized which was supposed to be fact or fiction. Of course, even Tom Brady isn’t white enough to enjoy the champion’s luck that this fugitive employs in his harrowing escape. But still, this one is well worth watching, a dozen times over.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Searching for Tom Curren (1997)


When I was 13, my family moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Huntington Beach, California. I’d never lived in a surf city before, let alone THE surf city. When I got to Huntington during the summer of ’84, the OP Pro surfing competition was at its apex of splendor and every local’s favorite was undoubtedly Tom Curren.

In the face of the plastic 80’s, California’s Tom Curren presented himself as an iconoclast soul surfer and did it very well, enough to win World Championships and universal respect. Searching for Tom Curren weaves introspective interview outtakes within a 35-minute web of Curren brilliantly surfing remote breaks across the globe. The video does a superb job capturing Curren’s cosmic cool, that balanced mixture of laid-back intensity that feeds Curren’s natural charm.

Maybe you’ve got to be a surfing nut to really enjoy this video. Then again, there’s a beauty to there being not just one but two Galaxy 500 songs on its soundtrack. But really, the way that Curren so effortlessly carves waves, building incredible speed then stopping on a pivot to reposition his board, then building speed again, transcends mere sport into the realm of advanced artistic expression. Yes, I realize that sounds mad corny…but I swear the rides speak for themselves.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Freebird, The Movie (1995)


First thing’s first; this is NOT a movie. It’s for the most part various concert footage from the peak of Lynyrd Skynard’s storied career, around ’76-’77, right before the tragic plane crash. The video also contains brief interviews of band and family members reminiscing about the good ole days.   

As advertised, it all leads to “Freebird”, in this case filmed on the Fourth of July, 1977 at the Bill Graham Festival in Oakland, California. And let’s be honest, it don’t get much better’n that. When the late, great Ronnie Van Zant starts in with “if I leave here tomorrow”, the womanly screams from the crowd are no less than Cheap Trick “Live at Budakan”-esque.

Let’s not forget that rednecks at their best are renegades, and thus that’s what makes them attractive. “Lord, I can’t change.” Aw, you know how the women folk love them a challenge. In their time, Skynyrd came up as about the only longhairs among a Southern sea of crewcuts and Billy Bob beatdowns. That’s what had their songs begging “Gimme Three Steps” and deriding the “Saturday Night Special” and such.

The closing credits of the video are a thing onto themselves, interspersing clips from Skynard’s past as possibly the band’s most poignant song “Simple Man” takes you right back to that place and time when the ‘70’s were still the ‘70’s….when we spent more time outdoors, with family, making sure to smell the roses and putting smiles on the faces of children. Maybe you had to be there, including being from the South, but I’ll take Skynard as my background music to a grander life any day of the week.

Celebrity (1998)


Woody Allen, what a piece of work. With Celebrity, Allen once again casts the annoying, unattractive intellectual half-man nonsensically taking for granted that beautiful women somehow manage to throw themselves at him. Sound familiar? Well this time, Allen at least lets actor Kenneth Branagh do the honors, although the same-old Allen shtick makes you want to punch Branagh all the same.

Thankfully, the over-the-top Charlize Theron and Leonardo DiCaprio segments make the black-and-white film all the more bearable to those who can only handle so much manic pontification on middle aged crisis.

In a wacky world where everyone has enough time and money to treat their shrinks like close family members, second and third and fourth chances at whimsical love surely do fan city skylines like country rainbows. But there’s not enough Viagra on the assembly lines to ever make Allen’s projected conquests believable the way he so obviously intends them to be taken.

So with Celebrity, merely look for stylish scenes, cameo performances (Melanie Griffith, Wynona Ryder, etc.), and a few witty conversations that in the case of many of Allen’s movies briefly make you wish that your own friends were so artsy and willing to listen so intently to all of your personal hoopla.

Sonic Youth: Screaming Fields of Sonic Love (1995)


For all the time I spent watching video music programming in the ‘80’s, I never remember catching a single Sonic Youth video. I recall seeing a news item on MTV once circa ’88 about the release of the Daydream Nation album and how college students routinely creamed their pants over Sonic Youth, but never an actual video.

So, here are those videos I never saw…and damn, they are great. Leaps of faith are often necessary when dealing with Sonic Youth, but if you can’t let yourself get fully zoned into “Shadow of a Doubt”, then possibly you can’t be helped. The ethereal perfection of Kim Gordon continues by way of “Addicted to Love”, basically proto-karaoke apt to leave you speechless. Speaking of purity, “MacBeth” represents what I would call the perfect alt-rock video; it’s got all the tell-tale elements, puppets included.

But wait, then the quintessential alt-rock song “Teenage Riot” flashes images of Kiss, Black Flag, and Mike Watt outlandishly rocking in a free world and the video makes me want to call it a landmark as well. With “Candle”, Thurston Moore leads the charge as Sonic Youth transitions to a larger video budget with which they proudly ignite a real full-sized car, you know instead of just a Matchbox car.

Hard to avoid the affinity Sonic Youth reserved for Iggy Pop and the Stooges, with wanting to be your dog and all. Actually, I love any comparison between bands in that each prove that the underground does deliver the goods every once in a while.

Play Misty for Me (1971)


Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut takes place in Carmel, California with Eastwood playing a radio disk jockey who makes the mistake of casually sleeping thrice with the most psychotic stalker woman imaginable. After being clearly jilted, actress Jessica Walter takes her fatal attraction to the hilt, showing up unexpectedly pleading for non-existent love, attempting suicide, trashing a condominium and knifing the cleaning lady along the way.

While all this lunacy is heightening, Eastwood is so bold as to be trying to convince his old girlfriend to get back with him. Precarious is the word, effectively building suspense in what I personally consider to be a frightening predicament and movie. That Eastwood’s disk jockey appears to have it made in the shade on so many different levels, including a killer pad on the beach, a convertible sport car, notoriety enough to hobnob with Cannonball Adderley at the Monterey Jazz Festival, etc. shows just how quickly the glass can shatter.

Play Misty for Me might as well have served as a public service announcements for those free-loving bachelors of the early ‘70’s who started letting Playboy magazine get to their heads. You can’t just go dogging out every woman in sight as one might actually be chomping at the bit to strike back with a vengeance. The whole sentiment is like a cold shower put to video cassette…brrrrr.