Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cometary Track

Night of the Comet (1984) totally counts as a post-apocalyptic zombie horror movie, but I queued it up because it's a cheesy 80s teen comedy. So why not?

Mary Catherine Stewart "works" at a B-movie palace - "works" in quotes because she spends most of her time making sure her name is the only one on the leader board of the lobby video game. I guess she's hoping for Robert Preston to show up, like in Last Starfighter. The projectionist has a scheme to spend the night with her in the projection booth, while the rest of the world is out watching a spectacular comet pass by overhead.

For example, all the neighbors will be out having an all-night comet party. Her mother will be there, snuggling with some guy from next door because her father is in El Salvador fighting commies. Her sister, a cheerleader valley-girl airhead (Kelli Maroney), will miss it, because she got grounded, ran away from home and slept in a garden shed.

The next morning, everyone is gone. The projectionist is gone, leaving a bloody smear. The block party is gone, leaving little piles of red dust. Only Stewart and Maroney, some zombies and the radio station are left. The radio station turns out to be on auto-pilot, but they meet one more survivor, Robert Beltran. Now the problem becomes, how can two girls survive the apocalypse with only one boy to hook up with.

Fortunately, an underground lab full of scientists are going to make everything better. Although, scientist Mary Woronov doesn't seem too sunny. Oh well, end of the world, flesh-eating zombies, kind of a bummer, I guess.

This isn't a big comedy like, say Shawn of the Dead, but it's pretty funny. It has fun with cheap horror movie conventions and with the whole 80s milieu. I might have liked it even more if I watched more of the movies it parodies. I don't know why it isn't referenced in Maximum Overdrive.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Playing Taps

Continuing to check out music-inspired movies, we queued up Tap (1989), Gregory Hines tapdance vehicle. This is the movie that brought about the tap-dance revival of the 90s. Or, wait, that never happened, did it?

Hines plays a released convict who moves into a flophouse across from a crummy dance studio. It turns out that it was his father's place, now being run by a bunch of elderly hoofers, including Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sandman Sims, plus sweet Suzanne Douglas and her son Savion Glover.

It seems that Hines was a dancer too, but found he could make more money as a cat burglar. Now he has to choose between his mobbed up buddies and his family of washed up dancers. But that part is pretty boring.

The part that isn't boring is the tap dancing that they manage to squeeze in. We get a cutting contest with Davis, Sandman, Bunny Briggs, Harold Nicholas (of the Nicholas Brothers), and many more, including Hines. Hines does a little tap improv based on city sounds, and little Savion shows a bunch of kids what it's all about.

It ends up with the invention of amped, midi tapshoes, which will bring tap into the world of rock'n'roll. It is horrible, partly because of 1980s bad new wave, partly because it's a fine idea, but only if well executed - this is clunky and uninspired.

Actually, there was a bit of a tap revival in the 90s, Bring da Noise, Bring da Funk, for example. But I'd say it came about in spite of, not because of Taps. But when it looks back to the olden days of tap, it really shines.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Getting to the Point

We never saw Zabriskie Point (1970) back in the day, although we were fans of both Antonioni and Pink Floyd. It took a while for Netflix to come through, but we finally got our chance.

It starts with a bunch of students planning a protest. Mark Frechette can't get into all this talk. He wants action, so he goes to a gun store with his roommate to buy guns. When the shopkeeper tells him there's a waiting period, he implies that their for protection from "those people". When he gets to the demonstration, the police kill a black student, so he reached for his pistol... Next thing he knows, he has to get out of town fast, so he steals a small plane and takes off.

Meanwhile, hippie chick Daria Halprin is driving through the desert on a job from real estate developer Rod Taylor. She's pretty pissed off when a small plane starts buzzing her, but then she gets into it. Mark lands, they meet up and drive off to Zabriskie Point, where they make love.

This is the most famous scene, I guess - two hippies screwing in the dust start multiplying into dozens of dusty hippies in pairs, threesomes and groups, all to a Jerry Garcia acoustic guitar solo. But these stories can't end happily. Mark returns the plane and dies in a hail of bullets. Daria meets up with her boss in a beautiful modern desert home and although she is alienated from the rich people there, she takes something from the fountain of water running down a rock wall. But when a young native maid smiles at her, she just can't hang. She leaves and as she looks back, sees the house explode to the sound of Pink Floyd. Several other things explode in slow motion, and that's the end.

The plot is pretty silly and so are the radical politics and slogans. The leads aren't exactly lovable: Daria is beautiful but pretty self-involved and Mark just seems like a jerk. He does have David Hemmings cheekbones under Peter Fonda eyes, though. But I guess Antonioni isn't known for lovable characters. He is known for multilayered, beautifully composed photography, and that's all here. Even when he is shooting like a documentarian, there are echoes and reflections in almost every shot.

But we really came for the music, and were pretty disappointed. What there is, is great. A little bit of "Dark Star" reminded us of what a great composition it is when the Dead are hitting it right. In the desert, Daria listens to a lot of FM country rock, including Jonathan Edwards and the Rolling Stones ("You've Got the Silver"). And the explosive ending makes a great music video for a version of "Careful with that Axe, Eugene", called "Come In, Number 51. You're Time Is Up", by Pink Floyd. But I thought it the movie would be drenched in Floyd, wall-to-wall, and instead there's plenty of quiet patches, and hardly any Floyd.

Oh well, better than the Yardbirds cameo in Blow Up.

The Man with the Horn

Where did Horns (2013) come from, where did it go? I hadn't heard of it until Netflix decided I would like it, since we liked Woman in Black. Well, they were right.

Of course, it's different in almost every way, except that it is basically horror, and stars Daniel Radcliffe. Except this is a horror/comedy, and Radcliffe plays an American, in the Pacific Northwest. Radcliffe's girlfriend, Juno Temple, has been murdered, and everyone thinks he did it. That includes his parents (they don't quite come out and say it) and his friends, except his public defender lawyer Mike Minghella.So he gets stinking drunk, and wakes up with a bad hangover and a pair of horns growing out of his head.

He is not cool with this at all, but he discovers that the horns give him some odd superpowers: They make people confess their darkest desires, and (if the horned one will grant them leave) act on them. The floozy Radcliffe wakes up with, Kelli Garner, for example, just wants to stuff her face with donuts so she'll get fat and nobody will want to fuck her anymore. Also, she sees the horns but doesn't really care. So Radcliffe figures he can use the power to find who really killed his Temple.

There are a lot of thing to like about this movie. The flashbacks to when they were all kids growing up together, getting in trouble and falling in love, are nicely done in a Spielbergian way. Temple, in flashbacks, is definite dreamgirl material. The supporting cast, including Radcliffe's rich, distant parents, his druggy musician brother Joe Anderson, the chubby kid who grew up to be a nasty cop, all are interesting beyond whether they are suspects. The dank, lush northwest locations are evocative of both growth and decay. And there are lots of cute little gimmicks, like Minghella getting his middle two fingers blown off, so he is always throwing the Ronnie Dio heavy-metal horns.

Radcliffe is also great, although he's getting a little too good at sunken-eyed and sad. Although it does help make the comedy that much funnier.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Zum Zum

Two things we like are Mark Dacascos and the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. With Only the Strong (1993), you get both.

First, what is capoeira (if you know the answer, you can skip this part)? In the slave times in Brazil, the new arrivals from Africa developed an unarmed style of self-defense based on fluid motion and acrobatics. It is usually practiced to the beat of drums, especially the berimbau, a bow with a gourd resonator, and traditional songs like "Paranoue" and "Zum Zum Zum, Capoeira Mata Um". It is now practiced as a form of dance and meditation, almost as much as for fighting.

So, Mark Dacascos is a Green Beret, come back to his inner-city high-school. To pay back the teacher who believed in him, he decides to reform the rottenest kids by teaching them how to play capoiera. But will the drug lords who rule the neighborhood let him get away with it? Can he beat their boss (Paco Chistian Prieto), who also knows capoeira, and is very, very large?

I think you know the answer to these and many other questions (will prim teacher Stacey Travis fall for Mark? Judging by the gooey lust in her eyes, yes). The set up and teachers were so stereotypical I wondered if they were intended to be a parody. On the other hand, the capoeira is pretty sweet. Maybe not the best fights ever, but a lot of fun to watch.

I don't know why there are so few capoiera movies, and about 1,000 Step Ups.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Day Before the Hard Day's Night

Why have I never heard of The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit (1994)? Or even it's predecessor, What's Happening! from 1964. It seems that the brothers Maysles (Monterey Pop, Gimme Shelter) were given full access to the Beatles for their first 1964 visit to America. They shot a documentary for TV called What's Happening!, a piece of slang that they taught Murray the K. Then, in 1991, it was re-cut to add the Ed Sullivan show performances.

The whole thing seems a lot like outtakes from A Hard Day's Night. The boys riding on a train, cutting up, telling jokes, smoking cigs. Screaming girls outside the limos, and at the show. Goofing on the questions at press conferences, listening to themselves on Paul's transistor radio.

It's neat to see them respond to a stupid question from the press ("Are those really wigs?") with a stupid answer ("Yes, we're all bald"). Then you see Paul reading the Q&A in the paper, pause, and conclude, "It's funny." He's not entirely sure, maybe he could have come up with a better one. Because they are all trying very hard to be entertaining, to be clever, to be cool. I'm surprised at how earnest they seem. Just once does John look at the camera and say, "I just don't feel like laughing."

The performances are always amazing. These guys were such performers, turning out tight versions of the songs we know so well, then rolling right into the next one, or putting their heels together and taking a deep bow. Really reminds you of what is was all about.

You don't get a lot of the boys singing or playing offstage, although George plays a little blues number in the hotel, and John blows a few notes on a melodica. And those few notes later became "Strawberry Fields".

Not as funny as Hard Day's Night, but real.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Deadlier than the Male

10th Victim (1965) is just ridiculous. Set in The Future, Marcello Mastrioanni and Ursula Andress are pitted against each other in the Big Hunt - where humans are the prey, and each prey takes a turn as hunter.

It is directed by Elio Petri, who doesn't ring any bells, but produced by Carlo Ponti. He produced tons of stuff, but I seem to associate him with Euro-cool swinging 60s movies, like this one. I can sum it up in one image: Do you know the Ericofon, that odd horn-shaped plastic phone with the rotary dial on the underside of the base? This phone will be the standard in The Future. Also, Op Art, jumpsuits, hats with see-through plastic visors, and brassieres that shoot bullets.

It soon becomes obvious that this isn't a dystopia film like Logan's Run, but a sex farce. Sure, Ursula Andress is trying to kill Mastroianni, but isn't that always the way between a man and a woman?

This movie isn't quite up there with Modesty Blaise, Danger: Diabolik or Barbarella, but would make a good second feature for any of them.