Saturday, July 16, 2016

Euro-Trash Zombies

So get this about The Hunger (1983) - Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are vampires. Do you need to know any more? OK, the first scene is set in a new wave club with Bauhaus singing "Bela Lugosi's Dead".

Our goth-glam couple are picking up a pair of sexual conquests/victims, who they stylishly dispose of. These scenes are intercut with scientist Susan Sarandon investigating face-eating monkeys.

It turns out that Deneuve and Bowie live rich sophisticated lives in a New York mansion. They play chamber music with a neighborhood youth. The main theme is the Flower Duet from Lakme, a hauntingly exotic piece. But Bowie starts aging, after centuries of life, and goes to Dr. Sarandon for help.

One thing I had heard about this movie is that there isn't enough Bowie. Well there's plenty at just first, then there isn't any. So Deneuve must set her sights on Sarandon.

The whole thing is very lush and 80s stylish. Bowie is wonderful, and as for Deneuve, let's just say that he and Sarandon had an affair during the filming, but he was scared of Deneuve.

In conclusion, nude lesbian love scene.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tarzana Nights

Ricki and the Flash (2015) is a roll and roll movie - it announces this from the start, with a bar band playing Tom Petty's American Girl. The cool part is, it's Meryl Streep singing. And she's great.

She's all dressed up in silver, leather, and lace with half of her hair in braids, looking very Rock. Her band, get this, is:
  • Drummer Joe Vitale, ex of Joe Walsh's Barnstorm, among many others
  • Rick "the Bass Player" Rosas, who played with Crazy Horse and CSN&Y, to name a few. He has long gray hair, the face of an ancient Indian, and a calm center. He died before the movie was completed and it is dedicated to him.
  • Bernie Worrell on keyboards. He co-founded Parliament/Funkadelics and played with the Talking Heads on their deepest albums. He has since passed on, just last month. He is the reason we watched this, although he has no lines.
  • Lead guitar: Rick Springfield! Looking rugged as heck with a nice beard - kind reminded me of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart.
Streep plays Ricki Randazzo (named after Teddy Randazzo, who wrote Can't Take My Eyes Off of You?), who has been playing to tiny crowds at a dive bar in Tarzana. She has a day job at a Whole Paycheck store, and is perpetually broke. But one day, she answers a call from her ex-husband. Her daughter, from her past life in Indianapolis, has gotten divorced and is very depressed. So she goes "home".

Her ex- is Kevin Klein, looking somewhat like Michael Palin. He is a rich white guy with a boring job and a black wife who is out of town. He loves his daughter and can be civil to Ricki, even enjoy her company - but stays pretty guarded. Their daughter is Mamie Gummer, Streep's real life daughter, who looks like hell in this. She does a good job playing pissed off and depressed. Old wounds are dragged up, limited reconciliation is achieved, the new wife shows some class and gets some digs in, and it all ends with a wedding (so this is technically a comedy).

The non-Flash parts of the movie are fine - light melodrama, I guess. But my favorite parts were Streep and her band rocking out. Ricki is an idiot and a Republican (she insults Pres. Obama, then turns to Worrel and says, "No offense"). She betrayed her family for the dream of playing in a dump for decades. But, you know, her band is great, and even if there's nobody to listen but some barflies, a vet in a wheelchair and the gay bartender, they rock out. Streep and Springfield have some on-stage flirting and spats (moderated by Rick the Bass Player), and eventually get together in a sweet way. But even that isn't the best part.

It is my belief that all over the country, you can wander into a bar and there will be an amazing band playing. You've never heard of them and they probably don't get paid enough to even cover expenses, but you'll never hear anything with more soul and power. It's happened to me - catching a country band with a 50-year-old "chick" singer playing Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer in a roadhouse called the Dewdrop Inn. Dancing to a band called the Jaguars in a Framingham motel bar, killing Stormy Monday. Under a banyan at a Hawai'i county fair. And so on.

OK, maybe it's rare, and most bar bands stink. And certainly, rocking a bar is no excuse for being a terrible mother and bad human being. But that power must count for something.

In conclusion, Streep can actually sing, and learned to play rhythm for the movie pretty convincingly.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Drive, He Said

Drive (2011) is a throwback to those great 70s car movies: the stars are stoical and silent, the mood is existential, and the cars are muscled.

It stars Ryan Gosling as the Driver (no-name lead characters are de rigueur in these movies - cf. Two-Lane Blacktop, The Driver). He will get you anywhere, wait five minutes while you carry out your caper, then take off - with or without you. Shades of the Transporter - which is not a 70s car movie, but never mind. The cute part is that he listens to the ballgame the whole time he's leading a high-speed chase to get away from the cops.

Gosling meets up with a pretty next-door neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and befriends her and her young son. When her husband (Oscar Isaac) gets out of prison, he turns out to be a pretty nice guy, even though he is kind of stepping on Gosling's budding romance. But he owes big money to the mob, and Gosling agrees to help him pull One Last Job. Which goes wrong, as they will. The last half is Gosling getting revenge and trying to ensure the safety of Mulligan and her son. Oh yes, it is very violent, too.

From the opening, with neon pink titles in an 80s script typeface (Mistral, maybe?) over a synthy score, we know we're getting a lot of 80s with our 70s. The LA night-time locations are very stylish, like Into the Night or To Live and Die in LA. We also get Ron Perlman as a Jewish mobster who runs an Italian restaurant, and Christina Hendricks as a heister. What I'm saying is, there's something for everyone.

At least for everyone who likes existential heist films with lots of muscle cars.

In conclusion, Gosling's day jobs are stunt car driver and auto mechanic. Guy has a real work ethic.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

It's Colossal!

Another one that we oddly hadn't seen until now: Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). I was expecting a 50s drive-in SF feature, but it was something else. I must have been thinking of GOG.

It starts with ranks and ranks of computer equipment, long halls lined with it. A scientist, who turns out to be Forbin (Eric Braeden), is locking it down behind a bank vault, then crossing a bottomless radioactive chasm on a retractable bridge, and finally another vault door. The chasm is a standard feature of all advanced designs, from Forbidden Planet on through Star Wars.

When Forbin is ready, the President (Gordon Pinsent) announces that this computer, Colossus, is now in control of all US nuclear forces, and completely autonomous - down to a nuclear power plant so you can't just pull the plug. Almost instantly, Colossus announces that the Russians have their own machine, and that they are communicating. When Forbin and the President try to disconnect them, all hell breaks loose.

The pace of the movie is interesting - there is no build up, no discussion of the wisdom or morality of turning the security of the world over to an omnipotent computer. Gordon Pinsent, who looks like a blander John F. Kennedy (Braeden refers to his character as "President Kennedy" in an interview), is just glad to have the nuclear responsibility taken from him. Forbin just believes in rationality, logic, and the chance to meet a new kind of mind. It also lets us get to the fun part earlier - the man vs. machine struggle.

To evade Colossus' ever-present surveillance, he convinces Colossus that he needs private time with his mistress - fellow scientist Susan Clark. So every night, they strip naked and go to bed to plot in secret. This gives us a few cute scenes of the naked-actor-with-naughty-bits-blocked-by-random-upstage-props. In this case, a wineglass in front of Clark de-magnifies her breasts, giving her a tiny top. The dregs of the wine in the same glass protects us from the view of Braeder's manliness, unless that's the tip poking out beneath the glass?

In conclusion, very cool high-gloss early 70s SF.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Cherry Cola

The next film in the Prince trilogy is Under the Cherry Moon (1986), and what a surprise. While Purple Rain was an almost autobiographical standard musical movie, this is a black and white nostalgic fantasia.

It is set in Nice. Prince is a lounge pianist, but with his buddy Tricky (Jerome Benton), he mainly lives off of the kindness of wealthy women. They set their sights on Kristen Scott Thomas, a madcap heiress who stands to inherit millions on her 18th birthday. Our friends crash her party, and both come to love her - without losing track of her wealth.

The look of this movie is something else. The lounge scenes look like something out of Casablanca (or at least trying to be). But there are scenes cruising along the waterfront in big American convertibles that look more like French New Wave - It was shot with Arri cameras, although I can't find any indication that they used the lightweight Arriflexes that gave some New Wave movies that verite look. Then there's the whole over-the-top decadence thing - especially Prince's costumes. He lives with Benton in a pretty dumpy apartment, but he wears fabulous outfits, and in one scene, takes a bath while Benton sprinkles rose-petals on the water.

Which brings us to the question of sex - that is, what is up with Prince and Benton? I'd like to answer with a thought experiment - Recast this movie w/ women in the Prince and Benton role, and a male heir instead of Kristen Scott Thomas. Then it's just a regular screwball comedy, right? Two gold-diggers (I see Eve Arden in the Tricky role), with slinky outfits and hearts of gold. So it isn't gay, it's just gender-bent.

I can see why some people would be disappointed in the music - there aren't a lot of great performances or classic songs. "Kiss" shows up in a truncated version on the soundtrack, for instance. But Prince plays several little jazz piano improvisations, especially early in the movie, that I liked a lot. It shows another side of his musical talent.

And speaking of talent, Prince also directed a lot of this movie. I hope he had fun. A lot of people trash this movie, but I think it's great - I suppose Graffiti Bridge goes back to the same-old, right?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Odd Job

As promised, we watched Odd Thomas (2013), starring the late Anton Yelchin. It is the way I want to remember him.

Yelchin plays the title character, whose first name is truly Odd. He is a regular guy, known around his little Southwest town of Pico Mundo as the nice short order cook at the diner. But he has a secret: he sees dead people and does something about it. Ghosts tell him who murdered them and he takes them out - usually with the help of his friend, the police chief (Willem Dafoe, a guy with a whole lot of face). The only other person who knows his secret is his girlfriend and soulmate Stormy (Addison Timlin) who works at the ice cream shop at the mall. Just like the girl in Burying the Ex, but not really.

Odd can also see invisible demon creatures called bodachs who feed off of massacres and tragedies. So when he starts seeing flocks of them, he knows something bad is going down. So he uses his psychic powers to figure it out, and, we hope, to prevent it.

Although it is full of ghosts, ghouls, and serial killers, this is not a horror flick. It's based on a a beloved series by Dean Koontz which makes sense, because the characters have a mythic quality, like they have a bigger life outside the movie. I was pleasantly surprised by how earnest and unironic the movie is. I especially liked Odd's relation to Stormy. She was his childhood sweetheart, he has always loved her, and she feels the same. There is no hint of deception or unfaithfulness between them, which might seem saccharine or unrealistic. Also, she is very spunky, calls him "Odd One", and speaks in a kind of stilted cool girlfriend speech. And I don't care - I love her and I love the way they love each other.

So, not a horror movie, but a romance.

It was directed by Stephen Sommers, who directed the Mummy movies and Van Helsing, which I actually like, and in fact own. I don't have much to say about the directing, except that Pico Mundo looks like a very nice place. It was clearly filmed partly around Santa Fe - one scene was recognizably Santa Fe's old town square.

But our favorite part was the sweet, brave, and noble characters of Odd, Stormy and the chief. It made a nice farewell to Mr. Yelchin.