Posts Tagged ‘That’s Showbiz!


Birdman; or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

BirdmanPosterI was going to hold off on writing up Birdman; or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance until after October, so I’d have a nice, neat little block of horror posts for this month. But the thing is, I just can’t wait. I have been thinking about the movie ever since I watched it two days ago, and the more I think about it, the better it gets in my head. I feel it is my duty to direct whatever audience I might have to the theaters to see it while they can.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is washed up. In the 1990’s, he played everyone’s favorite superhero Birdman, but today he’s nobody. All that remains of Birdman is the occasional photograph request from Midwestern families on vacation. Well, not only that I suppose; it seems Riggan maintains an inner dialog with Birdman, the latter always pumping the former up and reminding him that he is a star. But Hollywood has no time for him these days, unless of course he suddenly becomes interested in making Birdman 4. But Riggan has loftier aspirations; in fact it’s those aspirations that have brought him to New York City, where he is acting and directing in his very first Broadway play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He’s never done a thing like this before, and he’s putting his reputation and financial security on the line.
The play is, of course, a disaster waiting to happen. Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering addict of some sort, is acting as his assistant and she’s gonna blow any minute. Worse still, opening night is not far away when his male co-star’s head is crushed by a fallen stage light. This is a blessing; the guy was terrible, and Riggan insists to his lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) that he himself actually made it happen. Jake has no time to ponder Riggan’s potential telekinesis and is more concerned with getting a new guy in the fallen actor’s seat. One of Riggan’s female co-stars Lesley (Naomi Watts) is well-connected and pulls in Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a Hollywood darling of the moment with opinions and attitude, who also happens to “share a vagina” with her.
So amongst post-rehab familial turmoil, relationship issues between Lesley and Mike, Mike’s diva bullshit, the possibility that Riggan’s girlfriend Laura is pregnant, a likely lawsuit resulting from the fallen stage light, an almost guaranteed shit-review from the New York Times and Riggan’s failing resolve despite his inner Birdman chirping confidence into his ear, the show must go on. But how will it go?
It has been a long time since I’ve seen a new movie with Hollywood actors that is this good. Part of why it is so good is that it absolutely indicts the current state of Hollywood. Riggan’s Birdman conscience is always going on and on about what a “star” he is; all his career needs is a jump-start with another action-packed, superhero blockbuster. But Riggan dares to defy the expectations of Hollywood and his audience in hopes of doing something he considers actually meaningful. As Marvel has just publicized release dates for future superhero movies through 2018, could Birdman have hit the nail on the head any more square? Furthermore, Birdman will only become more relevant as whatever actors play the lead roles in these increasingly tiresome blockbusters age and become themselves irrelevant and forgotten.
I can’t help but wonder how the writers went about creating the screenplay. Did they actually get input from Keaton, who is very clearly the template for Riggan’s character? This movie just wouldn’t mean as much, or possibly couldn’t have even been made, if it hadn’t been for Keaton’s involvement. Birdman absolutely cannot be separated from Keaton’s own experience acting in Batman, a humongous blockbuster that arguably set the stage for the superhero boner Hollywood’s been sporting ever since. A brief glance at Keaton’s imdb page displays loudly Batman and Batman Returns: these are Keaton’s hallmark films, and they’ve cast a shadow under which it’s been undoubtedly difficult for Keaton to escape. Mad props to him for going balls-out with this flick. Did I mention he fucking rocks it in this movie? His performance is stellar; a total pleasure to watch. I have always enjoyed Keaton’s work but this is, like, some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen him do.  
Keaton’s not the only one who shines bright in this movie, though: Galifianakis, Norton and Stone all give pretty fantastic performances. It is worth noting, too, that most of main roles in this film are played by actors who have somehow been involved with blockbuster or superhero movies; there’s Ed Norton’s Hulk, Stone’s Spiderman, and Watts’ King Kong. And though Galifianakis hasn’t dipped into the superhero pot too much (at least not that I’m aware), he is most certainly a victim of the never-ending sequel (The Hangover III? Really?). Birdman really gives its actors a chance to show us what they can do (with the exception of Naomi Watts, who unfortunately isn’t really given much to work with here). Moreover, it dares us to care. The audience is indicted just as much as Hollywood is; after all, Hollywood wouldn’t be churning out gelatinous muck unless it was in high-demand. Writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Co. are asking more from us, and I do believe it’s high time we the audience give writers, actors, and studios a reason to produce quality instead of tripe.
Speaking of quality, don’t think for a second Iñárritu lets critics off the hook. The whole time Riggan is preparing for opening night, the dark figure of the New York Times critic Tabitha Dickinson looms in the background. She frequently drinks martinis in a bar right next to Riggan’s theater, and while she has a contemptuous but respectful relationship with Mike, she has absolutely nothing but disdain for Riggan and other actors like him. She knows the power her reviews hold over the success or failure of a particular play, and she is not afraid to use it. I don’t consider myself a critic, but certainly when you’re writing up anything and offering a published opinion, you’re either endorsing or decrying that thing. Riggan’s opinion of such critics comes out in a fit of desperation and drunkenness, but is articulated better than anything I could ever put to paper, and I’d be lying if I didn’t feel implicated. 
While all of this sounds sort of heavy, and I suppose it is, this is more than just a drama. It is darkly, intelligently funny, and it manages to be so without long stretches of irritating dialog which seems to characterize intellectual comedies. It is refreshing in that way and so many others. There is a lot more I could say, like about how there’s this whole personal struggle going on with Riggan and this movie’s about much more than just showbiz, but I’m way over my word limit here, folks: just go see the damn movie. It needs us as much as we need it.

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

When I first heard someone had filmed a horror movie at Disneyland, I thought ‘how the heck did they get away with that?’ After seeing the trailer for Escape from Tomorrow, I became impossibly intrigued. I’m already a person with an intense distrust of all things Disney, so a film using the theme park as a stage for horror sounded like the perfect idea. My only fear was that my expectations were way too high; nothing could possibly live up to the horrific ideas I’d created in my head.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

Then, we waited. A few months passed by and people stopped talking about it. Every now and again, Q and I talked about whether or not we should pick up a copy (at Target of all places) and for whatever reason, we didn’t. Until we did. And then, it sat there, in the middle of a pile of movies we intend to watch in the possibly distant future. There are, after all, an awful lot of movies to watch out there! Then, one fateful night we finally decided it was time. Ladies and gentlemen, my fears were totally unfounded. I was incredibly impressed with this film!

Jim and Emily White are a terribly typical couple. Their kids Sara and Elliot haven’t fallen very far from the tree. Today is the family’s last day at Disneyworld, and Jim is determined to enjoy himself in a very Clark Griswold kind of way, despite the fact that he spent the morning on the phone getting fired from his job. Naturally, Jim doesn’t share this information with his wife, and the family sets off for one last “great” day of vacation.

On the way to the park, the Whites share a shuttle with other happy-go-lucky folks, including two too-young French girls. Jim, doofus that he is, can’t take his eyes off of them. The girls seem to know what he’s interested in, and coyly swing themselves around a pole, almost taunting the poor goober. The exchange isn’t lost on Emily, either, but she is pretty sure it’s just harmless attraction.



Things only get stranger from there; while on one of Disney’s famously irritating rides, Jim sort of blacks out: the dolls seem to become evil before his very eyes, and his family turns on him. Eventually things turn back to normal, but Jim is clearly shaken. It seems as though this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and while I wouldn’t have let my prone-to-blackouts-husband take my only son alone in a giant theme park, that’s exactly what Emily does; what else are you supposed to do when your kids can’t agree on what ride to go on next?

Unfettered from his wife, Jim spots the two French girls and, like a total idiot, blatantly follows them around the park. The girls take notice, and so does Elliot, especially when his dad makes him ride Space Mountain just so he can keep up with the girls! The boy vomits all over himself and Jim, naturally, is in very big trouble with his wife, who has yet to allow him to kiss, hug, or even touch her at all. The parents exchange kids and Jim takes Sara around the park, this time meeting some other weirdos, including a nurse who warns Jim of an impending Cat Flu epidemic, and a former Disney Princess, who lets Jim in on a few secrets of the Disney Princess trade…

That is a terrifying child!

That is a terrifying child!

The first half of this movie is so extraordinarily anxious and claustrophobic, I could barely stand it! Even without the evil dolls, it is so frightening with the anticipation of something really, really bad happening. Will Jim lose the kids? Will he actually approach these French girls? What’s up with that creep on the scooter? As the movie progresses, and Jim walks around the park in a swirl of drunkenness, the anxiousness turns into terror, confusion and conspiracy. At a certain point, the film turns into a real mindfuck and goes in some very strange directions. I don’t want to give away all the film’s secrets, so I’ll let you discover some of the strangeness for yourself. I definitely recommend you do.

I really, really loved this movie. I thought it was hilarious and terrifying at the same time, a feat that is never as easy to achieve as it seems. I must say I am very surprised at its negative reception; only 58 on metacritic? It does such a great job of capitalizing on the average Joe’s fears of loss, rejection, and sickness all while being filmed at ‘the happiest place on earth,’ I’m surprised more people aren’t legitimately horrified by it. Perhaps they were expecting an axe-wielding Mickey, a psychopathic Minnie, or maybe Goofy in a skin-suit? I think by preying on the simple fears of the typical American white dude (i.e., the fathers of Disney’s target demographic) is what makes this movie so

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection...

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection…

effective. Personally, I think watching it is a lot more fun than any expensive trip to Disneyworld would be!

I can’t rightly publish this post without mentioning just what a marvel it is that they were able to actually complete the thing. Somehow the filmmakers were actually able to pull off shooting the film guerilla-style in a place that is heavily guarded and surveilled. That in itself is an achievement to be lauded, and knowing what difficulties they may have encountered doing so is enough to forgive the obvious green-screen shots. No matter how clear it was that a particular shot wasn’t actually taken at the park, I never felt removed from the setting. I was definitely there, in Disneyworld, living a nightmare.

I really don’t have anything bad to say about the film, except that I’m not quite sure why it takes some of the strange turns it does. The answer may actually be that they had to make it more obviously a parody in order to avoid legal issues with Disney. As it is, I’m shocked they got away with releasing the film at all, let alone on DVD and on sale at Target.


Best Worst Movie (2009)

bestworstmovie_posterImagine this: you’re a little boy with big Hollywood dreams. A great opportunity comes along, and you’re offered the starring role in a horror movie. You make the film and can’t wait to see it. You sit down to watch it and… oh my god! It’s the most dreadful thing you’ve ever seen! What do you do? Well, I suppose when you grow up, you own the shit out of it and make a documentary about it! At least that’s what Michael Stephenson, star of the 1990 horror film Troll 2did.

You don’t have to have seen Troll 2 to enjoy this documentary, but it certainly helps. It is essential, though, that you at least have some curiosity about the idea of the so-bad-it’s-good corners of the film world. This documentary isn’t just about the experience of making Troll 2, it’s also about the fallout of acting in such a film. Perhaps most interestingly, though, Best Worst Movie is about the film’s rise (fall?) to cult classic status.

Seeing as how Troll 2 is one of the most perplexing films ever made, it is pretty cool to get a behind-the-scenes look at the thing. Incredibly, its reason for being is even more strange than one could have imagined. The director, Claudio Fragasso, co-wrote the film with his girlfriend, Rossella Drudi. Apparently, Drudi’s motivation for making the goblins of Nilbog evil herbivores was her own distaste for all of her friends turning vegetarian. Who would have guessed? That, of course, is just one stitch of weirdness in the fabric of bizarre that makes up this film. Add to the mix the fact that Fragasso  believed he knew the ins and outs of what it meant to be an American teenager, despite constant pleas from the actors to change some of his most awkwardly-written lines. And how about the guy who played the kooky store owner; turns out he’d walked on set right after stepping out of the mental institution. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Many of the film’s actors, after watching it for the first time, wanted to put the film behind them. Perhaps more than anyone else, Connie Young (who plays Holly, Joshua’s older sister in the film) was embarrassed beyond belief at being in such a film. Of course, they didn’t think it’d be so hard to shake off a film that, surely, no one would see. But then comes the cult thing. Suddenly, people start recognizing the actors. Ms. Young wanted desperately to deny it, but others, most notably George Hardy (Mr. Waits, Joshua’s father, and a dentist by profession) wore it like a badge of honor, telling his patients: “I was in the worst movie ever made,” and even acting out scenes from the film at midnight showings, horror conventions, and even in his own office. So what if your fifteen minutes of fame comes more than a decade after your film is made?

Less amused by the film’s newly-acquired cult status is Fragasso. After attending a viewing, the guy is just baffled: why is the audience laughing?, he seems to ask himself. And this, I think, is the key to what makes a bad movie a good movie; it’s all in the intention behind it. Fragasso and Drudi believed they were going to scare people with Troll 2. They believed in the film they were making. They were passionate about it. And that, above all else, I think is what makes a bad movie cult-able. This, of course, is nothing new; I’ve said this before and lord knows I will say it again. This is also probably why I’ve never understood the attraction to the Troma world; those movies were made to be bad. That’s not the same thing. Not by a long shot.

Best Worst Movie is just great. I love how willing the people involved with the film are to engage Stephenson and even the cult film audiences at the theatrical showings of Troll 2. Watching a film go from something its actors reject to something they (reluctantly) embrace is truly a cool thing. If you’re into cult movies, you must see this! Chances are, though, you probably already have.


The Legend of the Mask (La Leyenda de una Mascara, 1991)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Legend of the MaskWhen I first ran into mention of Legend of the Mask a few years back, it was described off-handedly as “the Citizen Kane of lucha libre movies”. “Why not?”, I thought, and since the price was right, and the DVD had English subtitles, I gambled a stamp and bought a copy. It seemed like a potentially good gamble if done right — I’m always hungry for superhero flicks that have something to say — and like an amusing curiosity even if it didn’t (something along the lines, perhaps, of Mil Mascaras: Resurrection). So there it sat on the shelf, waiting for the right moment to get watched.

I don’t know if it was that Citizen Kane comparison, or the years of anticipation and latent potential, but though Legend of the Mask was strong and well-done, my hopes were too high to meet well what we actually watched. For starters, that Citizen Kane thing was almost too accurate — Legend takes its narrative cues almost point-for-point from the Welles film until its final act, to the point where it was somewhat distracting. A shabby, drunken lout of an investigative sports reporter gets assigned to write a deep profile of the recently-deceased masked wrestling legend El Angel Enmascarado, a pastiche of the real-life El Santo, perhaps the world’s best known Mexican wrestler. As our intrepid reporter looks into the loose ends of El Angel’s life — The manager/agent who discovered an idealistic young wrestler and convinced him to mask up to re-invent himself, the shady comic-book publisher who saw a way to turn the cult star larger than life, the b-movie maker who made him Mexico’s number one star, the buxom nightclub performer who he made tabloid headlines with — we put together not only El Angel’s story — and with it see the hopes, dreams, and feat of clay that all-too-commonly motivate and bring down celebrities in these sorts of films —  but also slowly get a sense of the reporter’s investment in all of this; how his fandom is adding on yet another layer of color to the whole affair.

Of course (of course!), there’s more to the death of El Angel than meets the eye, and all the nastiest parts of El Angel’s story are still very much alive. In the final act, everything hits the fan, and we’re in a really different movie than what’s come before — a kind of pulp soup, heavy on the paranoia, and the gothic/noir/funnybook imagery that makes me sit up and grin — shades of something like a live-action Richard Sala comic strip. I wish, in fact, that the movie that had come before had better set up the eye-popped breathlessness that it concludes with, and in doing so, it might have reached a sort of Ken Russell place in relation to its material: equal measure winking dismay in its weaknesses and yet intense, bursting, almost inarticulate love for them at the same time. Instead, once the final twist comes atop the roiling chaos of mashed-together imagery in the climax, I was left thinking that there’d been a missed opportunity. Do the reporter’s investigations (and fandom) amount to the same thing as the crimes he was accused of committing? That particular nail is never really hit with the force that so many others are here, leaving the sense that this affair ended with a whimper when it really seemed to have wanted to end with a body slam.

If you want a “smart” or insightful take on the old chestnuts of Mexican wrestler superheroes versus vampires, Aztec mummies, or mad scientists, this unfortunately isn’t your stop. If, though, you’re more interested in the bugs that are hiding underneath the edifice of cultural mythology, this one might tickle your fancy. Just, you know, don’t believe all the hype!


Jodorowsky’s Dune

j-duneJodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary about a film that never got made. Chances are you’re familiar with Dune, a supposed science fiction masterpiece by Frank Herbert that I’ve never read, but probably should (and want to a little bit more after seeing this documentary). You might not be as familiar with Alejandro Jodorowsky as you should, but I’ll let it slide because, let’s face it, Jodorowsky’s stuff is “not for everyone,” and that’s putting it lightly. If you are familiar with Jodorowsky, your mind probably pops and reels at the thought of him putting the worlds of Dune to film. This documentary follows the talented artists who got together and worked hard for two years to conceive of a film so big it could never be made.

In 1973, Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain was released, with a fair degree of success – cult film fans everywhere were drooling over it (and still do). It is one of the most bizarre, visually stunning films I’ve ever seen. Based on its success, film producer Michel Seydoux approached Jodorowsky, telling him for his next film, we’ll do “anything you want.” Dangerous words to a visionary mind like Alejandro Jodorowsky, and from that moment on the film just gets enormously ambitious. The artists Jodorowsky approaches to work on his film are not just colleagues, they are his “warriors” who he believes will be fit to work on this project that will change the world. The likes of Dan O’Bannon, Jean Giraud (Mœbius), Chris Foss and H.R. Giger are drafted to create the visuals of Dune‘s universe, while Jodorowsky plots to get David Carradine, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and even Salvador Dali acting in the film.

After seeing a healthy bit of Jodorowsky’s filmography, I honestly expected to meet a man who was half out of his mind; an evil, drooling genius perhaps. But what you find in this documentary is a normal guy with a huge passion to change the perceptions of the people who see his work. He wants to change the world, and Dune was going to do it. He is absolutely charming, and in the moments when he talks about the film being rejected by studio after studio, you can see how deeply the “failure” still affects him. But, as you can see from some of the images taken from the gigantic script he and team presented to the studios, bits and pieces of the film can be found in science fiction movies from Star Wars to Prometheus. Despite the fact it was never made, Jodorowsky’s Dune was still enormously influential. Imagine what would have happened had one of those studios bitten?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Jodorowsky’s films. It doesn’t matter if you’re not interested in science fiction. You can be the biggest Dune fan ever, or perhaps you’ve never even heard of it. If you create or consume art in any way, you need to see this film. You’ll never be able to forget again that to create something truly amazing, you have to have passion. The unfortunate thing about Hollywood is, you also need lots and lots of money, and no amount of artistic passion can convince a big Hollywood studio a film is worth making. All I can say is, I cannot fucking wait for The Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky’s first film in years, and the first time he and Michel Seydoux collaborated again after the failed vision of Dune.



JCVD (2008)

Jean-Claude listening to his new bosses

Jean-Claude listening to his new bosses

I’ve never been a huge fan of action films, so I can’t say that my knowledge of Jean-Claude Van Damme films is any good. I’ve known this for a long time, and a few years ago finally watched Bloodsport. I must admit, I really liked it. How much that has to do with the charms of the martial arts star I cannot say, but it is true I have not watched another of his films since, until one day a friend sprung JCVD upon us on a night when we were supposed to be collecting together to watch a horror film.

I’d never heard of JCVD the film, and so of course had no idea what to expect. I’m quite often saying that this is the most ideal situation under which to watch a film; there is no danger of expectation ruining things for you. I believe this is just as true for JCVD as with anything else, though I must say watching it a second time I liked it only slightly less than the first, and the film is likely to still be a pleasant surprise for most viewers no matter how much they know about it ahead of time.

Things aren’t looking good for Jean-Claude Van Damme these days; he’s losing a custody battle with his wife because their daughter is embarrassed by him. He’s struggling to pay bills, and just lost a recent starring role to his martial arts film star rival, Steven Seagal. With nothing much left for the states to offer him, Jean-Claude opts to go home to Belgium, where his roots are, to start over again and make a better life for himself.

JCVD Training

JCVD Training

Unfortunately, things only get worse for the man once he gets out of his cab from the airport and attempts to withdraw money from an ATM. Having no luck, he goes into the Post Office to get some money, but finds it is strangely empty, and apparently closed. But why, he wonders, would the Post Office be closed in the middle of the day on a weekday?

He soon finds out the Post Office is being stuck up by a nasty group of desperate thieves who latch on to Jean-Claude’s stardom and make him their mouthpiece. Jean-Claude is told to act like he is the desperate man robbing the bank and to make demands of millions of dollars and helicopters in exchange for releasing hostages.

Fans and skeptics alike gather outside the Post to cheer and jeer Jean-Claude. His parents arrive, desperate to talk to their son on the phone and figure out why things have gone so wrong. Meanwhile, inside Jean-Claude tries to persuade one of the robbers to let the hostages go and take things over so they can leave the Post Office without anyone getting hurt. The only way to persuade the robber is by latching onto the one thing the guy seems to care about: learning some of JCVD’s greatest film moves!

JCVD addresses his audience

JCVD addresses his audience

While it is no meta masterpiece, JCVD certainly has its moments. I can’t speak to how true the depiction of the desperate movie star is to the events in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s real life, though certainly a great deal of the character’s problems mirror the actor’s; multiple wives, drug problems, casting issues, custody disputes. What must it be like to be the failed martial arts movie star? How does one go from the “Muscles from Brussels” to “that guy that robbed the Post?”

In what I must say is the most impressive scene in the film, Jean-Claude rises above the set for an intimate one-on-one with his audience, where he informs us “this movie is for me.” The soliloquy goes on for something like seven minutes, where JCVD lets it all hang out, and even cries a little bit. Are these the tears of the character from the film, or from the actual, living, breathing human being whom I’m to believe has been batted around by the film industry for years? I suppose that’s for everyone to decide for themselves, but I’m a sap and of course want to believe this man has laid himself bare for all of us to see.

So, while JCVD certainly offers up its fair share of martial arts choreography, it doesn’t stack up to other action films that center around slick moves. It seems much more concerned with the aftermath of fame and drug use than bank robbing and kung-fu fighting. I suppose, then, one could argue this movie is about Hollywood more than anything else. At any rate, I did find it really enjoyable and quite surprising and would recommend to anyone who’s interested in films that are slightly offbeat.


Hollywood Boulevard (1976)

Makin' movies

Makin’ movies

Writing about mediocre movies is an awful lot like being constipated. At least when a movie’s awful, opinions come out like… well, they come out easily, okay? Trying to figure out what the heck to write about Roger Corman’s Hollywood Boulevard makes me want to reach for the closest enema. 

When we starting watching, I thought Hollywood Boulevard was the perfect movie for the night. After all, a stupid comedy about low-budget films with plenty of T&A is more often than not just what the doctor ordered, no? Alas, these elements alone aren’t enough to make a film enjoyable. Admittedly, I should know this by now; this isn’t the first time Corman’s boobs have let me down. Yet I keep coming back for more… 

Erich Von Leppe (Paul Bartel) is the director du jour for Miracle Pictures (If it’s a good film, it’s a Miracle!),

Findin' suckers

Findin’ suckers

one of Hollywood’s many sub-par, low-budget production companies happy to capitalize on the tenacity, persistence and large breasts of Hollywood’s many aspiring starlets. Candy Wednesday is just such a wide-eyed young woman, and soon after she arrives in LA her attentive agent Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) gets her a gig in Von Leppe’s Machete Maidens of Mora Tau

While filming in the Philippines, Wednesday and the other young women have more than lascivious natives and machine guns to worry about. The “star” of the film, Mary McQueen (Mary Woronov) is jealous, vindictive and willing to do just about anything to make sure no one steals the spotlight from her! Is she to blame when Jill, one of the younger actresses, is accidentally shot during an action scene, or is there another lunatic on the loose? 



Well, the answer is, really: who cares? Hollywood Boulevard is kind of like a joke that made you chuckle the first time you heard it, maybe made you smirk the second time, and had you rolling your eyes by the third time. The first fifteen minutes aren’t bad, but then everything goes slightly downhill. It doesn’t really fail in exciting ways, it just kind of fails quietly. By the time it was over, I think I said something like: “Well, that was a… movie… and what’s with all the rape jokes?”

Hollywood Boulevard is really a disappointment more than anything else, especially given the usual dynamic duo of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov. Though they can’t make this a good movie, they’re probably the best parts about it. The good news is, if you hate waiting for boobs, you’ll have no problem here: you see your first pair before the one-minute mark! 



What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

She's written a letter to daddy...

She’s written a letter to daddy…

There are a lot of movies out there these days that aim to shock and horrify, and they’ll go to drastic measures to do so. Take, for instance, Tom Six’s The Human Centipede. The thought of hinging helpless folks ass-to-mouth in hopes of creating one digestive system out of multiple human bodies sure is shocking and horrifying. But, it is also ridiculous and unbelievable, and that’s ultimately why Six fails at his job. For something to be truly shocking and horrifying, it must be believable. That is what makes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? such an incredibly successful and effective shocker; not only did the film’s two stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, despise each-other in real life, the storyline they play out here is totally and completely believable.

It all started with Vaudeville, 1917. Baby Jane is a huge child star, singing treacly songs about sending letters to daddy in heaven (sealed with a kiss, to boot). You can even get a life-size Baby Jane doll, complete with blonde ringlets. Jane’s sister, Blanche (Crawford) is mousy and jealous. Their mother

Ready for her close-up...

Ready for her close-up…

promises Blanche she will one day have her turn in the spotlight, and she is right: fast-forward to the 1930’s where Blanche is the star. The only reason Jane is getting any work is because it’s written into Blanche’s contract that for every picture she does, Jane does one, too.

Unfortunately, Blanche’s time in the sun is cut short by a tragic accident; she is crushed between a car and the gate of her family’s mansion and resigned to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, effectively ending her career, and her autonomy. Though Jane was never officially charged with causing the accident, everyone is certain she is guilty, and so she is charged with caring for Blanche for the rest of her life. And thus begins a sick and twisted journey into the mind of a deranged, psychotic, washed-up alcoholic and the torment and terror she rains down upon her meek, defenseless, paralyzed sister. Three decades after the accident, Blanche is constantly tormented by Jane, and once Jane finds out Blanche is trying to sell the house they live in and send her off to a sanitarium, Jane does all she can to cut off Blanche’s ties with the outside world and make her nothing but a prisoner…

A telephone never seemed so far away.

A telephone never seemed so far away.

This film is renowned for being a camp classic, and there is plenty of camp to go around. Bette Davis’s performance is absolutely outrageous (and fantastically entertaining), but it’s also not completely out of the realm of believability: people go crazy sometimes, especially in Hollywood. Jealousy and stardom really make a terrible cocktail, as evidenced by Crawford and Davis’s actual off-screen rivalry. But it’s more than just campy, it is legitimately frightening! It’s not often I think of anything that’s considered camp as actually scary, and that I think is what makes Baby Jane so awesome. I found myself shocked at what was happening to Jane and how she was treating Blanche, but also shocked by Davis’s acting. I mean, like, wow, that woman seems seriously unhinged! How can you ham it up so hardcore and still be believable? A true feat, I think, and one we are lucky to behold!


Privilege (1967)

There was a time in my life when I worried that movies would bore me. That, eventually, I’d have read about everything and seen everything and there’d be no surprises left, ever. And what a sad day that would be. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to the realization that this is just about virtually impossible; this is something I don’t have to worry about at all. There is such an amazing wealth of stuff out there that I want to watch; I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to watch all the stuff I own before I die. That being said, the one worry that remains, in traces, is that all of the good and interesting movies would have been consumed by a certain age. Then, a movie like Privilege comes along and I realize I probably don’t have to worry about that, either.

Steven Shorter, the brooding artist

Steven Shorter, the brooding artist

I’d never heard of Privilege. Despite the fact that I watch a lot of movies, I’m no encyclopedia; I leave that up to my better half, who had of course known about this movie and picked it for a Sunday afternoon’s viewing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: going into a movie totally cold, having no knowledge of it, is definitely the best. Good or bad, you’ll probably find yourself saying: “what the hell did I just get myself into?”

Unfinished portrait

Unfinished portrait

Privilege is almost a mockumentary, but not quite. It tells the story of Steven Shorter (Paul Jones), a British pop singer of unimaginable proportions. Your grandma and your neighbor’s kid both adore him. They throw parades in his name. He’s bigger than anything anyone could possibly imagine. And he’s also completely at the mercy of his managers: they choose what he wears, what he sings, what lifestyle he endorses, who he hangs out with. They’ve hired an artist, Vanessa (Jean Shrimpton) to paint his portrait, but it’s the darndest thing: she just can’t seem to finish it. She can’t get a read on who Steven Shorter really is.

They're laying it on pretty thick, eh?

They’re laying it on pretty thick, eh?

That’s probably because, increasingly, Steven Shorter doesn’t know who he is. Things seem to be getting out of control, and his management team has decided it’s time for Shorter to quit the quasi-rebel act and… say yes to the Church? Seems unlikely, but whoever’s pulling the strings knows Shorter’s fans don’t think twice about embracing whatever it is he’s selling. When Stephen tries to reject the proposition, things get rather nasty…



Um, wow. This is a pretty scathing critique of corporate pop music and fandom and I loved it. Shorter’s incredible stardom is an obvious (and cynical) nod to Beatlemania, but Paul Jones wasn’t a complete stranger to rock stardom himself, being the frontman for Manfred Mann before going solo just before this movie was put out. It is shocking, surprising and awesome and I highly recommend it!


Inserts (1974)

The Boy Wonder lives a life of exasperation...

The Boy Wonder lives a life of exasperation…

Everybody likes Richard Dreyfuss, right? Heck, my dad loves the guy, and my dad doesn’t like anyone. I have always considered his role as Dr. Leo Marvin in What About Bob? my personal favorite, but then I saw Inserts…

The setting is 1930’s Hollywood. Dreyfuss plays Boy Wonder, a once-great silent film maker who just hasn’t been able to keep up with the film industry and make talkies. Rather than attempt to keep up with technology, he opts instead to stay in his house and film silent pornos. Knee-deep in booze all day long, he struggles to get through to his star actress, Harlene (Veronica Cartwright) whose particular poison is heroin. The main actor is a doofus named Rex who is convinced he’ll be a real star someday. 

During filming one day, the producer, Big Mac (Bob Hoskins) shows up to supply his leading lady with her daily dose of H, and to show “real filmmaking” to his girlfriend, Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper). Filming is more than interrupted when Harlene ODs on Mac’s heroin and the boys have to go get rid of her body somewhere, leaving Miss Cake and Boy Wonder alone. Boy Wonder seems more distraught about the fact he can’t finish filming his porno than at the loss of Harlene.

Yes. Yes, that's Veronica Cartwright!

Yes. Yes, that’s Veronica Cartwright!

None of this matters to Miss Cake, though – she is just curious about the film industry and wants to know how it all works. Boy Wonder has no time for her, but Miss Cake is nothing if not persistent, and it’s only a matter of minutes before she’s got her clothes off and is taunting the Boy Wonder about his well-known sexual impotence… 

I watched Inserts over a month ago, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It certainly made me feel uncomfortable, there is no doubt about that – some of the scenes are a little too close to rape for me to be okay with. The female characters’ reactions to these near-assaults are even more troubling; I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be okay with the way Boy Wonder is treating them because it’s the 1930’s? Because he used to be famous? Or is it because they’re women who are tainted by the Hollywood scene; too much sex and drugs already? Perhaps it is some combination of these, but whatever the reasons are I’m sure we’re supposed to feel uncomfortable, and I guess in the end some of the best movies make us feel weird and force us to confront things we don’t want to, right? 

The one thing I am certain of is that nearly everyone in this movie turns out amazing performances. As I alluded to before, I’m pretty sure this might be the best I’ve ever seen Dreyfuss; cocky, apathetic, incompetent, impotent and sympathetic all at once. Perhaps more surprising though was Veronica Cartwright’s performance – made me wonder why the heck she didn’t get more roles like this! She is drop-dead gorgeous and plays it perfectly. It might just be that I’m not

Miss Cake and Boy Wonder play a dangerous game...

Miss Cake and Boy Wonder play a dangerous game…

as familiar with her filmography as I should be, but I’m used to seeing her as a ragged, terrified woman. At least here, she is playing a completely different ragged and terrified than I’m used to! Then, there’s Jessica Harper, who plays Miss Cake as a seemingly naive young woman who clearly knows how to navigate the men of Hollywood. Much like Boy Wonder, I hated liking her! 

While I’m not sure if I liked this movie or not, I do know that there are a select group of people I’d recommend it to. Actually, maybe it’s better to say there’s a large swath of folks I would not recommend this to! I suggest you don’t watch this with your mother, father, grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin, or anyone else you’re related to. Or maybe don’t watch it with any women at all. Maybe just watch it by yourself in a dark room with your own bottle of booze. And then don’t tell anyone you watched it. But maybe you should watch it.


Old Wave