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Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story

Monday, September 21st, 2020

In this age of streaming and crowdfunding and what not there has been a new wave of documentaries about movie topics I’m interested in. The history of Cannon Films, of martial arts cinema, of ‘80s horror, etc. Some are great and comprehensive, some take on too broad of a topic and can’t really get very far, some are just amusing surface level “remember that?” tours through basic things you likely already know if you watched the movie on purpose. So I try not to expect much more than a cursory talking-heads-and-clip-montages glance at a compelling subject.

STUNTWOMEN: THE UNTOLD HOLLYWOOD STORY – which Shout! Studios is releasing to digital platforms tomorrow, September 22nd – gave me much more. Credited as an adaptation of the book of the same title by Mollie Gregory and directed by April Wright (GOING ATTRACTIONS: THE DEFINITIVE STORY OF THE AMERICAN DRIVE-IN MOVIE), it has interesting things to say about the history of women in cinematic stunts, addresses industry issues that hadn’t all occurred to me before, and most of all gives a glimpse into the lives and work of some really fascinating, amazing women. (read the rest of this shit…)

Scream, Queen! – My Nightmare On Elm Street

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

SCREAM, QUEEN!: MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a really good horror documentary. It may also be interesting to non-horror fans interested in the history of gay Hollywood in the ‘80s. It’s the story of Mark Patton, who played Jesse Walsh, the young protagonist of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE in 1985. As he sees it, he was a hot young actor getting his big break as the lead in a highly-anticipated sequel, only to find that it had gay subtext in it that was dangerous to him as a closeted gay actor. His representation told him there was no way they could put him up for straight roles anymore, and he only did a CBS Schoolbreak Special and an episode of Hotel where he punched George Clooney before disappearing for almost 30 years. He says he decided to quit after he was cast as a gay character but asked to still pretend he was straight.

I didn’t know or understand any of that as a young horror fan in the ‘80s. I just knew part 2 was my least favorite. As the documentary says,  it was “not a fan favorite.” Jesse is a boy who moves into the house where Nancy lived in part 1, finds her previously unmentioned diary, starts to be haunted and then possessed by Freddy, who grows inside him and tears out of his skin. (The FX for that have always been amazing.) Then Freddy appears outside of dreams and attacks a fuckin teen pool party. At that time there were no instructions on how to make a Freddy sequel, so they just had to guess. Part 3 added the element of a group of misunderstood teens working together, being in dreams together, finding ways to fight back. It was so appealing it became the formula for three more movies, making 2 seem like it didn’t know what it was doing. (read the rest of this shit…)

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

TO HELL AND BACK: THE KANE HODDER STORY is an above average horror movie doc, partially in filmatistic execution but especially in subject matter. I mean it has its share of generic talking head interviews and convention footage, and a questionable interview choice or two – the brief clips of “hip hop duo Twiztid” praising the man of the hour create a sinking feeling that we horror fans might be on the wrong side of history. And there’s lots of repetition that seems to me like it could’ve been trimmed to strengthen this 104 minute story into a fierce 80. But the movie’s emphasis on the vulnerabilities of a legendary movie slasher, contrasted with his menacing qualities both on and off screen, make for a fascinating story at times.

Hodder is, of course, the guy who portrayed Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13THs 7, 8, 9 and X. We hear about how being stunt coordinator on Renny Harlin’s PRISON accidentally led to wearing monster makeup (and putting bugs in his mouth) and impressed makeup genius/part 7 director John Carl Buechler enough to get him the role of his life. And they get into what he added to the character, how his suggestions and fearlessness spruced up the movies, what his family thinks about it, how much fans like to be choked by him, how devastating it was to be replaced for FREDDY VS. JASON, even some tidbits about doing stunts on AVENGING FORCE (actually a pivotal moment in his life, you’ll find out, and not because the movie is so cool). (read the rest of this shit…)

I Am Nancy

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

These days most horror fans have heard of the concept of the Final Girl, whether or not they know where it comes from. But they at least know it’s the heroine of a horror movie, the one that’s left standing at the end, like Laurie in HALLOWEEN or Sally in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or… the ones in the FRIDAY THE 13ths.

There are few as iconic, and almost none as pro-active, as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET‘s Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp. She’s the all-American girl next door (or across the street in Johnny Depp’s case), she gets terrorized by a supernatural dream killer, the adults don’t believe her, not even her overprotective cop father (John Saxon, ENTER THE DRAGON, THE GLOVE). But this is not a heroine who only manages to scrape it out and survive. Nancy gets shit done. She goes to the library and researches, figures out who Freddy is, uncovers his connection to her and her friends’ parents, teaches herself to build booby traps and comes up with a clever plan to go into the dreamworld and pull him out and try to kill him. And then she figures out the next step after that. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Sheik

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

As you may know, I don’t watch or understand any wrestling from the past two to three decades, but I retain a fascination and nostalgia from the stuff I did watch in the ’80s. One of the iconic villains of that era was The Iron Sheik, a cartoonish embodiment (along with his fur-hat-wearing Soviet tag team partner Nikolai Volkoff) of America’s most absurd fears of scary foreigners. Looking back it seems like a put-on, a parody, an Andy Kaufman style evisceration of the stereotypes you’d have to be a dummy to believe in, the communists and Middle Easterners who come in and tell us we are weak Americans and then demand that we be respectful as they (gasp) make us sit through their national anthems. And then are outraged when we boo.

It was also a time when some people, due to economic anxiety or whatever, didn’t understand that these were fictional characters. Many Americans presumably believed that the Iron Sheik was real, that this Persian man was behaving this way not because he was an entertainer, but because those guys really hate America, you know? And  in the copious vintage footage included in this very enjoyable 2014 documentary by director Igal Hecht we see the red-faced fury of some of these fans. In interviews we hear about the danger of the Sheik’s “heat” from the crowd, people showing up with guns and shit. Every great heel tells a story like this (the wrestling villain’s humblebrag), but I bet the Middle Eastern angle means he had to be even more careful than Roddy Piper did. (read the rest of this shit…)

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Something about this gloomy post-election mood has got me digging out my jazz CDs and records. Actually, it started with the handful of blues albums I own, which makes perfect sense, you can see how Orange Dawn (as I’ve decided to call our new age) would make me feel like listening to “Hell Hound On My Trail.” After that I went to Nuclear War by Sun Ra. Obvious through line there as well. But eventually I moved on to one of the Thelonious Monk albums I’ve latched onto over the years, Underground.

Check out the cover, with Monk hunkered down in a… barn? Bunker? Basement? with a rifle, some grenades, and a tied-up Nazi, makes it seem rebellious. He’s supposed to be part of the French Resistance, it seems. He looks like a jazz guerrilla committing musical sedition.

In general, though, the jazz I like feels more spiritual. It’s a mix of repetitive rhythms and unpredictable melody, spinning around, building momentum, plowing along until it explodes or stops and quietly steps away. Usually there are no words, no subjects. Just moods. Colors. So it’s like a meditation, a prayer in tongues.

All this meditating and praying and then the act of trying to put my love of piano into words to write about LA LA LAND inspired me to pull out the ol’ THELONIOUS MONK: STRAIGHT NO CHASER dvd. This is a beautiful, sad documentary about my favorite pianist. It’s produced by Clint Eastwood and Malpaso, who put up the money to finish the movie when nobody else would. (read the rest of this shit…)

Marjoe

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

tn_marjoeMARJOE is the 1972 documentary portrait of Marjoe Gortner, a fourth generation Pentecostal evangelist who was trained to stir up a storm of hallelujahs and threats of the eternal flame when he was as little as four years old. We see the little goober in vintage clips, weirdly hopping and waving his arms around, shouting in his southern accent (even though he was born in Long Beach) about “Jee-zus” and how “I stand firm in my belief that the Bible is the word of God” and you’re gonna go to Hell if you’re not saved and something about juvenile delinquency. Kids preach the darndest things.

It’s got that quality of precociousness that rides the line between adorable and creepy, like little Michael Jackson or little Stevie Wonder when they were singing their hearts out about love affairs, as if they knew what the words even meant. But in his case the parents claim that Jesus made him do it, made him the Shirley Temple of fire and brimstone.

still_marjoe (read the rest of this shit…)

The Look of Silence

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

tn_lookofsilenceI’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, THE ACT OF KILLING was, unexpectedly, one of the best movies I’d ever seen. And you might’ve said then, and might say now, “Okay, yeah, I heard I should see that, but did you say it was a documentary about genocide in Indonesia, and how the people that did it are still in power and treated as heroes and talk openly about what they did as if it’s something to brag about?”

Yeah, okay, when you put it that way it sounds like not a good thing to watch on a Friday night. But sometimes it’s good to learn about the bad things in this world, and there are worse ways to do that than watching an absolutely fascinating, gorgeously shot film that works as an expose, a parable about the power of cinema, and a dark, sick, you-would-be-buckled-over-laughing-if-it-wasn’t-such-a-nightmare joke about the mundanity of evil. Parts of it play like a Christopher Guest mockumentary, but it’s real footage of actual war criminals trying to make a weird art movie glorifying their own atrocities.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s followup is a companion piece that’s less surreal, more intimate, but similarly profound. He continues on the same topic, but instead of focusing on the perpetrators he goes back to his original idea of following one of the survivors. To me that sounds like it would lose the unique hang-out-in-the-living-room-of-evil, give-them-enough-rope-to-hang-themselves power of the first movie, but it ends up being just as impressive because of the amazing person they focus on. (read the rest of this shit…)

Powaqqatsi

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

tn_powaqqatsilucasminusstarwarsGeorge Lucas and his big homey Francis Ford Coppola (CAPTAIN EO) are executive producers of Godfrey Reggio’s POWAQQATSI (Life in transformation), the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the Qatsi trilogy that began with KOYAANISQATSI (Life out of balance) in 1982 and ended with NAQOYQATSI (Life as war) in 2002. If you’ve seen either of those, or the ones by Reggio’s cinematographer Ron Fricke (I reviewed his SAMSARA in 2011) then you got a pretty good idea what this is like. Which is good, because my words might not cut it.

We could classify these as “experimental documentaries,” but they don’t have much of what anybody thinks of when they think of documentaries. No interviews, no narration, no onscreen text, no people talking at all. No storyline or argument made. No easily encapsulated subject or premise. Just themes.

They’re like cinematic paintings, or photo essays, or poems. They rhyme by having similar shots and images over and over again, all set to very repetitive (in a good way) scores by Philip Glass.

(read the rest of this shit…)

When We Were Kings

Monday, January 19th, 2015

tn_wwwkIf you were going to build the prototype for the ultimate man, wouldn’t it pretty much be 1974 Muhammad Ali? He’s a badass, a fighter with style. I don’t even really like boxing that much but I love to watch him dance around, swinging his fists so fast. Even Bruce Lee liked to watch him.

He’s handsome in a manly way. He’s charming, eloquent, and funny as hell. His humor is mostly based around making preposterous boasts… but it’s not some Danny McBride overconfidence thing, because he usually delivers. In this movie there’s an interview where he goes into detail about high speed photography and how one of his punches was proven to take only four one hundredths of a second, like a blink or a camera flash, and all this is setup for him to claim “Now, the minute I hit Sonny Liston, all of those people blinked at that moment, that’s why they didn’t see the punch.” A tall tale, but based on a true, provable incident.

Of equal importance, Ali has integrity of the Stickin It To The Man variety. He didn’t believe in the war so he refused to sign up for selective service, knowing it would endanger his career, reputation and freedom, and he held his head high the whole time. And he was outspoken about racism too. And he was right. (read the rest of this shit…)