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Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

Back in 2003, a whole voting-age-person ago, I wrote about the 1984 documentary STREETWISE, along with a fictional movie somewhat inspired by it, and by the same director, called AMERICAN HEART. The latter is interesting, the first is a straight up masterpiece. You can read that review (though I’m embarrassed of a few lines – nothing too bad, but I was stupid back then) but the gist is that STREETWISE is an incredible movie about a group of teenage runaways who used to hang out on the block between 1st and 2nd and Pike in Seattle. Kind of the main character was a 14 year old girl nicknamed Tiny. She lived in an abandoned hotel with her boyfriend Rat, had a badass red jacket and mullet, also the poor girl was a prostitute and they actually had footage of her getting picked up by the world’s worst grandpas. She said she hated doing but she liked the money and kinda laughed about it. The movie vividly illustrates that some of these people you walk past on the street every day maybe have it even harder than you would’ve guessed, and also are just really interesting people worthy of love and compassion that they don’t get much of.

Of course I live in Seattle, and back when I first saw it I walked near there every day on my way to work, so the movie haunted me for a long time. As I wrote in the review, “It kind of feels like spying on ghosts or something. After watching the movie you find yourself trying to calculate how old these people would be now and guess if they’re still alive. Would you recognize them if you saw them walking around somewhere?”

Well, there are three pieces of news here. One, this great movie that was only available on VHS in the U.S. is finally easy to see because Criterion released it on blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday. Two, it comes complete with the 2016 followup film, TINY: THE LIFE OF ERIN BLACKWELL. Three, that’s a great movie too. (read the rest of this shit…)

Madonna: Truth or Dare

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

May 10, 1991

There were several movies in the summer of ’91 that were major pop culture events, widely discussed, referenced, parodied. One of them, surprisingly, was a music documentary shot mostly in 16mm black and white.

Or really more of a tour documentary than a music documentary. One thing that’s unusual about MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE is that it’s entirely about its subject being a performer, a troupe leader, and a celebrity, and not at all about her music, or even the creation of her show.

The Blond Ambition World Tour was not a normal concert – it was more like an extravagant stage musical. On the four month, 57-show tour from Chiba, Japan to Nice, France, Madonna promoted her 1989 album Like a Prayer and 1990 DICK TRACY tie-in I’m Breathless, backed by seven dancers, two backup singers, an eight-piece band and a $2 million, 80 x 70 foot stage set that was hauled in 18 trucks and set up by over 100 crew members. Every song we see in the movie has its own backdrop, wardrobe (by the fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier – or, as we know him, the guy who did the costumes for THE FIFTH ELEMENT – who Madonna recruited in 1989 by sending him a nice letter) and complex choreography. When the movie begins they already seem like old pros at performing it. If there’s drama about something going wrong it’s not any of them messing up. It’s the sound system or the weather. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kid 90

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

When Soleil Moon Frye was seven years old, she starred in the NBC sitcom Punky Brewster, playing a spunky kid in a magenta jean vest abandoned by her mother at a grocery store and adopted by an old widower, brightening his life with the rainbow-colored shine of what she called, for some reason, “Punky Power.” Apparently the ratings were low, but kids loved the character so much they sold dolls of her and gave her her own Saturday morning cartoon show (co-starring a wish-giving hedgehog leprechaun named Glomer).

Four seasons later the show was cancelled, Frye’s next sitcom pilot didn’t get picked up, and for the most part all we knew about her post-Punky life was a story from People Magazine or something about how her breasts grew unusually large, she got sick of being teased about it and got reduction surgery before her sixteenth birthday. There were some guest appearances (The Wonder Years, Saved By the Bell) and some b-movies (PIRANHA, PUMPKINHEAD II), but mostly she was a wacky relic of ‘80s pop culture who had grown up and started a family and hopefully ended up in a healthier place than some of her peers. (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)