Thursday, January 31, 2019
Suburbia now on Blu! Plus keep your eyes peeled for Alien Boys, and random movie thoughts
Last year, I did a bunch of writing around a screening I hosted of Penelope Spheeris' film Suburbia - I have interviews online with her, say here. Welcome news for fans of that movie: the film is now on Blu-Ray - and while a brief flip through didn't blow me away with its image quality, it looks and sounds a HELL of a lot better than my old DVD did. The kind of lazy "punk rock clip art" cover aside, that is (take heart - the art is reversible, with the classic 'punks on parade' image on the flipside). And there are bonus features, including a commentary by the director. It's part of a budget line that Shout Factory is putting out so it shouldn't be too pricy (a blu ray for less than $30 Cdn seems to be the exception to the rule these days, sadly, at least for films that aren't knocked off in the millions, but I paid $27.99 for it, before taxes).
Also punk-rock wise, one of the things I did at that Suburbia screening - which I kind of dedicated to the late Todd Serious - was play video clips of the Rebel Spell, Freak Dream, and Alien Boys (Jeff Andrew did a little performance, too; he has a new acoustic cover of song by the Rebel Spell here). It was kind of meant as a gesture - for people who came there for the film - to show some cool things about the punk scene in Vancouver, to people who might not otherwise know about it - though I'm pretty sure most people who came were actually on the music scene in Vancouver, so they hardly needed it. It sure was fun playing "Bash Hop" on the big screen, though. Anyhow, relevant to all this is that there will be something soon appearing on Alien Boys, apropos of their kickass new album and the corresponding record release show (Feb. 9th at the WISE). I did not - I will say it bluntly here - really like Self-Critical Theory, but Night Danger is amazing, and I'm excited to have interviewed Sarah, the singer... more on that to come...
What else can a guy who is awake at 5:35, nursing a cold, and trying to burn off some midnight oil before he goes back to bed, possibly say? (Actually I think I'm up for the long haul, until Erika gets up for work, since I don't want to wake her by slinking back into the bedroom. So I better say something). I got nothing to say about the Loudon Wainwright III show I recently saw except that I really enjoyed it and was blown away that he came out to sign stuff, since he doesn't seem that kind of a guy. After the show I felt bad that I hadn't shouted a request for "Dump the Dog" when he asked if there was anything we wanted to hear (we ended up getting "Motel Blues" that way).
I equally have nothing to say about the Richard Thompson show coming up except that I really like his new album, which is much more of a "rock" album than a lot of his stuff, even reminding me a bit of recent New Model Army (it works really well on a mixtape with anything off Winter). I'm excited that he's bringing a band, since I have only ever seen him solo (when he was on Salt Spring a couple years ago). That's February 6th at the Vogue.
Live-music-wise, that's about all I'm paying attention to at the moment, so here's some spew on movies I really liked, and one I didn't.
When I was a kid, I used to buy horror and SF movie magazines - Famous Monsters, Fangoria, Starlog, that sorta thing - and developed this strong desire, based on a feature I read, to see this movie called Laserblast. I forget exactly which mag it was featured in, but it looked crazy cool and had a story that appealed: alienated teenager finds a laser in the desert, dropped by a human-like alien baddy, who has been killed by two reptilian stop motion alien types, who just leave the dude's gun laying on the ground. The kid stumbles across it, puts the laser over his arm, figures out how to work it, has fun blowing away some cacti - then starts to mutate, taking on "alien" qualities himself, as he decides that he can use the gun to kill anyone who has tormented him. (Whether the changes the gun is causing are "making" him kill or whether his killing is causing him to mutate is left a little vague). Meantime, the reptilians are hunting him down, just like they did the original alien! It was an appealing premise, but the film was nowhere to be found (in Maple Ridge, on VHS, in 1982 or so, which is the time period we're talking about), and I've never stopped being curious about it: basically any film genre I remember seeing ads or articles for back then, I still kind of want to see, and this magazine feature - which boasted the above image on half of one glossy page - made it look particularly exciting, so when I saw that Laserblast came out as part of a deluxe "collector's edition" that really goes to town, with a giant, bigger-than-the-biggest-VHS-box box, a fucking ALIEN FIGURINE, and a blu-ray/ DVD edition of the film... I kinda was excited! (The box is big enough I half expected a real VHS tape to be included, but no). There's a copy on the shelf at Metrotown Sunrise, if you're curious - but it's not cheap (and I don't believe my copy is signed or numbered, unlike the one linked above). The ad from the Full Moon features page sorta says it all:
And sure, having a big box instead of a tiny one is kinda fun, if a bitch to fit on the shelf. Trouble is: this movie is simply not that good. It starts out well enough, as we meet the kid, get to know him a bit, and see a ranty, hammy performance by Keenan Wynn, as an obsessive, conspiracy-minded paranoid (another staple of 80's exploitation, Roddy McDowall, pops up later on, but is sadly a bit under-used). Soon enough, tho', Laserblast starts to annoy with cutesy car chase music, kind of in Dukes of Hazzard/ Last House on the Left mode, complete with moronic cops; it also has a fairly aggravating role for Eddie Deezen, as an abrasive geek; and - worst - has at least one scene that drags on far too long, a rather dull "pool party" centerpiece that wanders for veritable MINUTES without advancing the action one whit, and seems to assume that looking at people in bikinis is interesting enough as cinema that it's a good place to pad out the lean runtime (you know a movie is not well made when it is under 90 minutes long, yet you're still glad when it finally comes to an end). Laserblast also doesn't do very much to explain why the protagonist seems to toggle back and forth from being under the influence of the alien gun - which involves dramatic makeup - to being his normal human self; there are elements of his transition and trajectory that are not really made clear (unless I fell asleep during those parts - I do think a couple scenes induced napping). The stop motion is fun and a few scenes are actually engaging but otherwise I'd give it a pass.
And yes, folks - overpriced or not, I finally DID get the film - had an opportunity to grab it at less than the original price and figured that I could scratch a 35 year old itch that way. Even at a discount it wasn't worth it - let that be a lesson to me! I don't know what the hell I'm going to do with my alien figurine, besides leave it in the packaging, so it doesn't depreciate in value (it's not like I actually want to play with it!). At best, I can hope that the whole ridiculous package will turn into a hot collectible some day so I can at least break even when I sell it. (Anyone want it? It's actually really great, don't listen to me!).
Moving on, here are movies I liked lately. The Favourite, the new Yorgos Lanthimos, is fun - a bit lighter than some of his other films, and less overtly surreal, but still dark and strange (nice ducks!). It deals with the ways people suck up to power (and how power can deform you), and in fact, seemed to be a disguised commentary on Trump, but then, that's what I thought about The Death of Stalin, too; like that film (but unlike Mary Queen of Scots, say), The Favourite will appeal to people who don't even care about the actual history involved, since it is more interested in using historical figures in service of allegory than it is in history for its own sake.
Theatrically, I also really liked Clint Eastwood's The Mule, which is one of his gentler films, really, and maybe the best thing he's done since Gran Torino (tho' I've missed a couple in there). Meanwhile, Mile 22 is enjoyable, if no big deal - a step down for Peter Berg, whose best film is probably his previous, the superb Patriot's Day - but Mile 22 co-stars the guy from The Raid, and is, weirdly, being sold for a mere $10, brand new in blu, at Walmart. The price alone makes it worthwhile - and it does have some very crisp action scenes for Raid fans. If you find the plot initially overcomplex, take heart - it is just (over)compensating for how simple and linear the story will eventually become.
What else? Elaine May's superb Mikey and Nicky, with Peter Falk and John Cassavetes, has just come out on blu-ray from Criterion. If you like "actor's movies" this is a must-see, charting the disintegrating friendship between two low-level hoods; Falk and Cassavetes did a ton of stuff together, but this film really lets you see the two play off each other, even more than they did in Husbands, really. Would go great on a double bill with Machine Gun McCain, or Gloria, or The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (I'm just sayin').
Oh, and Erika and I also recently dug up an old 90's thriller, Just Cause, with Sean Connery and Laurence Fishburne (and with Ed Harris giving one of those performances that chews the scenery so hard you're kind of impressed with it: when his scenes are over, there isn't anything left of the room but splinters, and smallish ones at that). We were initially utterly gripped by the meticulously plotted, character-rich first half, but grew distressed by the increasingly predictable and politically problematic turns in the second half. This is kind of a spoiler, but it's one of those films that invokes "liberal sympathies" (here involving racism against blacks in the United States, police abuse of power, and the death penalty) only to completely turn things around on you, once you are hooked and believing yourself on the side of righteousness and truth, to reveal that both you and the main character have been played. While sternly lecturing audiences on their liberal self-congratulatory pride - which is an at least somewhat interesting thing to do - the film reveals that the sympathetic, educated, soft-spoken black character who has been railroaded HAS BEEN FOOLING YOU ALL ALONG, and aha, is in fact a manipulative, drooling psychopath, PRETENDING to be a victim, because it is to his advantage... while the evil, suspect-torturing cops, including Laurence Fishburne, in "black cracker" mode, are actually on the side of truth and justice. It reminds one alternately of three other 90's films - Primal Fear, Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear, and ultimately The Siege, which also pulls a last-act switcheroo, where the film reveals that the young Muslim student who seemed to soft-spoken and intelligent and likeable really was a terrorist all along, because, you know," they all are, really." Just Cause has maybe the most racist caricature of a black man committed to film in the 1990's? I suppose there may be worse, but...
Ed Harris is still crazy great in it, though. Spit flies from his mouth as he screams, veins bulge, and his eyes are just terrifying. He looks a bit like a badly constipated Chris Cooper in the pic I just used, but his performance is fantastic, if you like Ed Harris, and I mean, we ALL like Ed Harris, right? He alone makes the film worth watching.
Come to think of it, Just Cause actually has an interesting similarity to the much loved Canadian horror film Rituals, which I gather has finally come out on blu-ray. If I were an actual, enfranchised film scholar, and not just some guy on a blog, I would probably dig deeper to find films that work as "transformation engines," where a character with sympathetic, liberal politics at the beginning is forced by the mechanisms of the plot to abandon them and become a killer by the end, dispatching of the very people he claimed sympathy for. In Rituals, it's Hal Holbrook, as a conscientious doctor, who is forced ultimately to (justifiably) kill the victim of a botched surgery, liberal sympathies be damned; with Just Cause, it's Connery's anti-death penalty, anti-racist, anti-police brutality defense lawyer who is transformed into an agent of death, killing a black "victim" of police brutality and affirming that the brutal cops were right all along. At least, I'm pretty sure that it's Connery who ultimately must kill the bad guy in the film. I kinda forget - by that point in the film, I was so disappointed by how formulaic and kinda racist it had become that I had kinda stopped caring...
I hear that Erika's awake now! Time to go back to bed. If you haven't seen Rituals, do so (it is not in at Videomatica yet, but they do have it on order; and it can be purchased online, I'm told).