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).

Monday, January 21, 2019

Tonight at the Cinematheque: I Heard the Owl Call My Name and The Silent Partner - plus Ganja and Hess, coming soon

Right, so has everyone read my John Werner piece? Vancouver punk bassist returns to England to reunite with a legendary band from whose wake sprung Theatre of Hate and Spear of Destiny? And you've all noticed that Spear of Destiny plays the Astoria in a few weeks, right? Best and biggest piece I have done in some time, if I may say so myself. There are a few significant aspects of the story that I left out, but I may be able to fill in a blank or two in a subsequent piece, if I have the time and energy to write it, as the Spear of Destiny gig gets closer. We'll see.

Meantime, I notice there's a singularly interesting double bill at the Cinematheque tonight. I have been aware of, and compelled by the title of, Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name since I started going into used bookstores as a child, and learned that owls were, to some aboriginal peoples, seen as omens of death, which idea always appealed to me. The novel is ubiquitous - or was at one point - but I didn't know that both it and its film adaptation were set in BC, though I did gather it had something to do with a priest visiting a remote Canadian First Nations community (that of the Kwakwaka’wakw, previously known as the Kwakiutl). Tom Courtenay is a fine actor, and it's good to hear that the First Nations characters are played by First Nations actors; beyond that, I have no idea what to expect, but I think I'll check it out - feel like, as a Canadian, I should know this story.

Remarkably different (save for the involvement of director Daryl Duke) is the Toronto-shot crime thriller The Silent Partner, which I have seen on at least three occasions, but none recent. My memories are somewhat dim, but I remember loving it when I first saw it, as an eleven year old, cross-legged in front of the TV, and I'm kinda thrilled to have a chance to see it on screen. The plot, as I recall it, involves a meek-seeming bank teller - played by Elliott Gould, emerging from a mid-career slump to remind you how good he can be - who, realizing that he is about to be robbed, opportunistically arranges to steal his own bank's money, such that the robber gets the blame. This, of course, invites the wrath of the robber (played by Christopher Plummer, as one of those robbers with a talent for disguise; if I recall, in the course of the film, he dresses both in drag and as Santa); it's been years since I saw it, but I remember being very entertained by the cat-and-mouse game that ensues, and it's right up there with Rabid and Jacob's Ladder in terms of disturbing representations of Santa Claus, if memory serves.

Both of those films are playing as part of the newest installment of The Image Before Us, a series devoted to representations of BC on film (and yes, The Silent Partner is not a BC film, but it's a BC filmmaker, so good enough for me). There's lots else in the series, which I hope people are attending to, but nothing I can add much about.

However, while I'm mentioning films that particularly excite me, let me note, if you haven't seen Bill Gunn's Ganja and Hess, coming in February, you might just need to. It's a very strange film - a vampire love story that seems more of a meditation on African-American identity and heritage, using the idea of vampirism to juxtapose Afrocentricism with Christian religious services. (Spike Lee made a fairly faithful remake, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, which also threw in a bit of hip hop culture). It is oddly talky and philosophical at times, but filled with charged images, and a very potent soundtrack, as I recall. It plays with a blaxploitation classic, Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song, which I have never seen, but I love the ways that early 1970's American filmmakers bent exploitation cinema to higher moral and political purposes - which I expect is the case with the latter film as well - so this is also a double bill I'll be marking my calendar for. Ganja and Hess is truly a singular film, ambitious and weird and sensual and disturbing, so I hope this screening creates a whole new audience for it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Strange Dreams of Jodorowsky

On the cusp of plunging back into my regular work routine, I get a morning where I get to sleep late, since Erika has to go off for some blood tests and can't have breakfast... so I don't need to make it. In bed, in the time before I wake (at 9), I dream that there's a new Jodorowsky movie, and that my friend Mark is telling me I have to see it. I make a pilgrimage to Vancouver by bus; as often happens, my dream backdates me so that I am living in Maple Ridge, still single, and commuting out (even Mark doesn't live in Maple Ridge anymore, but in the dream he does). I find myself the only person (I think) in a theatre where a very strange movie indeed plays, about a man who loses touch with reality, moving through a hallucinatory landscape the details of which escape me - there are animated creatures, strange visual distortions, vivid colours, and an overall impression of visual accomplishment ("Jodorowsky's most visually sophisticated movie ever!"). It is more dream than real. Our protagonist journeys through this weird world to where his family lives, and then, to his surprise and confusion, finds his family are entirely normal; the weirdness goes away, and he is faced with the strange prospect of re-integrating, after his "trip," into a normal family life... was it all a dream? which point something happens; I find myself - perhaps because the main character has decided to go to a movie, and he is, aooarently, my analogue - outside the theatre, and invited in, and once inside, I discover that I too am in the midst of a hallucinatory landscape, with no semblance of the real world. Stars are present - Harvey Keitel is there. Strange creatures, colours, weird distortions of the normal; I can't recall many details. I expect Jodorowsky in full-on magus mode to appear from behind a curtain. The strangest thing about this dreamlike second part of the dream is that it does not seem like a dream, it does not seem like a movie. It is all real.

At which point, suddenly, I find myself settling back down, and I am in a theatre filled with merch, including DVDs of the movie I've just seen, and one blu-ray - PAL formatted, I am warned. The dream, the movie, it all goes away, but I am left, like the protagonist of the dream-within-a-movie-within-a-dream to ask myself: what just happened? What is real?

I am very impressed with Jodorowsky for having accomplished this - for making me dream a complete departure from reality, for actually causing me to hallucinate. He'd always said that he wanted El Topo not to be watched on drugs, but to BE the drug. With his new film, he has succeeded beyond the wildest imagination; how the hell did he do it?

It turns out there were other people in the audience all along, too. I wonder what they made of it? I am eager to call Mark and ask him what HIS experience was... as I leave the theatre to catch the bus back home...

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

A happy New Year with Petunia and the Vipers and the Myrtle Family Band: updated with added Petunia deets!

UPDATED with Petunia news in the second and third paragraphs!

Fantastic night last night, dancin' to Petunia and the Vipers at the WISE Hall with my wife Erika. They have a Monday WISE Lounge residency, again, but this was in the hall proper, with a full crowd, an enormously busy dance floor, and, among all the youthful types, what seemed to be a pleasing number of people in the audience in their 70's and 80's - which reads as a great validation of how successfully the band channels vintage country swing (with traces of mariachi and Roma jazz and rockabilly and lounge exotica and such): because as big as oldtimey music is on the Vancouver scene right now, you don't see a lot of senior citizens in the audience for the Staggers and Jaggs or the Still Spirits or Devil in the Wood Shack or so forth. The Myrtle Family band - which I believe contains members of the Burying Ground, whom I once plugged in BC Musician (RIP) and who is, I believe, playing the WISE again on January 10th - warmed us up nicely with playful, female-fronted post-war swing, including a version of "Rag Mop" (aka "Ragg Mopp"), which used to be one of my father's favourite songs to sing when he was in a good mood. Between bands, there was a dance lesson, for those who wanted to learn how to Charleston; followed by a nice long set from Petunia, which I captured a bit of video of, here, here, and here.

Initially, when writing this, I noted that Petunia seemed to be "disappearing into his band, compared to the days of 'Mercy'" - because last night it really was "the Vipers with Petunia," which I took to be a deliberate, stylistic choice, because I had actually been chatting with a local musician about the differences between "Petunia," whom I've seen solo (or with Al Mader) many, many times, and "Petunia and the Vipers," who tone down the stark Lynchian yodeling cowboy element and amp up the Bob Wills, full-band experience. Said musician and I are both fans of the stark, Lynchian, yodeling cowboy aspect, and so I thought that last night was the most extreme example of this tendency to emphasize the music yet, but it turns out that there's a much simpler, less worrisome explanation: Petunia had a sore throat! He covered it up pretty well, I think - although now that I think back, there wasn't that much yodeling to be had last night, was there?

Anyhow, I missed passing on a bit of news, because I couldn't hear it all in his between-song stage patter: Petunia will be starring in a web-based series, which, as Petunia reports, is "directed by Beth Harrington, the last person to interview Johnny Cash before he died, for his words on the Carter family, which went into the film she made called The Winding Stream" (trailer here. ) Harrington, if I understand correctly, was actually at the gig last evening too; the show is called The Musicianer, and is a narrative, not a documentary, Petunia says. Petunia also tells folks that "for the 'real' Petunia, please go and check out the videos from the Rickshaw Theatre coming out (nine in total) every few weeks on our FB page, and forevermore viewable on YouTube or our website."

In any event, it was a great evening, and thanks to Clay Holmes for his keeping things so well-lubricated, drinkwise; Norm for facilitating my late ticket buy; and Petunia and Stephen Nikleva for putting up with my panicky emails when I saw that the show was sold out. Nothin' much else to say - Happy New Year, even if you were at Lanalou's or the Anza last night. Lookin' forward to The Musicianer. Here are some photos from the WISE: