This weekend’s docket included a critically acclaimed 90s documentary, one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had, a heapin’ helpin’ of films that mix sex and violence, and a zombie that won my heart. This is the movie weekend that was.
A Dog’s Life (1918); One Week (1920); Big Business (1929)
Cinema St. Louis is currently putting on the St. Louis International Children’s Film Festival. Their first showing was a doozy- an evening of silent shorts starring Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel & Hardy, all at Webster University. Thankfully, I know a kid- my 5-year old nephew. And since he’s a fan of slapstick, I took him to Webster for the evening. I’ve seen One Week many, many times. Like all silent Keaton, it’s pure genius. And it warmed my heart that my nephew’s loudest belly laughs in the evening came during the Keaton film. I had not seen A Dog’s Life– the Chaplin film. Again, like all Chaplin, it was genius, and the dog scenes were tailor-made for the young audience. Of the Chaplin I’ve seen, I’d rank A Dog’s Life quite high. It’s clearly not Modern Times, The Kid, The Great Dictator, or even Monsieur Verdoux, but it was still great fun, and highly recommended. With all due respect to Laurel & Hardy, Big Business was the weakest of the three, although it still offered plenty of humor.
As for my nephew, I asked him afterwards which film he liked most. He replied, “That dog one, where that man had a dog for a friend and they beat up those robbers.” He barely laughed at all during Laurel & Hardy, which unfortunately may have been a bit too sophisticated for him. As I said, Keaton earned the biggest belly laughs, especially during the spinning house sequence and during Keaton’s various falls off the 2nd floor.
Kiss of the Damned (2012)
In Kiss of the Damned, Xan Cassavetes (daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands) takes a bunch of themes from Jean Rollin movies and weaves them into a new vampire movie. It may be the most hipster idea ever, the ultimate in repurposing outdated and garish stuff. And I don’t even mean that as an insult. But it is definitely an homage to Rollin and, more generally speaking, 1970s European trash horror. Using that as a jumping off point, Kiss of the Damned serves its purpose very effectively. The question is whether or not that’s a good idea. After all, it’s not like someone is riffing on Orson Welles. Rollin is known for making really fun, and really crappy, nudity-filled gorefests. It’s not exactly something you would expect a filmmaker to emulate. And doing so is either one of the most creative, most misguided, or most odd ideas a filmmaker has ever had. I guess your opinion of Rollin will guide where you fall in that spectrum.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)
Pretty Maids All in a Row is essentially Roger Vadim’s take on a Freudian dark comedy, twisting sex and violence together. It’s the tale of a sexually frustrated high school boy’s coming of age with the assistance of a lothario mentor, played by Rock Hudson (oh, the irony of Rock Hudson mentoring a kid on how to get women). The bizarre- and fun- impetus behind the journey is a string of murdered young women at his school. Telly Savalas is perfect, as always, as the cop hunting down the serial killer. The film also works perfectly as satirical commentary on the sexual politics of the era, smack in the middle of the sexual revolution. There’s no denying that it’s cheesy at times, but Pretty Maids All in a Row has buckets of value as meaningful cheese.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997)
The minimalist score for this Errol Morris documentary serves as the film’s totem animal- simple on the surface but much more complex and layered than you might think. At first blush, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control is simply a documentary about four eccentric individuals with profound passions. But peel back the layers with their passions and you’re sure to find common threads. Most prominent was the interaction of man with subjects following their natural instincts. In so many ways, it touches on social and natural hardwiring (literally so in the case of the robot maker). It’s a fascinating documentary.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Day of the Dead (1985)
When I was a kid, zombie movies never really graced my presence. As a result, there are now a lot of classic zombie movies still out there for me to dig into as an adult. I still waffle on the genre on the whole, but occasionally there are gems. The George Romero films are the gems. Day of the Dead is my least favorite Romero film so far but I still enjoyed it plenty. And Bub may just be the best zombie in movie history.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974), aka “Hooker’s Revenge”, aka “They Call Her One Eye” (those are actual alternate titles)
Thriller: A Cruel Picture is the heartwarming tale of a young girl who is raped and left mute; abducted; forcefully addicted to heroin against her will; sold into prostitution; loses an eye; finds out that both her parents killed themselves; and then acquires a glorious, bloody vengeance on all that have wronged her. If a gory revenge fantasy featuring a one-eyed prostitute sounds like something from the mind of Quentin Tarantino, you’d be half right. The one-eyed vengeful hooker served as the template for Elle Driver in the Kill Bill movies. Going beyond the Tarantino influence, I would guess that this film played a large influence on Lukas Moodysson, as both A Hole in my Heart and Lilya 4-Ever echo similar themes. The version of Thriller that I saw was the uncut version, so it included the most pornographic scenes I’ve ever seen in a non-pornographic movie. There was actual penetration, and not just briefly nor was it obscured in any way. In fact, it was shot in close-up each time, and it happened several times. The violence scenes are downright beautiful, if such a word can be used, shot in stunning slow-motion and coming as the culmination of a lot of horrible acts done to the poor girl in the film.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
30 for 30: The U (2009)
There was a great story to tell here about the University of Miami’s college football dynasty. But instead, filmmaker Billy Corben chose to spin a lot of self-congratulatory tripe. The subtext about the football team’s success galvanizing a city torn by riots and racial strife disappeared after about 15 minutes, and the rest of the film consists of interviews with players and coaches talking about the greatness of their football team. I don’t mean any disrespect to what the Hurricanes were in that era. They were most certainly a dynasty. But I didn’t need 75 minutes of their own players telling me about it to know that it was true. The U comes in as the 2nd worst of the 30 for 30 films I’ve seen, although comfortably ahead of the far more nauseous and self-congratulatory House of Steinbrenner.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars