Archive for the 'Film' Category

Suggestions for your Netflix queue

Apr 15, 2007 in Film

Looking for something interesting, shocking or thought-provoking to watch? From digg, I came across this exhaustive list of the most controversial films of all time.

There’s the usual suspects (Caligula, Salo: the 120 Days of Sodom, Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left), the blockbusters (Birth of a Nation, Basic Instinct, The Exorcist, Fahrenheit 9/11), the masterpieces (Citizen Kane, A Clockwork Orange) and the foreign arthouse smut (I Am Curious (Yellow), In the Realm of the Senses, Last Tango in Paris, Romance).

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees

Feb 15, 2006 in Film


In 1978, film producer Robert Stigwood — who was responsible for such musical films as Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Tommy (the latter a psychedelic trainwreck that should have foretold the fate of our current subject) — hit upon a seemingly brilliant concept:

Take two of the biggest pop acts of the day — the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, who were coming off the massive success of Saturday Night Fever and Frampton Comes Alive, respectively — and put them in a musical based upon the music of the Beatles. Line up an all-star cast, and release a double-vinyl soundtrack album in tandem with the film. It seemed like a sure-fire success. Instead, it ended up being one of the worst commercial and critical failures of the seventies, and derailed the careers of almost everyone involved.

The soundtrack album, with a sky-high retail list price of $15.98, reportedly shipped over 3 million copies — many of which were sent back to the label. (According to my recording industry contracts professor, this debacle was responsible for the provision that limits returns from retailers.) The album remained a cut-out bin staple for years — as an eight-year old, I received a copy from my (admittedly cheap-skate) father. Stigwood’s RSO Records, at that time the number 1 label in America, was practically bankrupted. The movie didn’t fare much better: It cost $12 million to make, and reportedly failed to recoup its production costs.

More than two decades after its release, the Sgt. Pepper’s movie lives on as a minor cult classic — one of those “so bad it’s good” films that’s mostly remembered by those who were young in 1978 and saw it in the theater. (Not me. I was only 4 at the time. I did see it on cable about 4 years later.) It’s even earned a DVD and CD re-release in recent years.

Screenwriter Henry Edwards cobbled together a childish and cockamamie plot loosely based around Beatles’ songs (mostly from Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road). Since none of the principal actors had any acting ability (with the exception of George Burns, who narrated), they were given no dialogue and spoke only through song. Frampton’s acting is especially wooden and noncharismatic — not to mention that he couldn’t carry a Beatles tune in a bucket.

Our heroes, the second incarnation of Sgt. Pepper’s titular band (the Bee Gees) led by Billy Shears (Frampton), are lured from the wholesome town of Heartland, U.S.A. to L.A. by record producer B.D. (Donald Pleasance), where they are corrupted by fame, drugs and women. Mean Mr. Mustard, a villianous real-estate agent who drives a bus with an ex-boxer and two robots, steals Sgt. Pepper’s magical instruments from Heartland, and turns the town into a sleazy den of video arcades and adult hotels.

Billy Shears’ love interest, Strawberry Fields (played by Star Search champion Sandy Farina) hops a bus from Heartland to L.A, to warn our heroes of Mustard’s plot. The band proceeds to rescue the instruments from Dr. Maxwell (Steve Martin, in his feature film debut), and Father Sun (Alice Cooper), leading up to the confrontation with head villians Future Villian Band (Aerosmith, in the film’s best performance). Strawberry dies, and Billy Shears attempts suicide, until suddenly Billy Preston pops out of a weathervane singing “Get Back” and zaps everything back to normal. No, seriously. The film ends with an all-star chorus, where they seemingly dragged in every celebrity on the studio lot that day to badly lip-sync the closing theme.

The musical performances are often as hilarious as the film. Steve Martin steals the show with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and in only the second performance of the film, George Burns’ performs his rendition of “Fixing a Hole.” But as previously mentioned, Frampton can’t sing worth a damn. (His rendition of “Long and Winding Road” is especially gut-wrenching.) Donald Pleasance’s opening to “She’s So Heavy” is hilariously cringe-inducing. “Mean Mr. Mustard,” performed by robots, is sung through a vocoder.

On the other hand, the Bee Gees harmonic, vaguely-disco-ish renditions are quite enjoyable. Earth, Wind and Fire are decent, and Aerosmith’s “Come Together” actually became a minor hit for them.

So, should you actually see this film? If you’re sensitive to bad covers of Beatles’ songs, then you should probably avoid this. If, on the other hand, you love bad movies, then this film is essential viewing. And yes, it’s available on DVD.

Exorcists, the Catholic Church, and Satanic Metal Madness

Sep 14, 2005 in Film

The Exorcism of Emily Rose, currently the top box office draw in America, claims to be based on a true story. Of course, whenever Hollywood claims a film to be based on a true story, you better know to take that with a grain of salt.

The real story behind Emily Rose is the exorcism of Anneliese Michel, a German girl from a devout Catholic family who was diagnosed with seizures and psychosis at the age of 16. Her parents believed she was possessed by the devil, and eventually managed to get the Catholic church to perform an exorcism. She died of pneumonia and malnutrition in 1976. Her parents and the exorcists were tried in court and sentenced to 6 months plus probation.

The Hollywood version, on the other hand, takes place in the Midwest and is more Law and Order than the Exorcist. Film critics David Edelstein and A.O. Scott dismiss the film as a one-sided battle between faith and secular science, with the supernatural winning out.

The case of Anneliese Michel was the last exorcism that was officially sanctioned by the Catholic church. While exorcism is something the church normally likes to keep mum about, interest in the practice has been increasing in recent years. In 1999, the Vatican updated the exorcism ritual, and a Vatican university is in it’s second year of offering a course on Satanism and exorcism. Currently, a convention of exorcists is meeting in Italy to which the Pope has extended his blessing.

Last year, a series of slayings by two members of an Italian death metal band called Beasts of Satan shocked and transfixed Italy. Among the victims was the band’s lead singer/guitarist and his girlfriend, murdered in 1999, and the ex-girlfriend of one of the killers, murdered in 2004.

In Catholic Italy, the case became a sensation, with details of purported Satanic rituals, imagery and violence appearing in the papers. Church officials and commentators saw it as an ominous sign of organized Satanism, with estimated figures ranging from 5,000 to as high as 600,000 practitioners in Italy.

Of course, there was no link to any sort of organized Satanism in the case. The band was obviously obsessed with the trappings of Satanism, but were otherwise simply a group of amoral, drug-addled youths who killed their own friends over petty disagreements. But the case has increased concern over supposed Satanic cults, and the Vatican’s latest forays into exorcism and Satanic studies are a response to the hysteria.

Another “Dead” Mall

Jun 24, 2005 in Film

Yesterday’s post mentioned the Dixie Square Mall in suburban Chicago, a long-abandoned shopping center that was used for the destructive mall car chase in The Blues Brothers film, a year after the mall had closed for business.

Last night, IFC showed both of George Romero’s zombie classics, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. The original Dawn of the Dead was filmed at the Monroeville Mall outside of Pittsburgh, PA. A few fansites uncover the history behind this location, including a 2003 tour of the mall by fans and cast members.

Much like the way that The Blues Brothers put Chicago on the moviemaking map, Romero’s zombie trilogy (and many of his other films) used Pittsburgh and other nearby locations extensively.

“We’re on a mission from God”

Jun 23, 2005 in Film

This week marks the 25th anniversary of The Blues Brothers movie — the first film to put Chicago on the cinema map and the second most popular SNL spinoff film that is not Wayne’s World.

The Chicago Sun Times is doing a five-day series of articles about the Blues Brothers film, its locations, stunts and historical importance to the city of Chicago. Today’s lead article is on the Dixie Square Mall, the long-abandoned suburban shopping center that was the site for the mall car chase scene. Dixie Square is likely the most famous decayed hulk of suburban retail architecture ever because of it.

AMC, which constantly shows The Blues Brothers movie anyhow, will be playing it next Monday at 8pm ET/PT.

Flash! Ahh Ahhh!

Feb 06, 2005 in Film

In light of my last post about forgotten musical films (in this case, 1986’s Crossroads), Emptyfree.com has this post about 1981’s Flash Gordon, and posts the entire Queen soundtrack for download. This will definitely be getting airplay on the impromptu radio show I plan to do tonight.

The Dustbin of Film History: Crossroads (1986), starring Ralph Macchio

Feb 01, 2005 in Film

For some odd reason, the memory of this film came back to me, and I wondered where the hell it went, and also, is it even available on DVD? Turns out that yes, it was released on DVD this past year.

For those who don’t know this film (or have long forgotten about it), it stars Ralph “Karate Kid” Macchio as a guitar-slinging Juilliard student who drops out to explore the Missisippi Delta with an aging black bluesman he sprung from an old folks home. I haven’t seen it in over twelve years, and I remember begging my mother to take me to see this R-rated movie when I was 12. (She didn’t, but I saw it a few years later when it ended up on cable television.)

Despite it’s obscurity, the film does have a cult following, as evidenced by the glowing reviews on IMDB and Amazon. Crossroads’ major claim to fame is that it is probably the only guitar movie ever made. The film’s climax is the most memorable part, a “duel with the devil” between Macchio’s character (guitar by Ry Cooder) and Scratch (aka Satan), played to the hilt by former guitar god Steve Vai.

This review on Amazon by an Itamar Katz probably sums up this movie best:

“As a cinematic work, Crossroads is nothing special. Except for Joe Seneca who was great as the aging blues-legend on the run from the devil, the acting is awful. Ralph Macchio is decent, except that he’s doing the EXACT same character he did in Karate Kid. The love interest between Eugene and Frances is silly, shallow and simply doesn’t work. The screenplay, above all, is terrible. The directing and photography are good, which makes the film at least bearable.

“But the film is just an excuse for one of the most amazing soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Classical guitar, Robert Johnson classic blues, Muddy Waters electric blues and hard blues rock run throughout this film wonderfuly; for bluesmen and guitar lovers, Crossroads is a must. The ending with Steve Vai, above all, is one of the greatest scenes I’ve seen and makes the whole movie worthwile - and both Vai and ‘Eugene’ play a KILLER guitar… Overall, a very mediocre movie and for many probably boring, but a cult classic and a musical masterpiece.”

Master of the Flying Guillotine : Great Thanksgiving family entertainment!

Nov 25, 2004 in Film

For those of you looking for some Thanksgiving television entertainment, aside from family films, football and cable marathons (especially VH1’s “Awesomely Bad” marathon), you couldn’t do much worse that watching one of the best kung-fu films ever made on extended cable.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (aka One Armed Boxer vs the Flying Guillotine) is a classic in a genre full of cheesy films. The film’s star villain, a blind assassin posing as a monk, wields possibly the coolest weapon ever used in a kung-fu film: a spinning hat-shaped projectile with blades that beheads it’s intended victim. The flying guillotine-wielding monk sets out to assasinate a one-armed boxing instructor who killed two of his disciples in a previous film.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is actually a combination of two film franchises: the Shaw Brothers’ produced Flying Guillotine (in which the weapon is used as a tool in political assasinations), and the Wang Yu starring/produced One Armed Boxer, of which Master of the Flying Guillotine is the sequel.

For a good chunk of the film, the plot is set aside for an tournament sequence featuring some unique and bizarre fighting styles — the coolest probably being the Indian monk with the extending arms. This film also has the coolest soundtrack of any 70’s kung-fu film, featuring the music of German krautrock band Neu! (whose song “Super 16″ was borrowed for Kill Bill 2). Also note the lo-fi rock n’ roll track during the alternate title sequence.

If you have digital cable, Master of the Flying Guillotine will be shown on the Sundance channel today at 3:30pm EST/PST (2:30 CST), and again at 6:30pm EST/PST (5:30pm CST) on the West Coast feed. A two-disc deluxe anniversary edition will be released on December 21, a nice last-minute addition to your Christmas list.

Franchise vs. Franchise

Aug 19, 2004 in Film

With the spate of vs. movies coming out recently that pit two seperate sci-fi/horror franchises against each other (I’m talking Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator here), I was thinking about other versus movies that Hollywood could consider doing. Remember, if you see these movies in the future, I thought of it first!

Star Wars vs. Star Trek

One of the voyages of the Enterprise end up in the far-off galaxy of Star Wars, wayyy into the future. Yoda XXIV and Han Solo CXIV team up with the crew of the Enterprise XI to battle the Death Star XXVI.

Terminator vs. The Matrix

The intelligent machines from Terminator battle it out with the intelligent machines from the Matrix to determine who will rule the future of Earth. The Terminator T-5000 battles it out with Neo IV, with Arnold reprising his role as the Terminator T-800.

Leatherface vs. Mike Myers

The original 1970s inbred slasher icons face off in a gruesome battle with a high collateral body count. Wait, this would actually be kinda pointless and boring…

Hellraiser vs. Freddy

You’d pay money to see this, right? I know I would! What could be cooler that Freddy vs. the Cenobites? At least the dialog would rock.

Like Netflix, but cooler.

Jun 16, 2004 in Film

I was considering signing up for an online rental service such as Netflix, so I could rent movies that I couldn’t find in the local video stores. I came across Nicheflix and signed up for a two week trial membership.

Nicheflix specialises in foreign and cult DVD’s. While their selection isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Netflix, they do have an impressive selection of Asian films, cult TV shows, and anime; including many samurai films and a large collection of Shaw Brothers films. I just received my first DVDs today; they arrived in about 3 days.

Since many Nicheflix DVDs are foreign, you’ll need a multi-region DVD player to play them. If you don’t have a multi-region DVD player, you may be able to hack your DVD player with the remote control to play non-region 1 DVDs. Search here for your DVD player model.