Sunday, October 19, 2014

Straight to Hell (Alex Cox, 1987)

Warning: The following may contain words and pictures that promote the notion that: A) Courtney Love is sexy as a pregnant gangster's moll (sit on that jukebox, you leggy hosebeast, you). And B) Courtney Love is an okay actress. What am I saying, "may contain"? Oh, believe me, this review of Straight to Hell will most definitely contain a crapload of notions that promote the off-kilter shapeliness that is Courtney Love. If that's the case, why am I giving you a warning? Somewhere back in the recesses of my mind, I must know that Courtney Love isn't the type of person you can openly heap praise on, at least not acting praise. I mean, she's not like, say, Mink Stole or Mary Woronov, people who are universally beloved. Show me, by the way, someone who doesn't like Mink Stole or Mary Woronov, and I'll show you one seriously disturbed individual. At any rate, it's obvious that Courtney Love and the rest of cast of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy all answered their phones when the pride of Bebington (Don't fuck with The Wirral!), Alex Cox, called 'em up asking them to appear in his wacked out tribute to Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, because they're all in it.

(Even Zander Schloss and Xander Berkeley?) Yep, even them. Remember all those hot punk chicks who hung around The Sex Pistols in Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy? Well, they're all in it as well. And, yes, that also includes the ultra-gorgeous Michele Winstanley. You might remember her, she makes a great face when that guy at The Sex Pistols concert says he doesn't want to be a punk anymore.

Oh, man, I just realized that having most of the cast of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy in this movie doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be smooth sailing. If anything, the film could be just one long reminder of how good they were in those films.

No doubt leading to moments like: Hey, there's Sy Richardson, wasn't he amazing as Lyte in Repo Man? Or, look, that's Sara Sugarman! I loved her as Abby National in Sid and Nancy ("Sugar man, won't you hurry / 'cos I'm tired of these scenes").

While there's some of that going on for sure. The film does manage to create its own unique universe. In other words, it's not really fair to call this Sid and Nancy: The Western or Repo Man II: The Legend of Otto's Gold.

However, no matter how you spin it, the film is still a mess. Right, Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper?

Just as I was about to give up on this film, along comes Jennifer Balgobin in a pair of pink shorts. Instructed to wash Miguel Sandoval's motorcycle, Jennifer Balgobin, who plays Fabienne, goes outside with a bucket of soapy water. Opening her brown trench coat with much fanfare, Jennifer Balgobin, who is wearing, like I said, pink shorts, and a pink, cut-off tank-top with the words "Hot Property" written on it, proceeds to clean Miguel's bike in an erotic manner.

You gotta envy the eyeballs belonging to Sy Richardson, Joe Strummer and Dick Rude. I mean, to witness such a titillating display up close like that, it doesn't get any better than this. Or does it? I'll get to whether it does in a minute.

I think might have spoke too soon regarding Courtney Love's performance in this movie. Don't get me wrong, the sight of a barefoot and pregnant Miss Love sitting provocatively on that jukebox is a enough to power a thousand misguided erections, but every time she would open her mouth, a small amount of blood would ooze from my ears.

(I thought you liked shrill and unpleasant women?) Yeah, but not that shrill and unpleasant. Where's Chloe Webb when you need her?

Since I can't go back in time and stop Alex Cox from casting her, let's soldier on, shall we? Look, the film stars as Sy Richardson, as the forthright Norwood (the inspiration for Samuel L. Jackson's Jules in Pulp Fiction perhaps?), Joe Strummer as the oily-haired Simms and Dick "Let's Go Get Sushi and Not Pay" Rude plays Willy. In other words, the film is still salvageable as far as entertainment goes.

Oh, it's salvageable, all right... Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup... Salva-fuckin'-geable!

The characters I just mentioned, in addition to Courtney Love, who plays Velma, Norwood's pregnant girlfriend, rob a bank in, oh, let's say, Mexico (the film was shot in Spain), and flee into the desert. When their car breaks down, they bury the loot (about four suitcases stuffed with money), and walk to a nearby town.

From what I gathered, the plan is to stay in the town until things blow over. Only problem being, the town is home to an unruly gang of gun-totting coffee drinkers.

When Norwood, Simms and Willy save two of the gun-totting coffee drinkers (Shane MacGowan and Spider Stacy of The Pogues) from a group of bounty hunters, Frank McMahon (Biff Yeager), the leader of the powerful McMahon Clan, welcomes the outsiders with opens arms.

While trying to buy nails from a local merchant named George (Miguel Sandoval), Simms gets his first glimpse of Jennifer Balgobin's Fabienne. Like any ex-member The Clash would do, Simms leaps on her with an enthusiastic jelonka ogłoszenia. Now, if you're worried about George getting upset by this untoward yet totally reasonable display, fear not, for he is in the back looking for nails.

The next day boasts the scene where Jennifer Balgobin washes Miguel Sandoval's motorcycle in pink shorts. I used to always say that Jennifer Balgobin's best work is in Alex Cox's Repo Man and Stephan Sayadian's Dr. Caligari. Well, now that I've seen Straight to Hell, I feel it's time to change my opinion. That's right, if you love Jennifer Balgobin, and I mean, really love Jennifer Balgobin, than Straight to Hell needs to be injected into your nervous system immediately. I don't care if her accent is a tad on the wonky side, this is the movie to see for all your J-Gob needs.

While Simms is getting all riled up by Fabienne, Willy's motor is more in tune with Louise (Michele Winstanley). Taking her to the local cemetery to visit her grandmother's grave, Willy declares his love for Louise. This, of course, doesn't go as planned, and Willy ends up dirty, sexually frustrated and alone.

It should be noted that almost everyday while the foursome are in town ends with a song: Day One ends with a performance of the song "Delilah" by Kim Blousson (Fox Harris), with Elvis Costello on guitar; day three ends with a performance of "Danny Boy" by Cait O'Riordan; and day four ends with not with a song, but random acts of violence and cameos by Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper.

Which leads to the final day, where Norwood, Simms and Willy wind up taking on the entire McMahon Clan in a large-scale, Wild Bunch-style shoot 'em up.

What's that? I forgot to mention the song that ends day two. That's weird. No, it's just that the song that ends day two just happens to be featured in what I now consider one of the greatest scenes in movie history. And get this, it has nothing to do with the massive slit on Jennifer Balgobin's dress or the robust nature of Michele Winstanley's jet black ponytail.

Everyone be quiet, because someone has requested that Karl (Zander Schloss), proprietor of Karl's Disco Wiener Haven, perform his theme song, "Salsa y Ketchup." Picked on and abused throughout the movie, Karl's unexpected triumph is the epitome of awesome.

Maybe it's because the song has lyrics such as: "Sizzle, they grizzle, you step up to the griddle, Salsa y Ketchup, you tell me and I'll fetch up," or maybe it was Karl's twitchy demeanor. Whatever it was, this scene turned what was up until then a mildly entertaining pseudo-spaghetti western into a genuine cult classic.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Excision (Richard Bates Jr., 2012)

When one of Gerald's friends in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael tells him that he thinks Winona Ryder's Dinky Bossetti is "ugly," I remember saying to myself: You have got to be fucking kidding? Sure, Dinky's hair is an unkempt disaster and her wardrobe looks like something a homeless Goth might wear, but she still looks like Winona Ryder (her skin is like porcelain). This lack of credibility when it came to taking the other character's perception of Dinky seriously didn't exactly ruin the movie for me, but it did irk me to a certain degree. Well, in a recent film called Excision, we're introduced to a character who comes pretty close to embodying the spirit of Dinky Bossetti, The Queen of Teen Angst. Except, instead of obsessing over a woman she thinks is her mother and taking care of  a menagerie of animals (each with a carpet sample to call their own), AnnaLynne McCord's Pauline dreams of performing surgery on her ill sister in her parent's garage, and, not to mention, looks at her bloody tampons with a wide-eyed, weigela-scented sense of wonder.

In the spirit of transparency, I should tell you that I watched Excision, written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., immediately after seeing Ryan Nicholson's Hanger. Why am I telling you this, you ask? It's simple, really. Both films feature characters who like to admire tampons that have been drenched in recently excreted menstrual blood. Talk about your weird coincidences.

Things get even weirder, coincidence-wise, when Excision throws an unorthodox abortion scene at us. If you remember correctly, Hanger boasts a gruesome coat-hanger abortion scene, too. While not as graphic as the scene in Hanger, the Excision abortion scene is nothing to poo-poo about. I think most of you will agree, putting an aborted foetus in a microwave oven (one that appears to have been specifically designed to dispose of unwanted foetal waste) after extracting it with your hand isn't something you see everyday, either.

However, that's where the similarities end. You see, whereas Hanger is a hate-filled, misogynistic slab of putrid bile masquerading as entertainment, Excision has a strong female lead and surreal flights of fancy that are visually interesting.

Oooh, I just remembered, the real reason I brought up Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. It's true, I already made my point regarding the two films, but I sort of got taken off track by the whole tampon/abortion thing. Anyway, I felt Excision got the look of the teenage outsider right.

Now, I've since discovered that AnnaLynne McCord has been on a lot television shows. But since I've never seen any of them, I approached AnnaLynne McCord as just another actress. Meaning, I didn't spend the bulk of the film thinking: Wow, the chick from 90210 is doing some freaky ass shit in this movie.

You could view this as just another example of an attractive actress "going ugly" for critical accolades. And, after looking at some of the pictures of AnnaLynne McCord outside the Excision universe, I can see how some might take that particular view. But I don't think that's what's going on here, as AnnaLynne McCord seems fully-committed to the role of Pauline, a troubled teen who has a, let's just say, rich and colourful imagination.

The film opens inside the realm of this rich and colourful imagination. In there we see two versions of Pauline facing each other. One is twitching like a Clicker (the nickname given to humans in the third stage of the Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis infection - I despise Clickers, by the way) from The Last of Us, while the other is sitting still. Suddenly, the twitchy Pauline starts bleeding profusely from her nose and mouth. When the twitchy Pauline spits blood all over the still Pauline, the real Pauline wakes up.

Whew, for a minute I thought the entire film was going to take place inside this antiseptic nightmarescape. Don't get me wrong, I could have handled it. But, nevertheless, I appreciated the fact that Richard Bates Jr. didn't go overboard when doling out the weirdness.

Besides, there's plenty of weirdness to go around in the real world. I mean, John Waters plays a reverend, Malcolm McDowell plays a math teacher, Ray Wise plays a high school principal, Matthew Gray Gubler plays a sex ed. teacher and best of all, Traci Lords plays Pauline's mother.

After watching Pauline's family, which also includes Bob (Roger Bart), her henpecked father, and Grace (Ariel Winter), her little sister (who has cystic fibrosis), sitting together at the breakfast table for just a few seconds, it's obvious that they're a tad on the dysfunctional side.

Asking her sex ed. teacher if you can contract an STD by having sex with a dead body establishes right away that Pauline ain't hooked up right. I know, the twitchy, blood spewing dream sequence already did a pretty good job of establishing that. But, to be fair, everyone dreams about spastic doppelgängers who vomit blood; it's one of the great things about being human.

While each dream sequence is different, they all pretty much stick with the same theme. And that is: Blood, bandages, bodies and sex. Oh, and did I mention blood?

Approaching Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), who is sitting on the bleachers at school with his friends, Pauline tells the startled teen that she wants to lose her virginity with him. Now, most teenage boys wouldn't hesitate for a second to accept an offer like that. But then again, Pauline isn't your average teenage girl -- At one point she tells her sister, "When I lose my virginity, I want to be on my period." Yum.

In an obvious shout-out to Heathers, we see Pauline and Grace playing crochet on their front lawn. Later that night, guess who calls Pauline? That's right, Adam. It would seem that he's willing to look past her greasy hair, bad posture, acne and unruly eyebrows in order to attain some guilt-free teenage poontang.

It's too bad it's soaking in menstrual blood. Don't believe me, take a look in the mirror, the bloodstained fruits of your cunnilingual labour are all over your face.

In an upcoming scene, Pauline will compare Adam's pussy eating technique to a dog drinking water (which, apparently, isn't a good thing - I love the thought of a guy lapping up my labia like a thirsty dog). She also describes Adam's girlfriend's vagina as a "diseased axe wound." Hee. Oh, and when Adam's girlfriend (who, by the way, doesn't know how to spell "cunt") tries to give Pauline a piece of advice, she says, "Make it quick, I gotta go take a shit." Classy.

Even though I didn't approve with a lot of what Pauline gets up to in this film, I couldn't help but sympathize with her outlandish predicament. And that's thanks in part to the amazing performance given by AnnaLynne McCord. The exact same thing can be said for Traci Lords, who kills it as Pauline's overbearing mother. If you're going to see one movie about a surgery-obsessed teen with  fallen arches, make it Excision. It's well-made, darkly funny and is sprinkled with fine performances. Oh, and did I mention blood?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sid and Nancy (Alex Cox, 1986)

It's a movie about punk rock. And it's also a movie about drug abuse. But to me, Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy will always be, first and foremost, a movie about love. Yep, as sappy as it might sound, I consider this here motion picture to be one of the most romantic, life affirming films ever made. Sure, it doesn't end well. But, hey, for the short time they were together, their love for one another was truly inspirational. There's a scene midway into the film never fails to tug at my heart strings (and, yes, I've seen this film at least a dozen times). It's the one where Sid Vicious, the sort of bass player for the seminal British punk band The Sex Pistols telephones his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen while on tour in the U.S.A. Even though their conversation ends like all their conversations do, in a slurred cacophony of  coarse put-downs and drug-fueled non-sequiturs, nothing makes me happier than seeing Nancy's reaction to when Sid tells her that he not only misses her but loves her as well. Assuming that Sid, "the punk rock superstar," would forget about her once he got a taste of fame and fortune in America, Nancy's eyes light up when she learns that Sid hasn't forgotten about his shrieking violet.

Furthermore, the fact that everyone around Sid thinks Nancy is an annoying hosebeast does nothing but intensify my Nancy-based rooting interest. Maybe I'm not hooked up right, but I'm still waiting for my Nancy Spungen to come along and sweep me off my feet, get me hooked on heroin and book me gigs at Max's Kansas City. I know, that's a weird thing to say, but some people need a Nancy Spungen in their life.

It's true, I have a soft spot for brash, forthright women who look amazing in fishnet pantyhose and/or stockings. But I think Nancy Spungen is more than just a woman, she represents an idea. For those of us who have no clue when it comes to maintaining healthy human relationships, the Nancy Spungen's of this world cut through all the noise by doing the majority of the heavy lifting for you.

In the documentary, Who Killed Nancy?, it's implied that Sid Vicious would have never approached a woman like Nancy Spungen. Well, in this fictionalized version of their story, Nancy, an American living in London, England (she's basically a starfucker), does make the first move (she forces her way into bed with him, and by "bed" I mean the floor of a flophouse). But Sid is no wallflower.

The question who hit on who first doesn't really matter in the end, as Sid is the one who is currently bathing one of Nancy's feet with inside of his mouth. And get this, the foot he's slobbering all over was seconds earlier ensnared in black fishnet pantyhose. In order to get at her toes in a more efficient manner, Sid proceeds to extract the foot he wants to devour from its nylon prison with a serious of punk-friendly tearing motions.

What I'm getting at is, Nancy is clearly the one wearing the fishnet pantyhose in this relationship.

In a strange twist, when we first meet Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb), she's wearing blue jeans(!). Her dominatrix friend, Linda (Anne Lambton), is actually the first to be seen wearing fishnets in the movie. No, it's true.

When Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and his pal Johnny (Andrew Schofield) come over to see Linda–you know, to cover her walls with graffiti and eat baked beans, the former gets his first glimpse of Nancy Spungen. However, since Nancy is not wearing fishnets or any leather whatsoever, Sid doesn't give much thought to her. The feeling seems to be mutual, as Nancy doesn't even seem to know which wanker is which (she calls Sid "Johnny").

This all changes when Nancy sees Sid's band, The Sex Pistols, in concert for the very first time. Literally getting in-between Sid and Johnny while they were sleeping, Nancy lies next Sid, basically kicking Johnny to the curb (who leaves while muttering something about sex being ugly and boring).

The next day, Sid watches as some git throws a pint in Nancy's face at a pub. Outside the pub, Sid finds a distraught Nancy smashing her fists against a wall. Just after Nancy mumbles the immortal words, "Never trust a junkie," Sid asks her if she can score him any drugs. Giving her a wad of cash, Sid watches as Nancy hops on a bus. Call me a cynic, but I don't think Sid's going to see that bird again.

Oh, and it should be noted Nancy Spungen is now dressed like Nancy Spungen. Meaning, her sexy body is sheathed in fishnets and leather.

Even though London is a large city, Sid, along with his friend, Wally Hairstyle (Graham Fletcher-Cook), who is wearing a red leather jacket, stumble upon Nancy. Well, they stumble upon a couple of bags containing her belongings first. At any rate, as Wally helps put Nancy's clothes back in her bags (they have spilled all over the street), Sid yells at Nancy, "What about my drugs?!?"

I don't know what was going on in England at the time, but judging by the behaviour of Sid and Johnny in the opening scene (they're seen kicking in the windshield of a Rolls-Royce), there was definitely something in the air that was making them act this way. Another example of this unruly behaviour occurs when Sid and Nancy are walking to Wally's gaff to shoot up, when we see a bunch of kids coming from school. Smashing car hoods with their field hockey sticks as they went, these kids are clearly deranged. Or maybe they were just a reflection of society?

If you look closely, you'll notice a Tori billboard that reads "Labour Isn't Working." You have to admit, that's almost interesting. And I hate say it, but "Labour Isn't Working" is one of the best political slogans of all-time.

Enough about British politics. I was going to inquire as to why Johnny and the other members of The Sex Pistols not named Sid Vicious were wearing angora sweaters during a studio session. But then I remembered seeing a picture of Vivianne Westwood in an angora sweater from the period and it made perfect sense; she designed the bands clothes.

It's during the angora sweater replete studio session that we first hear the full-force of Nancy's strident American accent and it's also the one where Sid kisses Nancy's right foot.

The scene where The Sex Pistols play a concert on a boat on the Thames highlights where Sid's priorities are. Not even bothering to appear on stage, Sid spends most of the time either with Nancy or asking Malcolm (David Hayman), the band's crafty manager, for drug money.

Since it's apparently illegal to hold concerts on boats in the middle of the Thames, the police put a stop to the show. As the boat comes ashore, the police are waiting. The band, the band's management, and dozens of punks scatter, as the police show up wielding billy clubs.

Walking arm in arm in a calm manner, Sid and Nancy leave the area unmolested. The scene is hauntingly beautiful, as chaos reigns all around the oblivious couple... and the music of Pray For Rain plays on the soundtrack.

My favourite line occurs soon afterward when Nancy says, "I'll never look like Barbie. Barbie doesn't have bruises."

The biggest test for Sid and Nancy's relationship is when Nancy is told she can't travel with The Sex Pistols for their doomed American tour.

However, it's during the tour, as you all know, that Sid calls Nancy and declares his love for her. The fact Nancy is dressed in black opera gloves, fishnet stockings and thigh-high boots when she receives this call makes the scene all the more sweeter.

After a brief trip to Paris, the action moves to New York City, where Sid and Nancy set up shop at the Chelsea Hotel. In one the film's funniest bits, Sid is unaware that he's in New York City; despite the fact they have been there for a week. He confirms his location by looking out the window.

Even though the film looks great from start to finish, the New York chapter has a certain quality about it. Photographed by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, the New York scenes have a grittiness about them that is strangely dream-like.

The film's most famous scene, the alleyway garbage rain kiss, captures this dream-like aura best. And like the "off the boat" scene, the alleyway garbage rain kiss features the amazing music of Pray For Rain.

While it's obvious to most people that Sid and Nancy have a drug problem. Some might need convincing (I know, who are these people? But still, please bear with me). Well, what better way to do so than have Xander Berkley play Sid and Nancy's drug dealer. I mean, you know you have hit rock bottom when Xander Berkeley shows up in your life. A "Methadone Caseworker" played by Sy Richardson tries to steer Sid and Nancy in the right direction, but it's way too late, these two are doomed.

In typical Gary Oldman fashion, I would some times forget that he was in this. In other words, there were moments when I thought Sid Vicious was playing himself. But as anyone who has seen the film or knows anything about punk rock history will tell you, that would be physically impossible.

Unafraid to appear skanky or uncouth, and definitely unafraid to come across as loud and obnoxious, Chloe Webb continues the tradition of American actresses giving fearless performances for British film directors. The others being, off the top of my head: Theresa Russell in Track 29 (Nicholas Roeg), Cathy Moriarty in White of the Eye (Donald Cammell) and Kathleen Turner in Crimes of Passion (Ken Russell). So, yeah, Sid and Nancy is pretty much the most romantic movie ever.