Thursday, May 21, 2015

L'Amour Braque (Andrzej Żuławski, 1985)

There's a scene that occurs midway through Andrzej Żuławski's L'Amour Braque that is the key to judging whether or not this film is a success. Personally, I thought the scene where Sophie Marceau rips the crotch of her tan pantyhose to help the trajectory of Tchéky Karyo's erect, vagina-bound penis was all I needed to deem this film a success. However, in order for this come off a real movie review, I need to allude something that is not perversion-based. And since it's tradition for me to type words that pertain to the insanity of the characters whenever I write about the films of Andrzej Żuławski (this is my fourth), I think opening with a bit about madness is only fitting. Anyway, as I was saying, when Francis Huster falls to the ground shouting incoherent nonsense at the top of his lungs at around the midway point, I... Wait, I think every scene in this movie either begins or ends with Francis Huster falling to the ground shouting incoherent nonsense at the top of his lungs. Be that as it may, the fact that none of the people who were walking by as Francis Huster engaged in a full-body conniption fit took notice of him put my mind at ease. The reason it did so is quite simple, everyone who appears in an Andrzej Żuławski film must be on the same wavelength as the director. The second someone comes off as shocked or appalled by what is transpiring in front of them, is the moment I get taken out of the movie.

Thankfully, everyone is completely on board. Meaning, good luck finding a voice of reason in this two-toed clusterfuck of a romantic comedy. Yep, you heard me, romantic comedy.

I know this goes against everything I just said, but I would have loved to have seen a character ask a simple question. You know, something like: Do you know what time it is? Imagine how Tchéky Karyo or Francis Huster would have reacted to a question like that? I can just picture Tchéky holding this person down (while screaming incoherent nonsense at the top of his lungs) as Francis proceeded to eat escargot from their quivering butt-hole.

(It can't be that absurd, can it?) Oh, trust me, it can. No one acts like a normal human being in this movie. Of course, I don't mean to imply that using the outer layer of someone's anus as an escargot bowl is abnormal. But you got to admit, it's highly irregular, especially when you factor in the sheer amount of non-rectal tableware that was available in France during the 1980s (they don't call it the dish and plate decade for nothing).

If I was at screening of this film and Andrzej Żuławski was on hand to do a Q and A afterward, I wouldn't ask a goddamn thing. Actually, that's not entirely true. If I was able to communicate via telepathy (using your mouth to express ideas is for saps), I think I would ask him if Brian de Palma's Scarface was an inspiration. I know, it clearly states that Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot was the inspiration for this film. It's just that some of the action scenes had a Scarface feel to them.

Yeah, that's right, I said, action scenes. So, let's recap: It would seem that Andrzej Żuławski has directed an absurdist romantic comedy/action movie that was inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot.

At any rate, like I was saying, there's plenty of action in this film. We're talking car chases, we're talking shoot outs, we're talking bank robberies.

Opening with a bank robbery involving four jumpsuit-wearing thieves in Disney masks, L'Amour Braque establishes right away that this is going to be a film that plays by its own rules. Oh, sure, it looks like a bank is being robbed (a common occurrence in action/crime cinema), but the way it's executed is unlike any bank robbery I've ever seen.

Hopping aboard a train, the gang, lead by Micky (Tchéky Karyo), seem to be making a clean getaway, when all of a sudden, the police arrive. Luckily, Tchéky and the gang are able to thwart the authorities with the help of Léon (Francis Huster), a dim Hungarian émigré.

Seeing him as a sort of good luck charm, Micky takes Léon under his wing and proceeds to show him how Parisian criminals unwind. Part of the unwinding process involves introducing him to Mary (Sophie Marceau), his gorgeous Parisian girlfriend. I don't think I have to tell you what happens next.

Actually, even if I did have to tell to you, I don't think I would want to. First of all, while the story is pretty straight-forward gangster stuff, as with the bank heist scene, the way it plays out is nothing but... straight-forward. Careening from one scene to another in a nonsensical fashion, the film will severely test the patience of those who are accustomed to hearing dialogue that makes a modicum of sense.

Now, unlike the characters in Andrzej Żuławski's Possession and Szamanka, these people are not mentally-ill. They simply express themselves in a manner that is somewhat unorthodox. (Somewhat?) Okay, they do so in a manner that is extremely unorthodox. So much so, I don't think I understood a single thing any of the characters said in this movie. Granted, I was familiar with the words they were saying. It's just that the manner they were arranged was so baffling.

Let's just say, people who pretend to be smart for a living will eat this shit up. As for the rest of us–you know, those who are painfully aware of their own brain deficiencies–we will have to find alternative ways to navigate this film's pompous ass-enabling mind-field. And the best way I discovered to do so is to relish in the film's visual bouquet.

My favourite example of this "visual bouquet" occurs when we see a group of Dick Tracy-esque hoods strutting down the middle of a neon lit street near the famous Folies Bergère. Looking like a scene lifted straight from the pages of a sleazy comic book, the cartoonish energy of this scene flies in the face of the film's art-house temperament. Hold up, forget about flying in the face of, the two styles actually complement one another.

If cartoon violence and neon lighting isn't your thing, you could simply sit back and bask in the beauty that is Sophie Marceau. If you're not into brunettes, you could always bask in Christiane Jean, who plays... to be honest, I have no idea who she plays. Either way, Jess Franco fans will recognize her from Faceless. In conclusion, out of the handful of Andrzej Żuławski film I've seen so far, I would have to say L'Amour Braque is the most challenging.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Doom Asylum (Richard Friedman, 1987)

In a movie that boasts an all-girl goth-industrial band (with a drummer named "Rapunzel") and an utterly clueless Patty Mullen running around an abandoned hospital in a red bikini, you would think that one would be hard-pressed to come up with anything that could possibly top these two things. Well, I have two words for you my friend: Hips and baby-makers. Specifically, the hips and baby-maker attached to Kristin Davis (Couples Retreat). That's right, in Doom Asylum, the high concept, artfully crafted horror extravaganza about, um, I'll get to that in a minute (the plot is too complex to describe in a single sentence). As I was saying, Kirstin Davis' hips and baby-maker manage to steal the spotlight away from gothy industrial chicks and Frankenhooker! And, no, I'm not referring to one of the lovely ladies who played one of the many prostitutes who appear in Frank Henenlotter's Frankenhooker, I'm talking about the actual Frankenhooker! Wanna date? (Didn't you find it somewhat ironic that Kirstin Davis spells her first name the same way Kristin Hersh from the Throwing Muses does?) Uh, no. (Think about it. Kristin Davis is best known for starring in a movie that glorifies the shapely splendour that are her curve-tastic hips and the glide-worthy fuckitude of her slithery baby-maker and Kristin Hersh is best known for her album, 'Hips and Makers.') You're insane.

On that note, let's get back to a more pressing issue. (The blue one-piece bathing suit that presses oh-so tightly against Kristin Davis' mouth-watering crotch for the bulk of this movie?) Exactly.

Clearly aware of the power that her mighty undercarriage possesses, Kristen saw that Doom Asylum was severely lacking in one key area, the hips and baby-maker department, and stepped in to fill the void by–you guessed it–presenting her hips and baby-maker in a manner that was both aesthetically pleasing and... yeah, well... I gotta go shovel the snow... be back in a second.

Where was I? Let me see. Ah, yes, Kristin Davis' squishy petunia. It's true, I never watched Sex and the City on a regular basis, but I guarantee Kristin's groin wasn't on display as much as it is in this movie. I think the point I'm trying to make is this: I'm just nuts about the area between Kristin Davis' legs.

Despite there being a legend about a crazed palimony attorney turned coroner who murders trespassers with autopsy equipment, four teens decide to drive through the wilds of New Jersey to have a picnic on the grounds of an abandoned hospital.

(How does a palimony attorney become a coroner?) Excellent question, Billy. You see, ten years ago, a successful palimony attorney named Mitch Hansen (Micheal Rogen) was driving with Judy LaRue (Patty Mullen), his lover/client, when all of a sudden, he loses control of the car and crashes into... something (a tree, perhaps?). Unfortunately, budget constraints prevent us from seeing the accident in graphic detail. However, no expense is spared when it came to depicting the grisly aftermath (we see Judy's severed hand lying in the grass).

While Judy dies at the scene, a not quite dead Mitch is taken to the morgue of a nearby hospital. (Wait, if he's not quite dead, why did they take him to the morgue?) I have no idea. Either way, a naked and badly deformed Mitch wakes up on a slab and proceeds to murder the two medical examiners who were about to perform his autopsy. No doubt grabbing one of the dead coroner's lab coats, Mitch is doomed to wander the halls of this hospital for an eternity.

And by "an eternity," I'd say about ten years. And by "wander," I mean watch old movies in the basement near a shrine to his beloved Judy (her severed hand is surrounded by candles... aww, how sweet).

We flash-forward ten years to find a Judy's teenage daughter, Kiki LaRue (Patty Mullen), Mike (William Hay), her indecisive boyfriend, Dennis (Kenny Price), an avid baseball card collector, Darnell (Harrison White), "the black guy," and Jane (Kristin Davis), a smart brunette who wears glasses, driving along the very same road Mitch and Judy did ten years ago.

(Don't you mean a smart brunette who wears glasses and has a mouth-watering crotch that doesn't know the meaning of the word quit?) Actually, no. We haven't seen Kristin's crotch yet, so I cannot classify it as the type of crotch that is unaware of its quit-like status with any confidence. Sorry.

Entering the grounds of the abandoned hospital, Kiki and her friends can't help but hear a loud racket emanating from inside the hospital.

It turns out that the racket is actually the music of Tina and the Tots, New Jersey's only, at least to my knowledge, all-girl industrial goth band, who use the abandoned hospital as a rehearsal space. Oh, and when I say "industrial," I'm not talking about wimpy VNV Nation-style synthpop, we're talking Throbbing Gristle and early SPK up in this hornet's nest. We're talking Industrial with a capital 'I.' We're talking, well, you get the idea.

Since they don't want to spend the day listening their "music" (which, in all honesty, sounds like Cranioclast meets Smersh), Darnell sneaks inside and unplugs their sound system. This, as you might expect, irks Tina (Ruth Collins), the band's leader, who vows to get back at these non-Goth troublemakers.

In the meantime, all Tina can do is laugh. When I first heard Ruth Collins' comically evil laugh, I thought to myself: Wow, now that's a comically evil laugh. After laughing like this a third time, I decided to keep track of how many times she laughs in this fashion. And, boy, was that a mistake. While I might have missed a few sinister chuckles long the way, I would say that Tina laughs a total of sixteen times over the course of the movie. Which might not sound like a lot, but trust me, it is, especially when you consider the fact the film is barely eighty minutes long and is stuffed with filler (entire scenes from the old movies Mitch watches in the hospital basement are shown periodically).

You could also call the two fantasy scenes where Darnell and the Tot's drummer, Rapunzel (Farin), fantasize about running towards one another in slow motion as filler. But I wouldn't do that. Any scene that features Rapunzel doing anything can't be declared as filler. You want to know why? It's simple, really. Look at Rapunzel's feet. See what she's wearing? Well, now you know. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love pointy buckle boots. And while I've seen this particular style of boot worn in a number of different movies over the years, the type Rapunzel wears in Doom Asylum are pretty much perfect. 10/10 on the Goth-o-meter.

Sadly, the same can't be said for Godiva (Dawn Alvan), the Tot's keyboard player. Don't get me wrong, her self-righteous pontificating does have its moments. But it's nothing compared to Tina's exaggerated laugh or Rapunzel's chic footwear. In light of this, I'm afraid can only give Godiva 4/10 on the Goth-o-meter. :(

However, as I overly implied earlier, I'm all about Kristin Davis' hips and baby-maker. I like how the film makes a big deal about the scene where Patty Mullen first appears in her red bikini, yet my eyes were transfixed by Miss Davis, who was lounging in the background in her blue one-piece bathing suit.

To the surprise of no-one, the characters are eventually killed off one by one by Mitch. Roll the end credits. Hold up, there's got to be more to it than that. Uh, let me see. Tasty crotches, pointy buckle boots, industrial music, sixteen exaggerated guffaws, gory kills, exhaustively long clips from old movies and... No, that's pretty much it. That being said, if you're at all interested in the things I just mentioned (especially tasty crotches and pointy buckle boots), you should do yourself a favour and watch Doom Asylum.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hardcore (Paul Schrader, 1979)

The only explanation I can come up with to explain why the glass partition in the nudie booth where George C. Scott hooks up with/enlists the help of Season Hubley is so thoroughly jizz-laden, is that the spunk cleaners must have been having some kind of labour dispute. I mean, how else can you explain why the glass, and, I suppose, the floor (some guys are dribblers), was covered with, to quote N.P.H., "love stains"? Unless what we saw was the result of only ten minutes of self-abuse. Think about it, it's 1979, and people loved to ejaculate sperm in places other than their home. Nowadays, no one does anything away from home. They jerk off, they watch movies, they jerk off to movies, they play video games, they read books (or book-like facsimiles) and they consume massive amounts of carbohydrates all within the confines of their own home. In Paul Schrader's Hardcore, however, if your teenage daughter runs off to do porn in L.A., you going to have to physically get on an  airplane (i.e. leave your home) and pretend to be a shady, toupee-wearing smut peddler if you ever want to see her again. Imagine someone doing that today. Actually, if this film was made today, I bet the parents would be the one's driving their kids to audition* for, oh, let's say, "Anal Face-Fuck Fuck-Face Fuckers Vol. 17" -- thanks to E! and MTV, depravity and indifference are in vogue.

And the reason has nothing to do with bad parenting skills on the behalf of the parents. It's because porn is viewed differently today. At the present time, thanks to the internet, porn is everywhere. But back in the 1970s, porno was still seen as taboo. Oh, sure, the climate that created porno chic was a real thing. That being said, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, specifically, its Dutch Calvinist community, porn is the personification of pure evil.

I don't know if this was done on purpose, but the first twenty minutes look like something straight out of one of Lawrence Welk's wet dreams. Meaning, it's extremely square and lame as fuck. Seriously, Christmas caroling, turkey craving, tobogganing... white people in sweaters?!? What is this shit?

Call me callous and somewhat deranged, but I let out a mild cheer when Jake VanDorn (George C. Scott) learns that his daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) has gone missing. It's not that I want anything bad to happen to her, it's just that I want this small town nightmare to end; it's like watching a greeting card come to life.

Anyway, over in California to attend some kind of church camp, Kristen apparently took off while at Knott's Berry Farm. And like any good father, Jake flies over to L.A. to talk with the police. Since the cops are swamped with cases involving missing teens, Jake decides to hire Andy Mast (Peter Boyle), a sleazy private detective.

I'd like to say, before I continue, that I couldn't help but notice how pervasive Star Wars was in this film. Now, of course, I'm acutely aware how insanely popular the movie was back in the late 1970s, but I had no idea it was this popular. There are at least three separate instances in Hardcore where the film is referenced. The first comes when Jake pokes around his daughter's bedroom looking for clues that might shed some light on her disappearance and we see a Star Wars calendar on her wall. The second occurs when a Star Wars billboard is briefly visible on the side of a building near Jake's hotel. And the third, and my personal favourite, takes place when Jake enters a sex club and we see two strippers mock fighting on stage with light sabers.

What I think I'm trying to say is this: It baffles the mind to think that something that was originally conceived to amuse ten year-olds in 1977 is still being talked about. In fact, J.J. Abrams–yeah, that's right, the guy who did the score for Night Beast–is apparently making a new Star Wars movie. Weird, wild stuff.

Okay, let's get back to George C. Scott's journey into the scummy yet strangely beautiful world of porn, shall we?

Realizing that neither the police nor Peter Boyle are fully committed to finding his daughter, Jake strikes out on his own. This strike out, by the way, is signified by a deep, synthy-sounding synth flourish followed by the sound of a screeching guitar; the film's score is composed by Jack Nitzsche, Cruising (another film with great synthy-sounding synth flourishes).

Of course, who is the first person George C. Scott runs into during his initial foray into the porn world? Why, it's Repo Man's Tracey Walter! Just as Jake is about to start browsing the shelves of an adult bookstore, the clerk (the aforementioned Tracey Walter) informs him that there's a fifty cent browsing fee. Can you believe that? A browsing fee.

The next stop on his foray are a couple of pseudo massage parlors that offer "body-to-body contact." As you might expect, Jake gets nowhere at these places, and leaves with nothing but a bruised face (his failure is punctuated by being thrown face-first into a parked car by a bouncer after getting rowdy).

Deciding to employ a different tactic (and a different wardrobe), Jake pretends to be a businessman from Detroit who is interested in becoming a porn producer. After getting his foot in the door, Jake eventually meets Nikki (Season Hubley), an adult film actress, who agrees to help him, for a sizable fee, naturally.

Even though Season Hubley's Nikki walks the same streets as Princess, her character from Vice Squad, I think her performances are vastly different. And that difference has a lot to do with George C. Scott, who brings out the best in Season. Not to imply that she isn't good in Vice Squad. It's just that Wings Hauser is no George C. Scott. Look at George's body language when he enters the adult bookstore run by Tracey Walter and compare it with the body language he displays when he enters another adult bookstore later on in the film. He was able to convey a change in his character simply by the way he walks. Now that's fine acting.

While the film ultimately has more to do with snuff films (pure fantasy), Hardcore is a pretty authentic look at the porn world pre-videotape. Well, everything except the scene where the show a porn being shot outside at night. Edit: Having recently seen Alex de Renzy's Pretty Peaches, I can confirm that some porn films did in fact shoot outside at night. Nonetheless, I'm sure it's still kinda rare.

* Audition? How cute. Your teenage daughter is making a D.I.Y. version of "Anal Face-Fuck Fuck-Face Fuckers Vol. 17" in her bedroom as we speak. Go check. I'll wait... Pretty rad, eh?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Less Than Zero (Marek Kanievska, 1987)

You could view this film as a highly polished expose on the negative effects drugs had on the W.A.S.P. population during the height of the "Just Say No" era. You could also view it, if you had some serious time to kill, as an eerily accurate foretelling of the emergence of rap metal. However, as someone who has seen Less Than Zero (a.k.a. Unter Null) more times than they care to admit, the proper way to view it is to look at it as the only film to capture the majestic splendour that is Jami Gertz in black stockings in a satisfactory manner. Oh, and I know what you're thinking: "Hey, Yum-Yum. How do you know Jami Gertz was wearing stockings? For all you know, they could have been pantyhose... super-tight, vagina-constricting pantyhose." Trust me, I know. No, I don't have the ability to see through women's clothing (at least not yet I don't). But thanks to the fully-clothed hallway sex scene that takes place near the end of the movie, I was able to ascertain the exact type of hosiery that was affixed to Jami Gertz' slender gams. So there.

(Did you say, "fully-clothed" sex scene? If so, how does that work?) Well, you see... Wait, I'm not going to explain to you how fully-clothed sex "works." But I will say this, if you don't have sex while at least wearing one article of clothing, you're no different than a mentally-challenged emu or some insipid billy-goat trolling the fields for ovulating sheep pussy.

While it brings me great pleasure to go on and on about Jami Gertz, who, seriously, looks amazing in this film, the thought of James Spader stalking L.A.'s hottest night-spots circa 1987 is never far from the back of my mind. I mean, how could it not be? Sure, he's a drug dealing scumbag named "Rip," but he's so darn pretty.

Sporting a brown trench-coat and slicked back hair, James' Rip is the personification yuppism gone awry; not to imply that yuppism was ever symmetrical, but yuppies usually commit white collar crime, they don't sell crack to leggy debutantes and shiftless trust fund layabouts.

Anyway, while Jami Gertz and James Spader provide the eye candy, Robert Downey, Jr. provides the acting chops. His performance as Julian, a drug addicted rich kid, is... What's that? What does Andrew McCarthy provide? Um, I'm not quite sure. I've seen the film, like I said earlier, a shitload of times, but I've never really given him much thought.

As I was saying, Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance in this film is definitely a career highlight. (I thought you said Hugo Pool was his career highlight.) You're joking, right? If anything, Robert's drugged out demeanour in Hugo Pool is eerily similar to the one he displays in Less Than Zero. The only difference being, I don't think he's acting in Hugo Pool.

Filled with hope and junk,  three friends, Clay (Andrew McCarthy), Blair (Jami Gertz) and Julian (Robert Downey, Jr.), graduate high school in Los Angeles in the spring of 1987. While Clay goes to college on the east coast, Blair and Julian stay in L.A. to do cocaine. The end.

While you're probably thinking to yourself: It can't be that simple. Well, actually, it can. You see, 1987 was a simpler time. You went to school, you did cocaine and that was it.

We do learn, thanks to some stylish black and white flashback scenes (accompanied by the warm synths of composer Thomas Newman, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael), that things got somewhat complicated for the three friends over the course of the following summer, when Clay learns that Blair and Julian became fuck buddies his back (Clay and Blair were a couple - and, for what I could gather, pretty hot and heavy).

Even though Clay plans on coming home for Christmas (to spend the holidays with his cartoonish-ly waspy family), he is still somewhat shocked when Blair calls up him out of the blue. Thinking that she wants to apologize for her fling with Julian, Clay seems eager to see her (this eagerness is accentuated by the use of The Bangles' cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter," which famously blasts on the soundtrack as he arrives in L.A.).

Oh, and before you point out the unlikelihood that Clay would be a Hüsker Dü fan (his L.A. bedroom has a "Land Speed Record" poster on the wall). Remember, kids, Ferris Büller had a Micro-Phonies-era Cabaret Voltaire poster on his wall. And does anyone actually think Ferris listens to Cabaret Voltaire? 'Nuff said (someone on IMDb pointed this out, and, in doing so, saved me from going on a mini-diatribe).

As for Tia Russell, Jean Louisa Kelly's character from Uncle Buck... now she's a Cabaret Voltaire fan.

Sticking with the music theme. As anyone who has seen Less Than Zero knows, music plays an important role in shaping the hedonistic, party-obsessed universe depicted in this film. Curated by producer Rick Rubin, the music heard during the film's many club scenes was, for the most part, not to my liking. For one thing, I don't think Kiss (covered by Poison), Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith and The Doors do a very good job of representing the period. I mean, couldn't they have at least used "Everything Counts" by Depeche Mode? I know, it's a little too on the nose, but still... it's synthy.

On the other hand, I loved the use of Manu Dibango's "Abele Dance." The funky Afro-jazz funk barn-burner also has the distinction of playing when my favourite extra appears onscreen. Holding a portable hand-held television near his face, the way this guy bops back and forth to the track's catchy horn hook never fails to fill me with joy. Wait, joy?!? Yeah, fuck it. Joy!

Getting back to the story for a second. When his disappointment over the fact that Blair called him not to get back together finally subsides, Clay soon discovers that almost everyone is abusing drugs. Including Blair and Julian. But more so in the case of the latter, who owes James Spader's scumbag drug dealer character 50,000(!) dollars.

In a weird twist, IMDb comes through yet again. You know that white shirt Robert Downey Jr. wears throughout most of the movie? Yeah, the one with the giant red splotch on it. Well, I always thought the graphic was a gun shot wound. It turns out it's not a gun shot wound, but a poinsettia; which is fitting since this is technically a Christmas movie.

While it's no Christiane F. in terms of realism, nor in terms of exuding late 1970s West Berlin/Bowie cool, the film does have its moments. And even though most of these "moments" are visual, thanks to cinematographer Ed Lachman and production designer Barbara Ling, I happen to think Less Than Zero is, after all these years, still on the cusp of being watchable.