Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mahakaal (Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay, 1993)

What starts off as a gripping horror movie, Mahakaal ("The Monster") slowly morphs into a sweeping romantic spectacle filled bright colours and... Oh, wait. Now it's morphing into a lavish musical complete with jeeps, fake movie rain and beach balls as far as the eye can see. Hold on, it's not a lavish musical. At least not right now it isn't. You won't believe this, but the film, directed by Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay, has yet again morphed into something completely different. It has now morphed into a martial arts movie and... Just a second, never mind that, it's now a college-set comedy. Is this how most Indian films play out? Or does this just to apply to the films of Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay? I know a lot of them are required by law to feature lavish musical numbers, no matter what the genre is. But this is ridiculous. And I mean that in a good way. Like any normal/relatively sane person, I was preparing to bestow copious amounts of perv-adjacent praise on the ultra-gorgeous Archana Puran Singh and her mouth-watering thighs. But for some kooky ass reason, Mahakaal decided to throw a ton of curve balls at me. So many in fact, that it almost hampered my ability to appreciate Archana Puran Singh's thighs. The key word there being "almost." Seriously, as anyone who has seen Archana Puran Singh in action will tell you, it's nearly impossible to hamper one's appreciation her shapely, out of this world organic structure. You're going to have to do more than make a horror/musical/martial arts/comedy/romance to cause me overlook the mind-altering beauty that is Archana Puran Singh in Mahakaal.

I think the reason Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay tackle so many genres and tend to focus on Archana Puran Singh's legs has a lot to do with the fact that they're working in India. Given that they have a billion people to entertain, they have more people to please. And by mashing so many genres together, Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay eliminate the possibility that they might alienate a segment of the audience.

As for Archana Puran Singh's legs. Even though it's the nation that gave us the Kama Sutra, I'm going go ahead assume that India, like, The United States of America and Canada, is a tad on the conservative side when it comes to depicting images of the female anatomy (a single bare nipple can cause riots in some parts of the U.S. and Canada). However, for some strange reason, this has never applied to legs.

In Hollywood, depictions of women's legs have been widespread going back to the silent era. What I'm getting is, no matter what year it is, women's legs have been front and center throughout the medium's history.

Well, the same logic seems to apply to Bollywood. Of course, I haven't seen as many Bollywood movies as I have Hollywood movies. Either way, judging by the way Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay shoot Archana Puran Singh's legs in this movie, whether they're jutting delectably from myriad chic jean skirts or creamily dangling from a seemingly unending concourse of skimpy nightshirts, you can tell that Indian society has deemed lady leggage to be not only on the level, but totally tenable.

Unfortunately, the film ends up running well over two hours. Don't worry, I'm not blaming Archana Puran Singh's legs for the film's bloated running time. You see, in order to please everyone, every genre Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay decide to tackle needs to be tackled multiple times. Meaning, we have to endure three musical numbers, two kung-fu brawls, two or three dating scenes, and, of course, the asinine antics of Johnny Lever, who plays Canteen, a Michael Jackson super-fan/Puma sweat suit-wearing/gay hetero-curious ass-clown.

In fact, the movie is so overstuffed with content, that I would occasionally forget that Mahakaal is essentially a horror movie about a deformed, knife-glove-wielding killer who stalks college students in their dreams.

Actually, the film has three kung-fu brawls. I completely forgot that Canteen battles rapists, as his alter ego, Shahenshah, in a crowded restaurant. I have since learned that the Shahenshah scene was lifted from another movie.

Anyway, when the film gets underway, it's pure horror. We're talking rattling chains, smoke and sinister music. Wandering through this nightmare-verse is Seema (Kunika), a woman who appears to be dreaming. Stalked by a demon wielding a knife-finger glove, Seema wakes up just as she is sliced on the arm. But wait, when Seema wakes up, the wound on her arm is still there. Oh, shit!

Meanwhile, Seema's pal, Anita (Archana Puran Singh), is putting a picture on the wall in a jean skirt. You heard right, I said a jean skirt! Anita's boyfriend, Prakash (Karan Shah), seems to be on the exact same page as me when it comes to Anita and jean skirts. Unable to control himself, Prakash grabs Anita, and starts carrying her around the room in a frenzied manner.

I like when Prakash greets Anita's parents, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Reema Lagoo,  he says, " Namaste." He might be a tad on the grabby side when it comes to chicks in jean skirts, but Prakash knows how to greet people in a respectful manner.

We're quickly ushered to the college campus, where we find Anita, Prakash, Seema and her boyfriend, Param (Mayur Verma), chilling in the cafeteria. It's here we're introduced to Johnny Lever's Canteen, and given our first dance number. Well, it's not really a dance number, but Canteen does show us some of his moves. As Canteen entertaining the students, in walks Randhir, a.k.a. "Boss" (Dinesh Kaushik), the biggest douche on campus. Other than Canteen planting a big sloppy kiss on Randhir's mouth (much to his chagrin), nothing much happens after this.

What am I saying? Nothing much happens? Um, Prakash and Anita declare their love for one another via a long musical number. How long is this musical number, you ask? I didn't time it, but the fact it goes from being daytime to nighttime during the song is a good indicator of the its length. Now, I'm not complaining, as we get to see Archana Puran Singh prance around in a black bikini, a short black shirt and a bright yellow shirt (with no pants, of course) for an ungodly amount of time, it's just that I get it... Prakash and Anita are fond of one another, let's move on.

Uh-oh, I don't think Prakash is going to like the way Randhir is eyeballing Anita's thighs during class. Busting him for not paying attention, the teacher scolds Randhir in front of the entire class. Which, I'll admit, is pretty embarrassing. However, I was too busy admiring Param's white Siouxie and the Banshees sweatshirt to notice what the teacher was saying. Yep, you heard right, I said a Siouxie and the Banshees sweatshirt. Not a t-shirt, a sweatshirt! A SWEATSHIRT!!!!!

Since it's been awhile since anything horror-related has occurred, we're taken inside one of Anita's dreams. At first, her nightmare involves visions of Mohini (Baby Swetha), her dead sister. But her dream slowly starts to resemble one that Seema had. Meaning, lot's of rattling chains, smoke and sinister music. And, of course, a demon wearing a knife glove.

After getting sliced on the arm, Anita wakes up screaming. And like Seema, the wound is all too real.

As Anita is poking at her arm wound while sitting on the lush campus lawn in a tight orange dress, Randhir and his thuggish friends force themselves on her. Not to worry, though, as Prakash and Param swoop in and a karate brawl ensues. The fight choreography may be sloppy, but I have to say, I'm impressed by the sheer amount of entertainment currently being tossed in my general direction.

All that punching and kicking has clearly stressed out Anita and her friends. In order to rectify this, it's suggested that they have a picnic. And since one doesn't simply go on a picnic in this film, a long musical dance number about said picnic gets underway. One that features Archana Puran Singh in splashing around in the water while wearing skimpy swimwear.

Forced to stay at a hotel because of car trouble, Anita and her friends are shocked when one of them is murdered in their room. Of course, no one thinks a knife-glove wielding demon is the one responsible. Personally, I think Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Anita's police chief father, knows more about this than he's leading on.

The film's strongest horror-centric scene transpires soon afterward, when Anita and the demon come face-to-face in an ice factory. Not only is the scene suspenseful and junk, it features some of Archana Puran Singh's best jean skirt work yet. Seriously, I could watch Archana Puran Singh be chased by demons while wearing a jean skirt for hours on end.

While the film's comedic and romantic elements slowly melt away as the film progresses, the singing, the dancing, the kung-fu fighting and the knife-glove slashing continue unabated. It's true, I was somewhat exhausted after witnessing the second brawl between Prakash and Randhir, but the possession subplot and the nightclub song and dance sequence (featuring the killer Linda Blair-esque thighs of Asha Patal) are top notch in terms of enjoyment.

Sure, you could call it bloated, overstuffed and nonsensical, but you can't say it's not fun. And that's not something I can say about most films. No foolin'. While the majority of films are dreary and a real chore to sit through, Mahakaal is the complete opposite, as it is chock-full of nutty goodness. Singing, dancing, Porky's-style humour, rape-revenge, possession, jean skirts, rattling chains, creepy atmosphere, multiple brawls, beach balls, hedge clippers, Linda Blair-esque thighs (Archana Puran Singh and Asha Patel should have a thigh-off... judged by Linda Blair, of course) and a Siouxie and the Banshees sweatshirt! This film has it all.

Oh, and since I watched Mahakaal before Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, I won't be able to review that film. Why? Well, Mahakaal and A Nightmare on Elm Street have eerily similar plots, and I don't feel like reviewing the same movie twice. Besides, Mahakaal is a hundreds times better. I mean, does Johnny Depp wear a Siouxie and the Banshees sweatshirt in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street? No, he doesn't. I rest my case.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Teenage Caveman (Larry Clark, 2002)

According to my browser history, in preparation for writing this review for Teenage Caveman, I searched for material related to the cast, the crew and industrial rock band Gravity Kills. Now, I can understand wanting to bone up on the cast and crew, but why Gravity Kills?!? It makes no sense. Oh, wait. I know why. When I saw Richard Hillman's flamboyant, drug-addled character saunter on-screen with a foppish dandy fop approved aplomb for the very first time, I thought to myself: The members of Gravity Kills called, they want their pants back. Yeah, I know, that's pretty hilarious. At any rate, I think the reason I was looking up Gravity Kills was to check to see if the members of the band did in fact wear the kind of pants Richard Hillman wears in this movie. Then it dawned on me. Who cares if Mr. Hillman's pants and the pants favoured by the members of Gravity Kills aren't similar, people will be laughing their heads off at what is a pretty arcane/awesome reference. I mean, who references Gravity Kills, especially in 2015? Exactly, no-one. Unfortunately, as the film progressed, I began to realize that this was turning out to be yet another Larry Clark wank-fest. In other words, I hope you like watching boyish teenage boys and boyish teenage girls solving problems while wearing bland underwear, 'cause that's what you're going to be getting for the next ninety or so minutes.

When I saw the close-up shots of the youthful cast's youthful body parts as they slept, I started to panic. I was like, if Larry Clark continues to make these kind of ill-advised and off-putting choices as a director, I'm going to have to write a review that alludes to the fact that I find Larry Clark's taste in just about everything to be repellent. And since I don't want to write a review like that, I had no choice but to abstain from writing one.

As I was putting the movie out of my mind, I... What's that? No, the movie didn't slowly start to grow me. What happened was, I remembered the bit about Richard Hillman's pants reminding me of Gravity Kills. What I think I'm trying to say is, I'm not going to let Larry Clark's nauseating aesthetic ruin what I think most people will agree is a pretty top-notch Gravity Kills reference.

I know, you're probably thinking to yourself: Why Gravity Kills? Why not, let's say, Stabbing Westward? Or Filter? Or 16 Volt? Or Hell, why not Engelbert Humperdinck? Trust me, Gravity Kills is the funnier reference. Well, Engelbert Humperdinck is the funnier reference. But as everyone knows, Engelbert Humperdinck doesn't go anywhere without a tuxedo. And I can pretty much guarantee that the members of Gravity Kills wouldn't be caught dead in tuxedos.

Anyway, since I've already made my much ballyhooed reference to Gravity Kills, where do we go from here?

I guess I'll do some customary plot recapping until I think of something that's close to being as a clever as my reference to Gravity Kills.

What's the plot of this movie entail again? Oh, yeah, I remember. Set some time in the not-so distant future, a group of teenage cave people, lead by David (Andrew Keegan), runaway from their anti-sex, patriarchal cave community and end up in what looks like the Big Brother Bulgaria house. Except, instead of being greeted by the Bulgarian equivalent of the Chenbot, they come face-to-face with Neil (Richard Hillman), a hedonistic drug addict/orgy enthusiast.

After racking my brain trying to figure out who Neil who reminded me, I ultimately decided that he was a cross between James Van Der Beek circa The Rules Attraction and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yeah, I like that.

When you think of great movie character introductions, names like, Blade in Blade, the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia and Pauly Shore in Son in Law immediately spring to mind. Well, you can add Richard Hillman's name to that list. So what if his character just so happens to appear in what I consider to be one of the most stylistically erroneous films ever made, Richard Hillman's genetically modified Neil knows how to make a grand entrance.

Though, to be fair, Neil's black military-style coat is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, grand entrance-wise. The way he manipulates his coattails during his intro (swooshing them to and fro with a dandified brand of indignation) was one of the key ingredients that went into making it the great entrance that it is. In fact, I was so enamored with his jacket, that I looked to see if it was for sale after the movie was over (add it to my wardrobe, perhaps?). Sadly, I couldn't find it. I did, however, come across the military-style jacket that Maggie Grace wears in The Fog remake.

That's weird, I thought I reviewed The Fog remake. I distinctly remember lavishing a shitload of praise on Maggie Grace's military-style jacket (the film is nowhere to be found in the HOSI archives). Nevertheless, while Teenage Caveman and The Fog remake might be giant turds as far as movies go, they both get high marks for their military-style jackets.

Anyway, when Neil is finished introducing himself, he introduces the cave people to Judith (Tiffany Limos), his genetically modified partner. After that, they bathe together, they have sex together, they play shirtless basketball together, they... Wait a minute. To call someone "shirtless," they have to be seen wearing a shirt for a period of time longer than five seconds, and, according to my watch, that doesn't happen in this film.

As I was saying... They do cocaine together, they explode together, they do everything together. Actually, that's not entirely true. They explode at different times. And thanks to the miracle that is bad CGI, these explosions are rendered mildly amusing.

Should I mention the rest of the cast, i.e. the other explodees/underage underwear models? Yeah, why bother. I've said way too much already. This movie is, um... kind of... Oh, I will mention Tara Subkoff, she plays one of the cave people. You might remember her, she played the chick in the leg brace in Freeway and was in that riot grrrl coming of age movie All Over Me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, 1975)

I've always said, if given the opportunity to choose the method of my own execution, I would want to be asphyxiated by Linda Blair's thighs circa Roller Boogie. Well, after seeing Grey Gardens, I think might have found even better way to go. I know, you're probably thinking to yourself: Better than being asphyxiated by Linda Blair's thighs circa Roller Boogie? That's pure poppycock. But you won't feel that way once you get a gander at the substantial gams attached to Little Edie, the sexiest socialite/ex-fashion model/cabaret performer/shut-in this side of the Long Island Expressway. Of course, only a small number of people will be able to back up my claim that Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale is the the sexiest socialite/ex-fashion model/cabaret performer/shut-in this side of I-495 because the film is not that well-known within the straight community. Oh, sure. A smattering of film buffs and Criterion Collection completists have seen it, but the documentary, directed by Albert and David Maysles (and edited by Ellen Hovde, Muffle Meyer and Susan Froemke - Ellen and Muffle also credited as directors), is what we in the cult movie racket like to call a "camp classic." Which is code for movies that gay men and drag queens like to watch over and over again. And the reason they like to watch it over and over again has nothing to do with the pleasing shape of Little Edie's middle-aged lady stems whilst ensnared in various shades of no-nonsense pantyhose. It's because Little Edie is a staunch character who plays by her own rules. And I'll tell you, there's nothing card-carrying Friends of Dorothy and their drag allies like more than a woman who is a S-T-A-U-N-C-H character.

However, since I'm beloved by all the aforementioned communities. I think it's safe to say that I'm the most qualified person to over-analyze this haunting documentary about two sane people living on the fringes of high society.

That's right, I said, sane. All right, I suppose Edith Bouvier Beale, Little Edie's elderly mother, could be viewed as a tad on the senile side. But after watching Little Edie do her thing for ninety minutes straight, I'm convinced she's a genius. Or, at the very least, one of the most interesting women who has ever lived.

After a brief forward that sheds some much needed light on the properties history, Little Edie, the first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, greets filmmakers, Albert Maysles and David Maysles, in "the garden" of their dilapidated 28-room mansion in East Hampton, New York. It's here that we get our first taste of Little Edie's unique personality when she explains (in awesome detail) the thought process that went into selecting her outfit/costume for the day.

Seemingly unaware that punk and disco were getting ready to explode over in New York City (the year is 1975), Little Edie still manages to chart her own fashion course. Pairing one-piece bathing suits with a wide array of head scarfs (towels and sweaters), Little Edie, despite her isolation, is a true original.

Actually, not knowing what's going on outside her demented play-world is probably what allowed Little Edie's unorthodox fashion sense to flourish.

Seriously, I've never seen anyone dress the way Little Edie does in this movie. She's a genuine fashion icon.

The brown army jacket-blue towel head scarf-gold broach look she wears during her staunch character monologue is so fashion forward, it hurts. I'm calling it: Steampunk fortune teller chic. If you poke around the extras on the Criterion DVD, you'll come across an interview with fashion designer Todd Oldham. And in that interview they show a couple of pieces that he designed that were clearly inspired by Little Edie's staunch character look.

You might have noticed earlier that I put the word garden in quotes earlier. Well, that's because Little Edie's nonchalant approach to gardening was not yet in vogue. Nowadays, Little Edie's jungle-like garden might get a few complaints here and there. But back in the mid-1970s, overly manicured lawns and bushes were all the rage. Meaning, Little Edie's natural garden becomes front page news for all the wrong reasons. To be fair to the 1970s garden fascists, the house itself is a bit of a mess. Okay, that's a huge understatement. The place is a dump. But look at Little Edie. Do you think someone who is this fabulous has time to dust? I don't think so.

Relieved that they're not being evicted (the health department threatened to kick them out if they didn't clean things up), Little Edie and her mother seem excited whenever the Maysles drop by to film them. Well, Little Edie seems excited. Her mother, on the other hand, just sits on her garbage-covered bed eating ice cream and cooking corn on the cob for The Marble Faun (Little Edie's nickname for the enigmatic Jerry the handyman).

Spending the last twenty or so years living with her mother in this house has obviously had a negative effect on Little Edie. Unhappy with the direction her life has gone, Little Edie seems filled with regret. But that doesn't dampen her spirit. And you can see that spirit on full display when she shows the Maysles her "best costume for the day" and when she openly longs to one day snag herself a reasonable Libra husband. She might be a 56 year-old woman living in a squalid hellhole surrounded by a sea of leaves, but her enthusiasm for life is infectious.

What isn't so infectious is the codependent nature of Little Edie's relationship with her mother. Which is on full display when Little Edie needs Mrs. Beale to sign the cheque in order to pay the gardener. And, yes, believe or not, the Beales have a gardener. Anyway, Mrs. Beale needs Little Edie to hire the gardener, but Little Edie needs Mrs. Beale to pay him.

While almost every nook and cranny of "Grey Gardens" is explored by the filmmakers, the bulk of the action takes place inside Mrs. Beale's yellow-walled vomit stain of a bedroom. Looking at old photo albums, singing songs and listening to Norman Vincent Peale sermons on the radio, the Beales bicker constantly as about a half a dozen cats sit and watch with cat-like indifference.

The aforementioned Jerry the handyman (who likes to drop by every now and then) and Little Edie's frustration over her path in life are the main points of contention. The latter because Little Edie feels threatened by Jerry (she thinks he's trying to come between her and her mother) and the former... Well, who isn't frustrated even a little by the way their lives have turned out? Except, Little Edie blames her mother for sabotaging her relationship with Eugene Tyszkiewicz, a man twenty years her junior (the fact Little Edie pronounces "Tish-Kyeh-Vich" correctly multiple times is sexy as hell).

Yet, despite all the animosity and resentment between them, the unhinged back and forth that Little Edie and Mrs. Beale repeatedly engage in is strangely compelling. I'd even go as far as to call it addictive. And the film only seems to get better upon repeat viewings. Which, as most people know, is an absolute  must if you want your movie to become a genuine cult classic. Which Grey Gardens is. You can see recent evidence of this status on IFC's Documentary Now (Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Fred Armisen play the Beales) and on Rupaul's Drag Race, where season five winner Jinkx Monsoon plays Little Edie in a parody of Match Game called "Snatch Game." Oh, and I just found out a Grey Gardens musical is currently being produced.