Labor Day Weekend & The Getting Back of Grooves

I know I’m not the only person who thought August sucked. Reports have poured in from all over the globe that yes, the August of 2013 was particularly brutal in all sorts of ways. Yours truly was seeking to get his mojo back, and not having a whole bunch of success. Let’s see how that shakes out:

The small matter of diabetes. Generally this was pretty favorable, as I settle into my new official lifestyle. The last week I was working on a solid seven days of healthy sugar levels when bam! my levels Saturday night shot up to 207. The cause? Apparently the stress of performing in my weekly show – that was the only change in my daily routine. For someone who has been acting most of his adult life, this is a daunting development. Frustrated, I had a cheeseburger after the show. The next morning, my fasting sugars were normal.

Wacky. I prefer to take this as a lesson in the magic of cheeseburgers, nature’s perfect food.

One thing I did manage when I wasn’t ruminating on the heat attempting to kill me and everything around me, was to develop a plan for re-organizing my home office. Yes, because I don’t have enough things to occupy my Copious Free Time. This is actually connected to one of the other problems of August, the Not-Watching of Movies.

Oh, I still did, as these infrequent ramblings prove. Just not to the excess or with the zeal of previous months. That most notorious of self-imposed regimens, The List, may not be completed this year. Things change. I change.

"I hate you, Netflix! HATE YOU!!!"

“I hate you, Tom Cruise! HATE YOU!!!”

I’ve done two movie-watching challenges this year, and those have done a number on me. I don’t necessarily regret either, but the cost extracted is problematic. I enjoy watching movies, and injecting a definite discipline into that watching kills some of the joy. Probably one of the reasons I never pursued a career as an actual film critic: I want that joy to stay. I’ve seen too many give in to a gradual souring until all they can do is point out negatives; I respect people who continue their love affair with the movies on a regular basis, and keep their writing fresh and accessible.

So. Just because I haven’t been watching movies on a regular basis doesn’t mean I stopped acquiring them, either. I now have quite a few movies I am genuinely excited about watching.

Which is why I want to re-organize my office.

My office pretty much arranged itself organically. When we moved into this house twelve years ago, most of the bookshelves found their way into my office, and they got filled. Then filled again. Then the overstock started hitting the floor. Then I added a reading chair. My computer desk has not moved from its corner, where I can look out the window and, if necessary, see who may be approaching the house – the paranoia of my youth has not completely vanished. There is an increasingly narrow path from the door to my desk.

booksSo current plans involve clearing out the piles of electronics and cabling and power sources that have landed in this room over the years. Clearing out the table that holds a TV/DVD player that hasn’t worked in ten years. My laserdisc player, which surprisingly, still does. Cataloging and boxing up stacks of books and either clearing a space in an equally chaotic garage to store them, or actually investing in a storage room (not ideal). Unpacking the boxes of DVDs that sit in the center of the room, determining which of them I am never going to watch and getting rid of them, and putting the rest in theoretically cleared bookshelves.

Then: Reorienting the former TV table and the reading chair to face each other. Buying a TV manufactured in this century and (ideally) a region-free Blu-Ray player. Maybe a sound bar, probably not. I still have the Roku that was on the downstairs TV, but I mothballed when we got a Smart TV.

When I bought that TV and its companion Blu-ray, I thought I was being exceptionally sly by making sure the first thing seen on it was Dancing With The Stars, thereby convincing my skeptical wife that it was, indeed, a necessary purchase. In the style of classical tragedy, however, this rebounded on me by ensuring all subsequent broadcasts of Dancing With The Stars had to be watched in HD, and I swear to you that fucking show is on four nights a week.

"And we have PEGGED Freeman's Hate Meter!"

“And we have PEGGED Freeman’s Hate Meter!”

So. I of course rarely buy DVDs anymore, because drool drool Blu-ray slobber giggle. And ergo, I need my own little island of Blu-ray viewing so I can watch these fabulous movies I’ve been stockpiling, at will.

The real problem with this dream is the amount of work it’s going to take, in a schedule that includes my part-time job, the other part-time job, the other other part-time job, and the two ongoing writing projects, not to mention any housework, cooking, or parental duties. I estimate two months before I’m even ready to price TVs (I’m lying, I’m already doing that) and start reaping the benefits of this madness.

But like i said, in the meantime, I managed to watch some movies.

the-vixens-of-kung-fu-movie-poster-9999-1020686440Sometimes your interests in obscure movie subgenres lead you down a darkened alley with whispered promises and then punches you, takes your lunch money and runs away. Actually, that’s a pretty fair description of what happens most of the time. That is certainly the case with Vixens of Kung Fu. It’s a somewhat legendary grindhouse feature, primarily legendary because for years, it was damn near impossible to see. It’s a hardcore sex film with kung fu elements, although the martial arts elements here make David Carradine look like Jet Li possessed by the spirit of Bruce Lee.

Bree Anthony is walking through some autumn woods and gets accosted by three porn actors (One of whom is supposedly Jamie Gillis, though I didn’t recognize him). She runs away, but get shot in the back. The three lowlifes then proceed to rape her semi-conscious form while the music changes to bluegrass. About a half-hour later, under the tender lesbian ministrations of a female kung fu master (C.J. Laing), we are told that she was shot with “the gun of anesthesia”, which explained the lack of bullet holes and other trauma, I suppose.

So there are some ladies who are Laing’s students, who practice some questionable martial arts and meditation that causes smoke to issue from their lady parts. A lanky yellow-clad caucasian monk ventures into their territory, gets waylaid, is declared an unsatisfactory lover and tossed out. He begs another female master – currently disguised as a cook in a Chinese restaurant – to teach him “Golden Dragon Raising Head Kung Fu”. Which involves training and masturbating in the woods. There is another showdown, with the Monk and Anthony acrobatically schtupping each other into unconsciousness.  Yeah, forget the rapists, I guess they were too expensive to bring back for a vengeance scene.

vixens fuThe Vinegar Syndrome DVD is unbelievably gorgeous – the autumn foliage really pops. Porn, however, is always boring, and there wasn’t anything Vinegar Syndrome could do about that. Vixens has its wild moments that raise it slightly above the norm, but there’s not enough of it to make it interesting enough for a recommendation.

Hey, remember Jack Reacher? Remember how a lot of people were pissed off that Tom Cruise was playing the main character? Man, that seems like it was so long ago. Long enough that the Blu-ray is cheap, so I bought it, primarily because I was intrigued by the idea of Werner Herzog playing the bad guy.

tom-cruise-goes-badass-in-new-jack-reacher-poster-117953-00-1000-100I haven’t read any of the books – and was, in fact, unaware of the character at all – so I didn’t have a dog in the Tom Cruise hunt. What I did find was a pretty serviceable, if fairly unoriginal, crime investigation movie that morphs into an action flick as our heroes get closer to the truth.

The plot concerns a sniping incident involving the death of five people, apparently the work of a crazed loner trained in Iraq. His only statement under interrogation is “Get Jack Reacher”. Reacher is a former Military policeman who caught the culprit in a similar incident in country – but there are several inconsistencies with the current shooting that stick in his craw. Behind the machinations, of course, is Herzog as a man known only as “The Zeck” – who once gnawed the frostbitten fingers off his own hand in Siberia to prevent gangrene.

Herzog is muted and incredibly creepy as the criminal mastermind. I thought Cruise was fine as Reacher, though, as I said, I have no prior knowledge of the character to color my judgement. The supporting cast is terrific, there are a couple of good fight scenes. Overall, though, you can wait to see this on Netflix.

Over the past year or so, I’ve watched two movies about Idi Amin. One, Amin: The Rise and Fall, was a somewhat sensationalized docudrama. The second, The Last King of Scotland, was pure fiction with enough basis in fact to make it solid. So somehow I find myself watching Barbet Schroeder’s General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait, which is undeniably the real thing.

general-idi-amin-dada-a-self-portrait-movie-poster-1974-1010675046Amin granted Schroeder a number of interviews and staged several adoring rallies for the camera. He also gathered together 150 French citizens living in Uganda and threatened to kill them if Schroeder didn’t cut three minutes from the movie. Schroeder, of course, did so, and at this point the “Self Portrait” portion of the title came into being, as Schroeder felt it was now totally under Amin’s control. After the dictator’s deposing, the cuts were restored, and that is the version Criterion rightfully issued.

The cut portions mainly concerned public executions, and a few snippets from a dispassionate narrator mentioning the staged appearances, or pointing out people who would later be found mysteriously dead or vanish altogether. These quite undercut the persona Amin presents otherwise, an affable man of the people, always ready with a joke or a laugh – downright charming, most times. It’s surprising Amin didn’t want one entire section cut, when he is conferencing with a very critical group of senior physicians, and Schroeder zooms in his face – unhappy, brooding, eyes darting back and forth as if seeking escape – as in that moment he actually looks capable of ordering the death of almost 300,000 of his countrymen. Then he turns on the charm and gets the doctors laughing.

Schroeder ends the movie with that same close-up, and with a bit of narration that Amin did insist be cut; that cut remains, and the moment plays out in powerful silence.

Labor Day I journeyed into town with pal Dave to see an animated movie that he – and a couple of my other friends – did voice talent for a couple of years ago: Last Flight of the Champion. This was apparently the culmination of two brothers’ lifelong dream, and by golly they even managed to get a (very) limited theatrical release. There were about seven of us in attendance, and we owned that theater.

the-last-flight-of-the-champion-105892-poster-xlarge-resizedThe plot isn’t new; galactic despot is taking over planets (I guess because he can), and a painfully earnest young turtle guy finds a buried spaceship left over from the last round of galactic despot fighting, the Champion. Yes, turtle – this is a sci-fi universe populated by animal toons alongside humans. The turtle puts together a crew of similarly painfully earnest misfits and flies off to take on Darth Meanie and his armada.

I went into this movie with great misgivings, mainly thinking that there were movies I really wanted to see but couldn’t carve out the time, like The Conjuring or You’re Next, but here I was walking into a theater to see something that had been described as having computer animation on the level of a local TV commercial.

Well, it wasn’t that bad. Pixar has nothing to worry about, but there were some very nice sequences. The characters aren’t very detailed (and there are way too many of them), and for some reason the animators, when the script says “Let’s hurry!” still has everyone cycle through the same walk animation they’ve been using the whole time. The script is pretty good, though there are some clunky parts, and the story shows some drastic cutting – but my friends did good work, there’s some cleverness in the background details, and overall, it didn’t suck. In fact, it was downright painless.

So that’s The Last Flight of the Champion. You got kids who like science fiction, it’s a safe bet.

“Rated PG for some rude humor.” Huh. That means a monkey flings poo. Offscreen. People only talk about it. I don’t get the MPAA.

1 Comment

  1. […] work on some of the most disposable movies of the last century: mainly adult movies like Vixens of Kung Fu, but also bizarre horror bottom dwellers like Dungeon of Harrow and Night Train to Terror. So I […]


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