Ramping Up

Yes, my writing contract is finally renewed/resurrected/whatever. No, my entry did not win the focus group sweepstakes. I’ll still be writing it, as the scope of the project has expanded. I’m being literally literal about that: My entry, which was once a diverting little Twilight Zone-type yarn, has suddenly become an end-of-the-universe tale. Trying to wrap my head around that has been… entertaining. The conflict which the story’s previous version was based upon now seems rather trivial. Except the characters are the same, and it’s not trivial to them.

I’d be in more of a tizzy if I hadn’t just spent a half-hour at the local washateria (turns out 25 year-old washing machines can suddenly decide to just not work. Who knew?) and that half hour was spent with MP3s blaring through earbuds and yours truly scrawling out four pages worth of handwritten story notes. This might turn out to be not so bad.

Many times I find I can come across the solution to a problem by not thinking about it. So I didn’t think about it by watching a couple of movies that were pretty much diametrically opposed in their audiences, except where those two audiences intersected, ie., me.

The-Raid-2-Australian-poster_JPG.jpgThe first was The Raid 2. I have rhapsodized about its predecessor and its predecessor’s predecessor, so this was inevitable. I was down with the flu the one friggin’ week this was playing at cinemas, thanks a lot Sony. Finally, it came out on blu-ray – of course, the month I was beyond broke. Thank God for Next Projection and a promotional giveaway, which I won, and was finally – finally! – able to watch it.

The words holy and shit get used a lot when you’re watching The Raid 2. Also ow and oof and gaaaaaaah. If you consider The Raid and The Raid 2 as one long story – which it is – and if you get a bit delusional and consider that one long story to be a toothpaste tube, with plot being the toothpaste, then all the plot toothpaste got squeezed over to the Raid 2 end. If you want to find any nits to pick, it would be that the plot is very familiar.

The Raid‘s Rama (Iko Uwais) finds out that surviving the first movie has put himself and his family in real danger. There is a very large portion of the police force that is corrupt, and he finds himself on a very small task force that is bent toward taking the bad cops down. To this end, Rama is sent to prison to get close to one of the mob boss’ son (Arifin Putra). After two years in prison, Rama is released and joins that gang, just in time for an upstart mobster (Alex Abbad) to start a gang war.

raid09That’s a setup we’ve seen many times, from numerous Hong Kong dramas to the TV series Wiseguy. There are certainly enough top-drawer fight scenes to keep holdover fans from the first Raid interested (hell, Rama basically beats up a wing of his new prison home barely 14 minutes into the film), but the final hour of this two-and-a-half hour movie shifts into action movie overdrive, becoming as tense and relentless as the first movie, and culminating in a seven minute-long hand-to-hand fight scene that had yours truly (hardened veteran of more martial arts movies than you’ve had hot meals) curled up into a ball in his easy chair, with a pained grimace on my face.

After three movies which I have loved, there is no doubt in my mind that Gareth Huw Evans is one of the premier action movie directors of our time. He is aided in no small part by Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (who was killed as Mad Dog in the first movie, and returns as another off-kilter assassin in this one), who have formed the core of his repertory company as actors and fight choreographers. It’s surprising how these two, basically martial artists, have developed into such good actors (a quality evident in the team’s first movie together, Merantau). Iwais in particular has magnetic star quality.

I anxiously await the next one. I’ll still have these three movies to keep me warm (and grimacing ow!) until it arrives.

The Raid 2 on Amazon

legoNow, to grind the gears as we do a bootlegger turn of the imagination: The Lego Movie.

This was something of a surprise hit earlier this year when released in February, traditionally No Man’s Land for movie openings. Once again we have a terribly familiar plot: a prophecy, a doomsday weapon, the Chosen One, the Hero’s Journey. But The Lego Movie has a lot of silly, satirical fun with that increasingly misused plot. The creativity on display is bracing, with little details proving the care the animators put into this. The dazzling, shared Lego universe provides for a lot of surprising cameos, and it’s all such infectious fun I really resented it when the Real World intruded on the story. But that was unavoidable, I suppose, and it does give rise to the best ending twist I’ve seen in a long time.

One of the best reasons to watch it is to consider that the movie’s villain is named Lord Business, which meant that every right wing pundit in the universe was decrying it as an anti-capitalist movie. Right. A movie based on a highly successful toy line and a marketing tool for that highly successful toy line is anti-capitalist. Pull the other one, idiots.

I’m not saying anymore about the movie itself; this is a joy of discovery type movie. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you should do so at your earliest opportunity.

Now I need to go translate my handwriting.

The Lego Movie on Amazon

No New Normal

busy-calendarThanks to my piecemeal work, there usually arrives each month a Hell Week, when everything happens at once, and I have absolutely no free time. This past week has been that week for July. Tonight will be my first and only evening off, and the question is will I catch up on work in other areas or just relax, by which I mean possibly watch a movie.

July hasn’t been a great month. July is never a great month. It’s the first month you realize you’re really working for the electric company. We’ve already heard me gripe and moan about the Independence Day festivities, and this year’s was a corker, with a storm cell blowing up an hour before the parade start, causing all video equipment to quickly be bundled inside; there was still a parade (although one float had been destroyed by the storm) and I was one of the lucky few to be manning a hastily set-up camera.

But hell, I got a free T-shirt.

After a week of private shows and city meetings, today’s entry on the extra side of the ledger is a writer’s meeting, which is good, because it means my contract goes off hiatus and I can stop calculating gallons of gas versus eating lunch, but it also has a dark side because, yep, even less free time. But I can stop fretting over the bills for a brief while.

Periods like this always create an urge that itches away in a unscratchable portion of your brain, a feeling that something has to change, but the feeling comes with no real idea how to accomplish that change. I’m not going to walk away from my Day Job, only found almost by accident after a year of unemployment. It may only be part-time, but it’s work I enjoy in a field that is not terribly friendly to a person my age. Given all my other responsibilities, including the about-to-be-reactivated writing contract, seeking another part-time job was not feasible. That left Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes and precious few other options.

watching-movies

Notice what’s missing?

Another area of desired change is my methodology for watching movies, and, again, no real idea how to effect that change in current circumstances. Last year, I did a couple of movie-watching challenges (and one this year), and I find it takes a terrible toll on me: I seem to want to take a day or so after watching a movie to consider it, to glean what I have taken away from the experience. That’s the part I have no idea how to change, but if I do not… well, there is no way in the world I am going to get to watch every movie I want anyway. Treating each movie like a pebble that has to be thrown in a rock polisher for several days to be fully appreciated is just cutting that available time down even more.

So yeah, the only solution I see is to become suddenly, undeservedly wealthy and spend the rest of my days doing nothing but watching those movies. And then having the rest of those days cut short by congestive heart failure because I’m doing nothing but sitting in my easy chair watching movies.

So that’s a less than ideal solution. (Though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t appeal to me on a certain level)

There is also the killjoy section of my brain (which is quite highly developed, it seems) that points out this is rationalization on my part, to make up for not having time to watch all the movies I like. (“Hey, remember when you watched The Red Shoes and The Searchers the same day? You weren’t whining then.”) I’ve had evenings free when I did not watch a movie, but killed time on Facebook or watching murder investigation shows on Netflix. Those nights rankle when I am too busy to watch a movie; they feel like squandered time and wasted opportunities, but downtime is so necessary.

So, in the final analysis, one does what one always does, I suppose. Muddle through, hope for the best, and remember that surely there was some freaking reason you bought that four-hour cut of Heaven’s Gate.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

jodorowskys_dune_xlgJodorowsky’s Dune started making waves on the festival circuit last year, and the more I heard about it, the more I wanted to see it. Here’s the short version, if you’re scratching your head: the celebrated surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) tried, in the 70s, to make a movie version of Dune. This documentary tells that story.

That brief synopsis, though, gives you no real idea of what is waiting for you in this film. I placed my new blu-ray in the player, ready to find out – and found I had the first defective disc I’d encountered since switching to blu-ray several years ago. An exchange was managed easily enough, but it was then late Saturday night before I got the chance to revisit it – and it turned out to be exactly what I needed, at exactly that time and place. And that is so Jodorowsky.

403827678_640I had been aware of the plans to make Dune – I think they were dutifully reported in Heavy Metal magazine, because, after all, Moebius was the first of Jodorowsky’s “spiritual warriors”, and because it was Jodorowsky. In the 70s, I had only the vaguest idea of who this Jodorowsky chap was; I had read about El Topo, but in the cities where I lived, Midnight Movies were composed mainly of all-night Beatles marathons and the occasional screening of Dawn of the Dead or 200 Motels. By the time I moved to a major metropolis, screenings of his work had become rare. For many years my only experience was Santa Sangre, which was marvelous, but not prime Jodo.

So watching Jodorowsky’s Dune was like revisiting those breathless dispatches from thirty some-odd years ago, when this insane artist was trying to make an insane movie and was gathering other insane artists into that purpose.

frame_0000I mentioned “spiritual warrior” earlier, and that is precisely how Jodorowsky viewed his collaborators. His movie wasn’t just going to change movies, it was going to change viewers’ very consciousness. Jean Giraud, aka the amazing French comic artist Moebius, was his camera from the very beginning, dashing out storyboards and costume designs at breathtaking speeds. Douglas Trumbull, fresh off 2001 and Silent Running, was turned down for not being ideally spiritual, and a chance viewing of Dark Star netted the next warrior: Dan O’Bannon.

And so it goes. In a series of interviews, these warriors tell about their being brought into the project; Chris Foss, for spaceship design, a Swiss artist you may have heard of, named H.R. Giger, for the design of the fascistic and depraved Harkonnen clan. But the bulk of Jodorowsky’s Dune is told by Jodorowsky himself, and his tales of the recruiting efforts are marvelous, the stuff of legend. Casting David Carradine as Duke Leto, meeting Mick Jagger at a party and asking him to play Feyd Ruatha on the spot, and getting an immediate “Yes.” Onto the trials of getting agreement from his two dream castings, Orson Welles for Baron Harkonnen and Salvador Dali as the insane Emperor of the Galaxy.

dune2Jodorowsky also planned to have different musical groups compose the music for each House and the systems they controlled: Pink Floyd for House Atreides, Magma for Harkonnen. No mention is made for who would be the group representing Arrakis, the title planet, but one can safely assume it wasn’t Toto.

As we all know, in this Universe, the movie didn’t happen. No studio was willing to put money into a massively expensive movie made by a madman they knew nothing about. (The budget was something like $15 million dollars – quite a chunk of change in those days, but then, Jodorowsky wanted to do things in 1975 that Industrial Light & Magic would not even attempt to do in a live action movie today. Some of the most impressive sequences in Jodorowsky’s Dune use limited animation to bring some of Moebius’ storyboard and Chris Foss’ designs to life)

Also humorous (in a bitter, twisted sort of way) was the concern that the movie would be too long, and it was requested that the script be cut down to an hour and a half. How long was the last Transformers again?

DunePioneerA movie of Dune was eventually made, as we all know, and it also one most people despise. I need to give that one another shot eventually (but not anytime soon). Jodorowsky’s version would have digressed further from Frank Herbert’s novel, but both have virtually the same denouement, the greening of Dune, instead of the open-ended nature of the novel, leading to many sequels. Movies must end, after all.

Jodorowsky’s Dune then goes on to point out how the Greatest Movie Never Made contributed its DNA to many, many movies in the coming years; the most obvious, the disappointed Dan O’Bannon gathering up some of his fellow spiritual warriors for Alien, but other examples resonating right up until the present day. Pretty awesome, really. When it is put forth that if Dune had been made, and if it had hit it big instead of Star Wars… what would be the state of cinema today?

I said this was what I had needed, at this particular time. I was exhausted after two shows, in pain, the torment of two audiences watching a comedy physically resisting the urge to jodorwsky-600-1395238092laugh out loud, all exacerbated by a triple low in the ol’ biorhythms. I was a sullen mess, but watching Jodorowsky exult over the details of a dream project that came this close to reality, the fond reminiscences of the artists he recruited, and his enthusiasm for what he tried to achieve – again, almost four decades after the fact – is exhilarating and beautiful.

It’s impossible to watch Jodorowsky’s Dune without falling at least a little in love with Alejandro Jodorowsky, and falling in love is something we all need to do a little more.

Jodorowsky’s Dune on Amazon

Animal Farm (1954)

animal-farm-movie-poster-1954-1020503519There’s a pretty fair chance that if you went to high school, you wound up reading George Orwell; in my case it was 1984, but another standard was Animal Farm, a fable that retold the Russian Revolution and creation of the Stalinist dictatorship using the livestock at an English farm as stand-ins. I couldn’t with any reliability tell you if this is still the case, but it certainly was when I was in high school (it will also tell you when I went to college, that I am going to mistakenly type the title as Animal House several times before this is finished). Since its publication in 1945, Animal Farm has never gone out of print; would that this 1954 animated version had been so widely available.

Basically, Manor Farm was once a going concern, but as the story begins, its owner, Mr. Jones, has “fallen on evil times, and worse, into bad company”, spending his evenings at the local pub and abusing the animals when he comes home drunk. An ancient and revered hog, Old Major, rouses the animals to revolution on his deathbed, and confronted by a barnyard united against him, Jones flees. He returns with friends, who are similarly chased off, though at a cost – the farm dog is killed, leaving behind her orphaned pups.

vlcsnap-8864The animals make a go of turning the farm around, led by the clever pigs. They have a system of laws, food is plentiful (though the first winter is rough), in general, a worker’s paradise. Unfortunately, the cunning pig Napoleon has been plotting some time, and having raised the orphaned dogs as his personal shock troops, has the idealistic pig Snowball killed… and thus begins the slow corruption of the re-christened Animal Farm.

It’s interesting to note the differences between the book and the movie; the movie is pretty well-considered, compressing some events and omitting others in an effort to engage audiences. There’s a fair amount of humor in the first half, that a lot of people point to as “Disney-fication”, and likely the work of Animation Director John Reed, an import who had worked on several Disney productions, including Fantasia and Three Caballeros. The sight gags are nowhere to be found in Orwell,of course, but provide a light backdrop for the grimness that will come.

rebelionAnd grimness there is. The movie does not shy away from death, though we are spared the worst of it. The assassination of Trotsky is played out as Napoleon literally setting the dogs on Snowball as the prelude to usurping the leadership of Animal Farm. We hear it, though; ditto the execution of the animals involved in an abortive uprising against Napoleon. You may have been suckered into thinking this was Disney at the beginning of the revolution, but this is the aftermath, baby, and it ain’t for children.

Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films is not a well-known outfit in America; they were largely known for industrial animation, and especially for propaganda shorts made during World War II, a background which positioned them ideally for making a movie out of Animal Farm. The idyllic landscapes have a watercolor beauty which would not be out-of-place in a rival Disney production, to be sure, but it’s the darker, grayer palette of the farm scenes, expecially in the second half, that memorably reinforces the message of the source material. John Halas was a Hungarian emigré who had been trained in design by the Bauhaus school (the Batchelor part of the equation was Joy Batchelor, who began as an assistant but eventually became his wife). That adds a certain Central European flavor to the animation, which also helps to render it distinct.

ferme-des-animaux-1954-03-gI should also mention, while we’re talking about propaganda, that the worst-kept secret in the world is that initial funding for the project came from the CIA. Take that, Commies! That possibly led to the other great departure from Orwell’s novel, the ending, where the animals finally have enough, and march on Napoleon and his fellow suit-wearing pigs in a second revolution. Perhaps it was hoped that copies of the movies smuggled across the Iron Curtain would foment similar unrest; more likely it was the desire to give the movie a more upbeat ending than the source novel, where the animals realize they really have it no better than before, and possibly worse.

Then, as we learned in Battle of Algiers, revolution is a long time coming. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, forty some-odd years after this movie. To say that the new ending to Animal Farm is in any way responsible is absurd, but it has to be admitted that whoever insisted on it was aware of the cycle of history, if not the realities of human nature.

Animal.Farm.1954.mp4v.ruAnother facet of the production definitely worth noting is the voice talent of Maurice Denham, a radio actor who supplies all the voices in the movie, save that of the narrator, Gordon Heath, who was a BBC newsreader. Denham has a wide range of well-considered voices at work here, often making you suspect that someone is fibbing about the solo talent. The score by Matyas Sieber, another Hungarian and longtime collaborator with Halas and Batchelor, has a unique flavor, often using instruments not usually found in movie scores, such as the off-kilter accordion used for the drunken Farmer Jones.

TNT produced a live-action version of Animal Farm in 1999, doubtless made possible by the success of 1995’s Babe, and using the same technology. It was even more widely criticized for variances from the source, and though a much higher-caliber roster of voices lent their talents to the effort, it is still Denham’s version of the animals that lives on.

vlcsnap-10451Though I haven’t seen this version, I am certain I would still prefer the animated one; many of the aspects of Animal Farm are heartbreaking, like the eventual fate of Boxer the draft horse. Hero of the Revolution and hardest working animal on the farm, he is injured in the second great battle with the humans, and eventually unable to work. While the other animals are rebuilding a windmill the embittered Farmer Jones had dynamited, the villainous Napoleon sells Boxer to a glue factory in exchange for a crate of whiskey.

Seeing that transpire, even with animatronic models of real animals, would outright kill me. It was bad enough watching it happen with drawings. And that, good people, is the power of a well-made movie, animated or not.

If there is one thing that I have taken away from this outing – and that is besides the fact that I now want to see more of the Halas and Batchelor output, like their 1966 version of Ruddigore – is that their studio made the 1966 Lone Ranger cartoon, which was strikingly different visually from any other cartoon broadcast on Saturday mornings, much darker, and stylized. It has since vanished into undeserved obscurity, and dammit, I want to see them again.

Get to work on that, Universe.

Animal Farm on Amazon

Crapfest: The Late 70s

If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you are familiar with the phenomenon of the Crapfest. A group of us gathers every two or three months to gasp in wonder at the vast world of the Cinema of Diminished Expectations. Or, ofttimes, to simply gasp.

We had a full complement this time, saving only The Other David, who was healing his voice for an upcoming musical, and felt that shouting in dismay would be counter-productive to that. Fair enough. Break a leg, friend. This left us at myself, Rick, Paul, Alan, Mark, Erik, and your host, Dave.

While planning for this shindig, Host Dave informed us, in the tone usually reserved for doctors telling you to lose weight, that the agenda for this Crapfest had been decided long ago. (Maybe I should have said “In the tone usually reserved for the Lawgiver telling us The Prophecy”, but I’m going to need all my prophecy jokes for later) To that end, he laid out this pre-conceived roster.

it-came-without-warning-movie-poster-1980-1020194389I’m going to have to take some blame for the first feature. You see, once upon a time, we tried to limit the scope of a Crapfest to a single luminary in the realm of Crap Cinema. That luminary was Graydon Clark, and that was a mistake of Biblical proportions. Too much of a bad thing, as it were. But at the very beginning, there was a choice to be made, between Angel’s Brigade or Without Warning. The deciding vote came down to Paul, who reasonably enough, deduced that since Rick “Let’s watch Evilspeak again” Mantler had voted for Without Warning, it was only logical to vote for Angel’s Brigade instead. This was wronger than any deduction Dr. Watson had ever made, but I really can’t fault his logic.

So there was this time I bitched that I was still owed a viewing of Without Warning. So that was our opening salvo.

I think I’m not exactly engaging in spoilers when I tell you Without Warning is about an alien coming to Earth and hunting humans with little flying creatures he throws like frisbees, and yes, this was seven years before Predator. The major difference between the two is a) millions of dollars and b) Predator manages to fill its running time pretty well. The Alien spends the first part of the movie knocking off celebrity guests, or at least affordable C-listers of the era, starting with Cameron Mitchell and moving on to Larry Storch, playing the master of a cub scout troop. Storch was only on set half a day, and it seems to play out in real time.

1 withoutwarningOur protagonists are four teens who ignore the warnings of Professional Harbinger Jack Palance to not go to the lake, there’s trouble there. Half the teens become frisbee kibble fairly quickly, and since one of them is a young David Caruso, the Alien got a standing ovation. The other two (Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson) try to get help after discovering their pals and several other corpses in a remote shack. They find a believer in Martin Landau, playing a mandatorily shell-shocked veteran called “Sarge”, and, of course, Palance. The bar where they try to get help is notable for featuring Sue Ann Langdon, Neville Brand, and Ralph Meeker (in his last role, no less), none of whom stick around for the big alien fight, such as it is. They leave that to future Oscar winners Landau and Palance.

lobby6There is an interminable period at the end of the second act and before the third, sort of an eternal entre acte, where our two teens, on the lam from the increasingly psychotic Landau, break into somebody’s vacation home and set up shop. Nutter keeps waking up screaming and saying things like, “What if this is Sarge’s house?” which allowed us to kill the next ten minutes of filler with panicked questions like “What if snakes can carry knives?” “What if Zamfir really is master of the pan pipes?” and “What if Iron Man had Spider-Man’s powers?”

If there was one takeaway from this, it is that I wanted to make sure I didn’t buy the upcoming blu-ray from Scream Factory out of misguided nostalgia. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

without-warning-1980The Alien, incidentally, is played by the 7′ 2″ Kevin Peter Hall, because of course he is. And Hall would also play the title character in Predator. Also, Mr. Hall is not finished with us yet, because we are moving on to Prophecy, for which I must also take some blame. You see, back a year ago or more, I reviewed the French movie Prey, noting that it was basically Prophecy with mutated wild boars instead of a bear. I also mentioned I had never seen Prophecy, because I’d read David O. Seltzer’s novel, and immediately thought, “well, I can miss this one.”

To which Dave was all like whaaaaaaat and you are watching this.

Dammit.

220px-ProphecyWell, we already know about the mutant bear. Robert Foxworth is a two-fisted doctor concerned with social justice issues (as we find out in an opening scene set in a ghetto with the cleanest, freshest spray-painted graffiti you have ever seen), who is sent to a northern paper mill to investigate charges of pollution. The charges turn out to be true, as the whole region is lousy with mercury, which Foxworth assures us has “mutagenic” qualities. This is going to produce some tension in his wife, Talia Shire, who is pregnant, she just hasn’t bothered to tell Foxworth yet.

Extra risibility is supplied by Richard Dysart as the front man for the paper mill, essaying a cagey mix of Pepperidge Farm spokesman and Edward G. Robinson. And Armand Assante as an Indian.

The most famous scene in the movie was quoted in the TV trailer, when the bear attacks a family campsite and a kid tries to hop away in his sleeping bag, only to be dashed against a rock in a flurry of downy feathers. This also convinced 1979 Me that avoiding this movie was a good idea. There is no way anybody thought that was going to be anything but laughable, right? Especially when you consider the movie is directed by John freaking Frankenheimer.

Frankenheimer would say in later years that the movie would have been better if he hadn’t been at the height of his alcoholism during its shooting. The truly lamentable thing is there are moments in this movie that are superb. Foxworth examining the camp site where the exploding sleeping bag took place, and finding enormous claw marks on a tree, and then realizing that the claw marks go fifteen feet up the tree.

The best sequence for me, though is a bit later. Shire finds some mutant bear cubs in a fishing net nearby. One is still alive, but barely (no pun intended). It’s in recovering this cub that Foxworth spends too long, and his helicopter ride is socked in by a storm. They make it to an Indian hunting village where Foxworth labors to keep the cub alive until Dysart and the Sheriff can come and see proof of the pollution. Trouble is, Mama Bear also shows up and wants the cub back.

13005prophecyThis is the second great monster movie sequence, when our name actors (plus one or two more) take refuge in a tunnel under one of the tents to hide from the beast and all they can do is listen to the screams of the men still above ground as the monster kills them. Then, silence. Silence for way too long. But who’s going to look out and check?

So that day on the set, Frankenheimer only had half a bottle of Scotch, or something.

imagesWe’re building up to a big showdown with Mama Bear (even the most city-slickerish among us was yelling “Leave the bear cub! PUT IT THE HELL DOWN!” but movie characters never listen), which is… okay, I guess, but has nowhere near the tension it wants to have. It’s kind of like the end of the novel Jaws where the shark suddenly succumbs to all the damage done, but we’re led to believe it’s Foxworth stabbing it with an arrow over and over again. Also, the last shot shows us there’s another mutant bear wandering around, so fuck you, movie.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that was Kevin Peter Hall in the mutant bear suit. See? Connections are everywhere.

The worst part was when I got hungry and mentioned to Rick it was time to start dinner and I was going to help Rick in the kitchen because it was like my idea, but Dave was like, no, motherfucker, you get in there and you watch this movie.

DAMMIT.

I don’t mind crap monster movies – hell, in a way, those are my life. But crap monster movies with a painfully earnest social relevance angle – those hurt me.

Speaking of hurt, I had been saving hurt up for a long time. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, Batman and Robin, Highlander II The Goddamn Quickening. I let that all out with something that had been dredged up by the Drive-In Mob: Bob Hope’s 1976 TV special Joys.

wbvideo-055Supposedly, someone has lured a bunch of comedians to Bob Hope’s place to murder them all. You see, it’s Joys because Jaws was really big, and… the murderer is… kinda… like a shark? But not? This is about the level of writing  here; you have several roomfuls of comedians – just look at that list on the IMDb page – and none of them are allowed to do their schtick, outside of Arte Johnson obviously improvising a few and Don Rickles calling people a hockeypuck. Because that many comedians in one place? That would be hilarious. Too bad what they’re given is the most insipid jokes 1976 could dig up. Most disheartening is Groucho Marx, frail and nearing death, not even bothering to pretend he isn’t reading cue cards and still making me laugh. Though Kevin Peter Hall is not there, Larry Storch is, and we also have to deal with disco era Don Knotts and Don Adams.

And commercials from Texaco, which assured us it was working to keep our trust.

Oh, the hatred that was cast my way! Hatred which I fully deserved, but I felt much better for having given vent  to my spleen. And then Dave retaliated magnificently with Playboy’s Roller Disco Pajama Party, which actually aired on ABC in 1979, even though it sounds like an SCTV sketch. I could only look across the room, give him the thumbs up, and say, “Respect.”

vlcsnap-00079Yes, this is a documentary about frolicking in the Playboy Mansion. Richard Dawson is there to make you cringe, and there were lots of astoundingly beautiful women which just about every man in the room had seen naked (I profess admiration of a sort for the guys who could name each and every one of them, even when they weren’t being introduced). Roller skating, and dancing to Village People songs we had never heard.

Rick’s haunted voice came from the back of the room several times, stating, “This isn’t going to get any better, you know. You may think it is, but it ISN’T.” But I was enjoying myself. Pretty women are pretty women, and there were quite a few here.

FILTH!

FILTH!

It had its educational points, too: we’d had no idea that there was a disco version of Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar”. Nor did we know that Waylon Flowers had a black version of his Madam puppet. (My reference source for all things gay, long-time theatre friend Rodney Walsworth, informs me the puppet was named Jiffy, and he saw Flowers perform with her at a club). The clip below has a glimpse of Jiffy, but sadly does not seem to have the bit where Flowers attempts to work his sassy black puppet magic on Jim Brown, who is visibly counting to ten several times just to keep from jamming this puppet up this little peckerwood’s ass.

No, here is this hunk of the show – the whole damn thing’s on YouTube, folks, it’s easy enough to find – that has the high point for us. About 13 seconds in, after a Mork and Mindy promo, is the 30 second throw to the local newscast coming on after Roller Disco Pajama Party, and it’s obvious the station has been getting a lot of calls about the show…

We really wanted that guy to come back.

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A scene from True Detective, Season 2

You don’t have to watch the whole thing, or maybe you do, because you’ll catch a brief glimpse of Marjoe Gortner at the party (he got applause. I love my homies.), the aforementioned Jiffy, Richard Dawson referring to index cards as he interviews some Playmates, and likely the most skin you’ll see in the whole enterprise. Just enough to make our gathering feel all cheated and hollow inside.

Not me, though. I went home feeling purged, cleansed of all the negativity that had been weighing on me. Such is the power of inflicting crap on your fellow man. This feeling did not survive the light of day, but I slept like a baby that night, and I look forward to the next one, where I can start playing the nice guy again.

Dammit.