Archive for August, 2014

rrmdiscogf

Rudy Ray Moore was a real icon of the “blaxploitation” movie scene. He made his name on the club circuit, mixing R&B with blue comedy, his persona of a degenerate debaucher spewing obscene rhyming couplets gaining him a healthy underground following. He parlayed this character into a movie career, starting with “Dolemite”, where his stage act was coupled with low-rent action as he became the kung-fu pimp with a heart of gold. The majority of his films followed the same formula, mixing comedy with action in ever more inventive premises (“Petey Wheatstraw” even seeing him as a stand-up comic battling hoodlums while attempting to get out of a deal with the devil); until he decided to use his standing to make a “serious” movie with a real message: “Disco Godfather’ (sometimes known by the slightly more spoilery moniker “The Avenging Disco Godfather”).

Rather than his usual collection of pimps and ne’er-do-wells, here Moore is a good man, a kind man; the legendary disco DJ Tucker Williams, known to his friends as the Godfather of the Disco. He gets behind the decks every night and plays all the disco classics. Well, one disco record, which he plays over and over and over. On top of this he tells people to “put your weight on it”, an absolutely insane number of times, each with a slightly different intonation. “PUT your weight on it, put YOUR weight on iiiiiitttt, put your weeeighhtttt on it!”. If your weight is not on it by the half hour point of this movie, it never will be.

The wheels begin to come off this cosy set-up when his nephew Bucky takes some “bad shit”, trips out and the disco beats turn into rattles and left-over sound-effects from “Space 1999”. Not cool. Tucker immediately asks the most important question “Where is Bucky and what has he hayad?” before making the sensible decision to call an “Am-ber-lamps”.

Suddenly forgetting about the disco jams the film then takes on a serious, sombre tone. With one click of the Godfather’s fingers it morphs into a warning of the perils of PCP, so laughably misinformed and hysterical that it makes “Reefer Madness” look like “Requiem for a Dream”. The hospital Bucky ends up in is populated by victims of Angel Dust so demented they resemble extras cut from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for egregious over-acting, while the doctor charged with their care wanders around wearing shades indoors and signing off on exorcisms. We are even treated to the single greatest diagnosis in the history of film: “This kid is totally withdrawn from reality; he thinks he’s an unborn caterpillar”.

At this point we discover that Tucker is not merely a DJ, but a former bad-ass cop who quit the force due to the inescapable pull of the disco. So he goes to his old Lieutenant to tell him he wants to investigate the Angel Dust problem “on his own”, but also with the help of the police (what?), and is immediately given “reserve status”. For those who don’t know what “reserve status” is, it apparently means you and a buddy can go around slapping random strangers for absolutely no reason in a long montage before stealing a dog. Which is awesome.

The film soon makes it’s next big tonal shift as Tucker works out who the bad guy is, and who the mole is (apparently there was a mole), and sets about kicking ass all the way to the top. Luckily for him he is joined by allies such as a passing jogger who just happens to hate Angel Dust and know kung-fu. Every movie is made infinitely better by having random kung-fu joggers (as definitively proved by the 1982 trash classic “Pieces”) and this is no exception.

After the obligatory badly handled melange of action, the film takes it’s final big turn; descending into a weird psychedelic brain-rape of a finale that it would be wrong to spoil before you have had the chance to experience it for yourself. Quite simply it is the absolute last way you would ever expect this film to end, a jaw-dropping conclusion so out of left-field that you need the end credits to remind you what movie you were watching before it went off the deep end.

For those who know his work, watching Moore trying to reel himself in to get a PG rating is incredibly amusing (he even manages to stop himself from rhyming “Tucker” with “Mutha-f**ker”…but only just), and at times genuinely baffling (one scene involving a female dog that has apparently lived into it’s 50’s before running away from it’s owner is seemingly only there so they could sneak in the line “that old bitch finally left me”). He (mostly) left the rhymes at home for this one, and tried to deliver a serious commentary on 70s excess and the way drugs were destroying the black community (the big pile of cocaine being snorted off the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever” is as subtle as this message gets).

Although intended as Moore’s magnum opus, the real pleasure comes from how misjudged and batshit crazy everything is. From Moore’s ridiculous man-boob revealing outfits, to every shot clearly being done in one-take no matter how many times lines were fluffed or the cast accidentally laughed at serious moments; “Disco Godfather” is incredibly bizarre and tons of fun. Track this down and “put your weight on it”.

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5 of the Best: Double Acts

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

Chemistry. That almost indefinable connection between two actors that is capable of making mediocre material and good material great. Two performers who just seem to naturally bounce off each other, taking them far beyond what they are capable of on their own. So, to celebrate those duos with the effortless rapport that makes everything they do together immediately watchable, here are 5 of my favourite on-screen double acts.

Abbott and Costello

Best Parody Films - Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Originally a a vaudeville double act, Bud and Lou rose through the ranks and at one time were among the most bankable stars in Hollywood. The skinny, grumpy Abbott is arguably the greatest straight man of all time, his gravel voice, base sneakiness and ever-growing exasperation being the perfect foil for his squeaky sidekick. The rotund Costello was a bundle of idiotic nervous energy, easily befuddled and as sweet and charming an on-screen presence as he was the opposite off-camera. Their interplay was slick, refined through years of vaudeville, but still flowed naturally, the material always feeling fresh and natural no matter how many times they performed it. Here were two men who elevated each other through well defined personas and crisp interplay, the very definition of a double-act.

Must watch: Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein

Pegg and Frost

In an era where the traditional double act is almost dead, here are two men keeping it going. There on-screen partnership started in the sitcom “Spaced” (which also brought them together with directorial collaborator Edgar Wright) but they had been close friends for years before that. Both are naturally gifted individual performers with their own independent careers but their best work (by far) has been in tandem. Rather than rely on one dynamic they have taken each film made together as an opportunity to explore different facets of the double act, from the tight established friendships in “Shawn of the Dead” and “Paul”, the meditation on odd couple buddy movies in “Hot Fuzz”, and the disintegration of an old friendship in “The World’s End”. Making of all these stand out is an intelligence far above that normally seen in genre movies and a flexibility that both offer as performers. The quintessential modern double-act, and hopefully there will be many more entries in their canon.

Must watch: Shawn of the Dead

Travolta and Jackson

How can a double act appear on this list on the basis of one movie? When the movie is “Pulp Fiction” and the double act are Travolta and Jackson. Possibly the most iconic moment of one of the finest films of the 1990s is simply two guys in a car making smalltalk. Their chemistry is undeniable; two actors delivering performances as strong as they ever managed playing two characters who needed each other but didn’t know it.

They re-teamed later on for the John McTiernan military mystery “Basic”, but the best thing to do is to pretend that film didn’t happen.

Must watch: Pulp Fiction

Powell and Loy

As Nick and Nora Charles, the husband and wife detective team at the centre of “The Thin Man” film series, William Powell and Myrna Loy captured the hearts of a generation of cinema goers in the 1930s. Powell was the witty urbane sleuth, a man with confidence, style and underworld connections. Loy was his dazzling wife, a woman who was every bit his equal, as capable of putting him down with a sly one-liner as a withering look. They worked together 14 times, including best picture winner “The Great Ziegfried’ (a strong contender for the worst Oscar winning film of all time) but Nick and Nora were the roles that really defined them as a duo, bringing the best out of them both.

Must watch: After the Thin Man.

Matthau and Lemmon

Many duos have been called “the original odd couple” but these two are the genuine article, establishing their double act in an adaptation of Neil Simon’s broadway play. As the uptight Felix and slovenly Oscar Lemmon and Matthau reinvigorated the notion of the double act, both simultaneously the straight man and the comic, making simon’s expert one-liners zing. They worked together nine times in total, including in the shamefully forgotten Billy Wilder comedy “The Fortune Cookie” and the under-appreciated remake of “His Girl Friday”, “The Front Page”, again with Wilder in the director’s chair. Their double act was rekindled for a late career renaissance with mixed results, ranging from the entertaining (“Grumpy Old Men”) to the execrable (“Out To Sea”), but through it all their perfectly poised dynamic, enduring talent and obvious friendship made them a watchable duo.

Must watch: The Odd Couple

Of course thee are many that could (and perhaps should) have made the list, so apologies for any glaring omissions, and particularly to fans of Laurel & Hardy, Wilder & Pryor, Hope & Crosby and Ferrell & Reilly; all of whom could easily have made this list on a different day. No apologies at all to fans of Martin & Lewis however. They were awful. Just awful.

Haunter (2013)

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Lisa (Abigail Breslin) finds herself trapped in her home reliving the same day over and over with her oblivious family.

After a fast start to his career with the excellent “Cube” and the under-appreciated “Cypher”, Canadian film-maker Vincenzo Natali’s career had stalled somewhat with the batshit crazy but deeply flawed “Nothing” and “Splice”, a ludicrous film that almost qualifies as “so-bad-it’s-good” (but still didn’t manage to be the most laughably bad Adrian Brody film released in 2009 thanks to the truly abysmal “Giallo”).

He arrives back on the scene with “Haunter”, a supernatural mystery thriller, which has been receiving positive feedback on the festival circuit without getting a full cinema release, and is now widely available on DVD. Something of a return to basics, Natali’s trademarks are present and correct, from his inventive, silky visuals, to the labyrinthine twisting plots he seems in thrall of, and even the ramshackle CGI that has bedevilled much of his work.

The “reliving the same day” set-up is always terrific fun, mined to great effect in “Groundhog Day”, and the recent “Edge of Tomorrow” among many others, although “Haunter” does a great job in steering itself away from the ground those films covered. Here the device is used as a means to present a mystery and slowly unravel it, like peeling away the layers of an onion. This is done effectively and lovingly, and the film’s main strength lies in how engrossing the mystery at it’s centre is.

There is a healthy dose of pinching from other films, most obviously in the initial set-up but also from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series (which is heavily mined), as well a few other notable plot lifts that are probably best left unmentioned so as not to spoil too much; although you will definitely know them when you see them. In many ways this magpie tendency becomes a positive, as the film repeatedly sheds it’s skin, morphing in ways that, although still derivative, are at least unexpected. Just when you think you have a handle on what the film is doing, it moves on, with every mystery solved just an opportunity to start unravelling the next. Although it is likely that the assembly was somewhat cynical (and the final “happy” coda feels depressingly tacked on), it does make for a gripping and surprising journey.

Abigail Breslin as Lisa shows that she is maturing into a leading lady of real standing, in no way resembling the goofy child star of “Little MIss Sunshine”, and making what could have been a frustrating role incredibly endearing. At once exasperated and scared by her situation, she is still believable when required to muster the courage to face the evil of the house, striking a fine balance that could easily have eluded a young actress (shockingly, Breslin was only 16 when this was filmed), especially when the camera is on them for much of the film’s duration. The rest of the cast are equally able in their roles, with particular mention to the wonderfully craggy-faced Stephen McHattie, who makes good use of his weathered features as the creepy and mysterious “Pale Man”. There is even time for a brief cameo from long-time Natali collaborator David Hewlett, a pleasing Easter egg for fans, even if he is somewhat under-used.

If there is one major criticism, it is that the film isn’t particularly scary, something that many consider a cardinal sin for a film in the horror genre. There are a few nice jump scares in the early going, but beyond a certain point the lack of peril is palpable, as if it fell victim to the multitude of narrative turns the film undertakes. Despite that, “Haunter” is a real return to form for Natali, a well made and creepily effective low-key ghost story that keeps your attention from start to slightly hackneyed finish.

Miss Violence (2013)

Posted: August 4, 2014 in Uncategorized
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On her eleventh birthday a young girl jumps to her death from the balcony of the small flat she shares with her extended family. In the aftermath the families dark secrets bubble to the surface.

Greek cinema has undergone a real resurgence in recent years, with the excellent “Dogtooth” being joined by such well-received counterparts such as “Attenberg”, “Knifer”, “Wasted Youth”, and “Strella”. It is a country that despite, or perhaps because of, it’s recent troubles, is developing a a film-making movement of increasing confidence, no longer mocking itself with movies such as “Attack of the Giant Moussaka”. Alexander Avranas’ “Miss Violence” sits very squarely in this new, adult approach to cinema, a film that takes itself incredibly seriously and demands it’s audience do the same.
 
Although the film does seem to place a mystery at it’s centre (“what made this girl jump to her death?”) it is fairly obvious where this is all going from very early on; down a difficult and depressing road that most would rather not travel. As the specifics become more apparent, the film becomes ever more uncomfortable to watch, quite an achievement for a film that inspires intense uneasiness from it’s very first second.
 
Set primarily in one tiny, overcrowded apartment, Avranas does a great job of mixing the claustrophobia of the situation with genuine style. Shots are cleverly framed, with point-of-view scenes and recurring motifs; but the direction is never showy or ostentatious, relying on stripped down minimalism as much as camera trickery.
 
While well-made and well-acted, it is an incredibly tough watch; leaving you wondering at times what exactly the point of all this is. A subtext regarding figures of power taking advantage of acquiescent subordinates is a possible justification that gains more power when considering the recent history of film’s country of origin; but despite how well done everything is you can’t help you’ve seen this done before and better, most notably in Vinterberg’s “Festen” and Roth’s “The War Zone”. Of course, that cannot be a criticism in isolation, and taken on it’s own merits “Miss Violence” is undoubtedly effective, extremely troubling and powerfully sobering.