I just got this email talkin’ about Tetra Vaal, and how Neill Blomkamp is expanding upon his short film for the upcoming sci-fi comedy, Chappie. If I’m gonna be real with you on this, I’ve got some seriously mixed emotions. Tetra Vaal was honestly one of my first great experiences on the Web, because fuck, man, do you have any idea how real that looked back in 2003? My friend and I would watch that thing on repeat day after day; desperately wishing it would become such an underground net-phenomenon that a full-length action flick would come out of it. It definitely didn’t help that we were obsessed with Robocop, as well.
So I gotta say that the above video churned up some hardcore nostalgia vibes for me. I was once a Yung High School Sophomore like many of you reading the Bloglin at this very moment, and it was back in the days before Youtube. An era when finding strange, underground videos littered across the net was kind of difficult because there wasn’t a single, easily indexed aggregator of all things motion video. It was a time of downloading huge Quicktime files directly to your HDD so you could watch them later with friends. After the 90s, we were newly thrust into the post-Dark-Ages heaven of the high-speed Internet, but a Youtube sesh up on your 60″??? Fuck outta here, mane.
I can’t complain too much, though, because Blomkamp’s District 9 was incredible. Chappie is sure to be on the same level of cool, and hopefully my favorite lagomorphic robocop will make an appearance or two.
In 1979, The Warriors sparked a resurgence in juvenile gang movies- a genre that was goddamn massive in the ’50s. Back then, the delinquents tended to be greasers or beach party animals with rockin’ bodies. This was simply because that’s what teenagers got off on back then. Come the ’80s and adults were afraid of a punk planet ruled by flamboyantly dressed urban gangs. Hence, the delinquents in films became punks and an assortment of exaggerated stereotypes. Chains and bandanas were everywhere. Sometimes the depictions were more accurate, like in The Outsiders, but for every Pony Boy there were five Baseball Furies.
Larry Gross (best known for writing 48 Hrs) directed one of the lesser known films in this genre: 3:15 - The Moment of Truth (1986). Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Full Metal Jacket) stars as Jeff Hannah, an ex-gang member who got out of the life after watching a guy get murdered at a hamburger stand. He was in the Cobras, a leather-clad gang who have turned the local high school into a drug market. Their led by Cinco, a testy bastard who carries a switchblade. He must take that blade out like 30 times during the movie, I swear.
A year goes by and Jeff does his best to stay out of the Cobras’ way. Then a drug dragnet at the school leads to Cinco getting busted. When he’s fleeing from the cops, he runs into Jeff, who refuses to take the fall for him. Honestly Cinco, why the hell would Jeff (who left the gang because you’re a psychotic asshole) do you any favors? Moron. So Cinco and the other Cobras vow to get vengeance on Jeff…after school at 3:15.
Jeff’s reluctant to fight, but then some female Cobras go after his girlfriend and he erupts into a wrecking ball of revenge. He starts taking out the Cobras one by one and it’s awesome. Adam Baldwin starts throwing dudes outta windows, punching their heads through glass, the whole nine. What’s great too is that typically during comeuppance scenes, exciting or thrilling music will play over the violence. In 3:15, as Jeff is punching everyone in the face, this bombastic, triumphant music plays – like he just won the Tour de France or something. It made me pump my fist along with Jeff’s reign of haymakers.
There’s a bunch of fun cameos too. Gina Gershon plays one of the female Cobras (above picture, second from left). Mario Van Peebles plays the leader of the militant black gang. And John Doe from X gets kicked out of a punk club. He’s credited as “drunk guy at club” and as he’s getting tossed out he tells the bouncer he has a “soft heart.” Wings Hauser is up in this bitch too.
Besides the militant black gang (who wear berets and army vests over rippling muscles), there’s also a gang of Asians who practice martial arts in a dojo littered with graffiti. The blacks and the Asians are all down with Jeff, but because of unwritten gang code they can’t help him fight against the Cobras. He doesn’t need the help though. He’s a goddamn one man army.
Baldwin (who similarly took on bullies in 1980′s My Bodyguard) is great as a youth boiling over with quiet rage. It’s no wonder he’s always punching people in movies. Overall 3:15 is one of the better ’80s teen gang hormone movies. It’s gritty, has some fun teen language, and doesn’t shy away from violence. It’s only available on VHS, but you can obviously watch the whole thing on YouTube.
Writing about Gangster Squad yesterday made me think about some other, better movies in which the mob is taken on by a small team of rogues. I mentioned The Untouchables in my review, since that film and Gangster Squad share a very similar plot – but there are a slew of others. My favorite ones involve criminal on criminal crime, in which the mob is taken on by a rogue group of hoods, out for revenge against the big business bullshit.
Two of the best examples of these films are based on the ’60s crime novels by Richard Stark: Point Blank (1967) and The Outfit (1973). Point Blank (based on Stark’s novel The Hunter) is a surreal, fever-dream of a revenge flick starring the immortal Lee Marvin that I’ll definitely write about at some point, but I revisited The Outfit recently so I’ll get to that bad bitch first.
The Outfit stars Robert Duvall as career criminal Earl Macklin. Macklin’s just outta the pen after serving two years for a concealed weapon bid. His girlfriend Bett (Karen Black) tells him that his brother was recently murdered by the Outfit (a classy name for the mob). Macklin gets to work, getting information on the murder from some Outfit slob at a poker game (see: illustration above). He learns that his brother was killed because they had knocked over an Outfit bank, and like all successful business models, anyone who hits an Outfit location has got to be buried.
Macklin enlists the help of an old partner, Cody, played by the great Joe Don Baker. Baker was in some James Bond movies, but he’s probably most remembered for his role as Sheriff Buford Pusser in the original Walking Tall. Along with guys like Bronson and Lee Marvin, Baker was one of those unique hunks who exuded a working-class, step up and get your teeth kicked in attitude. He’s got hands that look like they can crush a man’s skull, and for that, I love him.
Macklin and Cody start knocking over Outfit-fronted businesses. It’s explained in more detail in Richard Stark’s source novel of the same name, but because of decades of legitimate business fronts, the Outfit has gone soft. The employees at these fronts are never expecting to get robbed, so they’re never prepared for it and there’s gaping holes in their security. Macklin and Cody (who in the novel are named Parker and Handy) start shakin’ shit up in the underworld and the Outfit starts getting sloppy. When the Outfit’s at its most shook, the duo decide to break into the Godfather’s house and take him out – closing the book on Macklin’s revenge for his brother.
Directed by John Flynn (who helmed Rolling Thunder, my favorite revenge movie of all time), The Outfit is a quiet, patient movie. There’s a great shootout and a joyous payoff during its final moments, but preceding that the film exists against a bleak, tight-lipped landscape that’s more about gestures and scowls than bombastic, silly threats (“Here comes Sandy Claws!“). You spend a lot of downtime with Macklin and Cody as they drink, scheme, and wait around for a stolen car. They say a life of crime numbs you to horrible shit, and Macklin and Cody are living proof. They talk about dead buddies like they’re talking about the weather.
When there are bursts of action, they’re grounded, gritty, and filled with rage. No explosive flourishes or motorcycle backflips – just raw gunfire and people dying on their feet. This is the kind of crime flick I love. Unsentimental, bleak, and honest in its depiction of the relationship between crooks. Macklin and Cody are tough, but they aint phony slick like most action stars.
It’s the quiet moments in between jobs that really suck an audience into the underbelly of The Outfit. Like Macklin obsessively cleaning his gun in the hotel room or Cody enthusiastically talking about the diner he owns and hopes to settle down with once he “goes straight”, which he knows will never happen. These are the personal moments that elevate The Outfit to crime genre greatness – high above the silly goose shit of Gangster Squad.
I couldn’t find The Outfit streaming online, sorry, pals. But you can purchase it cheap through the Warner Archive‘s made-to-order program.
Judging from its matter-of-fact plot synopsis – “A drama focused on five months in the life of pedophile who keeps a 10-year-old boy locked in his basement.” – first-time director/writer Markus Schleinzer‘s drama Michael isn’t going to appeal to a wide audience. It’s certainly the darkest character study I’ve seen in recent memory and also the most well crafted. Schleinzer, a disciple of Michael Haneke (Funny Games), presents the character of Michael without passing any judgement, which makes it all the more unsettling.
Michael is a grumpy middle-class insurance salesman who from 9-5 works in his cubicle, begrudgingly goes out for drinks with his co-workers, and even goes on ski trips with them. But in general he’s testy and tends to keep to himself. When he returns home in the evenings, he shares some quality time with Wolfgang, a young boy who Michael keeps locked in the basement. They share awkward dinners together. They watch TV before bed. Michael even takes Wolfgang for a nice afternoon at the petting zoo. That wasn’t meant to be a euphemism – he seriously takes him to a petting zoo.
And, you know, Michael is a pedophile with a kidnapped boy in his basement, so…he does things to Wolfgang. Schleinzer wisely only shows us what we need to see, which is still highly disturbing but never graphic. These moments make up a very small fraction of the film and are cleverly implied by Michael washing up afterwards and marking off the date in his day-planner. We’re always with Michael, played with maximum creepiness by Michael Fuith, as he works, shops, and cleans his home. After a while, his routine feels normal – too normal. And that’s where the brilliance of the film lies. This evil man is a slave to routine like a lot of us and it’s really disconcerting to watch.
Michael’s world starts to spiral due to uncontrollable events and the secret of his boy-toy is threatened when a co-worker takes interest in Michael. On top of this intrusion, Wolfgang is getting lonely during the day and wants a brother (he already has a TV, what else does a little boy need?!). But even through these complications, the film’s bleak tone is never compromised by a police investigation or a pounding chase between Michael and an escaped Wolfgang. The end is sure to spark heated conversation between viewers.
Michael is a brilliant debut film that puts us at the dinner table with pure evil. The final 10 minutes are absolutely agonizing – I was squirming in my seat from the unbearable suspense (and from hanging out with a pedophile for so long). It’s surprisingly hilarious in places as well, as it satires the parent-child relationship. The horrible sexual abuse is kept off-screen while the real horror of the disgustingly aberrant routine of Michael and Wolfgang’s home life is front and center.
I highly recommend catching Michael on Netflix Watch Instantly before it’s gone. I also recommend watching it with someone else – a grandparent maybe – because you’re going to want to talk about the end.
There comes a time in every aging, hedonistic skate-punk’s life when he has to put down the bong and put things into perspective. For some the transition to adulthood goes fairly smoothly with limited demons to shrug off, but for others it may take a few tries and you might not land where you expected. Such is the case with Fullerton, CA semi-pro skater Josh “Skreech” Sandoval – the subject of Tristan Patterson‘s beautifully melancholic punk-rock documentary Dragonslayer.
Years ago a crippling depression caused Sandoval to take a hiatus from the skateboarding world. He lost his sponsors and is homeless – crashing in different friends’ apartments and in tents on their lawns. He’s self-destructive – he admits that – and is rarely seen onscreen sober. But he seems more than content living this way; floating around, only slightly bothered by the fact that he’s a father to a six-month-old boy. it’s not that he’s a bad person and is consciously not being there for his son, I got the hint that the mother didn’t want Skreech around. Maybe she’s afraid of the contact high.
We follow Skreech and his tight-lipped true love Leslie around Orange County, Copenhagen, and Portland, OR as they pursue no concrete goal other than to exist. And get high, or course. Along the way Skreech competes in a few skate competitions – placing in 3rd or 4th.
He eats shit a lot and often throws up in between runs, but it’s obvious there’s nothing he’d rather do in the world. Interviews with his friends and Leslie are scarce and no real light is shed on Skreech’s past, but the film is so deeply intimate that any outside opinion of him would feel like an obstruction.
There’s no standard narrative running through the film. Patterson goes for an impressionistic approach that remains affectionate throughout. The shots are beautiful and show a huge amount of promise for Patterson as a filmmaker. The serene shots of empty, abandoned homes and pools make Skreech look like a skateboard warrior in the post-apocalyptic economic crisis.
There’s a remarkable scene at a drive-in with Skreech and Leslie that looks pulled right out of a Cassevetes film. The ending is bittersweet – a smirk tattooed on the face of adulthood. There’s no bullshit sentiment – just an honest, intimate portrait of Skreech and the ugly, fire-breathing, shit-throwing world he inhabits. Dragonslayer is now available on Netflix Watch Instantly. This is the second film released by Drag City. Their first was Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers.
Back in 1994, powerhouse producers Debra Hill (Halloween, The Fog) and Lou Arkoff (heir to the American International Pictures throne) collaborated with Showtime on a series of films inspired by the teen rebel movies of the ’50s. Aptly titled Rebel Highway, the series’ concept was to have 10 established directors make drive-in B-movies with a “90s edge.” Somehow, among the all-star list of directors that included the likes of William Friedkin, Joe Dante, and Ralph Bakshi, a young Robert Rodriguez was asked to take on one of the films.
With only one feature under his belt (El Mariachi), a green Rodriguez delivered a cynical, rock and roll middle finger of a movie. Roadracers takes the ’50s teen rebel film and kicks in it in the nuts. The genre tropes are there, but they’re exaggerated, infused with plenty of blood and humor, and thrown in a blender. The film was supposed to be released on DVD back in 2005 but it never happened. Finally, it’s gotten the packaging it deserves on both DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s streaming now on Netflix Watch Instantly. It’s my new favorite Rodriguez movie.
A shockingly amazing David Arquette plays Dude Delaney – a loner who only cares about two things in the world: his girl and his guitar. He loathes everyone around him and sees them as a bunch of phonies. His girlfriend Donna (Salma Hayek in her first English-speaking role) wants a better life for Dude. She sees his potential for rock stardom but has a hard time convincing him he has any talent at all. His only pal is the ever-loyal Nixer (John Hawkes) – a foul-mouthed, walking obscenity. Together the three drink coffee, obsess over movies, and make fun of people. It’s hard not to like them.
During a drag race with local hood Teddy Leather (Jason Wiles), Dude accidentally torches the hair of Teddy’s girlfriend. Bent on revenge, Teddy reluctantly gets help from his father, the town sheriff. The sheriff has his sights on Dude too – taking out a long-time grudge against Dude’s father, who was a degenerate himself and skipped town when Dude was young. Teddy and Dude face off repeatedly – at the greasy spoon, at the roller rink, in the street, etc. Teddy (who is marginally dim-witted) can never seem to get the upper hand. He raises the bar in his feud with Dude by going after Donna – using her as bait to force Dude into a fight. Big mistake.
What starts off as a small rivalry builds up to a pure showdown to the death. The film shifts gears near the end and it’s like a black sheet of meanness is pulled over the entire thing. While there are some playful, light-hearted moments earlier in the film (the roller rink rumble has a very cartoon-like vibe), the final act is bloody gruesome. On top of his beef with Teddy, Dude has a soul-crushing revelation when he discovers that even his favorite band is nothing but a group of damn fakes. These injustices force Dude to transform into a leather-clad death dealer – taking to the street with his car and shotgun like Mad Max.
Roadracers is a genuinely badass, mean little film with a solid cast and soundtrack. It’s not all nihilism and knife fights though. There’s plenty of fun moments and some terrific musical numbers. It’s easy to spot the blossoming of some of Rodriguez’s signature stylistic touches that would reach full fruition by the time he made Desperado. The film also helped shape Rodriguez’s fast-paced, DIY approach to filmmaking – Roadracers had to be shot in 13 days with a meager budget of $1 million. Check it out on Netflix Watch Instantly before it’s gone, daddy-o.
Soft to the touch, Portland’s very own Blouse is a silky menagerie of lulling vocals and wistful 80’s-inspired frequencies. Every song on their self-titled debut is built up, somewhat, around the singing of female lead, Charlie Hilton, with tones that pronounce, support, and revere her gorgeously forlorn voice. Put it this way, if voices had a thread count, this chick’s would be fine Egyptian cotton.
It goes without saying that the vocals constitute the majority of the album’s pathos but don’t make the mistake of ignoring the elaborate synth that rests in the heart of each track. Whirring transmissions and reclusive dancepop are unraveled and folded neatly into one another as songs carry on. “Firestarter”, the opener, is traditional sounding in the grand scheme of the record. The moping guitar and generic drums are like spotless linens spread over the table, dressing the naked frame of Hilton’s lone words.
The clock ticks, not a single knock. “They Always Fly Away” and “Into Black” share a fleeting optimism that isn’t easily ‘danced off’. Sadness meets resentment as the keyboard whines and buzzes. “Videotapes” and “Roses” play on, echoing through the house as a reminder of this solitary night and all those that came before it. “Fountain in Rewind” is a witching finale that blows the candles out, melty melodies dripping like wax.
Plainly said, this release is as heartbreaking as it is stunningly rhythmic. So nobody showed up to your sweet sixteen? Drop the Leslie Gore routine and put on a Blouse, crybaby.
Over the past couple of months, there’s been a lot of shit talking about Netflix. From raising membership fees (boo hoo it’s still dirt cheap) to their oafish blunder with Qwikster – kicking sand in Netflix’s face has been all the rage lately. But while others have been trying to burn the greatest invention of the 21st century at the stake, I’ve been balls deep in Watch Instantly on the daily.
Recently, the suits at my “real job” have moved me to a remote office all by myself, so Watch Instantly has been my bitch for 40 hours a week. While cruising for a flick the other day, I got the inspired urge to search “Elliot Gould.” Mr. Gould is one of the most mesmerizing, natural actors ever – his turn in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye has me drooling no matter how many times I see it and your mother probably liked him in MASH. I was tickled and baffled to discover that Netflix is currently streaming one of Gould’s rarest gems: 1974′s Busting. This one isn’t even on DVD yet (although according to Amazon, it’s getting a release in Jan. 2012). There’s not even a trailer for it! It’s one of the “unreleased” blessings on Netflix; films not available on DVD but streaming nonetheless.
Written and directed by Peter Hyams (a Мишка Rewind alumni with his badass sci-fi drug flick Outland), Busting is a gritty, cynical cop flick in the tradition of The French Connection. Elliot Gould and Robert “Baretta” Blake star as undercover vice cops sick and fucking tired of seeing their prey walk away on legal technicalities. After the higher-ups assign them the humiliating task of busting perverts in a public bathroom, the duo decide to discreetly go vigilante and take on LA’s drug and prostitution kingpin: Rizzo (played by ’70s and ’80s character staple Allen Garfield).
Over 90 minutes, Gould and Blake take on a dirty dentist, a seductive hooker, an entire gay bar, a smut peddler, and, in one of the the most thrilling and well-choreographed foot chases put to film, a trio of drug dealers. No lie, the chase goes from a dark, claustrophobic apartment to a crowded market and every second of it is insane! Constantly the camera moves in ways that would have most contemporary action directors shitting their CGI pants. And through it all Elliot Gould has some bullet-proof swag. From his knitted pom hat and varsity jacket to his handlebar ‘stache and slim-fit three piece – Gould is like a well dressed deity of The Cool.
In conclusion: if you aren’t entertained by Busting, you’re a stuck-up retard and I never want to talk to you again. There. I said it.
*Elliot Gould Side Note: A couple years ago, I went to a screening of The Long Goodbye at Boston’s historic Brattle Theater. Gould was in attendance and was one of the most humble, intelligent, and hilarious Hollywood stars I’ve ever seen. You wouldn’t have guessed this was a living legend who was once married to Barbara Streisand. He was like any other schmuck who was just their to dig on a great movie. More proof that Gould is the shit: he called the Oscars a “masturbatory fantasy.” Truth!
The Haxan Cloak is unreal. An apparition. Songs barely contained within their space; sounds conjured rather than recorded. Häxan is the Swedish word for witch, with roots in old German, and The Haxan Cloak feels like some ancient European spell: snow-blanketed, fire-lit, cast and recast.
And it’s all summoned by one set of hands: Londoner Bobby Krlic, trained composer and sound designer supreme, a man ostensibly taken with the intricacies of noise and drone, of field recordings and open air. He’s described the project as “unavoidable-yet-escalating tinnitus,” but I’d go a bit further: it’s the sound of madness descending, uncontrollable, charmed like a snake by cults or covens. Built of hand-made percussion, jagged electronics and Krlic’s haunted way with stringed instruments, The Haxan Cloak is as reliant on your emotional reaction to the noise as the noise itself. The slow-moving dirge of “Raven’s Lament” with its heady, swarming atmosphere; the creaky surges of “Burning Torches of Despair” and illusory drone “The Growing”; those possessed growls introducing “Parting Chant” — each signals terror and tongues, the primal beat of fear, demons gnashing their teeth from the hot core of Earth. What villagers saw in the corners of their minds just before the stakes burned.
But it’s also beautiful in its way, the psychology of it, the association. Krlic’s created a cyclical composition that feels as historical as it does modern, this story unfolding over centuries rather than years. It’s something you could imagine hearing in stone amphitheatres and broken-down warehouses alike; a piece that commands the undivided attention of performance. Because really, The Haxan Cloak, above all else, is spinning a narrative both personal and ancient — and what you bring to it, which images and allusions, is what it becomes.
VVOVV, am I impressed! I really didn’t expect anything less than exhilirating from our instrumental comrades’ first full album now out on AMDISCS, the hostess with the mostess. Never faltering in their objective of infecting everybody who lays ears on them with a dancefloor virus, Poor Spirits have pumped out a 13-track satellite of electro-complexity that beams intangible, beat-laden messages from the shadowy lunar hemisphere to your hand-me-down, bedroom speakers.
This is far from our first run-in with the contentedly secretive 2-piece, having featured an earlier video of theirs recently and Sean reciprocally checking out our 305 Broadway hovel of doom, we’ve begun a strange symbiotic affair with the glassy stylings of Poor Spirits as they vow to keep our collective, totemic bear-head nodding to the sound that bends and refracts off their keyboard. At the launch pad, “ROLL” starts up, emitting tropical afro-surges and shimmery glints like sunlight hitting metal. From there, “OFFERING” and “LIBRE” sandwich one of my favorite tracks on the album, “GLOVV”, with unearthly drum n’ bass massages that resonate deep in the bones of the subject.
“GLOVV” is a machine-like syncopation of breakbeats that graciously disassembles, brick by brick, the wall that separates jungle and dancehall from the synth-heavy samplings of American artists right now. I can’t get enough of this jam, it’s circulating from my head to my feet like some sort of inorganic lifeblood and I damn well don’t mind. Wobbly transmission are a go!
Whether you’re alone, nose in science textbook, contemplating the speed at which sound travels or throwing a mean kegger while the folks are on vacation in Florida, don’t think twice about initiating VVOVV for take-off sequence and turning that volume dial till’ it don’t go no further. Sorry mom, I hope you can understand why, from this point on, I’ll be writing my double-ues a little differently from how you taught me.