Friday, July 29, 2011

Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc. - 1971

"Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc." - 1971
Dir. by Vernon P. Becker - 1 hr. 31 min.

Official Trailer

Two things:  it took me four separate sessions to get through this movie.  Second, I have no idea what the title refers to.  The titular (that refers to someone's name being in the title, sicko) main character (played by Diana Kjaer) didn't wear hot pants that I can remember, and certainly wasn't any CEO.  No, Dagmar is a hooker with a heart of gold and an eternal smile (and a passing resemblance to Emma Stone), and she's on her last day of work.  It's a busy day, though, there are a lot of clients with needs to be tended to, and a lot of loose ends to tie up.  Why is she leaving, and where is she going?  That's on a need-to-know basis, buster.

"Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc." is a fantastic title, even if it's a bit misleading.  I don't mean to imply that the film was awful exactly by mentioning how much I had to break it up in order to get through it, although it's not really a good film, either.  You have to judge these things by what they're trying to accomplish, and it's clear aim is to be a 70's European sex comedy (you can always tell these things by the horn-heavy music and the fact that the women can't seem to keep their clothes on).  On that basis, there's a lot of nudity and good looking women, there's a parade of implied sex (client after client after client), and it's definitely in Copenhagen.  As for the comedy, well...

There is actually one good scene, a wordless one where Dagmar visits a classical conductor (I'm assuming) who's cranking his reel-to-reel, and they end up in throes of passion choreographed to the blaring classical music.  As for the rest of the scenes, did I mention the frequent nudity and that the lead actress kinda sorta looks like Emma Stone?  Anyhow, Dagmar's plans go awry when her pimp shows up right before she's scheduled to hop on an airplane, and grounds her with the limpest pimp slap I've ever beholden.  She manages to slip away after her gazillionth shower of the movie, and wings her way to (SPOILER ALERT) her new husband, who she's been putting through medical school with her horizontal ways.

Look, there's a big part of me that thinks it's disingenuous to have some universally-liked, happy hooker who apparently has no bigger problem than a limp pimp and over-scheduling.  And I'd certainly be more forgiving of that if the movie was funnier to begin with.  But just how I started by telling you two things, I'll leave you by telling you two things.  First, this movie's about the boobs, stupid.  You and I know going in the whole point is light titillation.  Secondly, after watching "Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc.," I kind of miss tan lines.  A bare-white ass is miles funnier than a tanned one, and it's also kind of charming to not have to imagine a parade of bare asses all jammed up in a tanning booth, one after another, not to mention more hygenic.

2 / 5 - NF Streaming

Monday, July 25, 2011

Captain America: the First Avenger - 2011

"Captain America: the First Avenger" - 2011
Dir. by Joe Johnston - 2 hrs. 5 min.

Official Trailer

I've got to give credit where credit is due: Marvel Studios is doing a great job of making fun adventure movies out of comics characters I do not, and have never cared about.  For the fourth time in a row, I've been pleasantly surprised by their offerings (preceded by the two Iron Man movies and this year's "Thor"), so it might be time to re-adjust my expectations.  Then again, going by the "The Amazing Spider-Man" trailer shown before this movie, maybe I'm going to want to wait one more movie before doing so.

Captain America, in case you didn't know, was a comics character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the midst of World War II, and was a huge success.  The character actually pre-dates Marvel Comics, but was included in the original Avengers team (which shouldn't be a spoiler, unless you really don't know anything about Cap and where these Marvel movies are headed).  The quick version of the character is that Steve Rogers is a scrawny kid who desperately wants to join the Army and fight for his country, but is medically unfit to do so.  However, there is a loophole, the Super Soldier Project, in which Rogers happily enrolls.

The film is set in the early 1940's for the most part, although courtesy of Hydra (Hitler's radical science division), there is some anachronistic technology.  The fight scenes and war material are fantastic (in the sense that it's not rooted in reality), and I didn't mind that, seeing as how the character is essentially war propaganda  (and there is a nice take on that following Rogers' physical change in to Cap).  Captain America (played by Chris Evans) eventually takes on the task of wiping Hydra off the map, and directly taking on Hydra's leader, the Red Skull.  Along the way, the movie hits all the points it needs to, both in a storytelling sense and in a continuity sense.  There are nice nods to "Thor" and the Iron man movies (there's a macguffin from Thor's world, and Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark is a prominent character here), which is important to the sort of people who would be pre-inclined to see a Captain America movie.

I don't know how to discuss the film without getting into plot points, which I'd rather not do.  I'd rather say that this was a satisfying movie, and definitely did it's job in setting up the next film in the series.  Captain America comes across as a total hero (which he is), has a bittersweet love story with a beautiful woman (Hayley Atwell), and the bridge between the WWII era and the modern day is a lot better than in the comics version (where Cap was pretty much an ice cube that washed ashore).  My only real gripe is a comic geek one: Chris Evans has now played the Human Torch (in the Fantastic Four movies) and Captain America, which could cause the universe to cleave in half.  I guess that would be a bigger problem if the FF movies hadn't been so lame.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre

Friday, July 22, 2011

BASEketball - 1998

"BASEketball" - 1998
Dir. by David Zucker - 1 hr. 43 min.

Official Trailer

Now that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are established, respected satirists, it's interesting to go back and take a look at one of their early, non-South Park works.  "South Park" built a quick buzz, and this is one of the few external attempts to cash in on that buzz.  Actually, that makes it sound like a bad thing, which it isn't.  They were very hot for a period of time, and a lot of people wanted to capitalize on that.  For the most part, Parker and Stone stuck to "South Park," but this is the one movie they made that they didn't have complete responsibility for.

"BASEketball" is actually the last live-action film Parker and Stone worked on after "South Park" began airing ("Orgazmo" was filmed before they started working on the TV show) to date.  "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" was animated and "Team America" was a puppet movie.  David Zucker (of "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun" fame) co-wrote and directed this film, which is the only time Parker and Stone haven't assumed those duties, as well.  So "BASEketball" is kind of an odd duck in their careers.

The movie itself is a satire of professional sports (starting with a dead-on montage sequence explaining how sports found themselves in such a lowly state).  Cooper (Parker) and Remer (Stone) are twenty-something layabouts who end up inventing the sport of baseketball at a party in a futile attempt to impress some former classmates.  The sport takes off, going from driveway pastime to nationally televised, thanks to millionaire Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine).  Between the machinations of the evil owner of the Dallas Felons and the inevitable toll getting rich quickly takes on Coop and Remer, things threaten to fall apart.

Having seen a number of Zucker films, I find it hard to believe that Parker and Stone didn't at least take a crack at re-writing the script.  I've read a version of the script that doesn't give them credit (and they're not credited with writing at all), and while the structure and general idea are present, not much of the dialogue in the finished film is there at all.  And what's in the movie is much closer to what Parker and Stone do than what Zucker generally does.  Another interesting bit - this was the first film that Zucker had directed in seven years, and he wouldn't direct another one for five more years (a TV movie notwithstanding).  So I guess what I'm getting at is that Parker and Stone were super-hot, and Zucker wasn't at this point in time, and it feels like the dialogue in particular is really close to what Parker and Stone generally do, so it feels like they're more responsible for this movie than they took credit for.

Between the two comedy camps, what's here works fairly well.  Parker and Stone offer a willingness to cross the lines of propriety, and Zucker brings a gleeful ping-ponging across pop culture touchstones. Maybe the best example of how that worked was the foul-mouthed "Unsolved Mysteries" segment with Robert Stack, which came after Coop had "disappeared" for a couple of days.  It's a great gag, plus there's the joy of hearing Stack suggest that Coop might be "hanging in his closet from his fucking neck" without a hint of insincerity.  There's a ton of great gags along the way in the same vein - Bob Costas and Al Michaels doing off-color and oblivious commentary, Reggie Jackson's cameo towards the end, the Roadkill: Caught on Tape recurring gag (a take-off on "When Animals Attack").  The Psyche-Outs are pretty funny along the way as well, particularly Parker's.

So that leaves the nagging questions of what doesn't work, and why didn't this movie do squat at the box-office?  One of the big problems with the movie lies within the love story.  First off, Yasmine Bleeth isn't generally regarded as one of the finest actresses of her generation (nor is the actress in the other prominent female role, Jenny McCarthy).  The main function of the love story (particularly in a "save the house" film") is to shine a light on what might be an overlooked potential in the underachieving hero.  In other words, it serves towards a likability factor, and gives a solid reason for an audience to root for the hero to achieve whatever it is that he needs to achieve.  When the love story falls flat (as it does here, for a couple of reasons I'll get to in a second), the audience doesn't necessarily still root for the hero.

In this case, and ignoring Bleeth's acting skills (she got famous for wearing a swimsuit on "Baywatch," and she's rather modestly dressed throughout this film), there's a fundamental problem with the set-up for the character.  Jenna Reed (her character) runs a dying wish foundation, which means that she's nearly always in the company of half a dozen sick children.  It drains any sexuality out of her character (it's like looking at the Octomom with brood), and there's not much chemistry between her and Parker anyhow (and how you have a movie that's clearly going to get an R-rating, and then take an actress who's famous for her curves and hide them as fastidiously as possible is beyond me.  Forget it, Clay, it was the 90's).  It's like a placeholder love story - the only way that it makes any sense is that she's practically the Smurfette here.  It's Bleeth or nothing in the context of the film, but it just flat out doesn't work.  And since that doesn't work (and since the "save the house" portion of the story is introduced way too late, there are a lot of things that are funny but don't have anything driving them.  The relationship between Parker and Stone is far more interesting (and even culminates in a full-on dude-on-dude kiss), and is the unspoken focus of the story, but Jenna's inclusion muddies things (if her character doesn't actually accomplish the purpose it needs to, why have her in the story at all?).

"BASEketball" is funny, light, totally watchable.  It is not a particularly pointed satire (it's a lightweight topic, although it definitely nails some things on the head), it's not as awesome as "SP:BLU" or "Team America," nor even any of your favorite two dozen or so episodes of "South Park."  If you're a Parker/Stone fan, you probably should check this out, if only for the brief glimpses of Parker doing Cartman and Mr. Garrison voices over the course of the film.  But also understand, they didn't take any credit for this film beyond appearing in it, either.

3 / 5 - NF Streaming

Thursday, July 14, 2011

CB4 - 1993

"CB4" - 1993
Dir. by Tamra Davis - 1 hr. 29 min.

Official Trailer

Full disclosure: I love "Fear of a Black Hat."  At around the same time, another film that has almost exactly the same description was released, "CB4."  Both are low-budget mockumentary-style comedies based on Gangsta Rap, which was around it's peak in 1993.  And while I've seen "Fear" a handful of times, I'd never bothered to watch "CB4" until now.  And now that I've seen both, it's really hard to discuss one without the other (as they hit almost exactly the same points, even down to which rappers get made fun of, which means that either neither dug very hard for material or that they both were well-done).  I'll try to separate the two, though.

Chris Rock, Deezer D, and Allen Payne play middle-class suburban kids who like rap, but can't quite get their act down at open mic nights.  After getting thrown out of the club, Rock returns the next morning to apologize, and instead walks in on a Costco-sized cocaine deal, which quickly turns into a drug bust.  The club owner, Gusto (played by Charlie Murphy in his first film role), thinks that Rock is responsible, and vows revenge while being hauled off to jail.  In this moment, Rock's character has a flash of inspiration, and decides to pattern his group after Gusto, stealing both his name (Rock becomes MC Gusto) and his cell block for the group's name, CB4.  And it totally works.

But that story is sandwiched in another - there's a mockumentary story in the vein of "This Is Spinal Tap," although the timeline and structure of the movie is pretty sloppy in this regard, and it's to the detriment of the film.  There's also a storyline involving a politician (played by Phil Hartman) who tries to make some political hay off of moral outrage at such songs like "Straight Out of Locash" and "Sweat of My Balls."  Unfortunately, there's not much more to it than Hartman's comedic false rage and watching his son sing and dance to the songs - he doesn't present much of a threat at all.  At one point, Hartman's character threatens jail if CB4 plays "Sweat of My Balls" at their big show in Sacramento, which they of course play, and get hauled off to jail.  But even that's played for laughs; the other inmates want an audition with the hot rap group, and when MC Gusto is released the next day, his family members just want to know how jail was.

Again, strictly on it's own merits, "CB4" is okay.  If you liked SNL in the late 80's-early 90's, you'll appreciate seeing Chris Rock, Chris Elliott, and Phil Hartman again.  If you were raised on this type of music, you'll appreciate the digs at the C&C Music Factory and MC Hammer, although none of the humor cuts very deep.  I think that's my biggest problem, is that nothing cuts very deep at all, although I will cut some slack considering the idea of a film about rappers wasn't very commercial at all when this was released.  I can't even imagine how Chris Rock would have explained a harder hitting concept to money-men at this point, and this was also in the era of rappers getting shot and shot at, which is a whole other nightmare to deal with.

So if this is the sort of subject you have any affection for at all, you'll probably enjoy "CB4" (although Chris Rock was still very much a work in progress at this point).  And while it's both unfair and completely inescapable to compare it to "Fear of a Black Hat," I've got to say that "CB4" comes in second place in that race.

2.5 / 5 - NF Streaming

Monday, July 11, 2011

Behind the Burly Q - 2010

"Behind the Burly Q" - 2010
Dir. by Leslie Zemeckis - 1 hr. 37 min.

Official Trailer

"Behind the Burly Q" works better in the realm of nostalgia than as an informational documentary.  Part of it is the cognitive dissonance of having women who earned a living based on their physical beauty and stage routines constantly shown at uniformly advanced ages (I should say almost uniformly - Lili St. Cyr is represented by an interview she did with Mike Wallace in the black and white days of television) - it's a trip to  see retirement-aged women talking about stripping.  I don't know any way around that either, the only successful way I've seen interviews conducted at a much later date integrated into such a youth-oriented subject matter was in Julien Temple's "The Filth and the Fury," where the interview segments were lit to appear in shadow only, but that would be a bizarre way to approach material that's inherently visual in nature.

So let's get to what's good and what's not so good here.  There are a lot of interviews with a lot of burlesque performers, some of which were conducted not too very long before the performers passed away.  There's also some attention paid to the structure of the performances (contrary to what some might believe, it was a variety show that incorporated a number of different acts, nearly always headlined by the comedians), as well as how the laws differed in different cities, and things of that nature.  In that respect, there's a lot of good information, and most of the people that were interviewed didn't seem to regret their involvement in burlesque.

As for what's more problematic about the movie, some of the women that anyone would have heard of weren't directly involved.  Both Blaze Starr and Lili St. Cyr were represented by archival footage (understandable in St. Cyr's case, as she passed away more than a decade before this movie was made).  I don't know that it would have made a difference, but to someone with a passing interest (or less) in the subject matter, the star power isn't there.  Also, some of the more negative aspects of the business were only touched upon briefly, which is appropriate for the nostalgic romp that this is, but also is an approach that doesn't lend much weight to the subject at hand.

"Behind the Burly Q" is a fairly light, fun look back at a bygone era.  It is not a tell-all, it's not a substitute for late-night Cinemax, it's just an explanation of what average people looked for in entertainment in that era.  So enjoy it for what it is.

3 / 5 - NF Streaming

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Last Waltz - 1978

"The Last Waltz" - 1978
Dir. by Martin Scorsese - 1 hr. 57 min.

Official Trailer

"The Last Waltz" documents The Band's final concert, which took place in San Francisco in 1976.  If you're not exactly sure who The Band was, they're probably best known for the song "The Weight," or for the time during the 70's when they backed Bob Dylan.  This movie is frequently hailed as the best concert movie ever (and was directed by Martin Scorsese), so I had pretty high expectations going in.

While The Band's catalog of songs can hold their own, one of the things that's particularly fun about this concert is the steady stream of big name guest stars who drop in for a song or two.  The real highlights were Muddy Waters performance of "Mannish Boy," and Bob Dylan's pair of songs, "Forever Young" and "I Shall Be Released."  Also of note is the performance of their best-known song, "The Weight", featuring the Staples Singers.  I had a great time watching Neil Young's performance, but not necessarily due to the song itself.  The filmmakers had to retouch Young's footage, as he had a chunk of cocaine in or around his nose region, at great expense.  Other than that, the whole night's worth of music is consistently really good, though.

There were interview segments interspersed through the movie that effectively told the story of The Band, although it's not a "Behind the Music" sort of thing.  It was enough to give a sense of the personalities at play and the road to success, which combined with the performances, is a fantastic package.  I think that "The Last Waltz" is up there for best concert movie, although it's not a clear, runaway winner.  It's not a let-down by any means, and if you're into this kind of music it's a must-see.

4 / 5 - TV

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Van - 1977

"The Van" - 1977
Dir. by Sam Grossman - 1 hr. 32 min.


This movie was so terrible, I had to poke around on the internet to try and find out more about it.  And to my horror, it appears that I watched an edited version of this film (most of the reviews mention copious nudity, which was nowhere to be found in the version streaming on Netflix right now).  I had just figured that it was a poorly done made-for-TV movie, as there were periodic points where there was a black screen for several seconds.  Instead of being for commercial breaks, I guess they were sloppily-done edits to stand between myself and boobage.  This begs the question of why on Earth you'd want to edit out literally the only interesting thing in an awful movie, but that seems to be exactly what had happened.

I can't offer a fair assessment of a butchered movie, but I doubt it would have helped much.  Bobby (Stuart Getz) graduates from high school, which means that he can finally accomplish his life-long dream of owning a custom van.  Unfortunately, the van turns this happy-go-lucky kid into an absolute monster.  That's really a shame, since the van is completely awesome (it features a white fur interior, a waterbed with a mirror mounted directly above it, the then-state-of-the-art duo of a CB radio and 8 Track stereo, a mini-fridge, and even a toaster).  But under it's evil influence, Bobby passes on college, gets into multiple high-speed chases with the police, drives under the influence repeatedly, sexually assaults women, kidnaps his true love, and ends up having to drunkenly drag race the town alpha male, Dugan (Steve Oliver), in order to make his car note.  And nobody calls Dugan a turd!  Except Bobby, of course, who also completely slept with Dugan's girlfriend to console himself over another girl who didn't want to talk to him a couple of nights previous.  And Danny DeVito's in this movie for a handful of minutes as well, proving that he was born looking pretty old.

Since all the fun bits were cut out of the version I unwittingly was subjected to, the complete awesomeness of the van itself is the only thing left that was any good (although I have to imagine that in the event of an auto accident, literally all the cool stuff in the van would fly out of place and fully murder it's driver).  So, please don't bother watching this, and especially don't watch the edited version on Netflix right now.

* / 5 - NF Streaming