Posts Tagged ‘tragic

10
Feb
16

Phantom of the Paradise (1974): Salutations from the Other Side

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a Primal Root written review

I’ve long held that the golden age of American horror cinema stretched from the late 1960’s to the end of the 1970’s. It was an age when turmoil, violence and change was in the air. Filmmakers of the day were shaken and inspired by the horrifying, nightmarish world around them, internalized this terror and in the end brought it out of the darkness as some of the most devastatingly influential horror films the world will ever witness.  There is one other genre that happened to thrive in the 1970’s, one I know far less about, and that is the Rock Opera.

Flicks like Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, The Wiz not to mention, The Rocky Horror Picture Show would either garner rave reviews and great success or go on to become beloved cult films the world over. However, some fell by the wayside and are just now starting the reemerge and find recognition as beautiful cinematic oddities they are. And there is none I am more proud to see finally garnering the praise it has long deserved, Brian de Palma’s 1974 film, Phantom of the Paradise.

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Phantom of the Paradise blends the horror trappings of The Phantom of the Opera and Faust together and give it a glam rock makeover serving as a dark comic satire of the entertainment industry. Phantom tells the tale of Winslow Leech (William Finley in an awesome performance) a young and naive composer looking to make it big with his life long work, a cantata based on the legend of Faust. No sooner does the the owner of Death Records, an utterly charming, smooth talking, calm, collected and utterly malevolent man who has sold his soul to The Devil and goes by the name of Swan (Paul Williams) hear Winslow’s music does he find a way to steal it, exploit it and turn it into pop music garbage to open his long delayed rock palace, The Paradise, with. Swan frames Winslow and has him sent to jail where he is volunteered for an experiment which requires him to have all his teeth removed and replaced with new metallic chompers.  It isn’t long before Winslow hears his own composition on the radio, recreated as a turd of a pop song, and flees from prison. In a psychotic rage Winslow breaks into Death Records, ends up getting disfigured in a vinyl record press, vanishes into the night and is presumed dead…But soon after his disappearance a masked phantom begins stalking the darks hallways and backstage at The Paradise, determined to rain murderous vengeance upon all of those who have hurt and betrayed him.

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Along the way, The Phantom ends up becoming infatuated and falling in love with a young, inexperienced but quite talented singer named Phoenix (Jessica Harper), the only person The Phantom permits to sing his work. Anyone else who tries, he promises, will be killed. Of course, Swan makes the decision to have The Phantom’s music performed by what he considers to be the future of music, a glam rock monster who goes by the name of Beef (Gerrit Graham, who is funny as shit in the role). Despite mid shower plunger to the gob warning from The Phantom, Beef is convinced to perform as scheduled…

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Phantom of the Paradise functions as great piece of anti-establishment satire against the soulless corporatization of art and artists alike. Not only this, but Phantom is also a full on musical, complete with song and dance routines, with every song written and composed by Paul Williams. These elements together do nothing but accentuate the strangeness of the film, it’s so bizarre, so daring and so breathlessly creative, it leaves the viewer’s mind reeling. All this quirky genre blending and tonal shifts leaves us with an unexpectedly heart wrenching musical tragicomedy. I can think of few other films that achieve this level of absurdity and poignancy.

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Still with me? I know the description above may sound a bit overwhelming, and indeed, there is a whole lot to take in with Phantom of the Paradise. It is sensory overload, but in the best possible way you can imagine. Despite the film’s litany of references to other cinematic greats, (Touch of Evil and Psycho, to mention just the tip of the iceberg) Phantom of the Paradise is among the most singular and unique films ever made. Any attempt at synopsis can only do Phantom so much justice, because the heart of the film lies in the experience of watching it. It is very often compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, released a year after Phantom of the Paradise, and if I am being honest, the two couldn’t be more different. I suppose it is more inviting to spend time with a group of people basking in their own carnal desires than with a group of tortured artists who sold their soul for rock and roll. It’s just a damn shame Phantom of the Paradise never quite caught on in the states. Of course, I’ve heard the film is fucking HUGE in Canada. And, in face, the two fellows from Daft Punk, according to Paul Williams, met at a screening of Phantom of the Paradise! But that has nothing to with anything…just a cool bit of trivia.

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However, in a way, I kind of hope it remains a hidden gem that exists just below the radar. This way it will never be over exposed to the point of nausea or run into the ground to the point of tedium. Phantom of the Paradise is much beloved by those drawn to it’s peculiar story, dark, comedic, enchanting characters, beautiful songs and unchained artistry. Phantom is a film every bit as much for the misfits as Rocky Horror, but with a much more tragic and lyrical fantasy narrative. You cannot help but feel pity and sympathy for Winslow and righteous indignation once he is transformed from sweet Winslow to the pained and murderous Phantom and finds his revenge. One cannot find something darkly funny about Swans form of easy going, suave, laid back evil as he knowingly manipulates those around him to his bidding, feel sadness as Phoenix is corrupted by fame and absolute astonishment at the the radical comedic performance of Gerrit Graham as Beef.

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Phantom of the Paradise is a marvel of a film. Brian de Palma, Paul Williams and company have crafted something so different, so daring that mainstream audiences had no idea what to make of it. A film so beautiful, poetic, energetic and well played is obviously becoming relic. A thing of the not too distant past, when artistry, creativity and taking chances we heralded above ticket sales and domestic box office grosses. I suppose it’s no big surprise at this point for me to reveal Phantom of the Paradise would rank as one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time. It’s a story of love, passion, betrayal, revenge and possibly redemption set to some of the grooviest goddamn songs to ever be featured in a motion picture. A story of how monsters are created and the good guys and bad guys we all have the potential to be. For those who have never seen it, I recommend highly recommend checking it out, but keep in mind it is not everyone’s cup of glitter. For those of us who adore the film, it;s always worth heading over the The Paradise from time to time and witnessing one of the funniest, most lyrical, most enjoyable tragic love stories ever told.

I’m awarding Phantom of the Paradise 5 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy, Gang!

-Root

12
Sep
15

The Last American Virgin (1982) or The Heartbreak Kid (NSFW)

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a Primal Root written review

“I’ll take a rocky road!” – Diane Franklin as Karen in The Last American Virgin

Like so many of my peers I spent my pre-teen years glued to the late night cable every Friday and Saturday night hoping to get a glimpse pf some nekkid female flesh. And you know as well as I do that typically the best place to find bouncing, glorious, nekkid young ladies beside slasher movies was the pot o’ gold known as the “Teen Sex Comedy” aka: Teenspolitation. You know the kind, Porky’s, My Tutor, The Cheerleaders, Screw Balls, Private School, etc. where a group of guys, typically three dudes, are on a quest to get laid and/or see naked women and sometimes end up learning a little something about themselves and the nature of mature, adult love along the way. Watching these films as a kid in the cover of darkness in my living room I imagined that this was exactly what was in store for me in the years to come. Sexual escapades, peep holes in the locker room, girls getting naked and attacking me while I slept.

Of course, now I am in my thirties. I am thrilled to be married to the love of my life, and I have a bit of experience under my belt (pun intended) that I will be sure to pass on to our future spawnage one day as they discover the wonderful realm of the opposite sex and Teensploitation. I will do my damnedest to make sure The Last American Virgin is their introduction to the Teen Sex Comedy genre of Trash Cinema. Because it starts out fun and stupid, but becomes something far more honest and dark by the time the credits roll.

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The Last American Virgin tells the story of Gary  (Lawrence Monson of Friday the 13th:The Final Chapter …uh, fame), a young high school pizza delivery guy and the last last American virgin of our film’s title. Gary appears to spend every waking moment when he’s not delivering pizza getting into bizarre, awkwardly comical, borderline criminal sexual misadventures with his two best buds, lady killer and local stud Rick (Steve Antin, that kid who gets propelled off of a toilet while taking a dump in The Goonies) whose hair gel must have cost half the budget of the film and David (Joe Rubbo in his first of only three acting rolls) as the very natural and truly funny overweight comic relief. These three promise the girls cocaine to get them in the sack at Gary’s place, and then under the gun, feed them lines of Sweet & Lo with a side of “Crispy Chips” before Gary’s parent’s show up and discover a bunch of topless teenage girls stomping around the house and nearly leads to Gary’s Mom getting sexually assaulted by David. If they’re not lying to blossoming teenage girls in order to fuck them or trying to fuck one another’s Mothers, they can be counted on to be having a hardon measuring contest in the high school locker room, “The guy with the biggest tool wins the pool!” or waiting in line at the apartment of one of Gary’s horny pizza delivery clients in order to run a train on her, or attempting to drown their recently acquired crabs in a public pool.  Yeah, it’s typical Teen Sex Comedy stuff, but it has a bit of a darker, edgier feel than most.

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Gary happens to be absolutely smitten with a new girl in school, the gorgeous Karen (Diane Franklin, from Terror Vision, Amityville Horror II: The Possession, Better Off Dead and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) whose first line, as she orders a scoop of ice cream and the local teen hangout, foretells not only her story, but Gary’s, “I’ll take a rocky road.” In fact, Gary orders the same thing. Maybe I am reading too much into these character’s ice cream preferences, but after watching this movie a couple times, I can’t help but think this is am excellent use of ominous ice cream flavors by the screen writer in order to drop a hint as to where this movie is going to end up drop kicking you to.

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Gary is so creepily in love with Karen he deflates the tire on her bicycle one morning in order to drive by in his “Pink Pizza” car and offer her a ride to school. This is straight up stalker behavior. We’re supposed to empathize with Gary as he offers her help, then a ride to school and is then rejected when he asks her out on a date before she heads off to class. But Gary is kind of a creeper. Karen claims she can’t go out with Gary to a party because she has something else to do. What is this other thing she has to do? Well, turns out she is attending the exact same party but is hanging all over Rick, the local high school cherry buster and go-to fuck buddy. As expected, Gary is heart broken, ends up drinking an entire bottle of Jack Daniels before acting like an idiot an being sent home where he embarrasses himself further by trying to fuck one of his Mom’s friends.

Typical life of a teenage, man.

Also, I just want to state that Karen’s best friend is played by none other than Kimmy Robertson from TV’s Twin Peaks. I think she’s supposed to be playing the annoying nerdy friend, but man is she cute. Plus she looks absolutely fetching in her tiny bikini by the pool. Just sayin,’ I don’t see why no one wants to date her in the movie.

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See, turns out Karen is a virgin just like Gary and he wants to date Karen, and be good to her, treat her right and romantically, gently lose their virginity to one another in his warm or her parent;s warm bed. What is it with people wanting to fuck int heir parent’s bed in teen sex movies? I guess it’s bigger than their own bed? Still, the lack of space of my own bed would be preferable to getting it on in the bed my parents presumably do on a regular basis. ESPECIALLY if I;m popping a girls cherry. How in the Hell do you explain the blood stains to your folks? They go away for the weekend and come home to think their son is an axe murderer who seduces women and then chops them to pieces between the sheets. Is it worth the risk?  I mean, if it were my kid I would laugh my ass off and perhaps take the ruined sheets and have it sewn into a commemorative flag and have it framed for them before hanging it in their room.

Sorry, got side tracked there, Gary know that if Karen dated Rick she will end up unceremoniously getting her fresh virgin pussy torn up by a guy who has any number of STD’s and honestly doesn’t really give a shit about her beyond the fact that she is female and looks to be an easy lay. Quite a bit of The Last American Virgin‘s run time is devoted to Gary trying to keep Rick from busting out Karen. Now, this is a pretty standard, undignified stereotype of a guy coveting a young lady as a thing as opposed to a fellow human being. Something of a trophy to be had. Gary is supposed to be a good guy, but he is so wrapped up in trying to get Karen to do exactly what HE wants as opposed to what SHE wants even though it is apparent to the viewer that she is making the decision to fuck a jerk, but that is HER decision to make, even if it’s a pretty lame one. Hey, girls can fuck whoever they want to, too, Gang. So lay the fuck off. As if Gary would be any better a decision. This guy has possessive “Nice Guy” written all over him. Sure, he would be sweet at first, but I guarantee you he will want to know exactly where you are at all times, what you;re doing and photographic evidence and eye witness testimony  if you are out of his eye sight for more than ten minutes.

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 ****SPOILERS AHOY!****

So, despite Gary’s best efforts, Karen gets fucked by Rick in the announcement booth at the high school football stadium under cover of darkness. It’s actually a pretty great scene as Karen gets mounted by Rick, makes that little *gasp* as she gets tagged all the while sad sack Gary hangs out just below under the bleachers and gently weeps that the girl he wants is getting deflowered at that very moment just a hundred feet or so over his crying eyes. It’s a fantastically sexy/sad moment and the two moments, one of sexual arousal and one of deep self pity is fucking amazing. Few teen sex movies ever go after this kind of emotional punch and it works splendidly well. It’s an emotional place I;m sure most of us have been before. Sure, it;s selfish, it’s probably a little lame, but it’s honest and it’s real. The person we want to be with so much refuses to give you the time of day and enjoys to the company and genitals of some other person who seems to so easily always get their way. It’s rough, and you hate feeling bad for yourself, but you can’t deny these stupid fucking emotions.

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Now, if this were the only scene of such raw emotional content, I would consider The Last American Virgin to be a resounding success. But this film is not satisfied with having us relive one of the darkest moments of our adolescents, no. The Last American Virgin is not done with us yet. See, fast forward after that moment of pleasure in the nicotine stained, B.O. scented announcer’s booth, Rick wants nothing to do with Karen anymore. Why is this? Because it’s almost Christmas break and he wants to go skiing and bang some other random chicks. But more importantly, Karen is pregnant. Gary finds out while trying to comfort an obviously deeply hurt and upset Karen and promptly attacks Rick in the school’s library. Gary claims Karen is a slut and that the baby could be anyone’s before piling into a VW van with a bunch of hot to trot teenage horn dogs and leaving all the responsibility for his actions behind him. Rick, what a guy!

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Well, “Nice Guy” Gary ends up taking care of Karen and paying for her abortion. Yes, he pays for the abortion Karen wants of the baby she and Rick made. In one brilliantly conceived, acted, shot and edited montage we watch as Gary takes Karen to the clinic and then goes around town scraping up cash to pay for the procedure, $250 to be exact. He pawns his stero equipment, raids his parents rainy day fund, and even begs his boss at Pink Pizza for some cash. Gary works his ass off to get the money together and all this is intercut with scenes of Karen undressing, the doctor snapping on rubber gloves, her legs being spread and bound down as she is prepared for the abortion. There is one shot during this montage that haunts me. It’s a shot that lasts no longer than maybe ten seconds, yet speaks volumes. The shot begins on Karen’s panties as she begins to slowly take them off in the doctor’s office. We see her pubic hair peek over the top of her panties as the camera pans up across her belly past her beautiful breasts and up to her lovely face as she begins to cry. Mother fucker, THIS is one incredible moment in teensploitation! This is cause and effect! We are instantly titillated, as we have been programmed to be, we see the objectification, crotch, sexy belly, a lovely rack, and then we see the face of this beautiful young woman in absolute agony. We register the pain, regret and the horror. It’s a shot of dark, brutal reality applied directly to your trashy, jaded little heart and it stings, man. It stings bad. Because the point is made abundantly clear, simply, efficiently. That these moments of pleasure, these brash decisions we follow in the sake of fleeting passion, these fucking choices have consequences! Again, it;s an ingenious moment of juxtaposition unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in a movie of this ilk. Sure, Fast Times at Ridgement High has an abortion take place, but it was off screen and no one ever really looked all that torn up about it. The Last American Virgin fucking guts it’s audience, breaking the conventions of the teensploitation form, and shows us that the teenage quest to get laid is a fools quest, that if you are irresponsible, if you rush into things you are not yet ready for, you will face the horribly consequences and be faced with some serious choices. Wrap it up EVERY TIME, kiddos! Did I mention this fucking montage is set to U2’s I Will Follow? I will never hear this sone the same way again…

Well, after these harrowing events, Karen and Gary bond a bit during her recovery and Gary buys her a ring he is going to present to her at a party, he assumes he has finally won Karen;s heart by showing he’s responsible, caring, non-judgmental and will to lie, beg and steal in order to resolve Karen’s bad decisions. Gary  shows up to the party and finds Karen making out with Rick, her aborted fetus’s Daddy, who is back from his Christmas Ski and Fuck Fest Gary splits, understandably devastated. The final shot of the film is of Gary as he drives off into the dark night in tears and the credits roll over his sopping wet face. Still a virgin, forever alone. Ever been kicked in the balls with a steel toed boot? Well, get ready to experience the cinematic equivalent.

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The Last American Virgin is one excruciatingly dark story. Unapologetically honest, brutally raw in it’s depiction of the wages of teen sex, The Last American Virgin is a phenomenal flick. It’s like the Requiem for a Dream of Teen Sex Comedies. Sure, the first half is a lot of laughs and whacky sexual hijinks, but that last half sure busts up that party pretty fast. I’ve never seen a flick like The Last American Virgin. I mean is this a feminist film? The “Nice Guy” manifesto? I think this film is far beyond either, really. It drop these conventions, these labels, and portrays these teens as inexperienced, often times selfish, often irresponsible human beings where the typical teen movie creates nothing more than characatures of tired, old stereotypes. There are no easy answers in The Last American Virgin. Like life itself, so many of these moments that shape us, the traumas that make us who we are go without any closure or reconciliation. The Last American Virgin captures this perfectly. Sure, it starts out as a bit of goofy, escapist tits and ass fueled teen sex comedy, but by the end you will feel like you you got whacked in the but by a sledgehammer as reality rears it’s ugly head.

The Last American Virgin is a classic and I cannot recommend it enough.

FIVE out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets!

The Primal Root says you gotta see this one.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

09
Jun
12

God Bless America (2011): Aiming for The Dream

a Primal Root written review

God Bless America (2011):  Aiming for The Dream

I haven’t had cable television in over a decade. I refuse to pay for something that every time I flip it on I feel as if my brain is steadily being churned into chunky apple sauce. This is not to say that I don’t know what’s on there. On occasion, I have sat and witnessed what most of our nation happily plops down and allows to be broadcast into our living rooms every evening.  You know, for the entire family to enjoy. Let’s just say, it’s mildly disturbing. What are the repercussions of such resignation on our society? A world where our entire culture and society is saturated with celebrity gossip, ugly, degrading reality television, and political pundits who would rather preach hate and intolerance than have an intelligent and respectful discussion?

Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest directorial effort, “God Bless America”, takes on this disheartening concept in the form of a deeply dark, satirical comedy. It’s got something for everyone who’s sick of  the “Oh, no, you didn’t!” generation that’s grown up planted on a couch, glued to the screen, all but lobotomized, and no longer concerned with discerning thought, open-mindedness, respect, common courtesy, or even kindness. It’s a generation of people who demand respect, but don’t give it in return, who demand to be heard but refuse to listen,  who know they come first and the rest of the world just doesn’t fucking matter.  Of course, this is a “fictional” world that our protagonist, Frank, inhabits, right? A middle aged, middle class, divorced parent who also happens to be a war veteran.  He must deal with his obnoxious neighbors who don’t seem to mind their 24/7/365 wailing infant, and talk loudly and incessantly (over their screaming offspring) about occurrences on their favorite TV shows and the latest gossip on Bradgelina.
Frank is aware of this drought in the human spirit. That we have sold it for a fast food and soulless culture that worships greed and selfishness over compassion and selflessness.  Frank sits in his living room flipping through the channels as photoshopped pictures of President Obama dressed up as Adolf Hitler are promoted as some kind of warped sense of reality, a random, class-act reality TV star pulls out her bloody tampon and angrily splats it across the face of her costar who, I can only assume, crossed her (the details of their quarrel are lost among beeped-out dialogue). It’s a sick, sad world Frank lives in.  And not even he ever-cool “Daria” kind. To make matters worse, Frank has just lost his job, been informed he has an inoperable, fatal brain tumor growing in his noggin, and his pre-teen daughter refuses to come visit him flipping her shit over receiving a Blackberry instead of an iPhone for her birthday.
Frank can’t take it anymore, but just as he wraps his lips around the barrel of a Glock the blue light of the television screen spills over him.  “My Super Sweet 16” is on and an entitled high schooler is cursing and berating her parents in a self-righteous rage after she is presented with a top o’ the line vehicle that is NOT the one she had envisioned.  Frank comes to the epiphany that the gun he’s holding is pointed in the wrong direction.  Our hero ends up on a road trip to off the outrageous brat he blames for his own daughter’s (and the general world’s) ridiculously selfish behavior.  However, he, also, winds up inspiring and being inspired by a teenage girl, Roxy, who’s just as disillusioned and angry at the egomaniacally brain-dead society they are forced to abide.  Or are they?  They lock, load, and go on a rampage laying waste to those assholes who talk and text during movies, jerks who take up two full parking spaces, and hate mongers who stand at the side of the road holding signs declaring “God Hates Fags”. Frank and Roxy gun them down and mow them over with glee.  I can’t help but chuckle at the carnage as these people are decimated and punished for being a part of a “civilization that is no longer interested in being civilized”.
As is the case with Bobcat’s previous work, God Bless America will have you laughing with dark revelry as those who make everyday life a constant struggle finally mess with with the wrong nice guy.  Also typical of Bobcat, despite the deeply-etched satirical pitch-black edge, the filmmaker manages to imbue this work with genuine, human emotion, poignancy, and thought-provoking pathos.  Joel Murray, the instantly recognizable character, is amazing as Frank.  He infuses the role with so much heart and believability that you cannot help but root for the guy, whether due to or despite his impressive body count.  Roxy,Tara Lynne Barr, as Frank’s young sidekick and voice of the younger generation  is a firecracker, a natural whose sassy, fun performance, keeps the film well-paced and peppy.
God Bless America is a sometimes graphic, often profane and funny for most of its running time. However, by film’s end it starts to register that this is the same violent and malicious motivation that drives those who blow up abortion clinics or lynch people because of the color of their skin. The killers we profess to despise believe they are murdering those “who deserve to die” too, right?  The first 45 minutes of God Bless America starts out blazingly funny as it lampoons pop culture and society at large, but as it winds to a close the viewer may begin to wonder, have both Frank and Roxy steadily descended into the mean-spirited people they were trying to destroy?  God Bless America is hilarious, tragic, sometimes uncomfortable,  frequently challenging, and totally uncompromising.  It’s the kind of film that doesn’t come around very often, anymore.  One that asks some nasty questions, takes an angry stance, and asks the audience to internalize these things. That they sincerely ask themselves just what the fuck they make of it all.
And keep your eyes peeled for TV’s Frank from MST3K in a brief cameo.  Guck-Ga-Yuuuuw!
Stay Trashy!
-Root



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