Rock ‘n Roll High School

Ultra-canny low-budget producer Roger Corman originally wanted to make “Disco High School.” Thank the rock gods hipper heads prevailed. Directed by Allan Arkush with assists from Jerry Zucker and Joe Dante, 1979’s “Rock ‘n Roll High School” is the cartoonish tale of the literally explosive results of the arrival of original punk rockers The Ramones at Vince Lombardi High. Free spirited hipster Riff Randle (P.J. Soles) and her straight-arrow best pal Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) must evade fun-hating Principal Togar (Mary Woronov) if they are to party down with two-chord musical geniuses Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Marky Ramone. Meanwhile, besotted but romantically inept football player Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten) enlists the aid of strangely suave ultra-dork entrepreneur Eaglebauer (Clint Howard) to woo Riff, unaware that the bespectacled but equally adorable Kate is the one carrying a torch for him.

It’s even sillier and messier than it sounds, but it all comes together, more or less, because of the likable chaos fostered by Arkush, a dominating performance by actress/performance artist Woronov who gets the film’s best lines — “Does your mother know you’re Ramones?” — a generally amazing cast, and, most of all, the music and presence of the aforementioned Ramones, three of its four members now sadly deceased. Featuring lots of performance footage — alas, in very low-fi monophonic sound — this is a big, sloppy kiss to the rock and roll spirit. It may not be the funniest comedy ever made, but it’s close enough for punk.

Click to buy “Rock and Roll High School”

  

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SXSW 2010: American Grindhouse

With grindhouse cinema making a bit of a comeback in recent years with movies like “Black Dynamite,” “Hell Ride,” and of course, “Grindhouse,” Elijah Drenner’s documentary about the history of exploitation film couldn’t have come at a better time. Narrated by Robert Forster (who’s appeared in his share of B-movies), “American Grindhouse” tracks this shameless and shocking breed of moviemaking from its birth in the early 1900s to its illusory transition into mainstream cinema today. Featuring interviews with directors like John Landis, Joe Dante and Jack Hill, and film historians like Eric Schaeffer and Eddie Muller, “American Grindhouse” may be a little vanilla in its presentation, but it’s a pretty fascinating story nonetheless.

In fact, while exploitation movies have been around almost as long as the movie camera itself, what’s most interesting about the genre is how much it’s evolved throughout the years. Drenner’s film studies this evolution, beginning with the implementation of the Hays Code by the MPAA, which forced filmmakers to brand their movies as “educational” in order to feature nudity or any other type of suggestive nature. This led to the “birth of baby” films of the 1930s, and eventually, branched out into the post-war burlesque movies of the 40s. For my money, though, exploitation cinema didn’t really take off until the arrival of nudie-cuties like Russ Meyer’s “The Immoral Mr. Tease” (which many consider to be the very first porno) and “women in danger” films like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s “Scum of the Earth.”

Along the way, Drenner also covers the gore films of the 60s and 70s (including a lengthy discussion about Wes Craven’s controversial “The Last House on the Left”), as well Blaxploitation cinema, “women in prison” films, Nazi exploitation movies, and the mainstream success of “Deep Throat.” The film’s most interesting segment, however, isn’t really about grindhouse cinema at all, but rather studio-funded movies like “Jaws” that offered the thrills of a B-movie with the production values of a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s exactly this change in the Hollywood system that essentially put an end to grindhouse, but as director John Landis is keen to point out, the very term “exploitation” is subjective, because as long as there’s an element you can exploit, it falls under the category of an exploitation film.

Landis may be the most recognizable name in “American Grindhouse,” but without his insightful and often humorous commentary, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. He brings some really great ideas to the table that the other interview subjects fail to even consider – namely the concept that mainstream hits like “Passion of the Christ” and “American Gangster” are actually exploitation films in disguise. It certainly makes sense, and if there’s one thing you should take away from “American Grindhouse,” it’s that exploitation cinema isn’t dead. In fact, if Landis is to be believed, it never will be. That may not be what Drenner was trying to accomplish with this film, but it’s a message I’m sure he could get behind.

  

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Links for a fun and strange day

I’m in the midst of a crazy day that for me that will include a screening tonight and then a quick jaunt across the street over to the New Beverly, which is in the midst of Dante’s Inferno, to catch a movie I’ve literally been trying to see for decades. It’s 1967’s “The President’s Analyst,” a political-thriller/spy comedy satire, which is basically three or four of my favorite genres all mushed up together. Writer-director Theodore J. Flicker went on to create “Barney Miller,” so there’s that, too. Sadly, I’ll miss the even more obscure first feature which I featured here just a couple of weeks back, “Cold Turkey.”

Anyhow, I shall be brief, or not. Starting now, anyway:

* It looks like there may be yet one more “last Kubrick movie” to come and it’ll be a Holocaust-themed drama to be directed by Ang Lee. Something tells me we’re looking at a Fall or Winter release here.

* Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” is attracting strong studio interest, not surprisingly. And I can still remember a time when they’d have to put a picture of a donkey on the film poster in order to get away with that title.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Cinephile blogs don’t care if I ignore them

But it’s still high time I take a look around the online petri dish that has nurtured me for so long…

* Jesus of film geek cool Dennis Cozzalio has a nifty conversation with director Joe Dante (“Gremlins,” “Piranha,” “Rock ‘n Roll High School,” “The Howling,” etc.) whose doing some ultra film-geek stuff in L.A. while finishing up his lowish budget 3-D horror film, “The Hole.”

* Kimberly Lindbergs reviews the new biography of Hal Ashby (“Harold and Maude,” “Being There”) whose fandom is definitely growing.

* There’ll be more posts like this to come, but I’ll wrap up with the amazing Self Styled Siren‘s discovery a couple of week’s back of a truly great YouTube clip featuring Fred Astaire dancing and singing a song now practically owned by Frank Sinatra. If Frank was the ultimate saloon singer, Fred was the ultimate urbane hoofer. And he was an underrated singer and actor as well.

Though the Siren has problems embedding, I can present it to you directly here. Even if you think you hate or have no interest in musicals, check this one out, by the time Fred starts dancing at 2:45, I promise you won’t be sorry. (The video, by the way, runs a bit long. Feel free to click away after Fred finally ambles out of the bar. Also, note that he tells humorist-turned-actor Robert Benchley that he plans to walk, not drive, home — which is not the way the song’s usually interpreted. That’s Astaire: class through and through.)

  

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One born every minute

Let’s face it, the movie business is all about roping in the suckers, but I mean that in the nicest possible way.

* Several Comic-Cons ago, a rumor was about that Marvel was going to stop publishing comic books entirely and concentrate strictly on making movies and generally just marketing the hell out of their characters. This struck me as patently absurd because, even if the tail is wagging the dog, you still need the dog. Nevertheless, fiscally speaking at least, Marvel’s waggable rear is definitely stronger than its canine according to Variety‘s Marc Graser:

….Licensing is expected to generate the most coin for the company during the year, with up to $215 million, followed by movies and TV shows at up to $150 million, and comic books with $120 million.

* “G.I Joe” is a chicken-hearted pantywaist when it comes to critics. It’s kind of funny because “Team America” got really good reviews overall and from all appearances this is pretty much exactly the same movie.

* Why is Anne Thompson so much cooler than other film journos? We’ll, she’ll go to see Bollywood movies in unfashionable Artesia, relatively close to my highly uncool zip code, for starters. She also has three great trailers, including one for the Coen Brother’s next film. “The rabbi is busy.”

* Apparently piggybacking somewhat on his Oscar night success, Hugh Jackman is going to star in “an original contemporary musical” for Fox based on the life of P.T. Barnum, the circus impresario perhaps most famous today for opining that a sucker is born every minute. (I’d go for each second, myself.) I’m not sure what they mean by “contemporary” given that Phineas T. Barnum died in 1891, but I take it that “original” is meant to differentiate the film from the 1980 Broadway musical which starred Jim Dale and Glenn Close. Apparently Anne Hathaway, who had also had a bit of success in the Oscar’s opening number, will be joining him as singer Jenny Lind (and there’s talk of a new version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel” also to pair Jackman with Hathaway).

The music will be by some guy named Mika, who I had never heard of until just now but whose opera background and overall approach reminds me of a more classic R&B/funk and T-Rex/Bowie influenced Rupert Wainwright. After watching the video below, I’m largely sold though I hope he tries to avoid anything too obviously anachronistic. (I’m not sure Barnum should be getting funky on us, though I love the funk.) The high quality of the music and Mika’s way around various types of retro sounds makes me think he might be just right for the project. Also, naming your song “Grace Kelly” won’t ever hurt your standing with me.


Mika – Grace Kelly
by SamFisher037
  

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