Wayne’s World [1992)

When I was a kid, film was something you put in a camera.

Movies were movies.

Cinema didn’t really exist in my vocabulary.

There were no connotations between these three words.

Film, movie, cinema.

And so this was a movie I grew up on.

On which I grew up.

It was many years before I took Churchill’s admonitions about grammar seriously.

Grammar grammar.

Not film grammar.

And so here we have a very fine, enjoyable film.

Probably not coming to the Criterion Collection (unless it’s April Fool’s).

The milieu is rock and roll.

This film taught me a lot.

[Back in the days when I thought “alot” was a word.]

“Where’s von Stroheim?”

“He’s alot.”

Alas…

I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know sparkling wine from Dom Perignon.

Didn’t know Cantonese from Mandarin.

And lots of other subtle shadings which I’ve since come to appreciate.

This was probably Penelope Spheeris’ shining moment.

Unless you’re a fan of punk rock (and I am).

She did a hell of a job directing this unlikely hit.

Wayne’s World grossed nine-times its budget.

Those are early-Bond numbers.

The sequel (not directed by Spheeris) barely broke even.

Oops…

Kinda like when The Strokes fired Gordon Raphael.

But I guy dress…

Mike Myers was wonderful here.

29 years old.

Looking fit and really nailing his part.

There’s something very natural about the comedy of Wayne’s World.

It’s far less stilted than even the best of the Austin Powers franchise (that being the first installment…FYI).

The immensely-talented Dana Carvey is good as Wayne’s painfully-awkward sidekick Garth Algar.  The role doesn’t really make the best use of Carvey’s talents, but sometimes you gotta suck it up for a payday.

[Like the Suck-Kut, for instance.]

Wayne’s World had its own lexicon…patois…parlance.  Schwing!

It’s a little racy.

Wonder how Claudia Schiffer felt to be reified thusly?

Guess she should have thought about that when she started hawking jeans.

There’s really no escaping Lara Flynn Boyle recently (thank God!).

She has the worst role of all.

But I suppose Twin Peaks wasn’t exactly the same pay grade as Seinfeld.

She wasn’t selling out, she was buying in.

Indeed, I don’t doubt Morgan Spurlock pulled the kernel of inspiration for his The Greatest Movie Ever Sold from the sequence in which Wayne gobbles Pizza Hut, Doritos, and Pepsi while Garth is pimped out in Reebok gear.

Somebody’s interminable band name list got put to good use…

Crucial Taunt?!?

I must say, that detail escaped me as a kid.

But that was before I had a brief (burn out, not fade away) career as a rock musician.

We didn’t know Queen.  We didn’t know Kierkegaard.  We didn’t know Hendrix.

It was an exceptional experience on many levels.

As an impressionable youth.

Rob Lowe (a very strong comedic talent) has to play the yuppie prick in this vehicle.

Chris Farley has a memorable (yet all-too-brief) cameo as a security guard.

Farley and director Spheeris would reunite a few years later for Black Sheep.

Brian Doyle-Murray gets the treatment in his interview.

[“This man has no penis.”  Must-watch TV.]

Multiple endings…

Remarkable ingenuity.

Can’t say I’m familiar with such Situationist play in even the most erudite of art films.

But of course the gleeful bathos of the Scooby-Doo ending brings us back down to Earth.

Tia Carrere is really charming as the heroine.

Colleen Camp (remember her from Bruce Lee’s “almost” Game of Death?) has a crap role.

At least she helped Cassandra Wong learn English by way of the Police Academy movies.

Meat Loaf as doorman.

Ed O’Neill as murderous donut shop manager.

Donna Dixon as Garth’s dream woman (remember the babe from Spies Like Us?  Yeah, that one.).

And Alice Cooper!!!

Some history of Milwaukee and socialist mayors.

You gotta love rock and roll 🙂

 

-PD

 

 

Game of Death [1978)

Panopticon.

Self-censorship.

Can’t leave well-enough alone.

Yes.  In America we have our heroes of the Revolution.  George Washington.  Paul Revere.

But here…we have a sad goodbye to a great hero for Hong Kong.

Thus begins the Bruce Lee apochrypha.

It starts very bad.  Some of the editing seems straight out of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show.

But it gets better.  Way better!  No, this is not a great film.  It’s not even really a good film.  But for fans of Bruce Lee it is worth watching for several reasons.

I must admit:  Bruce Lee brought about a change in my innermost being.  I know that sounds naïve.  I owe some credit to Shaquille O’Neal.  I just happened to catch an interview between Shaq and Yao Ming in which O’Neal admitted that his passion for basketball stemmed from being inspired by Bruce Lee.

Having recently seen Lee’s canonic oeuvre when I came across this interview, it made total sense to me what Shaq was saying.

And that brings us to one of the highlights of Game of Death:  Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Yes, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer indeed plays a fairly significant role in this film.  What is more, this gives me the opportunity to reach out and wish Kareem a speedy recovery as he has just recently undergone coronary bypass surgery.

It actually is amazing that director Robert Clouse put together a semi-watchable film from what little he had to go on.

Hugh O’Brian is pretty good in this.  It’s just a shame that his acting talents go to waste in dialogues with body doubles.

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, let me clarify:  Bruce Lee was no longer alive when this film was being put together.  Though Lee filmed portions of it, his absence presented a particularly insurmountable problem.

It pains me to say this, but it really is the ensemble cast which keeps this film afloat when it should lag and sag from Lee’s missing contribution.  Dean Jagger is a disgusting psychopath who reminds me of what I imagine Donald Rumsfeld to be like behind closed doors.

The biggest saving grace is Colleen Camp.  She looks so beautiful in this film!

As for there being a conspiracy involved in the demise of Bruce Lee, I don’t doubt that for a second.  Unfortunately, it is not a subject on which I have any pertinent knowledge.

We fans can continue to gain inspiration from the anti-fascist characters Lee embodied.  His short life brought such joy and exhilaration into the world.

-PD

Winter of Frozen Dreams [2009)

What a beautiful title…like Bashō, Li Po, or even François Villon.  In this age of over-medication, we hear of new disorders every day (accompanied by ridiculous commercials we have to endure with relatives at Christmastime).  Of special note in these cold days is seasonal affective disorder.  It’s legend as something independent of general depression lives on as most people do not have the DSM-IV or DSM-5 by their bedside.

And so, “with seasonal pattern” there are many of us who struggle especially in the wintery days of the year…especially if we feel our dreams have been suspended.  Ah, suspended animation…it can be beautiful…like insects caught in amber (that Greek touchstone which lends our word “electricity” an etymology).  Static electricity and ēlektron (the classical name for amber)…  Such irony that flies and gnats would meet their demise drowned in the same substance…and countless days later we wonder at the beauty of their death.  It is one of the few times death can be generally agreed on as beautiful.  In the spider frozen in amber, we marvel at the beauty of the creature.  Their life is preserved.  While they have ceased to exist as a living creature, their form lives on through the sepia light which attests to them having existed.  Grammar becomes difficult in such a state of was/is/will be.

But alas, as they say, this film is not really a poetic tour de force.  It is, however, a time capsule which presents a haunting portrait of the northern U.S. in the late-’70s.  One wonders whether the props department of Boogie Nights was lifted whole-cloth (!) as the action unfolds during this strange movie.  Indeed, it is more strange than haunting.  It is not frightening or repulsive like a Silence of the Lambs, but rather disjunct like a lesser cousin of Mulholland Dr.

I do not want to disparage this film because it is actually quite good, but I must admit that my sole reason for watching was to see Thora Birch act.  Thora was the first actress I ever fell in love with.  We all have our celebrity crushes.  She was/is mine.  Her trio of films American Beauty, Ghost World, and Homeless to Harvard (a Lifetime “joint”) was really an acting triumph which I can only compare to Bob Dylan’s trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.  I know it sounds ridiculous to say so, but Birch directed those three films as much as did their auteurs/metteurs en scène.  Call it la politique…in reverse…unlike King Midas…

This film presents a problem in its representation on Wikipedia.  After viewing a film, I like to recall what I’ve just seen.  Wikipedia is good for that, but not in this case.  It’s as if this film was a Falconetti one-reeler from 1916 and not an American feature from 2009.  In this dearth of information, one begins to suspect that Thora’s claims of having been forgotten and overlooked after Ghost World might just be right on the money.  That’s where film critics step in.  Though it be five years late and $991,679 short, I can (with my little voice) once again assert that Thora is an acting genius.

Poor Eric Mandelbaum…his name isn’t even a hypertext link on Wiki, but he did a fine job here painting a snow-drift picture of the not-so-old, weird America.  Dan Moran at least has a dead link (empty page).  The trouble with Harry, that!

All jokes aside, Brandon Sexton III is very convincing as the bearded, lonely Jerry.  His stoic visage becomes as much a motif as Birch’s radiant beauty over the film’s course.  Poor Jerry gets duped into some accessory to murder business…we think.  None of it is very clear.  Based on the true story of Barbara Hoffman, this tale plays with time and the facts like Lynch directing Pynchon.  I can’t help but wonder if PTA’s Inherent Vice might converge with this film in some way…no doubt at a locale with an angry cropduster.

Keith Carradine is good here (resembling Burt Lancaster in Field of Dreams).  Also good is Colleen Camp in the small role as Jerry’s mother.  There are scenes of unspeakable sadness and ennui at the dinner table and near the end as she takes the phone call.  We sense a connection to Ellen Burstyn’s performance in Requiem for a Dream (with the mise-en-scène of a Harmony Korine).

One thing is certain: my little piece of shit website shall always sing the praises of one Miss Thora Birch.

-PD