Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vice Squad (1982)

I have been offroading maybe a handful of times (I may have talked about this before, so bear with me if this is old news for you).  The first once or twice was voluntary, but subsequent outings were forced upon me (to the point of kidnapping).  In fact, one time my “friends” went so far as to tell me we were going to a party (in a house, like normal humans do), only to swerve off the paved roads and out into the woods before I could make good my escape.  Never mind that I find it difficult to drink a beer while I’m bouncing around like the G-14 ball in a Bingo cage, my main grievance with these sojourns was that the vehicles we would take would invariably become stuck, stalled, or otherwise take a shit and always at the worst possible time.  This turned something which had a small potential for enjoyment into an impromptu workshop on how not to fix an automobile in the rough.  My dislike of the great outdoors has been documented in previous entries.  These trips are one of the things that soured me on them.  Because one of the last things I wanted to do after getting a good drunk on was trying to figure out how to get the fuck out of the woods before some animal decided I might make a tasty snack (actually, back then I was heftier, so I’d likely have been more like a three course meal).  Maybe if we had a badass truck like Ramrod (Wings Hauser) does in Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad, things would have turned out differently.  Then again, I don’t see Ramrod (an urban cowboy if ever there was one) as the type to take his cherry ride into the wild to begin with. 

Princess (then-Mrs.-Kurt-Russell, Season Hubley) is a prostitute working the weird streets of Hollywood.  When her friend and colleague Ginger (MTV VJ Nina Blackwood) calls in a panic, Princess fails to help out her pal before Ginger’s pimp (the aforementioned Ramrod) beats the woman to death.  After being strong-armed into aiding in a sting operation by douche bag cop Sergeant Walsh (Gary Swanson), Princess goes about her nightly routine, unsuspecting that her troubles are far from over.   

This film is not especially kind to women (and not that this was an expectation I had going into it).  The very first shot of the film is a camera tilt up the body of an anonymous hooker; the high heels, the leg warmers, the short shorts, the knit halter top, and finally her impassive face.  This type of shot will be repeated at several points in the movie.  First is when Princess finishes off her ensemble for the evening, again traveling from the ground up.  It’s an interesting way to reveal the character and what she does, because just one scene previous, we have seen her dressed very conservatively, so the switch works nicely.  Later, there is a shot traveling up the body of a woman from feet to head, although this time, the woman is lying down, her clothing torn, her face bloody.  Hauser slaps women at the drop of a hat (and he really connects, to boot), and even takes a stool to a woman’s head at one point.  His specialty, though, is whipping their naked bodies with a wire hanger.  A character is rolled by a trick who‘s dissatisfied with the service.  Even our supposed hero Walsh will snap a band and fly into a rage at the drop of a hat, going so far as shoving Princess’ face at Ginger’s corpse.  He screams, then comforts.  In this respect at least, he is the exact opposite of Ramrod.  In fact, had he not coerced Princess into trapping Ramrod, Princess’ life would likely have gone on as usual, for better or worse. 
 
The issue is that if part of the film is supposed to be about how mean the streets are to women (and especially women in this profession), that’s fine and dandy.  However, by leering as this film does at these female bodies, as objects of both sexual and violent urges, it takes some of the air out of that theme.  After all, prurient and empathetic feelings will often collide when placed in juxtaposition to each other.  I would also argue that if that’s not a partial reason why this film was made (especially considering we’re told at the outset that this story was culled from multiple actual events, though using the truth to sell the exploitative is nothing new), why spend so much time following Princess around, picking up her oddball tricks (and they are genuinely oddball), and not paying off on the more salacious elements?  If it’s nothing more than pure exploitation, the material could certainly use sprucing up in that regard (not that it isn’t an entertaining film; I’ve definitely seen movies like this done more poorly).  No, we’re supposed to feel something for Princess.  We’re supposed to sympathize with her troubles.  After all, she works “outlaw” (i.e. without a pimp), so she has no protection from johns who would take advantage of her.  It’s never indicated that she enjoys her work, but by that same token, it’s never indicated that she is ever anything less than professional.  She is, in effect, just a working stiff (pardon the pun).  That she and her colleagues have it so rough is lamentable.  That we linger on their curves one minute and their anguish the next is a bit creepy.

The film is in some ways also about duality and performances.  As stated above, our two male leads seesaw between rage and consolation, and both switch between the two instantaneously.  They can be dangerous or beneficial, though the situations under which they change posit them where they need to be on the friend or foe scale.  If someone in a film has a tongue coated in purest silver, nine out of ten, they will have the blackest of souls.  By contrast, people who start off coarse will usually wind up showing you their soft, endearing side.  Princess has a house in the suburbs and a daughter she is raising by herself, but she keeps her worlds separate (she even dislikes the babysitter calling her daughter “princess;” no surprise there).  She dresses primly for appearances to her friends and neighbors, but on the Strip, she dresses to impress.  It’s implied that all of her tricks involve her doing things she wouldn’t normally do (golden showers, roleplaying a bride at a funeral [shades of Buñuel’s Belle de Jour], et cetera) with people she (likely) wouldn’t do them.  She puts on an act for her clients (that is part of her job description, naturally).  Nevertheless, since we see far less of her in her home life, and in both of her aspects she lies to the people she encounters, one has to wonder which of these faces is the true one?  Our predisposition would be to the one she shows at home.  We expect the masks to come off when a person has entered their personal sanctuary.  Yet, she shows a mask to everyone in the film with the exception of Walsh, and even then she’s not totally forthcoming.  This leads me to the conclusion that there is no “true” Princess.  She is both of these things, mother and whore, when she needs to be, and because she can never be completely herself (whatever that may be), either to protect herself or to protect those she cares for, she will never find peace.  Like she states at the film’s close, “You’re never gonna change the streets…”

MVT:  Hauser gets the award.  He is one hundred percent psychotic for the entirety of the film, and even when he tries to disguise it (which is not often); it’s with the thinnest of veils.  The brazenness with which he rampages is something to behold.

Make Or Break:  The best example for me of Ramrod’s untethered nature is in the scene when Princess helps to ensnare him.  He goes off the rails like twenty freight trains.  And then he keeps going.

Score:  6.75/10      

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Episode #303: Lord Love a Striker

Welcome back for some more of that GGtMC goodness!!!

This week Sammy and Will are joined by Tom Deja from the Better in the Dark podcast for coverage of Lord Love A Duck (1966) directed by George Axelrod and Striker (1988) directed by Enzo G. Casteralli!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_303.mp3 
 
Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Instant Action: The Warriors (1979)



That’s a lot of colorful gangs, literally!

Screenplay By: Walter Hill & David Shaber
Directed By: Walter Hill

Young men; sweat flowing from their pores, dirt on their bodies, and venom in their veins. Those are the characters in The Warriors. They may be from the future, the past, or the present. They have no time because they inhabit a masculine place that is timeless. The street toughs we meet in The Warriors are the summation of what it means to be a man, what it once meant to be a man, and the fear of the future man.

As the men of The Warriors sweat, attempt rape, and try to murder one another the viewer can only sit and watch. They are so powerful in their masculinity that we are helpless to stop them in their actions. We are forced to watch, there’s no hope of turning away from the onslaught of their manliness. It’s not easy to watch at times, even if it is always oddly exhilarating. Their fights enchant, their attempts to woo women are boorish, and the way they dress is mesmerizing. Hard to watch, but an enticing watch nonetheless.

Walter Hill is the man in charge of the introverted action in The Warriors. The men he presents appear to be part of the outside world, but they really aren’t. They are their own world, a world within which they are trapped. When they are confronted by the actual outside world they know not how to react. How can children react when they are shown something that scares, titillates, and presents them with something completely alien?

Youthful the Warriors are, full of piss and vinegar. They’re also scared, and that is their main driving force. They are scared of a world they don’t know and a society that will never accept them. That’s why they so easily toss around a word like faggot. Eventually homosexuality will be accepted, and yet they still won’t. They don’t understand being gay, just as they don’t understand women, the law, or anything but trying to be tough.

The film moves at a breakneck pace, it can’t stop because its main characters can’t stop. They aren’t just in a race to save their lives, they are in a race against time. At some point in their nebulous era the Warriors will become old, and that scares the young men most of all. What if they are old and haven’t accomplished anything? How will they deal with time passing them by and leaving them in the dust? They aren’t equipped to handle such change, and it is their fear of this change that they are truly running from.

Lean and mean, The Warriors comes at the viewer like a fast moving wrecking ball. Mr. Hill orchestrates his cast and the material in exquisite fashion. He gets the most out of every bit player, every costume, and every flash of a weapon. Mr. Hill focuses on the men of this world, throwing all other characters to the side. One female is allowed in their midst, but she is treated as second fiddle to the dying manhood of the gang. Keep on running Warriors, run all night and day. There’s no sunset for you retreat into, and no happy ending to save your hides. Walter Hill gives his young men no place to hole up; their ugliness, bravery, and stupidity is on display for all to see.

Rating:

7/10

Cheers,

Bill Thompson

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Crime Zone (1988)

In the far flung future, the world has apparently been divided into two countries: Soleil (which translates to “sun” from the French but is always engulfed in night) and Frodan (which is always lit by sunlight, but from my research doesn’t translate to shit in any language; feel free to correct me).  The two nations have been at war for as long as anyone can remember, and in the interim the government of Soleil has become totalitarian in the extreme, regulating everything from where people live to who they can love.  When star-crossed paramours Bone (Peter Nelson) and Helen (Sherilyn Fenn) stick it to The Man by doing it without Big Brother’s permission, they are offered the chance of a lifetime by criminal mastermind/Frodanian spy Jason (David Carradine, trying his damndest to not die of embarrassment): steal a disc (actually a PC board) from a Soleil facility, and he’ll not only pay them but also transport them to Frodan (where the grass just has to be greener).  Bone and Helen discover that they have something of a knack for criminality, and Soleil’s most wanted lists quickly have two new additions.

Luis Llosa’s Crime Zone is a miserable film, and not simply in the sense of production value.  To be fair, it does create a world for its characters to inhabit, and it does so fairly convincingly on a tiny budget.  But every single one of the characters that inhabit this world is miserable in the extreme.  Bone works in the Garden of Hibernation, where the hoi polloi are placed in suspended animation while having all sorts of body work done.  After his boss catches him badmouthing the clientele, he’s fired, but not before getting reamed out for not “playing the game” (read: kissing ass).  This is strictly for the benefit of the audience (as are the statements about how gifted he could have been as a police officer), so that we know Bone is a rebel.  Never mind, that he has two facial expressions: deceased and manic.  Helen works as a prostitute at the Trocadero 2000: House of Pleasure #4.  She was assigned there by the government, so at least we can understand her dissatisfaction.  Bone used to be in a gang called the Fuck Ups (which is not only a completely unintimidating moniker but also a set up for failure), along with Creon (Michael Shaner), a character so unlikable, so repellant, and so thinly-drawn that the single side of him you do get to see still feels incomplete.  And this is just a small sampling.  

If we look at this as part of the intent of the film, it does contain a certain logic.  After all, Helen and Bone do find love among the damned, and in the face of the oppression under which they live, they act out.  The idea that two people can find each other in the least hospitable environs is certainly one which might touch an audience.  The defiant lovers have been a staple of stories for centuries.  You have Romeo and Juliet falling in love despite violent familial differences.  You have Cole and Kathryn Railly in Twelve Monkeys, who try to outmaneuver destiny.  You have Bonnie and Clyde in…um…Bonnie And Clyde, who wound up dying alongside each other because of their choices.  From the examples here, you may have noticed a trend.  These three couples (and so many others) all came to rather unpleasant endings.  This is a strong trope in love stories of this ilk.  These are not necessarily stories about love conquering all (well, I suppose in some way they can be, if the idea that the characters are reunited after death holds any value for you).  These are stories about the ineluctability of fate, and thus they are also about the intransience of life, about grabbing onto what you can right now.  These characters also share at least some light which makes the dark worthwhile.  Now, I’m not going to say whether or not Bone and Helen are dead at the end of Crime Zone, but the film does follow the spirit set forth in works like those cited above.  What Llosa and company get wrong, however, is that there is little to none of the aforementioned light that makes the dark bearable for our protagonists.  Their situation does not improve socially or financially.  Right off the bat, the meet cute between our lovers is ham-fisted, improbable, and uncomfortable.  When Bone and Helen are with each other (outside of when they’re having sex), there is no chemistry.  You don’t feel like these two would give their lives for or kill for one another.  It’s all completely scripted, and it feels like it, which is what makes it all the more egregious.  

Nevertheless, the lure of transgression in the film is slightly easier to swallow than the attraction supposedly shared by the leads.  Naturally in a world where your every move is monitored and dictated, the urge to revolt is strong.  This brings up what is perhaps the most intriguing concept of the film.  Control of this world rests solely in the hands of a government which clearly has none of the masses’ interests at heart.  This is nothing new, surely.  Government is almost exclusively depicted as being (by turns) duplicitous, self-serving, incompetent, and outright evil in popular media, and even moreso since the Vietnam War.  It is the lengths to which they go that I found mildly engaging.  By that same token, the lack of actual control the government has over its people is confounding, all things considered.  If anything, one would think that the people would be somewhat placated by their government for all the trouble they have gone through to get to this point (even if the placation is illusory).  This is a place where police actually have the time and inclination to bust into a guy’s apartment just to find out if his penis is flaccid or erect (“I bet you’re still horny!”; “show me your dick!”; “Is that it’s normal size?”; yes, really).  So, any interest embedded in the film is washed away by the sheer vapidity of just about every scene, because the big picture stays out of focus from start to finish.  For example, Creon shoves his hand in Helen’s crotch, and it takes Bone almost half a minute to react.  Under a time crunch, our feckless sweethearts decide to rob a bunch of jewelry with no discernible way to fence the goods.  Bone teaches Helen how to use a gun by having her point it directly at him.  The bandits somehow forget to bring their gas masks to a heist, even though they brought them to their very first one where there was no gas used (unless I blocked it from my memory).  Added to the fact that this movie wants to be all Science Fiction things to all Science Fiction fans at the same time (with elements from THX-1138 to Blade Runner to Brazil and beyond) while underwhelming this viewer in all facets, and Crime Zone turns out to be nothing more or less than a colossal waste (no matter its budget).

MVT:  Much as I’m loathe to admit it, I do think there’s a good story buried somewhere in this shambles.  Unfortunately, it’s only ever really hinted at, so any expectations get dashed at just about every turn.

Make Or Break:  When the cop comes in to check Bone’s junk, I couldn’t stop laughing.  Alas, I don’t think the scene was intended to be funny, and it stands out obtrusively.  I couldn’t buy into anything that happened afterward, and I couldn’t be bothered to care, regardless.

Score:  4/10