Saturday, July 2, 2022

Weekend Open Thread



  1. Just for kicks (and because l'm still decompressing from a rough June), let's try to see if some of my blocked Junesploitation! reviews can sneak through. 😉


    John G. Avildsen's GUESS WHAT WE LEARNED IN SCHOOL TODAY? (1970, Amazon Prime, 96 min.) for the first time.

    That's right, the director of "Rocky" and "The Karate Kid" trilogy got his early start doing nudity-filled, naughty Cannon features. The same year Avildsen's "Joe" hit it big he also shot, edited, wrote and directed a farcical sex education mockumentary that feels like a naughty take on "Love, American Style." Doctor Lily Whitehorn (Yvonne McCall) faces opposition to her zero-fucks-to-give approach about sex ed by local conservative parents who are, naturally, hypocrites who don't practice what they preach. What starts as separate comedic vignettes (a vice cop who enjoys busting loose women, a marine disappointed with his wife's uptightness and son's dorkiness, a stuttering mailman, etc.) eventually converge into one cohesive whole, with nudity and naughty language a poor substitute for across-the-board over-acting. Turns out Cannon was already pretty far out and rowdy before the Israeli cousins bought the studio and took it to a whole new level, and this dated foundation qualifies as a Cannon historical document. 3 NUDE BALD MEN BATHING IN LISTERINE (out of 5).

    FURY ON WHEELS, aka JUMP (1971, Amazon Prime, 95 min.) for the first time.

    Chester Jump (Tom Ligon) wants to leave his uptight religious family behind and do what he feels he was born to do: race his old-but-well-tuned Chevy in the stock car circuit. Other than a couple of hustles with other drivers to get extra dough it's all domestic melodrama (family wants more money, girlfriend wants more attention, etc.) until minute 51, when Jump actually gets to his first race. And then it's mostly Chester trying not to sell out until we get to some decent-but-it's-no-standout racing during the last 20 minutes. "Fast and The Furious" this ain't, feeling mostly like the stock footage-padded, slow-burn 70's regional racing features David Cronenberg liked to watch on the tube (and which eventually inspired Steven Soderbergh's far superior "Logan Lucky"). Conrad Bain (as Chester's father) and Logan Ramsey (the corrupt owner of the shop that hires Jump to work) co-star. Feels more AIP and AVCO than Cannon. 2.5 SHOTS OF AIRPLANES TAKING OFF IN THE BACKGROUND, "TOP GUN" STYLE (out of 5).

    NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (1976, YouTube, 83 min.) for the first time. [WARNING: portions of this YT video look badly encoded and stutter a lot. Most of the movie -particularly the final act- looks fine. YMMV]

    The bicentennial year feels too late for "Easy Rider"-inspired outlaw biker regional movies to still get released, but this low-budget film at least delivers on its title. An a-hole cop rapes a girl (off-screen mostly, thank God for small favors) dating a friend of a biker gang, and then befriends the angry grief-stricken father and convinces him to join a rich hunter who just wants to shoot bikers for the discipline of keeping the human herd under control. We're meant to sympathize with the bikers' lifestyle and free spirit (they even help an old couple switch their flat tire), which is a little hard with all the swastika symbols at their headquarters. The filmmakers clearly love their Sam Peckinpah, because the shoot-outs and blood squibs are in slomo, well-framed (mostly) and look bloody good. Average-to-middling acting across the board, and the go-for-broke finale is one scene short of delivering the revenge pathos the audience craves. An entertaining showcase of people who love making movies giving it their all, and achieving something that resembles passable exploitation fun. 3 EMPTY DRIVE-INS TO STAGE RIVAL BIKER GANG GET-TOGETHERS (out of 5).

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  3. Elvis (2022 – Baz Luhrmann)
    I wasn’t really that interested in seeing this movie in the cinema. The trailer didn’t talk to me, and I thought that it surely would be another Bohemian Rhapsody: Bloated, edited to death, playback – boring? Now, these elements are in this movie, yet it is better than the Queen-flick.
    First and foremost, I want to point out that Austin Butlers performance as Elvis is nothing short of great (at least in my opinion). While portraying Elvis, he is not only mimicking him, but I feel that I do understand why he was seen as a revolutionary artist in that time. Looking back at the actual Elvis, I sometimes struggled to do so. Thanks to this movie, I now do understand. Also, it is pointed out that he sang at least some songs by himself, which is impressive.
    Austin Butler is the best thing of the movie – but contrary to that, Tom Hanks performance as Colonel Tom Parker is frustrating. I don’t really think that they didn’t do justice to his persona. There seem to be many statements about his problematic nature, his fears of loosing Elvis to other managers, his greed. At the same time, you can sometimes glimpse why this character of Elvis Presley has chosen to be with him for that long time – and in the end couldn’t afford to get rid of him. Yet, while maybe being accurate, his character feels like the impersonation of the Penguin from the Batman comics, and to have him as the narrator for most parts didn’t help either. At one point, I just thought: Please, just shut the hell up.
    Another thing that is good and bad at the same time is the editing of the movie. It feels like it has been cut like a music video. Everything moves fast, everything is flashy. Sometimes to a point where you don’t know what is going on. Then, in the next minute, you see that this style really helps to bring across the energy that Elvis concerts must have oozed for the people in the 50s and 60s, and in those scenes the movie simply looks stunningly beautiful.
    The last thing that is divided into two parts is the music: Elvis music sounds great in this film. I also liked some of the new interpretations of his songs by contemporary rap and R’n’B artists, but others really felt uninspired and flat. And why not sticking solely to the idea of Elvis giving back to the current generation of black musicians?
    Overall, it is a movie that I would recommend, despite its flaws. Especially to people like me who know Elvis, know some songs, but want to understand what made him stand out in his time.

    1. Glad you got some enjoyment out of it, Derk!

    2. And I'm sad that you didn't. ;)
      To your point of cultural appropriation: From what I've read, Elvis was respected/accepted by most of his contemporary Rock and R'n'B musicians. Not for his skill, but that he managed to open the white market for black musicians. Ain't the sad story here that a figure like Elvis was necessary to do so? And terms like "King of Rock" is surely a white media product, because he seemed to have deep respect for the culture as well? But maybe I'm wrong, I just have very much an outsiders' perspective (regionally and time-wise). And not a lot has changed (I'm looking at you, Eminem).

    3. Hi Derk! Sorry, didn’t wanna leave ya hangin here. I’m also trying to think of a way to like, say it in a cool, short way and not write a whole essay. So basically! Elvis is the past. But Baz should’ve done more. Either don’t touch the race issue at all, or do a better job. :) Seriously. We have a lot of very public conversations about this exact thing, with a lot of black voices now. So I don’t really want to excuse Baz for not doing a better job.

    4. I think Adam Riske has put a good perspective on that in the last podcast, which made me understand it better. I haven't thought about the potential that a biopic holds in terms of having a meaning beyond showing us the life of the person in the center of the biopic. Which is why I've always thought if directors chose to alternate the story: Why making a movie about the person in the first place, if you don't want to show it in the way it really happened?
      But of course, if a biopic is used to show us something bigger, to use it as a metaphor or a new perspective on something that is going on today, it very well wields more power than for example Elvis has done.
      My personal takeaway is, that I have a new way of looking at biopics (and movies), which will be fascinating (and surely frustrating sometimes). =)

  4. Elvis 2022. 
    One of the only movies I saw this month! It was a busy work/school month. I wish I could say I liked it on any points, but I'm not really sure what Baz Luhrmann is doing anymore. And I almost feel upset at him, like, I wish he would take feedback from past films where everyone complained they were just too MUCH visual/volume/pace-wise. But maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's not a director's job to give a crap what people think. Also, they could have called this movie COLONEL PARKER instead of ELVIS and it would've made more sense. Also, I can't sign off on trying to justify the cultural appropriation just bc he helped white audiences have a sexual awakening via music. It was all fun stuff and sexual awakening for white people, no pluses whatsoever for black people that I saw. I'm not really mad at Elvis for being the King of Cultural Appropriation in the mid-1900s, but why would you go so far as to try to angelicize him in 2022? 

    James Acaster 
    So yes, James Acaster is not a movie but if I could talk about him here that would be cool. Here's my idea....James Acaster is....a Muppet! Voila! I'm always on the lookout for who I think could bring the Muppets back because I think they lost their original voice a long time ago (pre-the 2011 movie). I think James Acaster is it. His style is very theatrical, very accessible, like petulant child play-acting, and, more than that, I think his humor has a big wholesomeness kernel. Not just "cute video of a baby with grandpa" type of wholesome, but..hmm..I don't know how to explain it...Jim Henson-type wholesome, child-development-educator-approved wholesome, if you get what I mean. He swears a lot sometimes and stomps around with attitude, wearing aviator glasses and a jacket that looks like his mom bought for him, zipped up and said "Now there's my handsome, electric little man" but it all feels extremely self-conscious  and play-acty. A lot of funny drama for no reason. I love it. I wish he would collab with the Muppets. 

  5. In case anyone's interested, I've compiled a list on letterboxd of all the movies posted about during Junesploitation here at FThisMovie... It's a work in progress and should be done in a few days. Reviews/comments are in the notes.