Geek Doc: Electric Boogaloo (2015)

electric boogaloo posterHere’s a statement I don’t often make, but I was super excited when the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films popped up on Netflix Instant not long ago. Now, I love a good geeky documentary, but I usually stumble across them while looking around instead of knowing about them ahead of time. But, Electric Boogaloo comes from Mark Hartley, the same guy who made Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens, the former of which is a masterpiece and the latter of which is highly entertaining.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, cousins, bought a US film company called Cannon Films that would go on to make some of the best and worst action and sci-fi movies of the next few decades. They particularly dealt with stars like Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris, but also made movies like Cyborg, Superman IV, Masters Of The Universe, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and more than I can even count.

The doc itself tells the story of how these two guys hustled, begged, borrowed and even stole their way to Hollywood success by making more movies than anyone could keep track of. Unfortunately (for them and audiences paying good money for a ticket) the movies tended to be pretty bad, but a goldmine for fans of less-than-perfect cinema like me and a lot of my friends.

Told at a breakneck pace, Electric Boogaloo feels like an open and honest recounting of a company that was neither. Everyone from producers and directors to editors and stars appeared on the film to talk about the slap-dash way some of their projects were put together and presented to the world in general. Ultimately, it’s a story of how quickly these two men and their company could rise and how fiery they eventually fell. The only downside is that Golam and Globus, who are both still alive, refused to appear in this film in order to do their own doc called The Go-Go Boys, which doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix. Actually, there’s one other downside: there’s no mention of James Cameron’s Spider-Man film which was set up there for a while. I’d like to have seen them talk about that, then again, maybe there’s a full doc in the works for that. I hope.

Quick Movie Review: Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010)

If there’s one documentary subject I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it’s filmmakers talking about the good old days of cheaply made schlock shown at drive-ins and grindhouse theaters. And I’m glad that people are not only making these movies, but also that the people who were involved are not only still alive, but also willing to talk about their experiences. While the excellent Not Quite Hollywood focused on these kinds of movies shot in Australia and the not as great American Grindhouse focused on its own obvious subject matter, Machete Maidens Unleashed set its sites on American films that were shot down in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s. I actually just looked and the guy who directed this movie, Mark Hartley, also directed Not Quite and is the man behind the upcoming Canon Video doc which I am really looking forward to.

I actually didn’t even know this was a thing before reading the description on Netflix Instant (I, of course, was first drawn in by the poster image and then the title), but there was actually a full-fledged movie industry in the Philippines at the team that lots of producers and directors like Roger Corman and Joe Dante took advantage of because of the low, low cost. At one point, one of the filmmakers in the doc said something along the lines of “The film was cheap and human life was even cheaper,” referencing the lengths local actors and stuntmen would go to put their lives on the line to get just the right shot. Fight scenes were filmed so that people were actually beating the crap out of each other and a lot of the explosions going off and glass being broken were real. It’s the kind of thing that, today, would create a public outcry for human safety, but at that place and that time, those apparently weren’t big concerns.

There are two aspects of this film that make it so interesting aside from the subject matter itself. First off, it seems like everyone who’s still alive agreed to be interviewed for this flick. Heck, John Landis is there and I don’t even think he shot a movie in the Philippines! That dude just loves to talk about these kinds of movies (he’s also in American Grindhouse). I already mentioned Corman and Dante, but tons of people appear in this movie: Pam Grier, Sid Haig, R. Lee Ermey, Dick Miller, Brian Trenchard-Smith, seemingly every hopeful starlet who appeared topless in those movies and several local filmmakers. Everyone is very open, honest and entertaining when it comes to relating their experiences. The second aspect of this movie that really makes it great and seems to be a trademark of Hartley’s, is the quick and efficient editing of the picture. There isn’t a wasted moment in this flick and, at the same time it doesn’t feel rushed.

If you love bad movies of years gone by, exploitation cinema or are just interested in some of the less glamorous corners of the film business, I highly recommend giving Machete Maidens Unleashed a watch.

Awesome Aussies: Not Quite Hollywood (2008) & Dead End Drive-In (1986)

I watched a lot of documentaries last week, but my favorite one by far was called Not Quite Hollywood. It documents the history of Australian film, sticking mostly to bawdy comedies, horror movies, skin flicks and other grindhouse fair, aka all kinds of movies that I would dig. The doc did a great job of getting what seemed like all of the big names in the industry into the movie and then a series of other people who brought in all kinds of color from film critics who hated these movies to American stars like Jamie Lee Curtis who appeared in some of the movies and even Quentin Tarantino who is just a really big fan of these movies. If nothing else, Not Quite Hollywood acts as a checklist for movie fans of a lot of flicks you might not have heard of if you’re around my age. The few that I had heard of were, of course, Mad Max, Patrick (which I hadn’t seen, but the ending gets spoiled in the footage shown), The Howling 3 and BMX Bandits (which I have seen). After watching the movie, I checked out the Wiki page for a full list and then checked it against Netlflix. Unfortunately, movies like Stunt Rock, The Man From Hong Kong and Death Cheaters don’t seem to be available. In fact, the majority that I looked up aren’t Mad Max, Dead End Drive-In and a few others are rentable by disc while Patrick is on Instant. So, keep an eye out for reviews of those in the coming days/weeks.

But, aside from being a watchable checklist, NQH also does an awesome job of giving viewers a true sense of the scene. These dudes weren’t really looking to make high art, they wanted to show some boobs, get some blood splatter, crash some cars and kick some ass. The movies were mostly designed to be shown in drive-ins around the world and the people who made them make no pretense about it. Budding filmmakers should take the time to give this a look for some dos and don’ts when it comes to filmmaking as these guys were mostly working on low budgets.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when everyone’s talking about this movie called Mad Dog Morgan. They brought Dennis Hopper in to star as the titular character and then nearly everyone in the doc goes on about how much of a drunk ass the guy was. Just causing trouble and not worrying about continuity between shots and being generally drunk. Then, Hopper actually pops up and owns up to it! It’s great. I’m also a big fan of seeing Tarantino get really excited and talk about these movies, many of which he not only claims as inspiration but explains what parts of them he used in some of his movies.

Of all the rad movies I saw clips of in NQH, the one that intrigued me the most was Dead End Drive-In and luckily it’s one of the few available for rent. The plot, as it was explained in the documentary was that the government basically took a drive-in and turned it into a concentration camp for bad kids. They’re given food vouchers, live in their cars and have a steady stream of movies playing on the screen. It’s kind of like a much smaller Escape From New York and instead of an ultra bad ass like Snake Plissken, our hero goes by Crabs. See, he and his girlfriend went to the drive-in to watch some flicks. While there, the cops steal his tires and they’re stuck there. The next day Crabs gets the rundown from the drive-in operator who tells him he’s there for a while, whether he likes it or not.

Unlike just about everyone else, though, Crabs doesn’t like it and start planning on how to bust the hell out of what some of us might call a filthy paradise. I’ll be honest, I was working on Toy Fair coverage while the movie was on and, thanks to some of the thicker accents and my split attention, I missed some of the smaller details, but overall the plot is pretty simple and a ton of fun culminating in a giant car chase within the confines of the drive-in. There’s also some cultural commentary in there as some Asians are bussed in to parallel the camps the US set up for Japanese Americas during WWII. The subplot might seem a bit weighty for such a seemingly silly movie, but I liked the attempt and the visceral reaction it got from most of the other internees, though not Scab. It’s what sets him apart from his fellow dirtballs and really does make him the hero of the movie, as if he needed more reason than living so long with such a terrible nick name.

In addition to someday wanting to own/run a bar, I now want to open a really rad drive-in. I don’t really get why they’re not very popular anymore. I’d make it kind of an Alamo Drafthouse (and maybe a roller rink) with a variety of different movies, both new and old and some really good food. Anyone want to invest?