I Watch A Lot Of Documentaries: Dalekmania, American Grindhouse, Trumbo & Mayor Of The Sunset Strip

I Watch A Lot Of Movies will most likely be a recurring feature here on the blog because it’s a plain fact. Because I work from home and I like to have something on to either watch or listen to while I do so, I go through a lot of movies, shows, podcasts and records. Sometimes I give them their own write-ups, but sometimes I don’t have as much to say. So, IWALOM will be a kind of catch-all for the things I want to say a few words on. As it happens, I’ve been on a bit of a documentary going back to when I watched and wrote about Too Tough To Die and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop a few weeks ago.

One of the more curious documentaries I’ve seen on Netflix Instant has to be Dalekmania (1995) which I assumed would be about the history of the Doctor Who baddies. Instead, as the subtitle explains, it’s actually the story of Daleks and the Doctor on the big screen. Back in 1965 Peter Cushing starred as a tweaked version of the character in a big screen flock that remade one of the few serials I’ve actually seen: The Daleks.

Much like the 1996 Fox-produced Doctor Who movie, the movie and it’s sequel, the awesomely named Invasion Earth: 2015, neither film is in cannon, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look interesting. Seeing a documentary based on a pair of films I’ve never seen was cool because it’s not like I had heard any of these stories before. The downside? The movies aren’t on any kind of Netflix so I can’t check them out, which is a little frustrating. It seems like everyone involved (and living) was interviewed and you also get to see a cool collection of Dalek and Who memorabilia from a husband and wife collector team. Worth checking out for Who fans even if they don’t HAVE to know about these flicks.

I was kind of disappointed by American Grindhouse (2010), especially after being so impressed by essentially the Australian version of this doc called Not Quite Hollywood. While Not Quite really seemed to just jump in and celebrate their schlocky movies, Grindhouse seems to take an almost clinical approach which saps some of the fun out of the proceedings.  A big contributor to that feeling is how specifically they define “grindhouse.’ Instead of being about low budget movies sent to drive ins or cheap theaters, we’re told that an actual grindhouse was a theater that would never shut down or stop showing movies. Uh, okay. It’s the equivalent of someone telling you in great detail that what you’re blowing your nose in isn’t actually a Kleenex, but a facial tissues.

The opposite side of the specificity coin is that you actually get treated to lots of different kinds of movies than you might expect, going all the way back to the early days of film. The movie points out that, almost as soon as people figured out how to use movie cameras, they started pointing them at naked ladies. I actually learned this in either high school or college and was blown away at the time because you kind of assume that everything was super prudey back in the day, but in reality people are people and are always curious about things like that.

The film also boasts a quality group of talking heads including John Landis, Joe Dante, William Lustig and plenty of others. Everyone brings something interesting to the table, it’s just a broader table than I was expecting when I turned it on.

I probably wouldn’t have given a movie called Trumbo (2007) if not for the awesome image on this poster. A dude writing in the bathtub? I love it! The story found in the documentary is even more interesting. Dalton Trumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten, a group of writers who were blacklisted for communist leanings thanks to McCarthy and the ridiculous red scare. He wrote movies like The Devil’s Playground, Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Johnny Got His Gun and plenty of others, some of which were credited to other writers who fronted for him and some of the other Hollywood Ten.

The doc has an interesting style that takes many of Trumbo’s writings and has famous actors do dramatic readings. I didn’t realize what was happening at first when people like Michael Douglas, Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and others started doing these monologues in dark rooms, I was confused, but I soon caught on and enjoyed the method. Apparently, this film is based on the stage play of one of Trumbo’s  sons, which makes that all make a lot more sense.

I like that Trumbo never lost faith or face, really, kept writing and later on didn’t seem too bitter about what happened. He definitely answered some questions with a sharp wit, but he didn’t seem bitter, which is inspiring considering the mountains of bullshit heaped upon him.

Like a lot of things on Netflix,  I didn’t really know what Mayor Of The Sunset Strip (2003). For some reason I thought it was about a guy who was influential in the 80s metal scene on the Sunset Strip. It’s actually about Rodney Binginheimer, a dude who started out as a groupie in the 60s, met practically every rock star, got nicknamed in a Beach Boys song, became one of the most influential DJs in music history and is still kicking.

I found this story so fascinating because Bingenheimer is ridiculously damaged. Yes, he’s met every single important rock and roll musician since the medium was practically invented and yes he has (or at least had) a great deal of power in his business, but he is also a sad, lonely man with mom issues. The portrait painted is that of a man who prefers not to be in the spotlight, but absolutely expects to be just on the fringes now. It’s also the story of a man whose time as come and gone, though that’s not the main focus. Towards the end of the movie, the man with ridiculous hair tells the camera that he’s only got one night a week as a DJ on KROQ which clearly bums him out. The only time he expresses any real, obvious emotions happens in a scene where his radio protege finishes a show and Bingenheimer is pissed because he thinks the younger man has basically stolen his entire schtick.

For me, Mayor has two lessons to be learned. First, it shows me that anyone can become important. There was nothing truly special about Rodney Bingenheimer, nothing that would make him an obvious maven of a culture movement. But, he physically got himself where he needed to be and worked his way up to becoming ridiculously influential. That’s the American dream, right? Well, the second lesson shows what can happen if you don’t balance your life out. Even with all his power and influence, something about his personality didn’t allow him to capitalize on it too much and he has essentially faded out of prominence. The lesson is to both keep working even after reaching prominence, but also that all the importance in the world doesn’t fix your problems. You’ve got to work on that stuff on your own and it didn’t seem to me like Bingenheimer has done that.

Halloween Scene: Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

I liked the first Maniac Cop flick because it mixed actors I love with a fairly interesting concept. This sequel was enjoyable for a whole other reason: it’s completely insane. Not only are our heroes from the first movie killed off, but the guy from The Profiler (Robert Davi) takes their place trying to find out what the deal with the maniac cop is.

In this installment, MC’s pretty focused on hurting the good guys and victims and helping the bad guys (to an extent). There’s a whole section of the movie where he actually befriends a serial killer. And it’s not just a simple team-up, MC goes to his crib, they hang out, MC has a flashback to how he was killed and MC even speaks. There’s a lot else going on but it’s not really that interesting.

Seeing as how this is the sequel, the ante is upped as far as kills and effects (now, whether they’re good or not is up to the viewer). Good or bad we see MC’s not-so-pretty face a lot more. He also sports a billy club that hides a knife. I think it’s only used once and I have no idea where he got it (he was last scene crashing into a lake or river or something). Also where does he keep getting clean policeman’s uniforms?

Like I said, it’s not a GOOD movie, but it’s fun enough and I can’t recommend a better slasher to check out so early in October. And it’s on NetBox, so you can just queue it up and check it out. I’ll probably be finishing out the trilogy this week.

OH. I almost forgot because I watched this a few weeks back actually, but MC2 has something else to offer fans of the weird: an end credits rap that is completely 1990 it’s absolutely worth a listen.

 

Halloween Scene: Maniac Cop & Zombie

Every now and then I get a day to myself at the house. And, as you might expect, when I do, I try and watch as many horror movies as possible. Last Saturday happened to be one of those days and I was able to watch two classic horror movies I’d never seen before, Maniac Cop (1988) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979). I definitely liked one more than the other, but you might be surprised by which one!

First of all, I actually thought that I had seen Maniac Cop as it was crossed off in my Creature Features book. I think I kinda sorta half watched it or one of the sequels one time when visiting Em back when we were dating in college. Her parents had on demand and I tried watching it but probably fell asleep. Anyway, just watching the credits was a surprise. Tom Atkits , Bruce Campbell and Richard Roundtree (Shaft!!!) all in one movie? Plus the bad ass dude who fights Eastwood for like 15 minutes at the end of Any Which Way You Can (William Smith, though he looks completely different than in that movie), sold. I could have given this movie the thumbs up just based on the credits!

But, it really is a fun movie, a great one to stumble on thanks to NetBox (that’s what I call Netflix & Xbox) as there are plenty of kills, a great killer with a pretty interesting origin and such great actors. The plot revolves around a crazy cop killing people out on the streets which, as you’d expect, makes people weary of the cops (one lady even caps one who’s trying to help her). Atkins is investigating and is one of the only people to believe Campbell when he says he didn’t do it after his wife gets iced by the killer cop. Campbell’s girlfriend/mistress, who’s also a cop, forms the third point in this triangle of awesome.

In addition to the basic level of coolness that Atkins brings to all of his horror roles, I really like seeing Campbell playing a straight part. Sure he’s a badass in the Evil Dead flicks, but he’s a winking-at-the-camera kind of a bad ass. Here he’s a regular guy trying to make sense of what turns out to be a potentially supernatural occurrence (an unkillable cop back from the dead?). Oh, also, for those who this might be an incentive for, there’s a naked prison shower fight flashback scene. Hey, I call out boobs, why not a little man nudity?

Anyway, after MC, I almost watched the sequel, but didn’t want to get too burned out on the series (though, in an unusual twist, the Creature Features guy gave all three movies three stars, you almost never see that kind of consistency). So, I was flipping and flipping and flipping until I discovered that Fulci’s Zombie, the supposed semi-sequel to the original Dawn of the Dead I’ve heard so much about, got put on NetBox. I’ve also been hearing about the infamous Zombie vs. Shark and eye gouging scenes for years, so I figured it would be a great candidate for my mini horror fest.

And I gotta say, it’s kind of boring. My experience with Italian horror doesn’t stretch beyond Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Mother of Tears. If you’re looking for a train wreck of a blog post, please check out that Suspiria link, the only blog post I’ve considered deleting. Anyway, maybe I just don’t get the sensibilities of Italian horror, or maybe I just haven’t seen the really good ones or maybe they’re just batshit crazy and that’s why people like them. I’m definitely not against batshit craziness, so it’s not like I’m cutting myself off from further Fulci or Argento flicks, they’re just not incredibly hight on my list.

The problem with Zombie is that it’s kind of slow and boring. There’s a lot of people talking and sailing on boats, but when it does get to the zombie goodness it is definitely good stuff. I just wish there was more of it. The other problem with Zombie (which isn’t the film’s fault), is that it’s reached this legendary status because of the aforementioned scenes that every horror fan talks about it. It’s been on every horror list I’ve ever seen, so all the good parts were basically ruined. And, with the exception of the final shot of zombies running around NYC, you’ve probably seen those two amazing scenes online or a on a clip show before.

I don’t usually like adding to the SPOILER-ness of horror movies, but here’s clips of those two scenes (I recommend watching just them or reading a trade while half-watching Zombie). First the shark fight:

Holy crap this is crazy. It really does look like a zombie fighting a shark and neither one really wins. It’s an amazing piece of film that I would sit through a hundred hours of boring to see, seriously, it’s worth it and I can only imagine how much better it would look on DVD or Blu-ray (the Netflix file wasn’t of the best quality and YouTube doesn’t REALLY do it justice).

And here’s the eye gouge (not for the squeamish):

Again, this moment is worth the price of admission as it’s one of the most real-looking effects I’ve seen (though I was able to see how they did it and it’s kind of beautiful in it’s simplicity).

One last thing I want to comment on is the “sequel” aspect of the movie in relation to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (one of my top three favorite horror movies). Very simply, it’s not. At all. It was finished before DOTD and the name was just changed. Luckily, my enjoyment didn’t hinge on it’s relation to DOTD.

So, in the end, I had a great time watching some classic horror movies, even though Zombie might have been a little boring aside from the tent pole scenes, but seeing two rad NYC-based movies (I didn’t see anything I recognized, though things have changed quite a bit even since 1988) was a great way to spend part of my Saturday.