STUNT ROCK (1978)
Plot outline: A fast-paced docu-comedy alternating between film-within-a-film hazardous stunts done by Grant Page (the Aussie stuntman who was co-ordinator of dangerous things for â€œMad Maxâ€), skincare and a concert film of Sorcery, artificial a KISS-esque D&D-themed hard rock band. Occasionally the two threads intertwine.
I was lucky enough to attend a 35mm theatrical revival screening of this some months ago at The Cinefamily. The filmâ€™s director, journeyman Brian Trenchard-Smith, only had 15 days to shoot the whole thing back in â€˜78, and not only is it wildly entertaining, but it shows just what you can pull off with a shortened budget if youâ€™ve got your filmmaking chops together (the film looks like it wouldâ€™ve taken three times as long as it actually took to film, with probably three or four cameras shooting the entire time.) Trenchard-Smith not only was present at the screening, but also had an introduction prepared for the evening:
Itâ€™s an oddball piece. Quite lively but quite wacky and strange. As you know Iâ€™ve made a lot of trailers over the years. In its way, this is like a 90-minute trailer. I had this idea in the shower one morning. Australian Stuntman meets American Rock Bandâ€¦much stunt and much rock takes place, the kids will tear up the seats. Perhaps I should have stayed unwashed that day. To my immense surprise, my 6 page treatment was financed by a Dutch company within a month and I was on a plane to LA immediately. It had to co-star Verhoeven favorite actress Monique Van Der Ven, and be ready for screening in Dutch theatres in 4 months. Who was I to say no? When my father-in-law saw the end result, he said that he had not experienced so much noise since he was under bombardment in the Pacific.
By far, the most palatable song that Sorcery does in the movie is their tribute to Grant Page, fittingly enough called â€œStuntrocker.â€ It shows a lot of melodic promise, and if only all their songs were as good as this one, they mightâ€™ve gone far â€”
KEEPING UP WITH THE STEINS (2006)
Plot outline: The competition heats up as a young man on the cusp of adulthood in Brentwood, CA, prepares for his upcoming bar mitzvah, and his father strives to outdo the gargantuan coming-of-age bash recently thrown by his number-one nemesis, in a madcap tale of Hebrew rivalry.
I was prepared for the wurst when I noticed Garry Marshall had a supporting role in the film, but was pleasantly surprised to find that heâ€™s actually the most interesting and low-key thing in it. Thereâ€™s also a handful of genuinely funny set pieces throughout, like the â€œTitanicâ€-themed bar mitzvah that takes place on a cruise liner. During that sequence, hip-hop MC DJ Quik (who recently did a five-month stint in jail for assaulting his sister) makes a surprise appearance during the traditional chair-raising Hora dance â€”
Plot outline: A marshal in outer space (Sean Connery) assigned to a remote mining colony refuses to look the other way when miners begin dying from a deadly narcotic designed to increase their productivity (patterned on the film â€œHigh Noonâ€, 1952)â€.
I’m pretty sure that at some point in the pre-production on â€œOutlandâ€, director Peter Hyams said to everyone else creatively involved â€œOkay, this film is gonna look and sound EXACTLY like â€˜Alienâ€™, capice?â€ Every single frame is lit and set-designed in such a way that any scene could be spliced into â€œAlienâ€ and thereâ€™d be no jump in continuity, and one of the filmâ€™s poster taglines went so far as to proclaim: â€œEven in space, the ultimate enemy is manâ€, a play on the â€œAlienâ€ tag of â€œIn space no one can hear you screamâ€.
The incredible Jerry Goldsmith did the scores for both â€œOutlandâ€ and â€œAlienâ€, and, as with the the visual design of both, most of the music cues are virtually interchangeable between the two films. Lying in wait on the â€œOutlandâ€ soundtrack, however, is â€œThe Rec Roomâ€, the silly New Wavey background music for the filmâ€™s â€œstrip club of the futureâ€ sequence! Itâ€™s reminiscent of the music Goldsmith also did for the â€œnightclub orgy of the futureâ€ sequence in â€œLoganâ€™s Runâ€.
THE BLACK ANGELS (1970)
Plot outline: Biker wars between black and white gangs. The Serpents, a gang of white bikers, discover that they have been infiltrated by a member of the Choppers (a real black motorcycle gang hired for the film) who is passing for white. An all-out war erupts between the two gangs.
This ultra-gritty and foolhardy biker flick has only a handful of interesting moments, and is full of the usual sub-genre cliches â€” BUT â€” randomly stuck in the middle of the film is a montage of one of the main characters riding his chopper through the streets of Los Angeles, set to the absolute lamest acoustic hippie ballad known to man.
30 IS A DANGEROUS AGE, CYNTHIA (1968)
Plot outline: â€œRupert Street (Dudley Moore), a piano player and composer, decides to write a musical and marry before he reaches his thirtieth birthday. One minor problem: heâ€™ll be 30 in six weeksâ€¦â€
Itâ€™s hard to find a film fan who doesnâ€™t go gaga over Stanley Donenâ€™s â€œBedazzledâ€ (1967), which has Peter Cook and Dudley Moore cavorting about as The Devil and a short order cook, respectively. Itâ€™s also hard to find a film fan whoâ€™s ever sat through all of â€œ30 Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthiaâ€, Mooreâ€™s limp follow-up effort (without Cook) that has little of the magic and wit that made â€œBedazzledâ€ a classic. While well-intentioned, the film suffers from a cardinal sin: itâ€™s just not funny. The one thing it shares with â€œBedazzledâ€ is that it has a wonderful score, composed and performed by Moore himself, mostly comprised of swinginâ€™ instrumental jazz pieces. The winner of the bunch, though, is a witty vocal track called â€œThe Real Stuffâ€, which makes me wonder why Moore didnâ€™t have a complete and successful alternate career as a pop singer.
MR. FREEDOM (1969)
Plot outline: Mr. Freedom is a pro-America superhero who fights for God and Country by beating, robbing, raping and killing anyone who looks like they might disagree with him. When he hears that France is in danger of falling to the Commies, Mr. Freedom heads overseas to set things right. When the welcome he receives isnâ€™t quite as warm as he expected, he gives up hope of steering the French away from the Reds and decides to salvage what he can by destroying the entire country.
American ex-pat William Kleinâ€™s most prolific filmmaking period came in the mid-60s, after he abandoned his original medium of photography. The films he made during this period reflect his scathing political outlook and caustic sense of humor, both of which are overwhelmingly present in â€œMr. Freedomâ€, a nonstop gutbusting satire on American imperialism, which Michael Sullivan of The Unknown Movies accurately calls â€œthe world of Sid and Marty Kroft filtered through the eyes of Stanley Kubrick.â€ Sullivan goes on to say:
â€œAdmittedly, â€˜Mister Freedomâ€™ is at times pretentious, wrongheaded, and about as subtle as a jackhammer to the forehead. But itâ€™s also a sometimes hilarious and unpredictable satire of imperialism in the guise of a superhero movie. It sometimes plays like an issue of Captain American written by Rush Limbaughâ€¦[m]ixing pop art with â€˜Mad Magazineâ€™-style satire, â€˜Mister Freedomâ€™ is filled with larger than life costumes and sets, purposely overheated dialogue, and cartoonishly over the top characters. Because of this, it had the potential to turn into something shrill and obnoxious. But thankfully, Klein balances out the campier aspects with searing social commentary, and the cast knows when to rein themselves in and avoid becoming pathetic Charles Nelson Reilly clonesâ€¦[a]side from the Roy Lichtenstein-like set design, the most memorable aspect of â€˜Mister Freedomâ€™ is John Abbeyâ€™s crazed performance in the titular role. Abbey truly threw himself into this character, and almost seems to relish doing things like beating up French tourists (and robbing them), forcing a maid to strip at gunpoint, and spouting hilariously nonsensical pro-American speeches (â€™You want a piano? Here you go. Want two pianos?â€™)â€
The film just recently got its first U.S. home video release, through The Criterion Collection, as part of a William Klein box set.