28 November 2011

Flight of Black Angel

United States – 1991
Director – Johnathan Mostow
Starmaker Entertainment, 1991, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 42 minutes

I can only guess why 1991 seemed like a good year to try and follow up the success of 1986’s Tom Cruise fueled boner-fest Top Gun with a flight-school drama. The six months prior to Flight of Black Angel was thick with patriotic chest-beating and the film was released upon the eager eyeholes of the United Statesian public on the very day the Operation Desert Storm ground assault began. But to make your jet oriented film you either set it during an actual war, or you make it something with jets in the background. If We're perfectly honest though, while a little war might prime the public, neither Top Gun, Flight of Black Angel, or Hot Shots (also 1991, also with FoBA's star) actually takes place during a war. In that case your only choice is to make a film that uses common and well worn genre conventions centered around a few aircraft props, which basically means that you’ve got yourself a jetsploitation flick.

Captain Gordon, call-sign Black Angel (William O’Leary) may be the best pilot at the Air Force Academy, but that’s little consolation when there is no real “enemy,” no war in which to exercise the power you possess and really get some. Instead he gleans what ego-stroking thrills he can by “killing” the other students he’s sent against during training maneuvers. In truth though, this hollow promise of power is merely a cruel, emasculating jest. You see, on the inside poor Captain Gordon is tormented and alone. He still lives at home with his parents where the agony of Christian repression manifests itself in the rigid unsocialized misery of silent family barbecues and gleaming gun collections. So, when his superior officer gives Gordon the off-hand compliment “you’re the one,” something in his head clicks. Suddenly his apocalyptic call sign seems tailor-made for a lifetime of 700 Club episodes. Gordon/Black Angel snaps, assassinates his family and steals his aircraft with the intention of obliterating “sin” by nuking Las Vegas.

Mom, Dad, we need to talk.

Alas, in his religious zeal Black Angel has gotten ahead of himself and forgotten our important rule of Jetsploitation. We’ve still got advertisers to please and a viewing public to engross. The tray-table airplane puns in the first scene did a lot of work in making the audience feel at home, but we can’t yet count on their full emotional investment. After all, the Vegas thing was pretty abrupt and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything really tangible at stake yet. If we could throw in a family with an infant to make it all seem like a real pressing threat to innocence that might be good. Black Angel will park the jet in a barn for half an hour take a family hostage and use their car to run some errands and work on his plane while padding out the running time. Everyone will scramble around in a panic for a while and then we’ll wrap it up with a nice heroic ending that emphasizes the whole objective neutrality of military hardware angle. Cut to commercial.

Oh Peter Strauss, this movie is SO not about you.

24 November 2011

Gobbler Bustin' Huntin' Movie

Gobbler Bustin' Huntin' Movie
United States - 1991/2
Director - Jim Nabors?
Wild Venture Productions, 1992, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 50 minutes

21 November 2011

Welcome to Russia: Anya and Igor Vassilievs on Video

There is not much to say about this that the box doesn't already convey. As painful as it is to sit through, Welcome to Russia: Anya and Igor Vassilievs on Video is a magical piece of home-video history bundled in to one succinct package.
The program is a father playing various Russian and medieval instruments while his daughter sings and/or plays along on a recorder. They wear period costumes and at times, other people dressed as Russian peasants dance in the background.

This shit takes dedication.
The pictures and "track" listing were pasted directly onto the factory box and then the whole thing was re-inserted into the shrink wrap which was then taped to the box to keep it on.
Igor and Anya, where are you now?

Earle Williams Governor

Earle Williams Governor
United States - 1993
This video came with a "personalized" form letter to the recipients.
Earle Williams lost his bid for governor. Nerds need look no further than HERE.

14 November 2011

Midnight Movies

United States – 2005
Director – Stuart Samuels
Starz Home Entertainment, 2005, DVD
Run Time – 1 hour, 26 minutes

I was much too young to have any firsthand experience with the Cult, B and more recently Grindhouse movie phenomena, so it took me a long time to figure out what the designations meant in practical terms. These days they are used to give films a false cultural cache. But I understand that new meanings have been created by consumerism and marketing. Just like the meaning of an image or a icon can evolve as history slips by, so can a word. A B-movie is no longer the cheap movie on a double bill, it’s just anything with a low budget. Grindhouse no longer refers to the venue, but to the general class of graphic exploitation movies that might have shown in one.

But new meanings have no real weight unless we understand their inspirations. Midnight Movies bridges the gap between the use of “Cult Film” in the fast and loose marketing sense, and its original meaning in the pre-video world. In interviews with directors of seven films that became cultural phenomena, the closest thing to a “certified” cult film, Midnight Movies explains what made those films what they were. Their claim, and even several distributors and producers agree, is that all of these films became popular in spite of their peculiarities and counter-cultural aesthetic, not because of them. Often, as in the case of Alejandro Jodorowski’s El Topo, they suffered from a near total lack of distribution. Yet nevertheless they became literal “cult” films, with a rabid local following that went religiously, sometimes for years. When their cultural cache was discovered and they finally got popular distribution, these cults vanished. It was a classic case of an art that is no longer appealing once it is commodified and everyone knows about it.

Unfortunately, with the arrival of home video all of that changed. As much as I deign to criticize the video format I so love, history tells us (as does John Waters in Midnight Movies) that it was largely responsible for the death of true cult cinema. There are occasionally films like Troll II that develop a following despite the inherent solitude of home video, but it’s a different creature. In interviews with Jodorowsky, Waters (Pink Flamingos), George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Perry Henzell (The Harder They Come), David Lynch (Eraserhead) and Richard O’Brien (Rocky Horror Picture Show), Midnight Movies makes it perfectly clear what “cult film” means and why as a category it no longer truly exists. A cult film simply cannot be made with intention and it cannot be made on BluRay or Netflix. As sad as that is for those of us unfortunate enough to have been born in the post video age, we have been lucky in one respect. Video has made it possible to preserve both the movies and the history that we missed. I can think of no better example than Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream.

07 November 2011

The Woman: Neither, Nor

It may surprise some of my readers to discover that I actually watch contemporary films, but this should not be the case. Despite my affection for the magnetic formats I enjoy all film, regardless of age or era  and I attend the cinema as often as the economy and my schedule permit.

I've been writing my usual about old VHS films for Paracinema magazine for quite some time now but  I've been wanting to expand my criticism to contemporary films. As such I'm happy to submit for your reading pleasure my first piece at Paracinema.net, an analysis of Lucky McKee's The Woman here at  The Woman: Neither, Nor.

Yes it's true, this is just a mildly shameless self promotion, but if you like what I write here at LVA, go check out Paracinema. They have a lot more to offer than just more of the usual.

Blood Hook

United States - 1986
Director - James Mallon
Prism Entertainment, 1990, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 25 minutes

Zombie Island Massacre

United States - 1984
Director - John N. Carter or James Broadnax depending on who you ask
Troma Entertainment, 2000, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yay, now that Halloween is over I can post horror movies again. I love being a contrarian.