26 December 2011

Theodore Rex

United States – 1995
Director – Jonathan Betuel
New Line Home Video, 1996, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 32 minutes

Sometimes in the process of poisoning my mind with all these films I stumble across one that, despite its relative availability, just demands closer inspection. After watching Theodore Rex, there are a lot of things going through my mind. It’s a mess of confusion and wonderment up there, a jumble of emotion, fright, anger and even some sadness. I feel a little bit dirty. In case you are too young, have forgotten, or never had the pleasure of knowing at all, I’ll give you a quick refresher on the plot. In a nominally sci-fi future dystopia, detective Katie Coltrane (Whoopi Goldberg) partners with a bumbling, human-sized talking Tyrannosaurus Rex (“Teddy”) to solve the murders of several other dinosaurs. Much “hilarity” ensues. However, there is something much more problematic here than the fact that a talking dinosaur has just been given a job as a cop.

On the surface Teddy is an “adult” who drinks, chases women and has a job.  But because he talks, dresses and acts like a child, he is the film’s demographic selling point and titular hero.  Despite, or perhaps because of, his best efforts to channel Axel Foley, our “hero” is given all the attributes of the constantly frightened or mistake-prone sidekick. The subsequent hour and a half wallows in the resentment of his human counterparts. They make no secret of their contempt when such an obviously inferior creature is given a toy job on the police force in order to placate dino-rights activists, (I’m not making this shit up.) Even Whoopi uses the closet-bigot’s time honored phrase “you people,” (errr, dinosaurs.) In this light, we must recall that Theodore Rex is a product of the decade that gave us such PC Tokenism as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the backlash against Affirmative Action. As such, its bitterness towards childlike-adults (read: the mentally handicapped) reeks of the sort of recrimination familiar to an artist forced to sacrifice his aesthetic vision on the altar of commercial viability. Beneath its kiddie, buddy-cop exterior, Theodore Rex is an agonized cry of outrage at the decline of that great imperialist institution, “meritocracy”.

When confronted with movies of highly subjective quality, one often hears the question “why did this seem like a good idea?” This is an understandable response, a reflexive reaction to offended sensibilities, but it’s too loosely used against movies that venture into uncharted territory. Specifically the question lacks definition, being too subjective to serve as any real criterion. Humans are after all gifted with creative, imaginative minds which should be used and enjoyed even if their vision is sometimes more than a little out of their grasp. This film however is one movie for which this overused question is entirely appropriate. The anti-hero has a long tradition in narrative storytelling. Theodore Rex however, takes the unprecedented step of removing the hyphen from the trope and being literally against its hero. This sort of meta-ethical flip-flopping is dangerous, because it dissolves the existential barriers between film, audience and film-maker. It is a mind-warping paradox that can lead to feelings of betrayal and revulsion for all three parties, and ultimately to the sort of resentment that causes a writer/director to quit making films altogether.

22 December 2011

Last Embrace

United States - 1979
Director - Jonathan Demme
Key Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 41 minutes

Ohhhh, there's one of those sexy Key Video boxes I was talking about last Monday. Nice rainbow pattern and unobtrusive color scheme centered around the red bordered box.
And directed by Roger Corman protege Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married) no less. This sucker has been sitting on my shelf for about six months, I better get to it. But why does this box make me think of Sylvester Stallone?

Poster from IMPAwards does justice to the original artwork by an artist I do not know.

19 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles

United States - 1939
Director - Sidney Lanfield
Key Video, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 20 minutes

As soon as I saw the Key Video box I was sold. Although Key was just the distribution arm of CBS/FOX, I can't help but love those boxes. Although this 1988 version is different from earlier versions in that it lacks the wonderful rainbow motif, the color scheme is otherwise similarly appealing.

14 December 2011

A Great Score!

Wow, it's been a long ass time since I started raising a stink about movies.
I wanted to use the opportunity of my 200th follower and my 500th post (almost perfect; 201-498) to take a few minutes to thank those of you who read Lost Video Archive and especially those who, on occasion, actually think it's kinda neat and tell me so! I love and strive for dialogue!

What I have primarily tried to do here over the past 4 years at LVA is to hone my writing ability on something I love, namely genre film. As the rest of my brain has grown and I've pursued other areas of interest the whole thing has become what you see now; a multi discipline interaction with the world of culture and cinema.

I really appreciate those of you that follow and actually read Lost Video Archive, you are the 200! And those of you who carry links to LVA on your own amazing sites and/or blogs, I extend my humble gratitude; a recommendation is among the highest of compliments. Now, for those of you who follow LVA and have a site/blog to which you would like me to post a link, let me know! A true community is reciprocal, and despite my best intentions and a confirmation bias, I sometimes miss things that are right in front of my face.

I realize that what Lost Video Archive does is something a little unusual when it comes to film "reviews", and as such your appreciation is very much noted and dear to me. Thanks for making LVA a great score so far!

12 December 2011

Creature From Black Lake

United States - 1976
Director - Joy Houck Jr.
Simitar Entertainment, 198?, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 minutes

There is an appealing charisma to Cryptozoology. It’s as if the beliefs themselves are contagious; the more you are around a believer, or the more of the “evidence” you consume the more you want to believe it. It is a bit like drinking actually, the more you consume, the less logical you become. Oh, it might be laughed at and shunned by other more “hard science” advocates, but the disappearance of the PhD in Cryptozoology is indisputably one of the great academic tragedies of the last 50 years. Most people aren’t aware, but as recently as the early 1980’s, respectable institutions of higher education were actually just wildly throwing money at cryptid research.

Drinking deeply a heady draught of Bigfoot lore in class, University of Chicago anthropology students Pahoo and Rives decide that this is the perfect subject for their graduate research project. After a casual chat in the hall secures the necessary funding, they’re off on a leisurely swing through the Southern United States in pursuit of a vague rumor. I’m sure it must have sounded brilliant at the time. “Check it out, we’ll drive south on the Department’s dime, do a few interviews and take a few pictures to justify the expenditure and dazzle those dumb backwards yokels with our big city educated vocabulary. They’ll probably worship us as gods the poor inbred fools.” While we may lament the general lack of respect that cryptozoologists now receive from the rest of the academy, it is perhaps understandable considering their unconventional research methods.

You see, tracking down a bigfoot, yeti, bipedal primate, skunk-ape or whatever you want to call it, may have been the excuse, but freedom and adventure is the reason. That’s because Creature From Black Lake is at its core just a buddy road movie and there’s nothing for a good time like a couple of long-hairs stirrin’ up trouble in a small southern town. Our Yankees may be full of ivory-tower assumptions about Southern backwardness and a mandate to analyze and catalogue the local fauna, but they still have to deepen their friendship and learn something about life along the way.

The hitch is that between pull tabs of beer, pawing underage southern belles and nights in the county jail the boys do more or less accidentally succeed in experiencing “Southern Culture,” or at least a movie stereotype modicum of it. And in spite of themselves they do stumble across a “Creature”, or at least, the silhouette of some guy in a fuzzy sweater. Of course, nobody back at the University believes them, but that’s to be expected. After all, it is more about the process than the product isn’t it?

This nice poster (which also made it to a DVD cover) from Wrong Side features art from Ralph McQuarrie, one of the primary artists behind much of the visual design that became Star Wars.

08 December 2011

Enlightened Racism in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

After a brief interruption in service, Paracinema is back in action. My critique of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, after stirring some controversy has been updated and is also back in action. You can read it in its entirety HERE and if you so desire, join in the dialogue.

Those of you regular LVA visitors will recognize my rhetorical style, extended somewhat further here because Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite franchises. I did a lot of research for this writeup including watching a number of other films and revisiting some other writers who offer critical analyses of race, pop-culture, politics and of course cinema.

Paris By Night 52

Paris By Night 52
United States - 1999
Director - Christian O'Shea
Thuy Nga Video 69, 1999, VHS
Run Time - Jeeze, I dunno, three cassettes worth.

Another multi-tape Vietnamese language variety show thing I found at a thrift shop. I'm sure there are lots of these out there, but I find 'em fascinating. This one in particular is awesome because of the science fiction angle. See also Saigon In Beverly Hills

07 December 2011

Halls of Montezuma

Halls of Montezuma
AKA - Okinawa
United States - 1950
Director - Lewis Milestone
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2000, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 53 minutes
Starring Jack Palance

 Japanese poster from Posterati

All of the preceding five posters come from Movie Poster Shop

  These two came from Movie Poster Database

06 December 2011

Terror In the Aisles

United States - 1984
Director - Andrew J. Kuehn
MCA Home Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 24 minutes

Hosted by Donald Pleasence and  Nancy Allen.

05 December 2011

The Wall

United States - 1998
Director - Joseph Sargent
Walking Man Films, 1999, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 35 minutes

A made for television anthology of three stories, each centered on an object which represents the life of a particular person who died in the Vietnam War. The Wall is one of the last films to come out that directly address Vietnam, but is more about remembrance than the conflict itself. I do not remember being terribly impressed, despite the laundry list of second-string actors and actresses. It's not so much that the stories were bad, but that it all seemed like a sham, like it was made for TV or something.

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.

31 October 2011

The Grasshopper

United States - 1969
Director - Jerry Paris
American Video, VHS, 1988
Run Time - 1 hour, 35 minutes

Sadly, Canada is not a subject that comes up very frequently at Lost Video Archive. When it does however, it is always interesting. That’s really no surprise when you consider that the United States is such a profoundly different place. Standing down here and looking up is like peering into an impenetrably muddy cultural pond. Having now watched The Grasshopper three times, it is perfectly clear to me that this bitter and acrimonious rivalry between the two nations is obviously a result of fundamental cultural differences. It must be as hard to understand this modern, progressive country from up there as it is to understand that conservative, traditional wilderness from here. Thankfully, over the course of its disappointingly brief hour and two thirds running time, The Grasshopper illuminates the moral chasm between these neighboring nations.

That great frigid Commonwealth of the north is above all a place where loyalty and fealty to one’s family are of paramount importance. The U.S. on the other hand is a wasteland of egoistic individual desires and dreams disconnected from concern for even one’s own kin. But the promise of personal fulfillment is a heady aroma, and as Christine (Jacqueline Bisset) hitch-hikes the long miles between the family hearth in British Colombia and her boyfriend in California, she breathes deeply of its scent. Perhaps too deeply, for when she arrives in the Golden State her dreams of immediately starting a family are instantly smothered by practical economic concerns. She balks at male rationality and strikes out on her own for Las Vegas where begins a string of exploitive and abusive relationships and increasingly degrading jobs before Christine finds herself bereaved, destitute, high on marijuana (gasp!), in police, custody and literally cursing the heavens at the end of the film.

Oh if only she had known that women shouldn't dream or have desires beyond raising a family. But many questions remain at the end of The Grasshopper, for its intentions are more opaque and nebulous than usual for an ordinary cautionary tale about too much freedom (ominous music). Yes it’s true, Canadians hate freedom and The Grasshopper (also known as The Passing of Evil) has no qualms about asserting that liberty is especially bad for women. But the film appears not to realize that Christine’s drawn out downfall is the result not of her liberation, but of male selfishness. Even this becomes more confounded by the character of Tommy Marcott (Jim Brown) whom Christine marries. He is the only man who doesn’t exploit her, but is instead gunned down defending her honor. Are we to see this as a condemnation of inter-racial marriage or the irredeemability of a soiled woman? It’s hard to say, and even if you read the film’s source novel The Grasshopper by Mark McShane, I suspect you wouldn’t get much more clarity. Those Canadians are devious people. Watching this American Video tape (how ironic is that?), what you ultimately get is a grainy, washed out film about regret, which you will regret watching.

A double bill which makes it sound as if Christine is the predator.

This poster makes it sound like a 1950's juvenile delinquency scare movie updated for the late 60's.