The Gamers: Dorkness Rising

Readers, here’s something you might not know about me: I love being a movie snob.

I know enough movie trivia to be a formidable opponent at “Scene It,” and I can wax on (endlessly) about the virtues (and failings) of renowned foreign and domestic directors. In fact, the movie I’m most likely to pick as my favorite is “Wild Strawberries,” a Swedish movie directed by Ingmar Bergman that premiered the same year my mother was born.

But sometimes, you need to shove that stuff aside and embrace some lowbrow comedy. “The Gamers: Dorkness Rising,” the no-budget “Dungeons and Dragons” parody from writer/director Matt Lancil fits that bill in spades and manages to be pretty damn entertaining.

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“Alice” (1988)

For this review, we’re jumping back to the 1980s for a surreal film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Writer/director Jan  Svankmajer takes us on a wild and crazy adventure (not quite down a rabbit hole) is his “Alice.”

What makes this “Alice” stand out from the others is the stylistic choices Svankmajer makes, some that work and some that don’t.

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My Dinner with Andre

“My Dinner with Andre,” Louis Malle’s art house hit from 1981, is all talk and not for the weak of heart.

When I say it’s all talk, I mean it; two men, friends of sorts who haven’t seen each other in a few years, meet for dinner, and talk about their lives, the meaning of life, the value of art, the future of mankind, etc. You know, typical stuff to talk about on any given evening.

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That was pretty weird.

I’m something of an off-and-on David Cronenberg fan; I don’t own any of his movies, but good or bad, his films stick with you. “Dead Ringers” is one that haunted me for months after seeing it. I don’t think “Videodrome” is going to haunt me that much, but I’m sad to say it’s one of his lesser films.

Here we have Max (James Woods), head of a seedy television channel that specializes in porn, from soft- to hard-core smut. Always on the lookout for something new and shocking, his assistant Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) shows him a feed for a show called Videodrome. In it, men and women are tortured and murdered, all so we can watch.

Of course, this feed comes with a little something extra; not long after Max sees the film, and shares it with his S&M-loving girlfriend Nicki (Deborah Harry, of Blondie fame), he begins hallucinating that his TV, and all video cassettes (Jim, they were Betamax!), are alive and communicating with him, rather than just at him.  

In his quest for knowledge and a “cure,” he stumbles upon the unlikely origins of Videodrome and its acolytes and opposition. I won’t give away more than that, but it’s a strange ride.

It’s also a bit on a long side, especially considering the runtime is only 88 minutes. I can live with the weird, and a rather unsatisfying end, but the film lost me about an hour in. To vague this up as much as possible, a female character commits to being the stupidest possible creature on Earth by simply losing the ability to add.

Yes, one could speculate that, hey, Max is a nutjob and that might not have happened, but we saw it anyway. In our eyes, it did happen, for no reason. It completely took me and my movie buddy out of the film and pretty much soured anything that came after.

That’s one big strike that can’t be washed away. I’ve heard rumours that a remake is in the works; if that character’s actions are omitted, I would be willing to approach it with an open mind. Fix that error, and I’m all yours.

Want another take on “Videodrome?” See what Jim has to say.

“Videodrome” (1983)

Written and directed by David Cronenberg

Starring: James Woods (Max)

Deborah Harry (Nicki)

Peter Dvorsky (Harlan)

Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father

This film will hurt you.

That’s my only warning; “Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father” (2008) is one of the more unusual documentaries I’ve ever seen. In 2001, Dr. Andrew Bagby was murdered; the most likely suspect was his ex-girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner. After some initial questioning from the police, she fled to her hometown in Newfoundland, Canada. While the initial extradition hearings were proceeding, she announced she was pregnant with Bagby’s baby. In the wake of the news of the pregnancy and Turner’s release from jail during the hearings’ delay, Andrew’s parents, Kate and David Bagby, moved to Newfoundland to fight for custody of their grandson.

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The Greatest Show on Earth

Readers, I have found the 1950s version of James Cameron’s “Titanic.” No, I don’t mean “A Night to Remember,” the 1958 chilly reenactment of the crash of the ocean liner.  I mean a bloated, over-praised epic that inexplicably won the Best Picture Oscar (yes, I’m still a bitter “L.A. Confidential” fan.).

Yep, I’m talking about “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Cecil B. DeMille’s story of the circus and the performers who love and struggle to bring us cheap but honest entertainment.

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Un Chien Andalou

What can you say about a movie that’s only 16 minutes long?

“Un Chien Andalou” means “An Andalusian Dog”. It’s silent. It’s weird. It has no plot. It’s the original gross-out film.

Directed by Luis Bunuel and conceived by him and Salvador Dali, “Un Chien Andalou” (1929) isn’t so much a film as a series of images that wash over you, more dream than reality. Which is probably for the best, because the images are a little disturbing; about a minute into the picture, a man slashes a woman’s eyeball with a razor. In close up. Don’t worry, it looks totally fake; the ear scene in “Reservoir Dogs” was more convincing.

That’s about as bad as it gets, but really, what’s the point here? I don’t mind a little shock-and-awe in my films, but that shouldn’t be the point of a film (one reason why I refuse to see torture-porn films). For a film geek like me, I think “Un Chien Andalou” is worthwhile checking out, but only as historical viewing. I really can’t imagine anyone loving this film, and I can only bring myself to appreciate it. Barely.

And that about sums it up.

“Un Chien Andalou”

Directed by Luis Bunuel

Scenario by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali

Simone Mareuil (Young girl)

 Pierre Batcheff (Man)

The Weather Underground

This is not a love story.

I say that upfront just so you know that “The Weather Underground” is not an affectionate missive to the ideals of 1960s, or to that era’s radicals, or terrorism of any kind. What it is is a window into the mind of a group of notorious domestic terrorists. Still, the aura of ‘cool’ inhabits the documentary’s subjects, American revolutionaries in a volatile time (what is it about a rebel?).

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Stop Making Sense

About a month or so ago, I made my first (but hopefully not last) sojourn to Amoeba Music in Hollywood. While I was there, I looked through the used rock section and decided to pick up Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense.”

I like the Heads, but I only know one of their albums (“Little Creatures,” if you’re curious); I didn’t even know that I was buying a soundtrack (more or less) rather than an album. Oh well; I loved the CD anyway.

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