Also known as: Ring of Power, Drats (working titles), Fantasia de Rock (Brazil) Release Date: April 15th, 1983 (Boston premiere) Directed by: Clive A. Smith Written by: John Halfpenny, Peter Sauder, Patrick Loubert Music by: Patricia Cullen, various Cast: Don Francks, Susan Roman, Paul Le Mat, Catherine O’Hara, Debbie Harry (singing voice), Lou Reed (singing voice)
Nelvana, Anaguel Films, Canada Trust, Famous Players, United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 77 Minutes
“She can sing, or she can scream. But she still pissed me off.” – Mok
While I’d get my mum to rent me adult animated features all the time when I was a kid because she thought they were just cartoons, this is one that I never got to see.
I’m not sure what I would’ve thought about it, as a kid, but seeing it for the first time, as an adult, it’s kind of drab.
Granted, I really liked the music. The bands and musicians that the movie featured were cool and the general concept was interesting too but the story was slow and drab and I just never felt all that invested in it.
Additionally, I liked the character design but the animation came off a bit clunky in places.
I also don’t like leaving reviews that are incredibly short but I don’t know what else to say about this film. It’s not terrible but it’s also not terribly engaging and falls flat in just about every way.
I still can’t call this a bad animated film but I also can’t consider it a good one, either.
Rating: 5/10 Pairs well with: other adult animated features of the ’70s and ’80s.
Release Date: February 4th, 1983 Directed by: David Cronenberg Written by: David Cronenberg Music by: Howard Shore Cast: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman
Filmplan International, Guardian Trust Company, Canadian Film Development Corporation, Universal Pictures, 87 Minutes, 89 Minutes (uncut)
“The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.” – Brian O’Blivion
Some movies can be batshit crazy but then there are a select few that go beyond that. Videodrome is one of these films, as it is a complete and absolute mindfuck.
This is also a David Cronenberg film from his early days, so intense, disturbing body horror should be expected and in that regard, this movie does not disappoint and it boasts some incredible special effects even though the film had a fairly scant budget.
Overall, this and The Fly are just about tied for being my favorite Cronenberg film. However, this one takes a slight edge, simply because its contents have stuck with me more over the years. At an early age, it penetrated my psyche and it’s roamed around in my head ever since. Maybe I have one of those Videodrome caused brain tumors and it’s just been growing very slowly for decades?
Anyway, the plot of the film follows a television producer who is always on the hunt for fucked up content to air on his cable channel. This was made during the early days of cable and like the early days of the Internet, shit was like the Wild West. This also takes place in Canada, so I’m not sure what restrictions they had, as they weren’t under the rule of the FCC like cable channels in the United States.
On his quest to find fucked up content, the exec is introduced to a show called Videodrome. The show is devoid of plot and doesn’t seem to have much purpose other than being torture porn for some sickos that want to watch captive people go through horrific physical pain.
We do find out that there is a big conspiracy afoot and that the creators behind the show have a sinister agenda. It is up to this exec to try and stop them but his exposure to the show creates strange changes in his mind and body. It’s hard to decipher what is real and what is a hallucination and ultimately, it is never really clear and it makes the movie one hell of a crazy ride.
The linchpin that holds all of this together is James Woods, who plays the exec. His performance is convincing, authentic and so believable that you don’t find yourself questioning the insane developments within the film. You just go along with him on his personal, unique trip through sensory hell.
Cronenberg did a stupendous job in creating a world that feels both foreign and familiar. But beyond that, the mastery of the special effects he employed and dreamed up is uncanny and impressive. The melting, morphing television scene is still one of the greatest effects sequences I’ve ever seen on film. Even knowing as much as I do about practical effects, it’s a moment that still baffles me and I almost don’t want to know the magic trick.
Videodrome is a classic and a real gem of its era. It achieved cult status and deservedly so. However, I feel like it’s now being lost to the sands of time, as younger generations don’t seem to care about anything predating the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The world is currently in a sad state in regards to mainstream art and this film just reminds me of a time when filmmakers overcame challenges, didn’t give a fuck about the censors or the Hollywood system and just made whatever the fuck they wanted to make.
Videodrome makes me yearn for a long overdue filmmaking renaissance.
Rating: 9.25/10 Pairs well with: other David Cronenberg films of the ’70s and ’80s.
Also known as: Joan Jett: Bad Reputation (poster title) Release Date: January 22nd, 2018 (Sundance) Directed by: Kevin Kerslake Written by: Joel Marcus Music by: The Runaways, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts Cast: Joan Jett, Kenny Laguna, Miley Cyrus, Iggy Pop, Michael J. Fox, Rodney Bingenheimer, Debbie Harry, Kristen Stewart, Pete Townsend, Dana White
Joan Jett is awesome. If you disagree, you have horrible taste.
Now that that’s out of the way, I was glad to come across this documentary about her life and career. Because, frankly, outside of just enjoying her music whether with the Runaways or with the Blackhearts, I never knew much about her.
As a biographical music documentary, this is pretty standard fare. It goes into her personal life, her backstory and then talks about all the major points in her career.
It’s a well produced and edited piece though and it’s Joan, herself, that gives this thing its life. She’s just great to listen to and her passion comes through.
Additionally, there are a lot of talking head interviews with a slew of famous fans and other musicians. This had a good, solid cast of people with their own unique takes and stories about Joan.
This is definitely one of the more enjoyable rock and roll documentaries to come out in the last few years. The production quality is great, there isn’t a dull moment and it was a fantastic way to kill time on a cramped, cross country flight.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: other recent rock and roll biopics: Gimme Danger, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Whiteny, A Band Called Death, Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’, Mayor of the Sunset Strip and David Bowie: The Last Five Years
Release Date: September 4th, 2012 (Venice Film Festival) Directed by: Sophie Huber Music by: Chris Robertson, Roland Widmer
hugofilm, isotopefilms, Adopt Films, 77 Minutes
Very few actors have as much mileage as Harry Dean Stanton did. He passed away late last year and it sort of feels like there is a massive void that no one else will really be able to fill. Sure, he was a character actor of the highest regard but those few times where he got to be the lead were pretty damn exceptional.
I’ve been working my way through a lot of the Stanton roles I still haven’t seen. For a guy that has 202 IMDb credits, as an actor, I feel as if there will always be some Harry Dean gem I haven’t yet discovered.
This documentary is sweet and initimate. It’s pretty short but we get to spend time with Harry, as he talks about himself, in his own words. We also get to see him reminisce with some of the people he was closest too throughout his career: David Lynch, Kris Kristofferson, Sam Shepard, Debbie Harry and Wim Wenders. He also hear from his personal assistant and see him interact with others.
The documentary also has some bits where Harry sings and talks about how he regrets not trying his hand at music professionally.
While the film does cover some of Stanton’s most notable work, this is more a character study of the man himself.
For fans of Harry Dean Stanton, this is a really cool little film to experience.
Rating: 8/10 Pairs well with: Other documentaries about other famous character actors. That Guy Dick Miller, immediately comes to mind.
Release Date: June 26th, 1982 (Japan) Directed by: Boaz Davidson Written by: Boaz Davidson Music by: Deborah Harry, Mark Allen Cast: Lawrence Monoson, Diane Franklin, Steve Antin, Joe Rubbo, Louisa Moritz, Brian Peck, Kimmy Robertson
Cannon Film Distributors, 92 Minutes
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a beloved film for all the right reasons. The big thing about it is that it tackled the darker parts of teen life. It covers the subject of abortion, which really hadn’t been touched on in a teen comedy before. But au contraire, it was first addressed in The Last American Virgin, which came out a few months earlier than Fast Times but didn’t get as much press and admiration.
Part of that is also due to this being a smaller release. It was a little flick put out by the awesome Cannon Films but it didn’t have the marketing power of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was put out by a major studio and hit more theaters upon its release. The Last American Virgin found life later on video store shelves and on late night television like pretty much all of Cannon’s catalog.
Comparisons aside, The Last American Virgin is darker than Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sure, it is a comedy but it conveys the struggles of teen’s falling in love a bit more realistically than Fast Times. Not to take anything away from that film but this film carries more emotional weight. While it is a comedy and it is even more over the top than Fast Times, it finds a way to go to darker places while perfectly balancing itself out. It actually takes the comedy and the seriousness of Fast Times and pushed both of those elements further.
Now I think that Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a much better film but The Last American Virgin is still damn good too. It isn’t comprised of a large ensemble of huge Hollywood stars before they broke out, the kids here feel like real kids dealing with real problems. For any guy who fell head over heels for a girl in high school that they just couldn’t be with, this picture will reel you in. Despite its goofiness and raunchiness its heart is true and it shows. Spoiler alert: this does not have a happy ending, where Fast Times at Ridgemont High ended positively for all the kids in the film.
Both films also had dynamite music but The Last American Virgin has one of the best 1980s movie soundtracks. The film boasts songs by Blondie, Devo, U2, The Police, KC and the Sunshine Band, Quincy Jones, The Human League, The Commodores, Oingo Boingo, Journey, REO Speedwagon, The Cars and others.
If you enjoy 80s teen comedies and haven’t seen this one, you probably should. It is lower budget and there is a noticeable difference in quality between this and the better known films of the genre but it is just as effective as the best teen pictures to come out of the 80s.
Release Date: November 11th, 2008 Directed by: Christoph Dreher Music by: various artists featured in the film
CLA, 60 Minutes
House of the Rising Punk is a German documentary about punk music, primarily in America but they do cover Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols, albeit from an American point-of-view. And even though it is German, the documentary is completely in English with a few German subtitles here and there. It is also available for free on Amazon Video if you have a Prime account.
For a one hour film, it covers a lot. It interviews several of the musicians and other people involved in and around the scene.
The film examines Richard Hell and his bands Television and the Voidoids, as well as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, Alan Vega and Martin’s Rev’s Suicide and others.
It is pretty comprehensive for its running time. Sure, a lot is left out and the story is so broad it couldn’t even be covered in a one hour documentary but this is still a highly informative and compelling watch.
The highlight of the whole thing for me was hearing Dee Dee Ramone talk about the history of punk from his personal experience. It was also cool to see Richard Hell telling his story and Jim Jarmusch adding in his two cents. It also explained how Patti Smith’s unique style came to be.
House of the Rising Punk is a quick but meaty look into American punk and how it shaped pop culture.
Release Date: February 1st, 2005 Directed by: Danny Vinik Music by: various artists featured in the film
Brink Films, 91 Minutes
I love Amazon Video with my Prime account because I have access to a bunch of documentaries I probably wouldn’t even know about otherwise. I stumbled across this one and was glad I did, as I have known about the old New York City public access show Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party for a long time but have never been able to see more than just a few clips.
For those who don’t know, TV host, fashion expert and writer Glenn O’Brien with Blondie’s Chris Stein formed TV Party as an outlet for the young people of New York City’s urban scene. It featured punk, hip-hop and a multitude of other music styles, as well as art, comedy and pretty much whatever else they wanted to throw at the public.
Others who contributed to the show were Fab 5 Freddy, Debbie Harry from Blondie, Walter Steding and Amos Poe. Guests ranged from Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Byrne, Mick Jones, James Chance and others from the music and art scene.
The TV Party documentary shows how the show came to be, how it was orchestrated once on the air and how it ultimately came to its end. It gives us a glimpse into an incredible cultural era in the biggest city in America.
The documentary is well-produced, well-executed and covers more than I thought it could in its 90 minute running time.
The interviews with O’Brien, Fab 5 Freddy, Debbie Harry, Walter Steding and others were eye-opening and engaging. It made me appreciate what this all was even more so than I did already, even not having seen a full episode.
TV Party was a special show while it lasted and it opened the door for a lot of people and helped shape pop culture after it. It most likely had a big influence on what MTV became and it helped give careers to many of the people involved.