Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

We should applaud filmmakers for successfully stepping outside of their comfort zone genre-wise.  Genre-hopping has created such memorable films as Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003) (yes, he had done violent movies before but, no, this did not necessarily mean he could pull off a kung fu epic) and Martin Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ (1988).  However, we should just as enthusiastically condemn directors who should know better than to mess with what works: Barry Levinson’s Sphere (1998), Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack (1996) (you remember, the uplifting comedy about progeria), and any time Kevin Smith decides to make a movie not specifically about New Jersey wiseasses.  So when I heard that one of Brian De Palma’s earliest films was a musical, the film critic in me proceeded with caution while the Schlock-Lover ran head-first, squealing manically into Phantom of the Paradise.

Singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper) has a simple dream: to become a famous singer. Song-writer Winslow Leach (William Finley) has a moderately simple dream: to write an epic cantata based on Christopher Marlowe’s Faust that will make him the belle of the NPR Ball.  Music producer extraordinaire Swan (Paul “I wrote ‘Rainbow Connection’” Williams) has a complicated dream: TO RULE OVER ALL OF POPULAR MUSIC WITH AN IRON FIST OF SPITE! When Swan hears Winslow’s cantata, he knows he’s got a hit on his hands.  The only thing standing in his way is Winslow.  So Swan does the only rational thing and sets into motion a series of events that leave Winslow a hideously disfigured, metal-mouthed creature that is hellbent on revenge!  And how best to get sweet, sweet revenge? By destroying Swan’s latest creation: a rock ‘n roll Xanadu called “The Paradise.”

Brian De Palma’s musical entry has to be seen to be believed.  It is a metatextual action/thriller/romance/revenge drama/horror/musical.  Granted, it is not a straight musical; no one bursts into song.  There just seem to be convenient reasons for characters to be performing songs that happen to speak to exactly what they are feeling at any given moment.  Mercifully, all of the songs are catchy since Paul Williams wrote them and all the performers can actually sing.  And you are going to need the soothing touchstone of musical to ground you through a film that switches its tone more often than a Frank Zappa concert.

Stylistically, the film bounces around references to earlier horror films like The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Psycho (1960), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Touch of Evil (1958), and the oeuvre of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funnicello.  I am not going to say that the lack of narrative clarity does not hurt the film.  I am going to ask how much that could possibly hurt your enjoyment of a film with a screechy, flamingly homosexual glam rocker named “Beef” (Gerrit Graham).  "Beef," people, "Beef!"

Bizarre musical productions, awkward romances between mismatched weirdos, and a surprising amount of violence and gore, maybe Phantom of the Paradise was a better indicator of Brian De Palma’s career than thought…

Cats

In 1981, Andrew Lloyd Webber brought Cats to West-End.  A year later, the musical saw its Broadway debut where it played until 2000.  Loosely based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot, it seems to be mostly a showcase for really attractive people to prance about in spandex to soaring show tunes.  In 1998, it was filmed for television. With makeup and lycra, the tales of the various cats were brought to the screen, directed by David Mallet and produced by Webber.

Technically, the plot is centered around a bunch of cats (Jellicle specifically) that have gathered for their yearly ball.  Woeful and mischievous, they dance and sing about their antics and life stories. At the end of the gathering, the cats’ leader, Old Deuteronomy (Ken Page), chooses one to ascend to the Heaviside Layer.  There’s also a subplot involving Macavity (Bryn Walters), a cat criminal, but really, not too much goes on plot-wise.  Plot’s not the point here.  Who’s looking for plot when there’s hotness dancing in spandex?

At this point, I must remark on some of the, uh...particulars of the costuming in this production of Cats.  I’ve seen pictures from the original stage version and will say that I’m grateful for the advances in synthetic fabrics over the years.  While sitting and watching Cats with my mother for this review, she pointed out something she found odd.  For as sexual as people say that Cats is as a production, she remarked that everyone looked fairly androgynous--the men especially.  I watched for a moment and found my gaze straying crotchward...

She was right!  They look like Ken dolls!

I for one expect more penis in my theatrical production.  You can’t hide anything with spandex, and I have to confess to being impressed that they managed to effectively neuter the men...impressed and disappointed.

Having never seen Cats performed live, I can’t compare it to the stage show, but I can mention there are a number of things that the filmed version does that wouldn’t be feasible in a theatrical production.  It’s mostly a bit of flash and dazzle, but it certainly adds to the fun of the show.  What also adds to the fun is just how wholly committed to being cats the cast is.  The cast features a number of theater legends , Ken Page and Ellen Paige ; and also includes John Mills , now departed veteran of stage and screen.  For those huge geeks at home, you’ll be amused to know that Femi Taylor is in this production as Exotica.  Taylor is most “famous” for playing Oola, the unfortunate Twi’lek slave girl in Jabba the Hut’s lair who meets a crunchy end in The Return of the Jedi .

All things considered, Cats is great fun to watch, especially if you’ve consumed some sort of mind-altering substance.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any on hand, but I can say with some authority that the randomness in this particular production lends itself to a night of heavy drinking.  The tunes are catchy, the cast performs well, and you can end the night debating the symbolism of the Heaviside Layer.

Repo: The Genetic Opera

I have to admit to a certain fondness for musicals. Fred Astaire was an idol of my childhood, as was Gene Kelly. Especially when he danced with Jerry Mouse (of Tom and Jerry). Though as much as I like a good musical, which is essentially a play/movie with more than a few dance numbers thrown in, I can't bring myself to dig operas. With every line of dialog done through song, my patience wears thin long before the story comes to a close. As such (and much to the dismay of my Grandmother), I always steered clear.

But hey, I like a good disembowelment as much as the next guy! Which brings me to Repo! The Genetic Opera, and the source of our discussion today.

Weaving a tale of betrayal, murder, corruption, insanity, and implied incest, this film is wholesome family fun, pure and simple. Taking place in a very dystopian 2056, it's been 26 years since an epidemic of organ failures crippled our society. Paul Sorvino stars as Rottissimo "Rotti" Largo, the billionaire industrialist who eventually saved the world by manufacturing and providing organ transplants for any and all who could afford them, eventually creating predatory financing plans to bring them to the poor.

Talk about your sub-prime loans.

Anthony Stewart Head is Nathan Wallace, who was Largo's chief rival for the affections of Marni (Sarah Power ) 17 years prior to the story's beginning. When Marni left Largo and married Nathan, and eventually became pregnant, the distraught industrialist poisons her. Nathan, at a loss as to why his wife is dying, carves out his daugher Shiloh (Alexa Vega) and raises her in a tower, a prisoner to his own grief.

Meanwhile, having been convinced by Largo that he was responsible for his wife's death, Nathan becomes the lead Repo Man, an assassin who's job it is reclaim organ's who's owners defaulted on payments. This burden, combined with his own guilt over Marni, causes his personalities to fracture. One is the caring/obsessed father that is Nathan, the other is "the Monster"-the personality that takes over when it's time for daddy to go to work. Whew! This is not a story afraid of melodrama.

I haven't even gotten to Rotti's children, who serve as the primary comic relief. When a Serial Murderer (Bill Moseley), Serial Rapist (Nivek Ogre), and a drug-addicted spoiled Daddy's Girl addicted to plastic surgery (Paris Hilton) are your comic relief...Well, let's just say you're in some dark territory. Even so, the plot has a breezy pace, punched up by a couple of really great musical numbers that mix traditional rock power ballads with a bit of Marylin Manson-style Industrial. Tony Head in particular, who last flexed his pipes on screen in a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, belts out his songs with a gusto while he hunches over, knawing on the scenery like a dog with a bone. In most rock operas, you're lucky if you like 3 or 4 songs. There are 16 here that have found permanent residence on my iPod.

A campy, blood-soaked joy of a picture, it's highly recommended for any viewing, Cavalcade or otherwise. Pair with Cannibal: The Musical, or Forbidden Zone for an event featuring fucked-up musicals. Or compare it to Repo Men, which has a LOT of similar elements, but slightly less gore.

Wild Zero

The members of Wild Zero are the Ramones of Japan, however they also have the divine calling to kill zombies with a thick gooey coating of Japan's Rock and Roll Spirit. This movie is just that goddamn awesome. As such, we've decided to resurrect one of our dead features, the live stream event, and rock it out-jingle style-on this Christmas evening. However, as opposed to just having one of us here tonigh, we've got a full cast of characters who are going to be offering input across the twitter-verse

(Oh. Yeah. Keep your eyes peeled for the Japanese Steve Buscemi)

Standard rules apply here, everything here is something shouted out during the course of the movie. By the way, it had its own drinking game, so things became kind of incoherent near the end as all the participants started slurring their words a bit. The lines in quotes are actually taken straight from the film. So don't blame us.

Enjoy!

  • Why are all Asian zombies blue?
  • Hubcaps...in SPACE!
  • Japanese Rockabilly hair combing!
  • We should mention that Wild Zero ships with its own drinking game as a special feature
  • WHY CAN'T I SHOOT LIGHTING OUT OF MY GUITAR?!?
  • "There's a wallet on my ass with a rock and roll license!"
  • Did we REALLY need the POV shot of him peeing in the urinal? SQUEEEEZE it out, SON!
  • Seriously, how many f***ing times do you need to comb your hair in a day?
  • What's with those shorts. . oh, that's a woman.
  • Why. Does. his. underwear. tie. up. on. the side? And did the actor REALLY have to have an erection during the ENTIRE scene?
  • Because cocaine in the milk is like a protein shake?
  • ZOMBIES!
  • And...uh...why is that zombie holding sandals?
  • Big. Giant. Hearts? on the screen? WHAT?
  • Stick your penis in it, the zombies go away.
  • That tiny bike says his penis is at LEAST a full pinky length in size. No overcompensating there!
  • never. Ever. Faint in front of the zombies.
  • The zombies are going to east Asian Moby! We won't hear it though, because his shirt is too goddamned loud.
  • Mop against zombies= WIN
  • At some angles she looks like a man, at other angles she's a very cute girl? Winona Ryder?
  • Why do zombies go straight for the panties?
  • Naked Marksmanship FTW!
  • Who has fire shooting out of their MICROPHONE?
  • They've wandered into some sort of building and um. . . SHE IS A MAN!
  • It's the crying game all over again!!! AGGGHHHH! *Runs away to the bathroom*
  • "LOVE HAS NO BORDERS NATIONALITIES OR GENDERS!! DOOOO IT!"
  • Atheism Limit Break CROWBAR ENGAGE!!!
  • God, Guitar Wolf is like this sexy Terminator-alien-thing-man-beast. . .
  • That gun's not a penis. No. Not at all.
  • His package has luster. Billy Mays here for the package buffer. . . Giggity.
  • Every time they fucking back-fist Asian Steve Buscemi, take a drink.
  • Why are they naked . . . and blue. . . and wearing. . .cod. . pieces?
  • They've just found ALL the guns. . .
  • charred barring hips. . . . . . charles brawlin' herps. . . charlz broilin hips. . . she's got 'em. . .
  • Ok. Higgins is apparently tweeting everything I'm failing to say during the drinking game.
  • Guitar Wolf has got so much rock n' roll he can kill zombies just with Guitar Picks. . .LIGHTNING GUITAR PICKS!
  • Let's do a bunch of drugs and kill some zombies. Yep, sure. That's what I'd do.
  • "THERE ARE NO BOUNDARIES IN ROCK N' ROLL! BELIEVE IN ROCK N' ROLL."
  • He still has an erection. . .
  • Gosh he is cute. Wait. That's not right. . .
  • Nipple twist! Tune in Toyko!
  • Oh, that's right, because he's a wolf. He's a Guitar Wolf. STILL A MAN!!!
  • He took off the wig and he's EVEN GAYER, how does that work?!
  • Well, If this going to be that kind of party, I'm gonna to stick my dick in the mash potatoes.
  • ZOMBIE LOVE CAM!
  • "I swear by my leather jacket, and by rock n' roll, I swear, I love you."
  • "Courage and Rock n' Roll, that's what he taught me that night."
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, this concludes this mass of the Church of the Cavalcade, we thank for your attendance and my penis is not that big.
  • The previous is what happens when you leave the twitter window open for random people to type. BAD Christmas guests! BAD!

Forbidden Zone

Before his incredible collaborations with Tim Burton, before developing a cult-favorite band new wave band with such hits as Weird Science and Dead Man’s PartyDanny Elfman was part of a musical theater group called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.  I do not have words to explain just how strange they are so here’s a clip from The Gong Show

Danny’s the one wearing a rocket.

After having watched that, it should come as no surprise to you when I say that when these people decided to make a feature length movie, they created one of the most disturbing things ever captured on film.

Forbidden Zone is nominally about the Hercules family after they moved into the former residence of a heroin dealer named Huckleberry P. Jones, which is exactly what I plan to name my first child, regardless of gender.  The basement of the house features a doorway to “The Sixth Dimension,” a land of utter madness.

After having watched this movie several times, I have come to the conclusion that the Sixth Dimension is-in fact-HELL.  Frenchy Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman) decides to check out the Sixth Dimension and finds, among other things: King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) , a few torture chambers, a frog person, some concubines, The Princess (who never puts a shirt on), the Kipper Kids, a number of cross-dressers, and Danny Elfman  himself as Satan... doing a Cab Calloway impression.

Still with me?

This movie doesn't have a plot so much as a bunch of connecting segments between musical numbers, which consist of original songs by the Mystic Knights, and older 40's-style recordings to which the cast lip-syncs.  Admittedly, I am a big Danny Elfman/Oingo Boingo fan, so I may be biased, but I really love the music in this picture. This was the first film Danny ever scored.

The film’s director, Richard Elfman (Danny’s older brother), made Forbidden Zone with almost no money, and it shows.  He shot the film in black and white not for artistic reasons, but because he couldn't afford color.  The sets, predominantly two-dimensional Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-esque paintings by  Marie.  Most of the cast were not professional actors and yet were encouraged to ham up their performances as much as possible.  Furthermore, at any given moment, the film switches to animation a la “Monty Python.”

These factors contribute to the movie’s overall charm, which it has in loads.  It’s just hard to notice that charm, as the film offends the senses on almost every level. To begin, there are more bodily fluids, nudity, and/or sexual situations here than most porn films. As the director explains on the commentary track, “I love to put people in their underwear. Be they beautiful, young ladies or mature gentlemen playing 12 year old boy scouts.” There are also situations that he claims are not meant to be racist, but come off-well...let's just say the film begins with Huckleberry P. Jones being played by a white man in blackface.  Amusingly, Forbidden Zone has also been criticized for being anti-Semitic, despite the Elfman clan being Jewish.

Forbidden Zone is a semi-animated nightmare that keeps me up at night whenever I watch it.  After just watching it now, I am still flabbergasted. While I can't recommend it highly enough, I can never seem to get anyone to watch it.