PUNK AT HEART
1Many people know Joan Jett as a former member of rowdy teen upstarts The Runaways who then rose to ’80s solo stardom and became a rock icon. But her story runs deeper than that, and Bad Reputation (2018) offers a wider view of her career — the staunch patriarchal backlash she battled, her amazing career highs, her survival during rougher patches, her acting, her human and animal rights activism, and her lifelong friendship with her musical collaborator and producer Kenny Laguna. It is also interesting to learn of her deeper connection to the L.A. punk scene (she produced The Germs’ only album) and the ’90s Riot Grrrl movement (she also produced singles for Circus Lupus and Bikini Kill and collaborated with Kathleen Hanna). No matter what, Jett has stayed true to herself and dictated her own terms and conditions for her art. Sometimes we need to be reminded that maverick pioneers who made things look easy worked and struggled very hard against the grain to achieve their goals and open doors for others. The DVD includes a few bonus live performances and many of her videos, as well as a funny backstage scene from her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction.
THE NIGHT SHE STRUCK BACK
Not counting the two Rob Zombie remakes, the classic Halloween franchise has totaled eight previous movies of drastically varying quality. Directed and co-written by David Gordon Green, the latest Halloween (2018) ignores that entire canon except for the original film, offering a direct sequel that takes place 40 years later. Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role as Laurie Strode, the survivor of Michael Myers’ murderous rampage, who is estranged from her daughter and granddaughter as she copes with PTSD and prepares herself for a possible Myers return. They think she’s nutty until Myers, egged on by the goading of self-serving bloggers seeking a golden interview, escapes his psychiatric incarceration to hunt Laurie, and her immediate family members become potential victims. Green’s sequel riffs off the original and subverts some expectations, and while it may not reinvent the slasher genre, his feminist rendering is what gives this well-made sequel its power. Bonus features include deleted and extended scenes and short ‘n’ sweet featurettes on making the film, its origins, Curtis, the mask, the series legacy, and how original director John Carpenter co-composed the new score with his son Cody and Daniel Davies.
Directed and co-written by David Byrne, back when he was frontman for the Talking Heads, True Stories (1986) is less of a narrative exercise and more of a slice of life experience as an amiable stranger in a cowboy hat (Byrne) takes us on a tour of Virgil, Texas, a quirky small town about to celebrate the “specialness” of their 150th anniversary. Residents include an awkward, lovelorn bachelor (John Goodman), a wealthy woman who never leaves her bed (Swoosie Kurtz), a lying woman who perpetually invents tall tales, a couple who speak to each other through their children, and a voodoo practitioner. While the movie embraces the town’s uniqueness via a wacky fashion show, oddball town parade, and eclectic talent show, it subtly reinforces the fact that conformity is creeping in via a new mall, pre-fab homes, and modern home conveniences. This is a charming and colorful if understated film that shines a light on the type of unusual town that gets overlooked by mainstream America, and it carries more poignancy now given our modern Wal-Mart mentality. Someone who can find the unusual in the commonplace, Byrne has recently decried the culture-snuffing hypergentrification of New York City, and with good reason. This well-curated Criterion reissue includes a new hour-long feature on the making of True Stories and a 30-minute documentary from back in the day, along with a CD soundtrack and liner notes including a vintage Spalding Gray essay printed up as a small newspaper. It’s one of the most original Blu-ray packages I’ve seen in a while.
Some fear films refuse to die and rise again through revamped editions. Both Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979) and William Lustig’s Maniac (1980) are eternal cult favorites that were banned or censored in various countries because they made people squirm with their gruesome violence and intense images. Both remain shocking today. Maniac has a focused storyline about a murderer (Joe Spinell) who, despite falling in with a beautiful girlfriend, still feels the compulsion to kill. On the flip side, Zombie‘s quest of a young woman (Tisa Farrow) seeking to locate her father on an island overrun with the undead is less about a deep story and more about gorgeous and gory cinema. It’s a personal favorite of mine. (And Guillermo del Toro too!) Blue Underground has reissued these two films before, but this time we get Blu-rays fresh from 4K restorations and, at least for the first pressings, packaged with 3-D lenticular covers. There are a couple of new bonus features on each movie, new liner notes, and the limited-edition versions also come with a CD soundtrack for each film. If you are a horror hound who does not already own these or just have a compulsive collecting fetish, these are for you.
NETFLIX FIX: BIRD BOX (2018)
A visual contagion is overtaking the world, propelled by monstrous entities who inspire people to commit suicide. Very few people remain unaffected, and the story follows the quest of a mother (Sandra Bullock) and her two children as they journey down a river while blindfolded; they seek sanctuary in a special place they have been directed to. The story flashes back and forth between the present and the past events that led to up their current predicament, as she boards up in a house with squabbling survivors who cope with diminishing resources, including the cynical survivalist homeowner (John Malkovich). Susanne Bier’s film certainly ratchets up the tension while maintaining an air of mystery around the origins and purpose of the outbreak, but sometimes a little more explanation there would have helped. Bird Box is an interesting combination of allegorical ideas that do not quite come together in the end. The ride is generally fun, yet somehow it could have been more.
NETFLIX FIX: BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH (2018)
Diving into interactive mode, Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed series gives fans the chance to choose their own potentially horrific fate as they make decisions for video game programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), who tries adapting a “choose your own adventure” style book into a hot adventure video game back in 1984. As Butler descends down a mental rabbit hole, you can decide how deep he (and you) can go. The narrative can veer in many directions that involve everything from delusions to suicide to murder (if you so choose). My first run-through was 50 minutes long (and they can go on much longer), and I managed to get to a credits sequence interspersed with scenes that offer a flash forward. There are many other possible endings, and your engagement will depend on how compelling you find the story. Black Mirror fans should give a whirl at least once. It may not be as intense as a normal episode, but it’s a novel idea.