DISCO DEVILS

Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager has not talked much about his disco inferno days. Until now. Studio 54: The Documentary (2018) takes a look into the liberating lasciviousness and socially groundbreaking world of the wildest nightclub that New York City has ever seen. Schrager co-founded it in 1977 with the late Steve Rubell, who died from AIDS complications in 1989. Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary charts the course from their school days through their party hearty club daze, then through their time in prison for tax evasion to rebuilding their lives in the mid-eighties. Using some great vintage photos and club footage interwoven with candid new interviews, Tyrnauer chose not to pump up the disco too much and to focus on the key players involved in Studio 54 rather than exploit celebrity talking heads (other than the esteemed Nile Rodgers). Like the coke-fueled nineteen-eighties but without the danger of AIDS, the hedonistic disco nineteen-seventies is an era that will never be relived in American history. Studio 54: The Documentary gives us a compelling glimpse into what the world was like, but it also reminds us of the downsides when people become slaves to their own excess.

KILLER SHOTS

 Let The Corpses Tan (2017) is a Franco-Belgian crime thriller inspired by Italian giallos and spaghetti westerns. A group of thieves have taken up temporary residence at a seaside residence with a hypersexual artist (Elina Löwensohn) and her family and friends. After committing a murderous gold heist on a nearby road, the crooks and their escape plans are foiled by the arrival of a guest’s estranged wife, child, and maid—as well as two snooping police officers. What follows is a chaotic confrontation where a lot of people lose their heads, figuratively and almost literally, as the robbers attempt to make their getaway amid a hail of bullets and survivalist reactions. While this movie is not necessarily that deep, it is incredibly stylistic and visually original. Many of the characters dark sexual thoughts materialize in strange daydream shards, and the most striking finds one of the gunmen fantasizing about non-fatalistically shooting up a young woman to shred her clothes and see her naked. It’s an interesting statement on our fetishization of cinematic sex and violence. Co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani notably chose to shoot on film and often over or underexpose certain images to great effect. In an age of sanitized HD cinematography, Let The Corpses Tan is a welcome breath of fresh air, particularly if you’re into gritty crime thrillers.

TRAGICOMIC COHORTS

Many biographical films either focus on a person’s entire life or a monumental period in their career.  Stan & Ollie (2018) takes a different approach, beginning at the time when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s career is strained and on the wane.  After breaking up over differing monetary demands from their studio in the late nineteen-thirties—not owning their films, they lost a lot of revenue—the two walk their separate paths and then reunite for a comedy tour of England in 1953 with the hopes of procuring a new movie deal with a British studio. But personal tensions and health issues create a dark cloud that looms over them. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly brilliantly inhabit the roles of the famed comedians, and even though both men are married (to wives who dislike each other), this is as much a love story between these two iconic funnyman as anything else. There’s a wonderful poignancy to this film that will truly capture your heart. Stan & Ollie also shows how the stress and strain of life either behind the lens or on the stage can really wear one down and having a partner, or partners, who really understand you is the key to survival. The home video release offers featurettes that offer more inside info on the movie and its real-life protagonists.

ARMAGEDDON IT

Ever wonder what it was like to live in the era of the Cold War and ever-impending nuclear war? Or eager to relive it? The Atomic Cafe (1982) can help. This darkly satirical documentary, created by Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty interweaves vintage government propaganda films about atomic weapons along with newsreel footage from back in the day. The trio shows how highly propagandized the American people were with regards to atomic warfare and the futile things they could attempt to protect themselves, like the infamous and hilarious “duck and cover” drills. The filmmakers smartly refrain from using a narrator, allowing the crazy footage to speak for itself. Looking back at this, it is amazing to consider the government’s dumbing down of potential Armageddon and the public’s acceptance of what they were told. There are conservatives today who would have us go back to the seemingly nicer (read: whiter) nineteen-fifties, but it was clearly an era of post-war conformity that did not leave a lot of room for individualism or questioning authority. As a child of the eighties, I didn’t lie awake at night worrying about being blown to bits, but it was a thought that was in the back of a lot of people’s minds throughout the Cold War era. The Atomic Cafe reminds us not only of the lunacy of nuclear proliferation, but that there are still plenty of nuclear weapons left in the world today. As an added bonus, the Kino Lorber reissue includes many of the propaganda films that were used to create the documentary. There is one in which the A-bomb is deemed to be “deadly like a woman—never underestimate its power.” That inane declaration would not fly today. Pun intended.

THAT KOOKY KARLOFF

This is probably heresy for a horror aficionado to say, but Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, despite having created a number of classic horror films, also pumped out a lot of mediocre fare along the way. Hey, they had to keep working. Despite its futuristic title for the time, Frankenstein 1970 (1958) is simply an attempt to update the Frankenstein myth while sticking to classic horror motifs. Karloff played the original monster in the 1931 film, but here he flips sides and portrays Baron Victor von Frankenstein, the final descendent of the famous monster creator, who desperately needs cash for an atomic reactor to revive his ancestor’s infamous experiments. Thus, he allows a film crew to come shoot a horror movie in his castle, and once he has his equipment ready he fortuitously finds the requisite body parts in the cast and crew.  Howard W. Koch’s film offers comic relief and some visually interesting moments courtesy of cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie, but the story is hokey, and Karloff’s performance walks the line of self-parody even though it shows moments of genuine creepiness. This is basically a film for Karloff completists, although the very end provides an original twist on the story. Film historians Bob Burns and Tom Weaver, along with one of the film’s co-stars Charlotte Austin, provide a fun, nostalgic commentary track.

THE VUDU THEY DO

There are a number of different outlets for streaming movies online, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. One site that doesn’t as get much attention is Vudu, which is where people who used the soon-to-be-defunct Ultraviolet backup service claimed or uploaded their digital copies. Another service they offer is to transfer your physical titles into digital copies for a small fee per disc. I have a few dozen titles on there now myself, and I have discovered that it is a good rental outlet with competitive prices as well as a number of free titles that get changed up weekly. While the free titles are in standard definition and have random ads inserted into them, the breaks are not too frequent, and you can often find movies you wouldn’t expect. While I tend to be a Blu-Ray person myself, sometimes I can find a movie in SD that has a good transfer that I’ll enjoy watching. I also like the idea of supporting a site that is not already controlling a huge chunk of the marketplace. Vudu gives you additional information for rented titles, including cast and crew credits and capsule reviews. Some recent free titles on Vudu include Constantine, Falling Down, Dark City, and Martin Scorsese’s cult classic After Hours.

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