JOHN OSTRANDER: Odd Delights
I hesitate to recommend films these days – what I like you may well loathe. That said – having burdened you with a collection of “perverse pleasures” recently, I thought I’d devote this column to films that I own that I truly do enjoy, that I think are good films, and which you may not know.
Get Crazy is a 1983 film from Allan Arkush, who also directed the cult classic Rock And Roll High School and is an executive producer of Heroes. I came across it in the company of Timothy Truman while we were at a convention. We were staying at a distributor’s house and were too tired after the day’s proceedings to move. The distributor had the (then) novelty of projection screen TV and cable and Tim and I had a few beers as Get Crazy came across the screen. It sucked us in. At the time, we couldn’t decide if it was the beers or because we were exhausted but it seemed to us to be one of the funniest movies ever made. I’ve watched it many times since and it wasn’t the beers or the exhaustion; this is a damn funny film.
IMDB posts this plot synopsis of the film: “Mega-promoter Colin Beverly plans to sabotage the New Year’s 1983 concert of small-time operator Max Wolfe. Wolfe’s assistants Neil Allen and Willie Loman find romance while trying to save the drugs, violence, and rock and roll from Beverly’s schemes.” Fair enough so far as it goes but it barely scratches the surface.
To start off with, Colin Beverly is played by white-on-white Ed Begley Jr. in a terrifically manic mode. In a stroke of brilliance, his two henchman are played by two former teen idols, Bobby Sherman and Fabian Forte. That is hip, intelligent casting and a great joke in and of itself. The movie is full of little nods like that. Lee Ving, the frontsman for the punk band Fear, plays a punk musician called Piggy who has to be chained up when not performing. (Ving was also in another fave film of Brother Tim and myself, Streets of Fire.) Howard Kaylan of The Turtles plays a Jerry Garcia-ish Captain Sky. You don’t have to get all the in-jokes and references for the movie to work but boy do they add to the movie.
Malcolm McDowell plays Reggie Wanker, who is an amalgam of Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger. One of his band mates – Toad – is played by John Densmore of The Doors. How damn hip do you want a movie to be? And he looks so much like Keith Richards in the film, he could be Keith’s long lost brother. One of the best scenes is late in the movie when Wanker has a talk with himself in the men’s room after getting very high. I can’t tell you why without spoiling the joke but, trust me, it’s LOL funny.
But the absolute best guest shot has to be Lou Reed playing a character named Auden who is heavily modeled on Bob Dylan circa 1983. The in-joke is that you have a recluse (at the time) playing a greater recluse (at the time). Even if you don’t know the reference, the part is written and performed as to have its own laughs. Plus, Reed has a great song by the end of the film, "My Little Sister."
There’s others such as Paul Bartel of Eating Raoul in a bit part as Max’s doctor, Bill Henderson as King Blues and Franklin Ajaye as his driver, and more. There’s tons of music including at last three versions of “Hoochie Koochie Man.” And as much schtick as in any Police Squad movie.
It’s not just the guest stars and the cameos. There’s enough plot to tie it all together, there’s a touch of romance, but mostly there is a sharp intelligence at work here. The gags are funny, the timing is great, and it assumes its audience is hip and smart as well. Yeah, some of it dates a bit. Drug use is treated a bit more humorously than we might look at it now – but the gags still work, IMO. Overall, this ranks up with This Is Spinal Tap as one of the deliberately funniest rock and roll movies ever made.
The fact that this film is not available in this country on DVD and The Return of Captain Invincible is simply cannot be allowed to stand. It is an offense against God and nature. Well, anyway, it pisses me off.
Incident At Loch Ness is another film I discovered in my late night TV viewing (I really must think about getting to bed earlier). My better half, Mary Mitchell, and I stumbled on it and Mary, fascinated with anything about the Loch Ness monster, wanted to stay for it. At first, it seemed like a documentary but we finally realized what we were watching was a sublime and very tongue in cheek mockumentary.
IMDB posts the following plot summary for the film: “The German film director Werner Herzog sets out to the Scottish Highlands to make a documentary, “Enigma of Loch Ness,” exploding the myth of the Loch Ness Monster. Meanwhile, another documentary film crew is making a film about Werner Herzog, and we see the production of “Enigma” from their point of view. Shooting on a rented boat, tensions begin to rise as director Herzog and his producer, Zak Penn, find themselves at cross-purposes on the black surface of Loch Ness. Things get very edgy when the film crew starts seeing shapes in the murky water.”
What makes this film really work is Werner Herzog who plays himself. Herzog is acknowledged as a great if sometimes obsessive director. In Loch Ness, Herzog play himself straight. Earnest, nearly humorless, commanding, demanding, utterly serious. The gag is – he co-wrote the movie. It isn’t just the way he is – it’s how Herzog chooses to play himself. I’ve seen documentaries of Herzog making a movie; it’s the same Herzog. The difference in Loch Ness is that he’s playing it that way.
In the same manner, Zak Penn plays himself, in addition to being the co-writer and the director of the film. He was the writer on such movies as X-Men 3, Fantastic Four, and The Last Action Hero, just as he is in the movie. In Loch Ness, he is a first-time documentary movie producer. He’s not afraid to make himself look like a self-important and, frankly, ethically challenged individual. Penn keeps trying to introduce elements to “jazz up” the documentary – even if they’re lies. He hires Playboy model Kitana Baker as a sonar “expert” so as to get some sex into the documentary. He’s even willing to float a fake “Nessie” for a sighting and tries to make Herzog film it.
The whole thing gets a little Blair Witch Project by the end when the boat on which the documentarians – both those making the Loch Ness documentary and the ones making the documentary of Werner Herzog making a documentary – gets stranded in the Loch and attacked by what seems to be Nessie. Death ensues. Zak Penn steals the only lifeboat.
This is not a howl with laughter sort of comedy. It’s a more drop of the jaw “omigawd!” sort of comedy. It may not work for you at all. It is strange, it is brave, and I proudly own a copy. Werner Herzog playing Werner Herzog and he’s funny. Who knew?
As for The Upside of Anger, well, something happens to Kevin Costner every time he gets near baseball – he remembers that he can be a damn fine actor. In The Upside of Anger he plays Denny Davies, a former baseball player now a radio DJ/talk show host. Perhaps what helps is that Costner’s not the center of the film – the fabulous Joan Allen is.
One of the plot summaries on imdb for this film reads, “In the suburb of Detroit, the upper middle class Terry Ann Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) becomes a bitter woman when her husband apparently leaves her family and her, traveling with his Swedish secretary to her country. Her neighbor and close friend of the family, the lonely retired baseball player Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) and presently working in a talk-show in a radio, continues visiting Terry and her daughters, and drinking with Terry. Denny falls in love for Terry, but the wounded and full of anger Terry try to avoid a steady relationship with him. Meanwhile, life does not stop, and her daughters graduate, date, marry, sicken, as part of the dynamics of a family.”
Allen’s character is caustic, abrasive, bitter, drinks too much and, in plain words, is a bitch. She’s also funny, compelling, and smart. Allen doesn’t ask for our sympathy and doesn’t give a damn if we love her or the character or not. There is a lot of pain in the character and we’re allowed to see it but nowhere does Allen ask for our pity. It’s a performance that demands – and gets – a great matching performance from Costner. There comes a point when his character, Denny, has been pushed too far; he explodes, reads Terry Ann the riot act and then walks away. We’ve been waiting for it, she’s deserves it, and Costner delivers the pay off.
There’s a third performance in here that also needs a comment. Mike Binder, the writer and director of the film, gave himself a nice role as Denny’s producer, Adam “Shep” Goodman. So what part did he give himself? A creep, a jerk, a loser, a sad sack. Don’t get me wrong; Binder does a great job with it, but it’s more stunning when you consider the sensitivity with which Binder wrote and directed not only Joan Allen’s part by those of her character’s four daughters as well. That shows range, IMO.
The film also isn’t perfect. The narration, especially at the end, reaches a bit to make a statement. It’s overwritten just slightly and little bit precious and cute. However, Joan Allen’s performance alone makes the film worthwhile. It’s simply one of the best I’ve seen in recent years – male or female.
If there’s something that unites all these films, I suppose it’s artistic bravery. Yes, even with Get Crazy. None of these films were big box-office hits and I don’t think any of them wanted to be. Come what may, the people making these films wanted to make these films. These were the stories that they wanted to tell and this is how they wanted to tell them. I don’t think you can beat that.
However, as they say, your mileage may vary.
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is here.