Sunday, December 4, 2016

Just One of the Girls (Michael Keusch, 1993)

Judging by the film's goofy poster (i.e. video box), you would think that Just One of the Girls was going to be yet another puerile slab of frat boy-approved horndog twaddle. Sure, it's got scenes that practically scream frat boy-approved horndog twaddle (a male character in drag hits himself in the nuts with his mop while scoping naked chicks in the girls' shower). But the film, directed by Michael Keusch, has a lot to say about gender identity. Seriously, it does. While the lead character, played by Corey Haim, initially embraces cross-dressing in order to not become a victim of bully-based violence, his decision to do so has far-reaching repercussions. Who should we begin with? Oh, let's start with my favourite character, Kurt Stark (Cameron Bancroft, a good Winnipeg kid). His character not only has the film's most interesting arc, Kurt's the only character with an arc. Think about it. He starts off as your stereotypical bully (a casualty of heterosexual peer pressure if I ever saw one), then he inadvertently falls in love with a cross-dresser (though, I like to think he knew all along that he was in love with a cross-dresser), and eventually... well, I won't spoil what he eventually becomes. But I will say this, it's quite shocking. Yes, shocking. I mean, I don't know if anyone remembers what life was like for gay and transgendered people back in the 1980s and early 90s, but I recall it being quite hostile.

Just for the record, I'm talking about suburban Toronto (the atmosphere was so anti-LGBTQ+, you risked life and limb by simply wearing the colour pink - screw pink, anything that wasn't blue, white or grey could land you a severe beating). And get this, these so-called suburbanites would pack themselves into cars and drive up and down Yonge St. yelling "fags" and "faggot" at random people walking down the street.

Anyway, as I was saying, the evolution of the Kurt character from a thuggish lout to a sensitive, fair-minded champion of love and compassion was a thing of beauty. Personally, I thought Kurt's growth as a human being usurped the novelty of seeing Corey Haim in women's clothes.

And I'm not just saying that because I found Corey Haim's wardrobe choices to be atrocious, I genuinely found Kurt's journey to be much more satisfying in the long run. What's that? Why did I find Corey's wardrobe to be atrocious? I hated the fact that they kept putting Corey in baggy shirts. They made him look like he was wearing football pads. And don't get me started on that bulky wig and those awful cowboy boots.

They're called pumps, Corey. Like, seriously. Someone get this girl some heels, stat.

Not to harp on it, but what's the point of cross-dressing if you don't wear heels? Exactly, there isn't one. It's true, finding heels that are your size can be a bit of a challenge (trust me, I know). But that's no excuse. At the end of the day, I'll just chalk up Corey Haim's multiple drag fails as minor quibbles, as the film itself is still breezy and on the cusp of being funny at times.

And it doesn't hurt that Molly Parker plays a bitchy cheerleader (head cheerleader, no less) and a pre-Jagged Little Pill Alanis Morrisette plays a pop singer named Alanis ("Always too hot never too cold / You make your best shot too hot to hold").

You're probably asking yourself: How does a seemingly straight, cisgender vest enthusiast end up being a gender-bending cheerleader? Well, that's easy. Desperate to attend a school with a kick ass music program, Chris Calder (Corey Haim) tricks his father (Kevin McNulty) into signing the registration form. Only problem being, a bully named Kurt is gunning for Chris. Unable to attend school of his dreams, Chris decides trick Kurt by dressing in women's clothes.

Wait, why doesn't Chris simply enter the school through the back or one of the many side doors? I mean, Kurt and his goons can't be everywhere at once.

Actually, I think the reason Chris doesn't use the back and/or side door is because he secretly wants to wear women's clothes. And this whole Kurt situation gives him the perfect excuse. In addition, it allows him to get close to Marie Stark (Nicole Eggert), the girl he has a crush on. Of course, the plan hits a bit of a snag when Kurt falls for the girl version of Chris, or "Chrissy," as he likes to call him/her. Not to mention, the whole Marie thing is bound to backfire. How long can Chris keep his gaff in place before Marie finds out he's a dude? (What's a gaff?) It's a device some women use to tuck their dick and balls between their legs in order to hide their junk-bulge. I've read that you can make your own gaff by simply using the waistband of a pair of pantyhose and by cutting the top piece off a sock... Search the YouTube by typing in "How to tuck" for more info.

Surprisingly, the whole to tuck or not to tuck issue isn't raised once during the course of this movie, which was filmed, by the way, in Vancouver, B.C. (hence the surplus of Canadian actors, Haim and Bancroft included). Now, I'm not saying that this is a flaw or anything like that (the lack of gaff humour, not the fact that the film was shot in Vancouver thing). It just seemed like a missed opportunity, as I'm sure a ton of tuck-related comical situations could have been mined. Oh, well.

Speaking of which, the situation Chris' father is put in is definitely comical. First he tries to teach his son to box, then he finds out he might be gay, after that he learns that he's a cross-dresser. Talk about your emotional roller-coaster.

I think that just about covers everything... Hold on. Did I mention that there's a ton of first-rate female nudity? Including shots of bush? I think I did... But anyway, if you're a guy or girl who digs naked women, you'll appreciate these scenes. Oh, the film's dance/housey soundtrack (which includes three Alanis songs) is pretty club/gay-friendly.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thunder Alley (J. S. Cardone, 1985)

Even though there are subtle hints that punk and new wave exist in the world depicted in Thunder Alley. It's safe to say that bland, middle of the road rock music is the dominating force. Call it the macho version of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, call it the eyeliner-free version Breaking Glass, I'd even go as far as to call it the winklepicker-less Scenes From the Goldmine. Anyway, call it what you will, this movie, directed J.S. Cardone, might lack the visual flair of the flicks I just mentioned. But it's still a pretty good rise, fall, and then rise again redemption-heavy '80s rock movie. Sure, the movie's band, Magic, doesn't have a synth player, but... Wait a minute, they do have a synth player. In fact, he's using a Yamaha DX7. I think the reason I thought Magic didn't have anyone on keyboards was because the first few songs I heard of theirs seemed to be devoid of synths (which annoyed me like you wouldn't believe). Or maybe the synths were just drowned out by the bands obnoxiously straight-forward guitar rock sound. Either way, their soon-to-be drug addicted synth player can definitely be heard during the songs they play while touring the dive bar circuit. Only problem being, the quality of his keyboard playing begins to suffer as the band starts to gain traction. Why, you ask? Um, it's simple, really, he's addicted to drugs. I know, you're thinking to yourself, his substance abuse problem shouldn't effect his playing. Granted, it might ruin his life in other ways. But I think most people agree, drugs make you a better musician.

While that might seem like a controversial statement. Think about all the great albums in your record collection. Do you think they were made by people who weren't high on cocaine? I don't think so.

I think the reason the drugs had a negative effect on Magic's keyboard player was because he was, well, a keyboard player. Falling over guitar amps in a foggy haze or pounding maniacally on a drum-kit are synonymous with drug-fueled rock stardom. On other hand, keyboard players need to remain focused. Seriously, has a rock keyboard player ever died of a drug overdose? (I recall the touring keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins dying of a heroin overdose back in the 1990s.) Okay, that's one. That being said, it's still not that common.

Another factor, of course, was the anti-drug hysteria that was sweeping America at the time. And this hysteria was reflected on the big screen in the form of plot lines that featured illegal drugs as the primary antagonist.

A holdover from the hedonistic 1970s, drugs, like, heroin and cocaine, were viewed as the worst, most evil things in the universe.

As per usual, women and the morbidly obese are to blame for the drug addiction that threatens to cut Magic's meteoric rise off at the knees. You see, the woman typically gets the drug from the morbidly obese individual, who, in turn, passes the drugs onto unsuspecting rock stars in training. It should be noted that the woman uses the confines of her silky vagina as a lure as well. And who among us can resist the confines of a silky vagina?

Uh, I'll tell you who can. Richie (Roger Wilson), that's who. The guitarist and occasional frontman for Magic is offered a tasty slice of chlorine-soaked pussy at a pool party (hence, it being chlorine-soaked), but turns it down. Partly because he's currently "seeing" the Phoebe Cates-esque Beth (Jill Schoelen), the counter-woman at the local sundae stand. But mainly because she looks like trouble.

In case you're wondering, the reason I called Richie the ""occasional" frontman of Magic is because Skip (played by the always awesome Leif Garrett) is supposed to be the bands frontman. Their rivalry, intensified by the fact that Skip didn't want Richie to join the band, is what drives the plot in the early going. However, once Skip realizes that Richie is a major talent, he puts his jealous feelings aside and begrudgingly accepts Richie into the fold. I mean, if Benjamin Orr and Ric Ocasek of The Cars could share singing duties back in the '70s and '80s, why can't Magic?

At first, Donnie (Scott McGinnis), the band's keyboard player/chief songwriter, and the reason Richie became a member in the first place, reaps much pleasure from the fact Skip is constantly irritated by Richie's presence. This backfires big time when Donnie starts to resent Richie. And, you guessed it, Donnie resorts to drugs and guilt-free groupie poontang (ignoring his soda jerk/new wave girlfriend in the process) to dull the pain.

While a lot of the bands success can be attributed to Richie's guitar playing and songwriting prowess, you shouldn't discount the advantages that come with having Clancy Brown as your road manager. Don't believe me, just ask the club owner who tries to pay the band with a cheque. Not only did Clancy cause  him to piss his pants, they got paid in cash, yo.

What I think I'm trying to say is, Clancy Brown is a bad-ass. (Duh, squared!) Yeah, I know. It should go without saying. But I don't think I've ever reviewed a Clancy Brown film on here.

At any rate, you're probably wondering about the fashion in Thunder Alley. Well, I can tell you this, it's not all blue denim and white t-shirts paired with sneakers. In fact, if you look closely, you can spot the odd punk here and there.

Watch when Richie and Donnie are walking through an alleyway ("Thunder Alley," perhaps?) on their way to The Palace (the exalted concert venue that looms large throughout the movie), you can see a couple of punk chicks leaning against a wall.

As for new wave duds, both Carol Kottenbrook (who works at The Palace) and Cynthia Eilbacher (Donnie's girlfriend) wear short skirts with studded belts and funky sleeveless tops.

While not as flashy as the movies I mentioned earlier (Breaking Glass, for example), Thunder Alley is still a solid '80s rock movie. If you liked Eddie and the Cruisers, you should definitely check it out.

In case you're wondering, "Can't You Feel My Heartbeat" is my favourite Magic song. Oh, and special thanks to chyneaze for recommending this movie.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015)

My expectations going into Tangerine were, I have to admit, kind of low. Preparing myself for what was surely going to be ninety straight minutes of life-affirming, humour-challenged, Sundance-approved twaddle, I folded my beautiful arms and said: Bring it. Huh? Why were my expectations so low? Oh, it's because so-called indie movies seem to have lost their edge in recent years. And in the case of this film, I was anticipating yet another movie about people who don't spend the bulk of their day turning tricks, doing drugs and riding public transit. (Don't tell me, the characters in Tangerine do all three of these things?) You got that right. Granted, they don't do all three at the same time. Nevertheless, the amount of relief I felt the second I discovered Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) were sex workers struggling to survive on the sun-baked, tangerine-coloured (hence the film's title... I think) streets of Hollywood was astronomical. Of course, I realize that there have been countless movies made about sex workers over the years. But I think most people will agree that you probably haven't seen a hooker movie like this before. First things first, look at the leads. That's right, they ain't white. Every other hooker movie I can think of, at least the one's I've reviewed, always feature white prostitutes (Angel and Hanna D. are two that immediately come to mind). Sure, some of them feature black or Asian women. But they're never more than "the white lead's friend" (Streetwalkin') or worse, ethnic window dressing (Vice Squad). So, you could say, that the film, co-written and directed by Sean Baker (Greg the Bunny), is revolutionary.

However, it's not pompous tripe. It's dirty, cheap and the lead characters aren't always likable. I know, how can someone as winsome as Sin-Dee be not likable? Um, she drags (by the hair) a fellow streetwalker across town simply to make a dramatic point to Chester (James Ransone), her boyfriend/pimp. Yes, I understand the boyfriend/pimp needed to be taught a lesson, but that poor woman was basically flung to-and-fro like a rag-doll for a huge chunk of the movie.

In the grand tradition of other single-night/single day in L.A. movies (Miracle Mile, Modern Girls, Into the Night and The Night Before - the Keanu Reeves one), Tangerine depicts the city as a dangerous place filled with desperate people living on the fringes of society. Or maybe I thought it was dangerous because I'm deathly afraid of the sun (the giant ass sphere of hot plasma is so motherfuckin' bright in this movie). Either way, I found the scummy realism of the street scenes to be quite appealing.

It also helped that Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor were not only believable as best friends, but believable as the kind of sex workers who hang out at donut shops; there's nothing phony about their depiction of bottom tier whoredom.

The plot basically goes like this: While a newly reunited Sin-Dee and Alexandra (the former just got released from prison) are chatting at their favourite donut shop, Alexandra accidentally lets slip that Chester, Sin-Dee's boyfriend/pimp, has been cheating on her with a sex worker whose name begins with the letter 'D.'

As you might expect, Sin-Dee is furious, and embarks on an exhaustive search for this D-woman that takes her all across beautiful downtown, I'm guessing, West Hollywood. That being said, while her search might be "exhaustive," that doesn't prevent her for supporting Alexandra, who has a singing gig booked later in the evening. Did I mention it's Christmas Eve? Anyway, seeing Sin-Dee multi-task (supporting her friend and getting back at Chester simultaneously) was mildly inspirational.

In order to keep things interesting, we're introduced to Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver with a thing for a certain type of prostitute. (He likes black chicks?) Yeah, um, uh.... I guess you could say that. Anyway, when he discovers that the sex worker, played by Ana Foxx (Black Girl Gloryholes 12), he just picked up is lacking in one crucial area, he goes looking for Alexandra, who isn't... lacking (their car wash hook-up is strangely romantic).

After much poking around, Sin-Dee finally finds the D-woman, a scrawny blonde afab named Dinah (Mickey O'Hagen), and sets in motion her plan to confront Chester, her, like I said, boyfriend/pimp... (Wait a second. Her pimp's name is Chester?) I know, what kind of name is that for a pimp? I don't know if this was done on purpose or not, but it was so sad to see Sin-Dee, who is pretty much the cutest person, like, ever (she puts on a one-woman adorable clinic while sitting on a bus stop bench), wasting her time on that Chester asshole.

Women who can rock white cut-off jean shorts with black hole-ridden pantyhose don't date guys named Chester. At least they don't on my watch. Then again, judging by the men who populate this film's glaring (seriously, I grew to appreciate shade even more after watching this film) universe, her choices are rather limited.

I know I was hard on Sin-Dee earlier for her harsh treatment of Dinah, but I did tear up a little bit when Sin-Dee takes a moment to fix Dinah's makeup. Call me a total sap, but the lighting, the music, and the overall temperament of the scene acted as sort of tonic for me, as it briefly reminded me that hos, and people in general, should be nicer to one another.

Despite its gritty exterior, Tangerine is clearly a film, even though it pains me to say so, that is on the cusp of being life affirming. It's true, things get somewhat ridiculous when Razmik's mother-in-law shows up at the donut shop (the scene is like a Three's Company episode... one, mind you, that was directed by John Waters), but not even that can ruin the core of this movie. Which is, the friendship between Sin-Dee and Alexandra. Beautiful, touching, funny and vital as fuck, I kind of loved this movie. Oh, and, yes, it was apparently shot on an iPhone.