Can’t Stop the Music (1980)

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Synopsis: In this pseudo-biographical tale of the formation of 1970s disco giants the Village People, struggling DJ/songwriter Jack Morell (Steve Guttenberg) needs just one big break to get his career off the ground. With the help of his newly-retired supermodel best friend Samantha (Valerie Perrine), Jack gets a record exec to listen to his demo, but Jack’s vocals just don’t cut the mustard. So Jack and Samantha decide to recruit singers from the Greenwich Village area of New York to form a group to perform Jack’s songs. With Samantha’s new beau Ron (Bruce Jenner) offering his Wall Street offices as an audition space, they build a group of six macho men – the Policeman, the Indian, the Construction Worker, the Cowboy, the Leatherman, and the G.I. – and dub them the Village People. But do Jack and his singers have what it takes to reach the top?

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

How to put into words my love for this beautiful trainwreck of a film? The first and only directorial effort of television actress Nancy Walker (Rhoda’s mom!), Can’t Stop the Music was meant to be the apotheosis of the disco era, “the movie musical event of the ’80s.” Unfortunately, it was released just after disco had already peaked and was rapidly falling to the era of New Wave. At the time of its release, Newsweek called it “the first all-singing, all-dancing horror film; the Dawn of the Dead of the disco era.” It was a double feature of Can’t Stop the Music and Xanadu which inspired John J.B. Wilson to create the notorious annual Golden Raspberry Awards honoring the worst in film. Can’t Stop was nominated in all but one category at that first ceremony and walked away with the Razzies for both Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. With a film this bad, you know it’s gotta be good. (more…)

The Killing of Sister George (1968)

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Synopsis: June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) has spent so many years portraying a kind-hearted nurse on the BBC soap opera Applehurst that even in real life everyone has taken to calling her by her character’s name – Sister George. However, off screen George is nothing like her saintly fictional counterpart, appearing drunk in public and forcing her younger lover Alice “Childie” McNaught (Susannah York) into cruel and twisted games. When the fictional George is slated to be killed off due to low ratings, the real George also begins to come apart at the seams. With Childie becoming increasingly defiant and her boss Mrs. Croft (Coral Browne) encroaching on both her professional and personal territory, George fears her days as a beloved actress and parent-like provider to Childie are numbered.

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

I considered making this a one-word review, but “ick” doesn’t really come close to describing how uncomfortable this film made me. The lead character is a total monster with no redeeming qualities; she drinks constantly, she has no regard for what is and isn’t appropriate behavior, she’s sadistic and abusive – and none of it in a fun way. Her girlfriend Childie is pathetic and poorly written as a character, and Mrs. Croft is just your typical predatory-older-lesbian stereotype. This movie was directed by Robert Aldrich, who of course scored a hit six years prior with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and again in 1964 with Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. While he proved with these two previous endeavors that films which are somewhat exploitative and which appeal to baser sensibilities can still be enjoyable (and how!), here he doesn’t have the star power or the outright horror context that made those two films successful, and his directing brought into the light of day seems hokey and amateurish. While this film is somehow considered “historic” for its explicit portrayal of a lesbian relationship, in absolutely no way is this a healthy or positive portrayal, so what’s so special about it? I mean, I really don’t understand what’s so groundbreaking about making queer people look bad. I do give it points for the stellar performances by Beryl Reid and the recently-late Susannah York – even if I hated or didn’t understand their characters, I still think they did a great job at portraying them – and for the few scenes shot in the authentic 1960s underground lesbian bar the Gateways Club. But otherwise this was an utterly joyless film and, at two hours and twenty minutes, utterly torturous to sit through. Maybe I’m just not cut out for 1960s “black comedies” set in working-class Britain, since they seem intent on exploring themes that make me squirm. If you’re into that sort of thing, maybe you’ll like this one, but I certainly can’t recommend it from my perspective. Like its title character, The Killing of Sister George is just unrelentingly awful the whole way through.

The Killing of Sister George (1968) – 1.5/5 stars

CMBA Movies of 1939 Blogathon: The Rules of the Game (1939)

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Synopsis: When aviator André (Roland Toutain) returns to France after a record-breaking flight across the Atlantic, he is heartbroken to discover that the woman he did it for, Christine (Nora Gregor), is not there to greet him. Instead he finds Christine’s childhood friend Octave (Jean Renoir), who tries to convince André that winning Christine’s affections is a lost cause. To help his case, Octave convinces Christine’s husband Robert (Marcel Dalio) to invite André to a weekend getaway at his country estate, so that Christine herself can prove to André that her affections toward him are merely platonic. Meanwhile, Robert is hoping his troublesome mistress Geneviève (Mila Parély) will fall for the heroic aviator and be out of Robert’s hair for good. What will happen when the various volatile parties – and their equally hot-headed servants – finally collide?

This is an official entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Movies of 1939 Blogathon, co-hosted by Becky of ClassicBecky’s Brain Food and Page of My Love Of Old Hollywood. Please click the banner to see a list of contributions by CMBA members on the wild and wonderful fims of 1939 – a year many call the greatest in movie history.

When the CMBA announced the Movies of 1939 Blogathon, my first instinct was to write a review of Ninotchka, since my blog does shamelessly rip off its famous tagline in its title. But scanning the impressive list of films made in that legendary year, my eyes came to rest on Jean Renoir’s masterpiece of satire and cinematic technique The Rules of the Game, original French title La Règle du jeu, a film which inspired a passionate admiration in me the first time I saw it in film class three years ago. After a few sleepless nights, I came to the decision to let someone else have Ninotchka; I figured it was such a popular film that it would have no trouble finding a participating blogger to adopt it for this event. As it turns out, little Ninotchka was not among the chosen forty films that my fellow CMBA members decided to write about. I feel a bit guilty and personally responsible for that omission. Nevertheless, much has been said for Ninotchka, and when I imagined The Rules of the Game going completely unmentioned in this event focused on the greatest films of 1939 – well, that was just something I could not, would not abide. And so, once again on this blog titled Garbo Laughs, I show my determination to seemingly ignore Greta Garbo forever. What can I say? I like to be difficult unpredictable. (more…)

Japanese Cinema Blogathon: Pom Poko (1994)

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Synopsis: On the edge of the forest of the Tokyo suburbs, a clan of wild raccoon-dogs (known in Japanese as tanuki) feel their habitat being increasingly encroached upon by the construction of human dwellings. Realizing that they will soon run out of food and places to raise their families, the good-natured but concerned tanuki band together to find a way to drive the humans out of their territory. Summoning their long-forgotten powers of shape-shifting and transformation, the tanuki begin a guerrilla campaign to scare the humans away by impersonating every deity, demon and ghost under the sun. But when it soon becomes clear that the humans won’t be chased off that easily, a militant male by the name of Gonta lobbies for more violent tactics to rid the tanuki of the human presence. Can the wise elders Tsurugame and Oruku and the rest of the clan stop Gonta and his militia before they get themselves killed? Or is resorting to violence really the animals’ last plausible hope for peace?

This is an official entry in the week-long Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief, co-hosted by CinemaFanatic and Japan Cinema. As we all know, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, resulting in devastating tsunamis and widespread destruction. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the represented charity of your choice to aid Japanese disaster victims, and be sure to click the banner at left to view the other contributions to the blogathon.

My third review of this blogathon/mini-Ghiblithon focuses on the most kid-friendly film discussed so far, an escapist tale (like Porco Rosso) with an environmentalist message (like Nausicaä – isn’t it nice when everything ties together like that?). Released in 1994, Pom Poko was directed by studio co-head Isao Takahata, his third directorial effort for Ghibli following 1988’s anti-war masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies and 1991’s coming-of-age tale Only Yesterday, reviewed here by Clara of Via Margutta 51. (And in case you’re wondering, I did end up watching Fireflies, but I’ve decided not to review it for this particular blogathon. It’s kind of hard to criticize a film’s technique when you’re too busy crying your eyes out.) (more…)

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

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Synopsis: It’s Christmas Eve in Japan, but the only present friends Gin, Hana, and Miyuki are hoping for is a decent meal and a warm place to sleep. Gin’s gambling debts have reduced him to scrounging on the street; Hana is a former night club performer who lost her job and, with it, the only family she ever knew; and Miyuki is a teenage runaway trying to keep her distance from her repressive father. All three are homeless, and have joined together in a makeshift family to help each other survive another night on the cold streets of Tokyo. But their lives are forever changed when they encounter a small baby abandoned in a pile of trash. While Gin thinks they should take the infant to the police, Hana sees the serendipitous discovery as a Christmas miracle, and makes it her mission (and Gin and Miyuki’s mission as well, much to their chagrin) to return the lost child to her family.

Satoshi Kon (October 12, 1963 – August 24, 2010) was born in Kushiro, Hokkaidō, Japan. He studied graphic design at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, graduating in 1982. In 1984 he published his first manga, the short story Toriko, which won him a runner-up spot in Young Magazine‘s 10th Annual Tetsuya Chiba Awards. He then found work as an assistant to Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the renowned manga Akira. In the late 1980s, Kon slowly transitioned to film work, acting as occasional animator, layout artist, and screenwriter. In 1995 he acted as writer, layout artist, and art director of “Magnetic Rose,” the first of three short films adapted from Otomo’s work and compiled in the anime omnibus Memories. Kon made his directorial debut with 1998’s Perfect Blue, a psychological thriller loosely based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel of the same name. He followed this with 2001’s Millennium Actress, which won high acclaim as well as numerous international awards, including tying for Grand Prize with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs’ Media Arts Festival. He followed this with 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers, which won an Excellence Prize at the Media Arts Festival; and the thirteen-episode television series Paranoia Agent, which he created, wrote, and directed. In 2006 he released Paprika, which won the Best Feature Length Theatrical Anime Award at the sixth annual Tokyo Anime Awards (and is now credited as being highly influential on Christopher Nolan’s 2010 smash box office hit Inception). He then began work on his next film The Dream Machine, described by Kon as “a road movie for robots” targeted at younger audiences. Tragically, in May 2010 Satoshi Kon was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Though he showed relatively few signs of illness, the cancer rapidly progressed, and Kon passed away on August 24, 2010, shocking his friends and fans the world over. He was 46 years old.

Yes, I know an anime movie from 2003 doesn’t seem to fit in with the theme of classic film on the surface, but, like Zelda Rubinstein, I can’t let my In Memoriam series end without talking about Satoshi Kon. Like Rubinstein, I feel Kon’s death has gone unnoticed by the majority of film fans who simply may be unaware of his work and his importance to Japanese animation. I know I mucked it up by not getting all my planned reviews done in December, so a lot of important people who died in 2010 are going unmentioned; this is to be my last review in this series, and out of all of them, Satoshi Kon is the only one I couldn’t bring myself to leave out. That should show you how important his work is to me, Tokyo Godfathers in particular. (more…)