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by Bill Gibron

27 Oct 2009

When Deep Throat became a media sensation, giving a smidgen of legitimacy to what was otherwise verboten hardcore pornography, the exploitation impresarios were dumbfounded. For decades, they had been delivering the kind of sensationalized pseudo smut that made the raincoat crowd happy. While they pushed the boundaries of permissiveness, they never went “the full monty”, so to speak. But now, a 42nd street phenomenon was looking to supplant their softcore cash cow. Enter various attempts at recapturing the crown, including something called blaxsploitation. It was an attempt to speak to a different demographic than they had before. Heavily marginalized by Hollywood heavy hitters looking to horn in on the profits, the ghetto fabulous filmmaking flared brightly, but like any flash in the pan, petered out before long.

Now, nearly four decades after Melvin Van Peebles put a foot up the Man’s ass with his brilliant Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, indie filmmaker Jonathan Lewis, with the help of some of his more miscreant moviemaking pals, has dreamed up Black Devil Doll. Part homage to the hilarious surrealism of Petey Wheatstraw and, to some, a respectful rip-off of Chester Novell Turner’s Black Devil Doll From Hell, this outrageous example of Joe Bob Briggs’ patented “three Bs - breasts, blood, and beasts” is so insane, so silicon injected and silly that it’s almost impossible to take seriously. In fact, Lewis does try for a bit of social commentary before dragging out the strippers to show off their dirigible-like dirty pillows. From then on, it’s nothing but sex, scatology, and lots and lots of skin.

Heather is a buxom babe who gets bored one night and uses an Ouija board to contact the dead. Unbeknownst to her, an infamous black militant radial serial killer is being fried in the local electric chair. A few incantations later and the spirit of the evil African agitator is transferred to the gal’s goofy ventriloquist doll. With the addition of a Black Panther monster make-over and mandatory jive-ass jargon, the horny horror is born. At first, Heather satisfies all this perverted puppet’s needs. But when one white girl is not enough, the Black Devil Doll demands a humptastic hen’s night. So our heroine invites her friends Natasha, Candi, Buffy, and Bambi over for a little risqué R&R. Little does she know that this trim-seeking terror toy is really out to continue his menacing, murderous ways.

Like a 14 year old suburban rap fans wet dream doused with a heavy helping of skankified sleaze, Black Devil Doll is truly demented. If you’re looking for subtlety, careful characterization, logical plotting, and in-depth political grandstanding, go find Spike Lee and sit him down for nice long chat. Lewis is Hell-bent of being as derogatory, depraved, and disgusting as possible, and he truly does deliver. He finds front-heavy actresses eager to see his wanton vision through, and then has them undress for endless sequences of slut-tastic exposure. These are the kind of chicks that teen boys cream over, who resemble cut-outs from a particularly prurient men’s magazine or workers at a dive bar brothel. There is no denying their flagrant frizzled sex appeal. Black Devil Doll never tries to turn its victims into human beings. Instead, it’s straight up objectification - and these women have the over/under the muscle scars to prove it.

Of course, humor is an integral part of the experience, and Black Devil Doll is very funny indeed. Most of the jokes are aimed below the belt (and sometimes, even lower) and Lewis does go slightly overboard with the race baiting repartee. But for the most part, it’s just mindless burlesque, cheekiness for the sake of satire. While it may have a hard time proving its interest in a high purpose, Lewis does sneak in a bit of ‘70s era earnestness. Whenever the Black Devil Doll “conquers” one of his female victims, a psychedelic montage of Civil Rights symbolism and African American iconography plays in the background. It reminds us that any interracial combo - even one involving a hopped up puppet - creates its own subversive subtext of ethnic controversy.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this film is one not seen on the recently released DVD. When it was making the rounds this last summer, Black Devil Doll received a great deal of bad press for being a horrifically insensitive and morally objectionable work of outright trash. Of course, Lewis embraced said statements, even if many of them were made with the flawed foresight of not actually seeing the film first. Indeed, some even questioned the intent behind the movie, arguing that it was created specifically to instill anger in the African American community. Clearly, anyone seeing the final results will be laughing in the face of those self-ascribed watchdogs. Black Devil Doll is nothing more than a farce, an extended riff on a stereotype taken to ridiculous, raunchy extremes. Besides, it’s hard to see the bigotry with all the breasts flopping into the lens.

In fact, if anyone should be unhappy with Black Devil Doll, it is the current crop of artificially enhanced actress. Reduced to discussing their bowel movements and lesbian tendencies as signs of significant three dimensions, the girls here are nothing more than carnal eye candy for the settled self-abuser. Yet because Lewis never really exploits them, never has them doing things they wouldn’t normally do for a dollar, there’s none of the grimy scumbucket sensation involved.

Black Devil Doll will probably become a must-see member of the direct-to-DVD circuit, something that plays better in the privacy of your own home with a group of like-minded friends than in a packed movie house (though the recently released disc offers a ‘you-are-there’ audience experience that argues for the film’s universal appeal). While the original examples of blaxploitation were hardly this retarded, they would definitely support Lewis’s vagrant vision. The best advice one can give is to simply sit back and let a bedeviled brother work his magic on you. Who knows - you might just enjoy it. 

by Bill Gibron

26 Oct 2009

Before he became the king of disaster porn, manufacturing more and more outlandish ways of destroying the planet and all the people on it, Roland Emmerich was trying to become the master of mediocre sci-fi. He built his still questionable resume on the back of such hack classics as Making Contact, Moon 44, and Universal Soldier and it was on this latter bit of Jean-Claude Van Damme-age that he met future collaborator Dean Devlin. Together, the duo would embark on a solid set of schlock masterworks, including the ridiculously ripe Independence Day, the goofy Godzilla remake, and perhaps the most notorious speculative nonsense of all - Stargate. While many now know the name thanks to its tired TV series retread, Emmerich first hit considered commercial paydirt with this specious interstellar claptrap involving aliens in pyramid shaped spaceships, Chariots of the Gods, Egyptology, and a US military team doing a bit of manufactured worm hole spelunking.

You see, several centuries ago, aggressive ETs landed on Earth and absorbed as much ancient culture as possible, including the physical image of comely caveboy Jaye “The Crying Game” Davidson. Fast forward to present day and James Spader is a Erich von Däniken wannabe who believes the pyramids were built by visiting space travelers. Just as he is being booed offstage at a science seminar, he is given a chance to work for Uncle Sam and decipher the symbols on an unusual object found in the Middle Eastern desert. It turns out he opens up a ‘stargate’, a way to travel between far off cosmic worlds. With Kurt Russell in tow as a military man recently reinstated after a personal tragedy, a reconnaissance team travels through the portal and ends up on a backward planet where everyone is a slave, building yet another set of pyramids (that function as starship ports) for the same despotic alien race that traveled to Earth eons before.

No matter how you slice it - original theatrical version or retrofitted director’s cut (complete with nine minutes of additional footage), Stargate is silly. It’s backwards science as up to date falderal, an episode of that ‘70s staple In Search of… dragged out to wholly demented ends. In the commentary track and bonus features offered on the brand new 15th Anniversary Edition DVD and Blu-ray, Emmerich makes it very clear that he wanted to take an unconventional approach to this film - unconventional casting, unconventional plotting, unconventional subtexts. That’s why indie Method man Spader is sparring side by side with Snake Plissken himself, why the interstellar natives speak in a weird foreign tongue that never gets translated, and why we find ourselves shaking our head in rather conventional disbelief. It does make for some inherently goofy charms, especially when both of our leading men fall for emotional substitutes (Spader, the hot chick - Russell, the son he recently lost).

But that doesn’t prepare you for the outright audacity of the movie’s design. Even if you grant that the pyramids seem like the work of extraterrestrials, seeing it actually play out is a lot like looking backstage at a magic show. Once you realize how it’s done, it doesn’t seem quite so amazing any more. Similarly, the minimal CG used to mechanically remove the alien’s elaborate Pharaoh inspired headgear looks incredibly dated. Granted, Emmerich’s attempts at being epic does give Stargate some scope, especially when Spader and Russell investigate the huge triangular structure set against a three satellite sky in a endless sand dune milieu. But its big ideas that make sci-fi sing, and in the case of this blasé boy’s adventure tale, we are dealing with junior high conceits at best.

The notion that highly evolved space travelers would enslave indigenous people’s simply to build their landing stations seems surreal. After, they manufacture these amazing flying ships - why do they need manual labor to construct its dock. Similarly, Russell and the gang sure get the peoples restless in a hurry. One moment, they are talisman wearing gods. The next, they’re Angela Davis in designer fatigues. The last act assault on Jaye Davidson’s stronghold seems unlikely to succeed, and the whole “regeneration” subplot seems stuck in if only to provide a third act out in case one of our leads bites the big one (hmm…I wonder if they do…). While there is a restless sense of fun flowing in between all the UFO sturm and drang, Stargate is really nothing more than the Discovery Channel gone gonzo.

Of course, if you believe the added content stored on the various home video incarnations of the title, there is a lot of “truth” behind the decidedly dumb movie. We get experts popping in and out of the picture-within-a-picture information featurettes, each one explaining concepts that were debunked back when Jimmy Carter was still slinging peanuts. As they sit in their smug superiority, interplanetary backdrop providing a small modicum of ComicCon credibility, we realize that someone might actually think Stargate serious, that buried in Spader’s paycheck cashing casualness, in Russell’s buzzcut bravado, Emmerich and Devlin are actually championing ancient astronauts. It puts a whole new perspective on the film, one that falls far outside the typical big budget blockbuster effort we actually see. Serious support is one thing. Stargate, however, cannot solidify such speculation.

Still, this is a decent little diversion, the kind of pure popcorn fodder that would find a far more ballsy form when Will Smith took on city-sized flying saucers in Independence Day. Indeed, one can see Stargate as a warm-up for all the Day(s) After Tomorrow to come. While its F/X are not as eye-popping as they were 15 years ago, and the premise has been peeled apart and reconfigured to fuel a more or less unnecessary TV take on same, what we have here is a prime example of cinematic cheese - fatty, slightly nutritious, and capable of deep satisfaction if served correctly Roland Emmerich has made an entire career out of such highfalutin fromage - and we, as a gullible, guilty pleasure appreciating audience just can’t get enough.

by Diepiriye Kuku

26 Oct 2009

We should all just be plain ole Americans, right? And we could all just get along because we all have the same fair chances, right? Just consider how many men and women in service suffer in silence. In his interview given to YouthRadio.org, young veteran Joseph Christopher Rocha comes out about how during his Middle East war tour, he suffered everything from “being duct-taped and locked in a dog kennel to being forced to simulate oral sex with other men”. Reporting this targeted hazing—which then becomes a hate crime—means loosing one’s career. Ain’t that America.  Y’all love that shit, doncha!

Think of it this way: These are the stories gay kids get to read about at their breakfast table while they’re figuring out how not to tell mom, how not to piss off dad, and how to stay outta trouble in school with other kids—because the first thing kids will say (even in the presence of adults whose silence betrays them), should anything go wrong, is “fucking faggot” (or, my personal favorite: “Sugar in his pants”). Girls might have some latitude, but by kindergarten, kids have plenty of hateful words used specifically to hurt and abuse them, too!

The Navy and the pettiness of DADT in the all-American school

The terror queer kids face at school is still left comfortably inside the closet, and on this account, both mainstream gay advocacy groups as well as death worshipping zealots converge. Rather than extending Christian fellowship to these kids, many modern fundamentalists anchor their cause around rejecting gay marriage and hate crimes initiatives. They fall silent when asked where kids learn to hate so much. So, former president Clinton’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was already alive and well in the all-American school.  It was already a learned behavior from childhood. All Americans know exactly what I am talking about, but nothing brings this closer to the heartland than hearing an adolescent say something like: “That’s so gay!”

What about the gay lobbying group the Human Rights Campaign? HRC is advocating for gay and lesbian military conscription. The HRC “is the battered wife of the Democratic Party establishment, and its time to walk out,” according to longtime outspoken activist Andrew Sullivan.

Not soliciting whores alongside his fellow seamen was enough to out Rocha, and the teasing, taunting, and humiliation ballooned from there. “It made me feel that I was an animal, and the fact that this was done to me by my highest leadership in the United States military and the American military—a representative of the US government—was daunting to me.” It was not hazing, intended to bring a new trooper into the fold. This was a plain hate crime, and we ought to call a spade a nasty bastard and not retire him and his flock, but, think of more critical ways to… naw, just discharge him on the exact same terms as they discharged Rocha!

by Bill Gibron

26 Oct 2009

Nepotism is nothing new in Hollywood. For decades, the major studios were run by one of several members of an extended family, another waiting in the wings to take over should the first group of relatives fail or fall out. They didn’t call it Warner “Brothers” for nothing. So it should come as no surprise that actors and directors often employ their own siblings and offspring in the movies they make.

Most of the times, it’s behind the scenes - part of the craftsmen or crew helping make the movie work. But in those rare instances when the individual steps before the lens it provides an interesting dilemma. For the sharp eyed viewer, aware of the connection, it provides fodder for determining whether talent, or plain favoritism, spawned said casting.

Luckily, no such concerns come with the choice of having Ray Romano and John Leguizamo’s young children play voice roles in the latest Ice Age installment, Dawn of the Dinosaurs (coming to DVD and Blu-ray on 27 October). Along with a scene stealing performance by Shaun of the Dead‘s Simon Pegg as a one-eyed weasel stoked for adventure, the vocal performances in this series are one of its better qualities.

So allowing the stars the luxury, and considered comfort, of working with their kids is clearly a perk of continued cartoon series success. Indeed, the entire franchise often feels like a labor of maternal/paternal love by the people working the various technical and creative ends. In this specific case, however, Joe Romano and his underage costars Lucas and Allegra Leguizamo do little of the heavy lifting. There are ancillary characters, small fry members of the prehistoric pack, not major parts of the film’s narrative concern. This stands in mark contrast with some of today’s biggest cinematic names.

Indeed, producer/director Judd Apatow has used his own daughters Maude and Iris for very important parts in two of his recent “hits”. In Knocked Up, they played the curious cutie pies of onscreen marrieds Leslie Mann (Apatow’s real wife) and Paul Rudd. Similarly, they were the sounding board sweeties who challenge Adam Sandler in the less successful Funny People (again, with Mann as mom).

Aside from the aforementioned ease of interaction, family members also bring a level of authenticity that’s hard to deny. When Mann interacts with Maude and Iris, when she watches the former sing a stirring rendition of Cats’ “Memory”, we see the literal love on her tear-streaked face. Apatow is also aware of how far to push these inadvertent child stars. He can control the content, what comes out of their mouth, and how they are used in the storyline itself.

While it may seem like the most extreme example of stage parenting possible, it’s really the opposite. Maude and Iris aren’t being pimped out to any project that will have them. The Apatows’ clearly feel like including the girls in their creative circle and so far they’ve more than held up their end of the bargain.

It’s a similar stance taken by Will Smith. When The Pursuit of Happyness needed a young boy to play the son of the superstar’s struggling stockbroker to be, his cherubic son Jaden (with current wife Jada Pinkett) was picked for the part. The filmmakers understood that the bond between father and child had to be strong in this often heartbreaking drama, and by giving the Smiths an established personal foundation to start from, the performances would benefit (and they were right).

Oddly enough, Jaden has gone on to be cast in a few films outside of Dad’s domain, indicating a perception that he can hold the screen sans his celebrity costar. Something similar happened during I Am Legend. In that film, daughter Willow played the daughter of Smith’s Dr. Robert Neville, the military scientist facing off against a world populated by light hating horrors. She too has gone on to work without her famous father.

Now don’t get the impression that this is something new within the Tinseltown talent pool. Alfred Hitchcock gave his daughter Pat roles in such classics as Strangers on a Train and Psycho, while Francis Ford Coppola overloaded all three of his Godfather films with as many family members as possible (including the incredible misstep of having daughter Sophia play one of the leads in Part 3).

During his rise to elder statesman status in the ‘80s, Clint Eastwood used both son Kyle (Honkytonk Man) and daughter Allison (Bronco Billy, Tightrope, Absolute Power) as obvious, effective costars, while King of the Blockbuster, Steven Spielberg, has given step-daughter Jessica Capshaw (Minority Report) and biological progeny Sasha (The Terminal, Munich, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) bit parts in his efforts. Even iconic outsider Terry Gilliam showcased his incorrigible child Holly in the “let’s see your willy” scene from his landmark Brazil.

While it’s fare more routine for a Rumer Willis to show up in a movie without her famous Ma (Demi Moore) and Pa (Die Hard‘s Bruce), most Hollywood heavy-hitters are more than happy to have their children off to the side away from the glare of the limelight (Ms. Willis has indeed appeared with her parents in Then and Now, Striptease, and The Whole Nine Yards). Still, for someone like Ray Romano and John Leguizamo, the inclusion of their kids in the Ice Age trequel is win/win. They get to work with the ones they love and yet guarantee the children a sense of anonymity should they decide that acting is not their true future calling.

It’s a situation that neither the Smiths nor Apatows currently enjoy, and under the wrong circumstances, an adolescent’s reputation and self-esteem can take quite a beating (right Sophia?). Still, in an industry that’s seen more than its fair share of said re-purposed partiality, this kind of nepotism in nothing new. And as long as it works as well as it does in Dawn of the Dinosaurs, it won’t be ending any time soon.

by Tyler Gould

26 Oct 2009

Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures
(Columbia (U.K.) / DGC/Interscope (U.S.))
Releasing: 16 November (U.K.) 17 November (U.S.)

Stream “New Fang” from the Dave Grohl/Josh Homme/John Paul Jones supergroup’s upcoming debut below, and check out teasers for a few other tracks after the jump.

SONG LIST
01 No One Loves Me & Neither Do I
02 Mind Eraser, No Chaser
03 New Fang
04 Dead End Friends
05 Elephants
06 Scumbag Blues
07 Bandoliers
08 Reptiles
09 Interlude With Ludes
10 Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up
11 Caligulove
12 Gunman
13 Spinning in Daffodils

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