Friday, July 31, 2009

Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)

A very special guest post from the poor sap who married Knarf.
This was the last movie on my childhood Ghostbusters tape. I watched the hell out of that tape, but whenever Jumpin' Jack Flash started the boringness and the wavy lines came with it. Well, now the tape is long gone and I'm all growed up and ready for some whoopass "Adventure in Comedy" (the movie's tagline).
We are first introduced to Whoopie's character, Terri by staring at all of the crazy crap on her walls. This chick likes the movies Metropolis, Casablanca, okay--classic movies. She's poor and cold but has time to start her morning routine with two jumping jacks: girl after my own heart, and it fits with the title of the movie. I know I'm supposed to like Whoopie's character because she's friendly to everyone, except busmates who choose to sleep on her shoulder. Her bright yellow scarf and sneakers set a tone for her wardrobe in the movie--awful, but it's Whoopie so, deal.
This girl has some class clown syndrome. But you just want to tell her your problems because you think he could fix them. Even Jon Lovitz flirts with her--but they're just friends. And she's a computer nerd. I feel like I'm ready to write her e-harmony page. I wonder if this is a Saturday Night Live production like Superstar, or Ghostbusters. (I'm pretty sure only one of those counts - K.) Even Phil Hartman is there.
Hi. I'm dead.

This is the part where I try to figure out what she does for a living. What kind of place has a bell that starts your day? She works at a computer. She barely gets started when opps! Russian television magically appears on her computer screen. Good thing Terri is a smart cookie. She figures out that "The shielding on the IO port is loose." Is that a part of a computer? All she did was hold the cord that connects the monitor to her computer. Is there magically wi-fi in 1986 that sneaks into your computer monitor? Eh, I guess no one cares. But what does she do? Well good thing she gets in trouble and has to explain what is expected of her to the audience her boss. "To transfer funds and accept the transfer of funds between international banking establishments using the computer so that the transfered funds are easily called upon." I guess she's being too friendly. How dare she act unprofessional by chatting with customers. Oh they're planning a trip to this new place called Kohls!Well time for some plot. Someone begins chitchatting with her on a "clamshell terminal" not within her network. Hmm. He seems nice. He likes Jumping Jack Flash. Intriguing, but he won't talk with her--no privacy. He gives her a riddle to solve in order to have a private conversation. Find his password within the Rolling Stones hit. Note: Whoopie Goldberg is a sing talker, which is a good thing. Fuck a Duck. She does a "figuring out the lyrics to the song montage" which must have been a comedy bit Whoopie did on stage. She makes fun of how nobody can understand the lyrics of the song. Seedy saxophone and man smoking a cigarette. Stranger Danger!

Awesome outfit alert! Whoopie's back at work to try some passwords. This is like me with my passwords. Is it this? Hmm no? Well, I need to pay that $7.00 Kohls bill!! No I don't know my username!! She needs that KEY! Well she did it and because she did, she gets awesome screen graphics, like all 80's computers had. Big difference, her screen has color now.There's a downside. He has a task for her. Go to the British Consulate and deliver a message boring. Wait why is the guy from "7th Heaven" here? And now it's explained: Soviet television uses the same satellite as this capitalist pig bank. No more worries about computer magic.
Next on Lifetime: Raped by the 7th Heaven guy

I know people who talk when they type. And I want to smack them. But hey, Whoopie's alone here in this movie. And it's been done before. Castaway, ummm no, I can't remember any more. Why is Jim Belushi here? He’s a bumbling spook who has to kill Whoopie so he can be free to make Jumpin' Jack Flash 2000. (It'll be on later in the flight. - K.)
Hi. I'm not dead, but my significantly more talented brother is.

Time to contact some other spies who might try to help Jumping Jack, who is stuck in the Soviet Union. Whoops, the first one died. Well, she’s arrested and they have to make sure she’s not a hooker. But, like she said, “There’s not a lot of work down on the pier. Unless she’s giving blowjobs to goldfish.” Well her potty mouth almost gets her sent to fucking jail. But blah blah blah she meets Annie Potts.

New task, sneak into the British Consulate and break into their computer system. Whoopie. Just when I was sick of hearing Whoopie talk to herself and read every line that is typed, they stuck in a voice for Jack. Now I only have to cut one wrist.
This movie has a powerful message about…no, no it doesn’t. Nevermind.

Ugg, Whoopie in a blue sequin evening gown doing a Diana Ross impression. She’s thin enough but no bosom. Spying. Hiding under desks. Stealing information from 20-year-old computers, that kind of stuff. But there's always time for Whoopie to do some thing funny, like get her sequined gown stuck in a paper shredder. Now she’s doing Tina Turner. I’m an audience member that pays attention so I noticed that even though it was just a quick visual gag.
Returning home from espionage she finds her Clark Gable cutouts and giant toothbrushes strewn about. I wonder if that’s a crack about her big teeth. I was really worried until 7th Heaven comes knocking to check on her and, again, to help the white people understand.

I'll get you, Cavity Creeps!

Whoopie does another stand up routine while waiting for Jumping Jack Flash to communicate. She told her boss she’s going to work extra hours for a promotion, but the cleaning staff and security guards know the truth. She’s lying on her desk, chatting with boys, not getting any work done BACK TO YOUR ROOM YOUNG LADY! Pshew, I went into parental mode for a second. I think she really…barf…barf…likes this guy. I was missing him. Desperately wondering where he was, if I was ever going to see him again. Oh thank God, he’s back: Jim Belushi is on screen to give Whoopie a sodium pentothal shot to make her give up that KEY aka password—it also delivers some hilarious consequences!
Only Whoopie’s hilarious comedy can save her now. She’s dragged through New York in a phone booth attached to a tow truck, screaming and everyone seems to think it’s just a good time. To make matters worse, she’s really late for her job at the bank--better go in and (still under the effects of sodium pentothal) ala Liar Liar, tell everyone in the office what she thinks before passing out.
But during her truth serum freak out she contacts a poodle haired lady with power and guilt trips her into helping Jumping Jack Flash with an exit contact. Hooray!

Now she’s kissing the monitor displaying their last chat. She can do what she wants but my “stranger danger” sirens are going off. Falling in love with a guy on the Internet! He could be a big fat weirdo!

Well there’s still enough time in this movie for Whoopie to get kidnapped. Oh, they’re going to torture her. bone saw! Drill! One kick to the family jewels and they’re all finished. Aww, no harm came to her. She’s been used. She gave Jack a fake contact. Well, she’d better assault a police officer.
It's gonna take a lot of beers with the president to smooth this one over.

Shooting spree at 1st Financial. Awww Hell! 7th Heaven reveals himself to be CIA! And then you see it. In order to saver her own life Whoopie bites a dick. This movie has the biting of dicks. I love it. And then 7th Heaven asks for Jack's key code. But he’s American and a TV dad so you know Whoopie can trust him.

The movie then limps into the doghouse with one last scene. We finally to meet Jumpin' Jack Flash and see he’s… the guy from Brazil! Oh mullet and ordinary face and they walk out hand in hand. These two fugly people deserve each other.
So, I got to see 2 stand up routines, eccentric Whoopie Goldberg pining away for a guy on a computer screen, and also inferred that she bit some British guy’s dick. I couldn’t help wonder if she tilted her head for it. And I learned that you can go to Kohls to feel better about yourself.
Hey look! It's two funny actors with only one scene and barely any lines! Huzzah!

Knarf's take: On several occasions during Jumpin' Jack Flash, I seriously considered beating myself to death with my own skull. It's a cruel bait-n-switch that throws legions of SNL alumni at us before doing approximately jack squat with any of them. Seriously, who are the ad wizards who came up with the idea of filling the bottom half of the credits with the likes of Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz, then making a movie which is essentially two hours of Whoopi Goldberg talking to a fucking Apple II monitor?Melora thought I would like this movie because of the humorous way it quixotically pretends to have the slightest clue how computers work. (A recurring theme here at VU) Unfortunately, the magic password that can turn monochrome monitors into freaky colored acid trips is not funny enough to make my eyes stop bleeding. So her punishment was writing this post; I hope you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Daisies-Sedmikrásky (1966)

As videogames, god-awful Michael Bay films, Pixar CG cartoons, and other purely digital works rise to the forefront of art and entertainment, mechanical cinema can now be safely compartmentalized in the 20th Century. (Sorry analog video, you're relegated to a mere transitional phase.) Invented at the very tail end of the 1800s, early cinema developed in separate, parallel trajectories within the era's two biggest players: the United States and the Soviet Union. While Kentucky born D.W. Griffith invented the concept of intercutting simultaneous action for extra excitement in his embarrassingly racist epic, Birth of a Nation, the reds were developing more formalist techniques. Instead of the clear spatial and temporal relationships between objects on the screen found in commercial Western cinema, Russian filmmakers, led by Sergei Eisenstein, began developing what is known as Soviet montage (not to be confused with the Rocky montage), a system where meaning is created through editing and juxtaposition rather than simply spread across a single, lengthy wide shot.
One of the central theses of Soviet montage is that novel cinematic denotation can be created with disparate elements through dialectic synthesis. Essentially this means that complex or unstated concepts can be portrayed through the 'conflict' of two otherwise unrelated shots edited together. For instance, a shot of a skinny frowning dude spliced with a shot of a steaming, yummy looking potato can represent the idea of hunger. This theory of artistic creation through ideas "butting heads" would go on to be a recurring theme in Communist art, but as the regimes grew increasingly oppressive and hostile to artists, the conflicts were increasingly between filmmaker and censor, rather than on the screen itself.As the best (and probably singular) feminist counterculture film from 1966 Eastern Europe, Věra Chytilová's Daisies (aka Sedmikrásky) is a perfect example of unique art springing from the conflict between the liberal ideas of a headstrong iconoclast and the repressive censorship of the government ostensibly footing the bill. At the time, Czechoslovakia was a semi-independent, soon to be invaded satellite of the USSR, and its cinematic milieu generally reflected this. The communists, eager to be culturally competitive with the west and with a rich, established film history, provided funding to their filmmaking institutions. The artists working within responded by vigorously criticizing the Soviet puppets taking control of the country.Instead of the bland propaganda-lite of Socialist realism, Daisies turns 180 degrees in the opposite direction and blasts off at warp speed. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave, as well as Luis Buñuel and the surrealists, it not only forgoes the airless party line, but all semblance of traditional narrative structure. Instead of a point A to point B storyline, the film travels in an outward spiraling stream of consciousness, repeating its favored themes against backgrounds of varying scale and color.
Even the very first celluloid frame comes out of left field. Instead of the expected bikini clad ladies, the opening credits occur against a juxtoposition of World War II stock footage and a strange, damp contraption of gears and levers. (Gears of War?) A few moments later, the bikinis arrive with two of the most attractive women in the history of Eastern Europe inside. (Faint praise, I know, but they are still quite hot.) Marie I and Marie II, whom we will be referring to as Blonde and Brunette for the sake of clarity (they keep changing their pseudonyms throughout the picture), are relaxing on the boardwalk. They act and converse in a robotic fashion, with obnoxious foley effects awkwardly grafted on. The discussion revolves around how the world around them is going rotten, so they resolve to 'go bad' along with it.
A playful slap transports them to a pastoral field where they dance around in short dresses and vast amounts of eyeliner. One girl steals an apple and her friend chases her into an apartment wallpapered in sketches of wildflowers. They discuss what to do next, then reappear at the beach. The blonde tosses her virginal daisy garland into a lake and, after a quick shot of a floating fat guy, the brunette ends up on a dinner date with an older looking aristocratic type. Her cohort immediately shows up and attaches herself to the evening, lamprey style. Much to the gentleman's chagrin, she sets about being as charmingly uncouth as possible. She stuffs her face, titters endlessly, and generally makes him squirm. (Much to the brunette's barely disguised amusement.) As the dinner soldiers onward through a spectrum of different tints and washes, the man begins to show signs of relaxing.
Suddenly the brunette must catch a train. She drags the courter on board, then somehow materializes on the tracks outside as it speeds off to Bohemia in a psychedelic rainbow. They discuss what to do next, and the inevitable wackiness ensues. This is essentially the entirety of the film's plot; it continues onward and evolves quite a bit, but there is never a story-line beyond the two girls philosophizing, making mischief, and taking rubes out to dinner before packing them on the crazy train.
This is not to say that the film is in any way dull or listless. The very next scene, chronologically, is a madcap highlight, in which the heroines sneak their way into a booth at a posh club and proceed to upstage the '30s-style dancers doing the Charleston. They whisper and giggle, gleefully bounce up and down, (literally) climb up the walls, and play jokes on the wait staff. After ordering a pair of big bottles of Pilsner Urquell, the flagship Czech beer which you can go find at your liquor store right now (with practically the same label even), they quickly produce their own bottles, then act confused and innocent when the waiter returns with their order. Naturally, they demand he provide bottle opening services, then proceed to get obnoxiously drunk.
This may not sound like much when converted to text, but the rapid-fire montage editing and giddy soundtrack are the main attractions. Daisies is far more concerned with what is happening shot to shot than in going from plot point A to plot point B. The ending is abrupt and theoretically a bit of a downer, and while the film does build to the conclusion somewhat, it does so sans any solid narrative reasoning. Scenes pile on top of one another rather than flow together. The transitions are sudden and jarring; once a vignette is about to play itself out, there is an immediate cut to either a new location (usually shot on a different film stock), a montage of loosely connected imagery, or a rapid, abstract jumble.
Combining quick editing, handmade film elements, and the collage-like nature of the girls' home base/apartment, these pseudo-animated sequences are found both between scenes and within them, breaking up the predictability of the scene-transition-scene pattern. The line blurs even more later in the film, when the girls become cross with each other and begin slicing through each other, as well as the fabric of space and time with scissors.
Drawings of flowers, shots of butterfly collections, and jumbled newsprint sprint across the screen, accompanied by sudden bursts of rushing locomotive noise. The butterfly segment in particular has strong echoes of Stan Brakhage's Mothlight, though it's unlikely the director would have seen it.
If the viewer can contend with its unorthodox, experimental structure, Daisies is an incredibly dense film, thematically. There are probably hundreds of different interpretations to be found within, and I could (if I weren't so lazy) spend endless paragraphs unpacking meaning from the cluttered mise-en-scène. It's a lighthearted feminist manifesto, a parable of Bohemian decadence, and a biting critique of the Communist leadership. It's even a bit of an audience rorschach test; some will immediately put it on their favorite films list and others will be left scratching their heads.
Much praise should be heaped upon the obscure actresses who carry the film along. Aside from their above discussed attractiveness, they manage to prove themselves more than adequate thespians given the roughly sketched nature of their characters (and the film itself). The brunette seems to be the more sensible of the two, taking point on their dates/hornswagglings with older men, and occasionally scolding her friend's impulsiveness. In one of the film's very few acknowledgments of the "real world," she comes home to their ticking electricity meter and briefly laments its consequences. The blonde, by contrast, is the more puckish of the pair; not content with teasing older gentleman, she breezes in and out of relationships with guys her age, leaving them to pitifully pine away.
One victim of her charms is left hanging on the phone, pouring his heart out, while the girls slice up pickles and sausages with a pair of mean looking scissors. In this way, the film is well aware of a darker side to feminism. While the dinner scenes revel in their "stick it to the man" girl-power, the mopey boyfriend is clearly not a member of the patriarchal elite. Instead of balancing the scales of power, her femininity has tilted it completely in her favor. Not that the girls spend too much energy feeling remorseful; they've determined to 'go bad' and nothing can divert their course. They even steal jukebox money from the creepy bathroom lady who sings and makes coffee while they play dress up.
One of Daisies' most prominent motifs is food. Nearly every segment revolves around eating or drinking, starting with the blonde stealing an apple from the idyllic tree they prance around and ending with a knock-down, drag-out, two girl food fight in a massive banquet hall. They have an existential discussion in a milk bath, steal ears of corn from a country village, and, as mentioned, do scary things to various phallic foodstuffs.
AAHH! Castration Anxiety!

Because of the ladies' gastronomic obsessions, their apartment is filled with spoiled milk, rotting fruit, and various moldering leftovers. This elegantly dovetails with the film's theme of 'going bad,' as much of the dialog can be applied to both their physical and philosophical surroundings. It also leads to my personal favorite line: "How volatile life is." Surely that was a loaded sentiment in a country only two years away from a full on Soviet invasion.

As a side note, check out Jan Svankmajer's Little Otik, another Czech film similarly obsessed with food and eating, even if it is more disgusted than enamored with the process. Quick, someone find me a third Czech food film so I can declare it a trend.
By the end of Daisies, even the dimmest bulbs in the audience should have picked up on the fact that the girls love to eat, so when they ride a dumbwaiter into a vast banquet hall all prepared for a resplendent feast, there is a palpable anticipation of the incoming climactic mischief. Shit is about to go down. Hands will be shoved into mushy treats, booze will be consumed in vast quantities, and high heels will trod across all manner of delicately prepared pastries.
I have no idea what most of this crap is, but it probably tastes good.

After the good times have passed, the girls finally realize the error of their ways and, now clad in suits of old newspaper, attempt to stitch the feast back together. Then a chandelier falls on them. The End.

The Communist authorities were having none of this. With the official explanation that the film showed too much "wasting of food" they declared the film ineligible for release and wrote various official resolutions personally condemning Chytilová and other members of the Czech avant-garde. It would be many years before the film showed theatrically, and if it had never been noticed by Western festivals, Daisies may have remained buried forever. The men in charge wanted films that reflected state ideology: straightforward tales of the proletariat. Abstract cinema was a slap in the establishment's face, and it came down hard on those who tested it. Fortunately, the filmmakers pushed back, and much like their Russian counterparts, managed to create art that not only survived censorship, but arguably thrived in its grip.
Unlike most of the films discussed on this website, Daisies is legitimately good cinema, (Whatever that means) and outside of the usual "art films may not be your cup of tea" qualifications, I am hard pressed to think of an unkind word for it. No one is going to mistake it for a modern film, but it is a million times less dated than far younger films. Even the artifacts of its low budget only seem to add a gritty charm.
The best thing I can come up with for criticism is that the film has a severe shortage of tits. I know that sounds more than a little misogynistic, but for a film about female sexuality (among other things) it kept feeling like they were just around the corner. Perhaps the girls could have ran naked through a meat packing plant or done a strip tease for parliament. Oh well, it's probably to much to ask for a film that was censored because of a food fight. (Animal House would make those dudes' heads explode)

On a personal note, I once (while quite intoxicated) decided that I wanted to watch a movie, but absolutely, positively did not want to see any dudes. Unfortunately, The Descent was still a few years away, so I ended up watching music videos. While Daisies isn't a perfect transgender Mirror of John Carpenter's The Thing, (it's far from dude free) I think it would have scratched that particular drug addled itch.

Stills from Sedmikrásky (Daisies)

In advance of tomorrow's this afternoon's write up of Daisies, here are some extra stills I couldn't find homes for.

While you're at it, be sure to check out the trailer for the film's new and improved DVD release. (Region 2 only: Boo-Hiss)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Week* of the Woman

Big things related to double-X chromosomes are brewing here at Video Updates. (Not the usual big things; you'll have to wait for the upcoming Mondo Topless review for those.) First of all, I'd like to introduce Melora, the exceedingly lovely Mrs. Knarf. She's been tasked with putting together a write up of a film so heinous and terrifying that yours truly was unable to muster the intestinal fortitude to do a proper post.

Jesus Christ, she's only got one fucking eye!

Jumpin' Jack Flash, or as I like to call it: Two Hours of Whoopi Talking to Herself. Look for it later this week.

Also in the hopper, a long gestating post about Czech New Wave crazyfest, Sedmikrásky aka Daisies.

*As usual, when I say "week" I mean APT (Arbitrary Period of Time)