Thursday, August 23, 2018

Weird '90s Comedy Trilogy #1: "The Stöned Age"

*As always, I write these articles assuming that you've seen the movie, so expect SPOILERS.
This is the first article in my weird comedy trilogy of ‘94-’95 series: The Stöned Age, Glory Daze, and The Jerky Boys. The main connection among these three movies is that I love them, even though they are typically regarded as critical and commercial failures. There is a bit of a following for each of them, however, mostly for The Stöned Age. There’s also the connection of them coming out within two years of each other. The filmmakers of each film are the most logical connection. James Melkonian co-wrote and directed The Stöned Age and The Jerky Boys. And Rich Wilkes co-wrote The Stöned Age and The Jerky Boys, and he wrote and directed Glory Daze. It wasn’t until years later that I noticed this connection. So I decided to write about each of these lesser known comedies).

The makers of the DVD couldn't be bothered with an umlaut...or a "The," apparently.

“Better than Dazed and Confused.”

That hilarious claim is at the top of the DVD case for this film, and it’s probably why most people rented this movie to begin with. I’m pretty sure the studio took the ‘70s angle and wanted to ride the coattails of Dazed and Confused. I suppose there are slight similarities beyond the ‘70s setting, but overall these are very different movies. I think Dazed is the better movie, but I’ve rewatched this one many more times. (Melkonian even disputes the “better than” claim in the commentary [yes, I listened to the commentary].) It’s hard to explain why.

It’s not the story, which is threadbare: Burnouts Joe and Hubbs try to get laid. It’s actually a bit deeper than that, and there is an attempt to say something about the sexist culture it is both celebrating and condemning. But it’s the characters, dialogue, and weirdness that keeps me coming back.

First of all, I actually like Joe and Hubbs, even though Hubbs is definitely a dick. Joe is the likable dude who has goals beyond getting high and laid. But Hubbs is also likable because he’s a funny asshole. His constant outrage cracks me up. He freaks out if he hears “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” because it’s a “pussy song.” And he’s constantly berating Joe because he won’t “jump on the grenade.” Here are a few of my favorite moments/lines:
“Tack, you cack!”
“We're gonna fuck ‘em doggie-style and shit on their parents’ beds!”
“I’m going to have to power this whole bad Oscar myself.”
“There’s a buttload of fine Bettys in there.”
Hubbs upon noticing that Joe doesn't have Jill naked and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper" is playing: “Who put on this pussy shit? What the fuck is going on down here?!”

Tack (played by Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez, but now Clifton Collins, Jr.) is right up there with Hubbs. He’s kind of the villain of the film, but he’s still likable, in a pathetic way. His plan to get the chicks involves stealing a few cases of beer (talls, of course), and showing up at their house with a group of dudes chanting, “Alcohol!” You can’t take a guy like that seriously. Also, he does get screwed over by Joe and Hubbs, so he’s justified in his hatred towards them. Those fuckin’ worms!

I also like that JIll was written as an actual character rather than a sex object. Lanie is given a few moments, but overall she’s treated as an object, both by other characters and the film itself (the close-up on her breasts while choral music plays comes to mind…) JIll, on the other hand, is meant to be the opposite. No one wants to sleep with her, but they will if they can’t have Lanie. Only Joe finally realizes that it’s her personality that makes her desirable. She functions as a bit of a proxy for the audience, as well, calling Joe and Hubbs out for all their bullshit.

There are plenty of other minor characters I found amusing, but it’s just the way everyone talks in this movie that keeps me coming back. Even though a lot of it is a bit ridiculous, it’s also oddly realistic. The nicknames are phrases rang true to me. It makes sense to me for someone to be known not by their own name, but as someone’s brother. I even still quote this movie from time to time. I say, “Just some dude” anytime someone asks me who someone is. And you’d be surprised how often it makes sense to say, “I guess I’m going to have to power this bad Oscar by myself.”

The last aspect that sticks with me is the weirdness of the film. I love their devotion to Ox 45, specifically talls. And sure, this comes across as a Dazed and Confused ripoff, but did Dazed have a 2001 sequence featuring a big, gnarly eyeball? The eyeball makes multiple appearances and serves as a kind of overseer of Joe, urging him to be more than just some dude.

“There’s got to be more to life than driving around Torrance trying to get drunk, stoned, and laid.”

Joe’s revelation at the end to be more than just a dude proves that this is far from a brainless sex comedy. It can be enjoyed as a mindless comedy, sure, but there is a message to the film. The main point I took away from it was to stay away from herd mentality, even if the herd is just two people. Joe learns by the end that he doesn’t have to go for Lanie just because she’s hot and everyone else would do it. Perhaps more importantly, he realizes he doesn’t have to be Hubbs’s bitch anymore. It’s not that they are not really friends; it’s just that their dynamic needs to change for them to continue to be friends.

Also, as I mentioned above, there is a statement about the treatment of females during the time period, but the shots of Lanie kind of discredit all of that. At least, they try, though. But overall, this is a movie about dudes.

Why do I own this?

The deeper elements make the film rise above other, similar movies, but I own this because I still find it funny. I have always found comedies to be the most rewatchable movies. Comedies are good for background noise when I’m trying to sleep, or doing the dishes, or just being lazy. If I don’t want my brain to function much, a movie like this is perfect to put on. But if I do find myself drawn in, I know I’m going to enjoy it, and I might even notice something new. So I will gladly crack open a tall Ox 45 and watch this movie again.

It's not movie accurate (I doubt there's any official merch out there), but the folks at Cafe Press did a good job, making sure there's an umlaut and adding "TALL" to the bottom.

Random Thoughts

The discrepancies with the title bug me. The official title has an umlaut, the DVD cover does not, and the disc itself just says, “Stoned Age.”

Tack's Chicks was the title for a while, but I think Crump's Brother's Chicks would be more accurate.

By the way, the umlaut definitely changes how you pronounce the title, but it's there as a homage to Blue Öyster Cult.

I don't think I'll ever forget how to make an umlaut on Google Docs ever again after writing about this movie. You may have noticed that I didn’t write the title very much at all. I just didn’t feel like copying and pasting that damn umlaut o over and over.

I have an Ox 45 t-shirt. Others must have one, so I'm not the only one who loves this movie.

Melkonian and Wilkes claim to be drinking beer during the commentary. I believe them.

This film introduced me to two great things: Blue Öyster Cult and Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez (I still prefer this version of his name to Clifton Collins, Jr.).

Apparently the film was originally going to feature only Zeppelin songs, but thankfully that wasn't possible. I think the BÖC stuff makes the movie more unique.

Anachronisms: Pringles can is clearly from the ‘90s, as is the Sunny D bottle, I don’t think the store Michael's was a nationwide chain at that point, there are clearly non-70s cars in the opening scene, etc. These don’t ruin the movie for me, but I always notice them.

Melkonian claims (I can't tell if he's joking) they were wanting to tell this story through multiple movies but following other characters.

Wilkes hilariously keeps referring to Tack as an Earth elemental. He also keeps jokingly referring to other films ripping this movie off, such as Pulp Fiction, The Phantom Menace, and Billy Madison.

It turns out most of the movie (especially the lingo and nicknames) is taken from actual events from the filmmakers’ lives, most notably the puking under the couch cushion scene. Nice…

I know for most younger people, the cowbell sketch from SNL was their introduction to “(Don't Fear) The Reaper.” But for me, it was this movie.

“Fuck you, you fuckin’ worms!”

Officer Dean's escalating relating lines are great:
“You think I didn't want to taste a beer when I was your age? Hell, they used to call me Dixie Cup Dean.”
“You think I didn't want to drink a bunch of beer and piss in somebody's pool when I was your age? Hell, they used to call me Quick Dick Dean.”
“You think I didn't want to sneak in some girl's house when I was your age? Hell, they used to call me Doggie Door Dean.”

“Don't eat too many hot dogs!”

Snotrag goes in for a handshake when he sees Joe.

This movie is crazy sexist, but also tries to make a statement about that mentality.

“Get naked or shut up!”

Fuckin’ Busey...and his massive upper body strength…

It's very Beavis and Butthead when it comes to dealing with women. Except that it works for Hubbs.

That dude from the jacuzzi house is hilarious. The first time I watched this I thought it was Captain Lou Albano. In hindsight, it looks nothing like him.

I love that a guy is simply known as Crump’s brother.

“What the fuck, damn Hanky? Get us some talls!”

Tack’s plan is brilliant: steal a few cases of beer and a hot chick will have sex with every dude in the group.

“Want some ice for that?”
“NO! No. I'll be fine.”
This is the first time I got the joke of him not wanting ice for his head. I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times and somehow that one went over my head.

The puke scene and later when the puke spills out from under the couch cushion truly disgusts me. I have a pretty strong stomach, but when it oozes out the side of the couch, it always makes me gag a little. So, good job, filmmakers?

So Lanie is going to give Joe a blow job because his dad used to kick his ass all the time? What an odd transaction.

I've never liked that Jill makes out with Hubbs. It's totally out of character. I suppose it could be seen as payback since Jill thought Joe was getting a blow job from Lanie, though. Okay, Jill, go for it.

So Crump’s brother is going to rape the girls? I mean, he just shows up and starts breaking through the door. What was going to happen once he beat Joe and Hubbs’s asses and was alone with the girls? I prefer Tack’s plan.

“He's going for Tack! He's going to pound his nards!”

The guzzlers get in a line and take turns getting their asses kicked by Jill's dad.

As they point out in the commentary, this is a film of headlocks. I never really thought of it before, but now that they mention it, there are a ton of headlocks in this movie.

A couple of the strangest cameos I can think of: Frankie Avalon and two members of Blue Öyster Cult.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Herzog/Kinski #6: "My Best Fiend"

Here’s the final reminder that Klaus Kinski is a piece of shit, which is probably more important for this film more than any other since Herzog does try to humanize him a bit, especially by ending the film with Kinski playing with a butterfly. Also, I write every article under the assumption that the reader has seen the movie, so SPOILERS, although that’s not that big of a deal for a documentary of this type.

I almost skipped writing about My Best Fiend because I was worried there wouldn’t be much to write about...and I was kind of right. This will be my shortest article about the Herzog/Kinski collection because it’s a movie about them rather than a movie by them.

Also, this will be shorter than most because I’m honestly just a bit sick of Herzog and Kinski at this point. Even though I took a while to get through the collection, it still ended up being too much too soon. In hindsight, I wish I had spaced this out doing one a month in between other films. Too late now, though, so here goes.

Seems more about Herzog than Kinski

The most interesting thing about this film is that Herzog ends up being more interesting than Kinski. This is partly because I already read about or heard (through commentaries) Kinski’s craziness. Sure, there are a few scenes in My Best Fiend that show this off (a Kinski meltdown over food on the set of Fitzcarraldo comes to mind), but overall I learned more about Herzog than Kinski.

I had already come to the conclusion that Herzog is just as disturbed as Kinski because he chose to work with the man, and tended to manipulate Kinski’s erratic behavior to get a performance he wanted. There’s an emotional detachment in Herzog’s treatment of Kinski that I find troubling. In that scene I mentioned above, Herzog just calmly walks around while Kinski goes on and on, and eventually just moves on with the next scene. He has no interesting in stopping anything; he’s only worried about his film.

According to Herzog himself, the natives on the set of Fitzcarraldo were more frightened by him than Kinski because of his calm demeanor. Herzog is extremely self-aware, though. He knows he is like some of the characters Kinski portrayed. He worked with Kinski because he lacked the ability to play the parts himself, even though he was willing to to get the films made. They needed each other, in a sick kind of way.

Would I own this if it wasn’t part of the collection?

No, but it is a good documentary. I just don’t rewatch documentaries very often, and it’s unlikely that I revisit this one.

Random Thoughts

Some reviews claim this is an unfair movie because Herzog gets to talk about Kinski the madman without a rebuttal. I can see that.

“There was indescribable chaos.”

Kinski wanted to use the location of Macchu Picchu to full effect, Herzog disagrees. I’m with Kinski on this one. Why go to such a beautiful place but only use it partially. According to Herzog, that would not be real. I guess...

Kinski called Herzog a megalomaniac, and Herzog said, “that makes two of us.” Yup.

The “unbridgeable gap" between them dealt with nature, which I find hilarious for some reason. Herzog thought Kinski was a poser when it came to his love of nature.

Copulating with a tree? That little segment of Kinski in the jungle really pissed Herzog off.

Kinski finds nature erotic. Of course, Herzog, the uber German that he is, finds nature harmonious, but miserable.

Herzog saying he loves the jungle comes across so angrily.

Herzog admits to provoking him. What does this say about him? But Herzog thinks Kinski secretly wanted this.

So, like the jungle, their relationship is harmonious but also violent and miserable.

“I'm quite sane, clinically sane, so to speak.”

“I seriously planned to firebomb him in his house.”

Herzog truly considers himself Fitzcarraldo. He talks of everyone but him giving up until they saw the ship move.

Talking about the ship being moved up the hill, Herzog says it's a great metaphor. He's not sure what the metaphor is, but he knows it's a good one. That sums up a lot of his work.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Herzog/Kinski #5: "Cobra Verde"

Here’s your reminder that Klaus Kinski was a piece of shit. Also, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the film, so...SPOILERS.

The Last Film

I finally made it to the last collaboration between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski (I am going to include the documentary My Best Fiend for my final Herzog/Kinski post, since it is part of the collection I own): Cobra Verde. Aside from My Best Fiend, this was the film I was most looking forward to rewatching because it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I had nearly forgotten every bit of it. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed as I watched it, but it grew on me by the end, as most Herzog/Kinski films do. This final collaboration made me reflect on their work as a whole, and I realized that I liked analyzing these films and looking up behind the scenes info more than actually watching them.

That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy all of these movies; I do like them very much. But the background drama coupled with analysis makes these movies unique. Herzog likes to point out in his commentaries how anti-Hollywood he is, and that’s what I like about his work. These movies could not be made by a studio. The subject matter, the meandering pacing, the volatile Kinski, etc. All of these things would have been altered. And while Herzog’s style honestly bores me at times, by the end I’m always left thinking about what I had just watched for hours afterward. That is special to me because I watch so much crap that I forget almost instantly. It’s nice to watch something that sticks with me and challenges what I think a movie should be.

So why did I forget Cobra Verde after my first viewing, then? All I can think is that I was a different person when I bought this set all those years ago. I was only really a fan of Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, and I thought the set looked cool. Only now have I given it proper attention, and I am very glad I did.

This is Kinski at his most manic and despondent.

Herzog doesn’t seem to be thrilled with Kinski’s work in this film, and he thinks it was his preparation for Paganini that caused it. Paganini would end up being Kinski’s final film. Herzog thinks that Kinski brought the energy he was creating for that role to Cobra Verde, leading to a less enthused performance. I can’t claim to know why Kinski seemed different in this film, but I think he is clearly different this time around.

It’s strange to make such a claim when Cobra Verde has so many crazed Kinski moments. The training scenes with the female warriors, in particular, show Kinski at his most crazed. Not to mention a black-faced Kinski facing execution or Kinski facing off against a king in a throne room with a floor made of human skulls. How could this be considered a less energetic performance? Well, those scenes are certainly brimming with Kinski’s famous, manic spirit, but they don’t make up the bulk of the film. Most of the film, Kinski comes across as tired and depressed. Granted, the character is admittedly miserable by the end of the film. But with the hindsight that Kinski’s career and life would end soon after this film, it’s not a stretch to think that something had changed in him.

This doesn’t mean the performance is bad. In fact, this is my favorite performance. The lack of energy in most of the scenes adds a complexity to what otherwise would be a terrible character. He is a terrible character. Not only is he a murderer and bandit, but he is a rapist and a slaver, as well. In a normal film, he would be the villain. I suppose he is still the villain of this film. I guess I mean that in a normal film, the focus would be on a hero fighting against such a man. But this is a Herzog film.

Herzog doesn’t seek to make Kinski all that sympathetic, but he does give him a few lines showing that he’s aware of how terrible he is. One of my favorite lines occurs when he allows a fellow slaver to take one of his women (who live in a pit) for the night. When he’s asked who the women are, Kinski responds, “Our future murderers.” The question is, does acknowledging he and the slave trade are awful make him any better? I would argue they make him even worse, as he engages in the slave trade knowing how awful it is. And it would be one thing to just be involved in it as a business, but to also keep women in a pit to be raped nightly? Admitting you’re awful doesn’t really do much when you’re doing things like that. But it does make for an interesting performance.

Did Herzog intentionally make movies with Kinski that mirror his own filmmaking style?

One criticism that has been leveled at Cobra Verde is that it is too light on plot. It’s true that things just seem to happen to Kinski without there being any real goal for the character. But that’s typical of the three crazed ambition films Herzog made with Kinski. Aguirre has a goal, sure, but it’s insane. There’s no kingdom to be made as you drift down the Amazon. Fitzcarraldo definitely had a goal, too, but it was just as crazy. So Cobra Verde doesn’t have some grand plan, but like Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, he seems to drift through life.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to compare these characters to Herzog himself. This was most clear with Fitzcarraldo, since he actually did what the character was trying to do. But it’s kind of the same with Cobra Verde, as the sheer amount of extras appearing onscreen must have been just as complicated to deal with as dragging a ship up a hill. It’s not just trying to do difficult things that tie them together. Herzog has stated in previous commentaries that he never storyboards anything. And all of this films that deal with native people actually have native people playing the parts. There’s no way he could plan that out very far in advance. I imagine following Herzog to these locations to make movies must’ve been similar to being on the journey with Kinski’s characters.

Because of this, Herzog’s films feel like documentaries and shots go on much longer than they normally would. Some of it works, and some it gets a bit tedious, but it’s a unique film experience. That is why Herzog and Kinski were so good together despite their infamous clashed behind the scenes. Kinski could bring the manic energy or the lethargic presence needed for such strange characters, and Herzog was willing to sometimes go blindly forward and see what happened. It’s a small miracle that these films ended up being so great and effective. But perhaps, after five films, I’m experiencing a Stockholm Syndrome-type situation, and I find brilliance where there is actually just insanity.

These movies are making me think like Herzog...I’m scared.

Writing thing like “I find brilliance where there is actually just insanity” scares me a little because it sounds like something Herzog would say. I first became aware of this as I was taking notes while watching Cobra Verde. Here’s an example:

I suppose I prefer the three movies about ambition most for the same reason some people hate them: the lack of story. Sure, plenty of things happen, but overall these films are about the journey, not the destination, which is a metaphor for life, of course. These films are not trying to tell some important story. They meander and seem to just let things happen, because that's what life is: a meandering journey featuring random events that typically ends unremarkably. My God, these films have gotten to me. I'm starting to write the way Herzog talks.

I don’t think I would have written something like “life is a meandering journey featuring random events that typically ends unremarkably” after only watching one of these films. I think this is something that happens when you watch them all and write about them over the course of a few weeks. I love these movies, but I’m glad I only have the documentary left. Thinking about these characters and the behind the scenes stuff and listening to Herzog’s commentaries is getting to me. I’m definitely going to be choosing something much more light-hearted when I’m done with this collection.

Would I own this if it wasn’t part of the collection?

Probably not, but I do think I will revisit this one again sometime. But if I’m in the mood to watch a Herzog/Kinski film, Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo will always come before this.

Random Thoughts

“I want you awake when you die!” Of course you do, Kinski.

Kinski’s a slaving.

I have to admit, Kinski looks pretty damn cool in this movie, both as a bandit a la Leone and as a Napoleonic captain.

A goat takes communion. Maybe this is meant to be some kind of commentary on Christianity, but it’s probably just because there was a goat on set that day, and Herzog thought it would be funny to give it communion.

Kinski and crabs...they've come full circle. In the commentary, Herzog talks about his fear of the crabs. Interesting that he told Kinski to act crab-like in Aguirre and Nosferatu, especially since he claims he was never afraid of Kinski, but he directs him to act like a creature he fears.

Prince Crazy Eyes. That dude cracked me up in every scene.

The most famous behind the scenes photo from this movie shows Kinski reaching for Herzog’s throat, but there are actually multiple pictures of them smiling together, which is definitely an odd sight.

I can think of nothing more terrifying than seeing Kinski running full speed at me, leading an army of topless female warriors.

That's one hell of a messaging system. Do they really need to be that close together? Seems like you could get the same thing done with one-tenth the people. But Herzog liked the way it looked, so...

For once, Herzog is more interested in the natives than nature. This makes Kinski even worse since he treats them all like animals or tools for his own uses.

Cobra Verde is a unique character for Kinski. He's just as ambitious as Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, but unlike them, he seems to not know why. He is admittedly miserable. So what's the motivation? All three characters don't really plan things out and just seem to go where the wind takes them. Perhaps Cobra Verde is the ultimate version of this. A bandit whose only motivation is to see where life takes him, no matter how evil the path.

And on that note, are all these characters like Herzog, as well? His films seem to drift aimlessly in their subject matter. Sure, he has always had a connection to nature and the absurdity of humanity, but the subjects and styles of his filmography are possibly the most varied of any director. He is like Verde, drifting from subject to subject rather than looking for some ultimate goal.

What a fitting final image of Kinski. Struggling to move a boat and failing to move it an inch, despite his rage. But he is immensely watchable. It's hard to describe. He's looks strange and severe, and nearly every character he played for Herzog was monstrous in some way. You don't root for him really, but you want to see what happens.