Category Archives: Musical

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol gets drafted.

Based on the hit stageplay of the same name, the story deals with Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol who gets drafted into the army.  As a big send off Conrad is chosen to perform in Sweet Apple, Ohio on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a special treat one lucky teen girl (Ann-Margaret) gets picked to give him a kiss while he sings the song ‘One Last Kiss’ written by Albert (Dick Van Dyke) a fledgling songwriter who hopes that the publicity of having a song sung by a big star will be just the ticket he needs to find success and enable him to finally marry his secretary (Janet Leigh) and get away from the clutches of his meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton).

The story was loosely based on the real-life incident in 1957 when Elvis Presley got drafted and in fact the part was originally intended for him, but his agent turned it down. While some may consider the humor here to be engaging satire I really felt it was lame and uninspired and only saved by the song and dance sequences. My main gripe was the way the teens get portrayed as being overly clean-cut kids, no leather jacket crowd here who smoked cigarettes even though they did exist, who are too benign and show no evidence of individuality. It would’ve been nice for the sake of balance to have at least one girl that was not into the rock star and didn’t faint or swoon the second she saw him, like all the others, and instead looked on with disdain at everyone who did.

While I did like Janet Leigh, who wears a black wig, and enjoyed her dance number at a Shriner’s convention I did feel overall that the adults here, with the exception of Paul Lynde, were boring and not needed. Van Dyke again gets straddled in another Rob Petrie type role who shows no pizzazz and having him a ‘mama’s boy’ at the age of 38 is more pathetic than funny. What’s worse is that Stapleton who plays his mother was in reality Van Dyke’s same age and despite some white in her hair really didn’t look that old and having the part played by an actual old lady would’ve given it more distinction.

The story should’ve centered around the teens, but in a more interesting way by entering into all the side dramas that almost always occur in these types of situations, but doesn’t get explored here. For instance there could’ve been some jealous classmates of Ann-Margaret’s upset that she got picked to kiss Birdie and not them and devised a scheme to ruin her big moment, or having all the boys, who admitted to hating Birdie because their girlfriends were so into him and not them, kidnapping him in revenge.

Despite having his name in the title Birdie has only a few lines of dialogue and needed more to do than just swiveling his hips, which becomes a derivative running joke. One idea would be to have him scared about going off to the army and secretly coming up with a plan with his fans to go undercover, so he could escape going, which would’ve added more depth to the satire, which is too placid, by showing how celebrities in private can be the opposite of their public image.

Beyond my many grievances with the story, which is even more flimsy than most musicals, I still found the songs, dances, and colorful sets to be fun and Paul Lynde has a few great lines. If one watches it for the musical quality while treating it as a relic of its time then it should still go over modestly well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: George Sidney

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

History of the World, Part I (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making historical events funny.

In 1979 Mel Brooks was riding high after directing 4 hit movies and as he was walking across a studio parking lot a man who had worked on his crew from his previous films asked him what his next project would be. Brooks, feeling the pressure to come up with something big and splashy, told him it was going to be about the history of the world. This film ended up being the result of that conversation although it’s hard to call it a movie at all since it’s really just a collection of vignettes dealing with 4 specific periods: The Stone Age, The Roman Empire, The Spanish Inquisition, and The French Revolution.

At first glance it’s almost shocking that something this overreaching could’ve been produced to begin with. Had anyone but Brooks approached the studio heads with this concept it would’ve been slapped down immediately and the person told not to come back until they had an idea that was more focused, but because of Brooks’ prior success these same executives decided to swallow their better judgement. Not only did they unwisely give it the green light, but they threw more money at it than any of his previous film budgets combined; a whooping 11 million, which all pretty much goes to waste.

It’s not like there aren’t a few funny moments here and there: the musical number during the Spanish Inquisition, the Last Supper parody, and the Jews in space all elicit a few chuckles, but the rest of it’s lame and corny like skits from some mediocre variety show. An overarching character that would’v been in all of the scenes was needed like a time traveler from the modern day who goes back and interacts with all the people from the time periods, which could’ve been a riot.

A lot of familiar faces pop in-and-out, but many of them are onscreen for only a few seconds. A better idea would’ve been to whittle down the cast list to only a handful of performers and then having them play the different roles in each time period instead of just introducing more stars into the mix, which only helps to give the already bloated production a very cluttered feel.

Not only does Brooks cast himself into too many of the film’s major roles, which makes the thing seem like a vanity project, but he also relies too heavily on his aging Hollywood friends in supporting parts instead of introducing a young vibrant talent into the mix that could’ve helped attract new, younger fans. It also doesn’t help that Richard Pryor was set to play a big role in this, but then just two days before shooting he suffered a serious accident that burned his face and forced him to bow out leaving Gregory Hines to replace him who is not nearly as funny or dynamic.

I couldn’t help but connect this thing with Bill Cosby’s mega-flop Leonard Part 6.  Apparently many people on the production crew of that film felt the material was subpar, but too afraid to approach Cosby, who was such a big star at the time, to tell him. I can only presume there were also people on the crew of this film who felt the same way, but didn’t want to jeopardize their careers by speaking up, which is too bad. While this movie did ultimately make money it was mainly during its first week and enthusiasm due to bad word-of-mouth quickly dwindled afterwards. Brooks reputation never fully recovered, which is why no one even a big star should be above constructive criticism, which  might’ve helped modify this clunker into becoming something better.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

American Hot Wax (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: DJ plays the hits.

The film centers on real-life disc jockey (Alan Freed) who was instrumental in bringing rock ‘n’ roll music to the airwaves during the late 50’s and even credited with coining the phrase. Unfortunately he also got wrapped up in a payola scandal in which record companies paid him under-the-table to play their records on the air, which destroyed his career and left him in virtual poverty before dying in 1965 at the young age of 43 from cirrhosis of the liver.

I’ll admit I never longed for the nostalgia of the late 50’s or early 60’s.  Everything from that period seemed silly and antiquated to me and yet this film nicely brings out the excitement that people living then had. There clearly was a feeling of change on the horizon particularly in the music scene and it’s fun seeing all the young people jumping in and trying to become a part of it. The recreation of that energy is great and the one thing that this movie does well. Unfortunately it quickly becomes one-note with an unending procession of different music groups clamoring to become the next big act. Watching people stop Freed on the street and giving him a impromptu audition is at first fun, but seeing that scenario get repeated continuously is tedious.

There are some famous fresh young faces in the cast including Jay Leno, Fran Drescher, and Laraine Newman, but their parts are small and their appearances erratic. The story desperately needed a central character for the viewer to latch onto and none gets forthcoming. The barrage of people that get thrown in and then just as quickly forgotten makes the film unfocused and lacking any type of real plot.

McIntire is excellent, but his character badly undernourished. There’s a hackneyed dramatic segment where we see him conversing with his father on the phone and are given the idea that he is on rough terms with him, but it never gets explored further and for the most part we learn nothing at all about his personal life including the fact that he was married three times and had four kids, which never even gets mentioned while the payola scandal is only briefly touched on. The film would’ve had more substance had they explored the man’s personality and life more, but instead he remains as a frustratingly distant figure.

Clearly the filmmakers were looking to cash-in on the success of American Graffiti and hence the similar title, but just recreating the look and music of a bygone era isn’t enough. Even the appearances of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis fail to save a superficial effort that justifiably bombed badly at the box office.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Floyd Mutrux

Studio: Paramount

Available: None at the time.

Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen forms punk band.

Corinne (Diane Lane) is an angry 17-year-old who lashes out at a TV-reporter during an interview when she describes the challenges of trying to make-ends-meet while working at a fast food place after the death of her mother. Her tirade resonates with other teens and this new found celebrity gives her the idea to form her own punk band called The Stains.  She goes on tour with two other bands and makes a splash by going out on stage wearing a wild skunk-like hair-do and a see-through blouse. This gets her media attention and a fan following, but will her new found fame last, or will it just go to her head?

This interesting look at the punk band scene, that could make a great companion piece to The Decline of Western Civilization, was filmed in a sardonically humorous pseudo-documentary style, but unfortunately did not fare well when it was initially released. After getting a bad response when it was first shown in Denver in October of 1982 the studio shelved the film for 2 years,inserted a new tacked-on ending and then sold it to the USA Network where it became a staple to their weekend, overnight programming and quickly garnered a cult following.

The film still does not get as much attention as I think it deserves and tends to get overshadowed by the overrated This is Spinal Tap. This film though is a lot grittier and that fact that it was directed by Lou Adler, who worked for many decades in the music business, helps give it an authentic appeal as it analyzes the underside of the music business by showing how the majority of bands live on society’s fringe while excising the glitz and glamour completely. It also astutely examines the inner-conflicts and raging egos that go on behind-the-scenes and how the almost constant back-stabbing infects the mind-set of those trying to break-in.

The script was written by Nancy Dowd who is best known or penning Slap Shot and this film works in much the same way as that one by placing it in a similar setting of an economically strapped, working class Pennsylvania town. The shots of the gray, rundown region is what really gives this film an extra edge and helps the viewer identify with why the characters will do almost anything to get out of it. One of the best shots comes while watching Corinne walking around outside as she makes plans for her band while in the backdrop we see the grimy steel mill life that she’s grown-up in and hitting-home how her dreams for her punk band isn’t based so much on rebellion, but more on hoped for escape.

I loved Lane’s acerbic personality and her hilariously caustic opening interview with a TV-reporter really sets the tone for the rest of the film while also helping to solidify that this isn’t going to be just another mainstream Hollywood flick like Almost Famous, which I felt painted rock band life in too much of a sugar coated way, but instead something with a real attitude. In fact I was disappointed that Lane’s salty sarcasm wasn’t played-up even more as it’s funny and on-target and made it easy to see how her character was able to galvanize such a mass following.

On the slight downside I felt her relationship with her two band-mates (Marin Kanter, Laura Dern) with one of them being her sister and the other her cousin got underplayed. The irony is that Dern sued her mother, actress Diane Ladd, in court in order to work on the movie as Ladd felt she was too young to travel on-location to do the shoot. Dern obviously won the battle, but the fight seemed hardly worth it as she ends up having very little to say or do.

Spoiler Alert!

The only time that things becomes insincere is when the Looters head singer (Ray Winstone) performs the opening act for The Stains and is met with a hostile response by her fans, so in retaliation he informs them that Corinne is a corporate sell-out and just like that they all turn on her. Having an entire stadium of young people go from rapid fans to extreme haters in a matter of seconds is just not realistic and one of the reasons why I believe this film did not do well upon its initial release and required a different ending put in, which was filmed several years later, in order to help salvage it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: October 16, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lou Adler

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Popeye (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like spinach.

Popeye (Robin Williams) is a sailor who travels to the seaside village of Sweet Haven in search of his long lost father (Ray Walston). It is there that he moves into the upstairs room of the Oyl residence and becomes attracted to their daughter Olive (Shelley Duvall). Olive though is engaged to the gruff Bluto (Paul L. Smith) whose bullying ways is giving Olive second thoughts. When she tries to leave town in order to avoid the impending marriage she meets Popeye and they get into a relationship while also coming upon an orphaned baby that they name Swee’pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt), but Bluto becomes determined to destroy their union by kidnapping the child.

I remember watching the Popeye cartoons growing up and while I was never much of a fan this film version fails to replicate the original storylines. In the cartoons the relationship between Olive and Popeye seemed in constant flux and many times Olive would be ‘stolen away’ by Bluto’s courting and Popeye would have to win her back. Here the confrontations between Bluto and Popeye are played down significantly and there’s only two fight sequences between them and they last for only a few minutes.

The biggest difference though is that here Popeye doesn’t like spinach even though in the cartoons his spinach consumption was the whole reason he got his strength. Apparently when Popeye was introduced in 1929 he got his strength from rubbing the hairs on a magical whiffle hen named Bernice, but modern day audiences equate Popeye with spinach and changing this concept makes it seem like the film is not staying true to form. Kids who enjoyed the cartoons come to the movie expecting the same theme not watching something that’s going to take what they love into a completely different direction. What’s worse is that here there’s no explanation for how Popeye gets his amazing strength, which makes the already loopy storyline even dumber.

Williams gives a great performance, but his presence gets drowned out by the introduction of too many other characters including Paul Dooley as Wimpy who almost seems to have more screen time. Watching Walston play an older version of Popeye as the father is not funny, but instead incredibly annoying and again only helps to overshadow Williams’ great work.

I originally thought the casting of Duvall was inspired as I don’t think there’s any other actress living or dead who shares the physical traits of the Olive Oyl character quite as well as Duvall and in fact she admitted in interviews that she was nicknamed Olive Oyl by the school kids growing up. However, she overplays Olive’s nervous mannerisms which become repetitive and irritating while her attempts at singing are beyond bad.

The town of Sweet Haven, which took seven months to construct and consisted of 19 buildings built off the cost of Malta that still stands today, are the film’s strongest element, but everything else from its unfocused script evaporates into a mass sea of boredom. Robert Altman, who can be a great director at times, was the wrong choice for this type of production. He excels at doing existential adult dramas not kiddie flicks and children watching this thing will most assuredly become bored and the adults will too.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hairspray (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Integrate the dance show.

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) audition for ‘The Corny Collins Show’ a local teen dance contest. Penny isn’t able to make the cut, but Tracy is much to the infuriation of the snotty Amber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) who was the show’s reigning dance queen. The rivalry between the two heats up even more when Tracy tries to integrate the show with black performers which incites Amber’s racist parents (Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry) to resort to desperate and violent means in order to keep the show segregated.

This was the movie where John Waters became a legitimate filmmaker who could use his craft to create a story instead of making a movie that was simply a foray into crude humor. When he first broke into the underground scene his films such as Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingoes, and Female Trouble where refreshingly trashy and daring to show things other movies wouldn’t. The stark frankness and complete disregard of who it offended were both hilarious and groundbreaking, but by the time it got to 1981’s Polyester the formula had gotten stale and hearing campy characters shout incessantly at each other was becoming derivative while also exposing Waters as possibly being just a one-dimensional talent who was sadly losing his edge.

This film though was a complete change-of-pace with each shot and scene a loving tribute to his days growing up in Baltimore during the 50’s and early 60’s. The film has a lot of dance numbers that normally could bog the pace down, but here I got into the energy of it and it helped me to feel even more like I had been transported into a different time period. The musical soundtrack is filled with a lot of lesser known songs which most viewers will have never heard of and thus helping the film’s soundtrack avoid sounding like just another generic playlist from an oldies radio station.

Divine’s presence is much less crucial to the story’s plotline than in Waters’ past films. Sadly by this time his/her appearance was looking even more like just some fat guy wearing wig and no longer coming off in any way as being an overweight woman even though in the past films it was at times hard to tell. His physique looked so out of shape here that it should be no surprise that he died of a sudden heart attack just three weeks after the film’s release. In fact as the mother he really isn’t funny or engaging at all and only in a brief few scenes where he plays the station’s cantankerous owner Arvin Hodgepile does he show actual energy and gets a few laughs.

The original idea was to have Divine play both the roles of the mother and daughter, but fortunately that got nixed and Ricki Lake was brought in. She has a genuine, honest presence about her that creates instant empathy and it’s nice having a film showing an overweight person where her body type did not impede her from achieving her goals nor work as a detriment at keeping her down.

The supporting cast is eclectic, but unfortunately most are wasted particularly Jerry Stiller and Sonny Bono as the two fathers. Debbie Harry is great with her increasingly outrageous beehive hairdos, which become the most memorable and imaginative thing about the film. Lesser known actress Joanne Havrilla is quite funny as Penny’s racist mother especially the scene where she panics when trapped in a black neighborhood. John Waters himself gets some good comic bits playing Penny’s quack psychiatrist and Pia Zadora is engaging as a pot smoking beatnik.

The film is full of comical highlights that playfully runs the gamut between subtle, over-the-top and crude that somehow works to form a cohesive whole culminating in a very funny ‘race riot’ at the end. If the film has any fault it is in the fact that it treats racism in a little too much of a trivial way like it is just some silly thing that can be easily fixed instead of the serious and deep-rooted issue that it really is.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 16, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Waters

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Staying Alive (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tony juggles two women.

It’s been 5 years and Tony Manero (John Travolta) is still struggling to make it big in the dancing world in this sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Now instead of working at a paint store he’s employed as a nightclub waiter while spending his days desperately going to every agent in New York looking for a break, but getting none. He’s in a relationship with Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes), but when a hot new dancer named Laura (Finola Hughes) catches his eye he decides to have a fling with her, which further complicates the fact that all three of them are dancing in the Broadway production of ‘Satan’s Alley’.

The idea of turning a classic movie into a sequel should’ve been given the kibosh from the start as that film conveyed such a perfect slice-of-life tale that it didn’t need any continuing. This film also doesn’t have any of the key players from the first including Donna Pescow and Karen Lynn Gorney. It was Travolta’s and Gorney’s relationship that made that movie sizzle, so if you’re not going to have her then why even bother making it as it’s hollow and incomplete otherwise. Too much time had also elapsed and disco was no longer trendy by the early ‘80s, so to compensate they tried gearing it more to the struggles of working on a dance line, but only succeeds at making it seem like a poor man’s version of A Chorus Line.

The romantic angle is uninteresting. Tony becomes attracted to Laura in the same way that he did with Karen Lynn Gorney, which was by watching her dance, which makes it formulaic and redundant. The Laura character is also quite kooky by constantly giving Tony the hot-and-cold act making her seem like someone with a split personality disorder. Jackie on the-other-hand is dull and catches on to Tony’s two-timing too quickly and then does nothing about it, which kills off any possible tension or drama. Tony himself is equally useless. Travolta plays him well, which is the only saving grace, as he manages create an engaging character despite the shitty way he treats Jackie, which normally would make him unlikable.

The scenes between Tony and his mother (Julie Bovasso) are touching and the best moments in the film although she’s played more like a real person here and not the comic caricature like in the first one. The garish set designs and special effects used to create the scenes for the play ‘Satan’s Alley’ at the end may be good for a few laughs, but it’s so over-the-top and campy that it degrades any serious intention that the film may have otherwise had. Watching the older audience members including Tony’s mother stand-up and applaud the play after it was over seemed disingenuous as I think most of them would in reality be rolling-their-eyes  and asking themselves ‘what the hell did I just watch’ instead.

The musical score, which was such a strong element in the first film, is completely lacking. Instead of a pounding soundtrack we get jazzy songs better suited for a quiet lounge. Absolutely nothing works except maybe inducing 93 minutes of boredom, which in that regards it does quite successfully.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

S.O.B. (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes topless.

Movie producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) is suffering from what they call in Hollywood as Standard Operating Bullshit. His recent film, a family oriented musical that starred his wife Sally (Julie Andrews) and was titled ‘Night Wind’ is a box office flop. Now no one wants to work with him and the studio tries to reedit the film in an attempt to ‘save it’. All of which sends Felix on verge of suicide until he gets the idea of turning the movie into a soft core porn flick and having  Sally bare her breasts in it.

The film is loosely based on experiences that writer/director Blake Edwards had along with his real-life wife actress Julie Andrews during the early ‘70s when their project Darling Lilli did not do well financially and his next several films after that met with lots of studio interference before he was finally able to rebound by resurrecting the Pink Panther franchise.

The satirical jabs are obvious but amusing and the real problems come more with the shallow/jaded characters. Even the wholesome Sally comes off as cold with her rather ambivalent reaction to her husband’s depression/suicide attempt. There is also a running gag dealing with a man (Herb Tanney) who has heart attack at the beach while jogging and his loyal dog stays by his side even though no one else pays attention to it, which starts out as darkly amusing, but eventually gets cruelly overplayed.

Mulligan makes a flat impression as the star to the point of being almost transparent. For the first half he doesn’t say a single word while behaving in an overly exaggerated despondent way. When he finally snaps out of this he then eagerly tries to sell-out on his own film vision simply so it can make a buck, which makes him no better than the rest of the scummy Hollywood elites that he is supposedly trying to fight. Andrews is boring too and her brief topless scene comes off as exploitive and ill-advised.

The best bits come from its supporting cast. Robert Preston as the perpetually inebriated doctor has a few great lines and Robert Webber does well as a very nervous, high-strung press agent. Loretta Swit is hilarious as a bitchy, cantankerous gossip columnist who gets cooped up in a hospital after an accident and an almost unrecognizable Larry Storch hams it up under heavy make-up as a spiritual guru. There is also Robert Vaughn wearing high heels and women’s clothing.

I enjoyed the film within a film approach and the tawdry dream-like sequence scene, but the story suffers from adding in too much slapstick including a drawn-out car chase that seems suited for a completely different type of movie. For mild comedy it is okay, but as satire it fails to make any strong or impactful statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Youtube

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

decline-of-western-civil-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Heavy Metal scene.

Director Penelope Spheeris returns to the L.A. music scene this time chronicling heavy metal bands and looking at the lifestyles of those who are in it. This film has a bigger budget, less of a grainy look, and more irreverent than the first installment.

The interviews are again what make the film interesting and I liked how Spheeris brings in a broad scope of people to talk to, which includes members from bands desperately trying to break-in as well as veterans who’ve made it to the top and their many groupies and fans. There’s even an interview with a parole officer talking about the ‘evil influence’ the music has on teens and their attempts at ‘deprogramming’ them, but even then she breaks into laughter when Spheeris asks her about Ozzy Osbourne and his dangerous ‘satanic’ message.

There’s also an interview with a bubble-headed beauty queen at a sleazy strip bar whose name is Cindy D. Birmisa and who talks about wanting to get into modeling and ‘actressing’ and made such a strong impression at being the perfect caricature of a dim-witted blonde that she became the inspiration to Christina Applegate’s character in the hit series ‘Married With Children’. The film’s most notorious scene though deals with W.A.S.P. lead singer Chris Holmes doing an interview while in a pool and completely drunk, but what he says and does isn’t half as interesting as seeing his Mother’s reactions to it who sits poolside.

Like in the first film the living conditions of some of these bands is less than glamorous including seeing several members and their groupies cramming themselves into a small camper, which was their sole ‘residence’. I also enjoyed the segment that cuts back and forth between band members discussing how they take advantage of their groupies while these same groupies talk about how they do the exact same thing to the guys in reverse. Hearing all these wannabe’s discuss how they ‘will succeed’ as rock stars and ‘failure is not an option’ is tarnished only by the fact that we can’t see where they are now and how time most likely has forced them to adjust their outlooks.

I was also fascinated by the fact that the tone in this one had shifted drastically from the first one where anger and rebellion permeated every scene. Outside of their wildly over-the-top ‘80’s hairstyles, which makes the film enjoyable to watch just for that, there really isn’t all that much nonconformity from these participants, or if there is it’s in the most shallow of contexts . Their mission here seems more on becoming ‘rich and famous’ and reaping the benefits of system instead of exposing its many flaws. The theatrics are certainly there, but the essence of what underground rock was truly meant to be about seems to have gotten lost on white suburban kids who simply want to exploit the medium as a quick shot to fame.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Penelope Spheeris

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

decline-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Punk Rock Scene.

A fascinating and surprisingly intimate look at the L.A. punk rock scene of the late ‘70s. The film starts out by showing footage of several concerts with fans jumping up and down like they are on a pogo stick and getting into violent clashes with other fans by physically attacking each other unprovoked. Shots of various band members in garish make-up, outfits and behaviors are also shown, which could give one the feeling that the state of humanity is truly on the decline, but then the film cuts away and we are treated to interviews of the people involved where we start seeing them as actual multi-dimensional human beings who are simply unhappy with the establishment and fighting to have a voice.

The interviews are the best part and I was impressed with how candid many of them were and the introspection some of them showed with one stating that punk rock was simply an excuse to ‘make an ass of himself and get away with it.’ The most shocking moment comes when you see the sleeping quarters of one of the bands, which was in the closet of some dingy, cramped, graffiti laden room that wasn’t much bigger than a storage closet and housed all the members for a mere $16 a month, which was all they could afford.

Another memorable moment deals with Darby Crash, who died from a heroin overdose before the film’s release, and watching him play with a tarantula spider that he allows to crawl all over him. The final segment dealing with Lee Ving the lead singer of the group Fear spitting at his audience who then spit back before they charge the stage and physically attempt to attack him is vivid.

When John Doe and Exene Cervenka sing the song ‘We’re Desperate: Get Used to It’ you know that they are speaking straight from experience, which is what ultimately makes this excursion so impactful. These aren’t rich rock stars from the ‘burbs with million dollar contracts spouting about hardships they’ve never had. Instead we get people that are at society’s bottom speaking to others who feel the same way and who are desperately looking for an outlet for their aggressions and anger. The interviews with some of the fans are equally enlightening and helps shed light on many of their troubled lives.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Penelope Spheeris

Studio: Spheeris Films Inc.

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video