Archives for posts with tag: drive-in movies

out_of_the_furnace_poster

Christian Bale racks up another career highlight performance as Russell Baze, a good but deeply flawed man at the end of his tether in Out of the Furnace, a strong, deeply American film from writer-director-to-watch Scott Cooper. Baze is an endearing dead-end ex-con and mill worker who, in a relationship reminiscent of that between Keitel and DeNiro in Mean Streets, attempts to look out for his war-damaged deadbeat brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). Rodney is in debt but uninterested in conventional employment, leading to his involving himself in the dangerous world of underground fighting.

Out of the Furnace stands as a stark statement that the American Dream is deceased. Its rust belt setting rings all too true, and a barroom television moment more subtle than a similar scene in 2012’s Killing Them Softly shows that Obama’s hope-and-change rhetoric has no reality for the typical working (or unemployed) stiff. Out of the Furnace is a film of its time and timely, its story enthralling, with each frame carrying fascination and a feeling of immediate importance.

Those who enjoy tense, earthy family dramas and character studies with gritty, realistic settings – movies like Sling Blade, Mud, or The Place Beyond the Pines – are certain to appreciate Out of the Furnace, which, in addition to the showcased character creation of Christian Bale, features sharp supporting performances from Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana, and Willem Dafoe. Deserving special recognition, furthermore, is Woody Harrelson, frightening light-years from Cheers here as hillbilly drug kingpin Harlan DeGroat. Harrelson’s hot dog moment in the opening scene sets the grotesque, tenebrous tone of the film and constitutes the most shocking piece of fast food humiliation since the fried chicken scene in 2011’s Killer Joe.

5 stars. Highest recommendation.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Out of the Furnace is:

7. Diversity-skeptical. In one of his underground fights, Rodney is pitted against a black thug who taunts him, calling him “white boy” and mocking his military service. Pleasantly, Rodney makes a comeback and gives this rascal a vicious and racially charged beatdown.

6. Antiwar. Rodney comes back from Iraq as an angry and alienated man.

5. Protectionist. The mill is scheduled to be shut down, with American jobs exported to China.

4. Pro-miscegenation. Notwithstanding no. 7, Russell is in love with brown beauty Lena (Zoe Saldana), but loses her after his stint in the pen.

3. Anti-drug. Drunk driving lands Russell in prison. Harder stuff turns Harlan DeGroat into a maniac.

2. Anti-redneck. Harlan DeGroat is the scariest white trash bad guy since Deer Crossing‘s Lukas Walton.

1. Pro-family. Russell Baze is driven by his devotion to his family, caring as best he can for his sick father and brother while both are still alive, and diligently avenging them after they are gone.

Bikini Drive-In

Bikini Drive-In (1995) ****1/2  One of the quintessential Fred Olen Ray classics, Bikini Drive-In features all of the traits his fans have come to expect over the years: campy acting from a mix of has-beens and shapely young performers, genuine American trash culture nostalgia, a man in a monster suit, broad humor, and heaping helpings of big, bare breasts!  Or the world’s cheapest special effect, as Ray might put it.  The plot, a variation on the old motley-crew-of-underdogs-bands-together-to-raise-money-to-save-the-[insert school, summer camp, or recreation venue] Roller Boogie or Screwball Hotel type, finds beach babe Ashlie Rhey inheriting a decrepit drive-in theater and having to fight to save it from real estate gangster David Friedman.

Thousands of dollars have to be raised in one weekend – what to do?  Fortunately, the mogul’s son, the adorably dorky Richard Gabai, has the hots for Ashlie and comes to her rescue with the idea of turning the family-friendly but deadsville drive-in into a bacchanalian gonzo bikini-infested party headquarters and showing exploitation films like Ray’s own Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.  All of this, of course, is a fine excuse to show scantily clad floozies cleaning up the drive-in montage-style in preparation for the gala opening (and turning the hoses on each other, naturally).  What then follows during the film’s final act is one of the greatest party/riot/saturnalia sequences in memory – maybe not quite as happening as Animal House or Bachelor Party, but pretty mightily crazy and loose.

The cast is a real bonanza for fans of the Wynorski-Ray-DeCoteau-Sloane heyday of low-budget L.A. cinema.  Michelle Bauer appears to sizzling effect as a sultry scream queen duped into appearing at the gala re-opening; seedy Ross Hagen is one of Friedman’s henchmen; Tane McClure, renowned stripper Nikki Fritz, and porn actress Sarah Bellomo (aka Roxanne Blaze) are among the film’s many bimbos; and Becky LeBeau (so memorable as the nearsighted stripper in Not of This Earth), in addition to performing some of Bikini Drive-In‘s pleasantly cheesy soft rock songs, plays a stripper recruited to seduce cocky disc jockey Fred Olen Ray.  Other cameos include Gordon Mitchell, Forrest Ackerman, Jim Wynorski, and (posthumously, via photograph) even John Carradine.  Bikini Drive-In is essential viewing for any fan of Ray, Gabai, big breasts, or drive-in movies, and the interior sets are a treasure trove of posters for vintage exploitation films like Death Curse of Tartu, Sting of Death, Cannibal Girls, and Wild, Free, and Hungry.  4.5 of 5 possible stars.  Recommended.

Assault Nerds 2

Assault of the Party Nerds II: The Heavy Petting Detective (1995) ****  First of all, any nerd movie or cheap trash aficionado who is not yet an admirer of the redoubtable Richard Gabai and has not yet watched the incomparable Assault of the Party Nerds needs to do so immediately.  Gabai, an actor who better than any other strikes a captivating balance between accessibly handsome and hopelessly if charmingly dweeby and made a semi-star of sorts of himself in that 1989 Revenge of the Nerds-inspired opus, returns as writer-director-star of its sequel, The Heavy Petting Detective, which, clearly designed with the intention of pleasing fans of the original, has also reunited several members of its cast, including Christopher Dempsey and Robert Dorfmann as secretly gay jocks Bud and Chip; scream queens Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley as airheads Muffin and Bambi; and even, in a cameo, hairy Richard Rifkin as the World’s Oldest Living Active.  New and welcome additions to the Party Nerds coterie include Laugh-In‘s Arte Johnson; Batman‘s Burt Ward; USA Up All Night‘s Rhonda Shear (sporting some outrageous hair and kooky outfits that have to be seen); Tane McClure as Dempsey’s seductive secretary; and Tony Scaduto, Spridle Esponda, and Steve Rosenbaum as a trio of next-generation party nerds.

Long since having graduated, Gabai’s alter ego Ritchie Spencer is currently working as a private detective and finds himself mixed up in a wacky imbroglio involving his old greek life acquaintances and rivals when Burt Ward hires him to investigate his son-in-law, who just happens to be the narcissistic and villainous Bud, now married to Muffin and working as an executive at her father’s company.  Bud, having discovered that Muffin has actually inherited the business, concocts a fiendish scheme to sow discord between his wife and her family and so get her to sign the company over to him.  In the course of his investigation, which has to compete for Spencer’s time with a concurrent case involving an elusive potato chip truck driver, Spencer also catches up with Bambi, who, while still somewhat ditzy, has become a cynical, sexually jaded golddigger.  Also complicating matters is the fact that the nerds’ fraternity has fallen on hard times and that the jocks, it turns out, own the deed on the property and are threatening to evict the brothers.  Can the nerds save their frat house?  Will Muffin ever win her husband’s affection again?  Will Spencer ever grow up?  Will the new generation of party nerds rise to the occasion like their forebears and manage to lose their virginity before they graduate?  Naturally, and in the venerable Party Nerds tradition, everything comes to a head at a zany fraternity party.

Though not quite as classic as Assault of the Party Nerds, The Heavy Petting Detective is in some ways superior and offers a lot to recommend it.  In addition to the over-the-top commitment of its entirely colorful cast, the film is fast-paced and never slows down long enough to be boring, even when the humor is occasionally (or usually) lame.  Gabai’s pop ‘n’ roll band, the Checks, provides several upbeat songs (some also featured in Bikini Drive-In) that contribute to the movie’s tempo and harmless, friendly feeling for the viewer.  A few gags are repeated from Assault of the Party Nerds, which, depending on individual taste and affection for the original, could be a plus or a minus.  In the end, however, what probably matters most for partisans of independent VHS glory days, is that The Heavy Petting Detective brings Michelle Bauer, Richard Gabai, and Linnea Quigley together again to do their things, and what, in all honesty, could be better than that?  4 of 5 possible checks.

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