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Human Highway

Human Highway (1982) ****

Co-scripted and directed by eccentric rocker Neil Young (using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey), Human Highway is the weirdo sort of movie destined from its inception to become an item of cult interest. Young stars as lamebrained mechanic Lionel, who dreams of rock stardom while making a mess of his duties at Dean Stockwell’s roadside gas station and diner, where coworkers include Sally Kirkland, Russ Tamblyn, and Dennis Hopper. The diner is situated near a nuclear power plant where the boys from Devo work and are exposed to so much radiation that they actually glow with red light. Stockwell, who has inherited the diner from his father and finds it in financial disarray, gets the idea to torch his unprofitable business and be rid of it; but will he be able to hatch his plot before toxic waste, radiation poisoning, or a full-blown nuclear holocaust throws a monkey wrench into his plans?

More of a gratuitously bizarre curiosity than a genuinely admirable film, Human Highway remains a valuable document of the prevailing new wave musical sensibility of the day as applied to cinema, and also conveys the anxieties of the eighties about the possibility of nuclear holocaust and the threat to man and the environment posed by toxic waste. This black comedy’s script, unfortunately, too often aims for the random and leaves most of the ideas and characters underdeveloped, while the production values are on the order of a typical episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse – which, depending upon the viewer’s individual taste, could be a blessing or a curse. The film really starts to fall apart from a narrative standpoint during the second half, with (for some reason) a montage of Native Americans dancing around a bonfire of wooden Indians and Lionel dreaming after being knocked unconscious of rock-and-roll stardom and excess, and letting a groupie suck milk off of him with a straw. The high point of Human Highway is an extended bout of down-and-dirty, feedback-fried riffing and jamming between Neil Young and Devo, with the team totally freaking out and looking like a bunch of psychos.

4 out of 5 glass parking lots.

Incident at Channel Q

Incident at Channel Q (1986) *****

Al Corley headlines this trash heap treasure as Rick Van Ryan, a smug, sarcastic, rebel-rousing VJ at regional television station Q 23. The teenagers love him, but stick-in-the-mud suburbanite parents and Christian conservatives are all in a tizzy and picketing Rick’s unwholesome influence, demanding that his program, Heavy Metal Heaven, be taken off the air in order to save young people’s souls. Corporate sponsors are getting nervous, the old guard at Q 23 hates his guts, and the Tipper Gore ticket is getting unruly, with two right-wing brutes ambushing Rick in an alley and beating him up, after which the young radical moves to bring the cultural crisis to a head, barricading himself inside the TV station and calling on his followers to lend him support. 

What passes for a story line in Incident at Channel Q is primarily a pretext for exhibiting a series of then-recent music videos in their entirety, these videos – ranging from Rush to Rainbow, KISS, Iron Maiden, and all points in between – taking up half or more of the movie and simulating the experience of watching 80 minutes or so of MTV on a typical day in the 1980s. The music, for the most part, is fantastic stuff for 80s rock buffs, with a trio of videos – Lita Ford’s “Gotta Let Go”, the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, and Motley Crue’s vicious “Looks That Kill”  – constituting some of the greatest, most outlandishly photogenic material ever committed to film. Poofy hair, horror lighting, whore makeup, chintzy sets, studded leather wristbands, tight pants, and other depravity abound, with KISS’s “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” being another fun and action-packed video, while others – Rush’s “Body Electric” and Deep Purple’s “Knocking at Your Back Door” – showcase the post-apocalyptic imagery that was popular in those years.

5 pentagrams for the rock and the morally righteous camp value. VHS copies of Incident at Channel Q are inexpensive, so readers who see one languishing on a used bookstore shelf or in a moldy box in a basement are advised to redeem it or suffer the vengeful disfavor of Satan. 

 

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teenbeachmovie

Teenage surf enthusiasts Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack (Maia Mitchell) find themselves transported into a 1962 movie musical called Wet Side Story after they catch a bogus wave and wipe out via a magical time warp, thus setting into motion Teen Beach Movie, a weak Disney Channel send-up of the classic beach party vehicles of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The two modern protagonists naturally set about infecting their more picturesque forebears with cultural Marxism, all while singing several songs, and also succeed in halting the dastardly plot of villainous real estate developer Les Camembert (Steve Valentine), who of course has no other aim in life than to rain on the fun of young, freewheeling surfers and bikers.

The songs, all fairly generic, are too obviously lip-synced, and an inescapable air of the plastic prevails for Teen Beach Movie‘s grinding duration. The principals in the cast, however, are uniformly photogenic, bright, and enthusiastic, doing whatever they can with such substandard material. Top-billed Ross Lynch and super-suave Garrett Clayton, who resembles young George Hamilton in Where in the Boys Are and may have been cast as “Tanner” for that reason, definitely have the look of ascendant stars, while fathers goaded into subjecting themselves to this wacky butt-wipeout of a flick may at least console themselves that the girls on display, from Mitchell to Grace Phipps and Chrissie Fit (who does a trampy Fran Drescher impression throughout), are all pretty easy on the eyes. Barry Bostwick – who, against all odds, has managed to add to his resume a movie even gayer than The Rocky Horror Picture Show – has a minor supporting role as Big Poppa, Mack’s grandfather.

ICA’s advice: gather the family around the tube for a wholesome screening of Point Break instead.

Point Break

2.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Teen Beach Movie is:

9. Pro-gay. The aerial view of a Busby Berkeley-style surfboards-and-beach-balls dance number is vaguely homoerotic.

8. Christ-ambivalent. Big Momma (LaVon Fisher-Wilson) is given to exclamations like “Hallelujah!”, but Big Poppa’s pendant resembles an inverted crucifix.

7. Antiwar. “All fighting ever did for us was stop us from seeing what we all have in common.”

6. Pro-immigration. Territoriality and tribalism are hangups to be overcome. Mack and Brady, when they first wash up on shore, are given a chilly reception as “ho-dads” or outsiders, but the bikers and surfers all come to accept them. “You guys are strange. I like that.”

5. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation. The 1960s “gangs” are retroactively integrated, with whites, blacks, and browns intermixing in dance.

4. Green. Camembert threatens to cause party-pooping climate change with his secret weapon.

3. Anti-capitalistic. Bad guy Camembert is described as an “evil real estate mogul”. Private schools, in this case the ominously monickered “Dunwich Preparatory Academy”, are characterized derogatorily. Riot and industrial sabotage win the day.

2. Pro-castration. Brady dyes his hair. Butchy (John DeLuca), the leader of biker gang the Rodents, cries with emotion and is revealed at the end to have an irrational fear of lighthouses.

1. Feminist. That protagonist MacKenzie goes by the mannish-sounding “Mack” for short is significant, as her abrasive feminism rears its nasty snout at every turn. Mack hates Wet Side Story, objecting to all of the motivationless singing and the fact that “the girls never surf as well as the boys.” Showing her stuff, she easily out-surfs the arrogant Tanner. “Why does she need a boy to be happy?” Mack asks Brady about one of the girls. “Because it’s 1962,” he explains. “Why should a boy influence what you choose to wear? Or anything you do?” Mack exhorts her still-feminine early 60s counterparts. “We can do anything a guy can do.” She encourages them to become more sexually aggressive and generally more assertive as well as less appealing in their apparel.

“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story,” writer John Barth has said.  Not everyone can be Cary Grant or Arnold Schwarzenegger, however.  Real people tend to be more complicated, less successful, and make terrible mistakes that dog them for the rest of their lives – which can nonetheless be heroic within the context of their lives-as-films.  The ragged, damaged life of carnival stunt rider Luke Glanton is one such story of tragic heroism, and his film, appropriately, is as beautiful, messy, epic, haunting, and asymmetrical as is life itself.

Audaciously and frustratingly structured as a triptych, Derek Cianfrance’s new film The Place Beyond the Pines is really three interdependent stories, beginning with that of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), who as Handsome Luke and the Heartthrobs – his name echoing Paul Newman’s irrepressible, self-destructive rebel in Cool Hand Luke – risks his life on a regular basis for the amusement of strangers at carnivals.  When, during a sojourn in Schenectady, New York, he learns that one year previously a local waitress (Eva Mendes) conceived his child, Luke’s life is pitched into crisis as he yearns to play some part in the life of his infant son and the mother, who, however, is now involved with a black man, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who has adopted the child.

Luke Glanton immediately takes his place among the great character creations of the cinema, and Gosling is ideally cast to capture his combination of a wild, mythical quality with a naked humanity that touches the viewer from his first troubling, fascinating appearance onscreen.  Luke is a study in contradictions, of shadow and light, violence and love, with his brooding dark eyes and pretty blonde hair, his playboy looks and body scarred with tattoos telling the story of a lifetime’s worth of poor decisions.  A dripping dagger tear tattoo suggests both the sadness of the character and his mysterious criminal past.

Luke is absent after the first third of the film, replaced as protagonist by other, intersecting characters’ lives, but to tell too much about the stories in The Place Beyond the Pines would be to deprive the audience of the revelatory experience.  The succeeding segments of the film may not carry the same impact or immediacy of interest, but are definitely compelling, particularly insofar as these are informed and darkened or brightened in turn by Luke’s paternal and criminal legacy.  Flawed though it arguably is, The Place Beyond the Pines is a triumph for Gosling and Cianfrance, rich in atmosphere and unique music, and is one of the most striking films of the year – one that should be seen on the big screen while possible.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Place Beyond the Pines is:

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) gets high with the disgusting AJ (Emory Cohen), who also bullies him into stealing drugs for a party.  No definite judgment or consequences are attached to these behaviors apart from the threat of police interference and jail time, but the film does nothing really to glorify substance abuse – with, however, the possible exception of alcohol, when Luke’s old associate Robin (Killing Them Softly‘s Ben Mendelsohn, in a small but meaty role one wishes had been expanded) offers underaged Jason a beer in camaraderie.  Smoking, too, arguably receives an endorsement.

6. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn) – and yet surprisingly anti-wigger.  The revolting AJ, though a wigger himself, seems uneasy and put off by Jason’s mixed parentage.

5. Christian.  Luke has a tattoo of a Bible on one of his hands.  His religious views are never articulated, but one assumes that something approximating Christian morality motivates him to take responsibility for the child he has fathered.  Kofi attends church with Romina (Mendes) and sees to it that Luke’s son is baptized.

4. Anti-state.  Politicians are phony, opportunistic careerists, a mentality illustrated by one candidate’s itinerary cynically making room for visits to black churches.  Nor does the law apply equally when the perpetrator happens to be a politician or his relative.  Jason’s black market purchase of a pistol demonstrates the futility of gun control measures.

3. Family-ambivalent.  The film offers both positive and negative examples.

2. Pro-miscegenation/multiculturalist/pro-slut/pro-bastard.  Single mother Romina has no qualms about carrying on with two different men of different races while ostensibly committed to one.  Race realists and race deniers will, however, come away from The Place Beyond the Pines with totally different interpretations of the interracial triangle central to its story.  Progressives will see in Kofi’s relationship with Romina and his adoption of her bastard child a demonstration of multiculturalist harmony in application, with Kofi showing how a black man can do the responsible thing and raise a family, even one that is not his own, in a safe and loving environment.  Racially conscious whites will find in the triangle a horrific and repugnant allegory showing how the white man’s recklessness and poor management of his affairs have resulted in his thoughtless abdication of the future, with the disconcerting outcome that unworthy others will take and stain his office and bed and even father his descendents.

1. Anti-police/relativist.  The police, as typified by veteran Deluca (Ray Liotta), are corrupt and no better than the robbers and drug dealers they catch and whose families they harass.

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