Archives for posts with tag: Native American

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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A Million Ways to Die in the West

 

Central to Post-American Hollywood’s hate affair with European-American heritage is its especial loathing for the rugged, expansive tradition of the masculine Old West, a tired spite that found expression in Brokeback Mountain (2005), Django Unchained (2012), and last year’s flop Lone Ranger remake, and now throws a new shovelful of Marxist manure onto the pile with A Million Ways to Die in the West, the latest directorial effort of Family Guy auteur Seth MacFarlane, whose last foray into feature filmmaking was the less heartless and more palatable Ted (2012).

The western spoof was never a genre that held much interest for this reviewer. After Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962), Little Big Man (1970), Thank You Mask Man (1971), Blazing Saddles (1974), and so many others, was there really such high demand for another one of these things? Worst is that A Million Ways to Die in the West misses even the broad target of this underachieving subgenre and fails to elicit a single laugh – with, perhaps, the brief exception of the absurd sight of Gilbert Gottfried dressed up to look like Abraham Lincoln.

MacFarlane, who stars as an Arizona sheep farmer, lacks the charisma and color to carry a gonzo film of this sort, and might have done better to cast Seth Rogen or some other funny Jew in the lead. Monument Valley, at least, was never more gorgeous, and sets off race traitoress Charlize Theron’s earthy beauty to nice effect. Liam Neeson, too, is adequate as the principal villain, while Sarah Silverman is convincing as (what a stretch!) a brainless whore. No coup of casting, however, could offset the fact that A Million Ways to Die in the West is too explicitly nasty, self-aware, and mean-spirited to evoke any genuine mirth.

2 out of 5 stars. ICA’s advice: watch Shane (1953) again instead. That is, unless the viewer is absolutely determined to see a sheep urinating in Seth MacFarlane’s face or Doogie Howser, M.D., dumping noisy splats of diarrhea into a Stetson.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Million Ways to Die in the West is:

13. Pro-miscegenation. Giovanni Ribisi dirties himself with Jewish floozy Sarah Silverman.

12. Anti-capitalistic. Merchants receive unfavorable depictions in an arrogant mustache cosmetics salesman (Doogie Howser) and a quack medicine hawker (Dennis Haskins). Other representative forms of commerce and industry are prostitution and mining, which leads to health problems.

11. Anti-tobacco. MacFarlane has a coughing fit when he tries his first cigarette.

10. Anti-Arab. Theron, after hearing him do a mock rendition of an Islamic prayer, is relieved to learn that MacFarlane has no Arabian ancestry.

9. Anti-slavery (i.e., pro-yawn). Django himself, Jamie Foxx, shows up in a cameo to murder the proprietor of a “runaway slave” shooting game at a fair.

8. Anti-human. Among the sights MacFarlane expects the viewer to find hilarious are a family catching on fire and men being shot, gored by a bull, and smashed into bloody bits by a falling block of ice.

7. Pro-slut. Sarah Silverman with a gob of semen stuck to her cheek. How charming.

6. Anti-Christian. Parkinson’s disease is sarcastically described as one of the ways God shows His love. A pastor and his son are murderers. Silverman plays a prostitute who bangs ten customers “on a slow day” but refuses to compromise her Christian beliefs by having premarital sex with her fiance.

5. Pro-castration. MacFarlane’s girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him, mainly because the guy is such a wimpy, needy schmuck with no potential. The movie’s somewhat ambivalent solution to his woes, however, is not for the hero to turn himself into a stud and a macho gunslinger, but for him to become more open-minded, study under the tutelage of a feminist, take drugs, and embrace diversity. Sissy, progressive, ethnomasochistic men like MacFarlane and Ribisi are the characters the viewer is supposed to like, while traditionally masculine types are antagonists, with rough-loving outlaw Liam Neeson getting a daisy stuffed in his ass. Men, the message seems to be, ought not to toughen up so much as opt for moderation in wimpiness.

4. Gun-ambivalent. A Million Ways to Die in the West is naturally eager to depict the typical gun owner as a rowdy Caucasian who likes nothing better than to find an excuse to put a bullet through a stranger. The film finds itself in a bit of a quandary, however, in that it is difficult to tell an entertaining story about the Wild West without making use of heroic gunplay. As a compromise, the film features an unlikely, reluctant hero in MacFarlane, a man with no natural talent for shooting and who avoids confrontation when possible, but does learn (from a woman) how to handle a gun in order to protect himself from all of the horrible, unprogressive white men in town. A Million Ways to Die in the West appears to suggest that firearms are best left as a monopoly of responsible feminists like Charlize Theron.

3. Pro-drug. MacFarlane and Theron share a marijuana cookie. The hero later attains “true courage” by drinking a psychedelic concoction given to him by an Indian tribe. Group freakout sessions, explains their wise chief (Wes Studi), constitute the way to “true happiness”.

2. Feminist, anti-marriage, and anti-family. Theron heroically liberates herself from bossy, abusive husband Liam Neeson. MacFarlane’s parents are lifeless sourpusses who never show him any affection. Ribisi, meanwhile, mentions being molested by an uncle. (cf. nos. 5 and 8)

1. Anti-American. “The West fuckin’ sucks.”

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