Video Killed the Video Star: Short Movie Reviews

Video Killed the Video Star: Short Movie Reviews April 8, 2015

Blonde Venus: This is a severely odd movie. Dir. Josef von Sternberg. Cabaret star Marlene Dietrich is wooed, won, and whisked off to America by Herbert Marshall… but when she has to return to her nightclub job and Cary Grant starts tiptoeing around, all bets are off. Going in I only knew this as “the one where Dietrich sings in a gorilla suit” but maybe the most memorable part of it is the extended passage in which she tries to avoid losing custody of her child due to homelessness. The ending is as rancid as Measure for Measure but there’s really no way it could be otherwise given the setup.

Restrepo: “And I thought, ‘Oh snap, this is where I’m gonna die.'”

Intimate, very short documentary portrait of US soldiers in Afghanistan. I’ve seen a couple photo series of soldiers before, during, and after their time in war. It seemed like during active duty they mostly looked straight ahead: focused, confident, brows knit, intent and challenging. Both before and after they looked young and uncertain. They looked much younger after war than before it. That holds true here.

No editorializing or big-picture; that’s not what this movie is for. Perfect close-credits song.

Memories of Murder: Bong Joon-ho (Mother, which I’ve seen, and Snowpiercer which I haven’t) makes a serial-killer-hunt flick and it is pretty amazing. Breathtaking landscapes, extremely brutal violence and humiliation, a backdrop of 1980s South Korean political unrest. Memorable, yeah.

The Taking of Deborah Logan: Ferociously tense horror flick with two sharply-drawn characters at the center: Deborah, whose rapidly-advancing Alzheimer’s may be hiding something worse; and Sarah, her daughter and caretaker, who is fraying at the edges as she struggles to cope with her mother’s deteriorating mental state. I’m hesitant to say much more. This is very effectively-done (and doesn’t demonize age and weakness the way, for example, the Willard remake did) despite some sloppy, imo racist elements in the backstory or mythology. Ending is a bit pat. But Sarah Logan is a great horror character facing a situation as poignant as it is scary.

Tapeheads: 1988 music-industry satire starring John Cusack in all his greasy glory, and Tim Robbins without any tics. On Netflix streaming!

(Side note: One of Roger Ebert’s last reviews suggested that Miles Teller “has a touch of John Cusack.” There’s a lot to that, but where Cusack’s characters’ dark side is all greasy, self-justifying flop sweat, Teller’s have an ability to switch on a kind of instant dead-eyed nihilism. Cusack is all, “I’m gonna get your money, okay, you’ve gotta give me some time here,” and Teller’s just, “Yeah we’re done.”)

Every detail in this movie is perfect. I grinned my way through it. It’s that buoyant ’80s sweet-smell-of-success thing, all the morality tales are postponed, let’s make lots of money. And we’ll have fun fun fun ’til atomics blow the Commies away! “Cashflow, cashflow, cashflow!” “We’re gonna make him eat that syllable.” “Josh, the man is dead! You’re not gonna get a different line reading!” The birthday party in the after-hours building, toward the start of the movie, is one of the all-time great party chaos scenes in cinema. The women hanging batlike upside-down in the elevator!

That distinctive brownish haze over LA. Those amazing commercials for Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles!

Menudo (which becomes an excuse for a specific type of obnoxious racial humor, the thing where it’s supposed to be hilariously awful and yet relatable when white people are terrible to everybody else–“not cute” is I think the best way to summarize my problem with this), but also JELLO BIAFRA AND TED NUGENT, that happened. Credits include “Fetish Video Directrix” and “Assistant to Catfish.”

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

The Russians have satellite weapons;

Why can’t we have them too?

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