A weird coincidence about this week’s mostly-disparate Blu-ray releases is that they seem to be about men who are in some way crazy and obsessed. That’s something, isn’t it? Anyway, an Oscar-nominated film leads off things this week, plus an anime that’s more fun than it probably has any right to be, and a two-pack of Blaxploitation horror films that are mostly silly but still a lot of fun. Let’s dive in!
One of the strangest stories in American sports, if you can even say that it is about sports. Foxcatcher is based on the true case of millionaire recluse John du Pont (Steve Carell) who was obsessed with Greco-Roman wrestling and brought in Olympic medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to be on the team he was founding, called “Team Foxcatcher” named after the compound he insisted all his wrestlers live on. While du Pont fancied himself a sportsman and a mentor to Mark, he actually was more interested in Mark’s older brother David (Mark Ruffalo) who had a job and a family elsewhere. Eventually David did get involved in the team, which, of course, ultimately led to a bizarre tragedy.
Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Director Bennett Miller, and the screenplay and makeup were all nominated for Oscars this year for their work on Foxcatcher. And fair enough; it could all be pointed to as exemplary. I just wish the movie hung together at all for me. I can’t really point to a reason why, but I guess I just wasn’t captivated by much in between the good things. It’s a very slow-moving film, much slower than Miller’s other laconic features Capote and Moneyball. There’s what has to be a full five-minute sequence of the Schultz brothers wrestling at the beginning of the film, and it’s supposed to show the athleticism and the rivalry already in place, but it also just kind of goes on and on.
Wouldn’t ever say this was a bad movie, because it clearly isn’t, it just didn’t rise about the aesthetic and the mannered performances into something that felt real. Your mileage may vary.
Space Dandy Season 1
Judging by the premise (a bounty hunter, of sorts, in outer space who flies around with a colorful crew of weirdos) and the director (Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo), I went into Space Dandy with a certain preconceived notion about what I’d be getting. Man alive, I was not prepared for the utter whacked-out nutsness that was to follow. This is one of the funniest and weirdest anime I think I’ve ever seen, and it’s got more meta humor in it than most episodes of Community.
Like the opening narration says, Space Dandy is a dandy guy from space. He is a mix between Fonzie, Spike Spiegel, and a huge moronic douchebag, who is one of a slew of alien hunters in the galaxy, trying to find rare alien species for cataloging purposes. He really only does it to get paid so that he can go to his favorite restaurant–BOOBIES– a place with scantily-clad waitresses and…well, that’s kind of it. He’s joined on his quest in his ship, the Aloha Oe, by his faithful robot QT and an alien cat they picked up named Meow. The stakes and circumstances mostly change in each episode, but those core things stay the same, as does the continuing appearance of Dr. Gel of the Gogol Empire who flies in a ship that looks like the Statue of Liberty’s head and for some reason wants to kill Dandy.
Each episode almost exists in its own vacuum and many episodes end with Dandy and/or the rest of the crew and/or everyone in the galaxy dying, only to return next time like nothing had happened. For instance, the fourth episode, “Sometimes You Can’t Live with Dying, Baby” (all the episode titles end with the word “Baby”), Meow is bitten by an alien zombie and transforms into one, eventually turning everyone in the surrounding area, including Boobies, into zombies. The rest of the episode plays out like a silly Dawn of the Dead until no one’s left but the narrator. Another episode, “A Race in Space Is Dangerous, Baby” ends with Dandy being propelled billions of years into the future where he finds a statue of Buddha that looks like him.
Still, amid all the silliness and references to mecha anime and Glee and a million other things, there’s a surprising amount of heart in the show, and each of the characters has at least one episode to be real people and not just caricatures.
I like this show a lot, baby.
Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream Double Feature
There was a whole underrepresented filmgoing market that was finally being catered to in the early ’70s. Not in huge numbers, and not by very reputable companies, but the African American audience wanted to see themselves represented on screen, and thus, the blaxsploitation film was born, being both exploitation movies about black people and movies that exploited the black audience’s eagerness to spend money. There were plenty of action flicks in the genre, and were usually about streetwise tough people like Shaft or Superfly, but there were other genres waiting to get used also, and in 1972, the first blaxsploitation horror flick emerged, with the suitably exploitative title of Blacula.
This is a movie that’s mostly silly, but can actually be applauded in a few areas. Firstly, and most prolifically, for its two lead male actors. William Marshall, a classically-trained and very regal figure, portrays the African prince who was turned into a vampire by Dracula himself hundreds of years ago. As the story goes, it was Marshall who wanted his character to be aristocratic and ancient, and the script was changed from a modern day blue collar worker, giving Blacula (God help me) a bit more gravitas. Marshall famously went on to play the King of Cartoons on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The other actor, portraying the doctor who acts as the Van Helsing of the piece has the greatest stage name of all time: Thalmus Rasulala. Rasulala was never a household name, even if he should have been, and gave the character a real-world edge. Between the two of them, they help to ground an otherwise absurd film.
There are also some pretty effective scare moments, namely when Blacula wakes up from his coffin and feeds for the first time, and (which you can see in the trailer below) when the vampire woman wakes up in the morgue and screams bloody murder as she runs toward camera in slow motion. That is some scary shit right there.
Blacula proved successful enough that a sequel was made the following year, entitled Scream Blacula Scream. Again starring Marshall, the film has the defeated vampire prince awakened via voodoo magic to begin his reign of terror anew. A young and hot Pam Grier plays the female lead this time out.
Both of these movies are much more interesting culturally than they are good examples of horror or blaxploitation, really, but they’re certainly much better than stuff like Blackenstein, Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, and Abby, which was alternately known as Black Exorcist. Seriously, those are real movies. Scream Factory has put out both Blacula films on a single disc, with a very informative commentary on the first film and an interview with a supporting actor from the second.
Da Vinci’s Demons Season 2 – That Leonardo Da Vinci was a conflicted fellow, and we get to see more of that stuff in season 2.
Outlander Season 1 Volume 1 – She’s a time traveler who is married in 1945 and then gets sent back, inexplicably, to 1743 where she has to marry a different fellow, and there’s lots of sex because it’s on Starz.
Exterminators of the Year 3000 – An Italian Road Warrior rip-off, which I’m featuring in Schlock & Awe this Wednesday.
Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast – You know what this is.