Forbidden, and six more movies


This is set in the city of Nacirema (American spelled backwards), where everyone's gay. Boys are expected to play with dolls, while girls get the trucks and toy guns, so as a boy, Nolan Renner (Todrick Hall) is forced to give up his love of sports. 

As an adult, Nolan lives in a pink house and drives a pink car, but a waitress flirts with him and they canoodle.

This causes great consternation in a very gay world; the neighbors gossip and call the police, and Nolan is imprisoned for his heterosexual indecency — with songs, because what we have here is a gaudy gay musical that doubles as a movie-length video for Todrick Hall's album, Forbidden.



Jan. 13, 2023

Being white and old and straight and having never heard of Todrick Hall, I'm at a disadvantage here. It doesn't help that I'm not a fan of this kind of 21st-century pop, where every lyric is sung like it's the musical equivalent of "To be or not to be," singers add an extra twist or flourish to many or most of the notes, and of course all aspects of the sound are electronically tweaked.

The visuals are also not my style — no shot can last even five seconds, and the camera is never stationary. And the story is told almost entirely in song; there's perhaps five minutes of dialogue in the whole show.

I am not deaf, dumb, and blind, though, and there's no arguing against Forbidden. It is smart, snappy moviemaking that has something to say, with enthusiastic performances, major league dancing, and lyrically well-written songs that — despite my resistance to this kind of music — began to resonate with me.

There's also much, much more going on than what little I've described. There's a brilliant race reversal sequence, for example, where a black cop shoots and kills a white boy, and he's left to die in the street while the next musical number's dancers hop over his corpse and keep singing a happy ditty.

If you watch this, and I suggest you do, expect a whole lot of brief but piercing moments like that.

It's a relief to see serious talent in a generation of annoyances like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this film restores my faith in humanity, for I have none, but Forbidden is seriously an artistic achievement. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

After.Life (2009)

Christina Ricci plays Anna, a school teacher who's been in a serious car crash, and doesn't wake up in the hospital; she wakes up in the morgue.

She argues that she's not dead, but funeral director Liam Neeson is prepping her body for services and burial, and he keeps telling her calmly, "I only want to help you."

He's channeling Vincent Price, and Neeson's pretty good at it. Ricci plays her part well, and Justin Long is her boyfriend who doesn't want to believe she's dead. 

"Oh, you people. You think because you breathe, piss, and shit you're alive? You clutch on to life as if your life is worth clutching on to. Was your life worth clutching onto, Anna — was it? Maybe you died a long time ago."

This movie isn't a masterpiece, but it achieves its not-insignificant chills and frights through the situations, settings, and performances, instead of through the ordinary excessive on-screen gore and squishy sound effects of every other horror movie.

I abhor the title's punctuation, but After.Life gets a thumbs up from me.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Kill the Umpire (1950)

This starts quite badly, with unfunny or '1950s funny' sequences establishing that Bill Johnson (William Bendix) is a baseballholic — a guy who can't even hold a job, because he's always at the ball park or in a bar watching a game. And whether the ump calls 'safe' or 'out', Bill hates the umpires, even though his father-in-law is a retired big league ump.

All that's about as funny as a fastball to the nuts, but after Bill gets fired for the third or fourth time, his father-in-law tells him he ought to be an umpire. So he's off to umpiring school, and for a while the movie starts to draw intermittent laughs.

Despite the participation of Major League Baseball and a few genuine umps of the era, the movie knows nothing about how umpires are trained and what they do, or how difficult it is to earn a spot even in the minor leagues as an umpire.

After a dozen somewhat funny moments, it gets stupid again toward the end, so it's basically piffle, but it's far superior to Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Malibu Express (1985) 

Whoops, my mistake. I was expecting schlock action, but this seems to be an R-rated titty movie.

"I understand you're a private investigator, and we want to know if you'll investigate our privates."

Extremely bad acting, in an extremely stupid story: The Russians are stealing US computer technology, so the feds turn to private eye Cody Abilene, who's supposed to be smarter and slicker than the entire USSR.

Not that making sense matters, of course. This is a movie about the titties, and there must be 75 of them.

Written and directed by Andy Sidaris, who, IMDB tells me, won an Emmy for directing TV coverage of the 1968 Olympics. He didn't win anything for this.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

This is like a Japanese Eraserhead. A businessman slowly and painfully morphs into metal, but not shiny metal like a new toaster, more akin to a disassembled '55 Chevy plus metallic spaghetti hair.

Includes lots of screaming and general loudness. The imagery is disgusting all the way through, but beautifully so, and it's in black-and-white, which makes the gore seem less gory.

You are invited to decide for yourself what it means, and I haven't decided yet. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

White Dog (1981)

Driving to her foothills home one night, Kristy McNichol accidentally hits a dog with her car. She takes it to a vet, and when she can't find the dog's owner, she adopts the critter. When it rescues her from an assault, it seems like she's found the perfect pet.

It gets loose for a few days, and when it comes back it's covered with blood. "Look at you, you're a mess," she says. "Did you get into a fight?"

The answer starts coming to light when the dog attacks a co-worker of McNichol's, who's black. The dog's previous owner had trained the animal as a "white dog" — an attack dog that attacks black people, on sight.

McNichol's boyfriend wants her to have it euthanized, but she thinks the dog can be re-trained, or un-trained. To Paul Winfield, this is a personal challenge — he says he'll devote five weeks to breaking the dog, and if he can't repair its training, he'll shoot it.

The film is based on a memoir by Romain Gary, whose other filmed works include a war flick I've heard is good, The Longest Day, and the awful Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid.

The book was non-fiction, so something like this actually happened, but director Sam Fuller's schtick was action, so he largely eviscerated the truth of it all. Only the basic idea of a "white dog" was retained, but with new characters and events.

The result is a movie that's kind of boring for the first half hour, before we're told what's up with the dog. When it gets going, though, it's a watchable action or horror movie, with plenty of suspense and worry.  

Racism, and black people in fear for their lives, as the basis for an action movie? Yeah, that's going to be a hard sell, so White Dog was extremely controversial and barely released.

The whole point of the movie is that racism is taught, not natural, so its heart is in the right place, but it can be very uncomfortable to watch. In Fuller's story, for example — but certainly not in the book — the dog attacks and kills a black man, and our heroes keep its involvement hushed up, so they can continue trying to rehab the animal. Sorry, it's impossible to sympathize with that.

McNichol is great, of course; she always was. Winfield is terrific. Burl Ives hangs around, being old and cuddly cute. The dog was taught to snarl meanly, but the attack scenes are unconvincing, because a tame dog simply can't play the role of an attack dog attacking, not believably. It looks like it's playing, with snarls added by the sound crew later.

All in all, this is a difficult movie that could've been better, but it's good. Music by Ennio Morricone.

Verdict: YES.

IMDB says there's a recent remake that hues closer to Gary's account of the dog and what happened, and I'm intrigued.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Why Shoot the Teacher (1977)

Bud Cort is always good in wacky roles — Harold & Maude, Brewster McCloud — but here he's playing it straight and ordinary. It's a role Henry Fonda or James Stewart could've played, but I don't think either could've played it better than Cort.

He's Max Brown, the new teacher at a one-room schoolhouse in a remote, impoverished wheat-farming town in Saskatchewan. It's the midst of the Great Depression, the pay is minuscule, they're deducting room and board, and he went into debt buying the train ticket to get there. On top of that, it's difficult teaching a bunch of kids from first-grade to 10th all at the same time.

The film is occasionally hilarious, but not really a comedy. It's not in the To Sir with Love genre, where Mr Brown learns to be the best teacher ever. It's not a love story, though he does have an affair with Samantha Eggar. It's a little more political than most movies, with some moments of radical politics and such, but it's not really a political movie.

It's more like a yearbook from Mr Brown's school — just an hour and a half in the classroom with a young teacher who's up against everything in Saskatchewan. It's cold up there, and difficult, but the movie is warm and easy.

The script and setting are also quite accurate, I suspect. Everything here — including the teacher's strap — matches stories my long-gone grandmother sometimes told, about her childhood in the 1910s, attending a one-room school in middle-of-nowhere Montana. Dang, I would love to show this movie to my Grandma G. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Coming attractions: 

• America in Color (2017-2020)
• Phantasm (1979)
• Rififi (1955)
• Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
• Suture (1993)
• Tenebrae (1982)
• Willie Dynamite (1973)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. >This is set in the city of Nacirema (American spelled backwards),

    I have not read the entry past this sentence yet. When I was in goddamn seventh grade or something, like 1983, my teacher read us a story with this idea, and I audibly groaned. Like, "Huh. This character is named Alucard, I wonder if he's a bad guy?"

    1. Ya made me giggle, man, but Alucard is not in the movie.


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