God Bless America, and a few more movies

#197  [archive]

God Bless America (2011)

Rarely has a movie grabbed me so quickly.

God Bless America opens with Frank, a pudgy middle-aged nobody, lying in bed and hating his neighbors in the next apartment, as they watch TV too loud, talk too stupid, and their baby won't stop crying.

Like me and my flatmate Dean, Frank has asked his neighbors over and over to turn down the volume and embrace occasional silence, but they're always loud and oblivious. After a few minutes of jaw-clenched listening, Frank what-the-hells it next door with his rifle, and kills the man and his wife and child, and best of all, kills the TV. 

It's a fantasy sequence, of course, the first of several. But meanwhile, back in reality, Frank's fired from his office drone job, and diagnosed with brain cancer. Everyone needs a hobby, so he decides to start killing the world's idiots, and it's no longer clear whether these killings are fantasies.

Along the way he meets Roxy, a girl less than half his age and probably underage, who's perhaps even more psychotic than he is. She urges Frank toward more killing, becomes his sidekick, but in an even more glorious movie moment than all the bloodshed, they do not fuck. This doesn't become that disgusting movie, it's still that other disgusting movie, the one it started out to be.

Frank and Roxy kill reality TV stars, people who talk during movies, a Fox News host, anti-gay protesters, someone who parks their car straddling two spaces, etc — anyone who deserves it. Mostly.

If right-wingers made a mirror image of this movie I'd be aghast, and there's no disputing that God Bless America is irresponsible, deserves condemnation, etc. It gets none from me, though.

Is it fantasy? I dunno. It's fun. In a place and time of insanity, which is definitely America and now, losing your mind is the only sane response. Anyway, any movie that's not a documentary is fantasy, by definition.

Frank's internal monologue and longer rants sometimes sound like an angry comedian, which makes sense, since the film was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. He's been around forever, a loudmouth comic with a weird voice. Never gave him much thought or appreciation, but after World's Greatest Dad and now this, I gotta pay more attention when his name's in the credits. 

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Hobo (1992) 

"Who knows where the hobo goes?"

'Hobo' is not a synonym for 'bum' or 'homeless'. Hobos are something different — homeless people, almost all of them men, who roam America riding on freight trains. It's a life mythologized in old movies, which were mostly bullshit. 

This one's the real deal. Filmmaker John T. Davis rides the rails with an American hobo named Beargrease, who adopts Davis as a friend, telling him the tragedy that led to his vagrant lifestyle, and showing him (and us) some of the wisdom he's accumulated while navigating the rails, avoiding the cops and railroad security, and everything else.

The visuals are suitable for framing, and the dialogue is priceless. Beargrease has friends, fellow hobos he meets in his travels and then waves goodbye to. They might work, briefly, in whatever city they're in, before rolling on the rails out of town.

He has family, too, and keeps occasionally in touch via the phone. He has political opinions, reads the newspapers, and seems like someone you'd perhaps like to know, if he'd let you.

My complaint is my ordinary complaint, but moreso because Hobo had the potential to be better than it is. Documentaries should be about the facts, and if there's music it needs to be minimal, to avoid getting in the way of the facts. 

Well, this film has music, lots, and lovingly selected — Dylan and Guthrie and Wagoner and the Highwaymen singing about riding the rails. It's pleasant, but you can hear music anywhere. I wanted to learn more about hobos, know more about Beargrease, instead of re-listening to songs I've heard a thousand times.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Taoism Drunkard (1981)
a/k/a Drunken Wu Tang
a/k/a Miracle Fighters 3

A hard-boozing beggar needs to find a 'cherry boy' to fight a supernatural villain — and not just any cherry boy, but one with a specific date of birth.

I googled it to be sure, and as expected, the term cherry boy means "a male who has no experience in sexual intercourse and activities." At one point, the movie's hero performs virginity inspections on young boys, which seems to involve barrels and blue alcohol. It's a scene so bizarre and certainly unsexy it started me giggling, which continued until the last jump stunt into the closing credits.

The heroic drunken genital-inspecting beggar has huge buck teeth, the bad guy is named 'Ruthless' and has a diabolical laugh, and there's an always-angry backyard grill with legs, chattering teeth, and metallic tentacles. The angry backyard grill reminds me of the beach-ball monster in Dark Star, only madder, and it's what I'll remember most about this flick — but everything here is wild, and the laws of physics do not apply.

Chop socky over the top, mixing kung fu, magic, science fiction, and lots of sub-lowbrow comedy.

There's an English-dubbed version, but you want the original Cantonese, since it comes with very bad English subtitles — "Astronomic bastard, you have bed conscience!"

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Invader (1991)

John Wick (2014)

The Last Case of August T Harrison (2015) 

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1941)

Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

The Night Strangler (1973)

Nightmare Alley (1947)

9 to 5 (1980)

Risky Business (1983)

The Rockford Files (debut episode; 1974)

Smothered (2002)

Special Bulletin (1983) 

Squirm (1976) 

Stephen Fry in America (2008)

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

A Better Tomorrow (1996)

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

Alexander Nevsky (1938)

The Bat People (1974) 

The Beatles: Get Back (2021) 

Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)

Brainwaves (1983) 

The Card Counter (2021) 

Cellular (2004)  

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)

Dark Star (1974)

The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009) 

The Decline of Western Civilization (1980) 

Downsizing (2017)

Frankenhooker (1990) 

The General (1926) 

Get Shorty (1995)

The Gorilla (1939)

The Green Girl (2014)

Hiroshima (1953)

Hugo (2011) 

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

The Internet's Own Boy (2014)

Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988)  

Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022) 

The Killing of America (1981) 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)  

Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)

Love Happy (1950)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Man Who Thought Life (1969)

The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

The Manhattan Project (1996) 

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

Not Wanted (1949)

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Phone Booth (2002)

PickAxe (1999)

Poison (1990)

Popeye (1980)

Reflections of Evil (2002)

Revelations (1993)

Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)

Romper Stomper (1992)

Room Service (1938) 

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017) 

Saved! (2004)

Scared to Death (1947) 

Secret Weapons (1985) 

The Shooting (1966)

The Soloist (2009) 

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Street of Crocodiles (1986)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Taken for a Ride (1996)

The Train (1964)

Truck Turner (1974)

Welcome to New Orleans (2006)

Who Farted? (2019) 

Who's That Girl? (1987) 

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

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 twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Is renting Taoism Drunkard going to land me on a watchlist?

    1. Nah, it's just a joke in a movie from a different time and place.

  2. I've now seen all three of these, and you didnt steer me wrong, but whatever bugged you about Hobo sure didn't bug me. It is a great movie, about a life I've always wondered about. Haunting.

    1. I get one win, one less. .500 is better than nothing. Go, Hobos!


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