Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

Lou Adler | 1981 | 87 min. | US

The Fabulous Stains starts so jarringly that you get the feeling you've missed a scene. Maybe even an entire reel. Unfortunately, that feeling never lets up. As the film bounces from scene to scene you are repeatedly faced with nagging sense that it keeps forgetting to show you key moments. Maybe its possessive. Maybe its senile. Whatever the excuse, the tagline for The Fabulous Stains should be, "Hold on. . . why is she. . . what?"

To be fair, The Fabulous Stains had its work cut out for it. The film was faced with a very difficult task in 1981: simultaneously trying to cash in on and critique the commercial success of punk and new wave. The Stains are a trio of teenage girls headed by a fresh-faced Diane Lane in her debut role as magnetic Corinne "Third Degree" Burns. When the girls have the chance to join an upstart punk band on tour they jump at the opportunity. Soon after hitting the road a chance interview with Burns appears on the national news. She instantly inspires a (suburban teen) cult of personality who begin showing up to the bands increasingly large shows in full hero worshiping costume. But will Corinne handle the sudden success with aplomb? Will she stay true to her friends as the spotlight focuses on her? Will her awful, awful music stay pure? Important issues, to be sure.

In addition to Diane Lane, the film includes the very young faces of Ray Winstone and Laura Dern, as well. All three are charming, even if they can't come close to approaching the desperation and urgency we are supposed to feel from their characters. Rounding out Winstone's band, The Looters, are Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of the Clash. Cred alert!

The problem with Stains is that the Corinne and her band come off as such myopic opportunists that you could not care less what happens to them. More than that, the success or failure of teenagers who have been playing lousy music for about a month carries little gravity. The film only satisfies as an artefact of the early eighties which, of course, is not very satisfying at all.

Director Lou Adler has only made two films: Up In Smoke, the massively successful Cheech and Chong vehicle, and Stains. So basically this is the movie that murdered his career. He wasn't able to sustain the momentum of a one-joke dope comedy. That's how unimpressive this is. File this one under, "Answers to Trivia Questions."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Before the Fall (3 dias)

F. Javier GutiƩrrez | 2008 | 93 mins | Spain

A meteor five times the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs is on a crash course for Earth, and of course the government has left it until the very last moment to alert the public. A worldwide television broadcast informs everyone that they will cease to be in roughly seventy-two hours (the original Spanish title’s ‘three days’). As twenty-something misanthrope, Ale, and his mother stare at the broadcast in shock, riots and looting have already started. Among the chaos; there’s a large-scale prison break nearby.

20 years ago, Ale’s older brother Tomas aided in the capture of a child murderer. That man is one of the prison escapees, and he swore when put away that he would one day get his revenge. Knowing that Tomas is out of town, and won’t be able to get back to his children in time to protect them, Ale’s mother and Ale (grudgingly) hop in Ale’s van and go to Tomas’ home to look after their four grandchildren/nieces and nephews.

When they arrive to the house, they find that the children’s mother went to the store earlier in the day and hasn’t returned, and that they’ve had no television reception all day or any success in making phone calls. They don’t know about the impending apocalypse. Their grandmother decides to keep them in the dark on the matter, in hopes that they can live out their few remaining days with their innocence intact, and that they won’t be too curious about why Grandma’s walking around with a loaded shotgun.

Don’t worry. Grandma doesn’t get her way, Ale ends up having to take control of the situation, and things get much worse before they get better (‘better’ in this film is the end of the world).

To put together end-of-days drama and child murder thriller genres requires impeccable balance, and Gutierrez nails it. The film’s drama is pointed and full of a lot of strong moments that effectively put forth the sadness and frustration that its characters are going through. Knowing that the world is coming to an end in three days is bad enough, but Before the Fall’s protagonists aren’t even able to live it up for those days in an attempt to forget. There’ll be no fulfilling of fantasies. No farewell BBQ. They’re forced to deal with the reality, sober, and alert, while potentially winding up dead before the rest of the world even, in order to protect their young family members from horrible ends. The thriller element of the film is tense, and as stylish and beautifully shot as the rest of the film, which helps a lot in blending it into the film without feeling out of place.

Before the Fall isn’t the best end of the world film that I’ve seen, or the best film about child murder but it’s a really good one, and one that effectively puts together two genres you’re not likely to ever see together again (sadly).