Video Reviews

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (2021) Theaters and On-Demand

Kurt Vonnegut was an author best known for his books Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions. His writing was surreal, funny, and borderline science fiction. The themes were usually based around some character watching the world fall apart all around them but trying to make the best of it. His books were easy to read and, to paraphrase […]

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Punk the Capital: DVD

I know, I know, another documentary on DC punk rock. If you think the need for more documentation of the scene is redundant or indulgent, I get it, trust me: in the last ten or so years, books, docs, and podcasts have come out of the woodwork, hashing and rehashing accepted histories, codifying them, often […]

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Surf II (1983) 2021 Blu-ray re-release

Surf II (the end of the trilogy) is a product of its time. It’s a raunchy, over-the-top comedy with little plot and padded out with gags. Menlo (Eddie Deezen) is a psychotic nerd living in a fortress underneath the waves who has only one goal, and that’s to kidnap surfers, force them to drink toxic cola, and turn them into oil-guzzling, glam rock, leather-clad punk zombies!

Our “heroes” are two nearly identical surfers Chuck and Bob, their nearly identical counterparts Lindy Sue and Cindy Lou, and their wrecking ball of a friend Johnny Fat Head who mostly only says “Bow bow!” And this is where I would tell you about what they get into plot-wise, but they don’t get into much! It’s these kids getting into shenanigans like skipping school to surf, making frogs race in science class, hooking up, surfing, going to see a movie about surfing, not hooking up to go surfing, occasionally running into the previously mentioned surf punk zombies, and surfing! Eventually, they have to win a surf contest and rescue their teacher, friends, and horrible dads. But that’s all in the finale.

This uncouth little gem has never been released on any format past a VHS tape until the good people at Vinegar Syndrome put out a beautiful 35mm restoration Blu-ray this year. This is something I have wanted for thirty years. Like most ’80s movies, it looks great on a color restored print.

The director’s cut of the movie is also included and it’s drastically different from the version I was used to. This is Randall M. Badat’s only directing credit. It was his baby and when the suits got ahold of it, they added a slew of cut-away shots of bare breasts and an annoying guttural groan every time the surf-punk zombies are on screen. The director’s cut has more surfing, more Jocko (played by the late, great Tom Villard), Cindy Lou and Lindy Sue as surf zombies, a live performance by Dick Dale, better music, and fewer breasts. The topless scenes still pop up but they’re less gratuitous. There is a very long scene where Johnny Fat Head challenges the surf-punk zombies to a disgusting gross-out eating contest and I find myself dry heaving every time I see it. Couldn’t that have been cut, Mr. Badat?

It’s exciting to grow older and see lost relics like this come to the surface a thousand times better than they were originally produced. This is a movie to been seen with a group of friends who expect a ruckus. It’s extremely low brow but I’m sure if you’re like me, you can cringe and be delighted at the same time. Can you relate? –Rick V. (VinegarSyndrome.com)

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Dima Punk: Once a Punk: VOD

This documentary follows eight years in the life of Stof, the self-proclaimed last punk in Morocco. Having lost much of his fellow punks to adulthood, religion, and prison, Stof takes it upon himself to represent punk rock in the greater Casablanca area. Our protagonist spends his days primping his mohawk, sewing and studding jackets, and wandering the streets of Casablanca with the Exploited in his headphones. Stof’s friends debate his cultural authenticity, while he ponders his place in Moroccan society. The film climaxes with Stof getting arrested on trumped up drug charges, finishing his sentence just in time to catch Hardzazat: Morocco’s premier DIY music festival. Initially, the protagonist comes across as a vapid streetpunk, but as he reveals his experiences and insights, he proves to be a thoughtful and charismatic individual worthy of the film’s focus. By the end of the movie I felt a sort of parasocial connection with Stof, though I don’t think I’ve ever met him. This is the directorial debut of Dominique Caubet, a Cultural Studies professor, who has done a great deal of research on contemporary Moroccan youth culture. The film features music and footage of various Moroccan punk acts, including: Z.W.M., Tachamarod, Betweenatna, and more. The film provides a picture of alternative culture in urban Morocco that was only previously available through direct observation. In summary: it’s hella good. The film is available for viewing on Lardux Films’ Video On Demand page on Vimeo. Stof has since started his own band, also called Dima Punk. Their premier song, “Sir Htal Gheda” can be found on YouTube. Hopefully, there is more to come. –Brian Trott (Lardux Films, 31 Rue Gambetta, 93100 Montreuil, France, lardux.net)

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Uncle Peckerhead: (2020): Streaming

Uncle Peckerhead is a film that covers all the nuances of going on your first tour: the naïve excitement, wearing dirty clothes, holier-than-thou sound people, fighting over what music to play in the van, playing multiple shows with a band that sucks, and having a roadie that turns into a cannibalistic monster every night at midnight.

Uncle Peckerhead is a horror-comedy that covers all of the common ground mentioned in the paragraph above. The band Duh exists in a universe of terrible punk band names, including Shark Dick, Quif Queens, and Turd Toilet just to name a few. Duh is comprised of Judy, the bass player, leader, and optimist of the band; Mel, the dark, monotone, and stoned drummer; and Max, the happy-go-lucky jolly idiot guitar player. Duh sets off on their first-ever six-day tour when their van is repoed. After a desperate search, they run across Peckerhead, AKA “Peck,” who has the most absolute perfect van, and offers to let them use it as long as he can tag along. They are resistant to Peck due to their age gap and his modern hillbilly exterior, but he’s all they’ve got.

Only after their first horribly attended show, Judy runs in on Peck transformed into a skull-faced, clawed monster brutally devouring the promoter that only paid them three dollars. Despite the horror, the band decides to keep Peck around due to his charm, ability to move merch, exquisite baking skills, and, most importantly, his van. Besides, as long as he takes his sleepy time medicine around midnight his Mr. Hyde persona stays at bay.

The band continues touring while running into all those other tour tropes such as scripted stage banter, dealing with band divas, and regrettable romances. But when more mutilated and partially eaten bodies start showing up, the band becomes skeptical of Peck’s sweet redneck charm.

There’s a lot to like about the movie. If you’re a gore fan, there is plenty of it. I foolishly wore headphones while watching this, enhancing all the slurps and rips as people are getting their heads and faces ripped off. The horror often takes the back seat to the comedy (even though Peck is driving, yuk yuk), which is fine because there are a couple of really good laugh-out-loud moments. Max (played by Jeff Riddle who also wrote all of the Duh songs) has some of the best scenes due to how silly he can be. A lot of physical comedy out of that guy.

The movie may be one of the best comedies about a band going on a DIY tour since 1996’s Bandwagon. It hits close to home in a lot of places. I believe there might be some kind of satire about having a problematic person in your band and ignoring it despite seeing their atrocities with your own eyes. Or the consequences of fulfilling your dreams, selling out, and hurting people on the way to the top. Or it could just be a funny road movie with a monster that vomits acid on screamo bands’ faces. –Rick V. (Subtle T-Rex, subtletrex.com)

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Everything Is A-OK: A Dallas, TX Punk Documentary (2020) DVD/Digital download

There is something that always annoys me about punk scene documentaries I’ve seen. They cover ground for a single era or just a couple of years and it ends with all the interviewees saying, “That’s it! Punk died in 1989 when Robble’s Chuck House closed. End of story!”

What I like about Everything Is A-OK, is that it covers from when anybody remembers seeing a punk show in Dallas in the ’70s and up to the 2010s. It’s mostly there! The documentary goes over a solid chunk of bands, venues, and faces that existed and disappeared over those thirty-some-odd years. We get devotionals for bands like The Nervebreakers, Stickmen With Rayguns (featuring Dallas’ version of GG Allin, Bobby Sox), Riot Squad, Pump’N Ethyl, Terminal Disgust, and many more. As much as the doc goes on about how great a lot of the rock clubs and bars were, it was cool to see some of the long-lost, short-lived DIY spaces mentioned. A good chunk of these places existed in or near Deep Ellum, an area near downtown Dallas that was a wasteland in the eighties and was later gentrified to being a late-night hot spot.

The film features interviews with folks who have been contributing to the Dallas punk scene from every era. The highlight was everyone’s favorite kook, Texas James from Spasm 151 who would do tequila shots off his friends’ testicles. The subjects gush over the love of the Dallas scene, but I wish most of them had something to talk about other than how fucked up they got.

It’s an informative documentary if you are at all into Texas punk history. I do have some other minor complaints though. Sometimes the music playing is so loud during the interviews you can’t hear what the person is saying. And when there’s no music playing, you can hear somebody heavily breathing. It’s not so much of a distraction as it is funny.

And why, oh why would you interview members of the seminal bands Akkolyte and Bread And Water and not dedicate a single minute of coverage!? Just kidding. I’m sure there were some editing issues. Just dedicate your next documentary to those two bands only, okay? –Rick V. (Fringe Media, dallaspunkdoc.com)

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Boy(Mouth) Live: That Wasn’t Ted Nugent?: DVD

For as weird as Boy(Mouth)’s musical output is—I think “experimental” might be a reasonably apt descriptor—this live video is stunningly kinda normal. Boy(Mouth), it turns out, are not some withdrawn art/noise collective who dress like Sex Jawas, a performance art troupe who spray the audience with cow eyeballs and cuckoo feathers, or pretentious freaks who think banging on sheet metal is a grand artistic statement of some sort. They’re just two guys playing guitar along to a sequencer, and one of them wears shorts. Okay, sure, one of them has a mask, and there’s a lot of feedback involved, but, when all is said and done, they’re just two guys with guitars. I honestly was expecting a freak show of vastly freakier proportions. This live video was shot at various locations on their surely-triumphant Leaving Stains Across Michigan tour in the summer of 2018—some of it on stages in clubs, some of it outdoors at seemingly clandestine locations. All of it is the two guys—one in a mask and one in shorts—making noise. While this doesn’t exactly qualify as must-see TV, I do applaud their obvious dedication to their calling—whatever, exactly, that might be. –Rev. Nørb (Rotten Princess c/o Dan Bale, 1333 NE 71st, Portland OR 97213, Rottenprincessrecords.bandcamp.com)

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Tony Alva Story, The (2019): Streaming

This documentary has a bit of a backstory. It first was put together for an episode of Loveletters to Skateboarding—a great show on Youtube hosted by skateboarder Jeff Grosso. The filmmakers (Buddy Nichols and Rick Charnoski) wanted to do an episode for legendary skateboarder Tony Alva’s sixtieth birthday. As they kept getting footage and speakers, the episode kept getting longer. They decided they should make a documentary about Tony Alva with the footage they compiled. It premiered a year ago and was finally released for home consumption in September 2020.

Tony Alva was one of the original members of the influential Zephyr skate team in the mid-’70s. He went on to be a well-known face in skateboarding, making TV appearances and showing up in films like Skateboard: The Movie and Thrashin’ (“Beat it, ya Val’ jerk!”). Alva started his own skateboard company Alva in 1979 and has been at that for over forty years.

The film starts at Alva’s not-so-humble beginnings rolling with the Z-Boys and accomplishing one of the first frontside airs in a pool. Alva’s skill and aggressive style were impressive but inflated his ego. He was one of the best at vert competitions and he acted like it.

As the documentary steps into the ’80s, we see that things weren’t so hot for Alva since the initial skateboarding boom had died down. But he kept pushing on. He restarted the Alva brand from scratch, designing boards in a garage and forming a team of black jean jacket-wearing punks with the occasional over-the-top goth makeup. Then onto another downward slope with drugs, alcohol, and a wild-looking clothing line.

Throughout the fifty-four minute documentary, the ongoing theme is that when he gets hit hard, Alva always picks himself up and gets back on the board. With all his ups and downs he kept skating and at sixty-two years old, Tony is still dropping into empty pools.

It features the talking heads of famous skaters young and old, past members of the leather-clad Alva team, Josh Brolin (Thrashin’ lead), a stoked Henry Rollins, and of course, an appearance by Ian MacKaye. Seriously, MacKaye has been in seventy-five percent of the documentaries I’ve seen in the past three years and he’s always a welcome addition.

It is by no means eye-opening, earth-shattering, or opinion changing. It’s just a quick documentary covering Alva’s triumphs and blunders (clothing line) that blazes by a lot of little details. I wish it dove much deeper like the other Nichols/Charnoski skateboarding documentary, Deathbowl to Downtown.

The real star of this documentary is the late Jeff Grosso. He was the sour heart and soul of Loveletters to Skateboarding and such an important voice. He has a beautiful intro to the doc and a tear-inducing spot in the end credits that overshadows Tony Alva’s inspirational yet corny outro. The movie is a wonderful ending to the Loveletters series even if it is lacking content.

Now put down the magazine, dust off your skateboard, and go skating with your friends (eight feet apart while wearing a face covering). –Rick V. (vans.com/tonyalvastory.html)

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Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N Roll Magazine: Streaming

Creem was an alternative rock’n’roll magazine originally based in Detroit and printed from 1969 to 1989. In the ’70s and early ’80s, it was a go-to source for finding out who and where the cool weirdo bands were. It was run by rockers and psychedelic drug-taking hippies. It featured prolific writers such as Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe, and Dave Marsh (you know, one of the fourteen dudes that claim they came up with the term “punk rock”?)

Creem: America’s Only Rock N’ Roll Magazine premiered last year and is now streaming online. The doc focuses on the years between the founding of the magazine in 1969, through 1982 when Lester Bangs was found dead. Through archive footage, fast whipping shots of the magazine, and interviews we get the meat of how the magazine was ran. The staff was originally paid five dollars a week and when the magazine moved to a communal house in the country, they were paid with room and board. They were always flying by the seat of their collective pants at Creem.

The magazine poked fun at Rolling Stone and the more clean-cut rock bands. One Creem writer described their work as showing off the “gender-fuckery of rock ‘n roll.” They were showcasing bands other outlets wouldn’t touch, like George Clinton, Alice Cooper, Kiss, MC5, and The Stooges. At the same time, some of the writers interviewed talked about how it was a total boys club and there is a chapter in the doc dedicated to the staff confronting the heavy sexism and homophobia in the magazine.

Other than hearing from members of the staff, there are interviews with Keith Morris, John Holmstrom, Wayne Kramer from the MC5 (who also did the music for the film), Chad Smith, Suzy Quatro, Michael Stipe, and a tiny bit with Joan Jett where she recalls writing a letter to Creem saying the Runaways were going to beat the shit out of a reviewer.

In the documentary, you learn how R. Crumb was convinced to draw the magazines mascot Boy Howdy, how the offices of Creem always ended up being flophouses, how much of delightfully cranky character Dave Marsh is, and what a piece of crap Lester Bangs was. Seriously, why do people idolize that guy?

My major complaint would have to be the horribly animated sequences. They look like someone doodled them quickly in a sketchbook or on Microsoft Paint and then animated with PowerPoint. They are so phoned in it hurts.

As a person who mostly despises ’70s rock culture, I thought this documentary was great. I never want to pick up an issue of Creem (except for that issue with Spider-Man on the cover) but it was a very culturally relevant magazine for its time that gave a lot of contributors a shot when nobody else would. RIP Creem Magazine. But please don’t come back. –Rick V. (Greenwich Entertainment, creemmag.com)

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Go-Go’s, The: Streaming on Showtime

The Go-Go’s were a pop/new wave band that was huge in the 1980s. They were the first band made up of all women who wrote and performed their own songs to get a number one record—and still are the only band to get that title. This 2020 documentary starts with their humble punk beginnings, to playing stadiums, their break-up, and ending with their eventual reformation in a fast-paced hour and thirty-eight minutes.

All the members and ex-members are present, including Margot Olavarria, the bass player who quit the band because they stopped playing punk songs. Members of the Go-Go’s had no intention of sticking to the punk clubs and turning away major tours. Drummer Gina Schock was ready to sign that major label contract on day one. Since the beginning of the Go-Go’s they were driven by the idea of playing for millions of people. But the filmmakers and the band themselves want you to know their roots are in the L.A. punk scene.

Despite that personal judgmental point of view, this movie is very fun and full of amazing stories about four unapologetic coked-up women touring the world. Cocaine is almost like a running joke in the documentary. One of my favorite quotes from the film is from Schock referencing the Rock in Rio Festival— “Charlotte (guitar) was so out of control that Ozzy Osbourne threw her out of his dressing room. And that’s pretty fucking bad.” (Don’t do coke, kids.)

A big gripe I have with the movie is the constant rhetoric that the Go-Go’s were a very popular all-women band who wrote their own songs. But other than Kathleen Hannah, you don’t see or hear from other women in bands. For example, there is an arc about how the band went on tour with the Specials and Madness. Members of both the Specials and Madness talk about how the Go-Go’s were rocking every venue and the audience couldn’t believe they were girls. The Bodysnatchers, a seven-piece, all women ska band were also on that 1980 tour. And other than seeing a glimpse of the band name on a flier, they are never interviewed or mentioned.

And a minor annoyance I have is with the archived footage has some very out of place sound effect overdubs. Including spitting sound effects. It’s very off-putting.

I walked away from this documentary having more respect for The Go-Go’s music and I’ve had songs stuck in my head for several days. However, I now have a strong dislike for Belinda Carlisle due to her constant selfishness and throwing band members under the bus or to the curb. Like most huge rock bands, money was a big issue and why Jane Wiedlin quit the band. The Go-Go’s discuss their experiences in the band as toxic and as Wiedlin puts it, “We’re like sisters. Sisters who are constantly stabbing each other in the back.”

Despite my complaints, it’s a good time and worth signing up for a free Showtime trial just to watch. It’s a nice way of seeing how money, ego, and fame can fuck up a friendship—and how losing all of that can rekindle one. It may be the funniest music documentary I have ever seen. And everything Jane Wiedlin says is amazing. Including this bit from one of the band’s 2018 practice sessions, “My god, do we have the mother fucking beat!” –Rick V. (Showtime)

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We Are Little Zombies: Streaming

The first bit of dialogue in We Are Little Zombies is little thirteen-year-old Hikari comparing his recently deceased parents’ ashes to Parmesan cheese. Hikari hasn’t cried and doesn’t seem to care much about his parents dying. He felt unloved and alone when they were alive despite them giving him all the retro-game consoles he ever wanted. His loneliness fades a bit when he meets three other tweens whose parents are also being cremated in the same building where he’s moping.

The quartet starts calling themselves zombies, kids who aren’t living but aren’t dead. They steal from convenience stores and move around collectively sleeping at their dead parents’ homes, warehouses, and motels. Their bleak attitude drives them to do nothing and hope it’s just over eventually. That is until a thirty-something piece homeless jug band inspires them to start a band. Hikari does lead sad vocals with chiptune accompaniment coming from his Game Boy-like handheld system.

They call the band We Are Little Zombies and become viral sensations. From there they get stardom, lose it, and steal a garbage truck.

The advertisements and trailer for the movie really sell the band arc of the movie even though it takes up less than a quarter of the two-hour runtime. Despite that, it’s still very watchable. The movie is soaked in 8-bit, nostalgia-inducing colors, music, and animations. The quartet acquires items (game console, bass guitar, wok) to allow them to level up and Hikari is obsessed with fighting his final boss who he originally believes is the driver of the bus that killed his parents. There’s even a great sequence where we see a top-down view of the four kids walking through a park à la most retro RPG’s.

It’s a very visually psychedelic movie. 8-bit letters flow across the screen, giant beta fish fly by windows for no reason and the goopy zombie costumes they wear in their band are way too much. Think Scott Pilgrim Vs the World but way darker.

The plot is thin, the poetic analogies don’t make sense, and even after announcing “The Final Level” where you expect a grand finale, the movie just ends. But you know what? It was two hours and twelve dollars well spent. It’s more of a good experience than it is an emotionally moving film. And the three We Are Little Zombies songs are pretty catchy. Go watch their “viral” music video right now! –Rick V. (Oscilloscope Laboratories, oscilloscope.net)

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Straight Edge Kegger: Blu-ray

Written and directed by Jason Zink, Straight Edge Kegger is a shockingly good, micro-budgeted, coming-of-age subculture genre bender. From its professional look to its script and acting, it’s one of those rare spot-on films that explode onto the underground, seemingly out of nowhere.

Straight Edge Kegger is the saga of a young man struggling with the violence and machismo of his scene. He befriends a different group of punks and ends up at a party. The party is invaded by his thuggish old friends, and all hell breaks loose.

Opening with a tribute to Abel Ferrara’s classic Driller Killer, writer-director Zink acknowledges that he is not the world’s first punk to make a feature. The first half of Straight Edge Kegger owes a lot to the 1990s. Stylistically, characters develop similarly to those in the best work by the likes of Jon Moritsugu, Gregg Araki, Sarah Jacobson, and Larry Clark. Those story tellers humanized wayward youth, treasuring the flair that iconoclastic kids intrinsically offer. This film taps into that vein adorably, as it creates odd moments of poignancy amidst what is essentially a setup for an action-packed denouement.

When the plot shifts to a violent standoff, Straight Edge Kegger becomes the picture that Green Room wanted to be. Green Room disappointed due to the métier of its director’s prior film, Blue Ruin. Without pretense, Straight Edge Kegger tells a similar tale with a way greater degree of panache.

While the warmth and humor of the early section of Straight Edge Kegger is where its strengths shine brightest, the second act also impresses. Zink’s compassion for his troubled characters is evident, and this is a project that tears down the barricade often surrounding ultra low-budget cinema. Unlike what is so often the case with micro-budgeted fare, Straight Edge Kegger always feels like a real movie.

Straight Edge Kegger is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VHS. Many supplements are present, including a commentary track, deleted scenes, trailers, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and more.

While its brilliant title and campaign suggest a clever, campy endeavor, Straight Edge Kegger is anything but schlock. It’s a sensitive, earnest, stunning entry into the hearty tradition of youth subculture films. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a new take on their old friends. –Art Ettinger (Scream Team Releasing, screamteamreleasing.com)

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