Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bad Titles Cramped Their Cults

Like beautiful blood diamonds caked in dirt, the following five films are gems waiting to be discovered by film fans brave enough to look past banal video cover art and meaningless titles:

1. OVER THE EDGE (1979)
 This is the best youth amok movie ever made, with clear-eyed attitudes towards drugs, sex, youth, suburbia. It has great performances from a genuine young cast, and an awesome kickass score (Cheap Trick!).

Possible Problem: "Over the Edge" sounds like a dozen other, far worse but better known, films. There's an after school movie of the week on alcoholism or a high school wrestling story...and just the dimly associative feel it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola in his post-"One from the Heart" phase (like Matt Dillon is going to end the movie learning how to be a better caregiver).

Better Title: He Pushed Me First; Let's Blow up The School; A Kid who tells on another Kid is a Dead Kid

2. THE LADY IN RED (1979)
 As I wrote in an earlier post on Bright Lights After Dark:
The fast moving tale of a young farm girl led into a life of crime, prostitution, communism, love and finally, bloody machine gun vengeance, it was everything an alienated teenager trapped in suburbia could want in a movie, rolled up tight into a lean 90 minutes.

Possible Problem: Think the phrase "Lady in Red" and what do you get: that smoov Chris De Burgh song and its shady affiliations with the Gene Wilder comedy, The WOMAN IN RED (1984). Right there it gets confusing. If De Burgh had called his song "WOMAN IN RED" or something ANYTHING else - then maybe the 1979 LADY IN RED would be a cult classic to this day... as it very much deserves!
Better Title: Kiss the Blood from Dillinger's Corpse; Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly

Directed by Alex de Iglesias, this was just too badass for anyone to know what to do with; a sequel/prequel to Wild at Heart in a style that made Natural Born Killers seem like MTV posturing. Javier Bardem is magnificent as a Santeria-practicing super freak. Anyone who loves Bardem in No Country for Old Men or Vicky Christina Barcelona owes it to themselves to see him cut loose here.

Possible Problem: The title is too much like Ride with the Devil, the Ang Lee western starring Jewel (it's actually a quote from the Tim Burton Batman that Bardem recites while staggering through a drunken Mexican town). And the "(Verb) with the Devil" title automatically conjures images of direct-to-video blandness, as does the dorky cover art: a photo-shopped Rosie Perez with a shotgun and a bored look on her face. And where is Javier Bardem? So far in the background you can't even see him. Honey, this doesn't need to cash in on anything, if only its distributors had a little faith.

Better Title: Perdita Durango, the original Spanish title, and name of the Barry Gifford book it was based on.

4. THE FALL (2007)
This is a bizarre and touching tale of a depressed stuntman and the six year-old Italian peasant girl he tricks into bringing him morphine via colorful tales of adventure. Brought to us by David Fincher and Spike Jonez, so you know it's good.

Possible Problem: The Fall? For serious? It's the name of a mid-1980s soft punk band, among many MANY other things. When a typical movie hunter (like me) doesn't get any "reading" off a title or image (and this movie has no recognizable star) he/she tends to keep looking. This seems--based on the Dali-esque cover--like Cirque de Soleil-style whimsy squared with surrealist cuteness. Well, it is that, but it's still good.

Better Title: The Unlocked Pharmacy

5. WONDERLAND (2003)
A gritty, violent re-telling of the multiple homicide case ex-porn star/junky John Holmes got mixed up in towards the end of the 1970s, this has great acting, a seriously disturbing and vivid mise-en-scene and great dialogue. Granted, it's a lot of detail and attention on what amounts to a bunch of slimy drug addicts offing each other, but so what? Marty Scorsese's movies are basically the same shit and while this isn't quite to Marty's level, dude! Lighten up! You hear me?

The cast includes Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow--amazing as Holmes' wife--and Kate Bosworth, sexy as Holmes' underage girlfriend! Eric Bogosian is miscast as the bad-bad-bad guy, but if you've ever seen of his monologues you know that tapping deep into the hearts of killers is what he does best; and when he goes all postal, you feel genuinely afraid for the actors in the room. Meanwhile a huge roster of welcome names appear in small roles: Carrie Fisher, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Tedd "Put the fuckin' lotion in the basket" Levine, and Janeane Garofalo (I could have sworn the most marvelous of gravel-voiced character actors, Michael Wincott, was in this as well, but he's not listed in the IMDB credits).

Possible Problem: The misleading title conjures a number of things through no fault of its own, like: Next Stop Wonderland, a witty but rather formulaic romantic comedy starring Hope Davis; Alice in Wonderland, and perhaps a documentary on Iraq. Looked at in the video store, one's gut impression? Boogie Nights by way of Hope Daivs? Forget it, the casual renter is by now hopelessly confused.

Better Title: Wadd

All great acidic content movies, man, so don't fall for the timid releasing company art that makes them try and look like third rate rip-offs. Pounce on these badly titled gems!

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