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It would seem that Buena Vista Home Entertainment is trying to issue (or reissue) on DVD all the hits of film director/producer Roger Corman, a formidable task and one that, if completed, will be measured in running feet of shelf space consumed.

Submitted here for your consideration from the Corman Zone, are three sample films, Big Bad Mama (1973), Rock and Roll High School (1979), and Dinocroc (2004).

Hard to Take Seriously

Hot lead! Hot legs! Hot damn!
Hot lead! Hot legs! Hot damn!

It is hard for me to imagine watching these films on their own merits, yet someone must be doing that because Mr. Corman’s productions have percolated along merrily and profitably for over 40 years now and show no signs of slowing down. Seen as cultural artifacts, time capsules, or even cult icons they can be very entertaining. But does that make it film? Well, yes and no. It depends on how willing you are to accept Pop as Art.

I enjoyed all three of these films but not in the way they had been meant to be seen. Sadly, I found myself laughing at them and not with them, the possible exception being RRHS which is saved by the presence and energy of the seminal American punk band The Ramones.

It is also hard to imagine doing a classic film review of any of them. There’s just not enough there to bother with. Big Bad Mama is a clone of the ’30s period costume films like Bonnie and Clyde, or Paper Moon that were popular in the early ’70s. Rock and Roll High School is a standard teen exploitation/make-fun-of-school set piece. And Dinocroc stands in line (and it’s a long line) with the curious sub-genre of crocodile-fueled horror movies. All three were made as movies, not “film,” For many in the target Corman audience (maybe most of them?) these movies are indistinguishable from any other movie or film in terms of art or craft. This is something that should be kept in mind before dissecting them too minutely.

The Broader View

So I sit down and watch these movies, one, two, three, and it’s just human nature not to triangulate them into a broader comment on Mr. Corman’s body of work. Big Bad Mama and Dinocroc carry roughly the same intellectual weight, but Big Bad Mama is more interesting because it has the advantage of having aged like a fine wine, or more accurately a ripe cheese. Following this line of reasoning, earlier films like Buckets of Blood (1959) or Little Shop of Horrors (1960) would be Mr. Corman’s finest work to date. Indeed, Little Shop of Horrors inspired a successful Broadway musical (and then a film of that musical). Can we expect the same from Big Bad Mama? Not yet, but give it a little more time. Quick! somebody do a treatment for Dinocroc! The Musical.

What does make these three worth watching is the appearance in Mama of William Shatner at his hunky best, Tom Skerrit slyer than ever, and a knockout Angie Dickinson all doing nude scenes that you could only make in the 70’s. And did I mention The Ramones? I mean, come on people, it’s real 1979 footage of The Ramones in concert. OK, it’s a staged concert.... but The Ramones! Poor Dinocroc suffers from being too ‘green’ if you get my drift. But give it time. Somewhere around 2045, I’ll bet it’s going to really take off.

DVD Extras

What you, the thoughtful film review reader, will want to do is watch BBM and RRHS with the commentary tracks on.

Angie Dickenson gives one of the most enthusiastic commentaries I’ve ever heard. Sometimes it’s a bit much, but mostly she seems to be genuinely interested in and proud of BBM, and I say ‘You go girl.’

Come on people, it's real 1979 footage of The Ramones in concert!
Come on people, it’s real 1979 footage of The Ramones in concert!

RRHS has two commentaries: one with Dey Young and Roger Corman done for this DVD, and an original with the director Allan Arkush, producer Michael Finnell, and screenwriter Richard Whitley. Check them both out, but the fun one is the original. It was recorded some time before actor Paul Bartel and singer Joey Rammone had died, so they are spoken of in the present tense. The insights and nostalgic memories of these three breathe a new life into the already vital film.

Once again Dinocroc comes in last with no commentary at all. But now we know why: it’s too soon.

In conclusion, here’s the over-view of the three DVDs.

Big Bad Mama (1973) **

Directed by Steve Carter, starring William Shatner, Angie Dickinson and Tom Skerrit.

Big bad mama (Angie Dickinson) and her two nubile teenage daughters set out from depression Texas for the golden state of California, robbing their way cross country. Along the way they pick up bank-robbing pro Tom Skerrit and horse track tout William Shatner. Some typical ‘70’s nudity and the big shootout at the end has lots of swell tommy-gun action. Also, excellent use of antique autos throughout. This must have been the way it was back then.

Special feature: fascinating commentary by (mainly) Ms Dickinson. I recommend going straight to the commentary.

Rock and Roll High School (1979) ***

Directed by Alan Arkush, starring P.J.Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Clint Howard, Dey Young, Paul Bartel, Mary Warnov and of course The Ramones.

What’s missing at Vince Lombardi High School?... The Ramones! Who, despite all logic to the contrary, comes to VLHS?... The Ramones! Who do we get to see a lot of and every moment is a hoot?... The Ramones! There’s some other stuff that happens around the evil actions of a megalomanic principal and her neo-Nazi hall monitors but who wins in the end?.... The Ramones!

Special features: Two commentary tracks, audio out-takes of The Ramones during the shooting session at The Roxy and a ‘making of the movie’ feature. Be sure to check out both commentary tracks but listen to the new one first.

Dinocroc (2004) *

When will the malevolant bio-engineering corporate monoliths ever learn?
When will the malevolant bio-engineering corporate monoliths ever learn?

Directed by Kevin O’Neill, starring Costas Mandylor, Charles Napier, Jane Longenecker, Jake Thomas, Matt Borlenghi.

When are malevolent corporate monoliths going to learn to stop mixing dinosaur DNA with that of crocodiles? Sure it looks like a good idea on paper but inevitably the mutant spawn end up in the local reservoir and then there go the water-skiers one after another. The solution is just as obvious: a Crocodile Dundee character is cloned, off camera in the mind of the screenwriter. Of course he’s got the Big Knife and a way with beer, babes and ‘crocs. Throw in equal parts love interest and mammal vendetta to all things reptile and there will be a hot time in the old marsh tonight.

Special features: None, you are on your own for this one.