Film Review: American Pop (1981, directed by Ralph Bakshi)


American PopLong before South Park, The Simpsons, and Pixar, there was Ralph Bakshi.  At a time when animation was considered to only be good for children, Bakshi shocked audiences and critics with animated films that dealt with mature themes and were definitely meant for adults.  His first two films, Fritz the Cat (1972) and Heavy Traffic (1973), was the also the first two animated films to receive an X-rating.  Bakshi satirized racism in the controversial Coonskin (1975) and Bakshi’s adaptation of The Lord Of Rings (1978) beat Peter Jackson’s by 23 years.  It was after the critical and commercial disappointment of the heavily flawed but interesting Lord of the Rings that Bakshi decided it was time to make a film that would be more personal to him.  The end result was American Pop.

American Pop tells the story of four generations of a family of Jewish immigrants and how music affects their lives.  In typical Bakshi fasion, this animated film deals with issues of violence, sexuality, drug abuse, and poverty.  American Pop may be animated but it is definitely a film meant for adults.

In the 1890s, Zalmie (Jeffrey Lippa) and his mother escape from Russia after Zalmie’s father, a rabbi, is killed by the Cossacks.  Zalmie grows up in New York and after his mother is killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he is raised by a vaudeville comedian named Louie (Jerry Holland).  Zalmie wants to be a singer but is shot in the throat during World War I.  His voice ruined, Zalmie marries a stripper named Bella (Lisa Jane Persky) and manages her career.  His partnership with the mobster Nicky Palumbo (Ben Frommer) leads to Bella dying and Zalmie going to prison.

Zalmie’s son, Benny (Richard Singer), is a jazz pianist who, as a favor to his father, marries Nicky’s daughter.  Benny has a son named Tony and tries to pursue his career without using his father’s influence.  Then World War II breaks out.

Benny enlists in the army, seeking redemption from the crimes of his father and father-in-law.  Serving in Europe, he misses his piano and, when he finds one in a bombed-out house in Nazi Germany, he plays a few bars of As Time Goes By.  When a Nazi walks in on Benny, Benny plays Lili Marleen.  For a few seconds, Benny and the Nazi share the common bond of music.  “Danke,” the Nazi says before shooting Benny dead.

Growing up without his father, Tony (Ron Thompson) becomes a beatnik and eventually runs away from home.  He ends up in Kansas, where he has a one-night stand with a waitress and becomes a songwriter for Frankie Hart (Marya Small), a stand in for Janis Joplin.  Both Tony and Frankie start using heroin and Frankie dies of an overdose right before she is supposed to open for Jimi Hendrix.  Abandoned by Frankie’s band, Tony ends up as an addict and dealer in New York.  Accompanying him is his son, Pete, the result of his hookup with the waitress.

After being abandoned by his father, Pete (also played by Ron Thompson), follows in his footsteps and becomes a successful drug dealer.  He is dealing cocaine to all of the big rock bands but, after discovering punk rock, he realizes that he wants something more out of his life.

After announcing that he will no longer sell anyone cocaine unless he is given a chance to record a demo, Pete is given a band and a recording studio.  With the drug-craving record company execs watching, this tough and cocky punk grabs the microphone and sings…

…BOB SEGER’S NIGHT MOVES!?

The use of Night Moves, which is one of the least punk songs ever written, is one of the few false notes in American Pop.  Otherwise, this is one of Ralph Bakshi’s best films.  The majority of the film’s animation was done through rotoscoping, a technique in which animation is traced over live action footage.  (For the gang war scenes, scenes from The Public Enemy were rotoscoped, as was footage of the Nicholas Brothers used in the Sing Sing Sing With A Swing montage.)  Seen today, the technique is crude but effective at showing the contrast between the fantasy of music and the grim reality of life.  Though it has its flaws (*cough* Night Moves *cough*), American Pop is an engaging look at the history and development of American music.

American_Pop

2013 In Review: The Best of SyFy


It’s been quite a year for the SyFy network, even if the network’s most widely-seen original film, Sharknado, was actually one of their weaker offerings.  As a proud member of the Snarkalecs and a Snarkies voter, I’ve certainly enjoyed watching, reviewing, and live tweeting all of the films that SyFy and the Asylum have had to offer us this year.

Below, you’ll find my personal nominees for the best SyFy films and performances of 2013.  (Winners are listed in bold.)

End of the World

Best Film

Battledogs

Blast Vegas

*End of the World

Flying Monkeys

Ghost Shark

Zombie Night

Best Actor

Neil Grayston in End of the World

*Greg Grunberg in End of the World

Anthony Michael Hall in Zombie Night

Frankie Muniz in Blast Vegas

Corin Nemec in Robocroc

Tom Everett Scott in Independence Daysaster

Best Actress

Maggie Castle in Blast Vegas

Lacey Chabert in Scarecrow

Kaitlyn Leeb in Grave Halloween

*Maika Monroe in Flying Monkeys

Ariana Richards in Battledogs

Mackenzie Rosman in Ghost Shark

Best Supporting Actor

Barry Bostwick in Blast Vegas

William B. Davis in Stonados

Brad Dourif in End of the World

Dennis Haysbert in Battledogs

John Heard in Sharknado

*Richard Moll in Ghost Shark

Best Supporting Actress

*Shirley Jones in Zombie Night

Nicole Munoz in Scarecrow

Jill Teed in Independence Daysaster

Jackie Tuttle in Flying Monkeys

Dee Wallace in Robocroc

Kate Vernon in Battledogs

Best Director

Griff Furst for Ghost Shark

Robert Grasmere for Flying Monkeys

John Gulager for Zombie Night

W.D. Hogan for Independence Daysaster

*Steven R. Monroe for End of the World

Jack Perez for Blast Vegas

Best Screenplay

Shane Van Dyke for Battledogs

Joe D’Ambrosia for Blast Vegas

*Jason C. Bourque and David Ray for End of The World

Silvero Gouris for Flying Monkeys

Paul A. Birkett for Ghost Shark

Rick Suvalle for Scarecrow

Flying Monkeys

Best Monster

*Skippy from Flying Monkeys

The Shark from Ghost Shark

Robocroc from Robocroc

The Scarecrow from Scarecrow

The Tasmanian Devils from Tasmanian Devils

The Zombies from Zombie Night

Battledogs

Tomorrow, I will continue my look back at 2013 with my picks for the 16 worst films of 2013!

What Lisa and the Snarkalecs Watched Last #88: Ghost Shark (directed by Griff Furst)


Last night, before going on vacation, I watched the SyFy original movie, Ghost Shark.

Why Was I Watching It?

Every Saturday night, I watch and live tweet a SyFy movie with the Snarkalecs.  Last night, we watched Ghost Shark.  Seeing as Ghost Shark was going to be my last SyFy film to watch before going on vacation, I knew that both the film and the snarkiness would have to keep me satisfied for the next two weeks.  Fortunately, both Ghost Shark and the Snarkalecs came through brilliantly!

What Was It About?

One of my huge problems with Sharknado is that, despite the title, there really wasn’t much tornado action.  However, Ghost Shark lives up to its title.  It’s called Ghost Shark and, by God, that’s what it’s about!

In short, a shark is killed by a bunch of rednecks who look like they’ve wandered over from an unaired episode of Duck Dynasty.  However, the shark comes back and, as you might guess, it’s looking for vengeance.  As a ghost, the shark has the ability to manifest itself out of any body of water and soon, it’s popping up in toilets, swimming pools, sinks, water slides, and an open fire hydrant.  (As the film’s brilliant tagline put it — “If you get wet, you die.”  Seriously, I would be so dead.)  It’s up to Ava (Mackenzie Rosman) and the town drunk (Richard Moll) to figure out how to stop the Ghost Shark!

What Worked?

Even if I hadn’t known beforehand, I would have guessed that Griff Furst had directed Ghost Shark.  Of all the directors who regularly direct films for the SyFy network, Furst is one of the best.  Along with making good use of his trademark Louisiana locations, Furst also knows how to maintain the perfect balance of excitement and humor.

It should also be noted that Ghost Shark is one of the few films where you really can’t predict who is going to survive and who is going to end up as sharkbait.  One reason why the ghost shark is an effective monster is because he will literally eat anyone, even characters who — in other films — would automatically be spared of any danger.

On a personal note, I have to say that the Snarkalecs were on fire last night.  Kelly Thul, in particular, earned a spot in the hall of fame for commenting, about two characters who had just gotten the upper halves of their bodies chomped off by the ghost shark, “They’re waisted!”

What Did Not Work?

It all worked.  Seriously, this was the best SyFy film since End of the World.  And, in case you were curious, it’s a hundred times better than Sharknado.

“Oh my God!” Just Like Me Moments

At one point, one future victim said, “It’s too hot to be a virgin” and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve used those exact same words, I would be one rich redhead.

Also, I related to the scene where the sprinklers go off in the local museum and end up soaking every character there.  Museums always get me wet too.  What can I say?  I love history.

Lessons Learned

Sometimes, it’s better just to stay dry.