20. Magic

Schlocktoberfest #20: Magic

Ventriloquist dummies are fucking creepy. Especially when they look like Anthony Hopkins. No offense, Sir Antny, but you’ve aged gracefully. In your youth that bulbous nose made you look like the guy on the table in the game of Operation. You worked best when full of rage as in The Lion in Winter. In Magic he plays Corky- an unfortunate, but fitting nickname for a stumbling stage magician.

When we first meet him, he’s sweating on stage as gets heckled; later he tells his bed-ridden mentor a different story. Everything changes when he brings Fats, a creepy ventriloquist dummy, into his act. Fats is a heckler himself, and says things a person could never get away with. Corky may be a nervous, pathetic little man but Fats becomes the conduit for his inner rage, which he focuses on the audience and himself, berating and belittling with that familiar, vulgar childish fury that performers imbue their little homunculi with. That’s the power of a puppet- we can accept its vitriol without violence.

Corky is immediately catapulted to his 15 minutes of fame, and his agent, Burgess Meredith, lines him up for his own network show- but the network wants to give him a physical. Corky refuses. A doctor- or anyone who spends enough time with his off-stage persona- can tell that he is rather emotionally unhinged, and needs Fats. The little dummy is both a blow-off valve and a constant henpecker, who reinforces Corky’s self-loathing. They’re symbiotes, and the Fats personality is getting stronger as the shackles of fame and the shames of his past weigh more heavily on Corky.

To avoid dealing with the pressure, he holes himself up at the home of a former high school crush, played by Ann-Margret. She has her own problems- trapped in a loveless marriage, she’s delighted when he shows up, and hubby is none the wiser. She needs a man, and he needs a dummy… together they feel they can throw off their crutches and flee, but both their shoulder-monkeys have other plans. The “Fats” side of Corky’s personality won’t be shuttered, and begins acting out. And seeing a creepy mini-me version of Hopkins doing it, well, that’s pretty damn eerie.

Hopkins is great as usual; his “id” manifests itself through the vile personality of Fats, but we never get to see Corky look relatively normal or sane or sympathetic, so the film didn’t work that well for me. He’s got a great squeaky voice created by Hopkins, but he sort of just appears on stage one day and suddenly Hopkins is nuts. The movie is certainly enjoyable, especially with Ann-Margret and Meredith supporting, but unless you’re really creeped out by ventriloquist dummies it’s not much of a shocker. As a psychological thriller, it works more as a character study of a sad little man who acts out his ugly inner self through Fats, and has it take over his life. Interesting, but hardly essential.


Stunt Rock!

A blistering rock concert. Death-defying stunts. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Stunt Rock.

I found the trailer for this on youtube last week and decided to find it. I knew it would be trashy, but I thought it would be better than this. I went through a “this movie is so bad it’s good!” phase back in the 90’s. I am long since past that. Unless Joel & the bots are shadowed on the screen, I can’t waste my time with it. Some bad movies are genuinely entertaining, such as Troll 2, or parody bad movies, like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Then there’s stuff like Stunt Rock, which was destined to be drive-in theater filler and is substandard even for grindhouse flicks.
The film is a puff piece for Aussie stuntman Grant Page and the Aussie hard rock band Sorcery, who are both in dire need of one. The thin plot involves Grant moving to Los Angeles for work, and Sorcery going there to play. It begins in Australia, with a death-defying stunt being performed- sliding down a rope over the ocean.

Sliding down a rope in a Stunt Thong.

Now, it may be dangerous. I sure as hell wouldn’t do it, but it’s not what you think of when you hear “death defying stunts,” at least not anymore. The 70’s did have a period of stuntman chic, with Evel Knievel, and the cult classic The Stunt Man, but this is definitely on the low end, and is perhaps better at showing how thankless the job of a stuntman can actually be. He even says at one point, “If it was really dangerous I wouldn’t do it,” which isn’t the best advertisement for the stunts done for this movie. He also has a penchant for showing off his chest, which may entice the ladies, but is also a sign of the era. The 70’s were a hairier time, as Darth Milk has intoned. We had the good sense not to yank hunks of hair out of our bodies with melted wax back then. That sort of made up for the bell bottoms, don’t you think?

“It’s that big, alright.”

The film makes liberal use of clip footage from other movies that Grant was in. Any time he drives, he talks about car stunts, and the movie cuts to a montage of clips of various car crashes, including some from the original Gone in 60 Seconds, with the infamous ’73 Mach I being chased for 40 minutes with 93 crashes. Just rent that movie if you want car stunts, it’s actually quite watchable. Unlike this, which if it were a Spinal Tap album, would get the review “Shit sandwich.”

In Australia, the Road Warrior is a documentary.

Speaking of Spinal Tap, Sorcery could very well have been an inspiration for the film, if anyone had heard of them. The singer and guitarists look like generic 70’s rock types, but the drummer wears a white tuxedo and top hat, reminiscent of Cheap Trick.

The keyboardist wears a mask at all times, like a Mexican wrestler. Sometimes it is black, other times it is made of tinfoil. What really saves the movie are the stage performers who do the band’s live show- Merlin the magician, and the Prince of Darkness.

Merlin is sort of a magical douche, constantly pulling cigarettes out of people’s ears and ducks out of platters, with the camera carefully framing things to make the sleight of hand rather easy to pull off. Ol’ Satan has muttonchops and a Gene Simmons demeanor, but he’s one of the more tolerable characters.

Annoying people with magic!

The stage show with Merlin and Muttonchops Mephistopheles battling it out fill up at least 30 minutes of running time. There’s a lot of stage pyrotechnics and magic tricks, and it is worth watching them on youtube for Merlin’s smug expressions alone. Hey, I just blew up the friggin’ Prince of Darkness, can I get a little applause here? He even gets impaled and still kicks the Devil’s ass.

Stunts… and rock. Stunt Rock. Yeah.

Many of the stunts are in slow motion, but at normal speed I don’t think you’d miss anything. The stunts would be pretty good if they were in a movie, but they just aren’t very exciting to see them on a fake movie set. We’ve all seen people fall off a building into an air bag, seen a stunt man on fire, and seen someone slide down a rope. The stunt clip montages are pretty good, but I wish they listed which movies they came from.

I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you… FIRE!

Grant Page did work on Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, is unjustly hated as “the worst in the trilogy,” when actually they are both pretty damn good movies. He also did work on the original Mad Max’s insane car crashes, Jackie Chan’s Mr. Nice Guy, and The Pirate Movie (one of my favorite stupid movies from the 80’s).

When Grant asks for a date, don’t leave him hanging. Ha! ha!

If you get to see this movie at a home screening with lots of beer, or a place like the Alamo Drafthouse, with the right crowd it would probably be pretty entertaining. Unfortunately it’s pretty dated now, and the best parts are the Sorcery concert and the clip footage. This is the kind of thing you project on a wall at a party with the sound off, like Weng Weng’s Agent 00 movies. People who love metal bands ironically like Dragonforce will enjoy Sorcery.

This is if you like keyboardists with tinfoil on their face.

The movie might be hard to sit through twice, but I wouldn’t mind the poster on my wall.