Winks & winces

Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth

The fat, funky bass line that defined the sound of Parliament's biggest hits such as "Flashlight"? That came from Bernie Worrell. Thing is, Bernie Worrell isn't a bassist; he's a keyboard player. As one of the many musicians whose all-pervasive influence lies invisible until it's made obvious, Worrell has long been lionized by in-the-know musicians, but has had little success outside the Mothership — besides a stint with the late-period Talking Heads. This hagiography strains diligently to make the case for his ascent into the pantheon. Through interviews with many of the musicians — George Clinton, David Byrne, Mos Def, Prince Paul, Warren Haynes and others — who've been fortunate enough to perform with him, as well as with the words of a handful of critics and musical academics, Stranger spends much of its 39-minute length having other people expound on the Woo Warrior's greatness. Tellingly, the only real say Worrell has in the film is through his keyboard playing. This is probably sufficient, as the 63-year-old's health and financial struggles have rendered him none too eloquent in the verbal department. His prodigal youth is dealt with almost as briefly as his time in P-Funk, so this film is less a documentary and more of an elegant homage. —Jason Ferguson


From Beyond

When Re-Animator won Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985 it put director-writer Stuart Gordon on the map. He got a three-picture deal with now-defunct Empire Pictures and then created a gloriously twisted film for a follow-up. Adapted from a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond plays like a kinky update of those '50s sci-fi monster flicks. Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel, here looking like a greasier and more lecherous version of Hugh Hefner) and his colleague have created a device that stimulates the pineal gland in the hopes it'll be something like a third eye. The experiment works, but not exactly like they thought it would. Dr. Pretorius gets killed by something not from this dimension and Dr. Tillinghast (Jeffery Combs, Re-Animator) is thrown into the psych ward. Sexy psychologist Dr. McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, The Sisterhood) comes to the rescue — she springs him from his padded cell and asks him to re-create the experiment. Along for the trippy ride is police officer Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead). Brains get munched, goo gets spewed and everyone gets downright horny before it's all over. Barbara Crampton at first seems woefully miscast as a wunderkind psychiatrist. She actually mispronounces schizophrenia. But when she dons a leather corset, garters and spiked heels she becomes ... ahem, very engaging. With its almost hallucinatory color pallet of fuchsia, magenta and turquoise, From Beyond looks nothing like the grungy sepia-tinted '70s rip-offs that are today's horror flicks. This unrated directors' cut DVD has a whole minute more gore than previous versions. Gordon's commentary on how he repeatedly bumped heads with the MPAA is telling of the asinine ratings system. Other extras include an interview with composer Richard Band, a storyboard-to-film comparison and a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the film's restoration process. —Paul Knoll


Jim Norton: Monster Rain

Comedian Jim Norton is not, as some might accuse him of being, a "dirty comic." No, with his tales of childhood fellatio (consensual, mind you ... between two boys), his descriptions of the ideal vagina ("big" and "meaty" and "bald") and his propensity for having sex with trannies (not because he likes men, but because they're all he can afford), Jim Norton goes way beyond dirty. He's a "cringe humorist," which means that he's devastatingly, uncomfortably honest with his act; considering that most comedians are outcasts and perverts, he's an honest comedian but one that would be hard to take home to mom. Norton's ability to wind a near-right libertarianism into his forthrightness about race, class, culture and, yes, sexuality also engages, primarily because it's so rare to hear a white male comic approach such issues in a way that's neither implausibly apologetic nor offensively reactionary. Plus, even (or especially) when he's at his most vicious and "dirty" in this HBO special, Norton is also at his funniest. —Jason Ferguson


Bad Reputation
Maverick Entertainment Group

Remember Pretty in Pink? You have to know it — the classic John Hughes teenage "life sucks" film. The one in which Molly Ringwald played the plucky girl from the poor part of town who dared to date the rich and popular boy. Remember? Good, because writer-director Jim Hemphill must be banking on a mass outbreak of amnesia. How else do you explain trying to pass off Bad Reputation's sordid rape-and-revenge retooling of Pretty in Pink's plot as original? Seriously, Bad Reputation is color-by-numbers. Michelle (Angelique Hennessy) is the studious and cash-strapped good-girl, saddled with an alcoholic mother who thinks positive parenting is telling her daughter that she's got a fat ass. Michelle finds herself invited by the buff jock to his house for a party. He woos her by mentioning how she's like those girls in a Freddie Prinze Jr. movie — a homely chick who's obviously really hot. Michelle goes, only to be drugged and raped. The rapists' bitchy girlfriends convince themselves that Michelle seduced their boyfriends and duct tape her to a tree with the word "slut" written on her. Michelle's branded the school whore and can't get her mother or the school counselor to believe her. Michelle takes revenge by dressing up as the slut she been accused and starts picking off her adversaries one by one. This all has the making of a great exploitation flick but Hemphill attempts social commentary and turns what should have been a nastier version of Mean Girls or Carrie into I Spit on Your Grave: The After-School Special starring Hannah Montana. Watch Savage Streets (1983), starring the curvaceous Linda Blair, instead. Newly released on DVD, this is how a cheap and gleeful rape-revenge flick should really be done. It's pure exploitation without an apology in sight. —Paul Knoll

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