Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Military marksman Col. Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines, Running Scared) is called into top-secret duty to neutralize a surveillance robot gone haywire in San Francisco. It won't be easy, because for one thing, the android is undetectable from a human. For another, it has a built-in nuclear bomb that will detonate upon imminent threat.
I plead guilty: My friends and I have goofed around with a camcorder before and made stupid movies, but we were smart enough to know that no one outside ourselves would think they were funny. If only the makers of Caesar and Otto's Deadly Xmas realized the same.
Don’t feel stupid: I didn’t know who Ralph Zavadil was, either. After
all, we can’t be faulted for living in Oklahoma City instead of Ontario,
Canada. Ultimately, it makes no difference, because Beauty Day,
the documentary about the man, is a fun viewing nonetheless. That’s
because there’s something about watching stunts of bodily harm that
holds universal appeal.
As Beauty Day informs us, Zavadil was a man before his time as cable-TV personality Cap’n Video, a David Lee Roth-looking, Jackass-style camcorder prankster who was doing his thing in the mid-1990s, before Johnny Knoxville and the gang even dreamt of getting paid to puke. Director Jay Cheel’s doc opens with footage of the Cap’n’s apparently most notorious stunt, in which he jumps from atop a very tall ladder onto the cover of his swimming pool.
Or at least that’s what he intended to do. The ladder wasn’t properly stabilized and ... well, y’know, physics is one mean em-effer. I mean, Zavadil still hit the cover ... but only after hitting the cement, breaking his neck in the process. It’s a miracle he survived.
But he did, and the film spends time with the chain smoker reminiscing about those good ol’ days of walking through an automated car wash, snorting raw eggs, eating a homemade pie of Cool Whip and dog hair, sledding off his roof, lighting his face on fire, skiing on clothesline, and licking chocolate sauce off a puppy. Hey, it was for Easter.
Zavadil claims he wasn’t doing it to be famous; instead, “It's just being a fucking nutbar and being the nutbar in everyone.” And yet, the back half of the movie follows him attempting to revive Cap’n Video for a 20th-anniversary special.
Cheel certainly found a ready-and-willing subject in Zavadil, an individual — boy, is he ever! — who has no problem saying what’s on his mind, whether about the past, present or future. Oft-spoken is a phrase from which Beauty Day takes its title — one that is out-of-context odd and not entirely indicative of the mild mayhem contained within.
Cap’n Video had a small, but loyal audience in his original run, but his profile should expand as this entertaining documentary spreads and streams. —Rod Lott