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I Am Divine Review


Excellent

With an appropriate explosion of humour and colour, this documentary traces the life of a fiercely individualistic actor, digging beneath the surface to explore both his origins and his legacy. And frankly, it's about time someone documented the iconic cross-dressing performer Divine, who died at age 42 in 1988, just as his career was leaping into the mainstream. The fact is that this man completely changed music, theatre and cinema.

Born in Baltimore, Glenn Milstead played dress-up as a child and was routinely beaten up in school. He could never pass as a normal kid, so he never tried. Fortunately, at 17 he met John Waters and found a group of people who were outcasts like him. Waters renamed him Divine for his film Roman Candles, and the name stuck. Divine spent time in San Francisco developing the character while performing with the legendary Cockettes, then took the New York stage by storm and launched an international recording career., He also continued to rise in the ranks of cinema actors with performances in Waters' classics Pink Flamingoes, Female Trouble, Polyester and the award-winning Hairspray, which crossed-over into mainstream success and led to a non-drag role as Uncle Otto in the hit TV sitcom Married... With Children. He died of heart failure in his sleep the night before taping his first episode.

Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz (whose previous film Vito documented the life of gay-rights activist Vito Russo) gives the movie a lively pace, as a wide range of colourful people talk about their experiences with Divine through the years, including his mother Frances Milstead who reunited with her son later in life. There's also extensive footage of Divine talking about himself in interviews he gave around the world throughout his career. Combined with extensive clips, backstage video and personal photographs, the film is a remarkably complex portrait of a talented artist who was excessive in everything: food, drugs and love. But he was also fiercely disciplined when it came to his work.

Continue reading: I Am Divine Review

Hairspray (1988) Review


Good
Some 34 years after the Supreme Court ended segregation, John Waters made Hairspray, probably his most wholesome film ever (it's rated PG), to relive his Baltimore youth among the regulars of his local American Bandstand-esque dance show. Hairspray's The Corny Collins Show was indeed based on a real Baltimore show called The Buddy Deane Show, and Waters' skewering of the young Elvises and their high-hair girls is dead-on.

Set in 1963, Baltimore was still fighting integration by refusing to let black youths participate in shows like these. The minority finds an unlikely champion, though, in Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) an enormous girl who only wants to dance! As the pretty kids push against the rising popularity of the fat girl, a convenient analogue to racial discrimination develops.

Continue reading: Hairspray (1988) Review

A Dirty Shame Review


Excellent
Ultra-trashy provocateur John Waters returns to crude, campy form with A Dirty Shame, a risqué, ribald NC-17 sex-a-thon that finds the iconoclastic director reveling in his most beloved vices. The story of a frigid housewife who, because of an accidental head injury, becomes indoctrinated into a gang of raging sex addicts, Waters' ultra-vulgar comedy about fornicating buffoons and boobs is both a sarcastic rebuke to the traditional notion of "family values" and a heartfelt paean to Baltimore's freakish misfit population. Barely resembling the director's exasperatingly toothless Pecker and half-baked Cecil B. DeMented, the film - a delirious explosion of genitalia jokiness and raunchy social satire that's coated in an incongruous sheen of '50s-era movie mannerisms - is as nasty as it wants to be.

Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) is a grumpy, prudish convenience store employee who can't stand her husband Vaughn's (Chris Isaak) sexual advances and is ashamed of her stripper daughter Caprice's (Selma Blair) insanely enormous fake breasts, which the young harlot willingly displays (at least, before being put under house arrest for indecent exposure) down at the local biker bar under the stage name "Ursula Udders." Sylvia is disgusted by the rampant public displays of affection infecting her quiet town, yet after suffering a concussion, a strapping mechanic named Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville) does some voodoo on her libido, transforming Sylvia into an unhinged sex-aholic destined - as the Christ-like Ray-Ray preaches to his choir of fetishistic cohorts - to discover a truly unique new sexual act. With the rallying cry "Let's Go Sexin'!", Sylvia and Ray-Ray orchestrate a debauched sexual revolution against the square "Neuters" who - led by Sylvia's mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd) and Marge the Neuter (Waters regular Mink Stole) - have organized a counter-coalition of the "moral," and Waters, through the sheer abundance of explicit material on display, goes for the jugular (or somewhere slightly lower) in his attempt to appall and offend.

Continue reading: A Dirty Shame Review

Hairspray Review


Good
Some 34 years after the Supreme Court ended segregation, John Waters made Hairspray, probably his most wholesome film ever (it's rated PG), to relive his Baltimore youth among the regulars of his local American Bandstand-esque dance show. Hairspray's The Corny Collins Show was indeed based on a real Baltimore show called The Buddy Deane Show, and Waters' skewering of the young Elvises and their high-hair girls is dead-on.

Set in 1963, Baltimore was still fighting integration by refusing to let black youths participate in shows like these. The minority finds an unlikely champion, though, in Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) an enormous girl who only wants to dance! As the pretty kids push against the rising popularity of the fat girl, a convenient analogue to racial discrimination develops.

Continue reading: Hairspray Review

Pecker Review


Excellent
John Waters lives in two worlds: the trashy and aggressively weird neighborhoods of his native Baltimore and the artsy society circles of New York City. Pecker is his hilarious take on what happens when those two very different cultures collide.

Pecker (Edward Furlong) is a happy-go-lucky teen who loves to carry his camera around town taking quick snapshots of the types of characters who have been populating Waters's films since the '70s. He even lives with some of them: his thrift-shop owning parents (Mary Kay Place and Mark Joy); his foul-mouthed sister Tina (Martha Plimpton), who works as a sassy bartender at the local gay bar; his eight-year-old sister, the hopelessly sugar-addicted Little Chrissy (Lauren Hulsey); and his totally wacky grandmother Memama (Jean Schertler), who cooks and sells pit beef sandwiches on the front lawn when she isn't distracted by her statue of the Virgin Mary, which speaks to her saying, "Full of grace! Full of grace!" Memama doesn't realize that she's actually the one saying it.

Continue reading: Pecker Review

Pink Flamingos Review


Grim
Back in 1972, the world had no idea what it was in for. John Waters' Pink Flamingos is a film that defies description, even by today's lowly standards. Sure, a chicken gets killed as part of a sex scene, but that's not even the tip of the iceberg. There's a kidnapping plot wherein the victims are forced into pregnancy, their babies sold and the mothers disposed of. There's a flasher who ties sausage to his willy. There's a kangaroo court and a dual execution. And of course, there's Divine eating a pile of dog shit -- for real.

What kind of plot could hold all this nastiness together? Well, naturally it's a story about a rivalry between Divine (played, strangely enough, by Divine) and Mink Stole's fellow degenerate as they spar over bragging rights for Filthiest Person Alive. This results in arsons and murders a-plenty, and you can rest assured that Stole's got nothing on Divine, particularly in the gastronomic department.

Continue reading: Pink Flamingos Review

Female Trouble Review


Unbearable
John Waters' most bizarre work is also his worst, a nonsensical palette of disgusting characters, bad acting, a baffling plot, and just plain bad taste.

Not that anyone has ever accused Waters of having taste... Female Trouble features little more than a bunch of scenes of Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, and other Waters regulars screaming at one another at the top of their lungs (when they aren't busy maiming one another). The "plot" is a throwaway, featuring Divine as a high-schooler who leaves home when she doesn't get the "cha-cha heels" she wanted for Christmas -- only to turn to a life of crime with the illegitimate daughter (Stole) she squeezes out on a couch. And there's a bit about the fascist "Lipstick Beauty Salon" which seeks to document their crimes.

Continue reading: Female Trouble Review

But I'm A Cheerleader Review


Grim
Take director John Waters and give him a really good actress like Natasha Lyonne, a paltry budget of, say, $1 million, and ask him to make a satire about a "gay rehab camp," and you might come up with something like But I'm a Cheerleader.

Then again, Waters might have come up with something funny, like Pecker. With such a meaty topic as Family Values ripe for a send-up, you'd think it would be easy to milk Cheerleader for comic value. Unfortunately, first-time feature director Jamie Babbit (whose few credits including directing the MTV series Undressed and acting as script supervisor on The Game) doesn't appear to have much ability behind the camera, which becomes painfully apparent after only a few minutes.

Continue reading: But I'm A Cheerleader Review

Polyester Review


OK
John Waters' 1981 Polyester was his final really-low-budget, non-SAG production. Starring Divine, paired of course with the rakish Tab Hunter (Damn Yankees!), it's a classic entry into his gross-out genre, best known for his use of "Odorama," a scratch-and-sniff card handed out to moviegoers before the film and number-coded to certain nose-friendly scenes within the movie.

Shot for $300,000 and set (of course) in Baltimore (not to mention starring virtually all of its residents), Polyester tells the story of harried suburban wife Francine Fishpaw (Divine), who faces the triple threat of a pornographer husband (David Samson), a pregnant daughter (Mary Garlington), and a drug addict son (Ken King) who stomps the feet of local women. Not to mention her wild obesity and alcoholism (and of course, she's a man, but that's another story).

Continue reading: Polyester Review

Desperate Living Review


Terrible
Now this is sick. Originally rated X (and now officially "not rated"), John Waters' Desperate Living is an exercise in the truly disgusting and not a lot more than that.

After its elegant opening credits -- in which a real rat is served cooked on fine china and picked-at by an unseen diner while the actors' names are displayed -- the movie degenerates (yes, even further!) into the gross-out nether reaches of cinema. We are introduced to the insane, rich housewife Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole), who, with the aid of her enormous maid Grizelda (Jean Hill), kills Peggy's hapless husband. The two go on the run, ending up in a bizarre "town" called Mortville, ruled over by a fat "queen" named Carlotta (Waters regular Edith Massey) and populated with the largely naked, mostly lesbian women and men dressed in leather pants.

Continue reading: Desperate Living Review

But I'm A Cheerleader Review


Weak

"But I'm a Cheerleader" is pure camp, from its often hammy acting to its candy-colored ambience to its plot about an in-crowd high schooler whose panicked suburban parents pack her away to retreat where sexually tilted teenagers are supposed to be "cured" of homosexual tendencies.

A social satire with a John Waters-inspired bent, the picture casts caustic Natasha Lyonne ("Slums of Beverly Hills") deliberately against type as a peppy-under-peer-pressure cheerleader who eats tofu, listens to Melissa Ethridge and is so indifferent to the drooling advances of her hunky super-jock boyfriend that her friends and Bible-beater family hold an intervention and confront her with the fact that they all think she must be a lesbian.

In spite of cheer-like protests, Lyonne is sent to a group home called True Directions, where effeminate boys in baby blue shirts and ties, and butch girls in crisp, pink Donna Reed attire are inundated with antiquated ideals about sex roles and encouraged to dry-hump inmates of the opposite sex by a staff of heavily in denial "reformed" gays.

Continue reading: But I'm A Cheerleader Review

A Dirty Shame Review


OK

Tracey Ullman is so perfectly attuned to John Waters' brand of lasciviously trashy comedy, it's a wonder that she hasn't worked before for the shamelessly silly provocateur.

In the uproarious "A Dirty Shame," the writer-director lets the caustic comedienne cut loose as Sylvia Stickles, a frigid, uptight working-class suburbanite who becomes an insatiable sex maniac after getting bonked on the noggin in a car accident.

After shocking her hitherto frustrated husband (played by singer Chris Isaak) with tongue-wiggling come-ons and liberating her trampy, triple-Z-cup stripper daughter (played with bimbonic irony by real-life A-cup Selma Blair) from the bedroom where she'd been padlocked away "for her own good," Sylvia joins other concussion-born libertines as a disciple of a self-proclaimed sexual evangelist (amusingly uncouth Johnny Knoxville). All of this helps set the stage for an absurdist battle against a band of spitefully self-righteous local prudes for the soul of their Baltimore neighborhood.

Continue reading: A Dirty Shame Review

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