Tag Archives: Political

CHANNEL 366: I’M A VIRGO (2023)

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“I’m a Virgo” streams exclusively on Amazon Prime (subscription required)


FEATURING: Jharrel Jerome, Olivia Washington, Walton Goggins, Kara Young, Carmen Ejogo, Mike Epps, Brett Gray

PLOT: Cootie, a 13-foot tall black man, tries to find a purpose in Oakland, while idolizing a real-life superhero/media sensation known as “the Hero.”

Still from I'm a Virgo (2023)
Jharrel Jerome (as ‘Cootie’), Olivia Washington (as ‘Flora’). Copyright Amazon Studios, Courtesy of Prime Video

COMMENTS: How do you find shoes for a 13-foot tall teenager? And how do you support him without him eating you out of house and home? If you care about the answers to these stupid questions, then “I’m a Virgo” is not for you. If, on the other hand, you’re curious as to how giant Cootie is going to carry on a romantic affair with the normal-sized Flora—who experiences time at about ten times the speed of other people—then have I got a series for you!

“I’m a Virgo” is, on the one hand, a charming story of a sweet, naive man-child coming-of-age in a world that’s not always kind to the differently-heighted. Since this is a Boots Riley joint, it’s also a left-wing political allegory, with a citizen-led rent strike occupying a major subplot. The series is, unexpectedly, also a satire of superhero culture; in Riley’s eyes, these icons of law-and-order are nothing more than propagandist for the status quo . Cootie, meanwhile, is the ultimate image of the Other; he’s a minority of one even within his own minority group. And there are ample, literal lectures about the evils of capitalism. Most of the time, these are far too on-the-nose, as compared to the subtler satire seen in Riley’s debut feature Sorry to Bother You, where such critiques arose naturally as an organic part of the plot. But I can at least say that these lessons are far livelier (and more hallucinatory) than the similarly didactic Marxist monologues that occasionally pop up in ‘s Dziga Vertov movies of the late 60s and early 70s.

And, since this is, again, a Boots Riley joint, it’s also a work that explores these weighty issues by diving into a deep well of absurdist satire. If you thought the premise of a 13-foot man roaming the hood was enough madness for one series, Riley disagrees. We also get the story of the Hero, a homegrown Oakland version of Batman, who runs a comics empire during the day and fights crime at night from his headquarters, and whose elevator moves the building up and down instead of shuttling people between floors. He and Cootie aren’t the only remarkable humans on the block: about half the cast has hidden superpowers which are gradually revealed. The series also features a group of tiny people about as big as your finger, as well as a religious cult devoted to Cootie (who is indifferent to them). Remarkably, Riley ladles out the insanity with a steady hand, sprinkling his twisted creation with bold, surreal flavors, but never overwhelming the core story or making his characters seem anything less than psychologically real (regardless of height).

The extended length of the series format is both a blessing and a curse here. On the plus side, Riley has plenty of time to explore numerous oddball cul-de-sacs without taking time away from character development; for example, the smidgen of crazy grace that comes with a pirate broadcast of an animated series-within-the-series, a digression that would feel too far afield in a feature. Almost an entire episode is devoted to the Hero’s bizarre lifestyle; there’s so much richness here, in his fear of assassination by ninjas, his relationship to his subordinates, and his search for the perfect mate, that a spin-off series devoted to this complex character would be most welcome. On the other hand, it’s always troubling when the first season of a series like this wraps up awkwardly, tying up some loose ends but leaving others flapping in the breeze. Unfortunately, “I’m a Virgo” falls prey to this syndrome in the final episode; it’s particularly disappointing that the Hero ends his too-short arc in anticlimactic fashion. Overall, however, this is a small complaint for Riley’s extraordinary sophomore effort, and one that Amazon can easily make moot if they decide to pick up “I’m a Virgo” for round two. This bizarro Oakland neighborhood has too much craziness left to explore to leave after a mere seven episodes.


“…an epic and surreal story that is part fairy tale, part parable, and utterly unique. Evoking the same off-kilter filmmaking style as his feature film debut, Riley has delivered one of the weirdest streaming series in recent memory that pulls together statements on unemployment, racial bias, exploitation, and class warfare within the guise of a comic book-themed superhero adventure. I’m A Virgo is weird and weirdly wonderful.”–Alex Maidy, JoBlo (contemporaneous)


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DIRECTED BY: Röckët Stähr

FEATURING: The voices of Röckët Stähr, Abby Ahmad

PLOT: Röcky Stähr, a four-armed glam idol, leads the world revolution of the mind against the war-mongering C. Czar in the year 2165.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: As a glam rock opera presented in Yellow Submarine-style-by-way-of-Flash™ animation with living lyrics, this looks and sounds like virtually nothing out there. But its message is what makes Death of a Rockstar one of the oddest high-decibel screeds I’ve ever borne witness to.

COMMENTS: Death of a Rockstar is a shameless throw-back, from its “revolution through music” mentality, to its repeated homaging, through its bombastic revelry in bygone music eras. Simultaneously, it is a film with a dark (albeit vibrantly palletted) dystopian vision: all the violent, power-hungry nay-sayers have co-opted governments worldwide in a bid for theocratic power. Simultaneously, it has much to say about contemporary conflicts: the merits of and limits to freedom; individualism versus collectivism; victimhood and responsibility; and so on. Röckët Stähr has a lot to say, and Death of a Rockstar is not only his way of saying it, it also feels like he’s thinking things through with us, in real time, to a soundtrack reminiscent of Queen-Bowie-Bolan-Thunders-Sex-Pistols LOUD rock ‘n roll collaboration.

In its Citizen Kane-y beginning, there is a loud clap of noise and a sudden death. Cue the singing globe in a cage, flanked by instrument-playing planets, to jam out the exposition. It’s 2164, and the killjoys have won. Life is meant merely to be survived, and an omnipresent government takes hold to spare the citizenry the burden of thinking freely. Creigh A. Tohr has created a four-armed clone infused with the rebellious, rockin’ sensibilities of some dozen or more glam and post-punk rock luminaries to liberate mankind from the shackles of their own fear and acquiescence, named Röcky (hello, …Picture Show). In tandem, we see the story of Ronnie, a young woman with an abusive father and emotionally distant mother, who is forced to flee the authorities and ends up meeting the titular Rockstar.

Stähr (the filmmaker) knows his film history. He knows his music (he scored and performed the soundtrack). More importantly, he understands visual comedy (he even animated the film). When Ronnie’s writing a letter to her folks, her pen keeps dying, in sync with the lyrics she’ singing, and when shaking, scratching, and licking the nib fail to resurrect the ink-flow, she pricks her finger and the words come down in blood, just as the letter takes a dark tone. There are innumerable little visual touches that play with images, words on-screen, and quite often, the interaction of the two. The man is a natural-born cartoonist, humorist, musician, and singer.

Much of Death of a Rockstar is anti-fascist. It is also anti-collectivist. It has no sympathy for faddish leftie-ism (in a “Museum of Unnatural History”, there are various exhibits featuring banned items such as sugar, trans-fat, and drinking straws), alongside its dismissal of organized religion and martial practice. For awhile I thought this was a something of a libertarian’s dream vision. But by the final act, as Tohr sings a duet with a smashed-mirror-monster, something that had been lurking below the surface finally revealed itself: the importance of deliberation, and of keeping clear of absolutist thinking. It hit me like a moderated ton of bricks: Death of a Rockstar is an anarcho-bourgeoisie screed—one that rocks hard and fun from start to finish, and overflows with comedic self-deprecation as the pontificating rockstar puzzles through his credo to the wail of a guitar and the high-octane blast of his power tenor.

Death of a Rockstar was completed in 2020 but released in 2022. It currently streams exclusively on Tubi for free (with ads).


“…Röckët Stähr’s Death of a Rockstar deserves to be considered at least by those who seek something different in movies. Trust me, you will headbang your way into a weird universe of raunchiness, stardom, and powerful lyrics. But it isn’t a film for everyone.” -Federico Furzan, Movie-Blogger.com (contemporaneous)

28*. WALKER (1987)

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“I was seriously off the rails here.”–screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer, on Walker‘s commentary



FEATURING: Ed Harris, , , , Peter Boyle,  Marlee Matlin

PLOT: Shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt hires William Walker, a mercenary and adventurer fresh off a failed campaign to establish an independent state in Mexico, to take a small army to Nicaragua to join their civil war on the side of the Democrats. Assembling a ragtag band of disreputable men lacking better prospects, Walker takes his army to Nicaragua, where he has unexpected success, driving back the Legitimist army and arriving in the capital of Grenada as a liberator. Initially accepting a position leading the army, Walker grows power mad and seizes the country’s Presidency.

Still from Walker (1987)


  • William Walker was a real historical figure and, ridiculous anachronisms and obvious fantasy scenes aside, Walker describes the general direction of his career. Many scenes were drawn from his diaries and letters and other historical sources. (One major change was the role of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who did not sponsor Walker’s original expedition, but was involved in his downfall.)
  • The practice of American adventurers invading Latin American countries with private armies was surprisingly common in the 19th century, so much so that it earned its own name: filibustering. William Walker was the most successful filibusterer of all time. He somehow took control of Nicaragua with an army initially comprised of a mere 60 men.
  • Rudy Wurlitzer’s previous screenplays included the bizarre post-apocalyptic Glen and Randa (1971), ‘s cult film Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and the Western Pat Garret and Billy the Kid (1973).
  • Cox made Walker in the same year as Straight to Hell, a quickie scraped together after plans to film a punk rock concert in Nicaragua fell apart.
  • The movie was filmed while the C.I.A..-backed Contras were waging a guerilla war against the ruling Sandinistas. Cox filmed corpses from a Contra massacre and included the footage in the film’s end credits.
  • Universal Studios gave Cox his largest budget ever, six million dollars, to make what they hoped might be a prestige biopic, or even a hit. They did not expect the deranged, anachronistic, incendiary film Cox delivered, and after poorly-received test screenings they buried the film. Cox never directed in Hollywood again.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s tempting to cite one of the many iconic scenes of Walker, rifle in hand, striding confidently in the foreground in his smart Puritan-black suit while mayhem erupts in the background. We instead selected the surreal image of Walker striding confidently across the beach in the background, while in the foreground two of his men are being punished by being buried up to their necks in the sand with a tarantula crawling over one’s head, while their overseer enjoys a Marlboro and Coke.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Smoking during tarantula torture; 19th century helicopter evacuation

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Imagine Aguirre, the Wrath of God directed by (if he was obsessed with politics instead of sex and Catholicism). That’s Walker in a nutshell.

Original trailer for Walker

COMMENTS: Walker drops its strangeness on its viewers gradually. Continue reading 28*. WALKER (1987)