The Rape of “Fantasia” — Italian Style!

Walt Disney produced one of the most daring animated feature achievements in history when his studio full of talented artists developed Fantasia (1940). From bow to stern Fantasia is a masterwork, a wondrous marriage of classical compositions and powerful animation. It’s beautiful, humorous, imaginative, and willing to surprise at every turn with each new animated technique used to interpret the gorgeous music. Several years after this celebrated film a little Italian movie was made, a sardonic response or riff on this immortal classic.

12More recently I had discovered that my local library carried an old, worn-out VHS of this strange foreign artifact and, as I’d been searching for it for quite some time, I made ready use of my library card. Sadly it is not available in the United States on DVD of Blu-ray yet. With the film in my bookbag, I traveled to yet another library (my old alma mater and then-current place of employment) to utilize their free VCRs. There I was, alone with my thoughts, a headset, a 9 inch TV screen, and a scratchy, used copy of Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro Non Troppo (1976).

An over-confident narrator informs us that we will be witnessing an unprecedented event: brilliant, original animations set to legendary classical music compositions…until Hollywood calls him mid-speech and tells him that someone named Bizney or Frisney already did that in 1940. BUT THE FILM MUST GO ON! And go on it does.

13A group of embittered old ladies are harvested into a livestock truck to be escorted to the theater where their instruments await. With the geriatric band of curmudgeonly females in place, the pompous, bloated, cigar-chomping conductor enters (he reminded me of a svelter Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life). The tacit animator is brought out of the dungeon to sketch the music live as it is played. The animator’s slanted desk provides much opportunity for slapstick gags and it proves to be a constant struggle for the mousey, mustachioed artist. With the warped live-action re-imagined elements of Fantasia set, the orchestra comes to life.

11Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is first on the program. A sad, dumpy satyr lopes along through a lush garden inhabited by sleek, sultry, and noticeably nude wood nymphs. The satyr, recognizing his lack of physical appeal, attempts to beautify himself, but nothing works and he gradually shrinks away into misfortune and comical melancholy. The piece presents very human insecurities regarding self-image and unfulfilled desires for sex and love. Like many a great comedy, this short has fun at the expense of its doomed protagonist. This piece has some wonderful sight gags and clever bits of surrealism (such as tempting trees made of legs and boobs, etc.).

You couldn’t have a film like this and not have the ornery conductor beat up on the old ladies. So he does. Don’t worry. But right after his assault on granny we get Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 7, Op. 46. This cartoon features a man who will do anything to get away from his intolerable society. He leaves the rocks to build a hut, but everyone in the rocks copies him. He next builds a house and a tower, but the rest of the mindless population just follows suit. He can’t get away! It all culminates in a humorous game of Simon Says that doesn’t go exactly the way the little rebel hoped.

17There is a slop break for the orchestra and nasty tins full of gruel are ladled out to the old ladies and the animator (who fights to keep it on his slanted drawing desk) while the conductor and the narrator enjoy a decadent candlelit meal. When all the food is gone and the woeful animator, still not having ingested a morsel, reaches for a Coke that is snatched away and glugged down by the greedy conductor. He then tosses the bottle carelessly into the audience. Taking cues from both his own anger and the image of a flying bottle, the animator proceeds to sculpt another brilliant short to the tune of Maurice Ravel’s Boléro.

6This is perhaps the best segment of the whole film. A nearly empty Coke bottle is tossed by a careless astronaut and left on some unknown planet. The remaining drops ooze out of its glass prison and develop eyes, then a nose, sentience, and finally locomotion. The amorphous blob evolves into more complex and surreal organisms and soon an entire food chain and ecosystem is formed and we are following a parade of boneless, squishy dinosaur-like creatures to Boléro‘s wonderful tempo. A mischievous and rather unscrupulous ape-like creature uses a club to kill random critters. As the tormented procession of evolutionary oddities marches on they are badgered by tornadoes, the cross, a spear, a tank, freeways, and are ultimately done in by a booming metropolis. An enormous statue of a man stands alone, but it too finally crumbles and the ape-like creature emerges from the wreckage and shrugs.

5Back in “reality” a gorilla attacks the animator, it snows in the theater, and there is an impromptu dance sequence. Then it’s back to the drawing board for Jean Sibelius’ Valse Triste. This is the saddest piece on the program as it features the optimistic hallucinations of a starving-to-death stray cat (think Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl”). The cat lives in a ruin of an old house that sits like an island amidst a see of identical cubed buildings. The cat imagines what the house might have been like in its glory days and soon phantoms of past owners appear and fade away. Hungry and alone the cat fades along with the phantoms and what was once a glorious home full of stories, art, and character gets the wrecking ball.

14Next it’s Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major. A fastidious cartoon bee meticulously sets her table (a daffodil full of pollen). Her silverware, napkins, and television all in place and the sun just right she prepares to dine, but is disturbed by a necking couple out for an amorous tumble in the field. This delightfully amusing piece is punctuated by a very funny escalating altercation between the conductor and the animator. Will the arts never see eye to eye?

The last musical piece is Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird (which was featured in Fantasia 2000). The music ever so cleverly reinterprets the saga of Adam and Eve. The twist in this version is that the people won’t take the fruit and so the snake eats it himself…and gets thrust into a hellish world of consumerism and pornography (perhaps the same thing?). The snake is tormented by giant demons and exposed to all manner of diabolical and sexually-charged advertisements and other harvests of materialism.

15When the cartoon concludes the animator runs off with the cleaning woman and the orchestra folds, leaving the narrator with no other choice but to ask the dimwitted “Frankenstini” to find a finale. The finale is a grotesque amalgam of images, violence, and what-have-you set to a disruptive cacophony of musical pieces overlapping each other until finally reaching its delirious apex in a violent explosion.

I’ve heard differing arguments for this film; some praising it, others seeing it as a trivial parody of a classic. I admire this film. It is not Fantasia nor does it wish to be. Fantasia was a beautifully imagined experiment executed with precise artistic flourishes and a languid pace. It is an undisputed classic. Allegro Non Troppo might not be as artistically complex, but it is every bit as cunning and all the more biting with its sharp, sardonic wit. Fantasia dealt with what music makes us feel and imagine and did an astounding job. Allegro Non Troppo uses music to conjure cynical but humorous ideas of society and humanity. It deals with adult themes such as urban development, isolation, modernization, death, pain, frustration, sexual longing, and societal disenfranchisement and it does so all with a wry sense of whimsy. Nothing is ever on so grand a scale as it was in Disney’s classic, but this humble film’s intimacy places it in a unique position for a more subtle social satire without distracting presumptuousness. Only a comedy could muse so sharply and eloquently about such human topics. And some segments beautifully parody Fantasia, such as the satyr bit when compared to the centaur scene or their own distinct takes on the march of evolutionary progress.

9I think the films compliment each other nicely and the music is just as lovely and well utilized to convey an idea or story, although perhaps not quite as memorable. The idea of setting clever toons to classic tunes is a fun one. Heck, even Tiny Toon Adventures did an episode like that. I recommend this film (if you can find a copy of this elusive specimen) for anyone who loved Fantasia…or hated it.

Top 1o Reasons to See Allegro Non Troppo

1. Old ladies get beat up and mistreated. Comedy gold!

2. Although the animation might not be as colorful or grandiose as Fantasia, it has a great style all it’s own that Disney could never have pulled off.

3. One thing Allegro Non Troppo does that might suit today’s ADHD audiences is keep all of its musical segments very short. I love Fantasia, but as a kid I always felt like some of those things went on forever.

4. It’s not the artistic slap in Disney’s face you might be expecting, but it’s probably close.

5. The Boléro sequence is a great bit of animation that definitely rivals Disney’s portrayal of the dinosaurs. The difference being that the Fantasia sequence you might show to a biology class, the Allegro Non Troppo sequence you might show to a biology, history, philosophy, or theology class. Think the intro to the animated Dilbert TV show, but much more sly and smarmy.

26. I won’t tell you it’s more sophisticated than Monty Python’s stuff, but some of it definitely reminded me of their style of humor.

7. The animated interaction with the music is subtle but very effective.

8. You might actually laugh and cry. Maybe you won’t. Shut up and watch it.

9. How often do you get to see this much artistic talent coupled with great classical music AND a snarky sense of humor?

10. It’s cleverness and irreverence is overshadowed only by its humorousness.

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” May 2, 2011

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Woody Allen, Alec Guinness, and Segei Prokofiev

So these two movies I want to mention today have almost nothing in common except that they are both wonderful comedies, star some of my favorite people, and feature Sergei Prokofiev’s effervescent Lieutenant Kijé – Troika (fourth movement) as their theme music. It just goes to show you how filmmakers can take great classical pieces and change their meaning. Consider Stanley Kubrick’s use of classical music in many of his films. It’s hard for many people to hear Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 by Strauss without seeing weird lunar eclipses and apes bashing tapir’s brains in. It’s hard for many people to hear Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 without imagining a humble and unprejudiced pig quietly herding sheep around a green. Do you first think Paul Dukas or Mickey Mouse when you hear the uppity bassoons from The Sorceror’s Apprentice? Sometimes movies take great music and make it their own by redefining it and giving it new context.

Me? I can’t hear “Journey of the Sorceror” by the Eagles without thinking the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show is about to come on.

Sir Alec Guinness must have seen the comedic potential in this bouncy Russian tune for his film about a hard-headed artist named Gulley Jimson in the film The Horse’s Mouth (1958). Woody Allen’s use of the same piece might seem more logical as Love and Death (1975) is a satire on great Russian literature. In any event, such good movies, no matter how unrelated, deserve another mention.

The Horse’s Mouth is one of the movies I am sad more people haven’t heard of. Directed by Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Advneture, Hopscotch), The Horse’s Mouth is a splendidly buoyant and enjoyable little British comedy that stars the great Alec Guinness. Guinness is one of the British legends who most people probably only know as Obiwan Kenobi from the original Star Wars movies. In addition to jedi master he was also in many of the equally great David Lean films (Great ExpectationsOliver Twist, Lawrence of Arabia, and Dr. Zhivago) and Ealing studios comedies (Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Man in the White Suit, and my personal favorite, The Ladykillers). He was also George Smiley from the miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). The Horse’s Mouth was the film Guinness did right after he won the Academy Award for his performance in Lean’s (best film, so says I) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and it’s also the only film for which he wrote the screenplay. Like another legendary British performer, Charles Laughton who only directed one movie, the amazing Night of the Hunter (1955), Guinness proved he was more than a talented actor with this singular outing as writer.

Prokofiev’s piece gives The Horse’s Mouth an extra does of comic energy at just the right times and fits the film perfectly.

Gulley Jimson is a lovable rogue. He’s eccentric. He’s a drunk. He’s lazy. He lies. He’s pinches women’s behinds. He’s in and out of jail. He lives on a dilapidated boat next to a crazy person. He ignores social parameters. He’s a struggling artist who wants to do things his own way. The Horse’s Mouth was based on a book by Joyce Cary, but Guinness makes it his own. He crafts a very fun character, with gravelly voice and tattered clothes. Despite it being a comedy, there is in fact a lot of pathos. Jimson is old and depends upon his long-suffering barmaid friend, Coker (Kay Walsh). The sparks and animosity shared between these two old souls could only have been founded in feelings of affection from somewhere down deep. Jimson may be eccentric, but he’s a three-dimensional character and we understand his plight. He wants to leave his mark. He sees wondrous artistic potential everywhere, but can’t find money and rarely feels too proud of his work once it’s completed. Life is a neverending wave of brilliant horizons and disappointing sunsets for Jimson. But why go on about the minutiae of the plot? Just watch the movie. It’s wonderful and funny and reveals much about Guinness’s talents as an actor and a writer. Michael Gough (perhaps most famous as Alfred from the Burton and Schumacher Batmans) and Ernst Thesiger (the incomparable Dr. Septimus Pretorius from The Bride of Frankenstein) also have supporting roles.

So Woody Allen is still making movies. After making at least one movie every year since 1965, the 76 year old New York intellectual nebbish director, actor, writer is still going. For my money Allen’s best work comes out of the 70s. Titles like Bananas, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask, Sleeper,  Annie Hall, and Manhattan are just a few reasons why he’s an important filmmaker. His skewering of Russian authors like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and even, curiously, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, is Love and Death. As usual, Allen wrote, directed, and starred in this fun classic comedy. This film was the last film Allen made before Annie Hall and that whole paradigm shift into the realm of mixing realism alongside his oddball style of humor. It followed Sleeper which was a hilarious mixture of Rip van Winkle, science fiction dystopias, and silent comedy. What all of this means is that Love and Death is still just a zany comedy for comedy’s sake (which is totally fine). What makes it work is that it mixes philosophy, theology, and history together so well and the anachronistic Jewish New Yorker with glasses and incessant existential crises just fits in with the philosophies but so humorously against the historical backdrop.

Once again, Prokofiev’s enchanting melody gives us an upbeat tempo and sets the tone. It feels unmistakably Russian but it’s joy and snappy pace are like Allen in that their levity offsets the heavy philosophical and theological quagmires suffered by the characters. It’s comedy.

Allen is Boris, the third son of a proud family or oblivious weirdos. In love with his promiscuous cousin (Diane Keaton, of course), but sent to fight the French in battle, the anemic hero must survive wars, duals, dullards, and cold Russian winters to be with his beloved cousin again. In the end they decide to attempt to assassinate Napoleon (played by James Tolkan from Back to the Future). There are some great lines and wonderful sight gags and clever riffs on classical literature in this movie and it is very funny from start to finish. My one complaint is that it does sort of run out of steam by the third act but the finale is enjoyably underwhelming. It’s about Woody Allen’s two favorite subjects; love and death, and his comedy is always best when it’s subject matter is a little depressing. Interestingly enough, the final lines from Sleeper are a response to if he believes in anything. His answer in Sleeper was, “sex and death.” Coincidental lead in to this movie?

For people who only know Sir Alec Guinness from his dramatic roles and Star Wars I would strongly suggest you check out his comedies. The Horse’s Mouth showcases Guinness’s comedic prowess as well as considerable writing talents. And for those of you who only know Woody Allen from Antz and Midnight in Paris, you should really acquaint yourself with his 70’s work and Love and Death is a pretty good place to start. I liked Prokofiev’s music before, but it’s fun to see it being used in different contexts. Whether it be a rambunctious renegade painter scarpering off into the horizon or Woody Allen dancing with the grim reaper we can all tap our toes along to this familiar, lively piece.

The Post Apocalyptic Movies You Didn’t See…Way Beyond the Thunderdome

Deserts and desperation. From Mad Max (1979) to Children of Men (2006) we sure do love speculating about what the world might look like after a nuclear holocaust. The post-apocalyptic sub-genre of the dystopian movie is something of a Hollywood staple nowadays (The Road, Book of Eli). There have been many a fine example of what a story can do with a clean slate. After the disaster you can make your own rules…unfortunately a lot of post-apocalyptic flicks don’t seem to realize that the possibilities of what a post-apocalyptic world can be are endless. You can go all out weird-bad bonkers like John Boorman’s misguided wtf Zardoz (1974) with Sean Connery, or you can go total glittery-cape-wearing zombie-war like in the Charlton Heston classic The Omega Man (1971). Most of the films mentioned in this paragraph are fairly well-known or popular (ok, Zardoz is a little out there), but I’d like to focus on a few post-apocalyptic movies you probably didn’t see. Both good and bad these films celebrate the endless possibilities of life after the bomb drops.

Come travel back in time with me as we explore the future.

When I hear a title like Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987) a little twinge of excitement tickles my spine. I watched this movie knowing it was going to be bad. It did not disappoint. Hell Comes to Frogtown stars wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (They Live) as Sam Hell, one of the last remaining fertile males in the not too distant future. Hell is captured and his netherbits are locked up by the provisional government so that he can go on a mission—wait for it, wait for it—to impregnate all the fertile females that are held hostage in Frogtown. So what is Frogtown? Frogtown is the steam-filled factory-like settlement inhabited by mutant frog people. Ribbit. If this movie sounds a little campy and chauvinistic, it’s only because it is. This movie can’t go ten minutes without women disrobing themselves. Frogtown has everything you’d expect from a campy eighties sci-fi action comedy. You got your butch, cigar-chomping, short-hair chick who’s always stroking a big gun (Cec Verrell). Then there’s the “nerdy” chick with the stick up her butt who lets her hair down and removes her gigantic owl glasses (and several articles of clothing) to reveal she’s secretly super hot (Sandahl Bergman). There’s your regular Joe protagonist (Piper) who just wants to get the blasted electrocution diaper off his junk. Finally there are some truly silly people in big frog puppet suits. The film is ugly and terrible…just the way I like it sometimes. If nothing else, it’s better than Super Mario Bros.

The eighties had some hits, but man, when you find its forgotten misses. Don’t hate this one because it’s Canadian. Hate it because it sucks. The mercifully short Rock & Rule (1983) is just as yucky as anything to come out of the eighties. In the distant future some mutant rodent people have formed a mediocre rock band. The band is made up of the obnoxious tool of a guitarist, the loveable but paunchy intellectual keyboardist, the goofy and uber-annoying drummer, and the kind and soulful hot girl. Everything is going nowhere for these guys until an evil all-powerful rocker named Mok needs to use the girl’s voice to unleash a demon out of hell for some reason. I found it interesting that all of the male characters look rather gross or strange but with the girl they really try to minimize her rodent features and sexualize her. Anthros will love it. The story is stupid, the characters are grating, the colors are oppressive and dim, and there’s really nothing to care about in this unpleasant fantasy adventure, but the animation is actually really, really good. I was genuinely impressed by the animation in this dumb movie. The same studio animated Eek! The Cat and The Adventures of Tintin cartoons. Most of the songs are pretty forgettable, but there’s a few decent ones. The songs are performed by (get this) Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, and Earth, Wind, & Fire, so there’s that. All in all something this bad and strange should not be forgotten…because that means I have to find it.

The bad is now behind us. Now we move into the realm of the good ol’ off-the-wall post-apocalyptic movies.

A Boy and His Dog (1975) is the touching tale of the undying bond between man and man’s best friend. Kind of. In the distant future (post-apocalyptic, of course) Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire) search for food and females. The landscape is reminiscent of Hell Comes to Frogtown, but it was actually Mad Max who was inspired first. A Boy and His Dog was directed by L.Q. Jones (the old, blonde, mustachioed guy in The Mask of Zorro) and is appropriately taglined as “a rather kinky tale of survival.” The protagonist, Vic, is not only a bit of an immature, reckless jerk, but he’s also a bit of a rapist too. The dog is ten times smarter than Vic is, which really makes you consider a dog’s steadfast loyalty in a whole new light. When Vic meets Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton) he is convinced he must see the strange, enigmatic underground city. If everyone above ground is wild and dangerous and resources are scarce then maybe it’s time to go subterranean. The problem is that Blood is wounded and so he elects to wait for Vic to return up top. Once underground Vic discovers a whole populated world of people wearing clown makeup (and the world is run by Jason Robards!!!). He then learns that they need his seed to repopulate (Frogtown! Confound you!). Initially the idea appeals to the perpetually randy Vic, but when they take all the fun out of it and keep him prisoner that’s when things get serious. I would love to tell you more, but I can’t ruin it for you. It’s a pretty odd film that gets away with a lot of its shenanigans by not taking itself too seriously. Oh, and the ending is definitely one for the books.

Lastly, and my personal favorite on this list, is the surreal British comedy The Bed-Sitting Room (1969). The film takes place in a desolate British wasteland full of oddball characters trying to carry on with their daily lives. These characters are played by many familiar English personalities such as Michael Hordern (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), Sir Ralph Richardson (Time Bandits), Dudley Moore (Arthur), Peter Cook (Bedazzled), Roy Kinnear (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Rita Tushingham (Doctor Zhivago), Marty Feldman (Young Frankenstein), Harry Secombe (The Goon Show), and more! It was based on Spike Milligan’s play (he also stars in the film alongside everyone else) and it was directed by Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers, Superman II). The film really operates more as a series of somewhat connected interludes and non-sequiturs, all as bafflingly surreal and morbidly funny as all get out. It almost feels like what would happen if Terry Gilliam and Alejandro Jodorowsky did a movie together. It has that absurd—almost Monty Python flavored—satire, but with the stark desperation and dreamlike transmogrifications that imply an even more cynically surreal hand at work. It’s a marvelous commentary on society and if you can get into people turning into furniture then this just might be the film for you. I absolutely loved its darkly warped wit. This is Richard Lester untethered and the cast is superb. And even weirder than Lester’s How I Won the War.

Post-apocalyptic movies have remained popular through the years and it’s no wonder. You can get really imaginative with them. I picked these films not only because they are exceptionally unusual and maybe less well known, but also because they employ a unique and welcome twist to the genre: a sense of humor. Hell Comes to Frogtown and Rock and Rule may be rather heinous, but they only mean to have fun and provide a strange escape. A Boy and His Dog and The Bed-Sitting Room are inventive and edgy, but it is their humorous spirit that defines them and makes them special. Humor affords them special privileges. Humor can say and do things drama cannot, and vice versa, but with so many dour and serious post-apocalyptic films out there, why not take a chance on one of these weird babies? If you like post-apocalyptic movies you might enjoy checking out these peculiar specimens…but you already know which ones I’d recommend first.

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” June 13, 2011

Baxter: French “Cujo” or Dog “Taxi Driver”?

A long time ago—some might even venture to add ‘in a galaxy far away’ but they would be fools—I had a great deal of fun hosting and writing a radio for me old alma mater. The show was arbitrarily called “Don’t Fly Continental” (the airline had lost my luggage a week before I had to name the show) and every week we would review three obscure/bizarre/lost films. I remember when I first pitched the concept to a group of fellow students at the time and they said things like, “Why don’t you want to review good movies?” and “You’re going to run out of movies after week three.” I was cut to the very quick by their vehement and ignoble simpleness. Well, I’m pleased to say we never did run out and to this day, years later, I am unearthing dozens of wild films every week, hence this blog in lieu of the demise of the radio show. Beyond being far from running out of weird movies, I am pleased to say that a good many of the obscure films we discovered were not only good but many were masterpieces, staggering achievements, godsends.

One of my favorite finds from the first year we ever did “Don’t Fly Continental” was a surprising little psychological horror about a sociopathic bull terrier, Baxter (1989). I have watched it and shared it several times since. I’ll admit it might be a difficult film for some, but it is one of those great movies that sadly remains obscure for many folks. It was within some of the first few months of “Don’t Fly Continental” when we watched Baxter and we realized immediately that our show was truly important. We found many great unknown films, but this was one of the early ones that we merely stumbled upon quite by accident.

I read something of it somewhere online. It looked like your standard killer dog slasher movie. The cover looked something like this:

It seems to have been sorely misrepresented. Even the tagline is really misleading. As my title implies this is not merely a French version of Cujo. This is far more dark and psychological and far more chilling than viscerally shocking. In fact, there is very little onscreen violence. Most of it is shocking enough just being anticipated. It’s not very gory, but it is downright chilling. Director Jérôme Boivin takes us down a very unnerving rabbit hole as we descend into the twisted and confused mind of man’s best friend. This is more a canine Travis Bickle.

The story begins with dim, jarring closeups of snarling dog muzzles behind kennel bars and mesh. Eventually our main character’s voice is heard above the desperate howling. The voice is that of a dog named Baxter (Maxime Leroux). As he is slowly illumined and the camera pushes in and the blood red void behind him brightens his grim monologue comes to an end and the movie’s title pops in. There is an immediate tone of brooding animosity, impending danger, and the potential for horrific carnage held in suspended animation. This ominous tone remains near constant for the entire duration.

Baxter is broken up into segments after the prologue. We get a look into the troubled and interconnected lives of several human characters before Baxter returns. There is jealousy, infidelity, voyeurism, unrequited love, thoughts on aging, and the seedlings of a Hitler obsession in the human world. The movie lingers on the sad existences of these human characters, delicately setting the stage for the title character. The elderly and surly Madame Deville (Lise Delamare) is given the insulting gift of a dog for her birthday. This dog is, of course, Baxter.

Baxter does not like Madame Deville. Her fear of him makes him uneasy and that she gives him no structure or orders makes him angry and confused. Without focus and understandable tasks Baxter’s mind returns to “unnatural thoughts” from his early life. We never know what happened to him before the pound, but it seems to have left him slightly deranged. Although half of the time we are observing the lives of the emotionally disconnected human characters, the other half we are submerged in the suffocatingly grim and psychopathic inner-monologues of Baxter. As he tries to make sense of his changing world, even his pleasant thoughts seem marred by malicious intent. “I have always been fascinated by birds. Maybe one day I’ll kill one.”

As Baxter’s secret feelings regarding his aging master become more and more enamored with the idea of her death—which Baxter sees as entirely justifiable and necessary—Madame Deville is also slowly succombing to dementia. Her behavior becomes more erratic and their lives together more cloistered. Baxter fantasizes about the young couple across the street whom he observes with interest and imagines their noises and smells when they make love.

This film also has some bizarre left turns such as a ghost beckoning an old man into death. Yeah. Completely unprecedented, yet somehow appropriate and functional.

Eventually (through malevolent means) Baxter does end up with the young couple and all is bliss and routine until the young woman gets pregnant. I won’t say much but if you watch this movie you will think twice about letting a dog near a baby. The dog is disgusted by the feeble, mindless new creature and utterly baffled as to why the tall people dote over it so. Soon a new plot hatches in the cur’s wicked brain. Baxter is the anti-Lady and the Tramp.

Baxter switches owners many times, but when a strange Hitler-obsessed little boy sociopath adopts him things somehow become more serious than ever. The film was always brooding and dark, but now there is a vessel of encouragement and focus for Baxter. The extra scary thing is that this boy is the only character that Baxter actually fears and respects (for the most part). By the way, there is nothing sexier than telling your woman she looks like Eva Braun. I cannot reveal more of the plot for fear of spoiling the chilling final act. There is violence and terror, but it manages to be completely chilling on a psychological level and only rises into an unnervingly easy crescendo. I rate Baxter as one of the greatest horror films ever made. It may be a reflection of my personal tastes, but it surprised me so with the chances and twists it takes. It is just a great movie and a must-see for any serious horror fan.

The first time I saw this odd little French film, the ending left me chilled to my very marrow.

Perhaps what truly makes this film work is its personality. It is not merely a cold, blood-lusting torture-porn. It is meticulous, calculating, and it has a rather dark sense of humor. Although it is in many ways a black comedy the laughs may not always come easy to you. It is a vicious humor with grim implications on the nature of man and dog alike. It is a complex film that will probably not be what you expect. Baxter is one of those obscure masterpieces. I loved it and therefore you should watch it.

The Amazing Movie Mash Up Game

Frank posted a delectable challenge the other day. The challenge was this: “Let’s combine movie titles and their plots! Here’s a couple: 50 First Dates + 50/50 = 50/50 First Dates. A girl keeps forgetting she has cancer. Empire Strikes Back to the Future– In an attempt to find the rebel base on Hoth, Darth Vader accidentally travels back in time and must ensure that his father takes his mom to the slave prom. Ok you try it.”

This spawned a very long thread with many folks interacting. Here are the highlights.

  • Frank 300 Days of Summer: King Leonidas falls in love with a woman only to find out the romance isn’t all he thought it would be.
  • Frank Harry Potter and The Temple of Doom: Harry travels to India to find a magic stone hidden in an evil temple.
  • Becky Ironman in the Iron Mask.
  • Daniel The Hunger Hunger Games: Michael Fassbender competes to be the last person to die of starvation in an event run by the British government in order to punish the IRA for their rebellion.
  • Thomas LazoThe Magnificent Seven Samurai: a poor Japanese film studio hires elite swordsmen to defend their movies from being remade in America.
  • Thomas Lazo The Lion in Winter Light: King Henry deals with a crisis of faith after Prince Philip of France and Eleanor of Aquitane develop nuclear weapons.
  • Thomas LazoLet it Be Cool: John Travolta tries to get the surviving Beatles to cameo on his movie in the hopes that it’ll make enough money opening weekend to save his career.
  • Thomas LazoDo the Right The Thing: A group of african american scientists in the arctic try to avoid killing a monster that takes the form of the people it kills because it’s offensively stereotypical that the black characters die first.
  • Thomas Lazo Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Walk with Me: Harry and Ron investigate the week leading up to the death of Cedric Diggory as Harry begins feeling phantom labor pains for his indwelling infant Voldemort horcrux while Hermione and an army of backward talking House elves find creatively erotic things to do with polyjuice potion and a collection of Dennis Hoppers toenail clippings in a house of mirrors.
  • Andrew BowcockAir Force The One: President Jet Li has to protect his family and presidential cabinet on his plane from a group of alternate universe presidents mysteriously transported onto the plane in a freak science experiment.
  • Andrew Bowcock Dancer in the Dark City: Bjork is going blind and gets framed for murder, but by an alien race who controls the world around her. As she loses her vision, she starts to gain powers to change her surroundings; can she discover the whole truth before she completely loses her vision?
  • Andrew Bowcock Once Upon a Time in American Pie: A former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to Brooklyn, where he reminisces about the time when he and a few gang buddies entered a pact to lose their virginity by prom night.
  • Andrew BowcockBefore the Devil Knows You’re Dead Alive: when two brothers organize the robbery of their parents’ jewelry store the job goes horribly wrong when one of them gets bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and dies, then comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbors.
  • Thomas Lazo Inception 2–They Shoot Horses Don’t They Shoot Horses Don’t They Shoot Horses Don’t They Shoot Horses Don’t They Shoot Horses Don’t They?: At a large dancing competition, a smaller dance evolves among several dancers which then leads to an even smaller group of dancers doing a new dance until all the dancers involve die and find out that the afterlife is a giant dancing competition.
  • Thomas LazoTo End all War of the Worlds: Aliens gather all movie directors in a concentration camp to stop future remakes of classic movies only to die after exposure to reality TV.
  • Thomas LazoIt’s Patton: Julia Sweeney stars as an androgynous WWII general who struggles to defeat Hitler while the media continually attempts to discover his/her gender.
  • Thomas LazoBridget Jones Diary of Anne Frank: An outrageous young woman takes on love, lingerie, losing weight, and ethnic cleansing as she decides between…ah screw this one, even I have standards.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Last King Kong of Scotland: an eccentric giant gorilla leader is confronted on his tyranny when his British physician tries to gun him down with biplanes on top of the Uganda State Building.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Taking of Pelham 123 Easy as ABC: when a prepubescent Michael Jackson takes a subway car hostage it’s up to Walter Matthau to get him to sing.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Treasure of the Sierra Todo Sobre Mi Madre: following the death of her beloved son, Manuela embarks on a journey into the Mexican desert with a tight knit group of frustrated yet spunky transexuals to find gold. As greed overtakes one of their party they must come face to face with the elements, banditos, and rediscover what makes a she-man.
  • Thomas LazoDirty Harry Potter and the Half Blood Princess Bride of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man of La Mancha: Terry Gilliam is slated to direct this work in progress, but it is doubtful whether he will be able to come in under budget.
  • BurrelloSumarineLife Is a Beautiful Mind: a young boy and his father are taken to a concentration camp during WWII, fortunately the lad’s father’s schizophrenia gives them all a good laugh as his increasingly erratic antics boost morale and provide hope for all in even the most dire of circumstances.
  • BurrelloSubmarineThe Adventures of the Rin-Tintin Drum: a young dog-boy with a precocious mind growing up in Germany in the 1930s decides he’s got a bit of a Peter Pan complex and so he joins forces with an aging alcoholic to unearth buried treasure in this black symbolic action satire that will be an adventure for the whole family.
  • Burrello Submarine Twelve Angry Monkeys: Bruce Willis must convince an exhausted jury that he can do things other than “Die Hard.”
  • Burrello Sumarine Get Him to the Zorba the Greek: Alan Bates must get a sloppy but lovable rockstar back to the island of Crete before his boss gets stoned to death.
  • Andrew Bowcock The Bridges of Madison County on the River Kwai: a National Geographic photographer wanders into the life of a lonely housewife who shows him the bridges he was meant to photograph, only to find that there appears to be more that wasn’t listed in his research…and then the Japanese military show up…and a couple of white guys underneath, what the hell?! Then: BOOM!!!
  • Andrew BowcockMetropo-Schizopolis: in a dystopic future where human classes are separated by an entire layer of ground, Steven Soderbergh makes funny faces in a mirror and thinks he might have a doppelganger.
  • Allfor Schindler’s Bucket List: rich German Business man makes a deal with two sick elderly Jewish men, who have been best friends all their lives, agreeing to help keep them out of the concentration camps if they promise to write a list of things they have always wanted to do but never did and do them all before they die.
  • David HalberstadtUHF THX 1138: Weird Al Yankovic rebels against a totalitarian television corporation by buying a small TV station and airing porn.
  • David HalberstadtThe Tree of Life Aquatic: Bill Murray descends into the deepest part of the sea and sees a bunch of weirdness he doesn’t understand while also thinking about growing up as Sean Penn.
  • David Halberstadt I’m Still Being There: a hilarious satire about Peter Sellers’ descent into mild retardation and his brief career as a rapper.
  • Frank The Return of the King’s Speech: 6 Hours of Elven speeches.
  • Frank The Empire of the Sun Strikes Back: Darth Vader goes after Christian Bale in WW2 China.
  • Thomas Lazo Boogie Nights in Rodanthe: A woman with a failing marriage meets a man in a cabin who shows her all kinds of neat tricks from the job he had in the 70s, somebody better call PETA.
  • FrankStranger Than Pulp Fiction: Lowlifes and criminals have their lives narrated by an English woman.
  • Thomas LazoExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close Encounters of the Third Kind: after 9/11, conspiracy theorist Richard Dreyfuss embarks on a maniac journey to discover the extra terrestrial secrets behind Building 7.
  • Thomas Lazo Shaun of the Dead Poet’s Society: A charismatic English professor inspires a group of British friends to “seize the cricket bat” and not become a social zombie.
  • FrankRocky V For Vendetta: Rocky Balboa dons a Guy Fawks mask and starts a war against a totalitarian state. Survivor does the soundtrack.
  • Thomas Lazo I Know Who Killed Me, Myself and Irene: Jim Carrey.
  • Burrello Submarine City of Godzilla: the atomic reptile moves to Brazil and tries to be a photographer but gets mixed up in a street gang and decides to trample Rio de Janiero instead.
  • FrankI Am Legend of the Guardians: Owls are the only thing left on earth after everyone becomes a zombie.
  • Thomas Lazo The Last Rocky Horror Picture Show: Cross dressing country boys come of age in a dying town in west Transylvania.
  • Burrello Submarine Videodromeo + Juliet: Baz Luhrman directs James Wood’s stomach vagina that recites the works of Shakespeare in a contemporary setting that satirizes cable television.
  • Thomas LazoPurple Rain of Fire: Prince sexes up some dragons.
  • David HalberstadtNo Country for Oldboy: after being locked in a trailer home for 15 years, Josh Brolin goes to Mexico, seeking vengeance while Tommy Lee Jones is sad.
  • Burrello SubmarineNanook of the North by Northwest: Alfred Hitchcock stages Eskimo footage on Mt. Rushmore.
  • Thomas Lazo The Jonas Brothers Karamazov Live in 3D: Three Russian scenester brothers debate the existence of God in front of an ampitheater of rabid 12 year old girls.
  • Thomas Lazo Pretty in Pink Flamingos.
  • Andrew Bowcock License to Kill a Mockingbird: James Bond is fired from MI:6, but finds that the only way he can stop the drug lord who tried to murder his friend is to become a lawyer in the Depression-era South and defend a black man against racism and an undeserved rape charge.
  • Burrello SubmarineBlack Paper Moon: a slick, dust-bowl conman reluctantly takes in a willful girl who is battling nightmarishly vivid hallucinations regarding female puberty in this plotless symbolic comedy arthouse family film for adults.
  • Thomas LazoAguirre–The Wrath of Kahn: On their mission to boldly go where no man has gone before Captain Kirk suspiciously starts killing off the crew of the Enterprise so they won’t steal his Aztec gold.
  • Burrello Submarine Dog Day of the Dolphin Afternoon: a bank heist—which is also a plot to assassinate the president—to get the money to get a sex change for talking dolphins goes horribly wrong.
  • Thomas Lazo Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Quest: Aliens typecast Alan Rickman twice.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Bicycle Thief of Bagdad: a vibrant but depressing technicolor Italian neorealist fantasy epic.
  • Andrew BowcockFrom Russia with Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Actually the Bomb: follows the lives various couples dealing with their love lives in loosely related tales all set during a frantic Christmas season in London, England. One tale follows James Bond, who ends up falling for a naive Russian beauty during an undercover mission — that mission is the final hope in a ploy that’s being manipulated by some of the world’s most powerful minds to prevent a worldwide nuclear meltdown.
  • Thomas Lazo ‎20,000 Leagues Under the Seabiscuit: An eccentric scientist forces his submarine captives to race sea horses.
  • David HalberstadtA Night to Remember the Titans: a recently desegregated school’s football team board the Titanic on their way to the championships and must work through their inherent racism to keep the ship afloat after it strikes an iceberg.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Big Sleep Well: Philip Marlowe must unravel the mystery of how exactly Kurosawa is adapting Hamlet.
  • Burrello Submarine Helvetica Comes to Frogtown: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper must consider which font would be the most threatening to scare off mutant frog-people in this post-apocalyptic documentary.
  • Thomas LazoAngels in American Pie: Kirk Cameron stars in this cautionary tale of 4 promiscuous teenagers who catch AIDS before prom.
  • David HalberstadtMidnight in Paris, Texas: a nostalgic young man finds himself magically transported to a small Texas town where he attempts to find and reconnect with his young son and Salvador Dali.
  • Thomas Lazo Little Orphan Annie Hall: Woody Allen adopts Diane Keaton, marries her, then divorces her.
  • David Halberstadt The Thin Red Shoes: a ballerina is sent to fight in World War II and through her dancing, inspires her platoon to whisper deep philosophical thoughts to themselves.
  • Thomas Lazo The Goodbye Girl With a Dragon Tattoo: A struggling young mother shares her apartment with a journalist whom she must save from a serial killer.
  • Burrello SubmarineTwice Upon a Time After Time: using an animation technique called “lumage” producer George Lucas uses a time machine to stop Jack the Ripper from stealing a spring from the 1970s that will enable him to plant nightmare bombs all over Mary Steenburgen’s home. Lorenzo “Garfield” Music provides the voice of H. G. Wells.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Bed-Sitting The Room: Tommy Wiseau stars in this dystopic absurdist science-fiction comedy of non-sequiturs about Englanders going about their lives after a nuclear explosion that is a direct result of Lisa cheating on Johnny.
  • Andrew Bowcock The Wild Strawberries Bunch at Heart: an old, psychopathic, southern Nicolas Cage reminisces about whether or not he’s wasted his life, which included participating in an outlaw gang causing several wild west massacres leaving very few alive.
  • David Halberstadt Girls Gone Wild Strawberries: an old man on a road trip to Cancun recalls the crazy partying days of his youth.
  • Burrello SubmarineRize of the Planet of the Apes: intellectually accelerated monkeys develop a new dance phenomena out of South Central LA. …wow that actually sounds really racist.
  • Thomas Lazo Can’t Hardly Wait Until Dark: Criminals terrorize blind high schoolers at a party.
  • Thomas LazoCrazy Hearts Can’t Be Broken: An alcoholic country musician runs away from his band to join a circus where he jumps horses off of high dives and drinks himself blind.
  • David HalberstadtAfter Last Season of the Witch: Nicholas Cage dreams about fighting invisible witches with early 90s computer graphics… I think.
  • Thomas LazoAmerican Beauty and the Beast: A teenage girl lost in the forest tames Kevin Spacey’s violent heart with marijuana while Gaston videotapes plastic bags floating in the wind.
  • David HalberstadtUncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Life of Brian: a man close to death is visited by his old disciples who once mistook him for the messiah.
  • Burrello SubmarineJacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded White Fang: when an obnoxious little boy day-dreams about going to jail in the Yukon he must befriend an abused dog-wolf to escape from an infantile luchador and his minions.
  • KrisThe Lion King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters — Years after he has been banished from his homeland following the death of his father, an African lion returns home in order to claim his birthright; but in order to do so he must defeat his uncle in a game of Donkey Kong.
  • Burrello SubmarineSexy Beast of Yucca Flats: a grotesque and persistent radioactive British Soviet monster wanders around the desert trying to convince an ex gangster to go on one last heist.
  • Burrello Submarine Oliver Twister: a tornado unites a wide-eyed urchin with the family he always deserved.
  • David HalberstadtA Boy and His White Dog: in an apocalyptic wasteland, a racist talking dog hunts for bitches to have sex with and black people to kill.
  • KevinSome Like it Hot Fuzz: When two musicians witness a mob hit, they flee to a small England town and disguise themselves as female police officers in order to solve mysteries and kick general ass.
  • Burrello SubmarineElephant Man Boy: a young and hideously deformed Indian boy becomes a helpful guide through the jungle to a British doctor with an existential crisis.
  • Andrew Bowcock Austin Powers: A Serious Man of Mystery: after no woman will sleep with him any longer, Austin realizes that his “mojo” is now useless, and his son’s Bar mitzvah becomes a microcosm for his meaningless existence.
  • Burrello SubmarineLost in Wild America: Albert Brooks and Jonathan Taylor Thomas star in this true-life saga about the Stouffer brothers finding their way through the country after their collective wife blows their nest-egg at Vegas.
  • David Halberstadt Black Black Sheep: a genetically mutated Chris Farley begins killing political candidates in New Zealand and it’s up to David Spade to stop him.
  • Andrew BowcockGhost World in the Shell: two “social outsider” cyborg girls have to choose between tracking down and destroying a dangerous hacker or just playing a prank on a sad middle-aged man.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Enigma of Casper House: a friendly ghost who has never had any social interaction must try to adjust to life in a haunted house that eats Japanese schoolgirls.
  • Kris The Lost Weekend at Bernie’s: Billy Wilder adapts Charles R. Jackson’s frank novel about an insurance agent who recounts through flashbacks about the weekend he and his best friend masqueraded around the Hamptons with the body of his older brother, a novelist who drank himself to death.
  • David HalberstadtThe Black Dark Knight Rises: Batman (played by Martin Lawrence) accidentally travels back in time to the medieval period where he must fight Tom Hardy and save the kingdom.
  • Burrello Submarine Inherit the Wind and the Willows: Mr. Toad causes unrest in his small town for teaching evolution.
  • KevinAndrei Rubber: Robert the Tire tracks down the great icon painter through the turbulent 15th century Russia, using his telekinesis to explode heads and horses alike.
  • Burrello Submarine GoldenEye Finger.
  • Andrew BowcockRosemary’s Baby Geniuses.
  • Burrello Submarine Wings of a Streetcar Named Desire: an uneducated abusive German angel haunts Peter Falk and gets drunk a lot in order to discover how to become more human.
  • David Halberstadt I Spit on Your Grave of the Fireflies: orphaned after the bombing of Hiroshima, a young boy and his infant sister maim, torture, and ultimately kill the American soldiers responsible for killing their parents.
  • Kris The Unbearable Lightness of Being John Malkovich: an unemployed puppeteer discovers a doorway that leads the user into the consciousness of a Czech surgeon and intellectual living in Communist Prague.
  • Burrello Submarine Allegro non Trop Gun: animated homoerotic airforce footage set to classical music compositions in this irreverent Italian action satire of Fantasia.
  • Kevin The Sum of All Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Jack Ryan must thwart the plans of Hunter S. Thompson and his psychopathic lawyer to induce a world-wide acid trip by launching a nuclear bomb into an enormous bong.
  • Kris Grosse Point Break: Keanu Reeves plays and FBI Agent who is forced to simultaneously attend his high school reunion while working an undercover case in which he has to infiltrate a supposed unionized group of assassins lead by Dan Aykroyd and Patrick Swayze.
  • Burrello SubmarineQuatermass and the Pit and the Pendulum: Vincent plays an ancient race of space grasshoppers going mad in a castle.
  • Andrew Bowcock – ‎2001: An Office Space Odyssey: monkeys beat up a copy machine with a bone in slow motion.
  • Burrello SubmarineHumanoids from the Deep Impact: taking advantage of the mass hysteria surrounding a comet heading straight towards earth some fish monsters decide the rape as many people as they can.
  • David Halberstadt The American Werewolf in London: gunsmith George Clooney is turned into a werewolf but spends most of his time just wandering the streets of London and talking to his dead prostitute girlfriend that only he can see.
  • Kris The Running Man on the Moon: the true story of how visionary entertainer Andy Kaufman was able to convince the world that one his character creations, an Austria bodybuilding champion, was actually a framed American police officer in a post-apocalyptic world forced to fight for his life on national television.
  • KrisDie Hard Day’s Night: while trying to escape from their manager and a horde of rabid fans on Christmas Eve, four moptop kids from Liverpool find themselves trapped in a Los Angeles skyscraper that is being held hostage by a group of highly organized German terrorists.
  • Frank Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom of the Opera: an opera house is bought by two jedi who have to find the weird sith haunting it.
  • Burrello SubmarinePlaytime Bandits: time-traveling dwarfs steal a map with all the holes of modernist Parisian society on it in this whimsically alienating movie featuring Jacques Tati as Satan.
  • Burrello SubmarineThe Good-bye Mr . Chips, the Bad News Bears, and the Coyote Ugly: an affable British professor decides to retire so he can divide time between coaching some rambunctious and foul-mouthed kids with their little league games and his questionable nightlife working a bar run by tough chicks during World War II in this epic spaghetti western.

Please add more in the comments section. The game is far from over. Anything from Sleeper in Seattle to Malcolm X-Men: the Last Tango in Paris. We want to hear it!