Remember when we did this? The Amazing Movie Mash Up Game? You know the rules, but here’s how Dave started us off:“Let’s play a game. Combine movie titles and their plots! For example 301 Dalmatians: A small group of dogs must defend themselves against an invading Persian army that wants to use their spotted coats to make clothes. Or I Spit on Your Grave of the Fireflies: Orphaned after the bombing of Hiroshima, a young boy and his infant sister maim and torture the American soldiers responsible for killing their parents.”This time maybe wasn’t quite as classy and epic as its original incarnation, but like all worthy sequels it offers new things for hungry appetites.David Halberstadt – Ocean’s Thirteen Assassins: Thirteen thieves, led by a battle-worn samurai, go through a series of complicated twists and turns in order to kill the evil casino owner who betrayed their friend.Hannah – Seven Brides for Seven Samurai: Warriors kidnap promising young women from a mountain village. They sing, they fight, they burn things down. Only three of the marriages last more than a few days.Chris – Forrest on Fire: Forrest Gump: mentally handicapped ex special-ops, takes on the role as the personal driver for a wealthy family’s six-year-old girl in corrupt Mexico City. When the girl is kidnapped for ransom, Forrest goes on a killing spree, hunting down each person responsible.Gregory – The Assassination of Jesse James and the Giant Peach: Trying to escape the tyranny of his two wicked aunts, a wanted bank robber decides to escape to New York City in an over-sized piece of fruit.Daros – I Know What You Did Last Samurai: Four teenagers attempting to cover up a hit-and-run escape to Japan to train an Imperial Army. They join up with the Samurai villagers and learn about their traditions and codes in a race to figure out who’s killing them off one by one.David Halberstadt – The Matrix Step Up Revolutions: Neo must face an army of land developing robots in an epic dance-off for the fate of humanity.David Halberstadt – The Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is Not Enough: In 1805, a young man just out of the Royal Navy, seeking direction in his life, joins a cult led by a mysterious man who cannot feel pain.Allison – Battle Casino Royale: A kidnapped group of Japanese schoolchildren must face off against the world’s wealthiest poker players in a gory televised event where the goal is to avoid being slaughtered by your machete-wielding friends long enough to play one final game of Texas hold’em.Andrew Bowcock – The Jungle 2 Jungle Book of Eli: Tim Allen finds out he has a son named Mowgli (played daringly by Mila Kunis) from the tropics, but when he arrives to retrieve his son he must become mankind’s only hope for surviving the post-apocalypse from marauders and a crazy Gary Oldman. Also, he carries a bible (or something like that) around.Kevin – Singin’ In The Rain Man: Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt’s cannibal savant brother swallows three classic era Hollywood movie stars whole. They attempt to make the transition to talking pictures while inside his belly.Andrew Bowcock – Horton Hears a Doctor Who Framed Roger Rabbit Hole: a giant elephant with keen auditory senses picks up on the screams of a dying society (or so he thinks) — which turns out to be just the roaring of the Tardis as the Doctor arrives, placed in a fake scandal with Jessica Rabbit, in order to get close to the foul play surrounding the case of Roger Rabbit. As it turns out, the discovery of genocide of the ‘toons results in the tragic collateral death of a young boy, whose mother Becca (Nicole Kidman), becomes a candidate for Doctor’s new companion, as her son’s death may wreak havoc upon the fabric of the universe.Dan –Secondhand Lion King Kong: An awkward teenager goes to live with his two uncles after his father Mufasa is killed in a freak wildebeest accident caused by a gigantic, power-hungry gorilla.Burrello Submarine – XXXcalibur: Vin Diesel is an extreme sports athlete who must take the council of the wise Merlin to embrace his destiny and become a government agent of the knights of the round table.Burrello Submarine – Alice: Woody Allen directs this nightmarish stop-motion comedy about a horse skull attached to a miniature hansom cab who visits a stuffed rodent who changes her perespective on life. Neurotic nonsense ensues.Burrello Submarine – Swimming Pool with Sharks to Cambodia: A sexy crime drama about a naive temp and his sadistic sociopathic publisher in Hollywood enacted entirely by Spalding Grey alone at a desk.Dan – Dunston Checks Inception: An orangutan causes hijinks in a fancy hotel, only to discover that a rival is attempting to break into his subconscious.Kris – Die Hard Days Night of the Living Dead: While attempting to escape from the throngs of obsessive Los Angeles fans, Four “Moptop Kids From Liverpool” take shelter in the Nakatomi B.Burrello Submarine – Don’t be a Dennis the Fantômas Tollbooth Menace to Southland Tales from the Crypt Central While You Were Drinking Your Beetlejuice in the Boyz n the Leprechaun in the Robin Hood Mystery Men in Tights: the Wayans Brothers play misfit superheroes in this send up of the classic Hank Ketchum adaptation of the original Mel Brooks 1913 version of the first Star Wars prequel based on the popular horror comic book series that was later adapted into a cryptic science fiction fable about the end of the world wherein the ghost with the most grows up on the mean streets of an animated limerick-filled Los Angeles while it is plagued by a malevolent Irish imp in a coma. It’s silent, but in French.Kris – The Importance of Being Ernest Goes to Jailhouse Rock: In a modern take on the Oscar Wilde classic, Jim Varney reprises his classic role of Ernest P. Worrell in a film that sees everyone’s favorite accident prone yokel nearly destroy the Broadway adaptation of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ when he leaves the show’s lead, the world’s greatest Elvis impersonator, in traction. Facing both lawsuits and jail time, Ernest’s only option is to take on the role with just over a week before opening night.Burrello Submarine – That’s My Boy in the Plastic Bubba Hotel Rwanda: a geriatric Adam Sandler thinks he’s Elvis and must reunite with his son, John Travolta, who suffers from a rare disease that relegates him to a life inside an oxygen tent while an evil Pharaoh’s ghost persecutes the Tutsis.David Halberstadt – Metetropolis: Francis Ford Coppola directs this touching sci-fi drama film about a man who finds his long lost brother’s play and decides to stage it using human-like robots but the working class citizens rebel and the opening night is a disaster.Dan – Good Will Hunting for Red October Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow Never Dies: A janitor at Harvard University is discovered to be a secret genius who left his small, West Virginia coal mining town to build rockets and futuristic war machines. He is then recruited by MI6 to locate a Soviet submarine. He finds the sub, ends the war, and scores a beautiful woman’s phone number.Andrew Bowcock – The Dark City Knight Rises of the Planet Terror of the Apes: Bruce Wayne wakes up in a strange tub, only to discover that an alien race is experimenting on people researching intelligent apes who in turn retaliate against their captors by becoming zombies. The alpha-male ape (Bane) is one strong, scary SOB.David Halberstadt – Batman and Robin Returns Forever: Batman battles villains who get progressively sillier as the movie goes on. Robin joins up with The World’s Greatest Detective but the effect of everybody’s cartoonish wackiness begins to rub off on The Dark Knight as he struggles to hold on to the last shred of dignity he has left. But an even darker enemy looms. One who could break The Caped Crusader’s back for at least eight years: The Bat Nipples.Burrello Submarine – Just Because of My Winnipeg Dixie: a precocious pooch’s charms lead to murder in the deep south. Now Sean Connery must film his way out of the saddest city in Canada in time to solve the crime in this ripoff of “Cape Fear.”Kris – End of Days of Thunderballs of Fury: Tom Cruise reprises his role as hotheaded driver Cole Trickle, who along with his car’s Owner (Sean Connery), Crew Chief (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and Childhood Friend/Pit Crewman (Dan Fogler) are forced to compete in the world’s most deadly Stock Car Race/Ping-Pong Match for the fate of the world against International Supervillain, Thunderballs (Christopher Walken), who gained his power after striking a deal with Satan (Tom Jones*).David Halberstadt – No Country for Grizzly Old Children of Men: In a world where women have become infertile and all hope for a future has been lost, Timothy Treadwell takes it upon himself to protect the first baby born in over 20 years but he soon finds himself on the run from the evil Chigurh who chases them across Texas. Ironically, the very baby that he was protecting kills Treadwell in a climactic gun battle… that happens entirely off-screen.David Halberstadt – Murderballs of the Fast and the Furious: In this inspiring documentary, a police detective must go undercover to infiltrate a dangerous gang of wheelchair-bound ping-pong players to uncover their secret operation and get revenge on the man who crippled his own father.David Halberstadt – 50/50 Shades of the Grey: A young woman falls in love with a cancer-stricken wolf in the Alaskan wilderness. They have weird, kinky sex and discuss their differing viewpoints on death.Abe – About a OldBoy: Hugh Grant stars in this heartwarming comedy about a man who spends his days locked in his room watching television, but when a kid enters his life, he learns to live outside the room and eat live squid.Burrello Submarine – Like Practical Magic Mike: outcast witches develop a spell that will make their murderous ventriloquist dummy (played by Lil’ Bow Wow) stop stripping and play basketball really well so they can find love and kill Burgess Meredith all whilst wetting the theater seats.Andrew Bowcock – Something’s Gattaca Give: A biologically superior Jack Nicholson’s mid-life crisis reaches its peak when he re-connects with his genetically mundane younger brother who prevents him from getting laid and going into space.Burrello Submarine – Dirty Dancing Harry and the Henderson Potter: the Spanish The Prisoner of Zenda: someone thinks retired secret agent bigfoot looks just like a strange royal so they con him into becoming a cop, but dad won’t let him dance.Andrew Bowcock – FitzCarsaldo: A wealthy, hot-shot, opera-obsessed anthropomorphic car gets fed up with his boring peers and convinces jungle natives to help him drag his ship over a hill so he can avoid some dangerous rapids up ahead. He gets a flat tire in the process.Andrew Bowcock – MatchPointStick Men Who Stare at Goats in Black Swan Narcissus: An OCD con-man takes up tennis in England, contemplating the murder of his secret lover’s significant other. In order to get away with the crime with ease, he receives training from army vets who claim to have paranormal powers. Meanwhile, his lover (a schizophrenic ballet dancer) grows increasingly paranoid, and decides to skip town and join a convent in the Himalayas, but that goes terribly wrong and leads to her suicide.Nate – A Clockwork Orange County: An overachieving high schooler mistakenly enlists in an ultra-violence gang.Nate – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Duckling: An emotionally abused swan joins with a posse of outlaws searching for Confederate gold.Nate – The Emerald Forrest Gump: A mentally challenged war veteran is abducted by an aboriginal tribe on the edge of an Amazon rainforest. His love, Jenny, spends the next 10 years searching for him.Nate – The Shawshank Raid: Redemption (A SWAT team becomes entrapped in a high security penitentiary full of decent, patient men.Nate – Se7en Brides for Seven Brothers: A group of singing backwoodsman are hunted by a religiously motivated serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his inspiration.Burrello Submarine – The Pink Cadillac Man Who Fell from Deep Rising River Runs Through It Came from Outer Space from Earth Girls are Easy A Night at the Phantom of the Operation: Endgame to Remember the Titans A. E.: Lost horny aliens are stranded and trying to fix their spaceship, but they need to sell 12 cars to an integrated high school football team who are also cannibals. When the Marx Brothers sink the Titanic on it’s maiden voyage to Montana it’s up to aliens to spread rumors in school to figure out which one of their corporation’s employees is betraying everyone to a tough bail bondsman. The irony is that the aliens started the corporation. As the ship sinks a ravenous monster begins devouring the passengers. Also Earth is destroyed in the beginning.Burrello Submarine – The Descent of a Woman in Lizard’s Skin I Live in Fear In: a blind Al Pacino, deathly afraid of an impending nuclear war, takes his Italian family into cave where he dreams he surgically replicates his dead wife out of cave-dwelling mutants.Burrello Submarine – The Bridge Too Far on the River Kwaidan: Sean Connery tries to stop Alec Guinness from committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge replica he built in WWII Germany by telling him ghost stories.David Halberstadt – Susturbira: A teenager under house arrest spies on a neighboring ballet school and witnesses a horrible, brightly colored murder. He soon suspects that the school is actually run by a coven of witches.Burrello Submarine – And the Band’s Visit Played Onibaba the Silverado Globe: gay Egyptian cowboys in haunted space Poland get lost and have to live several generations before AIDS finally kills the demon possessed Israeli mask. Also Kevin Costner plays a Japanese guy.David Halberstadt – New Year’s Valentine’s Day: A bunch of actors you know hang out and get paychecks.Burrello Submarine – Lawnmower Man with the Golden Gunga Din-dza-dzatoichi: the Blindside Swordsmanitou: James Bond is stranded on a racist planet that doesn’t see an Indian waterboy as an equal so he corrects their misconception by tormenting them with a centuries old sword-wielding Native American spirit he captures in virtual reality. Can he get back to Moscow in time for the swashbuckling finale?David Halberstadt – My Neighbor Totorobocop: Two young girls move to Detroit and have adventures with a robotically enhanced police officer.Burrello Submarine – Everything Putney Swope Together: when her baby dies the CEOs ironically hires her to run the company, but her black American ideas tainted by her recent loss swiftly change the tone of network television.Burrello Submarine – The Shadow Warriors of Virtue of the Interview with a Vampire Batman Return to Rhinoceroz: Bruce Wayne hires a destitute Alec Baldwin (with an uncanny resemblance to the Caped Crusader) to take his place not realizing he is the Shadow and also requires human blood to live. Dwight Frye plays a persecuted simpleton who gets trapped in a film world somewhere over the rainbow where perfectly ordinary people are transforming into cantankerous pachyderms in an unwieldy flashback social satire about kangaroo ninjas.David Halberstadt – Baby’s Grand Blow Out of the African Villiage Queen of the Damned: After her baby is kidnapped on the moon, and with only a sound recording as evidence of an inside job, a plantation owner hires a surly boat captain to track her baby to a small town filled with alien children who play vampire-raising rock music.David Halberstadt – There Will Be Blood Diamonds are Forever Young Gunzatoichi: the Blind Swordsman Who Wasn’t There Will Be Blood: Prospector Daniel Plainview finds an immaculate diamond and special agent James Bond, who has recently awoken from a 50 year cryogenic sleep, must enlist the help of Billy the Kid to protect the diamond from a murderous cult of telepathic aliens, led by the blind barber and prospector Daniel Plainview… …Andrew Bowcock – The Rescuers Falling Black Hawk Downfall Underworld: Two adventurous mice think their albatross friend is bringing them to Australia, but it turns out he’s a disgruntled middle-aged bird on the edge of sanity, and ends up crash landing in Somalia where after surviving a bloody firefight they all encounter a goofy submarine crew who turns out to be a secret vampire society harboring Hitler.David Halberstadt – The Moone: Sam Rockwell plays a lone astronaut working on the moon. He is nearing the end of his three year job but it turns out that he is not alone. He discovers that another version of himself has come from an alternate dimension to kill him so he can absorb his energy and grow stronger.Burrello Submarine – Used Cars Too Mr. Wong Foo Thanks for Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sexy Beast of Yucca Flatland That Time Machine Forgotten Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams That All That Money Can Good-Buy Mr. Chipsmunks: a cryptic and violent anime documentary that takes place in a dinosaur and Nazi-filled future in a lesser dimension about a radioactive Ben Kingsley that terrorizes three drag queens after they make a deal with the devil to explain their nightmares regarding a Chinese Boris Karloff selling secret agent automobiles while their rodent trio counterparts reflect back on their years as they approach retirement and end their lives as ejaculate.Burrello Submarine – Schindler’s Lisztomania: a sexually charged psychedelic retelling of the courageous acts of a horny musician in Nazi Germany.Burrello Submarine – Howard the Westworld Duck Soup was Wonderful Life of Piano Tuner of Earthquantum of Solaris Stood Still Smokin Aces Ventura: When Harry Foxy and the Brown Met Salem’s the Lottery Ticket, Take the Moneyball and Blade Running Manhattan Murder by Death Becomes Her Mystery Science Theater 301 Birth of a Dalmational Lampoonmee Who can Totall Recall His Blast from the Past Tree of Life of Timothy the Big Soylent Green Mile You were Sleeper Hollow Man with the Golden Children of the Damned Pride of the Yankees Largo Western the Front Christmas Mr. Hugo’s 2 Holidays in Paris, Texas of Thunder-the-Birds Are Gone Fishin’ with the Wind: A wise-cracking cocaine-addicted space waterfowl who is also a vampire, recently appointed head of state, is sentenced to a life in prison (for pecking children at a birthday party) by a racist judicial system of Jewish mathematicians on Christmas Eve. He befriends a large, gentle Thai gentleman who is magic and likes to mock schlocky movies. His aging silent mentor proves he can still stick it to the man as long as they are only automata replicants who may or may not be secret agents. Gort must wander through the wilderness to convince his wife living in black and white New York City that she is no longer living underground with robot cowboys who can’t dream about life in the Civil War south. Alone on a boat with only a tiger and a bilingual Lou Gehrig, cannibal soccer player Chevy Chase must lose the lottery to stay alive or come back as a host to haunt marching band cellist, Bruce Willis, who is plagued by memories of an overbearing father who came from the garden. An invisible African horseman with no head makes racial stereotypes of the Senate on a daytrip to the beach before attacking Persia against the council of shell-shocked WWI vets who stalk Georges Melies from future LA Chinatown. Meanwhile a subterranean death tournament wherein an astronomical number of spotted pure-bred gangster puppies must survive a typhoon and overcome hallucinations surrounding past lovers who formerly starred in Lethal Weapon II-IV. And a racecar driving cowboy Eddie Murphy uses computers to prove that you can in fact have sex with marionettes and still be friends.Burrello Submarine – Mosquito Ghost Rider: after a horrific accident Harrison Ford rides a motorcycle to South America where he tries to construct a giant ice machine to keep his skull from continuously catching fire.Burrello Submarine – The Motorcycle Diaries of a Mad Anne Frank Woman: Tyler Perry presents the true story about Che Guevara rescuing Anne Frank and then riding around on bikes deciding what life is really about.Burrello Submarine – The Great White Noises Off: Michael Keaton is an African American boxer whose in-the-ring persona is comically at odds with who he is behind the scenes. Also ghosts.Burrello Submarine – Angel Heart of Glass: Robert de Niro is hypnotized into thinking he is Satan. As a result of this movie Bill Cosby never speaks with Werner Herzog again.Burrello Submarine – Captain Horatio 400 Hornblows: a troubled youngster embarks on a high seas adventure of petty thievery during the Napoleonic Wars.Burrello Subamarine – The Secret Window of Walter Mitty’s Arietty Garden: in a chilly English castle, orphan Danny Kaye daydreams he is haunted by a rogue band of diminuative people who accuse him of stealing their story about the Laws of Attraction.Burrello Submarine – The Abduction of Zach and Miri Make a Big Green Porno: amateurish juvenile soccer player and secret agent, Taylor Lautner, is kidnapped by an irrationally drawn Isabella Rosselini who insists on filming giant puppet bugs mating with the lad in order to make some extra cash before the big game.Burrello Submarine – Metropolistan: in a densely envisioned dystopic future a heavy science fiction epic parables the class divisions and the alienating treatment of workers in Weimar Republic Germany as realized by a bunch of preppies dressing in fancy clothes and talking to each other in different social settings.Burrello Submarine – Poprika: Robert Altman weirdly creates a Japanese animated musical about a beloved sailor man who gets trapped in a colorful dream world of Carrollian proportions.I got a little carried away. Also everyone else got bored with the game.Does anybody else wanna add some titles in the comments section??? Come at me, bra.Long live Movie Nerd-dom.
As I sit and type in this infernal LA heat I feel it only appropriate to write about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The great John Huston (Moby Dick, Wise Blood) directed this golden classic in 1948 which was based on the novel of the same name written by the mysterious B. Traven. Much of it was filmed on location in the sweltering heat of Mexico. The film starred Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca, The Big Sleep, The Caine Mutiny), Tim Holt (The Magnificent Ambersons, My Darling Clementine), and John’s father Walter Huston (Abraham Lincoln, The Devil and Daniel Webster) as a ragged trio of down-and-out fortune hunters seeking to find gold in a cruel 1920s Mexican desert. It is a rich and complex film that boldly neglects sentimentality in favor of a delirious story about greed, betrayal, paranoia, and the death of human decency in the face of all three.
John Huston and Humphrey Bogart had teamed up previously for Huston’s first film and solid noir classic, The Maltese Falcon (1941), and would pair up again after Sierra Madre for more unmissable classics, Key Largo (1948) with Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson and The African Queen (1951) with Katherine Hepburn. Treasure of the Sierra Madre is another first rate character drama loaded with tension and texture. Its a fantastic classic not to be missed.
The gunfire from Federales executing bandits rings in the distance. People peddle their wares on every corner and all around is the inescapably dense feeling of stifling heat and the odor of too many humans living too close to each other. A sweaty, grizzled hobo, Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart), begs for pennies in the chaotic and colorful post Mexican Revolution town of Tampico. He is a self-professed “fellow American who is down on his luck” who sleeps on park benches and lives from drink to drink. Dobbs finds a fellow homeless American named Bob Curtin (Holt). Together they take a construction job from a shifty American who cheats his workers and runs off with their pay. Life is going nowhere for Dobbs and Curtin until they meet an old, penniless prospector named Howard (Walter Huston in his Academy Award winning role) in a seedy hostel. Howard jokes about the horrors he has seen and the wisdom he has gained from his many years on the trail mining gold. Dobbs doesn’t buy into the magical power of gold. He understands it all depends on what kind of a man finds it. Though he seems to be a bit cracked, the good-natured Howard is welcomed into the group of gringos by Curtin. The three invest all of what little they have attained during their cruel lives to obtain burros and supplies for a long journey and hopefully a profitable dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.
Much trekking and much sweating leads them into the wilds of untamed Mexico. Jungles, deserts, banditos, and sore feet all urge them to turn back, but the hearty old prospector puts their young muscles to shame as he jovially bounds onwards and upwards as sure-footed as a mountain goat. Just as exhaustion sets in and Dobbs and Curtin prepare to turn back, Howard cackles maniacally and calls them a couple of jackasses as he claps and performs an impromptu jig, for lo and behold the very dust beneath their feet sparkles with the tantalizing hues of that which they seek: gold. They quickly set up a mine and begin their panhandling. Always wary of strangers—for the perch is precarious—they proceed to extract riches from the earth. Without permit or claim they could be run off by the government, bigger mining companies, or slaughtered by banditos. Before long the old man’s words of warning about greed and mistrust set in and Dobbs, concerned about his share of the prize requests they begin dividing up the goods every night. Howard amiably acquiesces. Soon each man is hiding their share at night, lest they get ripped off by their partners. Howard seems to be the only one who retains a peaceful, logical, level head about the matter as he has seen this sort of thing many times before. Curtin regains his balance after he rescues Dobbs from a cave in, but Dobbs has become noticeably shaken by the discovery of gold. Dobbs mutters under his breath and talks to himself and exhibits apparent mistrust of the other two men.
More gold is being taken from the weary mountain every day and the beards grow thick on the three gringos and their clothes grow more tattered and dirty. Curtin returns from running errands in the nearest town and is followed by another would-be treasure hunter, Cody (Bruce Bennett). Dobbs will have no intruders to divide his share of the gold and convinces Howard and Curtin that they need to kill him, but they wind up needing all the guns they can get when a group of banditos who “don’t need no stinking badges” show up. Their leader (Alfonso Bedoya) toys with Dobbs before a desperate fire fight ensues. Following this skirmish it becomes increasingly apparent that Dobbs cannot be trusted and has indeed sold his soul to the treasure of the Sierra Madre. Things only heat up when the team is separated. Howard is asked to stand in as medicine man for some Indians who have a little boy who nearly drowned. The pure-hearted Curtin is then left alone with the old man’s share of the loot and a crazed Dobbs (in full on greedy Daffy Duck mode). Betrayal, paranoia, greed, and violence all permeate from the scenes that follow. The film throws a few more shocks and shots of human and moral deterioration at us before it comes to a bittersweet conclusion that truly satisfies like a punch in the guts…but it tickles a little too.
This is a stand out film for the period. It is decidedly more dangerous and cynical. Huston and his amazing cast manage to conjure so many internal emotions and build so much tension in every scene. This film feels as hot and desperate as the three protagonists must feel. Real danger lurks in the shadows when a cluster of quiet Indians approach a campfire. Real terror prods one’s heart when the banditos show up and outnumber our “heroes.” There is suspense and devastation within each frame. There is an unflinching crazed look in Bogart’s eyes that continuously grows throughout the film and is difficult to shake. There have been many films about greed and the loss of humanity in the face of such greed, but perhaps The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the finest examples of the subject.
It’s easy to see the inspiration P.T. Anderson must have gotten from this film for his own There Will Be Blood (2007). Anyone who only knows Bogart as the hard-boiled detective needs to see this film. From each characters’ shrouded uncertain background and their even further cloaked futures, this film develops its own greatness. We follow the lives of “fellow Americans who are down on their luck” and we hope they will overcome the maddening heat and the ecstasy of gold because we really journey alongside them. John Huston won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Director, losing Best Picture to Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet. As a big fan of both Huston and Humphrey Bogart I cannot recommend this great film enough. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a truly unforgettable movie experience and amply worthy of its classic status.
Top 10 Reasons to See Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1. Humphrey Bogart plays against type and is awesome.
2. Great early location filming in Mexico.
3. Guys grow beards in it.
4. Considered a top ranking classic for many critics, film buffs, and directors.
5. It’s uncharacteristically bleak for the time it was made.
6. John Huston is a movie making beast.
7. It influenced many films to follow.
8. Bugs Bunny references Bogart’s Dobbs character in several cartoons (mostly the ones with the penguin who cries ice-cubes).
9. Walter Huston’s character is iconic and unforgettable—the quintessential crusty, old prospector guy.
10. Four Oscar nominations and three wins.
BONUS 11. The little boy next to Bogey in the first picture is Robert Blake.
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Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” July 20, 2010
I hope you all like wordless non-narratives.
Sometimes you just have to take a few great, big steps back and look at things from a different angle. Film can show us new angles we might have otherwise missed. Good cinema conveys compelling emotions. It expounds on provocative ideas about the world we live in or what the world used to be like or what it can become. It may be persuasive. It may be informative. It may have stunning visuals. It may be beautiful and captivating. It may be arresting and ugly. Good cinema may have some of these things mixed together unevenly, but great cinema does it all. Great cinema is exploratory and revelatory and revolutionary. It has all these things, but it does not require the cumbersomeness of words. Director Godfrey Reggio proves this point with his amazing trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Powaqqatsi (1988), and Naqoyqatsi (2002). Through this series Reggio explores and explains our world as a glorious and terrifying ballet of images and motion set to a powerful Philip Glass score.
I know what you’re thinking: “those are the most alienating titles I have ever seen.” Well, they each come from the Hopi Indian language and each film deals with a different direction society has taken. Let us proceed in order, shall we?
The first film is entitled Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and translated it means “life out of balance.” It opens with cave paintings and rocket exhaust and then beautiful and powerfully awesome pictures of nature. Dazzling rock formations jut out of the earth and mountains and canyons sculpted by the forces of nature whiz by like an incredible, living mosaic. The music pumps wonder and energy into every frame. Even when the camera lingers on subjects and is still it is nothing short of jaw dropping. Gradually the lush terrain becomes entangled in modern man-made constructs. Billowing smoke stacks protrude out from labyrinthine nightmares of wires and pipes. Towering buildings blot out the sun and mimic the sky as they reflect the shifting clouds. People bustle through streets and subways and supermarkets. Assembly line systems from hell (or maybe Detroit) rage on interminably. Urban renewal wipes out slums and old buildings with merciless precision. Machines whir and hammer away incessantly. Metal sparks blaze forth from the pulsating industry. Modernization spins its web ever faster until moving at an exponential rate. As the music becomes more intense and the editing becomes deliriously fast, the images begin to blur together and transform from a wondrous ballet to an unbearable barrage of nightmarish images reflecting all that is wrong with mechanization. Just when the chaos reaches its zenith, Reggio backs off and gives us more peaceful images (peaceful in the sense that they are slower and the music is quieter). The images themselves are still quite compelling. The last thing we see before the curtain is drawn is a spaceship, the Challenger, launching and exploding in the atmosphere in slow motion. The rocket’s engine tumbles down from the sky as Glass’s score resounds like an ominous funeral dirge. Has mankind flown too close to the sun on wings of wax? Have we spoiled the earth so much and reached too high and too selfishly to the heavens that God has stifled our Tower of Babel a second time? Before the credits roll Reggio closes his film with a parting shot of more prehistoric cave paintings.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then this movie is worth millions. It says so much without vocalizing anything. It is elusive yet definite. It is tranquil yet violent. It is the visual representation of “life out of balance.” It is a history lesson and a science lesson and a warning and a lament all at the same time. And it is beautiful and stirring. Koyaanisqatsi will leave the viewer with much to ponder and all without plot or characters.
The second film always gets flack for “not being the first film” but it is still a great movie. Again Reggio employs both silent images and motion with the music of Philip Glass. Powaqqatsi (1988) comes from the Hopi language again and it means “life in transformation” or “parasitic way of life.” The second installment in the trilogy deals chiefly with the third world of the Southern Hemisphere and those first sooty steps toward the door of industrialization. The images are more about the struggle for life and survival as a forlorn parade of wide-eyed, sallow-faced visages pass from the screen to our eyes. Gaunt bodies and bent backs do work most Americans would never dream of doing. People struggle to work and prepare meals and to entertain themselves. This is the feather-filled pageantry of the tribal world clashing and struggling to become the industrialized doomed nations Koyaanisqatsi depicted. The results are more toxic smoke and fumes. The transition from third world country to mechanized city can be uneven and difficult and the film is no less compelling. Powaqqatsi is the cinematic equivalent of a coke-frenzied flip through several “National Geographic” magazines. If you are going to watch this movie, be prepared to be moved and compelled by the human face. The film is another staggering achievement.
Godfrey Reggio conveys so much without any words. What the filmmakers have done with these two movies is attempt present the world we live in. The meaning and message behind Powaqqatsi may be more elusive than its predecessor, Koyaanisqatsi, but it is no less captivating.
The final installment in the Qatsi Trilogy is Naqoyqatsi (2002) which means “life as war” in the Hopi language. Its message is not so subtle. It leaves subtlety at the doorstep as it opens on the very Tower of Babel and gradually zooms in. It is no longer a process; man has gone too far in Naqoyqatsi. Reggio once again teams up with Philip Glass to bring entrancing symphony to startling imagery. Naqoyqatsi features digitally enhanced footage and inverted colors to create a surreal fascistic nightmare about life as being completely mechanized and totally artificial. Nothing is natural or organic. The world has become an all out war on nature and nature is nowhere to be found. It has been eclipsed by the cold, artificiality of mechanization. The sky is gone. Trees and shrubberies have retreated back into the earth. Technology has dominated society and the planet, leaving only ghostlike figures pointlessly wandering the crowded streets. Soldiers march, satellites rotate, and numbers dance through a void. The whole ordeal is a chaotic orgy of logos, binary, and blurred lights. Hollow technology reigns supreme and humanity has been reduced to spectral cogs in a violently impersonal machine. The tampered with footage and digital imagery is not quite as compelling as the first two films, and the message more closely resembles a sledgehammer than the spellbinding display that provoked so much thought with the first two movies, but it is still well worth the time to watch it. It’s more impersonal, but maybe that’s part of the point Reggio is trying to make…no wait, of course it is.
Like Ron Fricke’s (Reggio cohort and cinematographer on the Qatsi series) Baraka (1992) and Dziga Vertov’s amazing The Man with the Movie Camera (1929), Godfrey Reggio manages to interpret the world in a direct and transcendental way. They move beyond conventional storytelling and conventional documentary making to become something truly unique and mystical. Life is a vigorous battle of both immense beauty and horror. The scope and wonder captured in the Qatsi Trilogy is nothing short of staggering and the delirium with which it is all captured will leave you breathless. I cannot recommend enough that you treat yourself to Reggio’s film work, the Qatsi Trilogy.
Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” April 20, 1010
Baseball is America’s favorite pastime and we celebrate it by continually producing movies that highlight its mythic status. From Pride of the Yankees (1942) to Field of Dreams (1989) baseball movies prove that there is indeed an intimate history between the sport and this country and a certain legendary-ness to a group of guys hitting balls with bats and racing around a huge diamond.
Sadly, baseball, like most other activities at some point in United States history, was also a segregated spectacle. So what is the best way (cinematically) to deal with this divided time in sports history? Why, with comedy, of course!
What do you get when you put Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor on a baseball team in 1930s America? The answer: Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976). I haven’t seen a title like that since Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines, Or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes (1965).
Billy Dee Williams (Brian’s Song, The Empire Strikes Back) stars as Bingo Long, an enterprising, good-hearted ball player stuck in the segregated Negro Leagues under the oppressive thumb of greedy team owner Sallison Potter (Ted Ross). Sick of himself and the team being underpaid and treated poorly, Bingo starts to hatch a plan to start his own barnstorming independent team of all-star African American players. James Earl Jones (Coming to America, The Hunt for Red October) is the power hitting Leon Carter, Bingo’s stoic ally and partner when they hit the road. They assemble a team of great athletes who are sick of their crappy team owners. One of the players they manage to pick up is Charlie Snow aka “Carlos Nevada” aka “Chief Takahoma”, played by comedian Richard Pryor (Silver Streak, Superman III). Other players can outrun speeding baseballs and hit home-run after home-run. The film also makes several allusions to athletes like Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and others with its fictional lineup.
This being the first directorial outing by John Badham (Short Circuit, Stakeout), the film needed a strong cast. And the cast is great. Williams is as charismatic and sharp as ever, Jones delivers a strong performance (as if he could deliver anything but), and Pryor is funny as the guy trying to get into the white leagues by passing himself off as Cuban (a hilarious insight and statement in itself). The ensemble baseball team of entrepreneurs is very talented and fun to watch. Stan Shaw and Tony Burton and all the rest are well cast. Ted Ross is also fine as the mean, cigar-chomping, hearse-driving Sallison Potter and Mabel King is great as team owner “big” Bertha Dewitt.
Once the All-Stars successfully cut themselves off from their former owners they drive from town to town dancing down main street to advertise their arrival in the hopes of playing the local teams and getting paid. This goes well and everyone on the field and in the stands is having a great time, but then Sallison Potter hears of their success and will not have it. Potter starts paying people off so no one in the Negro Leagues will play them. He also has his thugs rob and terrorize Bingo’s team members. Running out of options, and low on dough, Bingo and Leon decide the only thing left to do is to play the white baseball teams.
The problem is that the good, white, Southern folk who fill the stands on hot summer days in the 1930s are not too thrilled to see black athletes screw around on the field. At first the All-Stars find themselves getting ugly stares and even boos when they make a good play. Then Bingo realizes what the white games are missing: some informality. In the Negro Leagues they would laugh and joke and have fun with the opposing team. The small-time white baseball players are too stiff and uncomfortable with their opponents so Bingo starts to lighten everybody up by adding a healthy dose of clowning to the white diamonds. It is not enough to be as good or even better than the white teams, the All-Stars have to make a show of it. One does not simply catch a fly ball. One piggybacks up on a taller player to catch it or slides between someone’s legs to catch it. They prove their athletic prowess as well as good spirits and sense of humor and soon the conservative folks up in the stands are having as much fun as the All-Stars.
After several games, Potter’s tampering goes too far. They lose all their money, lose one of their cars (full of equipment), lose several team members, and have to pick potatoes to earn cash. Bingo tries to keep everyone together, but perhaps his ideals are just too big and unrealistic for anyone else to see. With nothing left to lose, Bingo challenges Potter to a game: his team vs. Potter’s. If the All-Stars win they retain their independence, but if Potter wins everyone goes back to their own teams. With everything riding on this one big game and Leon Carter nowhere to be found the stakes are high…but if you’re a regular filmgoer than you already know that somehow things will work out for the best.
I like the old cars and charismatic performances. I like how it interacts with history and how they recreate the look and feel of the old south. I like the energy and humor and fun it looks like everyone is having. Add all this to the fact that the story is pretty good and that makes for a pretty entertaining and lovable movie that unfortunately seems to get overlooked these days. If you like sports movies and think you’ve seen them all then check this one out.
Top 10 Reasons to See Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
1. Just look at that title. Marvelous. Ooh! And an ampersand too!
2. See a young, svelte, bat-swinging James Earl Jones—pre-Vader voice.
3. Oh, so you like period baseball flicks like A League of Their Own and The Natural too? Watch this one.
4. It’s a refreshingly unpretentious outing to the ballpark. I love Field of Dreams, but movies like Bingo Long and the original Bad News Bears aren’t nearly as full of themselves.
5. Car chases, shootouts, sucker punches, dwarfs, amputees, classic cars, and great baseball plays. (Sorry, I guess the dwarfs and amputees thing is just the Jodorowsky fan in me talking).
6. Mabel King keeps her large ridiculous hats on even in a sauna.
7. Richard Pryor pretending to be Cuban…and Navajo.
8. Although it’s a bit screwball, it is still grounded in its historical setting and has a genuine affection for the game.
9. It’s such an American movie! Baseball, overcoming the odds, AND entrepreneurship?!
10. Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones talking to each other. Seriously. Two of the best and most recognizable voices in conversation? Hurry, the credits are coming. Give them something else to read!
Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” March 21, 2011
Director Duane Graves put together a pleasant little film portrait of his close friend in 1999. This documentary does not boast a large budget, sleek editing, beautiful high definition photography, or even a hard-hitting political message. It merely presents his friend, Rene Moreno, as a focal point for our attention. Duane Graves is simply an amateur filmmaker who recognized an interesting subject when he saw it, and Rene Moreno, in addition to being a fascinating microcosm for the Down Syndrome community, is just a natural-born entertainer. This is Up Syndrome (2000).
There exists a mythical bond between Duane and Rene. They met when they were both younger. Duane’s mother told him that Rene had Down Syndrome, which baffled the young Duane because Rene didn’t seem down at all, he seemed happy. This is a fine beginning as it reveals the innocence that can destroy preconceptions about Down Syndrome. Duane got a camera as a present and together with Rene, made several horror home movies and their friendship grew. The documentary picks up again with Rene at age 23 in the summer following his graduation. Rene Moreno is a resident of San Antonio, Texas, a die-hard Spurs fan, and employee of the local grocery store. And Rene can really tell a story.
The film does not have a plot, but rather it presents a collection of mini-scenes and moments. Rene tells the camera important things about himself and shows us the things that matter to him. We become attached to this unpretentious, charismatic individual and we come to realize that we enjoy listening to him and spending time with him. He eagerly awaits the arrival of his sister’s baby so he can be an uncle. He humorously impersonates the kids from his class at school. He shoots off fireworks on the Fourth of July. He demonstrates some pretty slick bowling moves as well as karate punches on an unassuming reclining chair. He strums guitar and sings. He recounts the funeral after his grandfather died. He informs us that his girlfriend has broken up with him. He is saddened when he loses his job and cannot find another one. He prays over lottery tickets and asks God for a job. And he longingly stares into the darkened windows of his old school building and reflects on all the teachers in his yearbook he misses.
Rene Moreno’s desire for independence and to help and have belonging is an important one. He does not want his mother to think of him as a baby forever. Rene wants to grow up. This dilemma is a significant issue because sometimes society appears unwilling or unsure of how to help integrate people with learning disabilities into the working world. Are Rene’s ambitions too big? What are people like Rene supposed to do after their school career comes to a close? Sadly, many people with Down Syndrome and other problems are left in limbo and this is something that is given a very personal, human face in Up Syndrome. Rene Moreno demonstrates humor, imagination, affection, innocence, pride, and joyfulness, but there is an important social issue beneath the surface.
When I worked with children with special needs I recognized the problem that Up Syndrome pointed out. In a school environment everyone is encouraged to learn and interact and play and develop, with some kids’ curriculums even tailor made just for them based on their abilities. The school is safe and full of growing, but what happens next? Duane’s documentary is a fascinatingly intimate one-on-one with Rene Moreno, but he is mostly left to his own devices as his schooling is done and he attempts to acclimate to life outside. After a much enjoyed class reunion where Rene gets to see many of his old friends back in school and dance with everybody, we wonder what adjustments all of these other young people are having to make too. There is not enough support and encouragement beyond the school system to help people like Rene become happy contributors to society and culture. Don’t think they can contribute to society or culture? Then consider celebrated artist Judith Scott, she was deaf and had Down Syndrome and her story can be seen in the 2006 documentary, Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott. Scott’s incredible sculptures are compelling and very evocative and representative of the separation and longing she felt for her fraternal twin sister. Scott’s work provides a unique insight as to what the world looks like from a completely foreign perspective. People with Down Syndrome are valuable and important too. Duane Graves certainly believes that, and Rene certainly is a ball of life to contend with. Sadly, according a 2008 UK News article, research states that “92 percent of women who receive an antenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome decide to terminate the pregnancy. This proportion has not changed since 1989.”
Perhaps there is a fear. Perhaps we do not know what to do with these people. Rene Moreno might be limited in some ways, but aren’t we all? Tough issues, but the film remains as optimistic as its subject. When the film takes the time to show Rene discussing his understanding of death and considers his own death in the future, and then goes on to show him reveling in playing cop in a parked car in the garage and using his hand as a gun (complete with exciting sound effect track!), we, the viewer, get the full spectrum of human emotion. Rene Moreno is a dynamic ball of entertainment and his comfortableness with his friend Duane Graves as director allows us to get closer to his soul than we might have been able to with someone else at the helm.
Towards the end of the film Rene becomes an uncle and shares a precious moment holding the new baby. The tenderness is magical. After all the small moments and big moments that we have shared with Rene Moreno it is time to say goodbye. We have gotten a glimpse into Rene’s world. What defines a human being’s worth? Just the limits of his intellect? Certainly not. I smiled and laughed along with Rene and Duane as they joked around with each other and I thought about some of Rene’s faith and philosophical advice. As the curtain closes on this charming little movie, Rene takes a moment to tell us, “No drinking and no smoking.” So what is there to be down about? I’d say Duane Graves’ life has been brought up from his friendship with Rene.
Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” May 13, 2011
It’s no secret for those who know me. I like weird Czech animated stuff. Barta, Zeman, Svankmajer: these are my homeboys. Naturally when I stumbled across the trailer for Kooky (2010), a strange Czech puppet movie about a pink teddy bear lost in a forest full of magical tuberous beings I simply had to see it. Well, see it I did, and here is what I have to say about it.
Director Jan Sverák, who, it appears, usually makes straight live-action movies, is the man responsible for this whimsical adventure. It’s a simple enough story. A young asthmatic boy has to throw away his old sawdust-filled teddy bear, Kooky, because it is too raggedy. Once at the dump the little stuffed bear comes to life and tries to outrun the crusher tires and two warped bits of garbage who say it is against the law to leave. Now what immediately might remind someone of a bizarre mix of The Brave Little Toaster and Corduroy quickly morphs with some of the spirit elements from Princess Mononoke once Kooky enters the forest. The forest is filled with tiny, bent, dirty, and adorable woodland guardians and gods.
Kooky discovers an entire political system of cranky forest guardians and quickly grows fond of his rescuer, Captain Goddamn. I’m not kidding. That’s his name. He gets that name because he says “goddamn” all the time. That’s one thing that some American audiences might be a twinge surprised at. Yes, this is a kid’s film, but there’s an awful lot of swearing (mostly hells and damns but I believe I also heard a bastard or two). Captain Goddamn is an old, cantankerous root-looking creature who is the head guardian, but there’s an inept upstart who is trying to usurp Goddamn’s authority. To make matters worse the Captain is also losing his eyesight and when Kooky can’t seem to leave it makes him look soft.
The junk creatures come to the forest and try to arrest Kooky, but the Captain stands up for him (the forest denizens may not understand who or what Kooky is, but some know injustice when they see it). The Captain will help Kooky get home if Kooky can be his eyes for a little while—just until he can prove he’s still a good guardian to the fickle and flawed forest gods. Together they undertake a few adventures and learn to like each other despite their apparent faults.
During the woodland mayhem there are still things happening in the real world just to keep the suspense and make us question objective realities. The little boy is sick and in the hospital and experiences many sideways-house fever dreams (you’ll have to see it). Through all the cuteness and adventure there is a weird sense of the ominous murmuring throughout. This film has a few things to say about growing up and growing older and even a few things to say about death, but never in an unpleasant way. Even the ending is riddled with the heavy and the hopeful.
Playful and inventive story aside, the style of the movie is the real reason to watch it. Visually the film is impeccable. The innovative use of tiny marionettes and real locations make Kooky very unique. Kooky isn’t an all-puppet movie like The Dark Crystal or Meet the Feebles, as it is punctuated by a live-action subplot and the environments are kept extremely organic so there are several real animals. Kooky tastes like a walk through a moist forest. I swear you can almost taste this movie. It feels like being embraced by earth and roots. Insects and critters populate the corners of the screen and even scuttle across the characters’ puppet faces. It is a wise choice to keep the filming so real, textured, and earthy. If these characters are supposed to be guardians of the forest then the real flora and fauna of the forest should be able to help present their tale. Foxes, boars, birds, bugs, and squirrels all inhabit this magical place.
In addition to the great photography, clever puppetry, and earthy locations Kooky also, quite surprisingly, has some of the best car chases I’ve seen in awhile. I sat down to this adorable feast for the senses not expecting to be dazzled in this category. I was about as surprised as when I watched Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? Sure the cars are very small and made out of junk, but the filmmakers sure keep it exciting. Toy cars spew real fire and sparks as they race across the forest floor. To make things more playful it begins to snow whenever the spirits go too fast. This gimmick allows for fun scenery changes in mid-chase. And there are several chases, all with fairly high stakes.
I know I’m sort of predisposed to be attracted to this sort of entertainment, but it really was a lot of fun. Kooky is an unpretentious and intimate little movie. It was funny too and it definitely had a heart beating underneath those weather-worn seams. Kooky is a fun, imaginative ride loaded with impressive art and craftsmanship that the whole family can enjoy.
I watched it in a room full of adults and it struck me that we all had a good time with Kooky. If you’re looking for a different sort of movie experience and want to share in a little pink teddy bear’s adventures then check out this little Czech gem.
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