“Best” Questions from 2013 BIFF Q/A

safe

I recently went to the 2013 Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. I saw several features and shorts, none of which I feel particularly compelled to write about at length. I will undoubtedly mention them in my next installment of “Last Few Movies.” More than the films, however, I was struck by the questions following a short film showcase of five international movies. These questions struck me as, well, rather stupid.

1. “There was an extra in the background in that one scene where the old men are talking. She had white hair and looked very old. Who was she?” (Question asked after the screening of the Chinese film, Three Light Bulbs.)

This was a pointless question [the identity of a single extra in a given scene], however, the filmmaker, Min Ding, did make good use of her time to answer extremely well and provide excellent information. That particular old woman, (in a scene full of old people) who had nothing to do with the story, was not special—nearly the entire cast was made up of non-actors such as herself. Good info. Dumb question.

johnny loves dolores

2. “When the lady sends money to her daughter . . . is it really a front to pay the blackmail of a “coyote” who helped her across the border?” (Question asked for Filipino/American production Johnny Loves Dolores.)

I take this question to be a moment where a cinema novice attempted to use a newly learned term [“coyote”: apparently someone who helps people cross the border, usually from Mexico into the United States]. In any event, crossing the border, I think, is more of a Mexican thing. People moving from the Philippines generally have to arrive via airplane or boat. Either the question-asker was not aware of this or they thought the characters were all Mexican rather than Filipino. Another reason this question is stupid is because I doubt a “coyote” could blackmail anybody—much less a nice middle-aged cleaning lady with no money. And what exactly can a “coyote” blackmail with? “If you don’t pay me more money for helping you then I’ll tell the cops you’re here illegally.” “Okay, but when they ask who you are and how you know that, don’t you think your illegal activities of bringing illegal immigrants into the country and blackmailing them might come to light?” Ridiculous. This question is more absurd when you consider that this film is not about illegal immigrants at all and the fact that the woman sending money home to her daughter is so minor that it is an almost innocuous plot point. It reveals her character and situation, yes, but there are no clues given to assume that she is lying. Filmmaker, Clarissa de los Reyes, took the time to diffuse the question by saying that in all the times she’s screened the movie that this was the first time she ever heard such a peculiar interpretation.

“Look at me! Look at me! I know the term ‘coyote’!”

kilimanjaro

3. “Why were the characters old?” and “Why did they have to work in a factory?” (Questions asked of the Swedish film, Kilimanjaro.)

There were several random detail questions like this concerning many of the films. These were the ones I remembered the most. This movie was a playful comedy-drama about life and death and the main character happened to be an old man working in a factory. That is almost exactly what director, Nima Yousefi, said in response to these questions. It just happens to be about that. No secret meaning necessarily. “Why is Lassie a dog?” “Because that’s the story I wanted to tell.” I will admit the film would be tonally quite different if it was dealing with younger, healthier people and many of the jokes regarding the monotony of repetition might have been lost had the characters not been working on an assembly line. “Why is Gandalf a wizard and Frodo a hobbit?” “Because that’s the story I was telling and I felt that the themes I was trying to convey could be best served by these choices.” I found these questions weird because they kept cropping up and many times the audience would not accept the flippant answers. “No, no. There has to be some deep, specific reason why you made those choices.” “You’re right. There may be. But now that I’ve made it, it’s your job to figure out why.”

three light bulbs

5. “Why was it a relationship between a daughter and father and not a son and father or a son and mother or a daughter and mother or perhaps a close uncle?” (Another question in response to Three Light Bulbs.)

This is an amalgam of several questions asked by different members of the audience. Again, it deals with specifics that the artist (in my opinion) has no business answering. Art is meant to be interactive. The artist creates and the audience interprets (and everyone interprets differently, making every piece of art as variable and personal as can be). The other presumption in these questions might hint that people felt the story might have been serviced better had the genders been different, when that really isn’t the point. This particular drama is about these particular people and they happen to be these genders. Granted, the relationship might look different if it was not a father and daughter, but this story happened to be about a father and daughter. Deal with it. Many people seemed to demand that every single decision made by the filmmakers be extremely intentional and have deep meaning that they could share directly (as if the movie itself was not explanatory enough). Perhaps, most baffling of all was that the director had explained early on that the story was somewhat autobiographical of her relationship with her own father, yet these questions persisted.

desperation

5. “I really liked all the symbolism and powerful imagery and I understood what you were getting at, but could you just explain what it all meant?” (Asked of many of the films. The South Korean Safe, the Filipino/French Prologue to the Great Desaparecido, as well as the others mentioned).

This is another question that was not precisely asked, however, it was expressed many times through various actual questions. Again, my objection comes from an audience demanding their personal experience be validated or corrected and explained by the artists. I wanted to tell them they were all watching movies wrong. I can understand asking some questions like this, but not down to every detail. If you have to probe as deeply as this then, odds are, you probably didn’t get what they were getting at. These questions might make more sense if we were watching the films of Bela Tarr, Alejandro Jodorowsky, or David Lynch…but even then, I don’t want them to spell it all out for me. Art is a co-production. The seer adds as much narrative and context as the sayer. Great films require some work. Great films require immense amounts of chewing. They are not pablum to be swallowed without thought or flavor. None of these five films were terribly obtuse or difficult to grasp and much of the symbolism was simple or open, but this audience was dissecting every nuance like the Holy Grail was hidden away in each second of film.

There were several intelligent questions, but I was far more struck by the abundance of bizarre ignorance. I must credit the filmmakers themselves for taking the time to answer the idiotic questions in such a way that they added information that was both interesting and not even exactly asked for. Kudos.

rocky horror picture show2

BONUS: Rocky Horror Picture Show live performance synopsis fail: For Halloween I attended a live show of the classic cult musical—film shown on a big screen, actors performing in front, and a rowdy decked-out crowd shouting things at the screen. There was a man behind me who knew nothing about the movie, the show, or the midnight performance tradition. I overheard a woman (we’ll call her “Dumb Lady”) delightedly explaining it like this:

Dumb Lady: [paraphrased from memory] “Well, this is one of the shittiest movies ever made and when it first came out people threw tomatoes at the screen it was so bad. Then it became a tradition to watch the movie and make fun of it. I’ve done this like ten times. It’s so much fun to put this old, shitty movie in its place. The acting and everything is just so old and bad. It really is just a bad movie.

Hello, Face. Meet Palm. You know how I said that art is all subjective and the individual assigns the meaning? I almost take it back in light of this striking ignorance. Some people don’t understand comedy or camp.

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” Nov. 21st 2013.

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Burns and Allen Deconstructed: Classic TV with a Darker Subtext

On the surface The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950-1958) appears like your typical early sitcom in the pioneering days of television. Gracie (Grace Allen) is a nutty and unsuppressible ditz who’s always mixing up words and meanings to delightfully malapropic comic effect, while her accountant husband, George (George Burns), is the cigar smoking straight-man. But look a little deeper and you see a subtly surreal meta tragedy of mythic proportions.

burnsandallen

What I am about to recount to you are my observations surrounding the legendary sitcom. Granted, my findings are based only on personal experiences and not necessarily founded in actual science.

George (Burns, that is) exists in seemingly two different worlds. First there is the husband and straight-man role he occupies quite serviceably, but he also dons the role as the semi-omniscent narrator to the events of the show. The laughter induced by a recent scene ends, the lights go down, and George appears in front of a curtain—passing through the looking-glass—and he begins to explain things to the audience directly. He summarizes and he fills in missing scenes and he puffs his cigar. It appears as though he has one foot firmly planted in a different reality. But is the other side of the curtain the real reality or are the laughs only in his mind?

If the audience is indeed real then is George Burns some sort of droll demigod? He is privy to certain information on the stage, but not all. He knows events that recently occurred and he knows some things that he was not even present for and occasionally he knows a few minutes into the next scene that will arrive shortly, but he rarely knows the ultimate outcome of these scenes. He only knows where he just came from, what other characters are doing right now off-screen and he knows everything that happened earlier and some things that have yet to transpire. He is borderline psychic, but even if he knows the route things will take he is still doomed to go through the motions and see them through to the end.

I knew this would happen.

I knew this would happen.

Here is the show in a nutshell: George Burns narrates half the events as they really happen before they happen but then he gets interrupted by the action as its happening, like the “tape delay” has caught up with him and is sucking him back four minutes into the past. What a hellish existence.

After a few laughs and a few cigar puffs Burns leaves the audience and returns to the sitcom world where his powers are meaningless and unknown. What if he could tell them all: “Hey, I knew you would say that” or “Don’t let her in. She doesn’t really have pie”? Surely they’d take him for a madman. I am certain Gracie would have some wry misinformed quip to lighten the mood should they conflagrate him a witch.

carnation

George Burns is a trapped victim living between two dimensions each equally alienating in their own way. There exists, however, another disturbing element to the Burns and Allen Show. Like many sitcoms and variety shows of the era when TV was new, commercials were oft times eerily interwoven into the events of the plot. Television had yet to fully separate the programs from the sponsors and the results were a Twin Peaks-esque nightmare of drama-driven advertising. Frequently characters will appear with strange quasi-hidden posters or product samples. Claiming to have some relation to the Burns and Allen storyline they would invite themselves in, skitter through their phony setups only to reveal their ulterior motives. It’s forecast pretty loudly so it’s hard to miss an impending in-show commercial, yet they always manage to surprise me with their thinness and surreality.

Burns knows this scam (I think), yet he is powerless to stop it. Perhaps he is aware that if he stops the advertisers from doing their bizarre ritualistic spiel then Carnation Instant Milk Powder will pull the plug on the money-flow that sustains Burns and Allen. Essentially to stop them is suicide. But what quality of life does he really have? Who is George Burns really? Does he sleep in the world of separate twin-beds, sitcom setups, and no toilets or does he make camp in front of the curtain?

burnsallen4

George Burns might have been a sort of failed Messiah. Perhaps he had it in his power to open up everyone’s eyes. He could have told the characters of the sham they were living. He could have given them the Pleasantville revelation that they are merely acting out a fictitious plot for the amusement of a savvy 50’s television audience. Maybe Burns could take Gracie and the cast by the hand and lead them to the other side of the curtain and open their eyes. But would this revelation not blow their mind? Think of the Square from Edwin Abbott Abbott’s mathematical masterpiece “Flatland.”

On occasion he does manage to pull Gracie to the other side, but her dimness of wit makes her ill-equipped to get a handle on things and she merely blathers on in character. Can she not recognize her salvation when it is at hand?

There is the risk that the studio audience on the other side of the curtain is just the hallucinatory manifestations of a deranged and deeply introspective George Burns. But how come Gracie pretends she can see it too when he transports her?

Maybe it’s a risk worth taking. They could escape the advertisements and the tinny laughter. Maybe color would even be granted the weary travelers. Would that then be Nirvana? Not the band, but the utopic state of being in the afterlife. Maybe the band. The British Nirvana from the 60s though, not the other one.

burnsallen5

It is mere folly to speculate as Burns proved to be a failed Messiah. He never did bring divine revelation to his fellow cast members of this sick play. Maybe he was just a lost lesser X-Men who never realized his potential. Perhaps he never knew the others were not semi-psychic. How alone he must have felt.

No, George Burns was no Messiah.

But he did play God later.

…John Denver was a terrible actor.

http://vintage45.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/the-george-burns-and-gracie-allen-show-1950-58/

http://culturalproductionblog.com/?p=391

http://www.popscreen.com/v/61X0t/The-George-Burns–Gracie-Allen-show

http://www.oocities.org/4christ.geo/tour/cast_list.html

http://www.homevideos.com/movies/ohgod

Originally published for The Alternative Chronicle on April 18, 2013.

“L.A. Streetfighters” DVD Quiz Game

Weirdly, this craptastic film has a mini quiz you can play after the movie. Sort of like a comprehension test. The movie is horrible, but the multiple choice quiz almost makes it worth it.

Hello, schlock consumer. Are you ready to play a game?

Gotta love the screenshot.

Hurray! You got the answer, but do you feel anything?

This one makes me mad, because it was the wrong answer. Only three brain-stumping questions and the DVD can’t even get them all correct. Lack of quality, plain and simple.

I mentioned this earlier.

The Amazing Movie Mash Up Game 2

  • 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.
    GregoryThe 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.
    AllisonBattle 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 BowcockHorton 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 SubmarineXXXcalibur: 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 SubmarineSwimming 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 SubmarineThat’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 SubmarineJust 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 HalberstadtNo 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 SubmarineLike 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 SubmarineThe 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 SubmarineThe 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 SubmarineAnd 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 HalberstadtNew Year’s Valentine’s Day: A bunch of actors you know hang out and get paychecks.
    Burrello SubmarineLawnmower 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 HalberstadtMy 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 HalberstadtBaby’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 HalberstadtThere 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 SubmarineSchindler’s Lisztomania: a sexually charged psychedelic retelling of the courageous acts of a horny musician in Nazi Germany.
    Burrello SubmarineHoward 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 SubmarineMosquito 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 SubmarineThe 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 SubmarineThe 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 SubmarineCaptain Horatio 400 Hornblows: a troubled youngster embarks on a high seas adventure of petty thievery during the Napoleonic Wars.
    Burrello SubamarineThe 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 SubmarineMetropolistan: 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.

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode Three – Revenge of the List

Sometimes this is just easier and more fun than writing long reviews.

What follows are some of the last several films I have watched. Perhaps, just to show that I do take in a fairly wide range of cinema. Perhaps something more sinister. Perhaps you’ll never know and me and your cat are in cahoots. They are listed in ascending order of what I thought of them. Kindly interact with this post if you feel I have misordered the movies.

Run Away:

“Are you wearing sunglasses?”

It is a three way tie between three truly wonderfully awful movies. Dinosaur Island (1994), L.A. Streetfighters (1985), and Ultra Warrior (1990). They are all B-movies so perhaps should not be judged so harshly, but they all have unique problems. It’s okay that Dinosaur Island has cheesy special effects but it wants to be sexy and funny but fails miserably at both. It’s like a team of horny 14 year old boys wrote it. L.A. Streetfighters is your typical bad kung fu movie, but the allegedly high school age characters look like they’re in their 4os and the lighting is so appallingly abysmal that most of the time you can’t tell what’s going on. It resembles a black void that periodically emits dubbed punching sound effects. The plus side is that the DVD menu for L.A. Streetfighters has a ridiculous three question multiple choice quiz about events in the movie (and the quiz does not even have the right answers consistently). Lastly is Ultra Warrior which is a jumbled mess of cheese and sci-fi schlock and robbed footage and exposition from other movies (Turkish Star Wars much?). It must be seen to be believed.

Meh and/or Misguided:

“Quick! Quick! Say something current or vulgar!”

I’ll say it. Seth MacFarlane’s Ted (2012) just didn’t work for me. Near every single joke felt ripped directly from an episode of Family Guy, which I suppose is great for some folks. More than anything else I took offense to the piles of clichés that made up the script. Everything from the movie-proposal-fakeout to the well-meaning-guy-keeps-lying-to-the-girl to the celebrity-of-niche-nostalgia-pops-up-and-parties-way-too-hard to the no-really-I’m-raunchy-but-look-suddenly-I-have-a-semblance-of-awkward-sentimentailty-so-I-actually-have-a-heart-in-addition-to-old-dick-jokes. Apart from a few funny lines and some solid comic timing from Marky Mark (although he was funnier in The Other Guys) this movie doesn’t bring much new to the whole cute-characters-who-say-adult-things-and-smoke-pot genre. I will say this though, it is better than Paul and Mila Kunis is sexy. Ultimately I liked the foul-mouthed chain-smoking teddy bear from Wisit Sasanatieng’s Citizen Dog (2004) better.

“What do you mean? Of course Chinese people roll their R’s.”

I like Anna May Wong so naturally I had to search out and watch Chu Chin Chow (1932), an old British operetta loosely retelling the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. It’s not a wholly bad movie and it does have its points, but bits of it are so odd. Mostly English actors playing Arabs and Chinese (typical of the era), and a few very forgettable songs, strange attempts at humor punctuated by disturbing violence (for the time) and torture give it a weird energy. Anna May Wong is good and the sets are lavish and the one dude with the super low voice is cool, albeit bizarrely placed at times, but then there’s Fritz Kortner. Kortner plays the king of the 40 thieves, but he is so hammy and weird that single-handedly I think he damages the film more than any other element while simultaneously making it a uniquely strange spectacle. Watch this if only to finish off Wong’s film cannon. I did like the slave girl song.

Guilty Pleasures:

“Be careful, honey. You’re having eyebrows for two now.”

Fortress (1992) is your typical shot-in-Australia post-apocalyptic prison-break action movie starring everyone’s favorite lug and Highlander, Christopher Lambert (Highlander). It’s so bad and stereotypical of the times I actually loved it. Granted, I was laughing the whole ride through, which was obviously not the film’s intention, but who cares. The year is 2017 and you’re only allowed to have one child and abortions are illegal so the government murders your family and puts you in super-jail if you try to have a second kid. It’s got all the classic moves. There’s the stereotypical lineup of prison inmates like the tough guy; the evil man-rapist; the Mexican guy who likens human guts exploding to a burrito; the nerdy computer-whiz guy with the huge glasses (Jeffrey Combs!); the omniscient black guy; and a wormy bad guy (Red from That 70s Show) with terrible hair who tries to steal the protagonist’s lady . Lasers and cyborgs and ‘splosions. It’s all pretty hilarious. It’s no Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky(1991), but you will “lol” most heartily.

“Yeah. Whatever happened to Keanu?”

For folks who wondered what happened to the other guy from Bill & Ted movies, just watch Freaked(1993). Alex Winter plays a snotty celebrity who tells his life story to Brooke Shields. Randy Quaid (Christmas Vacation) is apparently mutating people for his sick and demented South American freak show. It’s a twisted yarn of corporate greed and toxic waste that unfolds like what would happen if David Cronenberg were adapting MAD Magazine. Freaked quickly maneuvers from the merely subversive to become a gross-out surrealist comic head-trip that continues to aspire for greater anarchy and greater heights of scatological humor until its ultimate conclusion. Maybe it doesn’t always work, but enough of the jokes are solid and the special effects are top notch (Thomas C. Rainone, Steve Johnson, Screaming Mad George, and teams of others make some truly grotesque and innovative creatures). The Butthole Surfers also provide some tunes and Bobcat Goldthwaite plays a sockhead. It’s more of an abstract novelty than anything else, but I admit I did find much of it bizarrely amusing. Also Mr. T is a woman in it.

“New drinking game: you take a shot at every anachronism.”

This next sucker is unique. Ed Harris (Gone Baby Gone) is William Walker in Alex Cox’s Walker (1987). Perhaps the whole film doesn’t exactly work, but it’s so weird you can’t look away. The truth is mixed with much delirium in this crazed account of the 19th century American dude whose reckless devotion to Manifest Destiny made him a Nicaraguan president. The tone is dreamlike and the movie is yucky and unpleasant and is full of purposeful anachronisms (Zippo lighters, Time magazine, computers, helicopters, etc.) to draw parallels to contemporary events. As the story unfolds more and more anachronisms creep into frame and the atmosphere becomes increasingly anarchic and ethereal. I don’t think it all congeals together for a pleasing whole, but I found Walker so fascinating and offbeat that I actually liked it despite some unwieldiness. The music is also pretty interesting.

Getting Warmer:

“They’re hugging right behind me, aren’t they.”

Frank Capra is one of the most recognizable names from Hollywood’s Golden Age. He’s the man responsible for such classics as It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, and It Happened One Night to name a few. Perhaps that is why You Can’t Take it With You(1938) does not rank higher on my list. I thought it was great, but at this point I find it gets predictably Capra-esque. It’s the same reason a lot of Ingmar Bergman films blend together in my memory. Jimmy Stewart (Harvey), Lionel Barrymore (Key Largo), Edward Arnold (The Devil and Daniel Webster), and Jean Arthur (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) star and it’s got a lot of great moments, but it’s a little uneven and there are quite a few storylines all at once. Barrymore in particular gets a lot of time to shine in this film. It’s the classic story of two people who love each other but come from different worlds. One comes from an uptight, legalistic, and aristocratic family, the other from a simple, warm, and freewheeling family. It’s class warfare! Seeing how Capra always manages a happy ending perhaps this is the perfect movie for the Occupy Wall Street generation.

“Pass the grapefruit, doll. Ever seen ‘The Public Enemy’?”

I like director Norman Jewison. He can do anything: The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler On the Roof, Rollerball, you name it. The Thomas Crowne Affair (1968) is a snazzy romantic crime flick in which a wealthy Steve McQueen (Bullitt) steals and then woos insurance investigator Faye Dunaway (Network). Though the energy may lag at times in the middle it does sport some super 60s collage camera tricks, some great twists, and one of the sexiest chess games ever filmed. Perhaps the biggest reason why I liked this one so much was the theme song. It’s like what “The Self Preservation Society” song added to the original Italian Job. “The Windmills of Your Mind” is such a deliriously near-nonsensical 60s song. It was written by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and sung by Rex Harrison’s song, Noel.

“No. Your voice is stupid.”

Enough has been written about Christopher Nolan and his Batman movies so what else could I say? The Dark Knight Rises(2012) is a bit clunky and sprawling with a lot of seemingly wasted ideas peppered throughout and most of the action is not that satisfying, but you gotta give it a lot of credit for trying to be so epic and being the most un-superhero movie perhaps ever. I liked the beginning a lot where Batman is a retired recluse—even if I’ll never buy Christian Bale in a beard. I still kinda wish Tom Hardy’s Bane was more like Bronson. Now that would have been a movie! Dark Knight Rises is a bit of a mess and, yes it might be overly long and overly serious, but it was good enough for the previous two installments. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are not perfect movies either, but they are entertaining overall. For me Batman was never better than in Batman: The Animated Series from the early 90s, perhaps mainly because they capture the mysteriousness and some of the weird detective atmosphere. Rises is a fitting conclusion if a bit unwieldy. The darkly satirical jab at Occupy Wall Street worked for me too for the most part. We could have done without Matthew Modine and the Robin bit at the end, but maybe the Scarecrow cameo evens it all out somehow.

“Well, hurray for Captain Spalding…”

If you like stuff like My Dinner With Andre (1981) or Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party (2005)—which I did—then maybe you’re ready for Swimming to Cambodia (1987). Spalding Gray’s (True Stories) one man show is essentially a monologue that ties together several events from his life during the filming of The Killing Fields. Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married), but really I suppose it could have been directed by anyone, this movie takes you into Gray’s life and his unique point of view on the world. Despite being essentially one man sitting on a dark stage narrating several personal accounts I can’t say I was ever bored. Spalding Gray is an entertainer and knows how to weave a good yarn.

Oh What Fun:

“Yessir. Nobody knows the wild west quite like Italians.”

Here’s another who, like Thomas Crowne Affair, I wound up liking even more because of the theme song. Spaghetti westerns really are their own genre. They are not just cowboy movies made in Italy. There are more violent, subversive, and gritty. Director Sergio Corbucci may not be Sergio Leone, but Django (1966) starring Franco Nero (Camelot, Die Hard 2) is definitely worth checking out. A nameless gunslinger wanders through the desert dragging a coffin. Already such wonderful mythic imagery! Folks inquire as to who is in the coffin, but Django always answers cryptically. Since Django claims no allegiances he finds himself at war with two feuding gangs. Fortunately he is a resourceful fellow…also his coffin is actually the case for a Gatling gun. Think part Fistful of Dollars (1964) and part Desperado (1995).

“I’m the Pinball Wizard you heard tell about.”

I have a confession to make. I only recently saw Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975). It’s the story of a deaf, dumb, and blind pinball wizard (Roger Daltrey) who becomes a cult leader. I like Oliver Reed (The Devils) and I like the Who and I liked a lot of the songs and guest stars (Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, etc.) but I don’t think it’s my favorite. It really has some solid scenes and some great songs, but I admit I began to feel exhausted and tired before the end. Ken Russell’s style can be very abrasive and I think it works for this story overall, but it just ran out of steam for me. I felt I had seen all its tricks too soon. The beans scene kinda grossed me out a little. Jack Nicholson’s cameo was a fun surprise though and the music kept me hooked.

*Bang*

French filmmaker Louis Feuillade (Les Vampires) made hundreds of films between 1906 and 1924 and popularized the series form. I recently stumbled upon the Fantômas series which is comprised of five movies made between 1913 and 1914. They concern a diabolical criminal and master of disguise, Fantômas (René Navarre), and his detective pursuer, Inspector Juve (Edmond Bréon). While the stories themselves may feel slow and dated, they do have their moments of style and fun pulpy flair. The cliffhanger endings were good and some of the seedy Parisian underbelly nods were a lot of fun, but the real reason I liked them so much was simple: these suckers are one hundred years old. When these old timey guys are hopping trains and trolleys on cobblestone streets and dousing gaslights in their bowler hats and ludicrous mustaches you gotta remember; this is their contemporary world. Watching the Fantômas movies is like watching history. I love silent comedies, but most of the ones I watch are American, and I love German Expressionism, but those are all filmed on stylized sets. Fantômas goes outside in what is, to me, a foreign land in a different time.

“You take that back what you said about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

Another confession. I hadn’t seen Guy Ritchie’s rough ‘n’ tumble crime comedy, Snatch (2000). Am I last person in America to see it? Maybe. I won’t say much about it, except that I had a lot of fun watching it, and while it may not measure up to Sexy Beast, this all-star brawl might be my favorite thing Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) has done. Foul-mouthed, fast-talking, violent crooks, macho hooligans, and too-tough mafiosos not your thing? Look elsewhere. Brad Pitt and the whole cast are great in this ensemble of cool. The style is manic and in your face, yet controlled and very sly. Sometimes I like a movie that just loves being a movie. Snatch is one of those.

Tralalala:

“I’m not gay. I’m an entertainer.”

I actually had to watch Casablanca (1942) again before I fully appreciated Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972). Liza Minelli (who has always made me feel uncomfortable for some reason) stars as Sally Bowles, the sexual starlit of the Kit Kat Klub in Weimar Republic Germany. As she romances her way into the lives of two men, one being the uptight stranger Brian Roberts (Michael York), it seems that things are getting harder in Germany as the Nazi Party begins its rise to power. The relationships between the characters are rich and fascinating, but I found the off-the-cuff representation of the setting to be particularly interesting. Here’s a movie set in the years leading up to WWII and it’s not really a political story and it leaves no resolution to the mounting political tensions. It’s the story of people during a specific time. Yes, they all have feelings regarding the encroaching fascist regime and singing Nazi youth, and yes our historical hindsight gives us, the viewer, a more suspenseful narrative than the characters can perceive, and it is here where the film’s power lies. They are all caught up in the march of history. I also enjoyed Joel Gray’s flamboyant performance as the emcee. There are a few really memorable scenes, one being the eerie final moments, that stay with you after the film is over.

“Yeah, I’m still here.”

Before Steve Martin, Spencer Tracy was Father of the Bride (1950). Spencer Tracy (Judgement at Nuremberg, Bad Day at Black Rock) is a great actor, but his subtle and sly wit is rarely at the forefront. He always has that secret twinkle of wisdom, but in Vincente Minelli’s Father of the Bride he is the comic victim of fatherhood. When his daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor), tells him she’s getting married his imagination and fears get the better of him. Soon he’s spending more money than he ever thought and gradually realizing the shifting role of a father as he watches his daughter grow up. Perhaps an interesting double-feature with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

“This is not a cave painting. This is actually a tattoo on the side of my torso.”

The camera pushes in and through the black, mystery-enshrouded shadows we see…rocks. Werner Herzog’s documentary on cave paintings, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), is enigmatic and captivating. These old stones tell stories and present day scientists are learning more and more about the complex artistry committed to the walls thousands of years ago. Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man) knows how to be interesting and he manages to give the subject an almost mythic quality as he interviews experts who do not see our long dead ancestors as being that distant. There even seems to be hints to a deeply spiritual nature tucked away within all mankind. It was originally made for 3D, but I saw it on TV and it was fine.

Gotta Love It:

“You boys ain’t from around here, are you?”

Next up it’s an Israeli film directed by Eran Kolirin called The Band’s Visit (2007). For those who enjoy quiet melancholy and gentle cultural humor this is a great story. An Egyptian police band, sent to play at an Arab arts center inauguration, gets on the wrong bus and winds up in a podunk Israeli town. Like Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention, this is a comedy that deals with different cultures that do not always get along. The slow, subtle setups are perfect and the sad but sweet relationship between the band leader (Sasson Gabai) and a rather progressive local woman (Ronit Elkabetz) give the movie a solid emotional core, while the peripheral characters are free to provide humorous segues. I chuckled throughout and then felt a small well of sadness…but in a good way. The Band’s Visit is touching, simple, and sublime.

“A hasty jest, you say? I shall make ribbons of them.”

I like swashbuckling and I like a well-placed verse. Cyrano de Bergerac(1950) has both to spare. José Ferrer (The Caine Mutiny) gives a spectacularly energetic and sharp performance—one that got him an Oscar—as the legendary tragic poet and swordsman whose vanity and large nose keep him from revealing his true feelings to the woman he loves. He must feed sugary lines to another man to court her, and thus his self-wrought torment goes. While it might lose some steam by the end it’s almost understandable considering how vigorous it is at the outset. Cyrano de Bergerac is a classic tale filled with wonderful swordplay, even sharper wordplay, and a wonderful balance between comedy and tragedy. The film is good enough on its own, but it is Ferrer’s dynamic performance that elevates it to greater heights.

“So French it hurts.”

I liked The Artist (2011), but something made me appreciate director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin even more. OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) and OSS117: Lost in Rio (2009) are what did it. Dujardin plays the ridiculously dimwitted, chauvinistic, racist, and closed-minded French secret agent, OSS117, in what might best be described as a sort of European Austin Powers. They might be a little more stylish and classy, but they’re just as funny. Between Dujardin’s hilarious elastic facial expressions and Hazanavicius’s camera tricks that successfully parody the film styles of the 1950s and 1960s, both movies are a hoot. There are some truly fantastically funny sequences in these guys. It was even funnier coming so close after watching The Thomas Crowne Affair. I laughed quite hard and I got an even better appreciation for their more recent send-up of silent Hollywood films with The Artist. Whether you’re a James Bond fan or not, odds are you will enjoy these very pleasing comedies.

The Crescendo Swells:

“Cogsworth? Lumiere?”

I recently re-watched Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) and I only mention it here because I only liked it before. Now I admire it. You know the story—or at least the sanitized versions—so I need not go into detail. I will say this though, it is refreshing to see a fairytale that respects its audience. This is a rich, imaginative film that is written seemingly almost without children in mind. Surely they will enjoy the magic and the special effects, but there is an interesting maturity to the story. Cocteau’s brilliant and innovative style are wonderful to behold and his small touches of gazing statues and candelabras suspended by human arms forming out of the walls are still dazzling and fun.

“Ah. Douglas. I knew your father.”

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) was remade several times, but only once with the incomparable Ronald Colman (Lost Horizon). This one is another swashbuckler and again, it is the leading man that makes it so memorable. It’s a classic tale of mistaken identities, when a vacationing Brit meets his doppelganger, who happens to be royalty (Colman plays both roles). When the monarch is drugged, the tourist must take his place until things can be sorted out and the coup availed. Assisting Ronald Colman is a stellar cast including C. Aubrey Smith (Tarzan the Ape Man), Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon), Madeleine Carroll (The 39 Steps), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Gunga Din), Raymond Massey (East of Eden), and a young David Niven (Around the World in 80 Days). The sword fights and intrigue are great, but Ronald Colman is just always so English and understated that I believe everything he says.

“Should I tell him about ‘The Hebrew Hammer?'”

Maybe I give this one too much credit, but I was in the right mood. 2 Days in Paris (2007) is like if Woody Allen were French and he were adapting Meet the Parents. But it’s all Julie Delpy. She wrote, directed, and starred in this playfully painful analysis of a romance turning sour. In many ways it feels like an extension of her character from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Delpy’s writing is sharp and clever and Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan) is excellent as the exasperated American boyfriend trying to hold it all together. Neither character is wholly likable, which maybe gives it that cynical edge that I find invigorating. I always find it refreshing when comedies can be totally believable. I have not seen her sequel, 2 Days in New York with Chris Rock, but I don’t know how it could be better than this funny and insightful movie.

“Sorry if Batman didn’t make it high enough for you.”

You either like Guy Maddin or you don’t. Odds are, if you’ve heard of him, you probably like him. Maddin has mad a career out of making movies that look like they were made in the 1930s. From Archangel to The Saddest Music in the World, he is always tinkering and playing with what a film can be and how far the language of old cinema can be stretched. My Winnipeg (2007) is particularly interesting because it’s halfway to being a documentary, but with fantastical flourishes that Herzog might even be afraid to pull. It’s the story of Guy Maddin trying to film his way out of the terminally dreary Canadian city of Winnipeg. He tries to re-stage fragments of his childhood with his controlling mother playing herself while he also tries to reassemble lost memories and warped bits of Canadian history to figure out who he is and what Winnipeg has become. It’s a totally surreal and somewhat hypnotic fairytale of nostalgia raped by the passage of time and the longing to escape one’s past and move on. Not really fiction, not entirely fact. My Winnipeg lies on the fringe and obviously relishes every bent minute of it there. I kind of love it.

But enough about me. What did you see last? Anything good?

Syndrome Be Damned

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.

http://www.trisomyfilms.com/links.html

http://www.screenjunkies.com/

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

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