Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The National Filmboard of Ivanlandia Only Reviews Films, It Doesn’t Censor Them; Part One

The National Filmboard of Ivanlandia has been screening some DVDs before allowing the campesinos to bootleg them in the bazaars and marketplaces of Prince Ivan Junior City or Playa de Sangre. Stuck as we are, between the icebergs of Peru and the sandstorms of Western Greenland, we often are confused by your films…

The Filmboard reminds all citizens that all movies noted as “gory” or “blood-spattered” or “gruesome” are still required viewing for all pre-teens.
Cinema ID cards will be checked!

Remember, in the United Provinces of Ivanlandia, film evasion is a crime!

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Reserved recommendation—only because you could make a perfect short film (45 minutes to one hour) from the scenes of Poppy and the driving instructor, with maybe some scenes from Poppy’s life as filler or detail. But otherwise, much of this flick could be fast-forwarded through. Aside from Poppy and the instructor, the rest of the cast is kind of listless, and cannot bring life to scenes of so-called “real life.” I haven’t seen everything Mike Leigh has done, but I really enjoyed Naked, Topsy-Turvy, High Hopes and especially Life Is Sweet (and when is that coming to DVD?), so Happy-Go-Lucky was overall a disappointment.

Memo to National Ivanlandia Television Corp.: Check viability of “Poppy and the Instructor” sitcom. Improv comedy based? Multiple cameras, yes—but only one set! Budget must factor in potential price fluctuations in gasoline....

Fuck it: there’s probably a reality show called “Driving Instructors” out there already

Let the Right One In (2008)
As unique a take on vampirism as George Romero’s Martin--but Let the Right One In really takes much too long to go anyplace, in my opinion. On the DVD’s supplemental materials, the director admits that his flick is “very Swedish,” so I think much of your enjoyment of Let the Right One In will stem from your tolerance for Swedish movies and their--I won’t say glacial--but I will say quite deliberate pace. I also found the lead character of the little boy to be a pathetic wet noodle and quite boring. I know that his weak character is important in regards to his relationship with the little vampire girl, but I really grew exasperated at his languid masochism. However, all fans of vampire flicks need to check this movie out: it’s a worthwhile addition to the genre.
(Hmmmm….I wonder if my dislike of the protagonist stems from this film's bad translation controversy?)

Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Gory madness and style overload that’s often quite awesome. When Punisher: War Zone is not blood-spattered mayhem, the film is very stupid, almost laughably cornball.

But the ultraviolence is executed (heh-heh) so well, with a really nihilistic Eastern European (or “Extreme Asian”) vibe, that I can’t help but think that the filmmakers were originally going for some sort of Starship Troopers-like meta-joke. Or maybe not. But supposedly the director had plenty of fights with the studio regarding the flick’s tone or plotting, so who knows?

Eden Lake (2008)
Eden Lake is almost a great horror movie. Something just didn't click for me in the way the film ended, something about the tone and the script. But until then, the flick is really a tension-packed endurance test, that reinforces the often overlooked truth that KIDS ARE EVIL, while appealing specifically to those (like me) who enjoy watching possessions-obsessed smug yuppies tortured and murdered.

It's quite a nasty, nasty film that does much to make you feel bad inside, with some grueling moments of torture and gore. If Eden Lake was only one hour long, it would be perfect.

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
The Midnight Meat Train is hardly flawless, but definitely worth a look for gorehounds and fans of occultish horror.

Despite an abundance of style and very inventive and often disgusting gore, this flick takes much too long to tell its tale. Fast-forward through the first hour (but stopping for the blood and any scene with a very good Vinnie Jones—especially Ted Raimi’s eye-catching (heh-heh) cameo), and then start watching the flick for real. You won’t miss much, just a lot of useless “character development” for the photographer protagonist. The script really needed some fine-tuning, but at least the filmmakers were people who’d actually taken the subway: they get the feeling of paranoia right.

BTW, the DVD commentary between Ryuhei Kitamura (also the director of Godzilla: Final Wars) and producer/writer Clive Barker is a hoot – sometimes Barker even sounds turned on by what he’s watching.

I wonder if Midnight Meat Train’s need of further script development/improvement was a result of English being director Kitamura’s second language? Hmmmmm...
Memo for future Ivanlandia report: Examine disconnect often noticed when foreign-language directors take on English-language genre projects—

Viy (1967)
Viy gets 3 out of 5 overall, but lemme tell ya: the scenes in the church with the undead, especially the over-the-top-and-beyond climax, deserve 5/5: The last eight minutes of this Soviet fantasy-horror flick are truly bonkers and worth waiting for!

Because of the ridiculous and boorish behavior of the main character at the beginning, I always took Viy to be a horror-comedy (or a horror movie with comedic elements), like Corman’s The Raven or Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind (either of which would be an awesome double feature with Viy).

Meanwhile, the elaborate medieval production design really gives Viy the flavor and tone of a Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam film--and it wasn’t surprising to find out that the Nikolai Gogol story which inspired Viy is also the story that inspired Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, another film it is similar to in style. Although it can be slow in spots, if you’ve enjoyed any of the other films I’ve mentioned, as well as Bava’s Black Sabbath (from which the band got its name—I love that!) or the awesome and extremely recommended Japanese proto-ghost story Onibaba, then you’ll enjoy Viy.

Regarding comments I’ve seen in different places regarding Viy’s special effects: People who gripe about the effects from a 1960s movie made in Communist Russia need to get out of the hole they live in more often.

Lost Command (1966)
Lost Command is a better-than-average war flick that manages to tell a complex story in a straightforward manner. However, the action scenes are not as strong as they need to be--they are kind of slow and repetitive, actually--and show that Lost Command’s stunt and action departments weren’t up to snuff. Which is too bad, because with a greater visceral charge, Lost Command could’ve been a much more memorable flick. As it is, the film is worth seeing if only as a companion piece with the incredible Battle of Algiers: both flicks look at the same conflict, but Lost Command examines it from the paratroopers’ side.

[WARNING: There will be delays. The Cybernetics Division of the Ministry of Information has informed the National Filmboard of Ivanlandia that the big Colossus mainframe we’ve been using since 2000 is starting to glitch out. The Ministry of Finance and the Treasure Department aren’t going to like this…]

Tomorrow & tomorrow & Bruce Dern

Wouldn’t you love to hear the sinister whine of Bruce Dern reading the more bleak works of the Bard? But why would anyone let him become a law enforcement officer?

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The 47th Minute Project 3: The Rise of the Machines

Here’s the entry for the Third 47th Minute Project:

No hints, other than to say it’s one of my faves, and I think this is a really easy one.
Submit your guesses (or weird factoids about this week’s entry) in the comments section; thanks!

As For Last Week’s The 47th Minute Project…

There I was thinking NOBODY was going to guess the previous entry into the 47th Minute Project, when old pal Otto Mannix came through: The United Provinces of Ivanlandia have no problem with nepotism.

Mannix corrected surmised minute 47:00 of the 1981 (or 1980, depending on whom you ask) mercenary movie The Dogs of War, starring Christopher Walken (who is sometimes accused of taking work just for the money—and while that might be the case, that’s totally fine with me—like that living god Ernest Borgnine, I’ve never seen Walken be bad in ANYTHING).

Several folks tried to ID the last 47th Minute Project, but goshes, people: I think most of you gave up too soon! Some of you were really thisclose, if you ask me.
Darius Whiteplume’s guess of McBain at first confused me—Rainer Wolfcastle? But then I remembered McBain was the title of another of Walken’s mercenary movies. [Insert your favorite “Walken works for money joke” here.]

The Dogs of War was both Walken’s first “name above the title” and headlining role, as I seem to recall.

He’d been doing lots of excellent supporting actor work from his first film, the fab The Anderson Tapes (Tonya’s very good guess; and subject of a future Ivanlandia essay), to his delicious bit-part/cameo as Diane Keaton’s brother in Annie Hall (“driving into the headlights”) to his Oscar-winning role in 1978’s The Deer Hunter. After taking home the little gold statue, Walken ramped up, with this interesting and unique action film.

A lot of people, including myself, really like The Dogs of War even though we’ll admit it’s not perfect. But there’s SOMETHING about this humorless, bitter and cynical action/suspense flick.
More of a bleak spy or caper flick than a wham-bam gung-ho action blockbuster, The Dogs of War starts and finishes, though, with a couple a incredible set pieces, especially the opening—one of the best ever—when the audience is dropped into the middle of Walken and his mercenaries’ noisy and confusing retreat from an unnamed country in Central America.

And that could be part of the problem—the audience is given an extremely high-level dose of adrenaline, and then the pace changes drastically. Not to say that this tonal shift hasn’t grown on me (The Dogs of War is the gift that keeps on giving), but it probably was what helped relegate this movie to cult status initially—that, and some severe cuts that took 15 minutes out of the original American release (those cuts have since been restored to the last DVD release) and which may have left some viewers scratching their heads.

After the initial combat, the movie slows and grows moody, feeling more like a bleak Cold War spy thriller (with NYC’s Morningside Heights shot to look like Prague) than your average war flick—even Walken’s reconnaissance mission in Africa is grim.

And despite superficial similarities (hired guns overthrowing an African despot), The Dogs of War couldn’t be less like the Frederick Forsythe novel it is based on. The book is too sentimental and contrived for my tastes, despite its similarity to real life.

The US poster for The Dogs of War emphasized the customized multi-round M-79—which frankly looks completely out of place there: a Buck Rogers-looking device for a flick that’s otherwise very realistic and gritty. The producers should’ve made the weapon a color like military green or gun-metal black. Thankfully, the weapon isn’t made to look too bright and shiny during the combat sequences.

But best of all: The Dogs of War taught me how to kill cockroaches.
At one point in the film, Walken returns to his run-down apartment: he turns on the light, and there’s a close-up of a cockroach skittering on the wall, then—SPLAT.
Walken’s hand has splattered the bug.
CUT TO: Walken sitting down in his easy chair to read his mail. We never see him even wash his hands!

It was a lightning flash of revelation for me. For years I’d always have to run for a newspaper or magazine or something to kill an invading roach, and this showed me something. You could use your hands and worry about it later. That’s all.

Since then, many a roach has died by my hand. Ha-ha!

But unlike Walken’s character, I do wash my hands afterward.

BTW, Walken’s Twitter page is INCREDIBLE. It’s now one of my fave time-wasters.

I certainly hope it’s Walken and not some hack or a gag. Because if it is Walken, I feel blessed, like I’m being granted a look at the thought-processes of the greatest Zen master who walked the face of the Earth. And so, like with many religions, I will ignore the facts (it’s probably not the Great Chris W.) and go with my faith (It is Him!).

Some of my fave Walken Twitters (so far):
“The Pope is in Africa "reaffirming the ban on condom use." His old stuff was funnier. I don't get this new material. Too edgy for my taste.”

“A man ate from a trash can while tourists clicked snapshots. I gave the guy 15 dollars & told the tourists to get the Hell out of my city.”

And there’s this one, which seems to be the favorite of many:
"There's a kid on a Pogo stick in front of my house. It's nearly midnight so let's assume he's been drinking. This should end well for him.”

Walken rules. ’Nuff said.

I like mercenary movies. They’re always fun because from the get-go because the heroes are not: They’re killers for money, and we know this won’t end well.

Mercenaries are useless, disunited, unfaithful
They have nothing more to keep them in a battle
Other than a meager wage
Which is just about enough to make them wanna kill for you
But never enough to make them wanna die for ya
John Cale, “Mercenaries (Ready For War)” (1979)
One day I’d really like to write up a “Kompare & Kontrazt” with what I consider the Big 5 of mercenary movies: Peckinpah’s classic The Wild Bunch (which I’ve stopped considering a Western, really), Andre de Toth’s excellent and absolutely cynical Play Dirty, with Michael Caine (like The Wild Bunch isn’t a western, Play Dirty isn’t a WWII movie—it’s also one of Martin Scorsese’s “guilty pleasures”), The Dogs of War, The Wild Geese (a very violent action flick with a jaunty, very British attitude, but also a damn good movie in its own right and very recommended), and Dark of the Sun (another of Scorsese’s “guilty pleasures”).

I remember seeing Dark of the Sun as a kid when it was on WOR-TV channel 9—my memories are vague, but I remember some crazy slaughtering going on. I’ve come to believe I need to see this flick again:

Because here’s what Scorsese says about Dark of the Sun—and what he describes sounds awesome, right? (Best of all, if you’ve ever heard Scorsese speak—that staccato, machine-gun patter, very intelligent, but still NYC Italian voice—imagine him reading the description below:)

Dark of the Sun (1968). This movie -- Rod Taylor vs. the Mau Maus -- was the most violent I'd seen up to that time. There's a scene where Taylor fights an ex-Nazi with chainsaws. In another scene, a train full of refugees has finally escaped the Mau Maus in the valley below -- and just as it's about to reach the top of a hill, the power fails, the train goes all the way back down, and the refugees are slaughtered. It's a truly sadistic movie, but it should be seen. I'd guess that because of its utter racism, a lot of people would have found it embarrassing, so they just ignored it. The sense of the film is overwhelmingly violent; there's no consideration for anything else. The answer to everything is "kill."
But before I can do my “Kompare & Kontrazt,” though, I need to see this movie again!
So what I want to know: WHEN is Dark of the Sun coming to DVD?

And even more important, Mr. Scorsese, why not make a war/mercenary movie? You’ve yet to do that. Give it a try!

P.S. Did you know that Jack Cardiff, who directed Dark of the Sun, was the cinematographer for The Dogs of War?
Cardiff also directed The Girl on the Motorcycle, with the lovely Marianne Faithful.

If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations for other mercenary movies, please leave them in the comments; thanks!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wir sind Siamesen, wenn Sie bitte

I’ve always loved the above song and now I think it sounds even better (perhaps creepier) in German. If anybody has the right kooky tech to transfer this to an Mp3 or Wav, I’d gladly accept it.

For some weird reason, I really like foreign language covers of songs, but especially when they are in German: Sometimes the singer really has to really spit out the lyrics to stay in time with the music, and with pop tunes that sometimes makes for interesting interpretations.

Recently, the awesome Kindertrauma site (really, if you haven’t visited them at least once, you simply must—and it’s unbelievable how often they post) featured the above clip: One of Kindertrauma’s readers confessed that that part of her childhood was traumatized by the pair of Siamese cats from the Walt Disney flick The Lady and the Tramp.

I wouldn’t want to pooh-pooh anybody’s traumatic experience, but as far as I’m concerned those cats are hands down the BEST darn thing in that too-sweet-for-its-own-good flick.

Besides, whom would you rather root for? Princess precious poodle (or whatever type of dog Lady is—c’mon, I wanted to alliterate!), or a pair of fun-loving kitties who are hip to eating sushi (raw goldfish) and smashing furniture (punk rock!)?

Of course, the cat’s outrageous behavior in The Lady and the Tramp makes me wonder what that supposedly prudish old lady who owns them does in her spare time to influence the cats in such a way. I bet she’s got quite a collection of dominatrix-style fetish gear in her boudoir. Some corset tightening, milady?

Das Fortfahren mit der ins Deutsche übersetzten Knall-Kultur….
(is that translated correctly?)

Continuing with Pop Culture translated into German, try these on for size: Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster (Gojira tai Hedora) and Destroy All Monsters (Kaijû sôshingeki; really “All Monsters Attack” or “Monster Invasion”) auf Deutsche!

Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster

Destroy All Monsters

So why is “Frankenstein” in the title of Godzilla movies?!? Was “Frankenstein” some sort of colloquial term back then?

According to several commenters at YouTube, for most of the 1960-1970s Japanese monster films, the German distributors of these movies would try and work Dr. Frankenstein into the films. In many cases, the flicks were edited and redubbed so that practically every Japanese monster was one of Dr. F’s wayward creations.

Which is why Gojira tai Hedora gets called “Frankensteins Kampf gegen die Teufelsmonster” (Frankenstein's fight against the devil's monsters), and Kaijû sôshingeki gets called “Frankenstein und die monster aus dem all” (Frankenstein and monster from all)---Huh?!?!

But since we’re on the topic of Japanese monster movies and Frankenstein, the National Filmboard of Ivanlandia sees no reason not to include the trailer for one of our friend Otto Mannix’s faves: Frankenstein Conquers the World!

If Terry Gilliam directed a Japanese monster film (with all the good, bad and nonsensical that that implies—yes, he’s visionary creator of unique images, but he’s not without flaws, and I can’t help but wonder how much of his bad luck he brings on himself), I think it would very much be like this, from the weird combo of pre-Victorian philosophical-fantasy to the horrors of the Nazis (as well as they usual way they are presented in B-movie sci-fi: as science perverts obsessed with the supernatural) and then kaiju hijinks with the appearance of the big dinosaur monster. I enjoyed Frankenstein Conquers the World a lot, but can only recommend it to other fans of weirdo movies. But dig that crazy miniature horse! That’s wild!

Otto himself telegraphed me from his helicarrier high above his hidden futuropolis in the Andes to say, “For me, Frankenstein Conquers the World is all about the dude who plays Frankenstein. Without his radioactive performance the movie would hold very little interest for me.”

A discerning monster movie watcher, that Mannix. The National Filmboard of Ivanlandia has lent him Godzilla: Final Wars, and we’re eager to hear what his opinions are.

Personally, Godzilla: Final Wars gets four stars out of five stars from the National Filmboard of Ivanlandia—but only when you fast-forward through all scenes involving non-kaiju.

Everything else in the flick is a Power Rangers/X-Men/Matrix/Independence Day rip-off/mash-up. Avoid that stuff.
Or else have a lot of beer while watching the movie.

I harp on these scenes because they are so bad and pointless, worse than any of the nonsense 'plots' so many kaiju are saddled with, and they completely interrupt the many incredible monster fights.

In this film, Godzilla is Joe Don Baker and he's pissed off and out to kick major ass, taking on everyone—even some monsters I didn't quite recognize.

The monster fights are a fanboy's dream, and have to be seen to be believed.

Japanese monster movies are not given enough credit for the wealth of strange ideas they contain, even when the flicks themselves aren’t brilliant.