Monday, September 19, 2011

“ZPG” (1972) needs to be rediscovered!

ZPG: Zero Population Growth (1972) is a great look at a futuristic fascistic state, albeit a “soft” one: gentle-voiced TV psychotherapists with hypno-beams, instead of jackboots and billyclubs.

On a pollution-shrouded Earth of the not-quite-near-future, because of the horrific overpopulation problem, having babies is declared illegal for the next 30 years, punishable by death.

If you want a kid, you have to wait on a very long line for your chance to buy an ugly robot child (see above), that chirps a creepy “Mummy, I love you” constantly.

The future is a fucked up awful mess. The museums are full of stuffed cats and dogs—because even household pets are extinct. Gasmasks are always needed outdoors.
Propaganda movies—consisting of footage of people eating—criticize the “past” (our present!) for being so wasteful with food, fuel and the environment.

Had ZPG been only 45 minutes, it would be perfect (and could easily have passed as an episode of The Outer Limits).
As is,
ZPG has a measured pace that some might find infuriating, and the characters often act like real people: selfish and petulant—which many viewers of sci-fi can’t stand; they need their Mary Sues.

But I happen to enjoy grim, early-1970s bummer sci-fi, so ZPG was a pleasant surprise (so to speak).

What really makes ZPG fascinating is all the “little stuff”:
The almost throwaway details that give the viewer a fuller picture of how dreadful life is in this world—
Stuff like:
--the ubiquitous gasmasks
--the museum tour and propaganda films which demonize the “now”
--extra food rations for snitches
--the long lines and constant crowds
--the omnipresent pollution
--the semi-omniscient police state, that even monitors what you “read” at the library

ZPG is a flick that needs to be rediscovered (and perhaps rediscovered as a socio-political philosophy, as well, what with the world’s resources diminishing so much—and with so many stupid people constantly having babies!).

BTW, the effects were created/supervised by the legendary Derek Meddings, and I think they’re effective for a low-budget early-1970s flick—and basically equal to, although more low-key than Meddings’ work for Gerry Anderson.
Meddings’ presence is always a plus for me!

File ZPG With Films Such Ecological Disaster/Dystopian Fascistic Visions As:

Michael Radford’s 1984 (1984)
Fahrenheit 451
Death Race 2000
Logan’s Run
Children of Men
Punishment Park
Soylent Green
Escape from New York
A Clockwork Orange
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil
Douglas Trumbull’s
Silent Running
No Blade of Grass
Blade Runner
(Have I missed any? Leave a note in the comments section!)

Full disclosure: While I had been aware of ZPG for a long time (probably through a blurb in a John Brosnan book), it was John Kenneth Muir’s impassioned review/critique that made me add the film to my Netflix list.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Naked Prey (1965): A New Ivanlandia Fave!

Cornell Wilde’s incredible The Naked Prey is the baby that Sam Peckinpah and Werner Herzog would have had—except it was made in 1965, before either of those filmmakers really hit their stride.

The Naked Prey feels like PURE CINEMA—as close to a documentary as possible (plunk a guy in the middle of the veldt and make him run for his life), while still being fiction; one of those flicks, like Herzog’s Aguirre or John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest, for example, that feels like it was just as tough for the filmmakers to make as for the “fictional” characters to go through.

This film is mostly a visual experience, with extraordinary, often brutal images (men stepping out of an elephant carcass; cheetah versus baboon; the various animals we seeing surviving the so-called wastelands), and is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best action movies ever made.

According to Michael Atkinson’s essay for the Criterion Collection DVD release of The Naked Prey,
Wilde has a “damned-on-holiday visual approach,” and:

The African plains have never been shot so unromantically, the clichéd loping-giraffe-and-baobab-tree imagery swapped out for raw dust, thorns in the skin, and hurtful sunshine. It’s a berserkly hostile landscape, teeming with predatory beasts of all sizes. The film’s expressionistic framing and cutting have an amateur’s faith in totemic meaning, and a soldier’s impatience with ambiguity and trickery.

The fights are fast, merciless, and full of jump cuts; Wilde would cut from somebody throwing a spear to an already impaled body for lack of expensive opticals or prosthetics, but the impression is that the camera just couldn’t keep up. The net effect is of a film on the run for its own life, caring nothing for aesthetics and everything for surviving the experience.

It may not be possible any longer for a filmmaker to approach the innocence and immediacy of Wilde’s ideas—try to imagine a pulp work today that doesn’t have its source in the filmmaker’s adolescent junk-culture memories but instead comes out of an authentic sense of life’s brutality and merciless fortune.

Cornel Wilde is among those “old” directors that I’ve known about, but am in the process of rediscovering—and finding goddamn gems, like The Naked Prey.

Other “Old New Directors” for Ivanlandia, include:
Otto Preminger
Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties, wow!)
Alejandro Jodoworsky (The Holy Mountain, wow!)
Basil Dearden (All Night Long—a must-see for fans of jazz or Patrick McGoohan!)

The list is growing, and may be the subject of a future Ivanlandia post (promises, promises…), but it is something that makes me happy:
There I was thinking I’d just about exhausted all of my “old school” (in other words, non-contemporary) cinematic possibilities—and then I go and discover some stuff that’s very new to me! It’s like striking oil, or discovering gold. Yes, sir.

For further adventures on the “Dark Continent,” please visit the eternally awesome site Diversions of the Groovy Kind, and read a gruesome comic (SPOILER IMAGE BELOWhahahahaha!) titled “The Laughing Man,” written by sick genius Bruce Jones and illustrated by even sicker genius Berni Wrightson.

Super-brief review of a New Ivanlandia No-Fave!
Mr. No Legs (1979)
(Also known as “The Amazing Mr. No Legs,” but calling the movie that would be a lie.)

Jesus H. Palomino! What a film—The Missus and I watched it last night,
and we were STUNNED by its unrelenting incompetence!
We were AMAZED by its nonstop incomprehensibility!
And we were SHOCKED by the unstoppable ugliness of Tampa!

Mr. No Legs makes Ray Dennis Steckler seem like a goddamn David Lean!

My fave bits? The black dwarf in the bar,
and the fact that at one
point a dope peddler turns over the "stuff" to a customer before getting the cash--even The Missus was shocked: "Do these people know
ANYTHING about buying drugs?!?" she yelled at the TV.

Thanks to Toestubz for the boot…

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Leapin’ Lizards! And other cinematic critters…

[Insert Introduction Here: blah-blah-blah, movies we’ve seen…./sorry we’ve been out of touch blah-blah-blah/something sarcastic, yet touchingly personal blah-blah-blah…]

RANGO (2011)—
SYNOPSIS: Lizard sheriff saves town of vermin

How can you not like an animated flick that has “cameos” by both Clint Eastwood and Hunter S. Thompson?
Jeez, there’s hope for Gore Verbinski yet!

While the movie is full (overflowing as it were, nyuck-nyuck) of references, the only trope an audience member really needs is a working familiarity with the Western genre of film: You’ll still “get” RANGO even if you’re not familiar with Chinatown, Sergio Leone, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas or Don Knotts.

And if Johnny Depp is anything like John Waters, the Don Knotts reference is on purpose. The “pre-heroic” Rango is a lizard clone of Mr. Knotts, down to the googly chameleon eyes.
But RANGO is certainly a lot better than The Shakiest Gun in the West or The Apple Dumpling Gang.

Beautiful design, with less vertigo-inspiring camerawork than, say, Rise of the Planet of the Apes: RANGO gives you the opportunity to savor the designers’ handiwork.

(Slight gripe: If Rango is a chameleon, why doesn’t he change color more? Which reminds me of the old Elaine May/Second City skit about a little girl who unfortunately kills her pet chameleon when she puts it on a checkerboard tablecloth and the critter can’t determine which color to be.)

And while I agree with voice artist Billy West about stunt celebrity voice casting, with RANGO it mostly works.
Although Ray Winstone as the Gila monster was pointless—and you can’t tell me that June Foray couldn’t have done all the female and children voices for a fraction of whatever they wound up paying the flavors of the week they got—
On the other hand, Depp, Bill Nighy and Ned Beatty really bring character to their performances, and voice-casting Harry Dean Stanton as a cantankerous blind mole was genius.

And the flick has lines I love repeating, like:
“I once found an entire human spinal cord in my fecal matter.”
Girl: “Go to hell!”
Snake: “WHERE do you think I came from!?!?”

There Will Be Blood (2007)—
SYNOPSIS: Hard-working man wants to be alone so he can make some money, but assholes keep interfering

Speaking of the desert…
I just watched There Will Be Blood again, and yes, I still love it.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the Western Stanley Kubrick would have made if he’d had enough time: a merciless, yet unique, gaze at a “big theme”—the type of men who wrestled fortunes from forbidding and inhospitable land, focused by one man’s journey from a hole in the desert to the mansion by the sea; with stops to criticize stupid, blind religion and the charlatans who foist it on the stupefied clods too beat down to think for themselves.

And I “get” Daniel Plainview. I understand his dislike of “these…people.”

Plainview is Alex and Mr. Alexander; General Ripper and Major Kong—madman deluded by his own obsessions, and driven protagonist we need to see succeed. (C’mon, admit it: you root for Major Kong to succeed, to get through despite all odds!)

The Ward (2010)—
SYNOPSIS: Annoying, nasty girl is rightfully put into a mental institution, where she continues to vex responsible adults

John Carpenter’s back in the saddle after far too long, and that’s all that counts.
The Ward is a mediocre flick, but at least JC’s gotten those “getting back in the driver seat” jitters over and done with.

Now somebody give him another project toot sweet so he can work that John Carpenter magic that we all know and love on a new flick, and we can set about forgetting about The Ward.
Because compared to something like, say, Ghosts of Mars or Vampires (to cite some of JC’s weaker outputs), The Ward is generic and ultimately disappointing.

Unknown (2011)—
SYNOPSIS: Who am I? Who cares? Nice to see Berlin, though

Dopey, dopey, very loud movie which really doesn’t need to be seen.
I’m glad Liam Neeson is keeping busy after the death of Natasha Richardson, and redefining himself as an action star will certainly give him heaps of fans he’s never had before, but lemme tell ya: I’m glad I saw this for free.

And the only reason I watched Unknown until the end was to catch all the Berlin scenery. The flick’s set in Berlintown and, like most H’wood blockbusters, does the touristy thing and demolishes many notable locations. But I love Berlin, and can’t wait to visit again someday, and seeing the town (hey, is that Prenzlauerstrasse?) was good for me: Es wärmte meine kalte, kalte Herz.

Trollhunter (2010)—
SYNOPSIS: Trolls are real, and like feral pigs, are hunted down if they leave the game preserve

I like this movie a lot. We just have to accept that the hand-held fake documentary is now an accepted subgenre, and stop complaining about Blair Witch rip-offs.
And y’know what? I like this subgenre.
That said, if you like monster movies—and I mean big, kaiju-style monsters, not just a guy wearing a mask—Trollhunter is for you.
(And I especially like monster movies that postulate that monsters are part of our natural world—not caused by radiation or from outer space, just unseen, like the critters from The Burrowers or The Descent.)

BTW, I only like the term “mockumentary” when the flick in question is a comedy, therefore the “mock.” When it’s a serious film, even though a “fake” documentary, I would prefer a different term—but nothing I can think of now (“fictitious documentary”? “docu-fiction”?) sounds snappy enough…

Red (2010)—
SYNOPSIS: Old-timers show young pukes how it’s done

Very amusing twist on the spy genre, and I’ll admit I’m a fan of Bruce Willis, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich—throw in the Great Borgnine, and you’ve won half the battle. And I like watching expensive shit blow up—as long as it’s done well, with wit, humor and verve (unlike the dour snooze Unknown).

Run Silent Run Deep (1958)—
SYNOPSIS: Das Boot meets Moby Dick during The Pacific War

Probably one of the greatest war movies ever made—incredibly tense, with energetic muscular performances by the entire cast (even the wimpiest character in RSRD has more cojones than the gaggle of brats strutting in today’s action flicks), and a great “twist” in the script: it turns out the sub’s having two captains was a good thing, since they’re really fighting two enemy ships.

And if any of you complain about Run Silent Run Deep’s old school miniature special effects, you are a piece of shit.