Natan (2013, Paul Duane & David Cairns)

Not as relentlessly Decasian as the trailer suggests, actually settles down into a normal storytelling groove of interview material for a good while, but punctuated by Natan’s papier-mache-headed stand-in, a few effects shots of a wall of posters, and that voiceover by The Film Itself. These are all evocative additions – the poster gallery returns re-postered before and after the nazi invasion, and some of the scant footage of Natan himself, at his trial, has him repeatedly covering his head with a newspaper. This is already more thoughtful stylistic presentation than most documentaries get, then the voiceover and bookending Melies stories put it over the top.

Plus the story is killer, one of those subjects that researchers dream of – a chance to correct the wrongs of history. Bernard Natan isn’t set up as a saint, but at the very least an important figure in history, a founder of French cinema who deserved a better end and reputation than he got. The directors even scored an interview with the academic who brought the unfounded rumors and nazi-era smears into the modern age, a villain of the picture though he doesn’t seem to realize it.

Contraband (1940, Michael Powell)

I’ve seen a lot of wartime films by the Powell/Pressburger crew, but this one was the most fun.

Neutral ship captain Conrad Veidt (Casablanca and Thief of Bagdad baddie) and his passengers and crew are stuck at a British port having their ship searched for contraband, when a tough-talkin’ broad (Valerie Hobson of Bride of Frankenstein, Kind Hearts and Coronets) slips away. Conrad secretly follows her to shore, finds out she’s a spy, gets involved in hijinks, and foils some sort of nazi plot.

They’re all gonna laugh at you, Conrad:

To attract police attention to the baddies’ lair, Conrad turns on all the lights during the war blackout:

It was easy to follow at the time, but a month later the details are hazy. I remember the girl’s co-conspirator was Mr. Pigeon (Esmond Knight, the old guy who tosses an arrow into the king at the start of Robin and Marian), that the baddy is Van Dyne (Raymond Lovell, later in 49th Parallel). They recruit an excitable Danish chef, the brother of an officer on Conrad’s ship (played by the same actor since they share no scenes), who almost steals the film.

The credits boldly name this scene the “White Negro” Cabaret:

A. Ives for Senses:

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger … would later get into considerable trouble with Churchill on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, when they suggested that not all Germans were bad, and that traditional British codes of honour were meaningless in fighting such a ruthless enemy as the Nazis. Britain had to fight dirty, they essentially argued. These theories are also propagated by Contraband, if in a somewhat undercooked fashion. So Veidt fights dirty as he tracks down the Nazis – beating up some British officers in his quest – while the meta-cinema of Contraband (mentioned above) clearly shows an affection for a lost Germany [references Fritz Lang, stars Conrad from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari].

Inside the nazi lair:

Our friendly spies are surely doomed:

But wait! Conrad’s in the elevator with a gun:

Shootout ensues in a bust warehouse:

Buy from Amazon:
Contraband DVD

Rome, Open City (1945, Roberto Rossellini)

I get conflicting messages on Rossellini: either he can do no wrong or he did only wrong, either his early stuff was groundbreaking then he dried up or he did his best work late in his career, either he told the ultimate truths in cinema or he was a deceitful opportunist. Fortunately, the exhaustive Criterion box of his early “war trilogy” went on sale, so now I shall see for myself. I watched Germany Year Zero on Turner Classic a decade ago, and it stands out as one of the most affecting (depressing) movies I have ever seen, so I’m inclined to think I’ll like the trilogy – and so far, so good.

Not an incredibly “neorealistic” movie – as the DVD commentary ceaselessly points out, it’s “far closer to the traditional melodrama or suspense film than to any realistic documentary.” But RR shot (partially) on the streets and at real locations, with (some) non-actors, using borrowed and stolen film stock for a (somewhat) newsreel-like texture, and so a movement was born. Visconti’s Ossessione was shot earlier, but wasn’t distributed outside Italy and its story didn’t have Open City’s sense of post-war rebirth.

Pina (the great Anna Magnani of The Golden Coach) is to marry Francesco. After F’s friend Manfredi goes on the run, the resistance descends on Pina’s apartment. The sympathetic, somewhat comic priest who is to marry her, Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi, later in Flowers of St. Francis) volunteers to help. But the nazis are hot on Manfredi’s trail, with help from his poorly-chosen girlfriend, a drug-addicted dancer named Marina who betrays him. They round up Francesco before his wedding, leading to the famous scene where Magnani is gunned down chasing after the truck that holds him.

I’ve seen that scene a bunch of times out of context, never realized it’s not the end of the movie, just of the first half. In the second half, Francesco is immediately freed from the prison truck by resistance fighters (making his fiancee’s death that much more pointless, as the commentary points out), but in a subsequent raid the priest and Manfredi are arrested, along with an Austrian deserter who Don Pietro was helping. There’s some scripty business among the nazis to point out the general weakness of their cause. After the deserter kills himself in his cell and Manfredi dies under torture, having never revealed the resistance secrets, Don Pietro is shot in front of the children he used to play with, little resistance fighters themselves, who will survive the nazi occupation that had just barely ended when this movie went into production.

When the movie’s lead nazis invite the weak, drugged-up Marina to their palace, show off her tortured-to-death boyfriend then steal back the fur coat they’d given for her cooperation, I realized the nazis’ names are Ingrid and Bergman – crazy, since a few years later Rossellini would fall for Ingrid Bergman. Bergman (stage actor Harry Feist) is effeminate and Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti, later in Last Tango in Paris) is butch, lounging on a sofa with Marina in a sinful opium haze, say the commentary, “underline how closely audiences of Rossellini’s time associated sexual deviancy with evildoing.”

Bergman:

Written with veteran screenwriter Sergio Amidei and young Federico Fellini, this wasn’t Rossellini’s first movie, just the earliest one that anyone pays attention to. Earlier he’d worked directly with Vittorio Mussolini, son of the country’s dictator, who describes Rossellini in the DVD extras (he lived through the 1990′s) as neither fascist nor anti-fascist at the time, just an energetic filmmaker.

The commentary by Peter Bondanella spends much of its time explaining why the movie shouldn’t count as “realism” at all, and does not make a sharp break with fascist cinema styles. But while downplaying the movie’s groundbreaking status, he also praises its story and technique endlessly:
“Much of the dramatic force of Open City resides in the lessons of humanity the main characters learn from each other. As Manfredi the Marxist revolutionary discovers, a priest is not so different from a worker, or even a partisan leader. In Open City we are asked to examine the common humanity that always transcends idiological or confessional labels.”

Don Pietro:

RR: “I’ve always advocated finding this ease of expression and demythologizing the camera and filmmaking, tackling it in a much simpler way, without worrying too much about perfect shots and images. The important thing was to get your point across.”

Hmm, neorealism was said to be a “reaction to the films of the Fascist era dominated by ‘white telephone’ films, which depicted ladies of leisure lounging on satin sofas, telephoning their lovers.” But isn’t that a precise description of Cocteau’s Human Voice, filmed by Rossellini four years later?

Francois Truffaut: “Rohmer once said that Rossellini’s genius lay in his lack of imagination, and it’s true. He didn’t like fabrication or artifice, or flashbacks or any kind of clever trick. He left behind the personal and specific to move ever toward the general. His first postwar film is Rome Open City, about a city. The next is Paisan – six stories about Italy from south to north. After that comes Germany Year Zero and then Europa 51 – at that point he needed an entire continent. … He was a very intelligent man. I’m not saying filmmaking is for idiots, but fiction requires a certain naivete that he didn’t have, so he worked with larger concepts.”

Buy from Amazon:
Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy DVD

To Be or Not to Be (1942, Ernst Lubitsch)

I guess this movie gets lots of credit for being a Hollywood anti-nazi resistance comedy released soon after U.S. entry into the war. Not a lot of funny Hitler movies going around back then, and reportedly it pissed off some audiences that German-born Lubitsch would try bringing his trademark lightness to such a heavy situation. But if anything, today it suffers from being not enough of a comedy. I couldn’t watch half the scenes without flashing back to The Great Dictator or Inglorious Basterds. Not that it has to go as far as Basterds, letting a couple of Jews machine-gun Hitler at close range as the whole theater explodes, but it came off closer in tone to 49th Parallel than Great Dictator.

One of the things that stood out about Lubitsch’s The Smiling Lieutenant a decade earlier was its pre-censors sexual frankness, and now this one gets away with having Carole Lombard (Twentieth Century star in her final role – she died in a plane crash) cheat on her husband with young bomber flyer Robert Stack (House of Bamboo, Written on the Wind – very early in his career) and get away with it.

Jack Benny (about to ditch the movies for a long TV career) leads an acting troupe along with wife Lombard and also Felix Bressart (Shop Around the Corner), Lionel Atwill (lots of Frankenstein movies) and Tom Dugan (bit player who averaged a movie per month in the 40′s). The play they’ve been rehearsing is censored by the nazis on the eve of its opening, so they go back to performing Hamlet, during which Robert Stack keeps leaving the audience at the start of Benny’s big soliloquy, brushing past everyone in the second row to meet Lombard backstage (why doesn’t he get an aisle seat?). Later at the height of the war, the theater troupe has joined the Polish resistance and Stack is fighting in the UK when a spy (Stanley Ridges of Canyon Passage, heh) with critical information about the resistance makes it into Poland and wants to meet with Lombard to inquire about the “code” he’s been given for her, “to be or not to be”. Stack flies into Poland and fills everyone in, so now the actors have to do their best impressions of nazi officials (Benny: “So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt?”) to get back the secret papers.

The premise got away from me towards the end, when I thought Benny and his gang, having Hitler and a thousand nazis rounded up in a theater, aimed to do some damage. But of course, that’s Basterds talking again – I think they were just trying to get away from occupied Poland by stealing Hitler’s personal plane. Remade in the 80′s with Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft and Christopher Lloyd for some weird reason.

A Night in Casablanca (1946, Archie Mayo)

Weirdly slow, clunky and unfunny Marx brothers movie. It kinda stars Harpo, or at least he’s onscreen more than the others. No Zeppo at all. I’d think that would be a good thing, but he’s replaced by generic heroic-type Charles Drake (No Name on the Bullet, It Came From Outer Space) with bland girlfriend Lois Collier (Cobra Woman, Flying Disc Man from Mars).

Managers at a certain hotel keep turning up dead, so Groucho is hired to run the place as a last resort. But a disguised nazi count (silly-toupeed, funny-voiced Sig Ruman of A Night at the Opera, Ninotchka, To Be or Not To Be) has stashed stolen treasure in the hotel and has been scheming to escape with the goods while our gallant hero tries to stop him. Sig’s vamp nazi chick Lisette Verea and his overeager soldier Fred Giermann (who has a long, painful swordfight scene with Harpo) try not-so-hard to thwart the Marxes instead of focusing on the do-gooder and leaving the harmless clowns alone. Groucho gets to use his funny walk more than his funny dialogue, and the movie slows to a crawl a couple times establishing that Chico can play piano and Harpo can play the harp.

The Brothers’ second-to-last film, and also the second-to-last by Archie Mayo (who replaced Fritz Lang on Moontide and adapted Sam Fuller on Confirm or Deny). Two writers plus (allegedly) an uncredited Frank Tashlin, and the Marxes went on tour before the filming “hoping to sharpen the script’s comedy” – so why does it feel like the jokes were so few and inadequate? It was meant to be a spoof of Casablanca, but they chickened out under legal scrutiny, so maybe all the best material got jettisoned in a last-minute rewrite. I don’t mean to be so hard on the movie – it was lightly amusing, a nice waste of 80 minutes – I was just expecting something more.

Month of 121 Shorts: The 80′s and 90′s

Musco (1997, Michael Smith & Joshua White)
A fake 1984 infomercial for a music-oriented lighting equipment company. I don’t get it. It was part of an art installation, and I don’t get those in general, maybe because I don’t live in New York.
image

Flash Back (1985, Pascal Aubier)
Two-minute short – soldier is killed in combat, life flashes before his eyes represented by photos going back in time until to the earliest baby picture. Guess Pascal had to find an actor with lots of family photos for this.
image

The Apparition (1985, Pascal Aubier)
A guy’s bathroom light makes the Virgin Mary appear in a church across town. Aubier ought to be at least as popular as Don Hertzfeldt.
image

Un ballo in maschera (1987, Nicolas Roeg)
Things I like:
1. That the king is played by a woman (Theresa Russell) with a mustache
2. That the action takes place in an ellipsis (“…but”) between the opening and closing text (“King Zog Shot Back!”)

Nice piece, set to music by Giuseppe Verdi. First segment of the anthology film Aria, which I must watch the rest of when I’m not so tired (next segment put me to sleep in a couple minutes).
image

Universal Hotel (1986, Peter Thompson)
“1980, I have a strange dream. Between the fortress and the cathedral is the universal hotel.” Slow, calm analysis of photos and reports about a nazi experiment where prisoners were frozen then revival was attempted using boiling water, microwaves and “animal heat.” “I make statements about the photographs which cannot be proven. I speak with uncertainty.” Increasingly intense, with narrated dreams illustrated with photography tricks, a murder-mystery without an ending. Last line: “they come while I’m asleep.” Scary, and I would not have watched this right now had I known nazis were involved, but now I’m glad I did.
image

Universal Citizen (1987, Peter Thompson)
Now in Guatemala, Peter talks with a concentration camp survivor who told himself he would move to the tropics if he survived. He did, so he does, laying in a hammock, floating in the warm water, working on the sun roof of his house, listening to Armenian records and refusing to be filmed. Mayan ruins. This time the dream/nightmare scenes lack narration. Ends with a joke (and a shot from the beginning of the other film). Oh wait, no it ends with depression after the credits. I preferred the joke.
image

Bunker of the Last Gunshots (1981, Jeunet et Caro)
There’s an insurrection inside the bunker. A timer count backwards, people have gas masks and eyegear and prosthetic limbs, there are shootings, eletroshock, cryogenics, there is complicated machinery, tubes and wires and hidden cameras. Possibly they are Germans, it is possibly post-apocalyptic, and the soldiers possibly go crazy and kill each other. I am not entirely sure of the politics, but it’s a neat little flick, definitely full of the clutter style of their later features.
image

Opening Night of Close-Up (1996, Nanni Moretti)
That’s just what it’s about. The nervous cinephile (Moretti himself) who runs an Italian theater is opening Kiarostami’s Close-Up and wants everything to be just right.
image

World of Glory (1991, Roy Andersson)
“This is my brother. My little brother. I suppose he is my only true friend, so to speak. [both look away uncomfortably]” I just checked and yeah, Roy Andersson is the acclaimed deadpan comedic filmmaker who made Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. I’d believe it, and be almost excited to see those two after viewing this short, a guy grimly introducing us to his sad life, with he and others looking slowly into the camera as if we’re to blame for all this – except why did it start with a mini-reenactment of the holocaust? The whole rest of the movie I’m wondering that… he won’t let go of the “blood of christ” wine pot at mass and it’s supposed to be a funny scene but I’m thinking “the holocaust?!?”
image

Reverse Shot explains:

World of Glory locates a society — ostensibly the director’s native Sweden, but easy interchangeable with any modern European country — so paralyzed by ennui, anxiety, and desperation that its inhabitants are apparitions. The main character is a thin, pasty man who takes us on a guided tour of his life — his loveless marriage, his stultifying job, his pathetic day-to-day activities. It was not until the second time I saw the film that I realized that this character had been present in the first shot: dead center of the frame, turning away from the proceedings every so often to fix us with his gaze. His meek, self-effacing misery in the later scenes thus comes into sharper relief: a person who does not act to avert tragedy endures beneath its weight.

image

Je vous salue, Sarajevo (1993, Jean-Luc Godard)
“Culture is the rule, and art is the exception. … The rule is to want the death of the exception, so the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.” This two-minute piece is a montage made from a single photograph, with voiceover. Directly to the point, I like it better than almost all of Histoire(s) du cinema.
image

Origins of the 21st Century (2000, Jean-Luc Godard)
A bummer of a film, montaging footage from news videos and feature films (The Shining, The Nutty Professor, Le Plaisir) over quiet music with the occasional commentary or block lettering, war and death, pain and happiness and a few plays-on-words.
image

If 6 was 9 (1995, Eija-Liisa Ahtila)
Sex, split-screens and supermarkets. More people looking into the camera confessionally, but all about sex this time, not too similar to Today.
image

Can’t figure what a full hour-long Ahtila film would be like, but she’s made two of them so I’ll find out eventually.
image

Zig-Zag (1980, Raul Ruiz)
Ruiz had adapted Kafka’s Penal Colony ten years earlier so surely he knows he’s making another Kafkaesque film here. A man named H. “realizes he is the victim of the worst type of nightmare: a didactic nightmare” when, late for an appointment, he finds himself part of a global board game at the mercy of pairs of dice. The game keeps changing scale, zooming out, so H. has to travel further distances more quickly – from walking to taxi to train to plane. Rosenbaum (who says it’s Borgesian not Kafkaesque) says it was made to promote a map exhibition in Paris, which to me just makes it more strange than if it was promoting nothing at all. “The history of cartography [is] the business of labyrinth destruction.”
image

Either H. or the mysterious gamer was played by Pascal Bonitzer, cowriter of some of Rivette’s best films. “We now live in the pure instantaneous future.”
image

Puppet Master Trilogy (1989-1991)

Puppetmaster

“Full Moon Productions presents…”

According to IMDB, this was Full Moon’s first feature. They’d go on to make some of my favorite direct-to-video absurd low-budget semi-horror movies of the early 90′s, including Stuart Gordon’s Pit and the Pendulum, the Louisiana sex/devil cult story Netherworld, and many Puppet Master sequels, plus movies that screamed “rent us” from the new-release shelf with names like Trancers, Subspecies and Dollman, but never quite seemed worth the three bucks.

image

“A David Schmoeller film”

Or more accurately, a David Schmoeller VHS tape (were any Puppet Master movies released to cinemas?). He wrote and directed a Klaus Kinski torture film called Crawlspace, which I meant to watch last week instead of Pin… but foolishly did not.

“Puppetmaster”

Titles were re-capitalized to Puppet Master for the sequels, maybe to avoid confusion with Hsiao-hsien Hou’s acclaimed drama The Puppetmaster (whose runtime is longer than any two Puppet Master sequels put together).

“starring Paul Le Mat”

One could argue that Le Mat is an actual star, having played a title role in Demme’s Melvin and Howard and third-billed in American Graffiti. I didn’t find him photogenic, hence no screenshot… oh wait, this might be him screaming:

image

“and introducing Robin Frates”

This was pretty much the last time anyone heard from Robin Frates, except those who saw Schmoeller’s follow-up film The Arrival (not the Charlie Sheen one), which sounds appealingly like a sort of alien vampire Benjamin Button.

image

“special appearance by Barbara Crampton”

Star of Re-Animator and From Beyond! You’d think if her appearance was so special, she could’ve been given a better role than “woman at carnival.”

The theme music is nicer than this movie deserves.

Budget tip #1: Low-to-ground POV shots require no actual puppet effects, and are fun to watch. These are just great, the camera running behind feet and cars, jumping over suitcases and across piano keys.

William Hickey (Wise Blood, Prizzi’s Honor) is Toulon, the inspecifically-foreign-accented titular magician. He’s been discovered by sinister nazis, so he hides Happy/Sad Clown, Oriental Mustache and Hook-hand behind a wall panel and bites a bullet. The end.

The short-lived Toulon #1:
image

No wait! “Yale University, present day.” A dumpy Paul Le Mat dreams in color that he is dreaming in black and white while being attacked by leeches (I hope that’s exactly how the scene read in the script). Is Yale a carnival, or have we changed location to a carnival? Enter “woman at carnival,” visiting a psychic (Irene Miracle of Inferno) who lacks a stereotypical gypsy accent. Ooh they’re playing the ol’ scam-gypsy-who-sees-real-visions card as Barbara dreams up a puppet attack.

image

“I want you to recreate in your mind your wildest sexual fantasy.” Two sex-crazed psychic researchers (Balding Ponytail and Too Much Lipstick) call Le Mat (on the phone, disappointingly) to arrange a meeting at the hotel where Toulon died, where they’re met by their cynical psychic friend, their dead friend Neil, a crabby Mews Small (Scott Baio’s mom in Zapped!) and introducing Robin Frates.

image

While our psychic friends creep around the place seeing visions and acting eccentric, Tiny (little puppet head and human hands emerging from a ribbed sweater) kills the peeping crabby lady and plays games with dead Neil. In true Friday the 13th fashion, the puppets go after the sexually active couple first – Too Much Lipstick is killed offscreen by Drill Head and a female puppet barfs leeches onto her tied-up husband. Tiny, boasting some impressive stop-motion, wounds the cynical drunk girl then Hook finishes her off in the elevator (if they were aiming for a Dressed To Kill reference, the editor wasn’t cooperating).

Dead Neil explains: “Metaphysically speaking, I killed myself, and using the techniques of the old puppet master I brought myself back to life.” But then Neil stupidly disrespects the killer puppets and they gang up on him, brutalizing a rubber hand before breaking out the drill and leeches (honestly the leeches aren’t very scary).

image

Written and produced by Full Moon head Charles Band, who had produced everything from Laserblast and Robot Holocaust to Stuart Gordon’s Dolls, Trancers and Ghoulies, TerrorVision and Troll, Clive Barker’s disowned first two pictures, and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama – pretty much everything I watched on HBO at 2am in 1992. Effects by oscar-nominated Dave Allen, who worked on The Stuff, The Howling and Equinox.

image

-
Puppet Master 2

Hook, Clown, Drill, Tiny and Leech Woman resurrect Toulon using a magic potion before the credits even roll. This one is gonna be good.

image

“Full Moon Entertainment presents”

In the two years between the original and the sequel, Full Moon and Charles Band have involved themselves in a parallel-universe thriller, a sexy fantasy-horror starring Sherilyn Fenn (premiering the same week as Twin Peaks), Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox and its Gordon-unaffiliated sequel

“directed by David Allen”

So they’ve handed the franchise right over to the effects crew. Part II is from the writer of Subspecies and cinematographer of Screwball Hotel (I’ll bet that’s not how they sold it on the poster).

image

A U.S. government paranormal research van is poking around the old hotel, bearing bearded Lance (Demonic Toys), dark-haired Wanda, jokey cynic Patrick, serious Carolyn (of Robot Jox 2) and older new agey “truth comes from feeling” Camille (Frightmare, Night Shift). They tell us Paul Le Mat survived the first movie but wanted too much money for the sequel so he’s locked in an asylum. Then introducing the neighborhood Comic Relief Farmer and his pitchfork-bearing wife – “They say Satan’s got a suite of rooms in there!”

Tiny and Clown take care of pseudo-psychic Camille in secret, then Drill brains Patrick with everyone watching, is captured and dissected. I hope Drill will be okay!

image

The filmmakers overestimate the computing power of an Amiga 2000:
image

Toulon (a new actor) wanders in with an Invisible Man getup, calling himself Eriquee Chaneé (get it? Chaney?) claiming the hotel is his, then the group is joined by Collin “Corbin’s Brother” Bernsen, our first glimpse of star power (heh)

image

The farmer’s brains are removed by Leech Woman (movie is really into brains; I sense a zombie connection) who is then melted by the wife, immediately replaced by Torch, who burns her up, in a particularly poorly-lit scene. So Toulon is collecting brains to brew up a new batch of magic puppet juice and live another 50+ years as a puppet himself.

image

Flashback: Toulon remembers years ago in Egypt when he was a powerful magical puppetmaster but a crappy actor, and as punishment, an old merchant burns up the puppets using his mind. Hmmm.

The scene I remember best from the entire series (below): a boy is torturing his GI Joes with a whip, tries to play rough with Torch. The scene I remember least: pointless seaside romance between Carolyn and Corbin’s brother. Even adding a flamethrowing puppet and resurrecting Toulon from the dead, it’s not a better movie than the first one, which at least had characters which weren’t all interchangeable sexy college students.

image

Hook carves up Lance and Wanda, Puppet Toulon (I like him, a short guy with hard marble contact lenses) threatens Carolyn, and I’m not sure why the puppets turn on him then resurrect Camille to go terrorize an institute for “mentally troubled” children, but there you go.

image

-
Puppet Master 3

“Berlin – 1941″

Nazi experimenters succeed in reviving the corpses of dead soldiers. A young puppetmaster is interested.

Looks like something out of Day of the Dead:
image

“Full Moon Entertainment presents”

This was Full Moon’s year. They had Stuart Gordon (Pit and the Pendulum), Trancers II (the Helen Hunt-starring sequel to a mid-80′s Charles Band film), and future sequel-bait Subspecies and Dollman.

image

“starring Guy Rolfe”

Finally a consistent Toulon – he’d play the part through 1999. Guy had been around – not just in stuff like Dolls (in which he also played a puppetmaster), but in Tashlin’s Alphabet Murders and Nick Ray’s King of Kings in the 60′s.

image

“directed by David DeCoteau”

The prolific Mr. DeCoteau had made such classics as Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama (which I have seen more than once) and Dr. Alien, would go on to make such classics as Frankenstein Reborn!, Final Stab and Wolves of Wall Street.

Sinister Eric Stein confronts Toulon about the Hitler-mockery satire of Toulon’s puppet show. Mrs. Toulon (Sarah Douglas of the first two Superman movies and Return of the Living Dead III) looks on. The stop-motion effects are still cool and still only one second long at a time. Two important and great new additions: the six-shooter cowboy puppet, and giving the puppets wordless voices (cowboy’s Jack Nicholson laugh is my favorite).

image

Gestapo Krauss (Richard Lynch) and Dr. Hess (Ian Abercrombie of Inland Empire) fight over Toulon’s fate. T’s wife is killed in a raid, then Tiny and Drill kill the nazis escorting T into custody – can’t argue with that. While T cries over his wife (along with the puppets, making the ending of part 2 more inexplicable) and gives his revenge monologue, the main general (a Bond movie regular) calls on the search. Leech Woman is still not interesting, even when she’s supposedly T’s murdered wife recurrected to kill Stein.

image

A distractingly weird-looking “young boy” (turns out it’s a short 22-year-old), also on the run, stays with Toulon while Six-Gun takes out the general (plenty of stop-motion plus a fall from a high window – along with the period costumes, looks like Full Moon is ramping up the budget). Toulon creates Blade, modeled after Krauss (who himself is modeled after Klaus Kinski), replacing his broken Hitler doll.

Kraus/Kinski/Blade:
image

There’s actually a story here, not just a bunch of idiots at a hotel getting killed one at a time. Hess turns out to be decent (well, as decent as any nazi scientist trying to reanimate dead soldiers can be), the father of the “boy” turns traitor to win his freedom, both die, Toulon strings up Krauss and escapes Germany with the “boy.” Weird to turn a slasher horror flick into a nazi adventure, but there you go.

image

“Photographed at Universal City Studios Hollywood” – there’s that budget I was talking about. Too bad it won’t last.

image

EDIT: Thanks to Frederic for pointing out the correct model of computer the filmmakers are misusing in part two. Apologies to Commodore 64 heads for the error.

Inglorious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)

I’m not sure that I buy Tarantino films as thrice-a-decade Big Movie Events. If guy’s gonna make his fun genre flicks, I wish he’d make them more often. The movies he is emulating didn’t take this long to shoot. I’ve been seeing (and trying not to read) reports on this for years now, while I only heard of District 9 last week and I liked ‘em both just as much.

One would think the movie follows the Basterds as they rampage through France and Germany killing nazis, but one would be wrong. Starts with a 20-some-minute scene of nazi Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz won best actor at Cannes – nobody can shut up about him) grilling French farmer Denis Menochet about the Jews he is hiding, in Landa’s patient, wordy (duh), polite, milk-drinking manner. The murdered Jewish family’s daughter Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent of Indigènes, who will never have a better role) survives (an image reminiscent of the last-girl-standing final scenes of exploitation horror flicks) and three years later is running a movie theater she inherited from Maggie Cheung (in deleted scenes, which will hopefully surface). At that time, hero sniper Daniel Brühl (star of Goodbye Lenin and Salvador) is hot for her, arranges to hold the premiere of his new propaganda film at her theater. When she hears the entire nazi high command is attending, she plots to destroy the theater with them inside.

So what about the basterds? Well, they’ve got a plot of their own to show up at the film premiere, with the help of movie star Diane Kruger (star of Joyeux Noël), threatened when she is injured in a firefight at a group meeting place (which claims the life of my favorite basterd, Hunger star Michael Fassbender). QT allows a single scene of their nazi-scalping terror campaign (starring bat-man Eli Roth) to stand alone – the vast bulk of the movie is introduction then the week or two leading up to the film premiere.

The movie makes light of death and torture, essentially coming off as a comedy (Brad Pitt’s hilariously fake accent helps that assessment). RW Knight: “Overriding Tarantino’s gratuitous gore instincts is his allegiance to the power of the cinema, which he makes material (literal) here in the form of a combustible nitrate collection.” Surely there are tons of movie references, for once actually talked-about and plot-relevant (Goebbels, Emil Jannings, Leni Riefenstahl) instead of appearing as influences and references in Kill Bill and Jackie Brown (Death Proof had plenty of movie talk, too).

DCairns:

“It’s a film about cinema,” said Joe Dante, who was quite enthusiastic. Perhaps not a war film at all. Or a film about the victory of movies over war, somehow. Certainly, that’s literally what happens in the climax, which contains, all too briefly, the most beautiful image Tarantino has ever conceived or executed.

I have to say I didn’t take it as seriously as some, enjoying the hell out of the sight of Eli Roth machine-gunning Hitler’s lifeless body into the ground moments after the above-mentioned beautiful image (already-dead Shoshanna’s filmed face projected ghostlike on the smoke rising from the burning film stock). And the unusual structure, tense dialogue and Film Comment article’s about Tarantino’s references to American Indian massacres and other carefully thought-out pieces of writing make me think it could be worth taking more seriously. But if I take it seriously, I’ll have to consider the following.

DCairns again: “Inglourious Basterds in a way is about stealing back pleasure from horrible facts, the revenge of cinema upon tragic events, but as interesting as that is in the abstract, it doesn’t strike me as a healthy response. And the gloating nastiness is much closer to Nazism than it is to the spirit of resistance.”

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Two of my comic/horror heroes, John Landis and Joe Dante, make a Twilight Zone movie alone with Steven “Raiders/E.T.” Spielberg and George “Mad Max” Miller. The result could’ve been a masterpiece, but you know how anthology films always turn out… nobody does their best work, and half the episodes are always weak.

John Landis’s untitled episode has a very unlikeable Vic Morrow getting his supernatural comeuppance, becoming a Jew in nazi germany, a black man at a klan rally, a victim of the vietnam war, then back to germany, after making racist, hateful comments to his buddies (both of whom have been in John Carpenter films). It’s a grimy, unpleasant episode, a bad way to start the series, and of course it’s incomplete due to the untimely decapitation-by-helicopter of the lead actor during shooting. Landis was tried and acquitted for Morrow’s death, as well as an assistant director who Alan Smithee’d himself in the credits. Landis’s intro to the movie almost makes up for the Morrow segment – Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks in a car singing TV theme songs for seven long minutes while the audience wonders if they’re in the wrong theater. If they’d have gone from that part right into the Spielberg, we would’ve had an improved 75-minute movie, and Landis’s longer piece would’ve achieved legendary status. Better that everyone wonders about a possible lost masterpiece than get to see the disappointing reality.

Vic Morrow: last known photo
image

Spielberg offers nothing but a big name to sell tickets and some Scatman Crothers. Explores the young-again themes he’d later revisit with Hook – Scatman gets some old folks to play kick the can at midnight and they turn young again – most opt to go back the way they were, but the British guy stays young and runs off into the night. Bill Quinn (of Dead & Buried, which I should be watching right now but I’ve stupidly turned on Organ which I don’t think I’ll finish) looks sadly after him wishing he’d gone out to play and turned young instead of being an old grump. Overly saccharine flick, maybe meant as an antidote to the unrelenting hatred of the previous piece, but maybe we’d have been better off with neither. Hmmm, but then we’ve got a great 50-minute movie, too short for theaters.

Murray Matheson in his final role, with the Scatman three years after The Shining
image

Dante had made The Howling and Piranha, but not yet the creatures-and-cartoons Explorers or Gremlins, so this was a sign of things to come. SFX master Rob Bottin, fresh off John Carpenter’s The Thing, created the ‘toon extravaganza at the end. Dante’s segment has the most sinister ending here – the woman and the kid drive off into the world to unleash unknown havoc. Unlike Spielberg, Dante has actual malice and danger behind the cute TV-and-toon-influenced worlds he creates. Anthony’s sister played by Nancy Cartwright (in her film debut), who would be a saturday morning cartoon regular three years later, followed by a 20+ year stint as Bart Simpson, plays the sister who gets beamed into the television. Kathleen Quinlan (later oscar-nom for Apollo 13) was the teacher, and Jeremy Licht (who spent six years on a Jason Bateman TV show) played Anthony. Dante faves Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy show up as a scuzzy diner operator and Anthony’s terrified “uncle”.

I wonder what happens to Kevin McCarthy after the kid leaves the house
image

George Miller tries to go over the top of the Joe Dante piece, and maybe even succeeds, with Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring John Lithgow. Lightning and wind, loopy camera angles, a plane monster, and an outrageous performance by Lithgow (as good as Raising Cain) keep this one humming. I forgot Lithgow ends up being taken away by an ambulance driven by Dan Aykroyd, ha.

Lithgow, acting sane while the stewardess is watching
image

I must’ve watched this a whole lot of times on HBO in the 80′s – I remembered almost all of it. DVD quality isn’t great, or maybe the film quality wasn’t all that to begin with. Half the movie looks dingy, slightly under-lit. The sound was nice though, and I cranked it. Good thing the disc has chapter stops – I think next time I’ll go from the intro straight to Good Life and 20,000 Feet – two stories which were also well done on The Simpsons, coincidentally.

Seemed like a good time to watch the season 3 episode of the original Twilight Zone starring Buster Keaton, “Once Upon a Time” from 1961, the final credited work directed by Norman McLeod (who worked with Marx Bros., Lloyd and Keaton), written by Richard Matheson (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet). Keaton, a scientist’s janitor in 1890, tired of noise and inflation, uses a time-helmet to transport to the year 1960, where he meets another scientist (Stanley Adams of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and High School Big Shot) who desperately wants to live in the past, a simpler time. The helmet is stolen, broken and repaired, while Keaton steals some new pants and discovers traffic, television and vacuum cleaners. They both travel to 1890, where the scientist is miserable for lack of transistors and TV dinners. Pretty nice episode, obviously not creepy in any way, but then neither was that Spielberg thing.

His first good role in nine years:
image