British Invaders Blogathon: Time Bandits (1981)

Introduction

When I had to decide on what to write about for the British Invaders blogathon the choice was a blissfully simple one. Time Bandits came to mind almost right away, and thankfully was available. It’s a film I’ve seen quite a few times, that I find quite funny and does not seem to be discussed often enough. It’s also, when thinking of British cinema one that comes instantly to my mind.

So, the what to write about selection was easy. How I chose to write about a film that quite easily fits the theme as it does deal with a band of invading time-traveling thieves was another question. Seeing as how the story flows in a series of vignettes that coalesce to have a centralized conflict, I think a more free-form examination of the film from a number of different angles would be highly appropriate.

Remake Haters

Time Bandits (1981, AVCO Embassy)

When you look at Gilliam’s filmography (one I’m not as familiar with as I should be) you see that Time Bandits kind of falls directorially towards the end of the Monty Python films and before Brazil, which may be why it’s at times under-discussed.

In fact, I had not seen much professed love for it until it was reported that it was being developed as a remake/reboot that would become a children’s fantasy/adventure film series.

I was kind of disappointed to hear that as well, but I have since then reached a sort of peace with remakes. I can dislike something conceptually, and grumble about its happening, but can judge the film on its own merits. Similarly, why is it in an ever-changing medium that stories cannot be revisited it seems? In theater there are remakes, but they are respected and referred to as revivals. All popular artforms are commercialized, conglomerated and globalized new packages on old ideas are nothing new.

However, in the ever unpredictable world of film development nothing has come of it as of yet, But it does have an In Development IMDb listing.

Up with Streaming and Film Preservation

Time Bandits (1981, AVCO Embassy)

It may have been misplaced (but that’s highly unlikely) but when I went to revisit this film I did not find the DVD of it on my shelves. But I had to see it again to be able to say anything meaningful. Sure enough it was available on Amazon Prime. With all the talk of what streaming or membership options there always seems to be a myopia. I take advantage of Prime as many ways as I can. I should do a study at some point to see what I’m getting out of my $99/year fee.

As I re-watched it struck me that the film wasn’t in the greatest shape. I’m unsure if its just degradation over time that could be restored or if a bad print was used like the original DVD of The Neverending Story. Regardless, it’s a film that I will nominate for enrollment in the National Film Registry this year.

The Vignettes and Time Travel

Time Bandits (1981, AVCO Embassy)

One thing that struck me as I rewatched this film is that it’s another case of time traveling and vignettes really working for me; including once in a play I wrote. It’s not the most commonly used trope, but it is one I’ve seen a few times and one I enjoy quite a bit. Another example that comes instantly to mind was The Annunciation, the first film adaptation of the classic Hungarian stageplay The Tragedy of Man. It came to mind because of that fact and some of the time periods visited are the same also.

The differences aside from language are the approaches to the tale, the comedy styles (there is some in both) and the order. The time bandits do not always go in the same order and Gilliam even fashions one non-historic time period.

Time Bandits (1981, AVCO Embassy)

The precise order is: Napoleonic Wars, Middle Ages, Ancient Greece, Titanic, Time of Legends which leads into the climactic showdowns.

The Napoleon segment had me hearkening back to Love and Death, which is Woody Allen’s take on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia amongst other things.

The Middle Ages section incorporates Robin Hood and his Merry Band of thieves in a way I never quite saw before. I love the story of Robin Hood but even I can’t help but laugh at a Robin who can say little else but “Jolly good.”

In Ancient Greece our young protagonist, Kevin (Craig Warnock), finds a new father figure in Agamemnon and some of the more dazzlingly surreal images come forth but there are quite a few.

Their brief stint on the ill-fated Titanic is a reappearance of the underrated Shelley Duvall, and it continues a gag of her character being referred to as Pansy. It’s also one of many instances where Kevin shows his knowledge of past events as the Bandits are clueless.

Due to the tone, narrative and structure of the film there is a natural ability to just forget about the notion of time-traveling paradoxes. There are any number of means to accomplish time travel in narrative devices from the most realistic, in theoretical terms, to fanciful. This film certainly comes out on the more fanciful end of things, which is fine by me because a map to the holes in the fabric of time is just really creative stuff.

Supreme Being and Evil

Time Bandits (1981, AVCO Embassy)

The aforementioned battle that comes to the fore is one between good and evil over possession of the map. In another interesting turn in this tale there is a God-versus-Satan battle that takes out denominational specifics and instead opts for more archetypal nomenclature and different approaches to visual representation of the two. The Supreme Being (i.e. God) is often seen as an Oz-like floating head and at the end appears as an old man in three-piece suit.

Evil (i.e. the Devil) is kind of a steampunk/Giger hybrid. And they fight over both the map, and Evil discusses mastering technologies, which at the time of this film’s making are the latest (and some of it is kind of prophetic), to get the upper hand.

Miscellanea

Time Bandits (1981, AVCO Embassy)

There can be quite a bit dedicated to miscellanea for this film: its one of several ’80s films to prominently feature many little people; there are many visual instances to drool over like the reversed negative images, or the negative fill (two motifs I love), or the giant underneath the boat; there are great lines like “Dear Benson, you are so mercifully free of the ravages of intelligence.”

Perhaps the two pieces of miscellanea that most demand some looking at are the Moderna Products that feature as a subplot, and the very ending. The Moderna Products are interesting because they play into commentary of consumerism and conglomeration that pervade not just the present day setting of the tale, but also play into the reveal of Evil when Kevin and the Bandits first run into him. There’s an omnipresence of these products on TV and even in Evil’s wheelhouse. It’s one of the pieces of the film that seems more apropos now than then.

As for the ending, this film has perhaps the most hilarious closing line in any film. It’s a quote I’ve used quite a bit in real life. The ending with the re-emergence of images and mementos (Polaroids and Connery in another part) also make the veracity of the daydream theory dubious and leaves events open to interpretation, and adds another layer to the comedy.

Conclusion

Time Bandits (1981, AVCO Embassy)

So in the five prior sections I looked at some different aspects of the film, and likely could’ve done more. Clearly, this a film that has stuck with me, though I didn’t discover it as early as I could have. This is also five aspects without examining the film in a traditional review mold. It is a film that finds an orderliness in its self-created chaos and keeps the levels of wonder, creativity and hilarity fairly consistent throughout, and paces itself well such that the two-hour running time doesn’t feel extraneous.

Whether or not the remake does happen I know we’d probably all prefer something new that’s all Gilliam. However, whether or not said remake does happen, the original is still here, stands the test of time and needs a bit more love in the ways described above.

BAM Award Winners: The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

Below you will find not only the few winners of my lifetime achievement award but the writeups I did for each, when they were awarded. You will find some redundancy in them as in each I give you a bit behind the genesis of said award. In the first year of this award there was no accompanying text so I have added a slight amount now.

This award is named after Bergman because when I was set to establish an award of its type his last film blew me away and was nominated for many awards. The idea then is that it’s not a parting shot but rather recognition of someone still very much at the top after many, many years.

2019 George Lucas

George Lucas’s credentials need hardly be listed here. He was the architect of the Star Wars franchise and one the architects of the Indiana Jones franchise. And, of course, there are his tech innovations with THX, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound. Normally, I want my honoree of this award to have a credit in the year of his/her honoring. Lucas does and his contribution is unconventional: of course, he’s credited with “Based on characters created by” but he also helped shape the ending which I loved.

2018 Jan Švankmajer

Picking Švankmajer for this award was the first decision I made for these awards. I have featured his work on the site several times, including his cracking one of my film discoveries lists and a feature in one of my earliest posts, when I backed a crowdfunding campaign for his final film, in Bermanesque fashion, it did not disappoint and earned several nominations.

2017 Melanie Griffith

When I posted my BAM Award honorees, it was another long day and I claimed I’d post special awards the following day. The delay in posting any and all of these honorary awards has been due in large part to wrapping a long first draft of a piece of fiction and the fact that a record keeping mistake almost led me to pick the same Lifetime Achievement recipient as last year. Not that John Williams hasn’t done enough for multiple lifetimes, but let’s spread the wealth.

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As such I will instead post at least one honoree a day to balance this blog with my other works.

As I deliberated picking people who aren’t exceptionally old as other awards do, I wasn’t inspired by many of my options until I looked at the history of my own awards and how in recent years I had seen the reemergence of some of my favorites into the nominated list. So, that seemed like the perfect reason to celebrate all of their works as I also like to select people who are still making an impact.

Without further adieu the first honoree…

Melanie Griffith

First, some stats…

6 total nominations; 2 wins
Won as Lead Actress and Supporting Actress (One of three)
Nominated four times in six years (19962001)

Best Supporting Actress winner in 1996 (Mulholland Falls)
Best Supporting Actress nominee 1997 (Lolita)
Best Actress nominee in 1999 (Shadow of Doubt)
Best Actress winner in 2001 (Cecil B. Demented)
Best Cast nominee in 2001 (Cecil B. Demented)
Best Cast Nominee in 2017 (The Disaster Artist).

Even before the era wherein the BAM Awards were a part of my life Melanie Griffith had already made an impression on me, and in retrospect I went on to view many of her films.

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Prior to her most well-known work (Working Girl) she had already made a splash with two films that would end up standing the test of time (Body Double and Something Wild).

While the string of films she was in following Working Girl had varying degrees of success commercially, critically, I enjoy most and like her work in them even more (Pacific Heights, Bonfire of the Vanities, Paradise, Shining Through, Born Yesterday, Milk Money, Nobody’s Fool, Buffalo Girls, Celebrity, Another Day in Paradise, Crazy in Alabama and RKO 281 among those not yet mentioned).

Paradise (1991, Touchstone Pictures)

Smaller independent works intervened between her last BAM nomination and The Disaster Artist, but I’d not happened to come across them or gone out of my way to see them, though I should have. The Disaster Artist was a tremendous jolt, a reminder that I’ve not tracked down enough of her works as she was one of the first actors or directors I made a point of seeing.

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“Do you even want to be an actor?” her character, an acting instructor, says to Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) in The Disaster Artist. He responds in the affirmative. “Well, you hide it well,” she retorts, and in a film about the making of a cult film, and in many ways the cruelty of Hollywood and entertainment in general; Melanie’s part, and Sharon Stone, as an objectifying talent agent, seems a very conscious and shrewd commentary: these are talented, professional women deserving of respect and recognition.

Melanie’s honor from my awards is overdue.

2017 Jessica Lange

The delay in posting any and all of these honorary awards has been due in large part to wrapping a long first draft of a piece of fiction and the fact that a record keeping mistake almost led me to pick the same Lifetime Achievement recipient as last year. Not that John Williams hasn’t done enough for multiple lifetimes but let’s spread the wealth.

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As such I will post at least one honoree a day to balance this blog with my other works. 

As I deliberated picking people who aren’t exceptionally old as other awards do, I wasn’t inspired by many of my options until I looked at the history of my own awards and how in recent years I had seen the reemergence of some of my favorites into the nominated list. So, that seemed like the perfect reason to celebrate all of their works as I also like to select people who are still making an impact.

Without further adieu the honoree…

Jessica Lange

First some stats…

6 total nominations; 3 wins
Won as Lead Actress and Supporting Actress (One of three)
Nominated four straight years (19972000)

Best Actress nominee in 1997 (A Thousand Acres)
Best Actress nominee in 1998 (Hush)
Best Actress winner in 1999 (Cousin Bette)
Best Actress winner in 2000 (Titus)
Best Cast nominee in 2000 (Titus)
Best Supporting Actress winner in 2014 (In Secret)

In the early days of these awards when I was prone to revisionism and trying to create credible nominees from 1981. I was compelled to go back and watch as many things as I could by my favorite directors and actors. Jessica Lange was among these actresses.

Titus (1999, Fox Searchlight)

Even scrapping those provisional, untrue awards she made more than enough of a mark. Her nominations as Best Actress in four consecutive years was a feat I didn’t notice until I started composing this piece (I like to compose these award without being conscious of things like how many nominations a film is racking up or if so-and-so made it in the year before).

I believe I first knew of Jessica Lange when in a high school cinema class we screened the 1976 King Kong. That allowed me then to seek out and watch many of her films in approximate chronological order. Eventually she became an actress I made a point of going out to the movies to see.

In Secret (2014, Roadside Attractions)

Like many other admirers, I was thrilled when American Horror Story acted as a renaissance for her career. When In Secret was released I rushed out to see it, and I thought for a Zola novel I did not know much about it portrayed a story of that vintage in as modern a way as possible without reinventing it, and Lange stole the entire film, and she was not only nominated again but won her third BAM Award.

In 2015 it was time for her to move on from AHS, but recently she made another tour-de-force appearance on a television series Feud: Bette and Joan, which bears mentioning here as she played Joan Crawford and was dealing with the struggle of being a woman of a certain age in Hollywood, and contrary to her trajectory playing an actress whose talents were never fully appreciated. That role showed that she by no means is done, as I prefer these honorees to be.

2016 John Williams 

If there was one thing that 2016 showed the world, it’s that there should not be a limitation on appreciation. While my lifetime awards want to try to award those “not on their deathbed” it’s become even clearer to all that there are not guarantees and being too premature awarding in a category like this is not the end of the world.

In that spirit I picked two this year, and may find a way to squeeze in three for 2017. Here they are:

johnwilliams-1050x700

50 Academy Award Nominations.

5 Oscars.

Nearly all of Spielberg’s credits.

The basis upon which the scoring of Star Wars and Harry Potter scores are built by others.

3 BAM Awards (1997, 2001, and 2002).

7 BAM Award Nominations.

Countless other memorable moments. Clearly deserving and frankly overdue.

2016 Arnold Schwarzenegger

arnold-schwarzenegger-election-speech-fhm

Movie stardom is a rare commodity now it seems, and Schwarzenegger definitely has always had that kind of magnetism.

However, after serving two terms as the governor of California, in 2011, as Arnold Schwarzenegger started to appear on the big screen again, I realized something: I’d missed him on-screen. 2016 was an off-year in as much as most of what he’s worked on lately will be out in 2017 and beyond, which is part of the tradition I like to follow (to have things forthcoming of note like (TripletsThe Legend of ConanJourney to China: Mystery of the Iron MaskAftermathWhy We’re Killing Gunther and more) but he still managed to make people take notice:

But while that brought entertainment value to his now-too-rare, sane conservatism this is not a political trophy. Since 2011 he has returned to the Terminator franchise (in which he was far superior to the narrative of the most recent film), delivered perhaps his best performance in Maggie, not only cemented his action legacy but muscled his way into Liam Neeson’s action niche, and, of course, we all know what he was to action in the ’80s.

2015 Max von Sydow

still-of-max-von-sydow-and-birgitta-valberg-in-jungfrukällan-(1960)

I like these awards to come around almost by osmosis. I considered another way for Bergman-connected people: like Liv Ullmann, unfortunately I did not see her most recent film (as director).

It seemed like a stretch to pick Max von Sydow, as someone active this year only in the very beginning of the new Star Wars, but as I thought about it it started making more and more sense. He’s been considered before and was part of a BAM-nominated cast this year.

In the future, he will be the human embodiment of Bran’s raven on Game of Thrones.

Winter Light (1963)

He has connections with other liftetime winners: He co-Starred with Werner Herzog in What Dreams May Come, was in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, 14 feature films with Ingmar Bergman himself and Best Intentions based on Bergman’s novel, Sleepless with Dario Argento, and Minority Report with Steven Spielberg.

In a year with another sub-par Bond, it made me long for old Bond films and von Sydow was Blofeld in Never Say Never Again.

Considering that Robin Williams passed well before his time, and the seemingly-immortal Christopher Lee did as well, it’s not too late but about time to honor Max von Sydow. He clearly has well-earned longevity of his career on his side with credits in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, ‘10s; in other words consecutive decades. He’s 86 years old, and debuted at 22 in Miss Julie (1951).

max-von-sydow-extremely-loud-incredibly-close

He was Oscar nominated in 1989 and 2012 (most recently for Extremely loud and Incredibly Close), Golden Globes in 1967 and 1974, Emmy in 1990.

Yet more impressive are his list of credits I’ve not even mentioned yet.

  • Shutter Island
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Snow Falling on Cedars
  • Leland Gaunt in Needful Things; perfection of casting imperfection of adaptation
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Ghostbusters II
  • Pelle the Conqueror
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Flash Gordon

He went from something like Winter Light to playing Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told to being Father Merrin in The Exorcist.

His credits are multi-lingual.

Even the blind spots I have with him are well-regarded:

  • Tudors
  • Dune
  • Dreamscape
  • Ice Pirates
  • Three Days of the Condor
  • Steppenwolf
  • New Land
  • Emigrants

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His voice has even featured in games like Skyrim and Ghostbusters.

When I discovered he was going to be on Game of Thrones my reaction was simply “Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow,” which was frequently how I reacted to his performances.

Max von Sydow is a true living legend.

August: Osage County (2013, Weinstein Company)

2014 Meryl Streep

Into The Woods (2014, Disney)

In what is usually something I like to consider a norm, Meryl had quite a year in this one where I decided the time had come to honor her so. Back in January the nationwide release of August: Osage County hit theaters and I went to see that and her performance there nearly earned her a second BAM Award nomination this very year. Then, of course, there is her BAM Award nominated turn in Into the Woods. These three roles broke a long string in her filmography which for one reason or another did not compel me to watch them.

However, what Meryl Streep having a year such as this does remind you of is the many years and many roles prior that stood out for so long.

Manhattan, Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Silkwood, Falling in Love, Heartburn, A Cry in the Dark, Postcards from the Edge, Defending Your Life, Bridges of Madison County, Before and After, Marvin’s Room, …First Do No Harm, Dancing at Lughansa, Music of the Heart, Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (Yes, she is in that, too! Look it up!), Adaptation., The Hours, The Manchurian Candidate, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and many more.

One thing I’ve had occasion to discuss both this year and in the past is my interludes of revisionism. That impulse is not one I feel any longer, however, this is the one chance at anything like it. Clearly one musn’t sit about feeling the need to award Meryl Streep, but it is the very award culture that at times obscures the nearly unparalleled accomplishments some have made. So take a moment and reminisce on these titles, on the scenes, and wonderful little moments therein, and that should bring on more sincere gratitude. This award, as it is meant to be, is not a salvo. I’m quite sure we’ll see much more of her and for that we should all be thankful.

2013 Woody Allen

Woody Allen (2013, Esquire)

2013 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

“Me sitting down for dinner with Ingmar Bergman felt like a house painter sitting down with Picasso.”

-Woody Allen, interview with Esquire Magazine 6/4/2013

Woody Allen

I saw a tweet over the summer, leading up to the release of Blue Jasmine, that asked something to the effect of: I wonder why now is the time that many publications have chosen to do a career retrospective on Woody Allen? Logically speaking, I can’t answer that. He hasn’t necessarily slowed down and like all of us he’s not getting any younger. My theory though is that it took the film-loving community by surprise that shortly after Midnight in Paris he returned with another widely acclaimed film so soon. Due to that fact it caused many to want to start looking back over his career.

I must say it hit me the same way. I caught Blue Jasmine a little later than many but I was quite blown away by it, and even with his recent triumph surprised by it. Woody Allen was one of the earliest writer/directors I gravitated to by name. He’s also one I came back around to, at least once, after I became obsessed by Bergman, seeing as how Allen is a fellow disciple.

It’s a virtual prerequisite that I’ve seen most of the works if not all of the works of the winning director. However, I know there are some of his I’ve not yet checked out (many recent) and I also have a volume of his short stories to check out. It’s a retrospective I’d be glad to take in.

Especially considering that one of the most overlooked aspects of Allen’s repertoire is his ease of going back and forth between comedy and drama, and even mixing them. In my family Allen’s name has long been synonymous with greatness, in writing especially, if not also directing; and I’ve certainly taken the ball and run with it in terms of tracking down his works.

While Allen has had his share of off-screen production-related drama lately he seems to have found a new home at Sony Pictures Classics and has adopted a late-career globetrotting aesthetic that is making returns to New York, even for a scene, a breath of fresh air as well. And, as always, these awards are a recognition of onscreen accomplishment, and Allen’s works have been with me a long time already and I hope to many more years of enjoying his films.

2012 Bela Tarr

Bela Tarr

In my 2005 BAM Awards wrap-up, I wrote how I was considering creating a Lifetime Achievement Award and giving it to Ingmar Bergman. The idea was to award him upon completion of his swan song that proved unnecessary when I saw Saraband and it was one of my favorite films of that year and he won Best Director.

It seems this prize has now come full circle as another great director has made what he claims (and right now I believe him) is his last film and it is a great one. This year’s recipient is Bela Tarr.

Tarr is a director I’ve come to know well. However, when I first learned of him and what many consider to be his masterpiece (Satantango) I knew nothing save for the plot of the movie, that it was very long and I had to see it. I went in fairly cold and there was a sort of kinship there. I connected and I got it. That connection extended through much of Hungarian cinema, but it started with Tarr and it started instinctually.

I’ve since come to learn about him, read writings on his work – perhaps what is most fascinating about him is he went from stark cinéma vérité to an aesthetic all his own of long takes, moving cameras, black-and-white minimalist existentialism that is unique in all the world.

I’ve tackled Satantango a number of times, I agree it’s a film that could be viewed annually but I haven’t in a few years and its time to change that. I’ve, of course, seen as many of his films as possible.

It’s one I want to watch all over again. For one thing that is certain is that he proves that auteurism is indeed a live and well. He’s a rare breed, and is also giving back to the cinema fostering artists and striving for aesthetic excellence first and foremost.

The one thing that in my experience I’ve found Tarr has in common with Bergman is this brilliant final bow, his being The Turin Horse.

Tarr’s cinema is one that has evolved and is as exacting as Bergman’s, though not as prolific.

A great filmography is one where many films stand out and apart; Tarr has that:

Hotel Magnezit
Family Nest
The Outsider
Prefab People
Macbeth
Almanac of Fall
Damnation
Satantango
Journey on the Plain
Werckmeister Harmonies
The Man From London
The Turin Horse

I’ve come to know Hungarian cinema in part because of Bela Tarr and admire it. I admire this man, his work and his vision. This admiration grows leaps and bounds when you add the fact that he’s trying to help ensure the future of the artform in his home country, and around the world.

A great filmmaker’s films will last forever, even greater is the man whose trying to ensure cinema itself lasts forever.

2011 Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg has been quotes as saying about Ingmar Bergman “I have always admired him, and I wish I could be a equally good filmaker as he is, but it will never happen. His love for the cinema almost gives me a guilty conscience.” So it seems fitting that someone as talented as he is, who aspires to be the master Bergman is should get this award.

Going into the year I knew the kind of year Steven Spielberg was likely to have. I knew there were many projects coming out that he had some kind of involvement with so the odds ere good he’d be in the running for one of these honorary awards.

Amazingly Steven Spielberg has already won this kind of Award before. The Irving G. Thalberg Award awarded by the Academy is for “Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production” and Spielberg won this in 1987.

I pick Steven Spielberg this year because he had turned 65 and because 2011 saw one of his most resounding single-year résumés: Spielberg released this year two films he directed War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, both of which are excellent as one might expect from a director with his track record but Steven Spielberg is also a talented and prolific producer and 2011 saw many titles he produced come out and do great things most notably were Super 8 and Real Steel.

There were a few other box office titans along the way too. The year had a Spielberg project to talk about from beginning to end. Even on television there was Terra Nova and perhaps the most talked about not picked up pilot of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key. And that’s just this year.

While young for a man who has had a career as long and successful as Spielberg has he has been making great movies for a long time. He has made movies that have marked the lives of generations. His great works we all know. The above is just a year in the life. It’s been 40 years since he made Duel and what has transpired since then is one of the most amazing careers in the annals of cinema and it just keeps going. What’s best is that most people when asked will likely have a different favorite. If you ask me, and you have the time, I will tell you why Artificial Intelligence: A.I. is his greatest work. But I won’t argue if you say your favorite is E.T. or Indiana Jones or The Color Purple or Empire of the Sun or Schindler’s List any of them really.

I’ve tried to pick years in in which these artists had a release or two so I could honor them. This year Spielberg has a slew and he’s due. Many of us who love film know he’s great but it’s good to stop and recognize it. Thanks for the memories you given use so far Steven and here’s to many, many more.

2010 Dario Argento

Dario Argento

The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement was sort of born because I was set to award my first ever Lifetime Achievement award to Mr. Bergman in light of the US release of Saraband, his last film. In typical Bergman fashion, however, it was one of the best films of the year and no honorary trophy was necessary.

When I decided to finally award one it was perfectly fitting to name it after him. The criteria are somewhat vague but a few things are obvious: a long and distinguished career with many good movies in it and no posthumous/deathbed honorees, which is to try to avoid the slightly uncomfortable Academy Award standard of waiting far too long to prize those who deserve it.

The recipient of this year’s Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award is Dario Argento.

Even before he started to make a name for himself as a director in 1970 Argento already had major writing credits, namely Once Upon a Time in the West. However, once he stepped behind the camera and became an auteur he started to leave an indelible mark.

Immediately he started making his presence known by virtually creating a new subgenre, Giallo, single-handedly. His first three films are variations on this theme and due to their titles and motifs are called The Animal Trilogy.

Upon its release The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was an international sensation, which earned him his first of many comparisons to Hitchcock, eventually even Hitch himself would comment that “This young Italian guy is starting to worry me.”

The trilogy closed with The Cat O’ Nine Tails starring Karl Malden. The fame and recognition he received from these film prompted RAI (an Italian television network) to give him a virtual carte blanche for a series of short films sort of like his version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called La Porta sul buio or Doorway to Darkness.

He followed that up with perhaps the best one-two punch any director in the horror genre ever had with Deep Red and Suspiria. You could argue for days on end about which is better but the latter still gets cited to this day as one of the finest horror films ever crafted.

Suspiria also marked the beginning of a new trilogy called The Mother of Tears Trilogy, which continues with the 1980 release of Inferno. Despite only being completed in 2007, the third installment, Mother of Tears, is brilliant and was quite literally one shot away from being awarded Best Picture.

His three other releases in the 1980s, while in my opinion varied in quality, all have their moments but are cited by many as films that impacted them. First, there is Tenebre, the only one of his films to be set in the future based on the release date and year in the story. Then there is Phenomena, which definitely has its highlights like Donald Pleasence and one of the creepiest kids you’ve ever seen. Then comes another masterpiece called Opera, which is in hindsight somewhat similar to and much better than Black Swan.

The 90s were another mixed bag with the highlight most definitely being The Stendhal Syndrome, which stars his talented daughter Asia Argento.

Yet though some may contend he is fading he still has had some very strong recent turns. For example: Do You Like Hitchcock? a tale wherein film obsession plays a big role; Jenifer, perhaps the most frightening girl you’ve ever seen; Pelts, a genuinely disturbing tale that has a bloody, gruesome frame, the aforementioned Mother of Tears and despite the issues its faced getting distributed, Giallo, a rare film which he didn’t write but still has some very strong parts.

One can only hope that there is much more coming from Mr. Argento as some of his canon is now gaining classic status and is starting to be remade hopefully his films live on and he gives us new material to love.

Thank you, Dario and keep it up!

2009 Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog

At the bottom of the BAM Nominee list, this critic’s personal awards for year’s best, there is mention of two honorary awards and who those recipients are. Here is where you will learn more details as to what the those prizes are and why the indicated person won each award.

First listed is The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the late legendary filmmaker of countless masterpieces. Bergman was initially going to be named the first winner of the prize but instead with his final film Saraband earned him the award as Best Director of 2005 and the film was one of the best of the decade, so the award was named in his honor instead. The previous winner was Clint Eastwood.

In a concerted effort not only to recognize greatness but also to not wait too long to recognize it this year’s recipient is Werner Herzog. Herzog is a man who never makes one film exactly like another. He writes and directs narrative films but is also an accomplished and renowned documentarian. This year alone he released Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans; My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and a 4-minute version of La Bohème which combines the song “O Soave Fanciulla” with images of Africa. Not only that but he announced the opening of his Rogue Film School in January in Los Angeles. Always pushing the envelope the time for Herzog’s recognition has come.

2008 Clint Eastwood

It’s hardly necessary to go on a lengthy diatribe about the accomplishments of Clint Eastwood as an actor, director and composer. Needless to say he seems to be getting more prolific and better with age. He has had several acclaimed releases since he was given this award and will likely have several more. Rather than give you a laundry list let it suffice to say that Eastwood is awe-inspiring.

Mini-Review: Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

As I’ve mentioned in the past, particularly with ESPN’s sports documentaries, it’s always fascinating to me to get perspective on things that were at the periphery of my awareness due to my young age in the 1980s. I love the decade in which I was born, and due to my own personal philosophy consider myself more a child of that decade than the one I came of age in. However, being so young there were some things I only had a passing knowledge of. The Morton Downey Jr. Show was something I was aware of either when it started on WWOR (living not far from Secaucus, NJ that network was on my TV) or on MTV, but I didn’t fully realize the meteoric nature of his ascendency on a wave of vitriol whose earnestness was questionable.

And therein lies the brilliance of this documentary’s approach: it goes forward and backward in time to chart certain catalytic factors in his life and chart changes, but he remains an intriguing enigma the film does not judge its subject but presents him with utmost showmanship, as he likely would have wanted, with opinions on him from those who knew him on either side and with impeccably timed revelations. It is highly recommended and only held back by its animated interludes and a rather soft landing in its very last moment.

8/10

Mini-Review: The Diplomat

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Diplomat

As I was a young when the Berlin Wall came down and communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, documentaries like this that take a more focused look at things are really beneficial. For example, I was under the impression that it was just because I was young that it felt like the wall’s coming down was fairly sudden; as it turns out, it was, compared to other similarly seismic sociopolitical touchstones. However, that’s a detail about a larger event. What this film does is take the diplomatic, athletic lightning-rod that was Witt and examines East Germany, both their sports regimen (pro and con) and the Stasi (only cons) through that guise and billows out from there to close relations and the everyman – and it has great and significant interview subjects on the matter. However, it’s also about Witt, some of conflicting feelings about the time, about her relationship with her coach; and how her coaches struggle molded her path to an extent. It’s a film that made me want to delve into that period, into other films about East and West Germany, made me want to see Carmen on Ice; in short, I wanted more and lots of it, and there’s hardly a higher compliment one can pay a film.

10/10

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Pictures and Directors- Actors Awarded as Directors

Introduction

As it turned out this post also was a bit more involved than I initially realized before I embarked on it for the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon.

The idea of the post was to briefly talk about the handful of men who have won Best Director despite the fact they were better known as actors for most of their career. However, the desire to be a completist, and investigating gray areas makes the list a bit longer than initially realized. All of these directors deserve some mention. So I will discuss them all and delineate the tiers they appear in.

Essentially, the fact-checking for this post was done by checking filmographies of Best Director winners. Directors who had only walk-on, cameo or “Find Hitch” type appearances do not qualify. To be mentioned by name the directors needed to: A) Have won Best Director B) Have not been awarded as an actor C) Have had acting credits prior to directing credits.

Now there are levels of notoriety and role which is why many of the directors deserve mention but aren’t necessarily in the same echelon as one another.

Peripherally Acting

Casablanca (1942, Warner Bros.)

Michael Curtiz (won for Casablanca) acted in the first short he directed in Hungary (credited as Kertész Mihály) and other silent shorts. He never truly established himself as an actor though.

On the Waterfront (1954, Columbia Picture)

Elia Kazan (won for Gentleman’s Agreement and On the Waterfront) again bears mentioning since he has a screen credit before a directing one, but does not rate as highly as the next level.

Started as Actors, but Are More Well-Known as Directors

7th Heaven (1927, 20th Century Fox)

Frank Borzage (won for 7th Heaven and Bad Girl) is borderline only because his first acting credit and directorial credit were the same film The Mystery of Yellow Aster Mine in 1913. Borzage’s 113 credits from 1913-1957 certainly include him in the company of thespians even if not a leading-man type.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, MGM)

Frank Lloyd (won for The Divine Lady, Cavalcade and Mutiny on the Bounty) definitely has enough credits 63, but most of them were silent shorts. However, these is a bit of longevity (through 1955) that it does bear mentioning.

How Green Was My Valley (1941, 20th Century Fox)

John Ford (won for The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man) had 22 acting credits between 1913-1917 as Jack Ford. That was brief and before the Oscars, but he did clearly start as an actor first.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, Warner Bros.)

John Huston (won for Treasure of the Sierra Madre) -Many credits and many before directorial debut starting in a 1929 short, but his notoriety behind the camera was always higher despite some high-profile onscreen appearances like playing Noah in The Bible: In the Beginning…

Giant (1956, Warner Bros.)

George Stevens (won for Giant and A Place in the Sun) bears mentioning simply because he has two silent credits The Tigress (1915) and Whispers (1920), but he was clearly a director more so than an actor.

Midnight Cowboy (1969, UA)

John Schlesinger (Won for Midnight Cowboy) had credits as characters, mostly on TV before directing for the first time.

A Beautiful Mind (2001, Universal/DreamWorks)

Ron Howard (Won for A Beautiful Mind) this categorization is generationally sensitive. Yes, I’ve seen The Andy Griffith Show and Howard’s other work as a young actor. Aside from making the occasional appearance Ron Howard has not kept up consistent onscreen appearances enough for me to consider him someone who has always done both. He has been directing features since 1982 so I consider him officially transitioned, especially considering he has helmed one of my all-time favorites Parenthood.

Has Always Done Both

Annie Hall (1977, UA)

Woody Allen (won Best Director for Annie Hall) made his acting, writing and directorial debut in What’s New Pussycat. While he’s not quite Orson Welles in this regard (I’ve always felt that Woody Allen was a bit under-appreciated as an actor). Yes, he rarely works someone else’s material, and has a very specific type, and limited range, but so do other people.

Borderline

Ahh, here come those honorary awards again.

Henry V (1944, Eagle-Lion Distributors)

Laurence Olivier amazingly never won a competitive Oscar. In 1947 he won an honorary prize that cited all his work on Henry V:

For his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing ‘Henry V’ to the screen.

More Well-Known as Actors but Won as Directors

Ordinary People (1980, Paramount)

Robert Redford (Won for Ordinary People): his prowess as an actor is not debatable. However, Redford only ever has received one Best Actor nomination. His Oscar wins have been honorary and for directing.

Reds (1981, Paramount)

Warren Beatty (Won for Reds) has been nominated three times as an actor. He’s directed and written a number of films but is likely best known as an actor. Beatty’s only hardware from the Academy came behind the camera.

Gandhi (1982, Columbia)

Richard Attenborough (Won for Gandhi) had his first screen credit in 1943. His directorial debut came in 1969. There are other standouts in his resume as a director (A Bridge Too Far, A Chorus Line, Chaplin, Shadowlands) but I think most casual film fans likely know him best for his appearance in Jurassic Park, which is why I included him in this section.

Out of Africa (1985, Universal)

Sydney Pollack (Won for Out of Africa) his first credit was on TV in 1956 and his first directing credit came in 1961. I do recall seeing him in many things, which is why I include him here even though he was never an award threat like some legends on this list.

Dances with Wolves (1991, Orion)

Kevin Costner (Won for Dances with Wolves) Costner now on a comeback trail in recent years was always more synonymous with acting and movie-stardom. However, that’s not to say he’s never had award-caliber performances. JFK comes immediately to mind. However, it was for his fashioning of a film behind the scenes that he received an Oscar.

Unforgiven (1992, Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood (Won for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) at this point in his long an illustrious career it’s hard to say if Eastwood is more known as a director or actor. It may be, like many, a generationally-dependent answer. Eastwood in essence helped redefine the Western genre and give it new life and that’s outside of Dirty Harry films and some departures like Honkytonk Man so it is mildly surprising his first statuette came behind the camera.

Braveheart (1995, Paramoutn/20th Century Fox)

Mel Gibson (Won for Bravehart) Gibson came on to the scene in an Oscar-nominated film (A Year of Living Dangerously) and was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s and into the 1990s. His directorial resume is more accomplished than Costner’s but like Costner he first won as a director. His acceptance speech where he joked “What I really want to do now is act,” is largely responsible for my writing this post.

Argo (2012, Warner Bros.)

Ben Affleck (Won for Argo) here’s an interesting one. Affleck came on the scene as one of the co-writers and co-stars of Good Will Hunting. His acting career has been a bit more up-and-down than Matt Damon’s in terms of successes and perception. However, he has been the one who had a career behind the camera (writing and directing) take off. Affleck is now rebounding as an actor as well and has had enough notable onscreen appearance that I think of him as an actor first even though he is highly accomplished and capable on the other side.

Conclusion

Oscar’s at times curious desire to award well-liked actors in other capacities will likely not end soon and it is interesting to consider where they have already done so.

Mini-Review: A Christmoose Carol (2005)

Introduction

In an ongoing effort to give each film its own post I decided that some films previously featured in Holiday Viewing Guides should also get their own post.

Specific to this post: A new remake is a newly reviewed film today.

A Christmoose Carol (2005)

This is one of the films I picked up after getting a region-free player. I saw a trailer for it and it just seemed like the kind of thing too silly not to give a shot. What’s refreshing is that the film is playing comedy throughout. Yes, there are overtures of schmaltz and warm-fuzziness, it is a Christmas film after all, but it’s eminently more watchable and enjoyable than I ever thought it would be – and really should have any right to be. Part of this has to do with just a different perspective. Heaven forbid an American film try and get away with a Santa getting drunk and distracted, yet still trying to make a positive film, much less having it actually be Santa and not a mall employee or a psychopath. What the film deals mostly with is a thankfully practical and rather well-crafted Moose character (It seemed rather Falkor-like, I wonder if there is any connection to NES) and adds its own spin, and a rather cloistered tale that is neither a retread or earth-shattering in its repercussions as “disaster” is being avoided. A funny anecdote is that when I was younger I’d always insist on writing the original title of the film. However, seeing Es ist ein Elch entsprungen plastered on the box and being unable to record it to memory made me learn the English title, as silly and punny as it is.

6/10

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 3 – The Word Tamer)

The Word Tamer

WARNING: While I will do my best to avoid major spoilers this series of posts is an in depth examination of the film so it will be discussed at length. Reading about the film in distinct sections is not the same as seeing it clearly but forewarned is forearmed.

Like many things in this film, we don’t necessarily understand the Word Tamer’s role in the proceedings the second we see him. There’s nothing wrong with that. Any required exposition within the film is handled fairly head-on, though floridly, in narration. However, there’s not a need to do so immediately. There is a great sense of pacing and where things belong in this film. Though this is a tale more of a journey than a plot, one that might seem a bit loose, it does set-up and payoff very well, and it knows when to deliver that bit of necessary news.

With the Word Tamer (Pierre Bourgault) our learning that he digs through trash for words and images believing that “Images and words must mix with the ashes of poetry to be born in Man’s imagination” comes early on, if not immediately. The significance of his existence to the story as a whole, and the function he serves for our lead is information that becomes clearer later on. Sure, he could be seen merely as a conduit for the audience. The angry scribblings Léolo jots down and then feels the need to not keep, lest his family should see it and his life become even more untenable perhaps, could just disappear. We could suspend disbelief and say to ourselves “we have this window to his world, what need have we for the Word Tamer?”

However, what the Tamer is partially wish-fulfillment any adolescent who has ever scribbled his angst down about his life, and the ways of the world. Any such pubescent soul would’ve loved a receptive audience that appreciates our talents and also seemed to understand us and our views as we understand them.

This guardian angel-type isn’t a secret kept from Léolo, one that we the audience and the film share. Therefore, he may very well write and dispose of his writing so that the Tamer can read it. The Tamer also does step in on Leo’s behalf once and tries to better things for him. However, I will touch upon that later.

Is this character the element that lends the film its greatest sense of artistry and fantasy, and its largest burst of magical realism in one fell swoop? It may well be. His being the reader who engages in something akin to a game of telepathic telephone is what in a sense justifies the multiple utterances of certain phrases such that they come at near matra-like intervals. He also is shown storing Léolo’s pages at the end intimating that the tale might be read again and by others at some point.

For those who have seen it previously it may seem like I’m dressing the film up to be a bizarre sort of spin on The Neverending Story, but surely this character would not be the last image of the film were his having read the story been of no significance. Endings and beginnings are perhaps the most key in a film because you’re deciding what to tell the audience first and what to leave them with as they walk out the door.

Now there may be salvation or redemption of Léolo’s tale save for the fact that we know all the pages that he spilled ink upon them saying in the omnipresent human need “I am here and this is my story.” Or in the words of Gigolo Joe as he was captured in A.I. “I am, I was.”

Unlike a great many stories wherein adolescents go through tough trials there’s a sort of difference here. It has both to do with the tonality and the structure of Léolo. At first, you’re not sure where things will go, and second, you’re not sitting there hoping against hope for an escape or endgame already in mind such as in Pelle the Conqueror.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Pictures)

As such there is no movement towards our lead being more better understood. The Word Tamer tries to get Léolo’s teacher to talk to him about what he should read since he shows promise as a writer. One of the many quirks Léolo’s family is that there is only one book in the house (Rejean Ducharme’s L’avelee des Avales), which is used to balance out an uneven table. The teacher does not help the Word Tamer or Léo. Yet, due to this kindly altruist interested only in purity of emotion and the beauty of words he carries the tale to us. Léo lets us, the audience, into his heart, soul and mind. He examines these facets of his being, and his family as honestly as his biases allow. Due to that fact, and how he expresses himself he finds a willing reader, The Word Tamer, who passes him on to us.

This post is the third part of a series. Read part one here, part two here, and stay tuned for part four.

Mini-Review: Bad Kids Go To Hell

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Bad Kids Go to Hell

This is a film, which in a similar vein to Detention you can’t knock because it’s not trying, but rather it’s the method in which the attempt is made where its issues come to play, and there are several. Namely one persistent issue that comes to the for is that the film never truly justifies my engaging in the stories or the characters. This isn’t a generic likability complaint, the film quite firmly states it’s not going to be a warm-and-fuzzy detention tale like The Breakfast Club (Though parts definitely echo it). However, the characters do have skeletons in their closets that are discussed, and while none of them are ever likable or well-drawn, they’re mostly uninteresting too.

It’s a film that goes down a rabbit hole, and flips the script on you a few times, but each concussant shift in the story makes it a more frustrating journey. It’s built on a flimsy pretext that gets eschewed, questioned, left vague, then gives us rather ridiculous renditions for the detainees punishment and a tangled, overly-contrived web that unravels itself out of the horror genre the film seems to be taking you into the whole time.

However, it is mainly the decisions, execution, casting, performances, characters and writing that are the culprits here and not the genre it plays in. The movie starts out poorly and spirals ever downward from there; the twists only serving to frustrate you as you are still not heading back in a desirable direction.

2/10

1984 Blogathon: Devil Fish

Introduction

When deciding what to pick for a 1984-themed blogathon there were many great options. It was a great year. However, many of those were taken so I thought it’d be fun to go off the beaten path. At first I considered something foreign or very obscure. What ended up happening was that it turns out I had written about many of my favorites already. So that introduced a new possibility: something memorably bad; the only debate was “Do I want to write about two bad movies in a row?”

When I decided I did I was instantly surprised. Little did I know that when I chose Devil Fish there would be quite a few things about it to uncover that I had not known prior to starting on this post.

In the beginning, when I first saw it it was just another in the myriad of unfortunate works of cinema that Mystery Science Theatre 3000 introduced me to. Having revisited the film and asking myself questions like “Who wrote this?” and “Who directed this?” I came across some interesting answers that with more experience allowed me to better understand one of the eternal questions about bad films which is “What the hell happened there?”

So the first and most significant discovery I made regarding this film was that the director behind the credit of John Old, Jr. is in fact Lamberto Bava. This being the same Lamberto Bava of Macabre, and a film I have come to love when I just had to see it (as I wrote a short script in the same milieu) Demons. As it turns out he slapped a pseudonymous credit on a few of his works that were in the Italian low-budget rip-off arena. Fashioning this nom de plume after his father’s. Legendary Italian director Mario Bava had many great films but he did the occasional film he felt the need to take a John Old credit for.

Devil Fish is one of countless titles that have sought to cheaply gain an audience by playing off the popularity of Jaws, which will be eternal. I’m not one who tosses about the rip-off phrase about lightly. However, one can scarcely find a shark movie made after 1975 that doesn’t pattern itself after Jaws in some way, shape or form. This doesn’t have the failed tongue-in-cheek homages that say Sharknado has, but it definitely borrows liberally and was produced less than a decade after the original while Universal was still littering the landscape with subpar sequels.

Behind-The-Scenes

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

So that was one thing, but wait there’s more! As it turns out most of the behind-the-scenes talent took on pseudonyms as well. Usually in this case they are somewhat anglicized versions of their given names. For example, cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando became John McFerrand. Now, one could try to argue that part of the attempt is to make the film seem more genuinely American-made. However, all of the cast doesn’t play ball and one of the go-to jokes for the MST3K crew was “We’re from Europe!” so no one was being fooled.

Beyond the names there are plenty of things to scratch your head about in wonder, or to at least note. Firstly, is that much in the Italian tradition actors came from all over the place and spoke several different languages while the camera rolled and then the dialogue was dubbed to create a uniform soundtrack. That by itself does not guarantee a bad film. I’ve seen well-dubbed works and many of the better low-budget Italian films were made the same way.

Getting back to the Jaws rip-off angle leads to one of the most infuriating parts of this film. There are several underwater shots that are supposed to tease the creature much like Bruce was scarcely seen. The problem here is that it is very difficult to decipher, at times, exactly what you are looking at. Instead of suspense all this builds is confusion, sighs and unintended humor.

The aforementioned John McFerrand’s score is one of the facets that heavily confuses the issue in this film. It sounds like the kind of antithetical music that makes a lot of giallo and Italian horror work but here it just seems to be terribly out of place, drown things out and distract from what the film is trying to accomplish. Just what that is at times is also confused, but you know what I mean.

Dialogue

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

What would a bad movie be without bad dialogue? It’s almost impossible. Much as great movies have memorable lines, bad movies do as well. A few gems that really stand out. Here are a few of those notable exchanges:

“Full of hate?”
“Hate.”
“Yes…That’s it….hate.”

“Do you think it was an accident or that she committed suicide?”
“I don’t know I think that’s for you to decide.”
“Yeah, right on. I think I’ll decide on suicide.”

“Lots of new things in this town lately waitresses, sharks, and ladies who call a taxi and take a bath.”

“A million years of solitude is a long time. I bet it’s just dying to boff something.”

Editing

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

In continuing the laundry list there is also a fair deal of editorial redundancy in this film. The uninspired editing is due to a number of factors namely the script and budget (which influences the tight schedule this film was made on). Aside from the vague shots of the fish that are supposed induce suspense there are also several shots cutting to Peter drinking repeatedly.

Those motifs aside there are mysterious individual cuts like a cutaway to slow-motion pan up phone line to a clock.

Some support for the effects of the schedule and budget can be found in a Michael Skopkiw online interview here:

I would love to know the definition or formula for a “cult classic”. Lamberto was a very nice, gentle guy as most of the Italians are. But you know, the budget on these films would prohibit a Ron Howard from making anything great! These directors are working with a cast from at least three different countries speaking diverse languages and a mixed crew of Italian /American production team on a very tight budget. Lamberto , like most of the foreign crew, loved coming to the States and drinking in as much of our culture as they could get. (The hills of Georgia have a unique personality somewhat portryed [sic] in this film.) We had a crisis one day as a holiday was approaching and the Iataian [sic] film crew wanted to get back to their families. We had been working for 13, I think, long consecutive days in freezing mountain water and adverse conditions and both the cast and Lamberto were wearing thin. The crew wanted to plow right through but I had a good talk with Lamberto and pointed out how the film suffered further if we just continued. He finally went to the producers and they gave us a day off (which they were contractually obliged to anyway). So he did have a heart and tried to do what he could with what he had.

However, the decisions are the decisions regardless of what forced them and many films have succeeded with small budgets and tight schedules, myriad examples of both exist running the gamut of genres.

Even when cuts aren’t technically awkward the narrative makes them aesthetically unintentionally comedic or uncomfortable like a cut from a dolphin to a legless corpse and a cross-cutting sequence between a sex scene (that’s fairly gratuitous) and a murder.

Blame

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

In terms of writing it could be the speed and the number of chefs in the kitchen that lead to a film that referring to as half-baked would be greatly generous.

As I’ve intimated before one cannot blame the inspiration for what the inspired do with it. Meaning that you can’t hold it against Psycho for the rash of slasher films that eventually took their cue from it. Similarly, Jaws cannot be held accountable for the rash of pale imitations telling tales of terrors from the deep.

Characterization

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

In this film the characters don’t really get established, they just are. If you need further evidence of this it gets reinforced later on when there’s a climactic scene, where the stakes should be high and the revelation is large and to an extent you’re confused as to who the parties are; therefore, you haven’t time to care about what they have to hide and what they have to gain.

Part of that has to do with how many characters there are and another part of it has to do with the dubbing. I’ve written on dubbing a few times. In short, my stance is that it can be an artform, there is a technique to it and it can be well done, but all too often it is not. In this film is most definitely a detriment. It’s not just about matching, but about performance, but when the same language is not being spoken on set you have a harder time creating a unified vision on film.

Backfiring

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

It seems almost impossible to say after all of this, however, all is not entirely lost in this film. However, in the true nature of this film that adds to the frustration instead of just imbuing a modicum of appreciation. There are themes that excised from the narratives are fine. There are permutations of the giant, monstrous fish tale that aren’t terrible.The isolated concept of manipulating science, the twists employed, underwater knife fights and not seeing the monster are fine when all has not already been lost. When the movie has already lost hope then these things just make it longer, more boring, unintentionally comedic and worse.

As if you needed further proof that there are things worth working with here this film was remade as Sharktopus on Syfy a few years back. Likely another wasteful effort, but there was something to mine there indeed.

Furthermore, touching on the aforementioned twist again, the mysteries this film plays hurt it. It’s a case where perhaps further, quicker revelation would have elevated it.

Conclusion

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

What is there to conclude about a film such as this? Not much different than other terrible movies that are of the MST3K ilk. I recall reading about The Beast of Yucca Flats and its making, or watching the special features on their take of Manos: Hands of Fate; what I got there was there’s always a story and that was the spirit I undertook this venture in. What was surprising was that I found more of a story than I expected. Having said all this, can I, as I did with Reefer Madness, recommend you watch this anyway? I can’t do so without aid from the Satellite of Love. Your tolerance for cheese has to be really high. If you want to see either Bava at their best I suggest you stray from titles where they were credited as being “Old,” unless you want to end up prematurely in that state yourself.

Review- Mission: Sputnik

One of the cornerstone moments in world history, at least during my upbringing, was the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and subsequently the Eastern Bloc. It was one of the first significant moments I was witness to on live television (and one of the early coups of the 24-hour-news network). As a child I understood its significance but its oncoming always seemed a bit of a mystery. What lead up to it all. Later, I would learn that it was nearly as sudden as it seemed.

It’s with such a youthful kind of eye that Mission: Sputnik tells its tale about children in the waining days of the Berlin Wall’s dividing Germany. The two keys to its success are the whimsy with which the tale is conveyed and the cloistered nature of the central characters; siphoning them from the adult/outside world allows them to believe more wondrous things are happening than actually are.

What this all alludes to is the mission that Frederike (Flora Thiemann) embarks on when her uncle Mike (Jacob Matschenz) is expelled from the GDR. She decides to amp up her experiments with teleportation to bring him back home with the help of her friends, with the backdrop of the Stasi cracking down on her hometown leading up to the town festival, which coincidentally falls on November 9th, 1989.

These experiments are inspired by an East German sci-fi show the kids watch, and allows a great balance in this film between childlike belief and innocence and perception. Another balancing act that occurs is between the comedic, fanciful aspect and the more dramatic moments with regards to fleeing East Berlin and the consequences of staying in town.

While there are clearly tropes at play here in this film it’s how they’re implemented here and what they play up against that make a majority of the difference between this film and standard family fare is made. Clearly, any film stretching the limits (at least a bit) of suspension of disbelief not only needs the proper touches in scoring, the editing room and direction, but also needs standouts in the cast. You get that here with the parents Yvonne Catterfeld and Maxim Mehmet and the kids Thiemann, Finn Fiebig, Luca Johanssen and Emil von Schönfels.

Another testament to this film is that despite the running time being brisk, coming in under 90 minutes, it does not feel too short or contradictorily languid. Its pacing is right on the money. This allows the film to be quick and enjoyable while the treatment and themes elevate it, giving it substance and fancy.

More often than not it is in our fictions that our histories live. Our fictions do not define our histories but they do pass them on and begin the discussions with future generations. The children playing the central characters in this film were likely not born in the 20th century, but are conveying a tale set against the fall of the Berlin Wall to their generation, and perhaps future ones. It’s a film worthy of starting the discussion because of how it treats the subject with a childish gaze of half-understanding through a maelstrom of oncoming sociopolitical upheaval.

9/10