Friday, December 9, 2011

The Kingdom of Survival

Exciting news, fans of documentaries.  I received a message via the Facebook that The Kingdom of Survival, by pirate M.A. Littler (whom I interviewed for Z Magazine a while back), will be available 12/10/11.  It includes "tons of subversive bonus footage" and will be sold at a "reduced X-Mas season price."  Get it while you can.  I've seen the film.  It is worth it at full price.  Hell, get one for your conservative relatives, too.  Tell them it's a Tea Party thing.  They may be stunned by how much they agree with some of the ideas put forth.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I was given this film to review quite some time ago.  Links should not get me a commission.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Orgy of the Dead -- Best Movie Title Ever

Okay, yes this film is from 1965, and yes Ed Wood Jr. wrote it, but the title -- it's great.  If Orgy of the Dead was released today I'd see it on title alone.  Of course, if this were the film that was released, I'd be disappointed because this is the usual Wood-style mess.

To be clear, Wood wrote it (and the book it was based on).  A.C. Stephen (really Stephen C. Apostolof) directed it.  It is, for all intent and purpose, a Wood film.  Criswell is in it!  Come on.

I've seen the film ... once.  I was intrigued by the title.  I knew a little of the plot ... or what was said to be the plot.  (Please don't ask me to explain.)  What I got was a movie with a really cool title followed by the most disjointed and boring mess you could have in a film that features several topless ladies.  There's a graveyard.  A werewolf.  I don't know.  I think alcohol was key in the creation of this story.

Orgy of the Dead is one of those films where the only thing going for it is the title.  I'm sure it suckered quite a few people into seeing it at the time it was released.  I knew better than to think it would be good, but the title intrigued me so much that I had to take a gander at it. To be quite honest, it's such a wreck I kind of want to read the book, too, but I don't feel like paying a premium price for it.

Ed Wood Jr. and crew are an acquired taste.  There are moments of surreal brilliance, but they are accidental and not the sign of genius.  Wood, if anything, came up with great titles, but that's about it.  His films can be amusing in very strange ways, but the if Orgy of the Dead teaches us anything, it's that amusing can only get you so far ... even if you have a lot of bare breasts involved.


You don't have to love horror movies, silent films, or Germany to admire F.W. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (usually known simply as Nosferatu).  The iconic images of actor Max Schreck (a fine German name) as Count Orlok are known the world over.  Even if you've never seen the film, which I find strange, you have seen the images.  Hell, they set the standard for vampire and horror movies.

The film is an adaptation (unauthorized) of Dracula.  There are changes from the book since this was unauthorized, but the story remains essentially the same.  The story isn't what matters, though.  It was the way it was shot that really made an impact on audiences and future and filmmakers.

Murnau's work is the epitome of German Expressionist film.  Everything from the lighting to the sets are composed is textbook.  Some have said that the perfection dilutes the film somewhat, but I would argue those views have been tainted by time.  I have no doubt that were I sitting in pre-Hitler Germany with an audience we would be scared silly.  As someone who has seen far too many horror movies, the film doesn't outright scare me, but it is a moody production that still works its way under the skin.  That's also due in no small part to Schreck.

Before vampires glittered or wore frilly shirts while dancing around New Orleans, Schreck made Orlok rat-like with deliberate movements and some real pathos.  Viewers can't help but be attracted to him and repulsed at the same time.  Few vampire movies have been able to pull that off since, and I have to say that Orlok's screen time is by far my favorite vampire moments on film.

In this age of Twilight it's always good to go back and revisit the masters.  Today's audiences have largely forgotten this film, instead more interested in "Teams," but that doesn't disqualify it as a piece of historic, influential cinema.  I guarantee a hundred years from now people will still be talking about this one (assuming the Mayans aren't right), and Twilight will be but a footnote in cinematic history.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I was not sent this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Violence of Munich

I did not see Munich back when it was released in 2005.  I liked the idea behind the story, and I'm a fan of Eric Bana.  What I'm not a fan of is Steven Spielberg (director) handling "serious" material.  Mossad agents hunt down members of Black September after their own agents carry out a terrorist event at the Olympics.  That's serious stuff, and it is, of course, based on a true story.  I don't mind Spielberg's lighter efforts, but when it comes to the heavy stuff I think he fumbles the ball more times than not.

This was one of those times I was wrong.

Munich is a good film.  It's even an important film.  It says a lot about the ideas of revenge, state-sponsored violence, terrorism, and, perhaps most importantly, what this does to people.

Bana plays the head of a group of assassins sent by Israeli government to make Black September pay for its transgressions.  What follows is a series of assassinations that start to take their toll on the group.  They are isolated from friends, family and even their own government and are forced to deal with people who have little in the way of morals or values.  In the end this leaves some of them dead and the others paranoid to the point of insanity.  These are some of the same themes I've dealt with in my writing, and I find them fascinating.

Violence does some strange things to people.  It empowers them.  It destroys them.  It empowers others.  It destroys others.  It propels stories and changes lives.  It's something you can't take back no matter how hard you try.  Spielberg's film wasn't trying to tackle this on a worldwide level (which would have been a mistake), but it was trying to show it at a governmental level that is akin to a tiny war.  Bana and his men were soldiers, only they had no country and no spiritual backing.  They were on their own, with only Israeli money spurring them on.  If anyone came out of this film not believing this sort of thing goes on, they missed the idea that it goes on everywhere.  People are used by their governments to do the governments' dirty work.  They don't get the health benefits and pride of being a paid soldier with a uniform and a country to call their own.  They are ghosts, and in the end that leads to perhaps the film's most interesting question:  What if the government you are working for is lying?

I don't think Munich will change anyone's life.  I was wrong to dismiss it, however.  Spielberg, who only directed the story and did not write it, crafted a powerful movie.  I also take offense to the critics who thought Spielberg was wrong in delivering the question of whether or not Bana and his crew were terrorists like those of Black September.  Looking at the pull Israel has with our media and our government, I must say I am not surprised that people would think this, and I don't even think that was Spielberg's intent.  He was simply throwing out the idea that violence, no matter for what reason, has direct consequences and if you are following someone else's orders, you better be sure you can trust what they are telling you ... and can that ever be possible?  The terrorists in this film believed in what they were doing.  The agents who went after them, some of whom wanted revenge, were essentially doing a job.  If there was another group that could be called terrorists, it wasn't Bana's group, it was the government who paid them, and maybe that is where the critics' real contention lies, though they would never say that in a public forum.

Governments are capable of great evil.  It can be a bomb dropped in Japan, or a man gunned down on a street.  Spielberg was not reminding us of this.  He took for granted that we already know this at one level or another.  He also took for granted that we all believe terrorists act as terrorists do, and this is to be expected.  What I believe Spielberg wanted us to take from the movie is that while governments are capable of great evil, it can't be done without someone carrying out the plans.  And that is something we can stop ... if we really wanted to.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this movie to review, which you could easily determine from the first paragraph.  If you click on a link, however, I may earn a commission.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Sinful Dwarf XXX Style

I recently received my hardcore copy of The Sinful Dwarf from the always reliable Diabolik DVD.  Why would I purchase such a disgraceful and admittedly disturbing film?  It's got a sinful dwarf in it!  Forced heroin addiction!  Forced prostitution!  Singing!  Creepy sexual assaults with a cane!  What's not to love?  You'd be hard pressed to find another film like this in the year it came out (1973), or any other year for that matter.  Plus, I was going to have a few viewing parties.

The first viewing party went exceedingly well.  Good company.  Good conversation.  Good observations.  (There were times I felt like Joe Bob Briggs was sitting beside me due to the amount of commentary my viewing partner was making about breasts.)  We even delighted in finding the four minutes that took this movie from an R rating to XXX.  (It's obvious once you watch it.)  It was a fun time, and it made me want to do even more viewing parties with various odd films.

Now, this movie is not everyone's style.  I'll also admit that is really not a "good" filmby any kind of standard definition.  The acting is odd.  The dialogue is by-the-numbers.  The story is just sitting there.  Throw all the elements together, though, and you get this film that almost defies explanation.  I've written about it before on this blog, so I won't go into the entire story again, but I want people to know that if I don't invite you over to see this one, it isn't because I hate you (though there's a good chance of that), it's because it's one of those films that I think could scar you.  Not in the same way Irreversible would, but in a decidedly twisted and terrifying way, and while I find that sort of thing funny, I don't want to be sued for therapy bills.  ("I swear, doc, all I keep seeing every time I close my eyes is that little ... thing ... drooling!")  The person I saw it with requested to see it, as did one of the two members of the next viewing party.  (The second member is not so excited to see it, but that is really a long story I don't want to get into.)

What I'd really like is if the person I watched it with commented here with what she thought of it, as I'm sure that would be interesting to read.  And as for the next film?  That's tough, but I think I might go with The Manson Family.  I like watching that about once a year, and its time is due.