Screen Junkies » cult http://www.screenjunkies.com Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Wed, 06 Aug 2014 00:58:01 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.3.1 The Film Cult Presents: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/the-film-cult-presents-the-adventures-of-baron-munchausen/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/the-film-cult-presents-the-adventures-of-baron-munchausen/#comments Fri, 25 Apr 2014 16:42:25 +0000 Philip Harris http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=261242 WARNING! SPOILER ALERT! Today, I review one of the lesser known classics in fantasy filmmaking: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. While its overarching plot is a successful battle against the...

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WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!

Today, I review one of the lesser known classics in fantasy filmmaking: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. While its overarching plot is a successful battle against the Ottoman Empire, the detail and delight in this film are both astronomical, and in one scene, quite literally.  You’d be hard pressed to find another film as fantastically rendered as the Baron.

Beyond fighting the Ottoman empire, the more-focused plot is a feverish jump between past and present, both of which become as ambiguously mingled as fact and fiction. The Baron, who is believed to be a mythical character, is being portrayed in a play within the movie. Said play is being acted by down-and-out, bit players who are doing all they can to entertain an audience constantly distracted by artillery attacks from the Turks beyond the city walls. When an old man appears, claiming to be the real Baron Munchausen, everyone scoffs. That is, until the set is transformed into a Turkish pavilion, a pipe-organ plays an opera called “The Torturer’s Apprentice,” and an entire fortune in gold is won in a bet over a bottle of port. And believe you me, this is just the beginning.

From there, we go to the moon to meet a king with a detachable head, played by a strangely uncredited Robin Williams. Using a rope to climb off the point of the crescent moon, the Baron, accompanied by an angelic yet street-wise Sarah Polley and Monty Python alum Eric Idle, falls from space—wait, a word about space in this movie. This is what I love about films. I saw this movie in 1988. My grandmother took my brother and me to a tiny, independent movie house called The Rialto in South Pasadena. She said that if it was too scary we could leave. As an eight year-old, sitting in that red velvet chair between my little brother and my elegant grandmother, by the time the Baron and his merry band of misfits are climbing down a rope attached to the moon, the gears of the universe moving around them, the signs of the horoscope literally swimming past them, I knew we weren’t leaving. To see space expressed with such imagination, such fantasy—that’s what I loved and still love about the possibility of film. Sorry, I digress.

 

From the moon, we fall to the center of the earth where we encounter Venus, played by Uma Thurman herself in one of her first roles. Her on-screen husband, Oliver Reed as Vulcan, smashes coal into diamonds for her. When the Baron begins to make eyes at Venus—and after they literally waltz on air in a ballroom made of fountains and clouds—Vulcan becomes angry and they’re thrown into a whirlpool which drops them in the middle of the ocean where they’re promptly eaten by a giant fish. I won’t tell you what happens next because I’m not really sure what happens next.

A box office failure, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen never got its due rewards. Many blame the ending, which to be honest is the most vague, strangely written endings I’ve ever encountered. I’ve seen this movie easily 50 times, and I’m still unclear as to what happens. Terry Gilliam—the film’s long-suffering, tormented genius director—famously said that five more minutes could have saved the movie. I don’t need five more minutes. It’s brilliant as it is. I wish it’d been a commercial success because I would have loved to have seen more movies like this, more films that take one’s imagination on a true journey. There are no metaphors here. That actually is space. That isn’t a painting of the Venus; that is Venus.

As far as themes go, Baron is yet again pretty special. The theme isn’t something as boring as love. It’s not about heroes or faith or anything as banal as good vs. evil. The ultimate theme is deeper than these. As the Baron tells his adventure stories to the citizens of a city under siege, he becomes younger. His wrinkles fade and he stands taller, newly filled with life. His storytelling, real or not, keeps the literal manifestation of death at bay. Joan Didion once wrote that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen tells us that stories keep us young. As long as we can tell our stories, as long as there’s a chance that the Baron’s adventures could be real, death will remain in the shadows and the war will stay on the other side of the wall.

A classic in my family, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen has given my brother and me lines to confuse people with since we first saw it at The Rialto: “Open the gates!”;”Beautiful ladies,” and the sing-songy, “What will become of the Barrrrroooonn?” among them. With an uncredited role by Sting, an uncredited role by Terry Gilliam himself, and a starring role by the stunning John Neville, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen has never gotten the kind of respect it deserves. While a commercial failure, critically it was received well by almost anyone who has ever seen it, myself included. So snatch a rose, grab your snuff box, and use your knickers and petticoats to fly away into the angelically clouded skies of your imagination.

 

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The Film Cult Presents: Battle Royale http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/the-film-cult-presents-battle-royale/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/the-film-cult-presents-battle-royale/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 17:10:28 +0000 Philip Harris http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=260654 WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! Battle Royale got a lot of press when the first Hunger Games movie came out. Hipsters were up in arms with protestations of “Rip off!” and “It’s...

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WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

Battle Royale got a lot of press when the first Hunger Games movie came out. Hipsters were up in arms with protestations of “Rip off!” and “It’s been done!” I like to give The Hunger Games the benefit of the doubt. It’s not exactly the same movie. Don’t get me wrong, the similarities are striking: both based on a novel about a bunch of kids thrown together and forced to kill each other. There the similarities end, though. I know; I know. Those are big similarities, practically the entire premise of both movies being identical. True. True. But, The Hunger Games is a YA movie about Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth looking really hot in melodramatic circumstances. Battle Royale isn’t about heartthrobs. The Hunger Games is also a meditation on the nature of reality television. Battle Royale is about discipline, about keeping children in order, which I’m all for. I wouldn’t say I’m all for letting them go at each other with automatic weaponry, but I’m all for keeping them in line.

But, back to melodrama for a moment. Both of these movies thrive on melodrama. Where The Hunger Games uses melodrama in the District Twelve—the gray tones, the glory of being a baker of stony bread—Battle Royale uses melodrama in flashbacks fit for a Lifetime movie. These flashbacks, however, are used to establish and deepen characters. Does it work? Hard to say. The flashbacks are shot with enough feathered filtering to make Robert De Niro look like Nicole Ritchie. It works in that we now know more about the characters, thus making us more invested than we were before. Could the flashbacks be better? Oh, sure. But, then again, this is Japanese horror we’re talking about. Character development is hardly a subtle venture.

I’d be remiss to discuss the violence in Battle Royale. Talk about melodrama! People are gettin’ sliced and shot all over this island. You’re definitely expecting it, but it’s still totally unnerving when they shoot the first kid in the briefing room. Once out in the wild of Okishima, the blood and flesh fly like a haircut by Edward Scissorhands. Operatic in its ubiquity, the violence of Battle Royale starts off unnerving, moves into being almost humorous with its schlocky goriness, and then, which I’m assuming was director Koushun Takami’s ultimate point, becomes everyday, natural.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Stellan Skarsgard discusses his latest controversial take as Seligman in Lars von Trier’s much-hyped Nymphomaniac films. Discussing the ubiquitous  body parts, he states,  “Showing body parts…eventually becomes as normal as eating porridge in the morning.” And so it is with the violence in Battle Royale. It’s exciting at first, disturbingly graphic, but by the end, you understand that these are the rules. This is the world. People kill each other, and they’ll do it to survive, and they’ll do it to love whom they want.

While a meditation on the discipline of children and a statement on the numbness we experience in the face of constant violence, Battle Royale is also about how children hold the passwords to the future. It’s a beautiful comment on the technological gap between the current first-world youth and the generation before them. In any school in the world, in any family, it’s the nerdy kid who has the power. He or she instinctively knows what their adults will never master when it comes to using modern-day technology. Have you ever tried to teach your father how to use Instagram? I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s the nerdy kids that will save the world. They’re the ones who will override the security system and beat the game developers at their own game.

Battle Royale hits all the notes The Hunger Games didn’t. There are no heartthrobs or politically disenfranchised hillbilly’s trying to scrape a life together coal mining and studying mushrooms in the Appalachia . Battle Royale is about uniformed children learning to fend for themselves on a deserted island, an island whose natural beauty is the perfect backdrop for the kinds of exquisite murders and suicides that are the meat and potatoes of any self-respecting Japanese fairy tale. Currently available on Netflix live, Battle Royale deserves a night of your attention. Just make sure you’ve already eaten.

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The Film Cult Presents: Death Becomes Her http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/the-film-cult-presents-death-becomes-her/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/the-film-cult-presents-death-becomes-her/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 17:03:48 +0000 Philip Harris http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=260424 “Now a warning!?” Obviously Meryl Streep is a genius. Within my lifetime I think she may break Katharine Hepburn’s record for most best actress Oscars. The Great Kate has four,...

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“Now a warning!?”

Obviously Meryl Streep is a genius. Within my lifetime I think she may break Katharine Hepburn’s record for most best actress Oscars. The Great Kate has four, her first in 1934 and her last in 1982. Poor Meryl only has three, her first in 1979 and her most recent in 2011 for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. If only Meryl had been nominated for her consummate portrayal of Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her. If only the Academy had realized her true artistic acuity. Then again, they didn’t nominate her for her work in She Devil, so I guess it makes sense they’d overlook Death Becomes Her.

Death Becomes Her is not a great movie. It may not even be a good movie. Still, it’s pretty freakin’ awesome. With only a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it remains one of those strange, one-off films by cinema greats that becomes a cult to its most ardent fans. With material so wacky and a plot line that sort of dissipates half way through, it’s the star power of Meryl, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis, along with some amazing, if not a tad dated, special effects that make this movie a gem.

The premise is simple: a love triangle complicated by a pink potion that reinstates a person’s optimum beauty and renders the drinker immortal. Streep, Hawn, and Willis are the love triangle, and their chemistry throughout the movie is not only believable but hilarious. For some reason you believe Streep and Hawn are former best friends. I can see them right now having lunch in Santa Monica, gossiping while their salads go untouched. And Willis is just attractive enough as a the dorky Dr. Menville to make him worth fighting over. When the elixir of life is thrown into the mix, all hell (and bone density) breaks loose.

This film is most famous for its special effects and one liners. When the tensions of the love triangle reach their crescendo, physical fights break out in absurdly delectable ways. And yet, there they are, happening right before your very eyes. They shoot each other through the stomach (“And I can see right through you!”) They push each other down the stairs (“You’re in the shit house now pal!”) And they bash each other in the bean with shovels (“Will you please put your head on straight so I can talk to you?”) The scene where Streep’s body adjusts back to its former glory is still believable some twenty-odd years later.

Let’s talk about cameos. I’m not sure you could call Isabella Rossellini’s role a cameo, as she’s pretty fundamental to the story. But, I just can’t believe they got her to do it. She’s the forever young Lisle Von Rhuman, living in a Gothic palace somewhere above Sunset Boulevard. She’s wears necklaces as blouses, and yes, that’s Fabio as her body guard. Her acting is so deliciously over the top that every time she appears, you just hope for more. When she reappears in the third act, stepping out of a pool completely nude, you almost cheer. Other notable cameos are Sydney Pollack as the uncredited doctor, who examines Streep’s living dead body, and the late great Alaina Reed-Hall who turns in a great performance as Hawn’s long-suffering psychologist.

Turning in another uncredited performance is Los Angeles itself. Without ever really saying it, the only way any of this seems plausible is the fact that it’s all going down in LA. Only in LA is Greta Garbo still hiding out after drinking Rossellini’s potion. Only in LA are we willing to give up everything to live forever in perfect beauty, always remembered as the stars we once were. LA is the gilded lint trap for the rest of the country, catching all the once-beautifuls and the gorgeous dreamers in its palm fronds. Here, no one notices if your skin needs a touch-up because it’s starting to crack and reveal the dead gray beneath. Everyone is too busy hustling their own dream to notice the dead bodies in the back of the church or the car being pushed over Mulholland Drive. No one will notice you shot your best friend through the stomach, for as Streep confidently declares after Willis is worried about people hearing the gunshot, “Neighbors? In twelve years in Los Angeles, have you ever seen a neighbor?”

Like I said, Death Becomes Her is not a great movie, but it’s indelible kook is irresistible. It still plays on the premium channels all the time, and everyone I know can quote it for hours (“Make some room from for my friend for Christ’s sake. But, keep your ass handy.”) And, did I mention it won an oscar for best special effects? It did, and rightly so. While maybe not a critically acclaimed classic, it’s a comedy cult classic that I, and millions of others (mostly gay men, sure) are proud to call a favorite.

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