Got tired of the dysfunctional Flixter Facebook app. Grading movies A-F. Only movies that I find interesting, but not necessarily high quality. Some blockbusters, some interesting rarities and oddities, and occasionally some turkeys.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Heavy Metal: Dated but not without interest

Heavy Metal (Collector's Edition) (1981)

You must put this movie in perspective. This is film history. The sex, violence and drug references are tiring and the animation looks lousy, but back in 1981 this was high end. Keeping in mind that the movie is over 30 years old, the animation is fantastic. It is a pioneering animation landmark. The animation was unparalleled for its time by making uses of early 3D rendering, Rotoscoping, panoramic landscapes, multiple moving sprites, and amazing detailed cross- hatching. And it's got an excellent soundtrack.

The film production started already in 1978, but due to legal issues around the soundtrack it wasn't released until 1981. The brilliant science fiction magazine of the same name, which began in Europe as Metal Hurlant and continued as the not so bright US version Heavy Metal, inspired the movie. The movie has a bunch of short cartoon stories that are loosely tied together. It's based upon stories or characters featured in the magazine, like Richard Corben ("Den") and Moebius ("Taarna"). This was the first animated heroine in an American made mainstream animated adult feature film. And the Best. Music. Ever.

Heavy Metal is like the magazine: a mixed bag of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, comedy, and erotica. Some of it is still interesting, some is not. It’s the animated movie equivalent to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This movie was never meant to win any Academy awards. It's a juvenile insight into drugs and sex, with some cool animation. It's the definition of my youth culture. Us guys in Swedish "gymnasium" (corresponding to US college) loved it for the animation and music. No wonder it's become a cult flick. Sometimes we take these things too seriously.

It's been the inspiration for and referenced in a number of movies, like The Fifth Element, Terminator, Dune, Brazil, Mad Max, Highlander, Alien, Total Recall, Ghostbusters, and Matrix.

Did I say that it got the best soundtrack ever?

Grade: Dunno. It's not meant for us middle-aged people, it was made for us back then. This is one of those movies aimed at the ages of 16 to 20. I’m to bias to give a serious grade.

Music from Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Devo, Donald Fagen, Don Felder, Grand Funk Railroad, Sammy Hagar, Journey, Nazareth, Stevie Nicks, Riggs, and Trust.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wizards: A Pioneering Cartoon

Wizards (1977  35th Anniversary Release)

Ralph Bakshi spoke at the WonderCon 2012 recently, which reminded me to watch his pioneering movie Wizards again. Watching Wizards as a teenager, a few months before I saw Star Wars, I was blown away by the animation.

In a post-apocalyptic earth, mankind is destroyed by a nuclear war. The only creatures to survive are fairies, pixies, dwarves and mutants. Two twin brothers are born to a fairy queen. One is good, the other is evil.

The evil son Blackwolf rediscovers ancient World War II technologies and some Nazi propaganda films that he uses to revenge and conquer the fairies and elves. Avatar, the good son, is a grumpy psychedelic wizard with the NSFW dressed fairy girlfriend Elinore. (But of course! It was made in the mid 1970s.) Blackwolf tries to assassinate his brother and assembles mutant forces against him, leading to the ultimate confrontation between the brothers and the fate of the world.

Wizards was sort of Ralph Bakshi's test-run for his cartoon version of Lord of the Rings. Watching the movie you get a smorgasbord of different animation techniques. There is conventional animation, Rotoscoping and overexposed film, sometimes being used in the same scene.

Wizards was 20th Century Fox's first animated film. It was intended to be a trilogy, but the budget was only 1 MUSD and Bakshi had to use Rotoscoping and stills with a narrator, to afford to finish the movie. In the 35th anniversary DVD rerelease of the movie, Ralph Bakshi says that when he asked Fox for a budget increase, they refused. At the same meeting, director George Lucas asked for a budget increase for Star Wars and was also refused.

As usual for most Bakshi movies, the plot is simple but anarchistic, the characters are engaging and the humor sporadic. The animation is rough, but it has innovative ideas. It's more like the dynamic motion depicted in comic book art.

Today, the movie feels a bit rough and uneven. For example Bakshi fills the end of the movie with pointless walking, driving, going, riding, etc. However, that gives the movie a charm that a slicker production wouldn't have.

The film is definitely worth viewing, for no other reason than the excellent artwork by IanMiller and Michael Ploog.

Wizards is a cult classic. It has inspired many modern movies, like Avatar.

It was nominated to the 1978 Hugo award.

Grade: A collector's movie.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Iron Sky - Nazi Zeppelins from Outer Space

Iron Sky (2012)

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe a B-movie with twisted story.

Iron Sky is a low budget steam punk (or rather Diesel punk) movie meets Star Trek the Next Generation, with a mother of all conspiracy theories storyline: Nazis on the dark side of the moon tries to take over the Earth.

It actually works. It’s fresh and different. It's one of those movies that you either love or just don’t understand.

It’s funny, but not a laugh-out-loud movie (tho some scenes are really funny). The humor and irony is both extremely obvious and pleasantly free from political correctness, and also surprisingly subtle at the same time. And the references these camp movies “must have” are well thought.*)

Iron Sky also has a surprisingly large amount of social criticism. Everything that is on screen is a target and being mocked. The Nazis are bad funny stereotypes, but the U.N. appears as narrow-minded as them. The US President quickly takes up the Nazi rhetoric when she realizes they can help her to be re-elected. (It’s a she.) And at times it seems that the Nazis, ridiculous as they may be, have more moral standards than the representatives of democracy.

The international cast and that a large part of the dialogue being held in German, brings credibility to the movie where it's needed. It surely works better to hear Nazis speaking German than English.

Being a low budget film it is quite surprising how good the movie technically is. The sound effects and the visuals are almost indistinguishable from most Hollywood CGI. The space battle at the end is first class.

Here and there you can see that the production is not world class, and some scenes could have been trimmed a bit. But that’s minor comments. You shouldn’t forget the context. Director Timo Vuorensola managed to pull through 90 % of a Hollywood blockbuster, with 5 % of the usual budget of a mindless action picture like Battleship. (Iron Sky 10 MUSD, Battleship 200 MUSD.) And Iron Sky is a way more interesting movie.

The wealth of ideas and inventiveness make Iron Sky an efficiently disrespectful, anarchistic comedy that never shies away from silly jokes.

Extra point for an unexpected ending.

Advisory -- after you have seen the movie, from now on, every time you pick up an iPhone you will hear inside your head "That is... not a computer!"

Rate: A

*) I found references to Downfall, Dr Strangelove, THX 1138, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Star Trek The Next Generation and Leni Riefenstahl's heroic and larger-than-life esthetic program is often quoted and ridiculed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Darkest Hour – A Series of Unfortunate Choices

The Darkest Hour (2011)           

I learnt three things from this movie: Moscow is a very good place to go night clubbing, Molotov cocktails are lying around in bus yards for teenage girls to find, and electromagnetic aliens can't see through windows (except when they can).

Two software geeks, Sean and Ben, arrive in Moscow to pitch something that is variously described as a "blog" or an "app", to a Russian investment group. At the business meeting, they discover they are double-crossed by their would-be Swedish business partner Skyler (played by Joel Kinnaman from Snabba Cash). He has stolen their blog-app-social thing and is selling it to the Russian investors on his own.

Whatever. Upset, but not disillusioned they plan to spend a night out to lick their wounds and distract themselves at a Moscow nightclub with perky female tourists Natalie and Anne. No to bad. Except, of course, that some barely visible electromagnetic creatures suddenly falls from the sky, feeding off of the world's electrical power supply.

The team manages to escape while the fireballs from outer space try to transform humanity into black slime. Our heroes get some help from a Russian inventor who makes an alien killing microwave gun. And from some badass Russian soldiers. Some of the gang survives. Somehow they discover there's a submarine leaving soon. They kill a few aliens and heads off to safety.

True, the movie does have a few interesting ideas, which prevent it from being just another apocalyptic B-grade sci-fi thriller. To be honest, I only saw this movie because of Timur Bekmambetov's the producer. One can easily guess that his name was only added to make sure more people would go and watch. Thankfully, the movie only runs at 89 minutes and doesn't waste too much time.

The idea of invisible aliens that only exist in the form of pure electrical or microwave energy isn't totally bad. The only way they can be detected is when they pass through an object powered by electricity. To bad nothing interesting is really done with the idea. Mostly it’s the compulsory flickering lights. When you can see the creatures, they resemble nothing more exciting than jellyfishes.

It’s like an Enid Blyton Famous Five story. Screaming and running, hiding, get discovered, escape (with occasional casualty) and running. Repeat. The story is moved forward by idiotic decisions made by the main characters and then more idiotic decisions made by the same characters. In the middle of the movie the script switches genres, exchanging decent survival horror for stupid resistance fighting Ghostbusters meets Mad Max style.

Hollywood complains that nobody wants to go to the movies, nobody is buying tickets, it's all the fault of file sharing, and we need more anti-piracy laws. Lemme tallya something! This film was heavily marketed, released in over 2000 theaters on Christmas Eve, and did terrible in the box office. Maybe if you had a screening process for scripts and gave creative control to directors and writers instead of a pile of producers, good, original work would be successful.

I can give some credit to The Darkest Hour for only spending fifteen minutes or so, before the aliens arrive.

Grade: F

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fritz the Cat: Epic. Yes, I mean it!

Fritz the Cat (1972)

It's hard to exaggerate the impact Fritz the Cat has had on today's cartoons. At the time it was made the cartoon tradition was declining. It was the transition between the sixties and seventies, when the US was at a crossroads with itself. Disney made harmless chartbuster family movies. Hanna-Barbera had lost it's charm and ruled the TV scene generating mediocre productions at a steady stream. The Academy winners in animation are completely forgotten today.

If you haven't any relationship with the late sixties and early seventies, don't bother about this movie. You probably don't get it.

Fritz the Cat did for animation what Lenny Bruce did for stand-up comedy. It is the antithesis of any animated film produced by Walt Disney. It was launched at the end of the hippie era and the height of the sexual revolution. Movies at that time were made either for the older generation or for families. This was the first for the college kids too young to be hippies, who just wanted to get out and rebel.

Fritz the Cat is a comic strip created by Robert Crumb. Basically it's a road movie and a clever satire on the pretentiousness of the 60s revolutionaries, drug romanticists and a smart comment on racism. Fritz's trippy surroundings and his pseudo-intellectual thoughts were part of the times. Yes, some feels juvenile, but almost all of the film's dialogue, except for a few of the main characters, was recorded entirely on the streets of New York, which make the dialogue is very spontaneous. Fewer films truly capture the raw edge of New York in the 70’s.

A landmark film for good or bad. South Park, Beevis and Butthead, and Family Guy – all have their heritage from Fritz the Cat.

This film is well worth the time.

Grade: A

My fav scene:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Man Who Saved the World: Sheer genius. Beyond bad.

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saved the World) 1982

The little-known Turkish quintessence of trash cinema has to be seen to be believed.

Two space cadets, Murat and Ali, crash-land on a desert planet. It’s a bit unclear if it’s Earth, but we learn from a commentator apparently cunning in astrophysics that "hundreds of thousands years had been passed and earth and planet systems in space turned into galaxy system."

While hiking across the desert, our heroes speculate that only women inhabit the planet. Encouraged of the thought Murat does his "wolf whistle", which he uses on attractive women. However, he blows the wrong tune. Instead of scantly clad females, they are attacked by skeletons on horseback, which they defeat in a hand-to-hand combat.

A strange looking guy with spikes around his head soon shows up and captures our heroes. He takes them to a gladiator arena and tells them he is actually from Earth, and is a 1,000-year-old Wizard. He seeks the ultimate power to take over the world, but unfortunately it has a shield of “concentrated human brain molecules” (which, by the way, looks exactly like the Death Star). The only way he can bypass this impenetrable defense is to use a human brain against it.

Apparently the planet has been under nuclear attack a number of times before. The surviving humans are living in a neo-primitive society (it looks like a mix of Conan the Barbarian and the Power Rangers). They bravely, but hopelessly fight back the villain.

The evil Wizard now tries to use the space cadets to destroy the few remains of human race. But our heroes escape once again and hide in a cave full of refugees, who already fled the villain's tyrannical rule. Murat falls I love with the only woman in the cave, who looks after the children.

Now zombies attack the cave and turn several of the children into more zombies. Our heroes flee the cave and find a local bar (which, by the way, looks exactly like the Mos Eisley Cantina). There, our heroes for no apparent reason start a bar fight, but the Wizard suddenly appears and captures them again.

Now the Wizard sends his Queen to seduce Ali, while he orders Murat to be brought before him and ask him to join his course to rule the world.

Murat declines and fights the wizard's pink shag-rug monsters and guardians in skeleton t-shirts. He takes a “golden human brain” from the wizard, which possesses "the power of Earth's ancestry".

Meanwhile, at Ali and the Queen, two assassin monkeys teleport into the room and try to strangle him. He abandons the Queen and joins the fight. Now laser-armed guards catch our heroes. The heroes are taken to the caves, where they are tied up with spiral phone cords and tortured by monkeys who pushes styrofoam blocks against their chest.

The Wizard senses that this torture isn't optimal, so he decides to bury them alive. Maybe being covered in dirt isn't the most painful torture ever devised. This really angers the Wizard and he goes like "how the hell did they survive my ultimate torture?!" So he decides to take them back to the gladiator arena. There the Wizard forces Murat against a giant monster, but Murat defeats the monster and flees.

Then Murat finds out that the brain is not the only golden loot around. There is also a golden sword, all made by "the 13th clan," who melted a mountain thousands of "space years" ago. Murat finds the sword in a cave defended by two golden ninjas.

Renewed by the sword's power, Murat goes to free Ali from the sorcerer's dungeon. Unfortunately, Ali is killed during the rescue.

Now Murat melts the golden sword and the golden brain, and forges them into a pair of golden magical gloves and super-jumping boots. Girded with his new gloves and boots, he searches for the Wizard to avenge his friend's death.

It all ends up with a big fight with gorilla suit aliens, party masks monsters and toilet paper-wrapped zombies. Murat jumps around to get face-to-face with his nemesis and karate chops him in half.

The film ends with a speech about the human brain being the strongest weapon in the universe.

Examples of the unforgettable script:
Murat: An unknown force pulls us to itself, we go far away from earth, our indicators don't work. I can't know what this force is, we are in a very dangerous situation, you need to be very careful.
Murat: Begin to your famous whistle, which no women can resist.
Ali: [Whistles]
Murat: You whistle it wrong.
Ali: Why?
Murat: Skeletons came instead of woman.
Ali: It doesn't seem it will finish, they are still coming, let's go over them.
Murat: That's what suit us, we must go beyond the space speed, be ready to welcome arrivers.
Ali: These are too ugly. It would be better if some girls come with mini skirts.
A genius work undoubtfully.

Not only does most of the movie consist of re-used footage from Star Wars as well as Soviet and American space program newsreel clips, the music has been ripped from other movies like Battlestar Galactica and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

You'll be spellbound, either horrified and unable to move, or laughing yourself into a coma.

Pay special attention to the demise of the golden-clad bad guy with the spiky head.

Don’t bother to search for the DVD. You can watch the full movie here:, 1 hour and 31 min. Sit back and enjoy a middle-aged Luke Skywalker proxy bounces around like a bunny and beats up/rips apart a series of Sesame Street rejects, Cylon rip-offs, Robbie the Robot, and a whole host of other people in ¢99 costumes to the Indiana Jones theme.

Night Watch: Excellent Russian movie!

Night Watch  Ночной дозор (Nochnoy Dozor) (2004)

It's the fight between the ancient magical Dark Force and Light Force set in modern Moscow. A thousand-year treaty between the forces has maintained a balance of power. The "Others" are humans with supernatural powers who work for either the Dark as Day Watchers, or the Light as Night Watchers, maintain the truce. But it doesn't stop either side from hatching plans that would give them an advantage.

The story is also about a cold war, where thousand years of cease-fire have developed a strict set of administrative rules, to make sure to keep the balance of power between the Dark and Light, between werewolves, vampires, magicians, witches and "shape shifters". Set against the backdrop of political intrigue and egoism, nothing and no one are ever quite what they seem.

There are no real altogether good people, and no genuine evil ones; the sides are not that different. And, more importantly, it is almost impossible to know who is actually right. By trying to do good the Light force also unleash great evil upon the world. And the Dark side only advocates total freedom. They do not destroy for evil, but to increase personal freedom, and they do have a point. In short, it's a world made up of gray, and you are left to decide for yourself what is right and wrong.

The story is seen from Anton, a somewhat averagely talented "Other" Night Watch agent. One night, while on patrol trying to rescues a young boy who got himself into trouble, he stumbles on a young woman who unknowingly is under a Dark Magician's curse. If she dies, the city will die with her. If she lives, even worse may befall the world. But there is something about that boy...

Nochnoy Dozor is an original and refreshing dark tale of the eternal battle between good and evil. The fight between Dark and Light is more allegorical than literal. It does not move into the technical meaningless psychobabble many Hollywood fantasy movies do, thus keeping much of the magic alive.

There are no real heroes. Anton has a "life sucks, so deal with it and don't whine" underlying attitude that I like.

The movie has great special effects and the unpredictable story is very engaging. It manages to combine fantasy with a political thriller: vampires and shape-shifters battling it out cold war style. It is really interesting to see how the distinction between good and evil is actually very blurred.

It’s a very Russian tale and very refreshing, like a 21st century Bulgakov or Strugatski.

(Note: I saw the original Russian release with English subtitles. The international dubbed version is 10 minutes shorter. And it does help if you have read the book.)

Grade: A
(Note: Upgraded the score 2017-05-14. I realized it's ageing very well.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alexander Dumas as a steampunk movie?!

I actually expected this movie to be really bad based on the previews. After the first five minutes, which were kinda entertaining, I thought, "maybe this won't be so bad"; I like Dumas and I like steampunk, and the costumes are extravagant and the production designs sophisticated. But it simply doesn't work. The mixed accents spoken through the film are irritating. The "fun" parts are mostly references to other movies (A Handful of Dollars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Eddie Izzard shows, etc). And the dialogs and script are so lame even Christoph Waltz couldn't save them.

Don't get me wrong, I expected a simple story with frivolous, light-hearted swashbucklers with nimble swordplay and charismatic characters, but the result is uneven and uninspired. Another example of Hollywood running out of ideas. Solution: take a script based on one of the most beloved adventure stories of all time and hack it to a video game movie.

Grade: B