A look at "Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy," a new Criterion release featuring "Alice in the Cities," "Wrong Move" and "Kings of the Road."
● Jackboots on Whitehall (DVD/VOD/Digital cable July 26) ● American Grindhouse (DVD/Hulu July 26)
by Steven Boone
The animated comedy "Jackboots on Whitehall" does its best to tweak every British stiff-upper-lip stereotype ever perpetuated in film and popular culture since World War II. This satire employs puppet animation techniques familiar from "Team America: World Police" and classic George Pal puppetoons, but with exquisite production design more akin to Wes Anderson's stop-motion "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Instead of marionettes or stop-motion, however, filmmakers Edward and Rory McHenry employ animatronic dolls enhanced with CGI.
The period detail in this account of Hitler's alt-reality occupation of London is stunning: a convincing re-creation of Whitehall, the road whose major landmarks comprise the seat of British government; the airship Hindenburg, which, in this reality, never blew up and now serves as a Nazi attack vehicle; Hadrian's Wall and the hills of Scotland; vintage fighter planes, palaces, tanks, luxury cars... Equally meticulous is the costuming, from Winston Churchill's pinstriped suit to the Raj soldiers' blue turbans.
While the McHenry brothers' puppets aren't articulated beyond some binary limb and neck movements, they are sculpted with such expressive character it's easy to suspend disbelief. Exuberant character voices help. Timothy Spall as a gruff Churchill, Alan Cumming as a fey Hitler and Tom Wilkinson as a simpering Goebbels play it lip-smackingly broad. Richard E. Grant portrays a tightly wound priest so perpetually furious that its possible he gave his entire performance through clenched teeth. Ewan McGregor lends the unlikely farm boy hero some warmth. Along the way, some downright filthy jokes fly by almost subliminally, under kids' radar (including a visual joke last seen in "Boogie Nights"). In fact, so much of the humor is adult, whether in raunchiness or complexity, that Jackboots on Whitehall is less a family film than one for liberal parents and their precocious teens. The DVD includes a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary that details just how much love went into this handcrafted epic.
Call it a bloodbath. Not literally, of course, but it sure felt like one.
It was a Friday afternoon in late spring 1993 at The American Film Institute. The Class of 1992, which had pretty much killed itself making short films ("cycle projects") since starting the program in September, was waiting for a list. Dreading it, too. Because everybody'd known all year that of 168 "Fellows," as AFI calls them --- only 40 (or just 8 across 5 disciplines - directing, producing, cinematography, editing, production design) would be invited back, making that coveted Second Year cut for the opportunity to produce a second year film.
A top secret selection committee debated late into the day. Even I, then Special Projects Coordinator and right hand to the Dean of Studies, didn't know who was meeting. There was tension everywhere, clinging like the humidity of a Midwestern summer, as the committee decided, and the Fellows waited.
From the opening shot of "Cutter's Way" -- my favorite movie of the 1980s.
... and speaking of critical "best of" movie lists, here's a swell one called "50 Lost Movie Classics," from The Guardian. I might quibble with the terms "lost" (how "lost" can they be, when so many of them are available on DVD?) or "classics" (a "masterpiece" can be lost or overlooked, but can a "classic"?). But it is what it is. A group of British critics and filmmakers chose 50 movies (I have no quibbles with either of those terms) that... well, allow Philip French to explain: This isn't just another list of great movies. It's a rallying cry for films that for a variety of reasons -- fashion, perhaps, or the absence of an influential advocate, or just pure bad luck -- have been unduly neglected and should be more widely available. You know that feeling when someone hasn't heard of a film you've always loved and you want to show it to them? Or, in a different way, when you get annoyed because a picture hasn't been accorded the position you think it deserves in cultural history or the cinematic canon? That's the sort of film we have included on this list.And now, please permit me to add my own huzzahs for a few of the selections, several of which have also been featured on my personal "ten-best" lists over the years -- or would have been, in the event that I had made one that year. (And some were released before I was born, OK?) Several of these have already been discussed here at Scanners. Here are just a few of the choices I'd particularly like to second:
"Petulia" (Richard Lester, 1968) -- use the link to read about the opening shot."The State of Things" (Wim Wenders, 1982) -- one of the best movies about movies ever. And "Stranger Than Paradise" was made using the leftover b&w stock."Newsfront" (Phillip Noyce, 1979) -- charming account of Aussie newsreelers."Fat City" (John Huston, 1972) -- best boxing movie ever (and, yes, I include "Raging Bull" and "Rocky")."Ace In the Hole" aka "The Big Carnival" (Billy Wilder, 1951) -- no excuse for this to still be unavailable on DVD."3 Women" (Robert Altman, 1977) -- just watched it again the night Altman's death was announced and was thrilled to find it as mesmerizing as ever..."Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" (David Lynch, 1992) -- although I think the series is by far the best work Lynch has ever done, I didn't "get" this one when it came out. Now I think it's genius (and should be double-billed with "Mulholland Drive")."Safe" (Todd Haynes, 1995) -- my choice for best movie of 1995."Housekeeping" (Bill Forsyth, 1987) -- my choice for best movie of 1987."The Parallax View" (Alan J. Pakula, 1974) -- NOT "Alan J. Parker" as The Guardian has it, fer cripes sake!!! Gripping paranoid thriller -- with a fight atop my beloved Space Needle!"Dreamchild" (Gavin Millar, 1985) -- nice double-bill with "Pan's Labyrinth," I think."The Ninth Configuration" (William Peter Blatty, 1980) -- I see a big moon risin'..."Cutter's Way" (Ivan Passer, 1981) -- my choice for the best movie of the 1980s."Wise Blood" (John Huston, 1979) -- I don't think I've ever fully recovered from the scars this one left on me."Two-Lane Blacktop" (Monte Hellman, 1971) -- this does qualify as a cult classic."'Round Midnight" (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986) -- Dexter Gordon as a version of Dexter Gordon, in gorgeous widescreen. One of the best evocations of cinema as jazz, and vice-versa."Grace of My Heart" (Allison Anders, 1996) -- pop music history mix-and-match (not unlike "Velvet Goldmine" in that respect) with terrific songs co-authored by Brill Building vets and contemporary artists. I watch this one over and over. Made me fall in love with Illeana Douglas.
Some of the choices I haven't seen: "Ride Lonesome," "Jeremy," "Under the Skin," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," "The Low Down," "Quiemada!," "The Hired Hand," "Le Petomane," "Bill Douglas Trilogy," "Babylon," "Day Night Day Night" (just missed it in Toronto!), "The Day the Earth Caught Fire," "The Mad Monkey," "Terence Davies Trilogy" (not sure what individual titles they mean to include, but "The Long Day Closes" was my best movie of 1992 -- or was it 1993 in the US?). And there are others the list reminds me to revisit (like Monte Hellman's "Cockfighter") because it's simply been too long.
Take a peek and let us know which ones you treasure (or don't) -- and maybe suggest some additional titles for such a list...
Q. After seeing 'Hannibal's" extremely graphic violence, I wonder how the people who decide film ratings have an ounce of credibility left. When the film "Clerks" came out, it almost got an NC-17 rating due to language. Now we have a movie like 'Hannibal" with gory scenes that remind me of "Day of the Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead." How in the world can they give 'Hannibal" an R rating and not look like a bunch of monkeys? (Kayvan Koie, Plainfield, Ind.)
PARK CITY, Utah -- This was an especially satisfying Sundance Film Festival. Day after day, clicking off three to four screenings, I became heartened by the good health of independent films. Of course, thanks to the dumbed-down movie distribution system and bookers with blinders, some of the films I liked most may never play in some cities (or states). But at least they exist, and thank God for cable and video stores.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. - "Election," "Boys Don't Cry" and "Being John Malkovich" were multiple award winners Saturday at the 15th annual Independent Spirit Awards - but 79-year-old Richard Farnsworth stole the show while winning as best male lead for his work in "The Straight Story."
Q. In your review of "Sleepy Hollow," you refused to reveal the actor who plays the Hessian Horseman, but the billboards for the film boldly display the unmistakable (name deleted) alongside Johnny Depp. Do you think knowing too much about a movie ruins the film for the audience? I recently saw "Being John Malkovich" having read the script on the internet, and I was pleasantly surprised that the ending was different in the film. I am going to try harder to allow a film to work its magic on me without me being tainted by too much information. (Raul Borja, Los Angeles CA)
PARK CITY, Utah How long has it been since I saw a film that was really scary, instead of just going through the motions of scary? Most horror films are merely exercises in ritualized surprise, but a low-budget film titled "The Blair Witch Project" shook up Sundance Film Festival audiences with its gathering sense of menace.
CANNES, France -- Bouncing along the Croisette, the seafront boulevard in Cannes, Allen and Albert Hughes are in a good mood. The twins are on their way to a panel discussion featuring the top independent American filmmakers at the film festival. Their first feature, "Menace II Society," plays here in a few days and will open all over America on May 28. Major studios are bidding for their next project. They have just turned 21.