Alan Smithee Podcast 98: Manhunter (1986) / Red Dragon (2002)

Can’t wait for the True Detective season finale? Listen to us re-solve the long-closed case of The Tooth Fairy killer, twice!

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Alan Smithee Podcast 85: Red Planet (2000, Antony Hoffman) / Mission to Mars (2000, Brian De Palma)

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In this episode of an Alan Smithee Podcast we conclude our two-part look at Mars on film for the month of Mars…March. Unlike our previous episode, these Mars movies portray a more benign look at the planet’s inhabitants (benign to the point of boredom in one case) and center around visits to the formidable fourth rock from the sun rather than invasions from it.

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Red Planet was not the first of the two Mars movies to come out in 2000, but it was certainly the lesser. Misrepresented as some kind of horror film, the story is an extremely directionless account of astronauts on a mission to repair terraforming technology installed on Mars due to Earth becoming uninhabitable. What happens next is so boring and inane that the Mars’ stature in popular imagination as a place of wonder, mystery and danger is irreparably reduced in the mind of the viewer. The mostly-talented cast helps add a moment or two. Val Kilmer is a total pro, as always, but one-and-done director Antony Hoffman’s mise-en-scene is even blander than the screenplay. It’s a real waste of a planet.

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Mission to Mars is an entirely other kind of space exploration film, one in which the danger of Mars is primarily the matter of getting there, as the title implies. The purpose of the mission is to unravel a mystery with echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey – echoes so strong that the entire mainstream critical establishment seemed to dismiss the film out of hand as another case of Brian De Palma being unoriginal (a charge Quentin Tarantino stopped having to defend by embracing his lack of originality, but no matter.) Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise and Don Cheadle are all very good at selling the human drama which leads up to a heavy sci-fi conclusion that actually has a point, unlike Red Planet.

Download this episode and get your ass to Mars – again!

NEXT EPISODE: WE’RE LATE FOR PASSOVER! THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988, MARTIN SCORSESE) & THE PASSOVER PLOT (1976, MICHAEL CAMPUS)

Alan Smithee Podcast 78: The Blues Brothers (1980, John Landis) / Blues Brothers 2000 (1998, John Landis)

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The Blues Brothers is one of the great all-time overrated “great” ideas (and movies) of all time. Andrew and I wanted to like it, truly we did, but even if the gulf between overhyped expectations and the film itself weren’t so yawningly wide, there’s nothing but sheer scale to recommend – the amount of music, the amount of stunts, the multitudes of wasted cast members – all of which were compiled along the edict of “more is more.” In this way John Landis was somewhat visionary towards the way the film was developing in the new decade of the 80s. The Blues Brothers is the terrible poverty of imagination heralded by “Star Wars,” applied to a non-fantasy film, and to a comedy about “blues men” for heavens’ sake – historically the salt of the Earth. This is a bad live action cartoon before the second dialogue scene has elapsed.

“The Blues Brothers” aren’t real characters; they’re a premise conceived so two white comedians got to do live Karaoke of old music they like. Nothing wrong with that, but expanding that nothing premise into a two-plus hour film is, let’s say, overconfident. This hasn’t stopped any film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch since, which is another grievance to hold against Messrs. Ackroyd, Belushi and Landis. To cover up the lack of content – they don’t even bother developing Elwood and Jake Blues into anything but two dimensional caricatures – there are endless guest stars in every scene, and where there aren’t guest stars, there are explosions and car chases courtesy of Landis, who at this point was still at least two years away from the day his lack of talent killed three.

The wholly superficial nature of the film, with its repeated catchphrases (“We’re on a mission from God” does not does not get any funnier the tenth time), repeated music cues (the Peter Gunn theme is admittedly catchy) and stunts for their own sake are all supposed to be offset by egomaniacal reason behind the film’s creaction: to “re-focus attention” on blues music (as Landis phrased it on the eve of its 25th anniversary.) Ah, the White hipster’s burden; bringing black culture to other, less cool white people than yourself. These delusional jerks actually thought James Brown and Aretha Franklin wouldn’t sell enough white tickets if Landis hadn’t poorly directed cameos for them.

By perpetuating this farce with the lesser (Jim) Belushi after the latter Belushi left this unhip coil, Ackroyd was just as much to blame for the excruciating continuance of the Chicago-deep-dish-style White-guy-“Blues” movement. In the late 90s, after probably his first exhaustively failed attempt to spearhead “Ghostbusters 3″, he resorted to the maybe the feeblest nostalgia cash-in in movie history: Blues Brothers 2000, a 20th anniversary sequel made two years too early and with even less goodwill than if they’d attempted to remake the original film tomorrow. Which, come to think of it, ought to be any day now.

“Blues Brothers 2000″ is every bit as pointless, poorly made, and frantically stocked with guest stars and musicians to mask the pointlessness – except Landis and Ackroyd no longer have even the reckless confidence of youth at their backs.

Sacred cows AND dead horses get what’s coming to them in this highly iconoclastic episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.

NEXT EPISODE: GODZILLA SPECIAL! GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956, ISHIRO HONDA & TERRY MORSE) / GODZILLA (1998, ROLAND EMMERICH)

Alan Smithee Podcast 76: I Married a Witch (1942, René Clair) / Bewitched (2005, Nora Ephron)

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Regular listeners of An Alan Smithee Podcast know that we’re pretty shameless when it comes to being topical. When your movie podcast is basically about whatever the hell movies you feel like talking about, you have to be a little topically trendy to catch new listeners. However, don’t assume that this episode’s choice of Nora Ephron’s worst movie (probably) was chosen to dishonor her memory. This is mere coincidence and frankly, we do a fine enough job dishonoring her memory with ad hominem insults (mostly mine, Andrew has class) when we were under the assumption she’d live at least another week or so.

In deference towards Ephron’s M.O. – after the fact – let’s say this episode is sort of about feminism, vis-a-vis the short niche history of romantic farces about women with magic powers and the zany predicaments they put their men into. On stage and screen the concept doesn’t date back much further than Noël Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, in which a séance brings back the ghost of a man’s nagging wife. This play was only produced a year before the 1942 film I Married A Witch, surely one of the most famous romantic comedy fantasies that people know by name without having watched. As a key work in her career’s meteoric rise and fall, Veronica Lake plays heavily into that as the titular witch. In the long run, the film begat Bell, Book and Candle (1958), with Kim Novak as another romantic trickster witch, which then begat the TV series Bewtiched in 1964.

I Married A Witch is a devious, playful and tart treat. Veronica Lake is not an innocent sugar cookie like Elizabeth Montgomery, initially intending to torment rather than marry the hapless Fredric March until literally falling in love with him by accident. The story and dialogue are as brisk and witty as any great screwball classic from Hollywood’s golden age and director Clair, who began in the silent era, devises a good deal of photographic tricks and practical effects to bring the magical elements to life. The battle of the sexes at play here carries a lot more weight than the Grant-Hepburn variety, as essentially March’s soul is on the line. Only March’s bitchy fiancé Susan Hayward makes Lake look likable by comparison, which doesn’t exactly present the ideal picture of womanhood between the two of them. They are both STRONG women, however, which is less than can be said for the women in the bad movie of this episode…

Bewitched is, without hyperbole, a failure on every conceivable level. Worse, one wonders what dramatic or comedic purposes Nora Ephron and her co-writer sister Delia Ephron even had in mind. A Marxist critic in 1942 would probably hate our being asked to identify with an opportunistic politician of family money and connections; Frederic March is running for governor and that’s not exactly necessary for the story of his love triangle between a cold fish and a Satanic nymph. However, only a commoner with no ability for class critique whatsoever could stomach, let alone enjoy the sucking vortex of insulated world views that comprise the scenario of Bewitched 2005. Forget for a moment that literally not a single character in this film is not rich, famous or endowed with magical powers. Could the meta-story of a Bewitched movie being about the remaking of the Bewitched TV show possibly be any more unnecessarily convoluted? Exactly what aspect of this plot could anyone possibly relate to?

Here’s the only corpse kicking that needs to be done: Nora and Delia Ephron wrote a story in which the unlimited powers of witch Nicole Kidman and her warlock father Michael Caine are unconsciously represent the privileged life they grew up in. Mister and Mrs. Ephron were East Coast professional screenwriters who moved lil’ Nora and Delia (those NAMES, good gravy!) to Beverly Hills as small children, where they proceeded to graduate from Beverly Hills High School. Afterwards, Nora fled back across flyover country to one of the most snobby elitist schools in America, Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She then interned at the JFK White House, presumably performing executive maintenance functions alongside Mimi Beardsley. After starting her career as an essayist, she married Carl Bernstein and divorced him before finally following in mom and dad’s footsteps as a screenwriter. She then defined the modern brainless-in-Seattle rom-com chick-flick with When Harry Met Sally and, yes, Sleepless In Seattle. Phillip Wylie, Robert Crumb and Rush Limbaugh combined couldn’t conceive a more exaggerated parody of a liberal feminist Jewess than this woman’s life.

In Bewitched, Nicole Kidman wants the execrable Will Ferrell to love her LITERALLY because he’s a “helpless” dope and as a super-powered witch dabbling in civilian life, any helpless dope will do – even if he’s a movie star. After using her magic powers to conjure a home worth millions in Los Angeles, she resolves not to use her powers to make Ferrell fall in love with her, except she changes her mind about that, twice. Ferrell and his Hollywood ilk in this film are vulgar Hollywood stereotypes, not like those sophisticated and literate New Yorkers who agree to write the scripts for meta-remakes of 1960s sitcoms. So far as Ephron’s feminist street cred, Kidman’s utter lack of personality whatsoever should posthumously wipe the record clean. She’s merely a cipher for Ferrell, whom Ephron presumably had more interest in working with. Arguably the show itself was similarly constructed – with Dick Powell and Dick York getting all the laughs in reaction to Samantha’s antics – except Ferrell doesn’t even know Kidman is a witch until the last 20 minutes of the horrific 101 minute running time. So there’s no farce, and at least Elizabeth Montgomery had some kind of charm.

Presumably, had Bewitched been a hit, Ephron’s version of I Dream of Jeannie would be about Billy Crystal finding a real genie to star on an off-broadway musical remake of the TV show, who then blogs about it on The New York Times Magazine website. Blecchhh.

NEXT EPISODE: SPACE BABE SPECIAL! BARBARELLA (1968, ROGER VADIM) & GALAXINA (1980, WILLIAM SACHS)

Alan Smithee Podcast 65: Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven) / Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2010, Uwe Boll)

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This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we look at two World War II films about heroines fighting Nazis armed with only their wits and their breasts: Black Book and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich.

This episode also marks our last look at an Uwe Boll film, at least for a while. As the man’s filmmaking improves, it just gets harder to mock him for stupid technical choices that were once abundant in his early works like House of the Dead. Worse, he has no particular personal hang-ups to creep their way into his stories like an Ed Wood, Tommy “The Room” Wiseau or James “Birdemic” Nguyen. If Uwe Boll is making a cheap movie about vampires in an old West town, as we saw in our Bloodrayne II episode, that’s exactly what it’s going to be about. We’d have more luck finding subtext in a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie.

Uwe Boll doesn’t seem to make these bad video game licensed action movies because he enjoys them, but to fund a few of his more personal film projects and get great deals on German tax incentives for funds. His only distinguishing stylistic trademarks are boobs and mechanically rote violence. Thus does Bloodrayne: The Third Reich bring back his Ingenue Natassia Malthe as Bloodrayne the vampire ass-kicker with twice as much nudity, and three times as gratuitous. This film may contain the most gratuitous lesbian scene in the history of b-movies.

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich is, like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, only as reverential to the events of World War II as need be to fulfill quotas for the World War II genre. The low budget production values only add to Boll’s workmanlike lack of taste, especially in the opening sequence where Bloodrayne and some resistance fighters liberate a concentration camp-bound train car with less prisoners inside than a coffeeklatsch on Passover. The film’s best actor is Clint Howard, who occasionally lends his strange face to low budget horror or sci-fi, playing “Dr. Mangler” – a sensitive, respectful nod to the man who made infamous Nazi doctors of human experiments, Joseph Mengele. To give Uwe credit, he only thinks he’s goofing on Nazis. Yet how ignorant and uncaring toward history do you have to be to end your World War II movie with the line, “Guten Tag, motherfuckers”? And he’s German!

Speaking of tasteless, and moving slightly elsewhere in the European continent, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven was met with some skepticism in the mid-2000s when he announced his long awaited return to filmmaking (after the ill-respected Hollow Man of 2000) would be a World War II film produced in his native Netherlands, the 2006 release Black Book (Zwartboek), most critics assumed it would be similar to his pulpy American hi-gloss Hollywood trash but in World War II: Basic Instinct with Nazis. That film would have been spectacular in ways that Inglourious Basterds only hinted at, yet the resulting work is far and away the most mature, assured work from Verhoeven since Robocop, or anything from the time before Verhoeven came to America.

Black Book was apparently a tremendous success in the Netherlands and the only reason one could venture why the film was rejected by the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture is payback for Verhoeven having turned his back on the enclave of Hollywood to go back overseas. The film takes all of Verhoeven’s accumulated filmmaking skills and applies them to a World War II yarn which is part pulpy thriller and another part empathic tale of survival, inspired in part by Verhoeven’s own childhood on the run during the war. The heroine, played by Milhouse’s great-aunt Carice van Houten, is a Jew hiding in plain sight with dyed-blone hair amongst the Nazis as a secretary secretly spying for the resistance.

The pulpy elements of Black Book are pulpy as hell; the premise of a hot Jewess screwing and screwing with the Nazis is both pulpier than Inglourious Basters and less pulpy than than the Jew-amongst-Nazis drama Europa, Europa.” Carice van Houten’s furtive, oft-agonized role as Rachel Stein / Ellis de Vries is perhaps best understood in the context of Verhoeven’s other put-upon but strong heroines. There’s the dogfood-eating but proud Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls), medieval firebrand Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh in Flesh + Blood), and who could forget the toughest female cop this side of Heather Locklear, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) of Robocop?

The corniest pulp element of Black Book is probably the one which involves Rachel sleeping with a Nazi SS officer who apparently discovers her Jewishness, and doesn’t seem to care. The difference between Verhoeven and Boll is that while Boll including such a scene in his upcoming film Aushwitz (really? yes, really) Verhoeven’s gimmicky film about a Jewess in hiding is offset by an informed perspective on deadly historical realities, like people who pretended to be benefactors of Jews on the run only to double cross them and take their money while leaving them for dead. Amidst twists like that in Black Book there is full frontal Nazi nudity and literal buckets of shit dumped on our long-suffering heroine, proving that if there’s one director who can out-trash and out-class Uwe Boll in the same movie, it’s Paul Verhoeven.

NEXT EPISODE: MAE WEST SPECIAL! (SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1993, LOWELL SHERMAN) & SEXTETTE (1978, KEN HUGHES)