Alan Smithee Podcast 88: Judge Dredd (1995, Danny Cannon) & Dredd (2012, Pete Travis)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we travel to the grim n’ gritty future of Mega City One for two very different takes on the beloved 2000 A.D. comic character Judge Dredd. One is abysmal, the other is awesome! Can you guess which is which?

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NEXT EPISODE: SUMMER SPECIAL! CADDYSHACK (1980, HAROLD RAMIS) & CADDYSHACK II (1988, ALLAN ARKUSH)

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Episode 42: Black Narcissus (1947, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) / Cobra (1986, George P. Cosmatos)

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At the beginning of the last century the movies taught that the church stood as a bedrock sanctuary, hallowed by institutional age and inhabited predominantly by a kindly old character actor priests and sweet old biddy nuns, preaching trust in The Lord with a capital T. Cults are usually scattered by the end of a film with the organization and its members in a severe state of disrepair. Their mindlessness and group unity make them great villains, creatively sadistic and born to be dispatched creatively.

In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we enjoy probably one of the earliest screen examples of the Christian church’s existential vulnerability, parting ways with the old image of immutable sanctity. The 1947 British film Black Narcissus is a visual tour de force from postwar golden age craftsmen under the bold vision of directing team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Filmed entirely not on location at the legendary Pinewood Studios, the story adapts a popular women’s novel about a young nun (Deborah Kerr) charged with keeping a new mission in an old harem built from stone on the high mountains of the British Indian Himalayas. Things gradually fall apart in glorious Technicolor as the sultry advances of British actors in Indian makeup like Jean Simmons, one actual Indian (the ubiquitous Sabu) and the only white imperialist in town (David Farrar) prove to be too much. The nuns are seduced into madness, or maybe it’s just the lack of oxygen up there.

Try as Kerr might, she still finds herself having flashbacks to her life before getting to a nunnery – which were removed from the US version of the film at the lobby of the Catholic Legion of Decency upon release, in addition to a pivotal scene of Kathleen Byron’s symbolic defection from the flock. Where most contemporary dramas about nuns would begin, social mores then excised. In a meta-real life happy ending, actual British audiences first saw the film end with the image of Kerr peaceably leaving the Indian countryside mere months after the British withdrew from India in shame the very same year.

Cobra is an epochal achievement in dumb 80s action movies, meeting every quota for witless one liners, fascist politics, homoeroticism and of course a healthy body count. Sylvester Stallone’s villainous, mysterious cultists the Night Slashers (led by, um, “The Night Slasher” Brian Thompson have maybe the least backstory of the few action films in which the cannon fodder are homicidal cultists who wave axes over their heads like it’s the middle ages while the music, fashion and occasionally incoherent editing of their film heralds the onset of the late 80s. So important to Stallone was the story of one renegade cop defying liberal bureaucratic cowardliness to have an awesome car chase on the freeway with the Night Slashers that the whole Night Slashers scenario was originally meant for Beverly Hills Cop had Stallone accepted the film and not Eddie Murphy.

When Brian Thompson threatens Marion “Cobra” Cobretti and Bridgette Neilson in the flames and steam factory at the end of the film Stallone acts as he informed the zombielike cultist hostage taker in the introductory action sequence: he is “the cure” and his criminal are “a disease.” Could there be a more concise metaphor for mortal enmity toward spiritual hucksters? This and Stallone’s recent positing of hapless naive Christian missionaries needing to be saved by an irreligious Rambo in Rambo show a disinterest by the auteur in organized religion uncommon to his otherwise conservative world view, not to the degree of antitheism but agnosticism at best. Witness also his malleable recitation of Hebrew prayers at Mickey’s funeral in Rocky III.

Rambo: First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos gives the mindless action plenty of zip and the impenetrable psyche of Stallone provides the madness. You can take the man from his b-movie roots of porn and Death Race 2000 but you can’t keep him from Golan-Globus even when he could have done any film he wanted in the wake of Rocky IV and Rambo in 1985. For one brief Reagan moment, Stallone’s fantasies reflected the zeitgest of contemporary political life, namely boxing the Soviet Union to a pulp and single handedly rescuing every American POW in Vietnam.

Cobra attempted to clean up the streets at home, and in peaking past the break point of absurdity by having the streets overrun by a combination of the Illuminati and the biker rapists of Mad Max, Stallone discredited himself and was kept from being elected philosopher-god-king of America.

NEXT WEEK: DEAD MAN (1995, JIM JARMUSCH) & THE NET (1995, IRWIN WINKLER)

Episode 40: Gosford Park (2001, Robert Altman) / Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981, James Cameron)

With the Academy Awards once against swelling like a malignant infection, An Alan Smithee Podcast takes a completely inadvertently coincidental look this week at two films from frequent Oscar nominees: the late great Robert Altman and the not so great lately James Cameron. Altman’s career began anonymously in television before graduating to film and earning the acclaim of the academy when it was fashionable for them to do so. Only by making a film about Hollywood years later did he fall back into their favor, receiving at least the courtesy of nomination for the remainder of his life and career while the honors ultimately were bestowed upon keepers of the middle brow like Robert Zemeckis and Ron Howard.

James Cameron blossomed in the special effects boom of the 80s which drove directors like Altman into the darkness. He also did arguably more for the mainstreaming of special effects driven films than Steven Spielberg or George Lucas by making The Terminator and Aliens, blockbusters which established a permanent market for violent action films involving robots and/or aliens targeted at teenage boys instead of the entire family. Flash forward to the present day when serious Academy Award nominated dramatic actors vie to play villains in superhero movies and Cameron stands to sweep the industry’s highest self-congratulatory accolades for directing a 3D aliens and robots movie. Male adulthood has been replaced by perpetual adolescence and Cameron is truly king of the world. Yet even kings have to start somewhere as big fish in little ponds, before they spread their wings.

Gosford Park contains many of Altman’s trademarks, most prominently a sprawling cast with overlapping dialogue in the service of social satire. Ostensibly a murder mystery, the first half of this long story is spent establishing a myriad of ladies and gentlemen and their faithful servants gathering for a party in the countryside of England, 1932. Their social protocol is antiquated yet not so far in the past as to be unrecognizable, and the duality between the hosts and help is a fascinating look at the function and perception of privilege. The depiction of the servants behind the scenes is of particular interest to anyone wondering what the daily lives of maids, butlers et all were busy exchanging bon mots and stabbing each other in the back. Altman’s roving camera and Julian Fellowes kaleidoscopic screenplay create an amazing tour through the waning days of the British empire’s high society and one of the director’s most transportive works.

Roger Corman is scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Oscars. The actors and directors he gave breaks to are legion and it will be interesting to see whom among them have enough self confidence to be associated with him, or even give their permission to be shown in the inevitable compilation reel alongside Jack Nicholson in The Little Shop of Horrors and Sylvester Stallone in Death Race 2000. Actually, Stallone will probably be too proud to OK the use of that clip.

Whether Cameron will give a tip of the hat to his earliest employer is a toss-up. Corman’s 70s outfit New World Pictures not only gave Joe Dante his first directorial work on Hollywood Boulevard and Piranha, but Cameron’s first special effects work on New World’s Galaxy of Terror and Battle Beyond The Stars. Surely this got Cameron the recommendation for the non-Corman produced sequel Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. Whereas Dante’s original spoofed Jaws while simultaneously making an exciting monster movie, Cameron’s sequel rather straightforwardly takes itself seriously even with the idiotic premise that some of the killer piranha have learned to fly.

If nothing else – and there really is nothing else – at least Cameron got some more special effects expertise under his belt for the future, which was only looking up. There’s a half-eaten Jamaican who looks remarkably similar to a battle damaged Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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NEXT WEEK: COMMENTARY TRACK SPECIAL! BATMAN (1989, TIM BURTON)

Episode 18: Tango & Cash (1989, Andrei Konchalovsky) / California Split (1974, Robert Altman)

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This week An Alan Smithee Podcast gets manly and shirtless with two of the 80s’ eightiest men’s men, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, starring in one of Jon Peters’ worst streams of consciousness: Tango & Cash. Stallone’s a yuppie hotshot cop and Russell’s just a hotshot cop. All they have in common is skull denting stupidity and gay panic, which only inflames when the pair are sent to prison. Can they stop talking about each other’s cocks in time to bust out and stop the diabolical Jack Palance before he over-the-tops his performance from Batman the same year? Well, no, Palance is ever hammier and he wears all an white suit like Colonel Sanders. Despite this, his flamboyance pales in comparison to the cock grabbing, cross-dressing antics of our boys as they barnstorm through scenarios that make not one luck of sense, ever. Also featuring free floating coked up screenwriter xenophobia towards minorities.

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Then, Robert Altman takes us someplace warmer and nicer with California Split, another buddy comedy featuring George Segal and Elliot Gould as compulsive gamblers at different points in their addiction. This film pulls few punches in the depiction of gambling while also playing things for laughs, making for a melancholy mood of poignancy and loss. Unlike Tango & Cash, Gould and Segal’s romance is soft spoken and romantic as one takes another under his wing to learn poker and a bromance to last the ages is born.

NEXT WEEK: EMPEROR JONES (1933) / BLOODRAYNE II: DELIVERANCE (2007)