Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short Film: A Great Big Robot from Outer Space Ate My Homework (Canada, 2005)

An old idea given a new twist and converted into an appealing, concise, well-made and funny film.
Anyone who watches this short is sure to remember some teacher from hell of the past, and will probably wish the same thing happened to them. (I, for one, promptly thought of a Mr. Lancto in the late 70s of GW High in Alexandria, VA, if that's even the right way to spell his name.)
A Great Big Robot from Outer Space Ate My Homework was made at the Vancouver Film School (VFS) in 2005 by then-student Marc Shirra, a former broadcast graphic designer. There ain’t much info about Shirra out on the web, but since completing the film and getting kudos all over the world for it, he has become a technical director at Pixar Animation Studios in the San Francisco Bay Area, where one assumes he still pursues his hobbies of running, photography, snowboarding and hiking.
At Pixar, he was involved as a layout artist in both Up! (2009 / trailer) and WALL•E (2008 / trailer).

Monday, November 29, 2010

R.I.P.: Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen

11 Feb 1926 (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada)
28 Nov 2010 (Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA)

We'll miss you – sort of.

Leslie Nielsen is not necessarily a person whose demise you might expect to see mourned on a blog dedicated to obscure and trashy films. But indeed, he did make a lot of real trash over the past twenty years – though not the type of trash we here at A Wasted Life like.
Thanks to Airplane! (1980) and the Naked Gun franchise (1988-94), Leslie Nielsen moved up from being a familiar, third-rate actor in the background of films (or a bit further to the front on TV) to being a headlining star of mostly third-rate mainstream comedies. But though more than one of the numerous crappy comedies that he was in over the past twenty years – say, for example, Repossessed (1990 / trailer), Surf Ninjas (1993 / trailer), Spy Hard (1996 / fan-made trailer) or Mr. Magoo (1997 / trailer) – might actually one day enjoy a certain level of cult popularity for being as bad as they are, they are not the films for which A Wasted Life says "We're gonna miss you."
No, the films for which Mr Nielsen is being honoured for here are a bit further back in his career: back in the days when he had an occasional role of varying length on the big screen when not busy on the small screen, or when he was the last "star" credited and first star dead (as in 1972's Poseidon Adventure), or even earlier, when he headlined the occasional B&W cheapie and, at the start of his career, even managed to have a lead in a film classic.

Forbidden Planet
Does anything need to be said about this film? If you haven't seen it, you should. A classic: had this been his only film of note, Leslie Nielsen would still be fondly remembered – and have earned his place to be memorialised on A Wasted Life.

Ransom! (1956
Dunno if this film is any good or even still available, but it gets mentioned here simply because we like the poster. This little known and forgotten film, which was based on an even less-remembered teleplay from 1953 entitled Fearful Decision, is the movie that the Mel Gibson vehicle Ransom! (1996) was based on 40 years later. If you can't remember the Gibson film, that’s OK – we saw it and can't remember it, either.

Hot Summer Night (1957)
OK, another film we ain’t never heard of and really have no idea if it’s any good – but aren't these old poster great?

Night Train to Paris (1964
Here we get closer to the kind of film we like. A B&W cheapie from 1964, an odd and badly acted espionage flick that has a perverse attraction to it.
DVD Verdict describe it well when they say: "…[T]he movie actually falls more into the Swinging Sixties Spy Caper genre, leavening its formula thriller plot with mild dollops of titillation, surrealism, and offbeat humor. Thus, you have beautiful women dancing at a party, the aforementioned guy in a bear suit running around (he's the mascot of a ski club), and Leslie Nielsen running around with a Groucho nose, mustache, and glasses and kissing a woman to stop her from screaming. At times, the mish-mash of Sixties cool and Forties noir just seems goofy, but the movie wraps up with a chase that manages to be both silly and tense."

The full trailer, which gives you a better idea of what the film holds in store, can be seen here. The badly edited short version shown below comes from the good ol’ Internet Archives.

Dark Intruder (1965)
Saw this as a kid, but I’ll be durned if I can remember much about it. It was originally filmed as a series pilot but got released as a short (59 minutes long) second feature. Nice poster, though.

Change of Mind (1969)

I'd never even heard of the film before Mr. Nielsen went the way of the wind, but this forgotten pre-Blaxploitation sci-fi message film sounds rather interesting, if absurd. (And, as always, a groovy poster.) Nielsen costars as a racist sheriff accused of murdering a black woman, but the main thrust of the film is about the social, emotional and intellectual problems faced by a liberal white district attorney after he, dying of cancer, has his brain transplanted into the body of a dead black man (Raymond St. Jacques of Come Back, Charleston Blue).
Change of Mind should be more of a message film than cheap and sleazy, which is probably why no one remembers it today.

And, as of now, along with Forbidden Planet, the following films are the real reason why we respect Leslie Nieslen here at A Wasted Life, no matter how many crappy comedies he made.

Four Rode Out (1970)

And you thought Leslie Nielson was incapable of playing an unmitigated asshole? Guess again. For years, that was about the only thing he did – and one his snivelling best was his character in this film, a little-seen imitation spaghetti western. The flick is all over the place (it even has a soundtrack by Janis Ian – anyone remember her?), but it’s a good watch. It also has the forgotten "star" Sue Lyon, which alone makes it worth watching...

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
As mention earlier, the last star named and the first to go. A classic of the Golden Age of disaster films, The Poseidon Adventure still puts many newer films to shame. (And didn't we boys all just dream about bonking Nancy Drew back then?) Nielsen’s screen time is over in the time it takes to pop open a beer, but he’s there, serious as ever. Wolfgang Peterson's remake of 2006 is such a fucking disaster in comparison (trailer), so if you saw that and gagged (like I did), give this classic a go.

Project: Kill (1976 / trailer)
Is any good? No fucking way! But who cares? It was made by William Girdler (RIP), one of A Wasted Life’s true heroes. Oddly enough, Girdler had a higher opinion of the film than we do: "[Project Kill] is the beginning of what I can do if I'm given the opportunity. Here I'm not pinned down by clichés or lousy material. It's the only picture I'm really proud of." (William Girdler, Courier Journal, 1975)
To give credit where credit is due, Leslie Nielsen is the best actor in the film, though his polyester outfits are deadly. Want to find out yourself just how bad this piece o' trash truly is? Here’s the whole film (from Internet Archives), just for you.

Day of the Animals (1977)
Either the rent was due, or Nielsen must have liked working with William Girdler, for a year after Project: Kill he showed up in Girdler’s next low budget Hollywood project (with Christopher George and Lynda Day George!) playing an asshole businessman who, like the animals in the film, is driven crazy by a hole in the ozone layer. (Huh?)
Nielsen's bear-wrestling scene is more than enough reason to see this film, which is finally available (at least here in Europe) as a cheap DVD. Due to legal problems, the film was pulled when it first came out and then re-released by the producer as Something Is Out There. The trailer to both releases are here to be seen. Believe me, the film is almost as wonderfully bad as you might hope it to be…

Prom Night (1980)

Leslie Nielsen’s last exploitive film of note before becoming a headlining straight man; if we remember correctly, he is in the film all of five minutes despite being the headlining star ahead of the then up-and-coming Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis. (We here at A Wasted Life actually had the pleasure of catching this when it came out in a downtown San Diego grindhouse at Horton Plaza, way back when it was still a sleazy and fun place to be.)
Despite the ridiculous motivation behind the revenge stalking (after 6 whole years), Prom Night is still a pretty good slasher with more than one surprise – way better than the "reinterpretation" that came out in 2008 (trailer). The originals sequels have nothing to do with this film, but some are fun in their own way…

Airplane! (1980)

This film, made the same year as Prom Night, was the beginning of two things: Leslie Nielsen ascent to a headlining deadpan comedy star, and the advent of the modern full-length (vs. episodic) persiflage comedy – ala the Scary Movie franchise and any other flick that ends with “Movie” in the title (such as Epic Movie [2007 / trailer], Date Movie [2006/ trailer], or Hamster Sex Movie [coming soon]) – that pretty much dominates modern mainstream comedy. Throwaway movies, for the most part, most of which won't be remembered or funny in ten years time, but till then the producers are laughing all the way to the bank…
Whatever. Airplane! is included here primarily because it was his first, and it is to blame for all that it has wrought. (I wonder if, nowadays, in a mainstream movie, you could still get away with having, as a joke, an adult man asking a young male child "You ever seen a grown man naked?")

Creepshow (1982)

The classic Stephen King & George Romero take on the old anthology films, liberally sprinkled (as they all were) with the twisted humour of vintage EC comics. Leslie Nielsen’s last true foray of note outside the bad comedies for which he is now best known for, and once again he plays an asshole. But he gets what he deserves…

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
Once upon a time there was a comedian named Mel Brooks, and he made some good and funny films, most being satires of specific genres – westerns (Blazing Saddles [1974 / trailer]), Frankenstein movies (Young Frankenstein [1974 / trailer]), silent films (Silent Movie [1976 / trailer]), Hitchcock films (High Anxiety [1977 / trailer]) – before losing his touch.
But he sort of found it again for one film, modern persiflage comedy of vampire films starring Leslie Nielsen. A masterpiece it ain’t, but cute in its own innocent way…

Goodbye, Leslie Nielsen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (USA, 2009)

"Have you seen my dick?"

Once upon a time, Eli Roth’s debut film Cabin Fever (2002 / trailer) was high on my list of films I wanted to see, but then I saw Roth’s Hostel (2005 / trailer), a totally non-scary and stupid and overtly xenophobic film — Hey! That foreign guy must be evil! He eats salad with his fingers! — and Cabin Fever quickly got deleted from the list. But after Eli Roth’s rather effective acting turn in Inglorious Basterds (2009 / trailer), however, the thought arose to give Cabin Fever a chance. First films are often better than the second, after all.
As the cookie is apt to crumble, however, the sequel Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever fell into my hands first — but then, it ain't like Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever features any plot points that require seeing the preceding film to understand, assuming that you at least know the first flick was about a highly contagious, body-rotting and deadly disease.
The birth of the sequel was anything but an easy one, as any trash-film aficionado is probably aware of from all the reports that have popped up on the web over the years. Ti West, a new shooting star of the American horror film scene who had made some waves with his third film The House of the Devil (2009 / trailer), was pulled in to helm the flick, for which he also supplied the story. Once he finished filming way back in 2007, the powers that be weren't happy with the final product, which they then reshot in parts and re-cut, the end result being that Ti West wanted his directorial credit removed and the film to be credited to good ol' Alan Smithee. But since he was not a member of the Director's Guild, the producers denied his request and released the film as his product, though he himself has completely disowned it. Considering its reception after Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever was finally pulled down off the shelf, dusted and released, the chance of a "Director’s Cut" seems relatively slim...
Probably about as slim as the film's plot, actually: water gets infected by sickness, teens at prom drink water, everyone dies — bloodily, gushingly, hilariously. And interwoven in-between, a rather pointless subplot involving Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews of 2001 Maniacs [2005 / trailer]), the cop from the first film, that may include one or two hearty laughs (the gusher at the restaurant, for example) but only proves itself ever-so-slightly necessary as the dues ex machina required for the film's end-of-days final — and it also serves to make the last bit about the strippers all the more obviously tacked on as an afterthought.
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever sort of picks up directly after the events of the first film with an infected Paul (Rider Strong of Tooth & Nail [2007 / trailer]) pulling himself out of the water and stumbling onto a road where he promptly explodes when hit by a school bus. A nifty animation credit sequence follows that not only sets the parodist tone of the film that follows but also narrates how the infected water makes its way to the local water bottling plant, is bottled and finally delivered to the school. Some time is spent on the introducing the future infected, and for a change some of them almost look the right age for being in high school; some future dead are more likeable than others, but virtually all of them end up at the high school prom. (Thus making the film's title, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, rather an anachronism: not only does nothing occur in a cabin, but spring is more-or-less over.)
At the prom, all hell breaks loose once the infection sets in just as truckloads of unidentified exterminating governmental agents lockdown the school and begin to eradicate the infected. The film's nominal figures of identification are John (Noah Segan of Brick [2005 / trailer], Deadgirl [2008 / trailer] and All about Evil [2010 / trailer]), his best friend Alex (Rusty Kelley) — who dies dickless — and Cassie (the intriguing-looking Alexi Wasser of Growth [2009 / trailer]), and they run around a lot as they try to avoid both the infected and the exterminators — and deal with their own infection.
The bloodbath of the prom is full of gross-out laughs though the projectile puking does get tiresome, but there are many a mean laugh elsewhere in the film, including a few doozies involving a pissing janitor, a fat chick losing her virginity in a swimming pool, and Alex's shower-not-a-grower dick. As mentioned before, the tacked on stripper scene — though also funny in an uncouth, boundary-pushing way — is rather pointless, but the final animation scene does nicely tie up all the loose threads... but for one totally forgotten one that gets tied after the final credits have rolled.
Neither tension nor intelligence are to be found anywhere in Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, and the film is hardly imperative viewing, but for what it is — a tasteless, below-the-belt, blood-and-guts-heavy parody — it works well enough: there is indeed a lot of viscera and a never-ending stream of tasteless laughs and gross-out scenes. Thus, the flick actually makes for fun viewing, particularly when stoned.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Der Fälscher von London / The Forger of London (Germany, 1961)

The Edgar Wallace book on which this film is based, The Forger, was originally written as a serialized novel in England for the Daily Mail. The first film version, directed by G. B. Samuleson, came out the same year as the novel, 1928, but it was less than well received; according to the publication Kinomatograph Weekly, "Wallace’s story obviously seems to have been too complicated for the director, [for] he filmed it in an extremely fragmented style and manner, leaving one behind unconvinced and annoyed." (Translated from German, page 81 of Die Edgar Wallace Filme, 1982, by Florian Pauer.)
Thirty-three years later The Forger was once again the basis of a film, this time around as an entry of the famous Rialto Edgar Wallace film series of Germany; it was one of four made in 1961 (the others being Das Gehemnis der gelben Narzissen / The Devil’s Daffodil [trailer], Der Grune Bogenschutze / The Green Archer [trailer], and Die toten Augen von London / The Dead Eyes of London [trailer]). It is also one of five Rialto Wallaces that director Harald Reinl was to direct, beginning with the first film of the series, Der Frosch mit der Maske / Fellowship of the Frog (trailer) in 1959 and ending with Der unheimliche Monch / The Sinister Monk (trailer) in 1965; likewise, it is one of 21 films (four being Rialto Wallace films) he was to make together with his then-wife Karen Dor, a beautiful brunette best remembered in English-language countries as the (first) German "Bond Girl" who becomes shark fodder in You Only Live Twice (1967 / trailer). Of further trivial note, the script of Der Fälscher von London was supplied by no less than Johannes Kai who, in 1960, wrote and directed one of the truly Ed Woodian German films of the 60s, Flitterwochen in der Hölle / Isle of Sin; "Johannes Kai" was born Hanns Wiedmann, but due to his writing activities under National Socialism he was no longer permitted to write under his real name after the war, so he took a pseudonym based on his place of birth, Cairo.
But to end the trivia and get to the film, the question of course arises, how is Der Fälscher von London? It is, to say the least, a confusing mess, but it is also probably one of the best-shot of the black and white Rialto Wallaces. Director Reinl, who was stabbed to death on Tenerife on 9 October 1986 by his third wife Daniela Maria Delis, does a damn fine job in Der Fälscher von London, filming most of the movie as if it were the bleakest of film noirs; the film overflows with strongly contrasting blacks and whites as well as the intriguing use of depth of field, lighting and cropping. For that reason, the visuals of the film are often more satisfying than the film itself, which, although a relatively straight and mundane detective story, suffers from a confusing screenplay and an excess of characters—if you are distracted for but a moment, you’re sure to miss something. The intentional humor is also kept in check in this film, which nonetheless doesn’t mean that the film is overly dry for more than one unintentional giggle is indeed instigated.
One of the biggest flaws of Der Fälscher von London is probably that with the exception of Inspector Bourke (Siegfried Lowitz, who took part in a total of four Wallace films), none of the characters are initially likable; even the initial behavior of the “good guys” is alienating—Jane (Karin Dor), for example, marries Peter Clifton for his money, while Peter (Hellmut Lange of Vier Schlüssel [1966]) marries Jane even though he knows she doesn’t love him. Likewise, the playboy Basil Hale (Robert Graf) is such a dislikable asshole that the fact that he and Jane were once "friends" cast serious (if unwarranted) doubts upon her character. Even her Uncle John (Walter Rilla of The Scarlet Pimpernel [1934 / trailer], The Gamma People [1956], and Der Teufel kam aus Akasava [1971 / trailer]) loses likability points by being the driving force in convincing Jane to marry Peter. Everyone is in it just for the money... but then, the whole film is also about money, both real and fake.
Following their marriage, Jane and Peter Clifton spend their honeymoon (not just in separate beds but in separate rooms) outside London at Longford Manor (Castle Herdringen in real life), where mysterious things occur. First Jane is attacked by an unknown assailant and then she sees her husband printing banknotes in a secret room; later, Peter appears just as shocked about the secret room, as he can remember nothing—could he being developing schizophrenia, just like his father, a convicted murderer? When Basil turns up hammered to death in the park, Jane removes the clues that lead to the unconscious Peter as the guilty party. Peter’s overacting doctor (Viktor de Kowa of Unheimliche Geschichten [1932]) is also convinced that Peter is losing it, and tries to convince Jane to have him declared insane and put away, after which she would be in control of his fortune. The lawyer Radlow (Otto Collin) has some important information, but is murdered before he can share it—and just who is the mysterious "Mr Blonberg", a man that remains unseen in the background but seems to be pulling all the strings? Inspector Rouper (Ulrich Beiger), in any event, is as obsessed to prove Peter as the forger and murderer as Inspector Bourke is set on protecting his friend and proving his innocence....
For all its flaws, Der Fälscher von London is nonetheless highly entertaining and zips by quickly enough. Though hardly a true highlight of the Rialto series—with the possible exception of its cinematography and lighting—it is also far from the worst. The strength of the film's visuals go a long way to make it pleasing to the eye even as the plot gets too confusing to really make sense, but if you pay attention to the dialogue you just might figure out who the bad guy is before he is revealed. It is, in the end, yet another fun film for a rainy day....

Needless to say, by the way, the main theme to Der Fälscher von London / The Forger of London, by the great Martin Böttcher on his first job (of five) as composer for a Rialto Wallace film, is supercadrafristicexpealodocious
– or, as they say in German, Affentitten geil!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

R.I.P.: Ingrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt
(nee Ingoushka Petrov)

21 November 1937 (Poland) to 23 November 2010 (London, England)

Survived by her daughter, Steffanie Pitt.

We will always remember her – and not just for her nude scenes!

Films of Note:

El sonido de la muerte / Sound of Horror
1964 (B&W cheese galore)

Where Eagles Dare
1968 (classic war film)

The Vampire Lovers
1970 (classic, lesbian-tinged horror – with Kate O’Mara)

Countess Dracula
1971 (more classic, lesbian-tinged Hammer horror)

The House that Dripped Blood
1971 (entertaining Amicus anthology film)

Nobody Ordered Love
1972 (forgotten and possibly lost bad sleaze by the unsung master of fun English exploitation, Robert Hartford-Davis)

The Wicker Man
1972 (over-praised but interesting)

1985 (forgotten Clive Barker sleaze from George Pavlou)
Fan-made Trailer

2006 (straight to DVD trash – she plays a leper!)

Beyond the Rave
2008 (memorable primarily for being the return of Hammer — if only straight to DVD)
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