Friday, February 27, 2015

Short Film: Help! My Snowman Is Burning Down (USA, 1964)

Here's quaint piece of Surrealism from the 1960s that once walked away with award nominations, including for an Oscar.  (Contrary to what is said all over the web, it did not win: it lost to Larry Sturhahn's Casals Conducts: 1964.) 
"An absurdist farce, with music by Gerry Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer"; and, as the final credits of the short say, "The accident [...] was written produced and directed by CarsonDavidson." Davidson, as far as we can tell, though a productive filmmaker, only ever made one feature film: the unknown The Wrong Damn Film (1975),* starring Barry Bostwick.
In Help! My Snowman Is Burning Down, the gent in the hat is played by Bob Larkin, also found in bit parts from films ranging from Putney Swope (uncredited, 1969 / bouncing boobs & song) to Friday the 13th Part XI: Jason Lives (1986 / trailer I / trailer II). The exotic dancer is played by Dian Robertson, about who we know nothing. Do you? Please let us know.
Over at Oddball Films, they explain the short as follows: " Help! My Snowman Is Burning Down stands out as wholly unique in the annals of Academy history, for no nominated film can stake a claim to being as truly experimental and immersively engaging as Carson Davidson’s surreal masterpiece, melding Magritte with Duchamp, but maintaining its own perverse American sense of humor." More cute than substantial, less meaningful than entertaining, Help! My Snowman Is Burning Down is a fun blast from the past that, at about 9 minutes in length, doesn't overstay its welcome.

*According to TV Guide: "This sophomoric satire on politics came out in the wake of Watergate. Badly bungled from beginning to end, the film received only a few showings before mercifully disappearing without a trace."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tank Girl (USA, 1995)

Based on the comic character created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, this movie is one of those films that works much better on video than it ever did in the cinema when it first came out (and couldn't help but fail to meet fan-boy/girl expectations).
Supposedly the studios butchered director Rachel Talalay's final version of Tank Girl, re-editing it to fit what they thought the public wanted, so perhaps one shouldn't castigate Talalay too much for her seemingly weak control of the material. Still, she was never really all that memorable of a feature-movie director — her other big screen credits being the less than impressive Ghost in the Machine (1993 / trailer) and the 6th Nightmare on Elm Street film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991 / trailer) — and definitely seems more at home on the small screen, where she has remained (very busy) since Tank Girl came out and, well, tanked.
Now, twenty years later, Tank Girl reminds one a bit of Michael Sarne's Myra Breckinridge (1970 / trailer), another big-budget period piece that works more in spite of itself than anything else. Even Talalay's annoying tendency to pad her film with snippets from the original Tank Girl comics recalls Sarne's technique in Myra Breckinridge of inter-cutting incongruent scenes from old Hollywood films — a technique that works better in Sarne's now enjoyably dated plane wreck of a movie.
Lori Petty, like Thora "Super Star" Birch an actress with personality long in search of a career — anyone ever see Bates Motel (1987 / trailer), Route 666 (2001 / trailer) or Cryptid (2006 / trailer)? — takes to her character like a fish takes to water. Perfectly cast as the ultimate party girl, a shaven-headed punkette with more oneliners than pubic hairs, she obviously loved making this film and that definitely helps carry the film. Seeing her in action leaves one happy that the long since forgotten but then hot young actress of the time, Emily Lloyd, was tossed from the project. In turn, to look at the next name of the time, Malcolm McDowell, who started his career as a counter-culture favorite in such movies as If... (1968 / trailer), A Clockwork Orange (1971 / trailer) and O Lucky Man! (1973 / trailer) before sliding into eternal pay-the-rent mundanity — Does he say "No" to anything? — recreates his cut-and-dried megalomaniac bad guy characterization that he has come to specialize in since he derailed his semi-mainstream career with Caligula (1980 / trailer). Neither good nor bad, McDowell simply fits the role, which can also be said of Ice-T (3000 Miles to Graceland* [2001] and Tara [2003]) as the mutant kangaroo T-Saint. Sure he's fun, but then, so are all the other mutant kangaroos; casting him had less to do with any stroke of brilliance than it did probably with the hope of free publicity (much the same reason John Waters cast Traci Lords in the Talalay-produced John Waters' film Cry Baby [1990 / trailer], a great film that lives and breathes novelty casting).
* For some strange reason, the review of this flick is the most-read review on this blog — and has been for at least four years.
The story of Tank Girl? Well, imagine a motor-mouthed, high-sexed Mad Max with a vagina driving a tank while drinking cocktails, who, between changing outfits, teams up with mutant kangaroos — "bohemians dedicated to sex, poetry and partying," according to The Washington Post — to fight Big Business. Years from now — 2033, to be exact — on a world in which Bruce Willis failed to stop Armageddon (1998 / trailer), the comet has long since crashed into the planet and left behind a scorched earth in which water is the most valuable commodity. Caught illegally siphoning water by the Water & Power Company, Big Bad Boss Kesslee (McDowell) has all Tank Girl's friends at her home base wiped out but, for some strange reason, takes her prisoner and forces her to work in the mines. She hooks up with Jet Girl (an at-the-time unknown Naomi Watts, of Undertaking Betty [2002]) and falls in love with a tank (thus becoming "Tank Girl") before the two babes both escape. Hearing that her favorite little girl Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower) wasn't killed in the W&P's raid but was instead sent to a brothel, Tank Girl's maternal instincts kick in and she sets out to save the little girl, an action that leads to a fabulous Cole Porter sing-along dance routine, probably the highpoint of the film and an example of how hilariously off the wall the film could've been.
Were the action a success, the film would've been much too short and neither Tank Girl nor Jet Girl would've hooked up with the Rippers, the group of mutant kangaroos who first can't decide if they should kill the two or bonk them, but finally team up with them for the big showdown against Kesslee and the Water & Power Company — and a lot more weirdness that, oddly, often seems like weirdness-lite. Still, no film can be all bad when the main character tends to say such wonderfully politically incorrect things like "You gotta think about it like the first time you got laid. You gotta go: 'Daddy, are you sure this is right'?" (A joke that would surely no longer make the final cut of any movie made today.)
Tank Girl is not a particularly intelligent film, and falls flat on its face much too often, but it does have a spunk and liveliness that makes it oddly appealing — in no small part thanks to Lori Petty. Good for a go with a six-pack, junk food and some sinsemilla.