Creating Rem Lezar (1989)

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director Scott Zakarin
viewed: 04/29/2018

I’m late to the game on the Creating Rem Lezar funfair. But better late than never.

Apparently, in earlier times of ye olde internet, people had to post clips from this direct-to-video children’s odyssey oddity, because back then you couldn’t get the whole thing on YouTube. Well, nowadays, you can see the whole thing there, in its ripped from VHS glory and its astounding astoundingness.

Is there anyone who has watched Creating Rem Lezar who didn’t think “stranger danger”?

I don’t have much to add to the Creating Rem Lezar dialogue, other than to wonder if there was anyone who actually saw it back in the day, as a target audience kid, and what they thought at the time.

The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969)

The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969) movie poster

director Barry Mahon
viewed: 04/14/2018

“My, what a peculiar looking creature you are.”

Barry Mahon’s first foray into low-budget kiddie flicks, following a robust career in Exploitation movies of various stripes, The Wonderful Land of Oz is a fabulously bizarre creation. It stars his son, Chan at Tip in a relatively faithful interpretation of L. Frank Baum’s first sequel to the legendary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (oddly enough, the only one of those books I’ve personally read.) 

What makes this pretty largely demented is the production itself, cheaper and wackier than the lowest of community theater productions. It starts with a terrifying purple cow before introducing s Mombi,  General Jinjur, Jack Pumpkinhead,  H. M. Woggle-bug T. E., the Scarecrow,  the Tin Woodman,  Ozma, Glinda, and the Gump.

The quality of the musical numbers are oddly slightly above all else. Though, Ack, Chan Mahon’s  singing.

Surely Oz has been done better, but this wonky, low budget fantasia is a marvel of chintz and accidental darkness.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962)

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962) movie poster

director Roberto Rodríguez
viewed: 11/14/2018

“All the people that live in the witch’s house are really weird.”

And awesome!

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters was apparently a sequel to a couple of other Mexican children fantasy films, and so, it starts out running wild. The “Queen of Badness” as she is dubbed in American has a bevy of henchpeople from robots to Frankenstein and a vampire and even a pinhead. And she is ready to punish the wolf and the ogre for having helped Little Red Riding Hood (María Gracia) and the dickish Tom Thumb (Cesáreo Quezadas) in previous times. So those two heroes must come to her creepy forest and rescue the captives, with the help of Stinky, the skunk.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters is demented and sublime with is mixed bag of knock-off villains and aesthetics and its nonchalant heightened danger. The evil witch prays to Satan. One of the generic villains is a kidnapper with a huge net.  And on the more ribald side, the skunk farts in the kidnapper’s face.

Oh my goodness, I loved this.

 

A Talking Cat!?! (2013)

A Talking Cat!?! (2013) movie poster

director David DeCoteau
viewed: 02/16/2018

“Cheese puffs wafting across a pool deck. Two families enjoying each other’s gifts. Yes, things are working out much much better.”

I made my teenage daughter sit through this one with me. I’m sure that is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

I think Eric Roberts had a stroke during readings.

Former child actor Johnny Whitaker and former Playboy cover model Kristine DeBell head up this wonder of awfulness.

Strangely, the cat doesn’t talk all that much. Though A Talking Cat!?! is most entertaining when he is. Or getting magically resurrected.

So weird.

One Million B.C. (1940)

One Million B.C. (1940) movie poster

directors  Hal Roach, Hal Roach, Jr.
viewed: 02/11/2018

One Million B.C. is the very first Caveman feature film, a subgenre depicting prehistoric peoples and their adventures. It’s as corny as all-get-out and clearly absurd in ways as well.

It earned an Oscar for its special effects, which include such things as fur covered elephants as Woolly Mammoths, pigs dressed as Triceratops, alligators with fins glued to them and an armadillo with glued on horns. All of which is amazingly ridiculous. There is also a guy in a T. Rex outfit. But to be honest, the visual effects such as forced perspective and other techniques that make little things look big compared with the cavefolks, well, they are pretty impressive.

Less impressive is what can only be guessed at as animal abuse. One monitor lizard fights to the death with a finned gator, lays dying as blood pulses from its neck wound. I didn’t overly scrutinize the film, but I’d be willing to guess that more reptiles were endangered, harmed, or even killed for dramatic effects of fire and volcanoes and earthquakes.

Victor Mature is the lead caveman (TCM’s brief description of the film: “An exiled caveman finds love when he joins another tribe.”) who winds up exiled by Lon Chaney, Jr., the head of the rock clan and falls in with the lovely Carole Landis and the shell clan. What’s interesting here is that the shell clan seem vaguely more evolved than the rock clan in their more communistic sharing of food and materials. The rock clan is more grabby-grabby and the strong take from the weak in a (social?) Darwinism of sorts. I know some writers did actually try to leak in Communist themes in some films. Is this the case here?

One Million B.C. was directed by Hal Roach and his son, Hal Roach, Jr. and it seems as well with the dialogue limited to gestures and few “words” that the old Silent Film aesthetics and acting paid off for this picture.

Destiny (1921)

Destiny (1921) movie poster

director Fritz Lang
viewed: 01/21/2018

Recently reading that Luis Buñuel found Fritz Lang’s 1921 film Destiny the inspiration that drove him to cinema, I made the mental note that I had to see it.

I got introduced to German Expressionism in my very first film class at 17, by way of Lang’s own M (1931). It was then that I realized that all my childhood fascination with horror films and the birth of horror films pretty much dovetailed with the German aesthetic in its silent heyday. I’d longed to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) (often cited in those childhood texts as the first horror film of all time rather inaccurately), Nosferatu (1922), The Golem (1920), and Lang’s Metropolis (1927). I had to good luck that my mother took me to see the Lon Chaney silent films The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Though those latter ones aren’t German or Expressionist, I had a yen for these films from a young age.

Destiny is an exemplar of Expressionism while not at all really being a horror film. The film’s main story is the heart of the film: a young bride (Lil Dagover) loses her husband to death, and she goes into the realm of death to try to bring him back. Death is a human figure (the imposing Bernhard Goetze), but he is a monster in deeds only, giving Dagover three chances to save a lover from dying. Her failures in each of the stories leads her to plead with other people to give their lives for her husband. Her final realization, when she saves a baby from a fire, is what allows her to accept her “destiny”.

While it’s not my favorite of Lang’s films or the Expressionist genre, it is a very fine film. I try to take myself back to imagining a 21 year old Buñuel in 1921, encountering real cinema for the first time. It’s little wonder the Surrealists loved cinema so much.

The Battle Wizard (1977)

The Battle Wizard (1977) movie poster

director Pao Hsueh-li
viewed: 01/19/2018

As a kid, I was never won over by martial arts flicks. They were almost nutty enough for me, but I never saw one that really blew my mind or even fulfilled whatever it is I needed fulfilling in such fare.

I guess that is because I never saw one with laser fingers, lobster-armed villains, snake projecting women, or guys with stilt chicken feet. Once you start getting into the more phenomenal fantasy stuff, that’s when I start looking around for a martial arts studio that can teach me to fly.

The Battle Wizard may not be the best of the wacky fantasy martial arts stuff, but it’s certainly got enough of it to endear itself to one. That and a breakneck pace that will have your eyes all aflutter.

Gandahar (1988)

Gandahar (1988) movie poster

director  René Laloux
viewed: 01/13/2017

Nowhere as fantastic as Fantastic Planet (1973), René Laloux’s 1988 film Gandahar is still something above and outside the norm of animation, fantasy, or science fiction. The English language version was produced by the Weinsteins and features a rather unusual crew of voice talent including Glenn Close, Jennifer Grey, Penn Jillette, Bridget Fonda, David Johansen,  and Christopher Plummer. Apparently, this version, which was adapted by Isaac Asimov, is not quite up to snuff of the French original.

Laloux adapted the story from Jean-Pierre Andrevon’s novel Les Hommes-machines contre Gandahar, and the style of design was led by French artist Caza. It’s still some pretty far-out stuff.

The animation style, though, is more conventional cel animation, so it’s more through the design aesthetics and muted tone through which the strangeness emanates. Actually, there’s a nice Kraftwerk video set to the imagery that fits groovily together.

The peaceful blue peeps of Gandahar are attacked by robot men. This leads their mostly bare-breasted women leaders to send out Sylvain to find out how to defeat them (all this peace has led them to forget to make weapons anymore). Sylvain discovers the mutated brethren of he Gandaharians and eventually this Metamorphis, giant brain thing also developed by Gandaharian technology that seeks to wipe them all out to achieve immortality.

Oh yeah, and the door of time.

If off-beat, trippy science fiction is a groove you can dig, you’ll enjoy Gandahar. Nowhere as radical or satisfying as Fantastic Planet, but well worth the time.

Cool World (1992)

Cool World (1992) movie poster

director Ralph Bakshi
viewed: 01/06/2018

Ralph Bakshi’s Id is not PG-13.

In 1992, I, like about everybody else, considered Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World a bit of a disaster. In part from a technical perspective, comparing it with the much better budgeted and realized Who Framed Roger Rabbit from only a couple years prior. But also from the weird tension of a film that was a lot nastier and racier than it was allowed to be.

I’ve been working my way through Bakshi’s oeuvre for the past few years, holding back on this disastrous last feature of his (still rated 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, apparently). So, I put it on for me and my two teenagers.

Oddly, they both liked it. And oddly, so did I.

Though the concept is weak, featuring Brad Pitt as a 1945 ex-GI stuck in the Cool World, policing live action dudes from cartoon (“doodle”) babes with the one law in the land: miscegenation. Holli Wood (Kim Basinger) is the hot-to-trot honey, a modernized Tex Avery dream girl, who’ll do anything to become a “real world girl”. She seduces Gabriel Byrne, a cartoonist who thinks he dreamed up the Cool World, to take her across dimensions.

Bakshi (or whoever directed it) fails to get most any shot where a live action person looks like they are actually seeing the cartoons. Pitt is almost the worst at this and looks a lot of the time like he’s just hoping they don’t make him look like a moron.

The animations, wheeling out of control and nearly non-stop in Cool World is like a crack-fueled reel through 1930’s animation, in particular the Fleischer and Terrytoon studios, where nothing ever stopped moving, but pulsed in a cycle. This would maybe be just cute mice if that were it, but this is a Ralph Bakshi picture, so there is this utter counterculture subversion of all these figures, all chasing one another with knives or guns, twisted prostitutes and pimps, caricatures just barely this side of racial stereotypes, cutting loose with all they’ve got.

It finally all explodes on early 1990’s Las Vegas (now immensely quaint by comparison). The production values will never escape your mind, but if you give into the animation and designs, there is a lot of weird action.

And I don’t know, but I liked it this time through. It’s not that it’s necessarily any better, but I appreciate it more. And like I said, my teens did as well. Weird.