Fragmented Films May13

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So who deserves to die?

“People who hi five, people who dress their babies in band t-shirts,“ offers the precocious teenage wannabe mass killer, “middle aged women who call their tits the girls. “

Welcome to the gospel according to God Bless America (Eagle), a strangely moralistic film that takes a sledgehammer to America’s pursuit of the lowest common denominator.

Drowning in a misery of obnoxious reality TV, evil right wing political commentators, white trash neighbours and a kid that doesn’t want to know him; Frank (Joel Murray) has it all. And it’s hurting the hell out of him. Surrounded by celebrity-obsessed zombies he can’t relate to, a series of tragic circumstances finds him on the couch with a gun in his mouth when suddenly his social conscious awakens. Perhaps there are others more needy of the bullet than him. It’s Falling Down meets Heathers, Natural Born Killers meets Juno, about as subtle as napalm, but at least 17 times funnier.

Bobcat Goldthwait. You remember him right? That annoying guy from the Police Academy films? No not Steve Guttenberg, the other one, the guy with the grating voice, whose main weapon of choice was screaming at people inches from their face. Post Police Academy he reinvented himself as a bitter burnt out stand up comedian, the humour coming from his black as pitch observations. He’s now channelled his weary sarcasm into cinema, and his fourth film God Bless America is pitch perfect. With caustic monologues about reality TV, the vacancy of celebrity obsession and a body count that includes babies, celebrities, random cinemagoers, reality TV contestants, and religious fundamentalists, it’s a film with a solution that is actually part of the problem. It’s lowest common denominator solutions to lowest common denominator problems, but then it’s hard to disagree that an AK-47 wouldn’t improve American Idol exponentially.

Graham Dorrington is on a quest to fly a new kind of airship balloon over the rainforest canopies in Guyana on the North coast of South America.  Beset with problems, he’s haunted by the death of a friend on a similar expedition years earlier, making him the perfect driven yet conflicted subject for German auteur Werner Herzog.

On the initial flight, they want to test it alone, but Herzog forbids it, and it’s remarkable watching Herzog bully his way onto the airship. White Diamond is one of Herzog’s best, in the way his films can be great, obsessive, beautiful, meditative, self indulgent, tangential, and mystifying, It’s part of a double blue ray box set Werner Herzog: Documentary Collection (Shock), which also includes the Flying Doctors of East Africa, La Soufriere, about the desertion of the island of Guadeloupe in the wake of an impending volcano eruption, and 2009’s Encounters at the End of the World.  “Who were the people I was going to meet at Antarctica at the end of the world and what were their dreams?” Herzog asks. The beauty of Herzog is that he’s comfortable with multiple ideas and tangential narratives. His own madness the perfect tool for eliciting highly personal information from the fellow eccentrics he uncovers along the way.

 

Fragmented Films Jan 2013

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So Michael Perry, a fresh faced syndromy pill pushing rent boy and his older unhinged anger fuelled mate Jason Burkett know where they can score this hot camero. All that stands between them and the car is a mutual friends mother.  After they bludgeon her to death while she is baking cookies and dump her body, they realise they don’t have the code to get back into her gated community home to claim their prize. So they wait for their friend and his brother arrive home, lure them away, get the code, murder them too and promptly drive to the local bar giving friends joyrides with an implausible tale about having won the lottery.

What’s missing from this picture?

Oh yeah that’s right Werner Herzog.

On Into The Abyss (SBS/Madman) the eccentric US based German maverick uses this real case as a vehicle to examine the death penalty. Of course he immediately makes it all about him, emphasising early on that he respectfully disagrees with the penalty, and maintaining a verbal at times challenging presence as interviewer and narrator. But that’s just Herzog, a man for whom the term super ego seems inadequate.

In the US state execution is viewed through a binary prism, you’re either for or against. Herzog adds the messiness, the human cost. He interviews family and friends of both the victims, and the offenders, but also former guards involved in the execution process, and recounts the trial via the prosecutors interviews. When he interviews Perry he will be executed in 8 days. Herzog tells him that he isn’t there to prove he is innocent or even like him. Perry doesn’t know how to cope with this strange German, his ‘gee shucks it wasn’t me’ routine isn’t going to fly this time. There are multiple stories here, the crimes are real and the ramifications of both the criminal actions and the executions remain with those left behind. Lives ruined and families torn apart. Also on the disc is the 4 part series recently screened on SBS where Herzog interviews four other death row inmates. It’s equal parts exploitative and sobering.

Jack Black is rotund. He wears nice sweaters and loves to sing in the church choir. He is a compassionate, outgoing but sensitive young man working at the local funeral home with a rare kind of precision and vigour. His forte is in comforting the grieving widows. Hmm.

Bernie (Madman) is also about murder, a true story that would’ve made Herzog weak at the knees. It’s directed by Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) who revels in the eccentricities of the residents of Carthage Texas, even going into documentary mode with straight to camera interviews with the real residents.

The cast includes Matthew McConaughey as an ambitious DA and Shirley MacLaine as a dour mean spirited widow, but you can’t go past the tour de force performance from Jack Black as the sweet effeminate Bernie Tiede. Bernie raises many questions.  Do mean people deserve to die? Can good people do bad things? And what happens when you push a Christian way too far?

Fragmented Films Oct 2012

German lunatic auteur Werner Herzog couldn’t make a straight film if he tried. His truth is much stranger than fiction, skewed horribly by his all-encompassing ego and the madness that coarses through his veins.

Yet he makes great films and has done so since the late 60’s, modern masterpieces like Aguirre Wrath of God and Fitzcaraldo, where he physically dragged a three story riverboat from one river system over a hill into another, deep in the Amazon jungle. People died on his sets, it was crazy. In fact the making of Fitzcaraldo is a film itself, Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (Shock), documents Herzog’s obsession in the wake of attack from hostile Indians, plane crashed and torrential rain.  Herzog interviewed in the jungle is pure feverish ramblings of a man on the edge of sanity, offering the most amazing turn of phrase you will ever hear. “Even the stars are a mess he offered,” before admitting there was a kind of harmony in the jungle, “but it is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.”

Whilst his fictional films, particularly something like 1982’s Fitzcaraldo possessed a gritty kind of realism, he’s tempered his fictional work with numerous documentaries like the strange and at times harrowing Grizzly Man, and Little Dieter Needs to Fly (that he later fictionalised as Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale). Recently his fictional work, the aforementioned Rescue Dawn and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans have lacked the danger and vitality of his 70’s oeuvre, and though his crew are no doubt happy, it seemed like his best work was behind him. 2009’s My Son My Son, What Have Ye Done collaboration with David Lynch, signalled something of a return to form, though these days he’s at his most edgy and peculiar in his documentaries.

What’s interesting is that he’s not attempting to sell the audience that he’s offering some kind of objective truth, rather his ego often has him front and centre in the midst of the action.

The incredible Chauvet Cave in France, which had been sealed off for over 20,000 years was discovered in 1994. Due to a rockslide, everything inside was preserved untouched, pristine rock paintings, fossilized skulls of extinct cave bears, even footprints of prehistoric man. Only a select few scientists have been allowed entry, but for some unknown reason when they were looking for a documentarian they chose Herzog.

The Cave Of Forgotten Dream (Reel) is remarkably poignant, Herzog narrating poetic musings on the lives and circumstances of the artists alongside interviews with the scientists. He’s fascinated by the process of filming it, wearing the limitations on his sleeve and allowing the viewer to experience the remarkable artworks as he does, using light and capturing the contours of the cave perfectly.  He tangents of course, capturing a master perfumer roaming the countryside outside the cave, searching for more caverns with his heightened sense of smell, and later manages to link albino crocodiles basking in water heated by a nuclear reactor 20 miles away, but that’s what we love about Herzog, emotional poignancy with a splash of tangential ego.

 

 

Fragmented Films July 2010

Cinema has a perverse hard on for portraying grueling descents into madness, but they’ve never been as maliciously evil as White Lightin (Madman), a white trash horror show masquerading as a biopic, offering the words ‘based on a true story,’ which in cinematic speak means ‘we made this shit up.’ Jesco White is a tap dancing hillbilly psychopath with a penchant for huffing (chroming) lighter fluid. He dances to keep the devil at bay, but Jesco has psychosis running through his veins, and even a puffy white trash Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) as his older love interest can’t save this tortured butterfly. Filmed with an abundance of style and blessed with an amazing gothic backwoods soundtrack, it’s equally revolting and hysterical, dark, bleak and wrong.

Our next ‘true’ story is German lunatic Werner Herzog’s 1981 Invincible (Aztec), an English language film set in 1930’s Berlin during the ascension of the Nazi party. Herzog populates his film with non actors like a concert pianist, a Finish bodybuilder who was once the world’s strongest man, yet also Tim Roth as a malevolent and spooky stage clairvoyant and Fragmented Films favourite Udo Kier who fails to suppress his own innate malevolence and spookiness. It’s the folkloric tale of a Polish Jew who become a sensation in a blond wig as a symbol of Aryan strength. In Herzog’s hands strongman Jouka Ahola’s Schwartzeneggeresque performance reads as a kind of earthy holiness, whilst Roth is at his smarmy best. Although this typically bizarre Herzogian tale of confidence tricksters and doomed prophets twists and turns in some truly unexpected ways, it is a little, dare I say it, self indulgent – even for Herzog, a man who eats self indulgence for breakfast.

Next up cross your fingers, close your eyes and hope to hell it’s not true. In The Loop (Madman) is an hysterically funny potty mouth trawl through the back-rooms of UK and US political power brokers on the eve of war in the middle east and reveals, well, a bunch of naive incompetent self important fools. Forget weapons of mass destruction, it’s all about ego, as seemingly innocuous comments from a bumbling British MP create a domino effect that leads the world to the brink. It’s achingly painful, the Office with the savage bite of Dr Strangelove.

Blatant lies and laughingly inaccurate facts populate these desperately earnest tales of teenagers in the evil clutches of drug addiction in Hooked (Rocket). Perhaps the genius of this collection and also the second volume, which contains the infamous Reefer Madness, is that these educational films haven’t been re-mastered, there are blotches, the film and soundtrack skips, often to laughingly ridiculous results. They should be illegal themselves. Instead they just make you want to take drugs.

Finally we catch Bjork’s squeeze in Matthew Barney: No Restraint (Arthouse Films) where we see this polarising artist creating giant moulds of petroleum jelly on the deck of a Japanese whaling boat. Of course no one understands what the hell he’s doing but that’s nothing new, his art is dense and precocious. A highlight is Bjork discussing the sub bass symphony she composed for the work.

Fragmented Films January 2010

“There is something in Bruno that is very unusual in the expression of his eyes,” offers German auteur/ lunatic Werner Herzog in his commentary to 1976’s Stroszek (Umbrella). That’s because Bruno S the actor had spent 23 years in a mental institution and there’s a curious detachment and acceptance of trauma in his performance. Herzog, who has never officially been diagnosed, populates his film with a mixture of actors, pimps, street hustlers and freaks. Set in Berlin, Bruno freshly released from prison befriends the prostitute Eva and their elderly possibly dementia ridden neighbour. “The borderline between reality and fiction is very blurred,” Herzog admits as we see the inside of the real Bruno’s apartment, the bar that he drinks at, people he knows. After being repeatedly beaten up by Eva’s pimps the trio elect to move to Wisconsin USA. Yet the American dream they’re chasing in Herzog’s eyes is grim and unforgiving, a cold barren redneck wasteland devoid of the opportunity they’re yearning for. Magnificent, absurd, sweet and cruel, it was apparently the film that Ian Curtis (Joy Division) watched on the night he killed himself – I blame the dancing chickens.

“The villagers are in a collective trance or sleepwalkers walking towards an impending doom,” offers a cheery Herzog in the commentary to another film he made in 1976. Heart of Glass (Umbrella) gave him an excuse to personally hypnotize the majority of the cast, setting the actors tasks then using their responses to script this strange plodding film. It results in a detached, almost otherworldly feel in this allegorical tale about the demise of a Bavarian glassworks factory in the 17th century. It’s cryptic, slow and more than a little self indulgent. Recently a writer couldn’t decide if Herzog was a pompous windbag or God’s gift to cinema. Fragmented Films believes it’s a little from column a and a little from column b, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Circuit: Series 2 (SBS/Madman) reminds us what an incredibly brutal and beautiful country we live in by taking us out to Broome and outlying indigenous communities as we follow the traveling circuit court. We’re introduced to this via a ‘coconut’, Drew, black outside, white educated, an Aboriginal lawyer from Perth now working in legal aid. Whilst the first series laid the foundation, the second really amps up the drama as Drew becomes more firmly integrated into the community. It doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, petrol sniffing, riots, land claims, deaths in custody, sexual abuse, and the divide between the community and police. Yet it approaches it with a grace, sensitivity and intelligence that is sorely lacking on Australian TV, eschewing preachiness for drama.

Lucky Country (Madman) is a grim little potboiler, a menacing Australian period piece set in an isolated bush cabin in 1902. “Nobody gets out without a scratch,” laughs Aden Young (Black Robe), face drizzled in blood on the second disc of extras. He plays the rapidly disintegrating father of two young people who’s isolation is disturbed by the appearance of three ex soldiers. It’s a bleak claustrophobic gem from Kriv Stenders (Boxing Day), in which the dark confines of the cabin become a menacing psychological battleground and every statement feels laden with an ill defined menace.

The makers of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job: Season 3 (Madman) are chubby acid burn outs with a fetish for the uncomfortable and wrong. They love the raw dodginess of community television and populate their absurdist sketches with real freaks, Hollywood actors like John C Reilly, and take on various bizarre misfit characters themselves. It all looks like it was made on bad 80’s videotape. And if wasn’t for the gratuitous burp and fart jokes coupled with their concerning desire to smear brown substances over their faces, you’d swear that it was a bold and incisive parody of the plastic veneer of commercial television. But it’s not. It’s just idiots being dick-heads. And it’s genius.

Did you know the ocean floor is a dazzling multi coloured wonderland? That children run across the the tops of waves in the midst of a storm? Or that the ocean is a living breathing creature? No? Well it’s all true in Japanese anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki‘s Ponyo (Madman). His whimsical tale inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid is a sweet little tale of a goldfish called Ponyo who falls in love with a boy and takes human form. It’s a visually stunning life affirming feast for the imagination voiced by a bunch of Hollywood stars.