Not a review as of yet: Rubber, a modern drama

This French movie, filmed in the U.S., will hopefully be available on DVD in coming months. I doubt it will gain exposure in theatres as the subject matter is likely too  dark and depressing, but the trailer alone hints at a masterpiece.

“Rubber” is the story of Robert who, wandering through the desert, gains awareness and special, powerful, psychic powers. One central theme of “rubber” is extermination, you may even call it genocide.

You see, Robert is a used tire. A car tire. Rolling aimlessly, unknowingly, through the desertic landscapes of the American Southwest, discarded. Used up. Until that moment when Robert rolls up languidly to a junkyard where humans are burning stacks of old tires: Robert’s kin. From then on, Robert’s burgeoning psychic powers will hone themselves into a weapon which he will turn against this humanity who created his people only to reject them after 40.000 miles or less.

Robert found his mission.

Here is just one of the trailers.


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Leslie “Don’t call me Shirley” Nielsen has died

He passed away Sunday, at the age of 84, due to complications from pneumonia.

Leslie Nielsen was born in Skaskatchewan, Canada in 1926.  He served in the Canadian Air Force and worked as a disk jockey before taking up acting.  He began working in television in 1948 with more than 50 appearances in two years.  He later went on to appear in a great many television shows.

He started in films in 1956.  His first roles were dramatic.  My first and fondest memories of Leslie Nielsen are as Commander Adams in The Forbidden Planet (1956) and the Captain in The Poseidon Adventure (1972).  Nielsen gained his biggest fame when he starred in Airplane! (1980) later in The Naked Gun  (1988) and it’s sequels.  His ability to play a serious character who is oblivious to the absurdity surrounding him brought him a new generation of fan.

Leslie William Nielsen will be missed by all.  We, at JBoD, extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends, and fans.

Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis in The Forbidden Planet
Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis in The Forbidden Planet


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The Hard Times of the Dust Bowl

Conquest, famine, death

This is a real life horror story which is dying along with those people who lived it. So many things about it are hard to fathom and I don’t just mean the sheer size of the disaster, nor its duration.
Life on the Plains during the Dust Bowl has never been depicted in films. Ask people and they’ll counter with “the grapes of wrath” which showed a family who had moved away from the disaster, to California. A tangential story.
On the Plains, some of those who stayed formed “the last man club” and vowed to wait it out. Die hards led by a bit of a blow hard named McCarty who turned out not to be last to leave.

A dust storm approaching Spearman. In: “Monthly Weather Review,” Volume 63, April 1935, p. 148. Image ID: wea01422, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection

Eight years of drought, of dust storms of epic proportions, record heat, of futile efforts to seal homes from dust so fine it got everywhere, in people’s food, skin, lungs, of days turned to such darkness you could not see further than a few feet and at worst, not even the hand if front of your face.
Birds flew away until they dropped from exhaustion and were covered up in billowing dust.
People who had survived through the Spanish flu had to wear masks again, this time to keep the dust out, which could not be stopped, slowly suffocating out there in the open.
The plains were becoming a tomb, impossible amounts of dirt lifted hundreds of feet up into the sky and swept across the land, burying everything, killing man and beast alike.
Plagues of locusts and swarms of jack rabbits left nothing behind.

Dust buried farms and equipment, killed livestock, and caused human death and misery during the height of the Dust Bowl years. In: “Monthly Weather Review,” June 1936, p.196. Image ID: wea01408, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection

Children dreamed of the rabbits’ screaming as they were culled on Sundays with sticks and rods.
Static electricity generated by the storms was powerful enough to knock men down if they shook hands. People got to wearing gloves, along with the masks. Cars drug chains tied to their rear bumper in order to ground the vehicles. In the spring of 1935, winds blew non-stop for 27 days. Near Amarillo, Texas, a crow’s nest was found, made entirely of pieces of barbed wire, the only material to be found by the bird. Some folks went mad. Some suffocated while others succumbed to dust pneumonia. There were murder-suicides.

Dallas, South Dakota Source: United States Department of Agriculture; Image Number: 00di0971

Towns put up signs warning those who’d left the Plains to keep moving on as they couldn’t take care of their own.
And yet, whatever lessons there were to learn were not, by and large. The three horsemen of the terrible thirties will ride again.

The above section was written by Lastech.  The section below was written by Rudha-an.

Credit for the first two pictures goes to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce and the collection can be found here by using the search function.  http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/index.html

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan tells the personal and sometimes painful stories of several people who survived the Dust Bowl.  This book puts a very human face on this ecological disaster.  It won the 2006 National Book Award for nonfiction.

This book gets 5 claws

Surviving the Dust Bowl is a part of the PBS series “American Experience”.  While not a great documentary, it makes a good companion piece to the Timothy Egan’s book above.  Several of the people interviewed were featured in the book.  Warning, there is footage of the rabbit culling that can be rather disturbing.

This documentary gets 3 beans.

3 beans

Last, but not least, we leave you with a song by Woody Guthrie.  Guthrie grew up in OK, and was living in the Texas panhandle when the storm that gave the Dust Bowl its name occurred.  It happened on April 14, 1935 and it was so huge that many people believed it was the end of the world.  It was known as Black Sunday.   Woody recorded this song for the Library of Congress. The real name of the song is “Dusty Ole Dust”.


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Midnight Movie Madness

Dark portals: the chronicles of Vidocq” – Reflections before the lights (98 minutes, France 2001)

“One man struck by lightning is an accident. Two men struck by lightning is a conspiracy.”

Word of advice: the dubbing is pretty bad on this one, so you may well want to listen to the French soundtrack with English subtitles… And dark as the movie is visually, you’ll want to wait after Midnight.
Paris in 1830, capital of a country in turmoil, with a regime installed by the Prussians.  Francois Vidocq (Gerard Depardieu), former creator and head of Napoleon’s secret police, sacked under the current government, is now France’s most famous detective.
Someone has been killing French notables with no discernible link between them, stumping the chief of Parisian police. Worse yet, the assassin used lightning to set them ablaze!
Hot on the mysterious killer’s trail, Vidocq chases him into a glass factory. Deep into the bowels of this place, Vidocq fights this “Alchemist”, as he is known, who seems possessed of super-human abilities, with stamina and acrobatics which Vidocq cannot match. And indeed, the detective falls into a furnace pit, seemingly to his death.
As the paper men all over Paris shout that Vidocq is dead, his former partner Nimier (Moussa Maaskri) receives an unwelcome visit from young journalist Etienne Boisset (actor-film maker Guillaume Canet), who claims to have worked with Vidocq on his biography. Boisset now is intent on discovering everything about Vidocq’s last case, the pursuit of the Alchemist.
In flashbacks, we retrace the steps which led Vidocq to the glass factory, through the darkest chambers at the heart of the City of Light, and the hellish plot the “victims” were involved in.
This is an interesting story with layers. Vidocq is part of French history, a former convict, whom Napoleon did in fact utilize to great effect in reforming French police. That in itself is worth researching. This film has an interesting look and atmosphere as well, part video game, part graphic novel, dark with vivid colors, shot entirely in digital with Sony’s 1080 p, 24 fps camera before even Star Wars episode II.
Written and directed by Pitof, “Chronicles of Vidocq” also profits from Marc Caro’s character design. Caro used to collaborate with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on comic strips and “City of lost children”. Bruno Coulais’ music suits the mood perfectly as well.
This is a dark tale, which will put viewers in mind of “from hell”, though very distinct. A lovely trip to take past midnight.

Dark portals: the chronicles of Vidocq” gets 4  jellybeans.

4 beans


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Thrice upon a time, far from the West…

The Weather Underground thingamajig in the top right corner reads 88 degrees Farenheit as I’m about to post this. How appropriate.
Please be sure to comment below, and let us know what you think..!

This past week, I decided to check out three foreign Westerns, the third of which I’d already seen a while ago, to add some balance perhaps: “the good, the bad, the weird” from South Korea (2008), “Renegade” from France (2004) and “800 bullets” from Spain (2002). All three are over two hours long.

There was one revelation: “the good, the bad, the weird”… It’s especially rare to laugh out loud as I did watching this, and to hit the back button on the DVD player to replay a scene.
I enjoy bathroom humor. I do. It was funny when I was a kid, it’s still funny now. One example is when the weird, Tae Goo, kills two men in the same way, by use of a rod kicked up their nether region with farting sounds and a weird expression of… Delight on one baddy’s face.
Yeah, I cringed too, but seeing as this was in a fight, not some torture scene, fair is fair.
But it’s not all off color jokes. Matter of fact it’s not all jokes, there’s quite a lot of bloodshed, shootings, stabbings et al. There is some excellent stunt work as well, horsemanship and gorgeous scenery which they shot mostly in Manchuria, in the desert.

There are three main characters, a bounty hunter named Do-Wan (the good), a ruthless psychopathic gun for hire going into business for himself named Chang-Yi (the bad), a train-robber with more lives than a cat named Tae-Goo (yes, the weird), and some strong supporting turns throughout.

During a train robbery, Tae-Goo (the weird), “acquires” what appears to be an invaluable treasure map, and from then on, he has both Do-Wan (the bounty hunter) and Chang-Yi (the killer) on his heels, as well as the Ghost Market Gang, Manchurian bandits, the Japanese and Manchurian armies, plus a few spies.
I’m hoping for a sequel because this Tae-Goo has mucho comedic potential. The bounty hunter’s more two dimensional (he’s supposed to be a good guy, and as we’ll see with Renegade, that can be a problemo).
As to Chang-Yi the bad guy, interesting look, with a dark pinstripe suit and hair covering half his face, Manga-style.
And yet, it all works. Maybe because director Kim Ji Yoo keeps the action moving fast, maybe because the score, evocating Ennio Morricone and the Gypsy Kings at times, is rousing, especially when the story veers into Road Runner and Coyote territory on an epic scale, and it works very well indeed.

This movie gets 5 beans

5 beans

Renegade”, the French Western, also uses an ancient map/manuscript as a ploy to bring villains in search of gold to the Sacred Mountains of the Chiracahua. Beyond that, “Renegade” becomes a convoluted mess.

The basis for this movie is a Belgian-French comic book which ran from the sixties to about the mid seventies, following the adventures of Mike “Blueberry” Donovan, a Southerner who joined the U.S. cavalry after the Civil War, and has a much more interesting character arc. In this adaptation, Blueberry (Vincent Cassel) has been transformed into a kid from a relatively well-to-do Cajun family, sent West to an uncle’s ranch to “straighten” out some. This was meant to “explain” Cassel’s French accent, but is a pretty big deviation from the original, and a questionable one.

Young Blueberry is involved in a fight at a whorehouse with Wallace Blount (Michael Madsen). Blueberry and Blount survive, but the girl Blueberry spent the evening with gets a bullet in the head and burns in a fire. Wandering outside the town, a wounded Blueberry is rescued and nursed back to health by Chiracahua Indians. He remains with them for a few years until we flash forward to the present, which finds Blueberry as town marshal, still haunted by that fateful night years ago.
No. He hasn’t gotten over it.

Meanwhile, the local big rancher (Jeffrey Lewis) sends two “adventurers” into the mountains to find gold: Woodhead (an underutilized Djimon Hounsou) and “Prosit” Luckner (Eddie Izzard with a dodgy German accent). Prosit Luckner’s made deals of his own, with Wallace Blount, who is after something more than just Indian gold.

Now, a few reviewers have been turned off by a couple of scenes using special effects, first to depict Blueberry’s vision quest with the Chiracahua, and secondly to show Blueberry’s surreal spiritual fight against Blount after they both drink some potion in the Sacred Mountains’ treasure cave.

Renegade” has a number of problems, not the least of which being that the good guy is just about as vapid as the bounty hunter of “the good, the bad, the weird”, only more so. That is really a waste of Cassel’s talent. This makes the villain, Wallace Blount, the real center of gravity of the story, even though Michael Madsen is doing the same schtick he’s been doing since “reservoir dogs”.

Juliette Lewis (Jeffrey Lewis’ daughter in real life) is miscast as the rancher’s daughter, saloon manager and Blueberry’s love interest.
Lewis’ persona is too modern, but then…
Then the film makers sinned.
They sinned by having her belt out “Danny Boy” in her saloon, very badly slaughtering the song. And “Danny Boy” is really not something you caricature if you don’t want your audience to groan in pain.
It gets worse. She sings a few bars of it again later on, trying to bring Blueberry back to the living. That-actually-hurt.
There is beautiful scenery. There are some very good actors. But in this “baguetti Western” as Izzard called it, their talents are mostly wasted and the better scenes are actually the special effects sequences, which drag on a tad too long, especially the second one. Pass.
If you are interested in surrealism in a Western, check out “dead man” with Johnny Depp or “El Topo” with Alejandro Jodorovsky instead.

This movie gets no beans

totally redone beans red 0

A movie about movies is how director Alex de la Iglesia described “800 bullets”. The story takes place in modern day Spain, where we have a family torn by tragedy, as well as the land-grabbing scheme familiar to Westerns. Julian Torralba (Sancho Gracia) is a movie stuntman decades past his best days working on American Westerns shot in Almeria. Some years ago, his son died performing a stunt on a Russian backed Western. Julian now spends his days performing with his troupe for the occasional car load of German tourists, eking out a living, getting drunk and reminding everyone of his glory days doing stunts for Clint Eastwood or George S. Scott (sic).
His daughter in law Laura (Carmen Maura) is an executive at a real estate development firm in Madrid, living with her 10 year old son Carlos (Luis Castro) and her mother in law Rocio (Terele Pavez).

During a family move, Carlos discovers photos of his late father and of his grandfather, Julian. Laura refuses to answer his questions, but Rocio tells him about Julian before swearing him to secrecy. She and Laura get along icily. It’s summer recess and Laura puts Carlos on the school bus taking him to a ski trip. Carlos instead hops in a cab and ends up in the desert of Almeria wearing mountain clothing, looking for Julian.

You wouldn’t know it from reading the above, but “800 bullets” is a clever and fun comedy. It is mostly the lively dialogue and interaction between the very flawed (read ‘human’) characters which make this highly enjoyable. This is one to watch in Spanish with subtitles.

Julian is not a nice man, either. When Laura decides to buy the Western village where he and his troupe live and perform to build an amusement park, he visits her in Madrid to change her mind, promising he’ll never see Carlos again, and that he would put his grandson on the bus back to Madrid himself if Carlos tried to visit him in the future.
Laura’s not having any of this and the firm’s plans go ahead, prompting Julian to lead an armed resistance with his troupe of misfits.

800 bullets” reminds me of “I sell the dead” in that you sense the enthusiasm and love of movies throughout the entire film. It’s also typical of Alex de la Iglesia’s movies in the rich tapestry of characters: it’s not just leads and supporting actors, virtually all of them have good lines and are funny and  a unique depiction of who they are.
Take the cab driver who takes Carlos to Almeria (he also played the perv neighbor dressed as Darth Vader in de la Iglesia’s “la comunidad”). Or the undertaker, who years ago was hired on a Spaghetti Western which folded because of rain: throughout the movie, he cusses in Italian. The only thing he ever got out of that deal…

This movie gets 4 beans

4 beans

It’s good to sample foreign made Westerns, “the proposition” being a prime example. France has a couple more which are also derived from a comic books series: “Lucky Luke”. They are not yet available in region 1 (unless in Canada but probably without subtitles), but hey, let’s hope for the best.


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Midnight Movie Madness

“The Haunting” – (112 minutes UK-USA 1963)

“It ought to be burned down… And the ground sowed with salt.”

Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), an anthropologist interested in paranormal phenomena, puts together a diverse group to study Hill House: Theadora (Claire Bloom), a clairvoyant, befriends Eleanor (Julie Harris) who was the subject of unexplained poltergeist activities as a child. Theadora may be attracted to Eleanor, but Eleanor develops a crush on Markway. Russ Tamblyn is the youngest of the owners, trying to figure out what kind of business to make of the old mansion. Together the group explores Hill House and face their own insecurities.

“The Haunting” is the quintessential Midnight Movie, a true masterpiece which almost never happened were it not for Robert Wise’s vision, although I’m not certain he truly knew what acquiring the rights to Shirley Jackson’s book would lead to. Wise ended up setting up production in the UK, since he could secure better financing there. This movie’s influence is felt even today, not as easily defined as a shot or a few bars of music, rather like a suggestion, transcending and advancing several genres.
Is it the story of Eleanor’s (Julie Harris) mental breakdown, or of the house and its haunting?
By the end, you sense that the house is a gestalt, blending suffering souls ended in our dominion, to form a different natural order. Jean Cocteau might have smiled upon this house, though perhaps reservedly.

This is visual poetry, with elements of horror, thriller, and psychological study. No wonder, perhaps, since this movie was based on a book by Shirley Jackson.

Two other recommendations for the subgenre:
“Stir of echoes” (1999) starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe and Illeana Douglas;
“The changeling” (1980) starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas.

“The Haunting” gets 5 JellyBeans…

5 beans


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Sued for sexual harrassment, Dracula gets charge reduced to tailgating!

Might as well start with a joke… I was going to do a review of “Nosferatu” for Wednesday’s Midnight Movie Madness, but then realized I’d not only done a write up on “Daughters of Darkness” last week, but we also brought in Dan Simmons’ “carrion comfort” from the library. Enough suckers for a week…
That being said, in his introduction of the 20th anniversary of his book, Simmons has interesting things to say about what he calls the mind-vampire.

In real life, this mind-vampire appears to be abusive, immature, governed by compulsion and survival needs, with a keen understanding of others but unable to care about them. He is perhaps cunning rather than intelligent and skilled in the uses of suggestion. In short, a manipulative bully, a hybrid of vampire and serial killer.

What makes the serial killer perhaps scarier is that he’s not bound by rules. No garlic, running water, sunlight or crucifix, no requirement to even be invited in! This frankly makes the vampire seem, well, civilized by comparison, as though the vampire represented waning aristocracy. And in Murnau’s “Nosferatu”, the count is pretty mangy indeed, filthy even, with his rodent features and traveling as he does with coffins filled with dirt and plague-carrying rats.

“This vampire killed many rats… In the litter box, mostly…”

Dracula Tito in red

Today’s vampires are merely grungy, probably listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, driving their black Euro SUVs at night.
Back in real life, the old saying of treating others the way you’d like to be treated has another side: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. The thing is that much of human interaction boils down to rape, the imposition of one upon another, and hard times show that most people are unfortunately not bound by any moral or ethical restraint. The mind-vampire could most likely be a boss, such as the infamous Richard C. Woollam (formerly of BP) but perhaps a spouse, a relative, anyone really, who can detect vulnerabilities and inflict damaging words or words conveying some threat.

No man or woman is an island as they say, and so if you can’t be bullied or cajoled into acting against your own interest, the mind-vampire will influence others and turn them against you.
Human nature being what it is, manipulation readily crosses into coercion or worse. I think that’s been shown in part by Stanley Milgram’s (Yale, 1961) and Philip Zimbardo’s experiments (Stanford, 1971).
Well then, how’s about a good ole ghost story…?


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Adventures Through Time and Space

“The Mighty Boosh” – Surreal adventures through time and space (UK 2004)

“Don’t be cynical

It’s a follicle miracle!”

Sometime in 2007, a co-worker e-mailed me a link to a Youtube video taken from a show I’d never heard of. The clip was maybe 9 minutes long, from a British comedy series called “the Mighty Boosh”. This was from an episode from season 2 entitled “the legend of Old Gregg”.

I waited another two years for the series DVDs to be released here. I was hooked.

The Mighty Boosh’s first season (8 episodes) introduces Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) and Howard Moon (Julian Barratt), two zookeepers working at the run-down Zooniverse managed by Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher). Vince Noir is obsessed with hair products, electro music and is the apparent air-head of the two. Howard Moon is a Jazz fanatic and prone to embellishments.

Season two (6 episodes) finds Vince and Howard sharing an apartment with fortune teller Naboo (Michael Fielding, real-life brother of Noel) who really is a shaman, and Bollo the gorilla (Dave Brown in a gorilla suit). As to Season 3 (6 episodes), Vince and Howard now work for Naboo at his shop (the Nabootique).

No explanations are given for the changes in settings between seasons, much like in a dream, you find yourself in different places without transition. What matters are the adventures and characters, from the North Pole to planet Xooberon, even the afterlife, where the Ape of Death suffers from bad hair as well as a short temper and Death (actually Deaths, plural) ferry the departed in taxi cabs through space and speak with a Cockney accent.

Each episode has a different story arc, giving this series a leisurely pace, as opposed to say, “Big Train” which is composed of short sketches. Flashbacks are often done using colorful animations and there are several musical numbers per episode. Most of the songs are pretty catchy and contribute greatly to the feeling of whimsy. The look of the series is very colorful and never dull, as the entire series was shot in studio, with special effects described as cheap by some viewers, but in actuality charmingly quaint. For instance, a scene in which protagonists are being chased by the Yeti was shot with the actors running in place in front of a backlit screen rolling in a loop. It’s a pretty common technique used in older films and series, which helps give the Mighty Boosh some sort of “grounding” visually.
Each DVD set includes two discs and plenty extras, such as interviews, making of, Boosh music, bloopers, etc. for many hours of enjoyment. Rich Fulcher is the sole American of the cast and deserves a special nod. He is extremely funny in his various roles, the deviant Bob Fossil, the Ape of Death and kinky Eleanor among others. The bloke is mental.
The series followed a common development pattern in Great Britain, from stage to radio and finally television, with plenty of time to refine and hone a wonderful and unique program. The Boosh really has to be experienced.
A word of caution, however, due to the common usage of profanity (four letter words), I would not recommend it for family viewing if you have young children.

“The Mighty Boosh” gets 5 jellybeans

5 beans


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