Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My 100 Worst Favorite Movies, Part 6

Happy Accidents – More or less an insignificant blip on cinema’s radar, Happy Accidents is a disposable feel-good romantic comedy (exactly the type of thing I normally ignore or, if pushed, hate) with a whimsical touch. Ruby falls in love with Sam, who’s a bit quirky but otherwise a real nice guy, except that he has this hard-to-swallow secret life as a time-traveler from the future. I’m probably heavily biased by my soft spot for leads Vincent D’Onofrio and Marisa Tomei (and even a bit for 2nd-tier genre helmer Brad Anderson), not to mention my obsession with time-travel movies, but I was really charmed. Think of it as K-PAX meets Kate & Leopold. Actually, don't think of it as that. That sounds like crap.

Heart of Glass – This dreary Bavarian arthouse folktale follows a small village as it succumbs to apocalyptic madness and destruction after losing the secret of their famous ruby red glass. It may be helmed by Germany’s established  national treasure Werner Herzog, but it remains amongst his least popular works, in part due to the uniformly dispassionate blankness of the cast, the result, purportedly, of his having hypnotized the entire cast. The turgid pacing, esoteric historical setting and cryptic epilogue didn’t help draw audiences either. I find that the total lack of affect in the performances perfectly complements the unforgivingly doom-laden mood.

High Strung – This forgotten low-budget black comedy consists almost entirely of an angry man who never leaves his apartment (writer Steve Oedekerk) ranting about all the minor annoyances in his life and revealing an array of paranoid phobias. He frequently concludes monologues by shouting “I’d rather be dead,” resulting in Death (pre-famous Jim Carrey) actually showing up to call his bluff. This is a shrill, unambitious and craftless film by the creative talent that went on to make such dubious hits as Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Patch Adams and Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, but even as a child I related to the curmudgeonly recluse. And also, it makes me laugh.

Hollow Triumph – Dr. Bartok is a psychologist with a theory that mankind intentionally ignores all details that don’t directly pertain to themselves out of lazy selfishness and convenience. An escaped convict, who looks exactly like Bartok except for a large facial scar, kills the doctor and impersonates him both professionally and romantically. But his own scar, self-inflicted, is based on a photo negative of the real psychologist and ends up on the wrong side. Will anyone notice or, irony of ironies, will Bartok’s theory hold true? Deliciously contrived 1940’s film noir whose ending twist adds yet more dark irony. Joan Bennet (who I think was more talented and prettier than she’s given credit for today) plays Bartok’s secretary. John Alton provides the shadowy cinematography.

Holy Blood – Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s penchant for spectacularly deranged visuals, anti-everything politics and dense allegorical tales color his works as eminently uncommercial and frequently opposed to the type of people and institutions that fund, market, distribute, view and buy movies. Holy Blood, shot in 1989, found a few champions amongst critics but alienated audiences, as usual, furthering his multi-decade financial freefall. The movie, a horror film about an ex-circus child whose armless mother exercises undue influence over his love life, doesn’t match the epic proportions, freestyle mysticism and mind-blowing imagery of his 1970’s output, but it showcases his most sincere and cohesive storytelling.

The Honeymoon Killers – Based on the true story of a pair of mismatched lovers, suave conman Ray Fernandez and disgruntled nurse Martha Beck, who swindled lonely women and frequently killed them, The Honeymoon Killers is the type of low-budget ripped-from-the-headlines exploitation that you know is going to be crude, uncomfortable and perfunctory. Only it’s not. Or at least, not in a bad way. Despite its failure at the box office, a growing circle came to appreciate its droll wit, spare cinematography and vividly drawn characters, especially Shirley Stoler as the unglamorous scene-shredding lead.  

Hugo the Hippo – The Sultan of Zanzibar captures hippos to clear his spice harbor of sharks, but his people soon forget their debt and hunt the hippos to death until the plucky local children rally to save Hugo, the last remaining Hippo, from the sultan’s evil advisor and mad magician. 1973 Hungarian animated musical with naïve, but catchy, soundtrack provided by the Osmonds. Based on a true story. I love the loopy Yellow Submarine-esque visual style and still get the songs, unpolished as they are, stuck in my head to this day. Almost every scene is iconic, but the most essential involves Hugo being pursued through a magic nightmare vegetable garden come alive.

I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen – In the not so distant future terrorist bombs have caused women to grow facial hair, precipitating a national crisis. Shaving robots are unfeasible, meaning the only hope lies in travelling back in time to assassinate Einstein so that the physics underlying the fiendish technology never develops. This is Czech comedy at its wackiest and while a lot of the humor fails to live up to the originality of the premise, the structure is surprisingly tight and the ensemble cast scores points for chemistry and charm. Some of the ideas about time-travel wouldn't be recycled into American films for decades to come.

Keoma – Keoma is easily one of my favorite spaghetti westerns, but when asked by friends whether I love it sincerely or ironically, I can only answer “Both.” Director Enzo Castellari (a rising favorite for me) pulls no punches is his ruthless tale of a halfbreed Indian who exterminate his own family in a messianic vengeance quest. The go-for-broke attitude pervades every aspect of the film: Franco Nero’s steely-eyed werewolf-maned performance, Woody Strode as a magical black guitar-picking archery master, the operatic score (imitating an imagined duet between Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez) that functions as overly-literal Greek chorus, the slow-motion stunt-chocked action sequences and the heavy-handed religious parallels (including the wandering spirit of death, a plague ravaged Dante-esque mining pit, a crucifixion scene and a painful childbirth set during and crosscut with the climatic shootout). Castellari's previous films include Johnny Hamlet, a spaghetti western adaptation of Shakespeare.

The Killing Kind – Director Curtis Harrington is, today, written off as a hack when he’s even written about at all. There’s good reason for that, but within his oeuvre of limp horror films and failed experiments is this unexpectedly real and affecting study of a young serial killer played by John Savage (in his first starring role) whose relationship with his mother is uncomfortably intimate. Dark, lonely and sad, everything can be read in the nuances of Savage’s breakthrough performance.

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