More Movie Madness

Continuing the catching-up round-up.

The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie, Y Tu Mama Tambien and Don’t Look Now

It’s probably a national duty for Australians abroad, and especially in Blighty, to watch the 1972 movie of Barry Humphries’ and Nicholas Garland’s classic comic strip, The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie. Having finally fulfilled that obligation via a loaned DVD I’m surprised how well it stands up, and how many of its cross-cultural complaints and observations still ring true. You can buy Vegemite here nowadays, but everything still costs a bloody fortune if you’re converting from A$ (or any $), and London-bound Aussies still love to play the ocker. Like Don’s Party, this is an early ’70s Oz artifact that’s still worth watching; a shame the sequel isn’t available on DVD yet.

I got to keep playing the virtual tourist with Y Tu Mama Tambien, the earlier outing for Gael “Che” Garcia Bernal. It’s a road movie, basically, in which two horny teenagers run off with an older woman and learn a few things about love and sex. Mama is sharp and funny, but the Mexican backdrop is what really makes it; one of those countries that has been hovering on my list of someday-visits for a while.

Venice is on the same list, so it was good to catch up with Don’t Look Now, a 1973 British horror movie with a classic reputation. It isn’t horrific by post-Exorcist standards, but is still suspenseful and well-acted, and for sheer atmosphere is hard to fault: lots of shots of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie dashing over bridges and through gloomy archways in echoing streets, with hardly anyone else around. Knowing my luck, when I finally get there the place will be full of people attending a Don’t Look Now convention.


Some Kind of Monster set the bar pretty high for rock documentaries, and I’m not sure Dig! clears it, but it’s a strong entry in the real-life-Tap olympics. It’s worth seeing just for the behind-the-scenes look at the Dandy Warhols (one of my favourite American bands), and to realise how under-appreciated they are in their home country; but the real interest is from the contrast with their peers in The Brian Jonestown Massacre, especially frontman Anton Newcombe. Newcombe comes off as one of the great self-destructive geniuses of rock, but not someone you’d want to stand too close to onstage. He’s complained that the director’s selective editing has done a Jerry Springer on him, and when it comes to a key scene with the Georgia police it sounds like he has a point. But onstage tantrums, even if they’re less frequent than a time-compressed movie suggests, are never going to look good. But what would I know; I like the Dandys’ music more than Jonestown’s, even though I was glad to hear BJM’s entire second album for free through their site.

Team America, War of the Worlds and Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Now that we’ve had a few years to get up a good head of Terror so that we can properly make War on it, we’re really starting to see the benefits at the box office. Exhibit A is Team America, the early-2005 movie by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park. It’s a few years since I’ve seen any South Park (not having a TV and all), but on the love-it-or-hate-it divide I guess I fall in the “love” camp; based on actual laughs (vs intellectual “I can see how this is supposed to be funny” laughs), the South Park movie was one of the funniest I’ve seen on the big-screen. Hard for Team America to beat, but it’s still a funny flick, with infectiously hummable songs like “America, Fuck Yeah” and “Montage”, and over-the-top explosions, deaths, chundering, and sex scenes, all rendered ridiculous by immaculate Thunderbirds puppetry. The movie’s main weakness was its Kim Il-Sung parody, a hamfisted repeat of South Park’s Saddam.

But the movie that really captures the spirit of the age, even though it has nothing to do with terrorism, is Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. I really wasn’t expecting much from it—in fact, couldn’t really see why Spielberg had bothered to make it—but it easily exceeded all my expectations. I keep forgetting how good a director Spielberg can be when he pulls out all the stops, as he really does here; the result is an incredibly tense movie-watching experience, and the best disaster movie of recent years—far superior to Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. Tom Cruise, not one of my favourite actors, makes an uncannily believable asshole; and the family dynamics in the foreground are far more engaging than The Day After Tomorrow’s, even if they’re basically a repeat of Dreyfuss and family in Close Encounters. Yes, there are plot holes, but War of the Worlds is surprisingly faithful to Wells’s book (right down to the weak ending), yet never feels like warmed-over Victoriana. And the fresh life that Spielberg gives to our old friends the tripods is nothing short of exhilarating. I’d thought that nothing could displace the uuu-laaas of Jeff Wayne’s musical version from my brain, but this just might. My reactions may have been coloured by seeing War of the Worlds during G8 week, when the deserted streets of Edinburgh felt like New Jersey after the tripods arrived, but I still wanna see it again. (Which means that I’m now 2 for 2 in disagreeing with’s founders: Paul, who thinks that anyone who likes Spielberg’s A.I. is a dolt, and Nic, who thought this one was a monstrosity. Fortunately, we all seem to agree that Minority Report was below par.)

I’ve never seen the 1950s version of The War of the Worlds, but thanks to the wonders of DVD and digital restoration I’ve now enjoyed the amazingly cheesy Journey to the Center of the Earth. A lot of money and love clearly went into this movie, but not a lot of careful casting: James Mason is fun, but Pat Boone must be the most American-sounding Scot ever filmed. Yes, this was partly set in Edinburgh, with some amusing segues (if you’re a local) between different locations on opposite ends of town. But the real enjoyment is in watching the intrepid explorers make their way down to an underground sea surrounded by giant mushrooms and big red lizards... with their duck. Somehow I can’t see that detail making it into Roland Emmerich’s 2012 remake.

Downfall and Max

The German film Downfall, about the final days in Hitler’s bunker, is one of the best movies about World War II I’ve seen, and one of the best movies full-stop since City of God. Never mind wanting to see it again: for weeks afterwards I couldn’t get it out of my head. It brought back all my memories and thoughts of Berlin, and so much more; somehow the story of that two weeks captures all of the madness of the preceding years and foreshadows what was to come.

Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of the Führer is mesmerising, with moments of ranting craziness, but also a human side that shows how he could keep ordinary people in his thrall. Try to reconcile the popular portrayal of Hitler in English-language films with the fact that so many ordinary Germans fell for him, and you end up concluding that the German character itself is fundamentally flawed; here, though, there’s no easy dismissal of an entire people. This is a Hitler who could, in the right (or rather, tragically wrong) circumstances, have won followers anywhere. (Goebbels, on the other hand...)

Some critics pointed out that the “heroes” of the film—a principled doctor, a young and innocent secretary—were in real life neither as principled nor as innocent as they’re portrayed. But even allowing for dramatic distortions, Downfall doesn’t come across as apologia. It’s high tragedy of the grandest kind, as grim and gritty as Schindler’s List, and, with its constant drumbeat of muffled shells heard through the bunker walls, as claustrophobic as Das Boot. It’s easily my favourite film of 2005 so far, and it’s hard to see it losing that title in the remaining months of the year.

Max is another film about Hitler I’d been wanting to see for a while, and caught up with on DVD. More clearly fictional than Downfall, it explores another facet of the man: the struggling artist who never made it and went into politics instead. John Cusack plays a Jewish art dealer and war veteran who befriends the original Angry Young Mensch; he’s rich, elegant and assured, too much so for Hitler, who turns on his world in the most definitive way. Australia’s Noah Taylor does a good job as the young Adolf, but his performance is yet another English-speaking Hitler-as-ranter. After Bruno Ganz’s hypnotising German, any other version is going to seem as subtle as a bomb on a bunker.

29 July 2005 · Film

Wow - you really liked War of the Worlds? Well, I guess we do kinda need more crazy reviewers over at nofreelist. And you'd fit that bill nicely.


Added by Nic on 8 August 2005.