John Boorman, sinner and sinned against.

John Boorman, sinner and sinned against. (photo)

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It seems like every day brings ever more remake announcements. The entire internet is frothing at the mouth with ongoing discussions about childhoods being metaphorically raped and the point of it all. Most notable this week was the outcry when it was reported that Robert Zemeckis and Disney are in negotiations about a 3-D motion-capture animated version of “Yellow Submarine.” It’s not like there’s anything sacred about “Yellow Submarine,” a perfectly fun movie with lots of cool visuals, bad puns and surrealist logic. How could it be tarnished with a remake that ups the eye candy factor? The director of “Back To The Future” doesn’t get comedy? C’mon.

And if you think “Yellow Submarine” is untouchable, perhaps you’d like to exchange a few words with John Boorman about his upcoming animated remake of “The Wizard of Oz.” Boorman cheerfully admits he finds the original movie “very clunky.” He’s going to rectify that with an animated version in which Toto talks. Also, he plans to answer the question of why Dorothy is “so anxious to get back to this ghastly place, Kansas.” Take that, heartland platitudes! You have to admire Boorman’s chutzpah, which will endear him to no one not in love with perverse endeavors. As long as nobody touches Walter Murch’s deliriously messed-up, untoppable “Return To Oz,” I’m cool with it all.

In karmic return for potentially desecrating a movie beloved by millions, Boorman will just have to sit back and watch as Bryan Singer tries to remake 1981’s “Excalibur.” Boorman’s fondly remembered King Arthur hit is less infamously nutty than his earlier “Zardoz,” but it’s still idiosyncratic enough to make you wonder why Singer would bother. Singer’s a good company man when it comes to efficient blockbusters — at least around the time of “X2,” not so much on “Superman Returns.” Why someone thought Singer’s potential for overwrought portentousness should be married to Boorman’s own penchant for the over-the-top is unclear, but hey: it’s been five whole years since Antoine Fuqua’s “King Arthur” flopped! Time to try again!

I assume Singer’s Arthur will be just as moody as Superman, just as coded a metaphor for gay outcasts as the X-Men and just as inadvertently silly as pretty much every Camelot movie ever made. There’s a long history of Arthurian movies flopping, because they’re inevitably so silly and cliche-ridden (in his review of 1995’s long-forgotten “First Knight,” Anthony Lane mocked the usual “peasant” dialogue: “I tell you, there’ll be some feasting today!”). It seems unlikely this movie will actually get made; it’s too expensive and too senseless for even the dimmest studio exec. But “Yellow Submarine”? I’m totally rooting for that.

[Photo: Oh my. “The Wizard of Oz,” MGM, 1939]


Face Melting Cameos

The 10 Most Metal Pop Culture Cameos

Glenn Danzig drops by Portlandia tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Glenn Danzig rocks harder than granite. In his 60 years, he’s mastered punk with The Misfits, slayed metal with the eponymous Danzig, and generally melted faces with the force of his voice. And thanks to Fred and Carrie, he’s now stopping by tonight’s brand new Portlandia so we can finally get to see what “Evil Elvis” is like when he hits the beach. To celebrate his appearance, we put together our favorite metal moments from pop culture, from the sublime to the absurd.

10. Cannibal Corpse meets Ace Ventura

Back in the ’90s,  Cannibal Corpse was just a small time band from Upstate New York, plying their death metal wares wherever they could find a crowd, when a call from Jim Carry transformed their lives. Turns out the actor was a fan, and wanted them for a cameo in his new movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The band had a European tour coming up, and were wary of being made fun of, so they turned it down. Thankfully, the rubber-faced In Living Color vet wouldn’t take no for an answer, proving that you don’t need to have a lot of fans, just the right ones.

9. AC/DC in Private Parts

Howard Stern’s autobiographical film, based on his book of the same name, followed his rise in the world of radio and pop culture. For a man surrounded by naked ladies and adoring fans, it’s hard to track the exact moment he made it. But rocking out with AC/DC in the middle of Central Park, as throngs of fans clamor to get a piece of you, seems like it comes pretty close. You can actually see Stern go from hit host to radio god in this clip, as “You Shook Me All Night Long” blasts in the background.

8. Judas Priest meets The Simpsons

When you want to blast a bunch of peace-loving hippies out on their asses, you’re going to need some death metal. At least, that’s what the folks at The Simpsons thought when they set up this cameo from the metal gods. Unfortunately, thanks to a hearty online backlash, the writers of the classic series were soon informed that Judas Priest, while many things, are not in fact “death metal.” This led to the most Simpson-esque apology ever. Rock on, Bartman. Rock on.

7. Anthrax on Married…With Children

What do you get when Married…with Children spoofs My Dinner With Andre, substituting the erudite playwrights for a band so metal they piss rust? Well, for starters, a lot of headbanging, property destruction and blown eardrums. And much like everything else in life, Al seems to have missed the fun.

6. Motorhead rocks out on The Young Ones

The Young Ones didn’t just premiere on BBC2 in 1982 — it kicked the doors down to a new way of doing comedy. A full-on assault on the staid state of sitcoms, the show brought a punk rock vibe to the tired format, and in the process helped jumpstart a comedy revolution. For instance, where an old sitcom would just cut from one scene to the next, The Young Ones choose to have Lemmy and his crew deliver a raw version of “Ace of Spades.” The general attitude seemed to be, you don’t like this? Well, then F— you!

5. Red and Kitty Meet Kiss on That ’70s Show

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions

Long before they were banished to playing arena football games, Kiss was the hottest ticket in rock. The gang from That ’70s Show got to live out every ’70s teen’s dream when they were set loose backstage at a Kiss concert, taking full advantage of groupies, ganja and hard rock.

4. Ronnie James Dio in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (NSFW, people!)

What does a young boy do when he was born to rock, and the world won’t let him? What tight compadre does he pray to for guidance and some sweet licks? If you’re a young Jables, half of “the world’s most awesome band,” you bow your head to Ronnie James Dio, aka the guy who freaking taught the world how to do the “Metal Horns.” Never before has a rock god been so literal than in this clip that turns it up to eleven.

3. Ozzy Osbourne in Trick or Treat

It’s hard to tell if Ozzy was trying his hardest here, or just didn’t give a flying f–k. What is clear is that, either way, it doesn’t really matter. Ozzy’s approach to acting seems to lean more heavily on Jack Daniels than sense memory, and yet seeing the slurry English rocker play a sex-obsessed televangelist is so ridiculous, he gets a free pass. Taking part in the cult horror Trick or Treat, Ozzy proves that he makes things better just by showing up. Because that’s exactly what he did here. Showed up. And it rocks.

2. Glenn Danzig on Portlandia

Danzig seems to be coming out of a self imposed exile these days. He just signed with a record company, and his appearance on Portlandia is reminding everyone how kick ass he truly is. Who else but “The Other Man in Black” could help Portland’s resident goths figure out what to wear to the beach? Carrie Brownstein called Danzig “amazing,” and he called Fred “a genius,” so this was a rare love fest for the progenitor of horror punk.

1. Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World

It’s surprising, sure, but for a scene that contains no music whatsoever, it’s probably the most famous metal moment in the history of film. When Alice Cooper informed Wayne and Garth that Milwaukee is actually pronounced “Milly-way-kay” back in 1992, he created one of the most famous scenes in comedy history. What’s more metal than that? Much like Wayne and Garth, we truly are not worthy.

“It’s a twister! It’s a twister!”: Rating movie tornadoes

“It’s a twister! It’s a twister!”: Rating movie tornadoes (photo)

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Creating a tornado in a film has always been a test of the limits of special effects, but most people, luckily, haven’t gotten up close and personal with enough of them to spot the differences.

Keith Cecere and Rich Ruggiero, both active storm chasers (and co-stars in IFC’s storm-chasing mockumentary “Funnel of Darkness”), have.

That’s why they’ve offered their judgments on five movies known for their wicked weather sequences, which they’ve rated (both for the effects and the acting — hey, everyone’s a critic) on the Fujita scale, a scale for rating tornado intensity, from f1 (weakest) to f5 (strongest).

“Twister” (1996)
Directed by Jan de Bont

Rich Ruggiero: This classic gets an F5. The effects are really good — and it came out 13 years ago! In special effects time, that’s like 200 years. There’ve been a lot of advancements since then, but the filmmakers did a sick job with what they had back then. I love the various shapes the twister takes — they stayed away from the more stock shapes and kept it interesting. My main criticism is that there’s no way they’d be unscathed after that nader (storm chaser shorthand for tornado) passed over them. Keith did have a tornado pass over him once, but it ranked lower on the scale than this one. At the very least, some serious cuts and bruises would have come from this intercept. Plus, Helen Hunt, chasing tornadoes! She’s come a long way from her early days experimenting with PCP in after school specials.

“The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
Directed by Victor Fleming

Keith Cecere: We give “The Wiz” an F3. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this one, but of course it immediately came to mind. I’m pretty impressed with the nader in it, and the sound design is good too. We have some T.A.R.D. (tornado audio recording device) recordings that would show that the actual sound produced by a tornado is slightly different, but they didn’t have that type of technology to reference. The acting I cannot vouch for: these idiots are completely hamming it up with their “it’s so windy my legs just fly in the air when I try to get into the cellar.” The shape of the funnel is really what redeems “The Wiz.” You’d think they would automatically go for the straight wide funnel, but they opted for more of a rope. Nice touch.

Night of the Twisters (1996)
Directed by Timothy Bond

RR: F2. They chose to emphasize the destruction in this one. The nonstop chaos is fun to watch, and it’s always cool to see a toilet shoot its water through the vent pipe on the roof (a strange thing to highlight, but thank you). So for that, we start our rating with F5. However, the acting is so terrible that “NOTT” automatically loses three points — the only person that can act is the baby, and I’m sure they recorded all those cries after the shoot with a different baby. And the twister is just thrown in there, your basic wide funnel, whatever. The fact that it’s backlit by lightning has a special place in our hearts, but that’s about it. Also, the editing sucks.

“Devil Winds” (2003)
Directed by Gilbert M. Shilton

KC: Another F2. “Devil Winds” has got to be the best/worst name you could ever come up with for a movie about tornadoes. I love it, because it’s the cheesiest thing in the world. I’d be lying if I said “Devil Winds” did not inspire our band Black Wind. We actually wanted to be called Devil Winds at first, but got into some legal trouble with the film’s producers. Regarding the film, I don’t buy the twisters. There’s one in there that forms way too quickly. The dynamics of these puppies are also not very convincing, and they seem to all have the same shape. Tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes, so you should really be choosing from a wide palette when making your tornado movie. The one thing I do like is the addition of the airplane in the chase. That’s something that we’ve always wanted to get into, because we could get some really sick shots from up above, but for now we stay on the ground.

“Category 6: Day of Destruction” (2004)
Directed by Dick Lowry

RR: F1. This one sucks: there is no Category 6 for tornadoes, these guys have not done their research. And why would they choose Vegas? The only thing I like about it is that the guy in the executive suite at Caesars Palace is such a cheeseball. I think the filmmaker is trying to make a comment about philandering when he has the guy sucked out of the window, GHB-spiked cocktail in hand. I’d go so far as to say that there’s a larger comment here about consumerism and excess in general, given how two gigantic (and incredibly fake-looking) twisters tear Vegas apart. The movie also seems to have no plot, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about tornadoes. And the tornadoes are super-cheese. They did a better job in “The Wizard of Oz,” and that movie was made in 1939!

Vacillating Voiceovers: A History of Unreliable Narrators

Vacillating Voiceovers: A History of Unreliable Narrators (photo)

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We trust the movies. We have to. Most of them only work if we look up at the images changing 24-times-a-second in front of us and believe that they reflect some sort of objective reality where a man can fly his house to South America or alien robots can transform into cars. Even when a movie is told entirely from a character’s perspective, we assume that the intimacy cinema provides to hear a person’s thoughts or see things the way they do affords us some safety from deception. We are wrong. People lie; the movies can too.

Some movies take that trust and exploit it, or prey on it, or play with it. In “(500) Days of Summer,” a man named Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls in love with a woman named Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The film begins with Tom’s friends sitting him down and asking him to explain what happened in his relationship with Summer, then pinballs through his memories as he relates the 500 day affair via stream of consciousness. Tom’s perception of what happened colors what we see: his elation after his first night with Summer turns the scene into an elaborate Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly dance number. These sorts of moments begin to clue us in that Tom isn’t the most reliable narrator, that we’re only really getting one side of this story. Then again, incomplete as it is, Tom’s perspective has value too. Even if we doubt the reality of Tom’s account, we never doubt the film’s convincing (if biased) representation of a lovelorn soul’s troubled psyche.

On that (subjective) note, here’s a list of 12 more films that have been controlled, manipulated, and sometimes illuminated by unreliable narrators. But be warned: if you haven’t put your trust in these films yet, reading about them now could spoil their surprises for you in the future.

07162009_AmericanPsycho.jpg”American Psycho” (2000)

Mary Harron’s 2000 adaptation of Bret Easton’s Ellis’ novel retained key pieces of the book’s essential first-person narration via voiceover. Much of the novel’s success depends on the strength of its unreliable voice, and Harron translates that strangely constricted, untrustworthy perspective to film. At first, we see Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) as a pristine specimen, albeit one with a definite skin care fetish. “I believe in taking care of myself,” he says in his clipped, nasal diction, as we watch his perfect body curl through its morning exercises. Sounds reasonable. But then, after listing off several steps in his skin care regimen and peeling a transparent mask off his face, he says, “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there’s no real me, only an entity, something illusory.” Those are words of warning, as clear a declaration of unreliability that a narrator can make, and from that point on, the story of a Wall Street wunderkind’s descent into murder and madness becomes as abstract and illusory as its protagonist.

07162009_Detour.jpg”Detour” (1945)

Al Roberts blames his sordid story on fate. He crumples into a diner seat and reflects on the deaths that haunt him: “Did you ever want to cut away a piece of your memory and blot it out?” The question is whether his voiceover is doing the blotting. His tale is an improbable succession of morbid accidents (a forerunner to ”Final Destination”?) that leaves Roberts as the sole witness. On the surface of this waking nightmare, there’s no alternative to his POV: “That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” There are subtle gaps between his words and director Edgar G. Ulmer’s images, however, that have led many writers (most of all Andrew Britton) to conclude that Roberts’ story is an elaborate cover-up. His dancehall girl ditches him for L.A. when he says their relationship was “the most wonderful thing in the world.” Then he picks up Vera (Ann Savage) for no good reason, and she immediately pegs him as a murderer: “What’d you do, kiss him with a wrench?” There are cracks in his constructed reality, and his entreaties to fate could also be looked at as the desperate rationalizations of a guilty man.

07192009_mad_detective.jpg”Mad Detective” (2007)

In the opening sequence of this Johnnie To-Wai Ka-Fai thriller, Inspector Bun (Lau Ching-Wan) stabs a pig carcass, zips himself into a suitcase and has his partner toss it down the stairs. This kind of psychic-psychotic method is effective (the ice cream shop owner did it!), but there’s no doubt he has multiple screws loose. So when Bun says that he can visualize people’s inner personalities (portrayed by an array of idiosyncratic character actors), it’s never clear whether it’s an example of his madness or a legit supernatural power. His wife and pals think he’s nuts, but To films this gift from Bun’s POV, introducing a kernel of doubt as to the reality of his hallucinations (when To’s lyrical camerawork captures something, you want to believe it). You have to watch the film with a double vision, balancing faith and skepticism throughout, navigating each cut as a clue to Bun’s ultimate reality. It’s impossible to make a definitive statement about a film premised on narrative ambiguity, but just between you and me, I believe in Bun.

07152009_Fightclub.jpg“Fight Club” (1999)

“Fight Club”‘s twist wouldn’t work if director David Fincher didn’t first thoroughly establish Edward Norton’s downtrodden, aimless protagonist as relatable and, therefore, reliable. Stuck in a dull middle-class job with little compassionate human contact, buffeted by modern society’s non-stop advertising onslaughts, Norton’s narrator is an empathetic proxy for early 21st century disaffection with consumer culture. And because of it, no suspicions about his untrustworthiness arise even after he enters into a friendship with traveling soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and begins attending underground fight clubs with his new pal. Setting up his narrator as a glum everyman and then interjecting homoerotic suggestions into the character’s central relationship with Durden, Fincher cannily diverts attention away from the reality-altering denouement lying in wait, in which Durden turns out to exist only in the narrator’s mind, the muscled fight clubber merely one side of Norton’s split personality. Thanks to Fincher’s expertly orchestrated manipulations, the revelation is a stunner of epic proportions, making Norton’s character one of the most successfully (self-)deceptive narrators in cinema history.

07152009_WernerHerzog.jpg“My Best Fiend” (1999)

Thanks to their five combative collaborations on classics like “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo,” director Werner Herzog’s relationship with actor Klaus Kinski had, by the time of this 1999 Herzog-helmed documentary, become part of cinematic lore. Kinski was a madman and Herzog was his behind-the-camera equal, the pair’s rapport so combustible that, as recounted in Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams,” Herzog reportedly plotted to have his star assassinated by locals during “Fitzcarraldo”‘s production. Many such anecdotes are addressed in “My Best Fiend,” Herzog’s nonfiction portrait-cum-tribute to Kinski (who died in 1991), which is undeniably driven, first and foremost, by the director’s affection for his colleague. Yet Herzog’s tendency toward grandiloquent exaggeration — as well as, crucially, the absence of Kinski to verify or rebut the claims made — results in a frequently lopsided portrait of a creative partnership, one whose truths are so deeply colored by Herzog’s slanted perspective that it’s nigh impossible to get a complete handle on which of these two titanic artists was the real fiend.

07162009_caligari.jpgThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

With its devious twist ending, Robert Wiene’s expressionist landmark throws its entire narrative into question. The meek schoolboy Francis had told the whole infernal tale, of the wild-haired Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist assassin Cesare (a mournful Conrad Veidt), and of the death of his dear friend Alan at the latter’s unconscious hand. But as the last sequence reveals, the story might all be the result of his diseased, and very imaginative, mind (a quality possessed by the expressionists themselves). In his bravado ending, Francis reveals that Caligari was actually the head of the psychiatric hospital, and thanks to his heroics, was locked up ranting madly in a cell. But in a great gutpunch final act (imposed by skittish producers eager for a slightly happier conclusion), Francis wanders into the asylum and recognizes Cesare fondling a bouquet of flowers, his gal Jane playacting as a queen, and, alas, Caligari himself as the director, very much free, and very sane. They were the characters in his fantasy, and Francis’ fate is the same as his fictional Caligari’s, alone with nothing more than his paranoia and fear to comfort him.

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