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Hello, fellow cinematic wanderers! This installment will cover the films that were watched this Wednesday, including a confounding bit of strangeness from the Netherlands and another fun/dumb action/adventure. Saddle up and let’s ride out.

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When I was a wee lad, one of my greatest thrills was going to our local video and browsing the stacks for new material. I usually went by the covers (the more gory and outrageous, the better), the stars (anything with Eastwood, Bronson, etc…) and, occasionally, the title itself. I’ve made some wonderful discoveries this way, films that have become like friends to me over the years.

One of the films that I selected based solely on its title was Amsterdamned. C’mon, now: look at the title…Amsterdamned. How could I pass it up? The film was about a wet-suit bedecked serial killer hiding in the canals of Amsterdam, popping out periodically to slay unknowing tourists and quickly became one of my favorite cop/killer stories. Amsterdamned was directed by the wonderfully named Dick Maas, a director/producer that I’ve been following since I first picked up that video tape in the late ’80s. Maas is something of a Netherlands institution, directing twenty-four films and producing another twenty-six since the mid ’70s. As of late, Maas made a pretty good splash with 2010’s Saint (Sint), probably the best evil Santa Claus ever made (sorry, Rare Exports…).

All of this is a long-winded way of getting us to The Northerners (De Noorderlingen). I’ve had my eye on this little curiosity for a while, so imagine my complete surprise and delight when my old buddy Dick Maas’ name turned up as producer in the opening credits. As soon as I saw that, I knew I was in for one helluva ride.

It’s no hyperbole to say that this was, easily, one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, much closer to a Guy Maddin flick than anything else. The premise is simple, yet almost nightmarish: in the ‘late ’50s, a fancy new housing development is touted as the wave of the future in Holland. One street in the development is built and filled with houses and businesses, while the rest is touted to be coming in 1960. Two years later, the development has been abandoned, leaving only one populated street midst a desolate wasteland. The residents have, likewise, been abandoned to their own devices and lives…extremely strange lives, as it were.

We’re introduced to each of the various families in turn. The film mostly centers around young Thomas and his parents. His father is the perpetually horny “town” butcher: his only hobby appears to be trying unsuccessfully to have sex with his thoroughly turned-off wife. When the butcher persists, nearly to the point of rape, his wife retreats completely into her worship of St. Francis (complete with living St. Francis statue and bird). She begins to starve herself, inching ever closer to sainthood as the town gathers outside their house to worship at her bedside. Poor Thomas retreats into the safety of national news events, dressing up like Lumumba, the Congolese prime minister he sees every night on TV.

We have the local bully, Fat Willie, who lives with his mother and menaces Thomas from atop a ridiculously small bike. Plagge, the town postman, makes a daily habit of retreating to the tiny forest situated near the town, where he reads and burns most of the mail he’s supposed to deliver. Plagge is best friends with Thomas: he assists him in dressing up like Lumumba by playing the legs, as Thomas sits on his shoulders draped in a huge coat. The postman’s arch-enemy is Anton, the town’s authority figure. Anton serves as the local police/fire department/busybody (and, possibly, mayor), which essentially means that he sticks his nose into everyone’s business constantly, despite being unable to make love to his voracious wife.

Into this hearty stew of neuroses is dropped a pair of travelling missionaries and the African native they’ve brought back as a souvenir of sorts. Feeling a primal connection to Lumumba, Thomas frees the native, setting off a chain of events that will lead to murder, sainthood and several different shades of come-uppance. The film manages to tie all of these loose ends into a perfect bow by the end, no mean feat when faced with so much disparate insanity.

The Notherners is one of those films that you’ll either love or hate. Personally, I loved the hushed, almost funereal atmosphere, which bumped up nicely against some almost Jodorowsky-ian touches (the statue of St. Francis coming to life; a strange forest nymph that may or may not be the previously unseen female nose monkey; the increasingly strange behavior of Anton; Martha’s self-saintification). The film is also full of gorgeous static shots and long takes, making it a true pleasure to look at. There’s some truly funny material here, too, although the humor is decidedly pitch black. The film was written and directed by Alex van Warmerdam, who also played the part of the puckish Plagge.

This is a strange film but one that I found myself thinking about more and more after it was over. In the best possible way, Dick Maas has struck again.

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As of late, I appear to be in a bit of a B-movie frenzy. We had Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters the other day and now I bring you Bounty Killer. I’ll admit that what originally drew me to this film was the promised storyline of hunting white-collar criminals in a post-apocalyptic landscape. I like nothing more than seeing corporate America get its just desserts, even if only in a movie, so this became a must-see. Luckily, there’s more than concept holding this one together.

Right off the bat, it should be noted that Bounty Killer is a very, very self-aware film. Very. This can become a problem when trying to craft a quality B-picture, since the best Bs weren’t trying to be cult films: they were just born that way. This self-aware tactic, however, worked wonders for Hobo with a Shotgun and the Grindhouse double-bill and, for the most part, works well here. If anything, the best parts of Bounty Killer (and there are many) remind me of Joss Wheadon’s Firefly: just the right balance of modern sass, sarcasm, old West and Mad Max.

The film is pretty simple: in the future, rich corporations have royally fucked over the U.S., left it to burn in the midst of armed “brand wars” and absconded with all of the money. To combat this, a council of nine arises and charges a group of highly trained killers with the task of finding and bringing these miscreants to justice. These Bounty Killers track down the suit-and-tie misanthropes, delete them from the earth in various blood-drenched ways and receive fat paychecks from the council. They are also the only thing to pass for celebrities or heroes in the burned out world they exist in.

Enter Drifter and Mary Death, two of the best BKs. They end up going on a mission to bring down the Yellow Ties, the leading white collar gang. As can be expected, much blood is spilled, many pithy quips are quipped, loyalties are tested, betrayals are had and the hope of our future rests on their mighty shoulders.

Despite going into this expecting to turn my brain completely off, I found that I only had to cut it to 50% power. Bounty Killer, despite all appearances, is actually a pretty savvy, clever film. In fact, certain sequences like the “stagecoach” composed of a VW bus pulled by a team of motorcycles and the inspired title sequence are absolutely genius, possessing a truly bezerk sense of energy. Other sequences (the obligatory training sequence, almost any scene that Mary Death has to carry by herself) have the unfortunate feel of filler, spinning their wheels until the next big action sequence.

And what sequences they are! Splitting the difference between spaghetti western and post-apocalyptic survival tale (the box art calls this “The Road Warrior meets Kill Bill” and that’s pretty accurate), the fights are truly something to behold, especially the aforementioned stagecoach bit and the absolutely thrilling final battle. The film generally looks pretty good, too, with only a few moments falling prey to overly glossy CG effects.

All in all, this was a really fun film. The acting was suitable, the action was outstanding, the gore was surprising (there were at least three points where I found myself saying “Wow” under my breath) and the sense of humor was strong. Plus, you get a surprise appearance from one of the most genuinely insane actors in Hollywood. I won’t tell you who it is but you might just make lemonade in your pants when you find out.

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