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RIP Bernd Eichinger

Bernd EichingerVia David Hudson, I’ve learned that probably the best known German film producer here in the United States died suddenly from a heart attack in his Los Angeles home last night. He was 61.

Also a writer and director and the owner of Constantin Film, Bernd Eichinger’s diverse roster of productions includes the excellent, spectacular historical dramas “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” and, most famously, “Downfall.” The acclaimed film about Hitler’s final days is both an excellent movie and the source of all those funny Hitler videos I’m so fond of. (How awful the phrase “funny Hitler video” must read to someone whose never seen one.) As always, our condolences to his family and friends.

Eichinger has an impressive 95 producer credits on IMDb. English language films included “The Name of the Rose” and even “The Fantastic Four” and “Resident Evil.” Other internationally known films include “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” “The Neverending Story,” and “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” Below, courtesy of Jahsonic, is the German-language trailer for “Baader Meinhof,” which he cowrote with director Uli Edel. There are no subtitles but, not speaking a word of German, there’s plenty for me to get.

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Some slightly belated holiday and geek related thoughts from Hitler

My hurried blogging for today continues with two of those gosh-darned Hitler/”Downfall” videos I stumbled over. Yes, I never get enough of the things though I encourage you all to check the very serious actual film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and starring Bruno Ganz, with the correct subtitles

I like to think of these as yet one more delightful aspect of the world’s victory over Hitler and Nazism in 1945.

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Hitler is right!

Yes, this avid and genetically predisposed consumer of matzoh balls and knishes knows a strong argument when he hears it. And, while I usually like to consider the source, as the saying goes, even a racist genocidal maniac is right two times a century, or something like that.

Anyhow, in case you haven’t heard about it yet, Constantin Films, the company that released the excellent historical drama, “Downfall,”  has been going after those often extremely funny videos drawn from that film in which the great German actor Bruno Ganz as Hitler reacts — as only a fascist with serious, serious anger issues really can — to all kinds of pop cultural events.  PopEater summarizes the situation quite nicely.

Of course, we’ve already seen the inevitable meta-rants in which Hitler complains about all those videos of him saying stuff he surely would never say and caring about things he would never care about. Yesterday, the usually very cool Karina Longworth was apparently so tired of this ‘net meme that she all but sided with that particular “Downfall” Hitler and the cutting-nose-to-spite-face tactics of Constantin.

Anyhow, today she returned to form and saw the sweet reason of an argument posed by, of course, Adolph Hitler, who really describes the situation far better than I can.  Let’s see how long it stays up. (I’m hoping they’ll keep the audio up at least.)

I’m sorry, but at least 50% of these make me laugh quite a bit. Guess I’m a sucker for a Hitler joke.

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How many Schickels is an Altman worth?

Probably for the same reason that you don’t often see movie stars diss other movie stars for their acting, or directors critique helmers they think are less imaginative, film critics and writers tend to avoid making negative public comments about each other’s work. There are exceptions, however. Armond White of the New York Press has made a habit of, apparently reflexively, viciously attacking most of the films praised by other critics while praising whatever all the other critics hate, and then adding an extra step and implicitly, or not so implicitly, attacking all the other critics and viewers who may agree with them for being so intellectually lazy as to not see things in  the same eccentric way as he. So, he’s taken some well-deserved crap, although some writers still harbor some affection for his earlier reviews and sometimes even still find him occasionally insightful. Not me. I could never stand the guy’s insanely self-important writing or verbal pronouncements.

Richard Schickel, however, is a more complicated case. Also a strong documentary filmmaker who mainly covers filmmakers of the classic era and his favorite contemporary director, Clint Eastwood, as well as a highly readable writer, I’ve nevertheless have always felt somewhat suspicious of him going back to his eighties reviews in Time Magazine. Those feelings crystallized to some extent when I heard him and critic Emanuel Levy take to task a rabbi on Los Angeles public radio while discussing Robert Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful.” They all but called him a bad Jew for not finding the film offensive and daring to admit he was moved by it, or at least that’s how I remember it.

Still, I’ve enjoyed not only several of his cinephile-friendly documentaries, but also some really good audio commentaries recently featuring Schickel discussing another one of his — and my — favorites, Howard Hawks. I’ve been in a forgiving mood.

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Then, however, some editor at the L.A. Times had a very bad idea last week. I guess there’s no law that says, say, that if someone hates Picasso or Oscar Wilde or whomever, they should not review a new biography of them.  Ideally, I suppose, by itself that should not be a deal-breaker — as long as the writer in question can step away from their dislike of the subject enough to actually review the book rather than simply yell to the heavens that the revered creator being chronicled is wildly overrated while slipping in some snide remarks at the author’s expense for daring to think her subject is worth composing an entire book about.

Schickel, however, is clearly not big enough to do that, as he proved in writing this anti-Robert Altman screed disguised as a book review for the Los Angeles Times.  You can read Anne Thompson‘s take and then Patrick Goldstein‘s critique and defense of Altman, which also includes a letter from Altman’s one-time protegee, Alan Rudolph, a pretty strong and prolific filmmaker in his own right.

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The Scream Awards go down the rabbit hole (updated)

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There was a time in this world when young people were frequently slightly ashamed of being bigger than average fans of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and especially comic books. I, personally, wasn’t embarrassed …and I paid a price. Those days may be over. In any case, the capacity crowd that showed up for Spike TV’s Scream awards, largely in costume and largely dramatically over- or under-dressed for a nighttime outdoor show after a very warm day, seemed more like club kids and less like the kind of uber geeks who become entertainment bloggers and film critics and stuff like that.

The Scream Awards are, in their fun/silly way, a big deal. Big enough to attract a good number of stars and even a few superstars like Tobey Maguire, Jessica Alba, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp and his living legend “Pirates of the Caribbean” muse, Rolling Stone Keith Richard.

I, however, am not such a big deal and was reminded of that fact when, prior to the show I found myself with the less fashionable members of the not-quite paparazzi on the “red carpet” (actually a checkered walkway) with my little digital camera and even smaller digital recorder device, wondering whether I’d really get a chance to ask a question of one of the super-famed folks, knowing that the only question I could think of at the time would be something in the nature of “What’s it like be the most notorious rock and roll star in the world, having your blood changed, and snorting your late father’s ashes?” That probably would have been inappropriate, especially if I asked it of Jessica Alba.

What actually seems to happen at events like this is that, if you’re a small-timer especially, most of the big stars either go through another entrance or walk right by you at warp speed. Meanwhile, folks who are a bit more anxious to meet the press find their way to you with the help of PR types. As an example, for about half a second, I was almost able to talk with actor Karl Urban, who did such a great job homaging DeForest Kelly while putting his own hilarious stamp on “Bones” McCoy in “Star Trek.” However, within a nanosecond he remembered he was in a big hurry and politely scurried off.

After a few odd reality show people I didn’t recognize, and the pretty young actress who assays the part of “Female Addict” in “Saw VI,” our first actual notable was statuesque model turned actress Tricia Helfer. Helfer is, make no mistake, a true superstar to TV sci-fi fans and is best known as Number Six, aka “the hot blonde cylon” on “Battlestar Galactica.” The actress appeared with her significant other, the owner of a British accent and a Giaus Baltar-style beard, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. I had a not terribly consequential discussion with her — lost because I apparently forgot to press the “on” button on my digital recorder. One would expect no less an effect from Number Six. UPDATE: Yeesh! As pointed out by my PH compatriot John Paulsen, the actress was actually Kate Vernon, who played the lady-MacBeth-like Ellen Tigh. It is true, all statueseque blonde women in shiny dresses look alike to me! My apologies to all concerned or unconcerned.

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Gandhi wuz robbed!

So, in the wake of yesterday’s surprise announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Barack Obama, it occurs to me that while there are several movies about presidents, there are very few, if any, about Nobel Peace Prize winners. Martin Luther King was the subject of a TV movie, but that doesn’t quite cut it. Let’s face it, if there was a Nobel War Prize, there’d be tons of movies about those prize winners. War and other forms of mass murder are so full of dramatic tension! Think of how many movies there are about Hitler, General Custer, and Jack the Ripper there are…and those guys never won anything!

The one film that came immediately to mind, however, was Richard Attenborough’s 1982 “Gandhi.” It might have won some Oscars and ranked in the top 250 on IMDb, but few cinephiles types, myself included, think too highly of it, despite Ben Kingsley’s star-making performance — but it’s one. However, it turns out that despite being the 20th century’s poster boy for nonviolence, Mohandas Gandhi never actually won the famed prize.

Oh, well, as we await a movie about such heroes as Nelson Mandella (I think one may be in the works…and it’s about time), MLK, Aung San Suu Kyi, Lech Walesa or such “give them the award to help them stop it already” villains as Yassar Arafat or Henry Kissinger, here’s an idea for a movie whose time may have come.

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Overall, not the best day in the world

I’ve been just a bit distracted and sleepy today and didn’t even hear about Kanye West’s little display at the VMA’s last night until just now. Of course, I’m strictly a movie blogger, more or less, so I don’t have to weigh in on — or even watch — last night’s no doubt mega-embarrassing spectacle. A small mercy.  Also, as I started to write this, we got the very sad news of the passing of film and television star Patrick Swayze from pancreatic cancer. Just below this post, Will Harris remembers him in high style.

Fortunately, not everything going on today is as really bad or really sad. Still, because I’m an irresponsible member of the media, I’m going to lead with the bad.

Megan Fox in * In political blogging, it’s common to refer to something called Godwin’s Law. The original version simply held that the longer an online discussion went on, the greater the possibility, or near certainty, that someone would invoke Hitler or Nazis. Over time, however, it’s use has extended and inapt Nazi/Hitler comparisons are held up for ridicule on Godwin grounds. Quoth the Wikipidians:

Godwin’s Law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons…Whether it applies to humorous use or references to oneself is open to interpretation, since this would not be a fallacious attack against a debate opponent.

Well, I don’t think she was being particularly humorous (I guess you could call that the “Soup Nazi exception”), so I have to say that Megan Fox was definitely somewhere in Godwin’s Law territory when she compared controversial blockbuster director Michael Bay to, yes, Hitler last week. Now, I’m anything but a Michael Bay admirer, but on his long list of unfortunate qualities as a public figure, “genocidal mad man” simply isn’t there. He belongs in movie jail, not the Hague.

Anyhow, that would have been the end of it, but unnamed members of Michael Bay’s crew have, for whatever reason, gotten into the act and have written an unnecessary but nevertheless rather hilarious attack on Ms. Fox, which you can read all of over at Nikki Finke’s place. Apparently wanting to keep the peace with Fox, Michael Bay has gotten into the act to distance himself from the crew comments. He refers to Megan Fox’s “crazy quips.” I don’t think he understands what the word “quip” actually means. I guess he belongs in word usage jail, also.

Christoph Waltz in * Casting stories can get tedious, but awhile back I made a big deal about the casting of Taiwanese singer-kick-butt martial artist Jay Chou in Seth Rogen’s upcoming “The Green Hornet.” Now, the movie is starting to look even more fun with the placement of Christoph Waltz in the role of the bad guy. Waltz, of course, is the multilingual German TV actor turned international flavor of the month with his universally lauded, thoroughly enjoyable performance as the “Jew Hunter,” Col. Hans Landa, in “Inglourious Basterds.”

Not since Alan Rickman damn near stole “Die Hard” from Bruce Willis has a previously unknown actor playing a villain — particularly a more or less completely unredeemable villain — gotten anything resembling this kind of attention. Even Rickman didn’t get anywhere near this much praise, as important as he was to the massive success of that borderline-classic action flick.

It’s safe to say we’ll be hearing from Waltz a lot. I just hope he can find some really good leading man roles, too. If anyone deserves to suddenly become a full-on international superstar at age 52, he might be the guy.

* I’ve been guilty of ignoring the Toronto International Film Festival (aka TIFF). The favorite major festival of geeky cinephiles (a rep that was perhaps harmed slightly by a kerfluffle this year over blogger press credentials) is now well underway. The high profile films this year include Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” which wowed ‘em at the Telluride Film Festival just a few days back, and the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man.Anne Thompson and Karina Longworth are covering their ends of the festival very nicely.

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