I don’t know how it took more than 70 years for someone to come up with this. Director Richard Raaphorst of the Netherlands gives us the story how the Nazi war machine literally built its fighting forces, “Frankenstein’s Army.” Warning: contains some relatively mild black and white WWII gruesomeness with some rather brilliantly disturbing historical resonances.
I’ll inevitably miss some important stuff this week, but I wanted to quickly acknowledge the passing of three interesting figures who all made their presence felt in the world of movies and who’ve all left us in the last day or so.
* Zelda Rubinstein is best known as the diminutive character actress who appeared in all three “Poltergeist” films in the 1980s as well as numerous other productions and was also known as an activist on behalf of AIDS sufferers and little people.
* Left radical historian Howard Zinn often rubbed me the wrong way in his articles but that can be a valuable service to a reader, too. In any case, there was no denying his provocative intelligence or his appeal to the leftish masses and his status as a genuine hero to innumerable activists. His most famous book, A People’s History of the United States — which I would admit to having not read yet, except I could have my progressive ID card revoked for the omission — was referred to as a great book in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Oscar winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.” Ironically, Zinn, a World War II bombadier and afterwards something close to a pacifist, detested Damon’s next film, “Saving Private Ryan.”
* Last but definitely not least in terms of cultural impact, the most famous of all literary recluses and the creator of the biggest movie hater in history of letters, J.D. Salinger, has passed on. Holden Caulfield may have hated Hollywood and his creator may have shielded him from adaptations, but, my God, how many of the cinema’s best known young male leads have a bit of HC in them? The Hollywood Reporter obituary I linked to mentions “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Graduate,” but it goes far beyond that. It’s kind of hard to even imagine, say, Wes Anderson’s first two films if The Catcher in the Rye had never existed.
The final irony of course, is that, without Salinger’s passing, we may finally see adaptions of “Catcher,” notes Dylan Stableford. And, what about all those books Salinger reportedly wrote but never published? Hollywood’s hunger for new properties from literary big names should never be underestimated.
This 1941 historical biopic from producer-director Alexander Korda about the illicit affair between the heroic nemesis of Napoleon, Admiral Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier), and the vivacious Lady Emma Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) benefits from the magnificent production design of Vincent Korda and some extra acting oomph drawn from a real-life adulterous affair between its two A-list stars. On the other hand, there’s an idea out there that it has been unjustly dismissed ever since its release as ponderous wartime propaganda and an overblown romance. I might say exactly the same thing, minus the “un.”
Essentially commissioned by wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who later proclaimed it his favorite movie, “That Hamilton Woman” suffers from some ham-fisted parallels between Hitler and Napoleon as well as a certain amount of hypocrisy on the question of empire. (English colonialism good! French colonialism bad!) Far worse for the movie’s entertainment value, however, is its tediously stolid hero, an awful lot of gassy romantic dialogue, ponderous pacing, and an excessive 125 minute running time. On the plus side, the young Vivien Leigh, fresh off “Gone With the Wind,” is allowed to show her powerfully sexy and funny sides, and the film’s relative frankness in dealing with an open adulterous affair is something of a miracle considering that this British production was shot in the U.S. and made under American censorship. Nevertheless, the extras on this typically crisp Criterion DVD make the case that the making-of story here is far more engaging than the actual movie.
As John F. Kennedy used to say, “success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan.” One thing’s for sure, both generate a ton of ink.
* I’m still of two minds on this whole Twitter business in terms of whether or not it really speeds up what we used to call “word-of-mouth” on movies. It seems to me we’ve had texting for awhile now, though the proliferation of iPhone and other communication devices is a new factor and must be having an impact. Unlike texting, you don’t pay on a per-Tweet basis, so maybe. Steven Zeitchik, however, is more certain and guess which movie he thinks is the first to officially benefit. (If you haven’t already been spoiled at all on the not-ripped-from-the-history-books ending of “Inglourious Basterds, you might want to skip this one.)
* Tom O’Neil at “The Envelope” speculates on awards strategy for releasing “Basterds” now rather than closer to award season. To me, Weinstein’s decision to highlight the musical “Nine” over this seems more than self-evident. Assuming the film is not a complete turkey, that film’s Oscar chances should be better.
Quentin Tarantino‘s films are not Oscar-friendly. The older members of the Academy have traditionally leaned strongly towards a very traditional, essentially literary and middle-class, view of quality which is pretty much the antithesis of the Tarantino aesthetic. It’s only been through his widespread acclaim and a subtle loosening of old prejudices that his films have gotten the definitely limited Oscar recognition they have and, considering what some regard as a too lighthearted view of World War II horrors, I wouldn’t expect this one to be much different. Of course, with ten nomination slots for Best Picture, and the universal groundswell of acclaim for heretofore internationally unknown German actor Christoph Waltz, two or three nominations (including the semi-inevitable “Best Original Screenplay” nod) are almost a certainty.
If you want an example of the kind of old-school middle-brow snobbery that’s always stood in the way of Tarantino — and Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Don Siegel, Sergio Leone, etc. before him — Peter Bart provides it for you. Some commenters respond aptly.
* Paul Laster at Flavorwire has a revealing interview with production design husband-and-wife team David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco about “Inglourious Basterds,” the Jack Rabbit Slim’s set from “Pulp Fiction,” and other films. Considering that they also work with Wes Anderson, these two are crucial collaborators with our most talented masters of movie stylization working, and the current heirs to people like the great Ken Adam, the production design genius of “Dr. Strangelove” and “Goldfinger,” among many others. (H/t David Hudson@Twitter…okay, so maybe there is a Twitter effect on filmgeeks.)
Now is the time at Premium Hollywood vin ve dance.