Archive for the Magical Movies Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Visits SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1970s Movies, 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Bad Acting, Based on a True Story, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Family Films, Fantasy, HOLIDAY CHEER, Just Plain Bad, Magical Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

bbbsantaposter

 

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

The Christmas Season is well known for its holiday music and movies, but there is a dark side to the trend of luring kids into matinees to bear witness to forced holiday cheer.  For every MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), there is a SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964).  For every IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), there’s a corresponding SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984).  Actually, there are probably more dreadful Christmas movies than good ones.  Somewhere far below the schlocky entertainment offered by the likes of serial-killer turned snowman JACK FROST (1997), the Mexican drugged-out inanities of SANTA CLAUS (1959), or the hell on earth that is JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996), there is the cesspool entitled SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972/1970 – I’ll explain the date mix-up later).  I’ve watched hundreds of Christmas movies over the years, but this one is the true low point, lacking anything even closely resembling entertainment or Christmas cheer.  It is a gut-punch to all that is beautiful and holy.  It is the first Christmas movie made for children that seems designed to suck any happiness from every starry-eyed child in the world.

You think I am exaggerating?  Super glue your eyelids open and turn this baby on.

Behind the credits, kids dressed as elves in outfits made by the producer’s grandma sing an unintelligible song.  The only words I can make out are  “la-la-la-la-la.”  They pet toys, while the credits announce “Thumbelina Insert by B Mahon!”  One elf looks outside for Santa and spots stock nature footage of a herd of moose grazing in a summer field!  What season is this?  A female narrator who sounds like Truman Capote on downers informs us that Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the sand on a beach in Florida.  It was so hot, the reindeer have all gone away, and Santa sits in the sleigh, sweats a lot, and waves his hat in front of his face.  Sure enough, a too-skinny Santa sits in his sleigh looking around and perspiring, then sings a song through dubbing, “Woe is me…who will give me a helping hand…and get my sleigh out of the sand?”  Yep, that half inch of sand is really keeping him trapped and preventing lift-off.

Random kids are shown doing things like skipping rope, playing with dogs, wrestling like gay Greeks, and jumping off the garage roof wearing a parachute.  Then, Santa falls instantly asleep, as if his meds just kicked in.  The racially diverse group of children, resembling a Benetton ad from the late 1980s, hears an echoing Santa voice calling them and run to the sleigh.  Even Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (and their pet raccoon on a string) steer their raft to the beach to a kazoo band playing Old Man River from the musical SHOW BOAT.

The kids rush off to find something to pull the sleigh from the half inch of sand, leaving Santa alone to sweat again for another couple of long minutes.  Santa, instead of being proactive, just sits in the sleigh bemoaning his predicament.  This guy gets around the world in one night delivering millions of toys?  I doubt he could get to the cupboard for the Doritos.

Santa and the kids strap a pig to the sleigh.

Santa and the kids strap a pig to the sleigh.

Eventually, the kids return with various animals to help pull the sleigh out of the sand.  First, a little girl brings a man in an ape suit, but the sleigh is stuck too tightly.  Then, two kids bring a mule, then a screaming pig, a terrified sheep, a brown cow, and a horse.  Then, Santa bitches for several more minutes about how he has to get out of the sand so he doesn’t disappoint the children all over the world, but he does nothing to actually escape!

The kids return, so Santa decides to tell the kids a story, and so begins Barry Mahon’s 1970, filmed at Pirate’s World Amusement Park film, THUMBELINA.  A hippie-chick with terrifying eyebrows wanders the amusement park while a whole new set of credits play again (is Santa relaying the credits to the kids in his story?).  Eventually the mini-skirted chick ends up in a room full of dioramas portraying the tale of Thumbelina, a girl no larger than a clothespin, all narrated by a disembodied voice over a PA system.  A single lonely woman goes to a witch to have a child and is rewarded with a freakishly miniscule daughter.   The tiny girl leaves her spinster-Mom’s home to get married to a horny frog.  She escapes, lives with a woman in a mole costume and eventually falls in love with a rich old mole.  They all resemble a relatively restrained furry convention.  And, yes, everyone sings a lot of dull songs on semi-professional sets.  To be honest, although THUMBELINA is pretty bad, it’s a typical kiddie matinee from the 1960s—no better or worse than most.  These things were churned out with ridiculously low budgets and actors from local amateur theater troupes all over the world.  Other examples of this odd sub-genre include THE MAGIC LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE, 1967 (directed by the Wizard of Gore himself, H.G. Lewis!), THE PRINCESS AND THE SWINEHERD, 1968, and LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND TOM THUMB VS. THE MONSTERS, 1965, which I would love to see!  So, if you remember after the hour of Thumbelina, yes, Santa is STILL telling this story to the children on the beach!

As bad as the Thumbelina segment is, it’s like CITIZEN KANE (1941) compared to the Santa segments . . . where we are again, watching Santa sweat while the kids watch him.  Nobody seems very motivated to get Santa back to the North Pole.  Oh, to return to the cut-rate flower power hippie musical from Pirate’s World.  The one directed by Barry Mahon, yes THAT Barry Mahon, who directed PAGAN ISLAND (1961), FANNY HILL MEETS DR. EROTICO (1969), A GOOD TIME WITH A BAD GIRL (1967), THE GIRL WITH THE MAGIC BOX (1965), and THE DIARY OF KNOCKERS MCCALLA (1969).  He was the obvious choice to helm a kid’s feature based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale!  It does, however, explain the strange erotic tension between Thumbelina and Mr. Digger, the mole.

Thumbelina meets a mole woman in the "movie within a movie" in the movie SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY.

Thumbelina meets a mole woman in the “movie within a movie” inside SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY.

Back to Santa in the sand. . .

The kids suddenly run away, as if learning Santa Claus was a sex offender…or an algebra teacher.  Santa strips off his coat and belt, and an antique fire truck (helpfully pushed by a visible production assistant) driven by a guy in a cheap white rabbit suit arrives, and all the kids are piled up in back.  It’s a vision of horror as the fire truck is shoved through Pirate’s World and down to the beach.  I’m starting to see why this film was made—it’s a 90 minute advertisement for a pathetic amusement park!  Yes, this could be the best WTF! moment ever in a children’s production.  And it goes on forever!  For.  Ev.  Er.  Santa exclaims, “Why my old friend the ice cream bunny!”  The hell-spawn rabbit, which had to terrify children everywhere, gives Santa a ride in his fire truck.  Then, Santa teleports the sleigh back to the North Pole.  What?  Why didn’t he just do that at the beginning instead of complaining for what seemed like days about being stranded?  Plus, why is this an ice cream bunny?  There isn’t a scoop of ice cream to be seen!

Full of padding (including an entire film from two years previous), SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY is easily the worst Christmas movie ever made.  From the terrible direction, the lousy acting and dubbing, the bad songs, and the freaky sexy vibe between tiny hippie chicks and earth-burrowing mammals, to the ridiculous ending and scary/evil rabbit suit, this is a movie that can honestly only be enjoyed under the influence of controlled substances or while RiffTrax pokes fun at it.  There has never been another movie like this one.  Thank God!

I give SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY one closed-down amusement park out of four.

The Santa image that haunts William Carl's nightmares.

The Santa image that haunts William Carl’s nightmares.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

ONDINE

Posted in 2011, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Fantasy Films, Magical Movies, Mythological Creatures with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by knifefighter

ONDINE (2009)
DVD Review by Dan Keohane


OK, I suppose the term “DVD Review” needs a new definition. I watched in on Netflix’s Instant Watch feature via my Roku box on my big screen TV. But let’s save the wonderment celebration of modern technology for another time and talk about what I think was the most mellow, feel-good film I had the pleasure to watch in 2010. ONDINE is a modern fairy tale about an Irish fisherman named Syracuse, struggling to right his life now that he’s sober and mend relations with his daughter. One day Syracuse day catches a woman in his fishing net. Until that moment, his life has been lived the same way, in quiet solitude, trying to repair the damages he’d caused, and always waiting for the Next Bad Thing to come his way. Syracuse is sure his luck is only bad, and it will always be that way. Until he catches a woman in his net. Then, of course, things begin to change.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Colin Farrellll perform, since his early years in the popular BBC series BALLYKISSANGEL (1999). He then came to America, lost the brogue for most of his big budget films, and, with his growing stardom, fell into the traps laid along Tinseltown’s roads for its newcomers – he drank and partied and pretty much gained a reputations as a Bad Boy (at least, according to the smattering of news blurbs read in the occasional Entertainment Weekly). Who knows if it’s true. If so, he’s come out the other end, maybe a bit beaten, but a mature, grounded actor who’s been able to expand his talent in a number of smaller films around the world, including this gem of a movie (plus some other critical faves, like IN BRUGES (2008) which I have yet to see). The role as the wayward, lonely fisherman in ONDINE seemed like such a perfect, homecoming fit. His hair is really cool, too. He shines in this understated – ok, yes, fine, fine… let’s just say it: I’m confident enough in my flaming heterosexuality that I will admit to a bit of a man-crush on this guy. Aside from being a sharp-edged, keen actor, he’s friggin’ hot, as is his co-star, a little known Polish actor named Alicja Backela who plays Ondine, pulled from the net, and who insists on hiding from other people. Backela’s performance was quiet and a bit rough around the edges, but in a sweet, real way. Of course, she also has those movie star drop-dead good looks which, along with Farrelll, makes this film easy to watch. Probably a good thing, since, though much of the scenery is wide and expansive and as beautiful as Ireland is without really ever trying, it’s always foggy or raining – hey, it’s Great Britain, where the weather isn’t always as sunny and bright as the brochures make it seem. It rains a lot, and the weather plays such a powerful role in the movie: isolating, bleak.

ONDINE is not a bleak movie, however. The characters have a lot of hang-ups, dealing with emotional and relationship troubles, but the film carries throughout itself an overall sense of joy, of family. As I was saying before I got way off track, Syracuse is a recovering alcoholic trying to get his life back together, specifically spending time with his young daughter, Annie, a precocious 12-something whose kidneys have been failing. She needs regular dialysis treatments, and since her mother works a regular day job Syracuse is the one to take her. The strongest scenes are not between the two adult leads, Farrelll and Backela, though these two are great together, but Farrelll and young Alison Barry, who plays his precocious daughter Annie. Such love of father and daughter jumps off the screen, especially in scenes where Annie needs to go in for dialysis treatments. To make the time pass and distract her from the treatment, he lays with Annie in bed and makes up fairy tale stories. There is a great chemistry both between them as actors, and also Syracuse and Annie as characters. You sense a great love between them. He begins to tell his daughter a story of a fisherman who pulls a mermaid from his nets, outlining for his daughter, in make-believe story form, what was actually happening in his life. The strange woman hiding from the world, staying in the man’s house, his luck suddenly changing.

Annie becomes fascinated with the tale, and goes to the library to research it, she discovers that the woman in her Da’s story is not a mermaid, but in fact a Selke (pronounced Seek), basically seal which has shed its seal cost, and comes to land to live for a while. According to legend, they have to go back unless they find a husband. If this happens, they forget where they hid their old skin and stay on land for the rest of their lives. Or something. It’s weird, but sweet.  When Annie discovers her Da’s story is actually true, and meets the woman in the flesh (literally in the flesh… Backela spends a lot of time only partially dressed), she takes an instant liking to her. After all, what child wouldn’t want their father to be happy with someone who loves him unconditionally?

Is beautiful Ondine a Silke, or a mermaid, or just a lost soul brought together with another lost soul to try to make the world right again? Well, that’s the story now, ain’t it? It’s a beautifully filmed and uber-romantic drama about redemption, fortune, and the luck we make, versus the luck we sometimes rely on.

Speaking of luck, my favorite line in the movie is this:

Misery is easy, happiness you have to work at.

This line is spoken by a priest to Syracuse, who happens to be sitting in a tree sulking at the time (I think that’s the scene). Stephen Rea (THE CRYING GAME, 1992, V IS FOR VENDETTA, 1996) plays the parish priest, not that Syracuse goes to church very often. Mostly to confession to talk to the man about his life and how his non-drinking is going. It’s a great interaction between Rea and Farrelll, in the few scenes they share.

Syracuse also has to deal with his angry ex-wife, still bitter over his past failings and never failing to remind him of this. Dervlin Kerwa brings another strong performance to the film. Loud, angry, with her own issues, including drinking. Seriously, this quiet film has some major good roles in it and equally good, if understated by necessity, acting.

Hmm? Why am I reviewing a foreign love story on CKF? Well, there’s a mermaid in it… or a Selke… maybe. You know, could go either way. Who is Ondine? What can she do, where did she come from? In the end, the answers are almost anticlimactic, compared to her connection with Syracuse and his daughter, and the magic that comes from a found love, always stronger than the magic that comes from a —

Dan…?

…What?

…never mind. Just finish up before the sugar plum fairies come and begin peeing on the rug.

OK. Fine. Needed to finish anyway because I need to go over… there and chop some wood, maybe wrestle me some gators.

Good… that’s good. And no more Colin Farrelll movies.

Well, can’t guarantee –

No more.

Fine. For a quiet, romantic movie threaded through with magic realism, some fantasy and lots of water, half naked beautiful people and a girl with bad shoes in a wheelchair, ONDINE makes for a really good date movie. I give it 4 wavy locks of hair out of 5. Enjoy, and always be kind to others, and to yourself!

That’s it. You’re fired.

© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane

 

(Editor’s note: I have no idea who Dan is having a conversation with at the end of this article, but it’s not me ~ LLS)

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

Posted in 2010, LL Soares Reviews, Magical Movies with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by knifefighter

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS
A (Solo) Review by L.L. Soares

(FADE IN)

(Carnival music fills the air as we see a stage with painted actors dancing upon it. LL SOARES watches from the audience)

LS: Well, I thought Michael Arruda would be joining me for this one. Unfortunately, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS continues to get a slow, limited release around the country, and it’s not playing where he is. So I guess I have to do this one solo.

The big hubbub about this movie is that it was the last film Heath Ledger was working on when he died. In fact, the movie was fraught with problems. After Heath died, the film’s producer died as well, and then director Terry Gilliam was hit by a car and it broke his back (luckily, he’s in recovery). As Gilliam has pointed out, it’s a miracle this movie ever got made.

But is it any good?

Well, to be honest, this movie works much better than I expected. You see, because Ledger died before he’d finished filming, Gilliam had to resort to some DR. WHO-ish type tricks to fill in the gaps. Part of this movie takes place in the real world (and Ledger’s scenes for that were pretty much completed), the other half takes place in a fantasy world of the imagination. There, Ledger’s character transforms into other actors, namely Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. I had no idea how this would work, but in its own dream-logic way, the concept works out fine. And there’s enough footage of Ledger so that the transition seems fairly seamless. In fact, if you didn’t know the problematic history of the film, there’s a good chance you’d have no idea that anything was wrong at all. Which is pretty amazing.

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS tells the story of a one-thousand year old man named, not surprisingly, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). He’s old and tired, and yet he continues to perform in a rag-tag show along with his daughter Valentina  (Lilly Cole) who he calls Scruffy,  Anton (Andrew Garfield) a likeable bloke who performs as the god of messengers, Mercury, while onstage, and Percy (Verne Troyer), a wise-cracking dwarf who is also the voice of reason in this little outfit.  They travel about in a gigantic contraption (as tall as a three-story building) on wheels, pulled by horses, which opens up into a makeshift stage when they stop somewhere.

As Parnassus tells us, he started out as a monk in a secluded monastery, believing that he and his fellow monks had to tell “the story of life” non-stop (they do it in shifts), or else the world will come to an end. One day, they get a visitor in the form of Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), who is actually the devil. He shows Parnassus how meaningless his existence is, by preventing the monks from telling their story, and yet the world does not end. (Actually Parnassus deduces that even if they stop telling the story, someone, somewhere else is telling it, which is why the world doesn’t end). Without a reason to stay in the monastery, Parnassus leaves to travel the world.

The devil has made Parnassus immortal, but in doing so, he’s also demanded the man accept various wagers (the devil loves to gamble). The most recent bet involves which man (Parnassus or Mr. Nick) can acquire five human souls the quickest. The prize is Paranassus’s daughter, Valentina, who is about to celebrate her sixteenth birthday. Needless to say, Paranssus is desperate to win the bet and prevent his daughter from being whisked away to hell.

Along the way, the band of actors comes across someone hanging from a bridge. They cut him down and save his life. This is Tony (Heath Ledger), a mystery man who has suffered amnesia (or claims to have). He joins the troupe and eventually becomes involved with the wager to save Valentina.

The stage itself is also a kind of machine. Upon the stage is a magic mirror. If someone goes into it, they enter a dream world created by their imagination (and Dr. Parnassus’s). This is where people go to “donate” their souls to Parnassus (a process that seems to be pretty harmless). But the devil also sets up shop there, intent on stealing souls away for good.

That’s the plot in a nutshell.  Does Parnassus save his daughter from the devil’s clutches? Who exactly is Tony? And does Valentina choose Tony or Anton as her lover? All of these questions are answered in the movie. And we have some fun along the way.

I should probably point out here that I am a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s films. He started out as the animator for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and went on to direct such films as TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE FISHER KING, TWELVE MONKEYS, and his previous film, the underappreciated TIDELAND. All of his films are punctuated by themes of magic and redemption, with oversized, awe-inspiring visuals (he did start out as an animator, after all), and often convoluted scripts. While almost always a feast for the eyes, his movies can sometimes be a bit confusing story-wise.  That said, DR. PARNASSUS is fairly easy to follow for the most part, but there are some aspects that will have you scratching your head. But that makes perfect sense in a movie about the magic of imagination.

I enjoyed DR. PARNASSUS and thought Gilliam did a fine job putting this one together. At one point during filming, after Ledger had died, it looked like the movie might never get finished. I’m glad it did, since it’s an inspired bit of cinema magic.

The acting, first off, is impeccable. Plummer is terrific as a world-weary immortal. Lilly Cole is very pretty and quite good as Valentina (she reminded me of a young Miranda Richardson). Ledger is at the top of his game as Tony (it’s nowhere near as powerful as his portrayal of The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT,  but you can tell this is an actor who has confidence and charisma to spare). Verne Troyer (who everyone knows primarily as “Mini Me” from the AUSTIN POWERS movies) actually gets a meaty part as Percy (it’s nice to see him play a more dramatic role for a change). And Garfield rounds out the troupe (and the love triangle with Valentina) nicely.

As for Tom Waits, he continues to show that he’s one of the rare musicians who can act. His Mr. Nick is funny, tragic and sometimes malevolent. As someone who really loves his music, I always look forward to seeing him onscreen as well.  And the other actors filling in for Ledger do a good job of filling the gaps without looking like they’re filling the gaps.

The script, for the most part, is pretty good. And the visuals are just terrific (something Gilliam always excels at). Some of the scenes in the Imaginarium even look like his old animation from the Python days, which I rather enjoyed, seeing some old school animation along with the more modern CGI effects.

I thought DOCTOR PARNASSUS was a nice note for Ledger to end on (the film is dedicated to him). And while I don’t think it’s Gilliam’s best movie, I do think it’s a fine film and worth seeing on the big screen (where his bigger-than-life visuals  really shine).

Another magical film from a magical director.

And with that, I bid you good night!

(LS disappears in a rain of sparks)

(FADE OUT)

© Copyright 2010 by  L.L. Soares