MMC! Double Feature #42: A Latin American History Starter Pack

In anticipation of MMC!’s next (and overdue) imagined Criterion edition, this latest “Double Feature” shares a couple of recent Netflix favourites in an unusual pairing linked by their celebratory treatments of Mesoamerican, South American, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures. Órale!

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons (Aram Rappaport, 2018)

Presenting the 2017 Tony-nominated play, Aram Rappaport’s film version of John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons follows the performer’s survey through 3,000 years of Latin American history all in an effort to help his bullied son. The process is a heartfelt reclamation of Leguizamo’s history, an unpacking of his resentments, and an effort to offer something culturally redemptive to his son and himself. Leguizamo paints with a broad brush in this one-man show, reveling in cartoonish caricatures and historical overstatements while citing his scholarly and not-so scholarly sources, but his points remain sound throughout. This is a comedy and its lessons and its outrage are revealed through that lens, remaining true even while its outspoken tour guide sometimes colours way outside the lines.

Maya and the Three (Jorge R. Gutierrez, 2021)

Building on El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, his lucha libre-inspired series for Nickolodeon, and The Book of Life, his animated feature film drawing on Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s Maya and the Three is an epic adventure told through the histories and mythologies of Mesoamerica, South America, and the Caribbean. Maya, a spirited princess with the heart of a warrior, undertakes a mission to fulfill an ancient prophecy and save humanity from the wrath of vengeful gods by uniting four kingdoms and leading their unlikely champions. Gutierrez mines clichéd tropes with brilliant stylization, moving heroism, and multivalent representations that push back against stock family film conventions and fantasy movie presumptions. Sacrificing warrior mothers, multiple Akira slides, stone Olmec heads, Gatchaman helmets, a Rosie Perez voice-role, some post-colonial villains found in undead conquistadors, and the most spectacular closing battle seen in quite a while make this massive animated fantasy an easy MMC! favourite.

“The Spirit of Cuauhtémoc, Alive and Untamed!”

For no particularly good reason, Mexico and Latin America hold a place of special regard here at MMC! headquarters. We love the food, the art, the music, the history, the mythology, and the professional wrestling of Mexico and those of its sister countries and cultures. What is especially wonderful of both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three is that neither is precious about its celebration of these histories. In these films, they are things to be embraced and enjoyed passionately, things to both applaud and laugh at, things that influence and are influenced upon as part of a global culture rather than being something hermetically sealed away for its own stultifying preservation. Above all, they are exceptionally entertaining, bringing accessibility while still remaining faithful to their vernacular origins. For those not too starched in their educational expectations, this pairing makes for a brilliant introduction to some Latin American study.

Both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three are available on Netflix. And with titles like Uncut Gems, The Irishman, Roma, and Beasts of No Nation having already garnered Criterion canonization, who’s to say these titles might not be waiting for a wacky “C” of their own?

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.

criterion logoBased on I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, the autobiographical book of chain gang escapee Robert E. Burns, Mervyn LeRoy’s uncompromising and starkly realistic 1932 drama, about an out of work veteran twice railroaded into the hell of a Georgia chain gang, still has the power to shock. Paul Muni commands the screen in a brilliantly lived-in performance as a man whose only prospect is a life perpetually on the run, and the film’s gritty realism spares no anger at a cruel and unjust legal system. Eighty years later, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang remains the studio era’s greatest social message film and it stands as a crucial turning point for Warner Bros., Paul Muni, Robert E. Burns, and the American prison system.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2005 by film historian Richard B. Jewell
  • Vintage musical short 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang!
  • The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains, a 1987 TV movie starring Val Kilmer and adapting Robert E. Burns’ I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang
  • Theatrical trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: A new essay by TCM film historian and author Scott McGee

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Have a Happy Halloween with Nick Cross!

What’s scarier than the exploitation of capitalist culture, our societal collapse into a dystopian nightmare, and our inexorable march into cosmic obliteration? Answer: Nothing. And so MMC! celebrates this All Hallow’s Eve with a trio of animated mind-melters from Canadian animator Nick Cross. First up is The Pig Farmer (2010) – “a simple tale of a wayward soul, awash in an ocean of tragedy and regret.” Well, that and various pork-related gags. Don’t be fooled by the fairy tale-vibe and cutesy look; this short ain’t for the kids!

Next up is Perihelion (2013), “a sort of animated tone poem” inspired by German Expressionist and Surrealist painters of the early 20th Century like Otto Dix, Richard Oelze, Ingrid Griebel-Zietlow, Rudolf Schlichter, and Max Ernst, as well as Francisco Goya. The short operates as something of a Möbius strip tracking a cycle of human downfalls. The effect is amazing in execution and awful in vision. You’re welcome!

Lastly, we wrap up this dispiriting tribute to Nick Cross with The Clockwork Elves (2020). Cross’s summary of the short is questionable: “The Clockwork Elves could be a pyschotropic exploration of spirituality and death – or it could be a tale of a little goofball hopped up on goofballs. Either way — it’s a cartoon.” Made single-handedly over seven years, the short takes the animator’s critiques of late capitalism deeper into the psychedelic nightmare than ever before, creating a vision quest montage that is amazingly spectacular, shockingly vibrant, and exceptionally apocalyptic. This is the squished and squashed, cutesy-pie version of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video and it’s just as bracing.

If all of this is a bit too nightmarishly heavy for you, then MMC! recommends revisiting Over the Garden Wall (2014), a modern Halloween classic that perfectly celebrates American colonial folklore, historical commercial art, and East Coast animation. Cross worked as the series’ art director and it should be required viewing for any Halloween fanatic.

STAY SAFE KIDS, AND HAVE A

HAPPHALLOWEEN!

Office Royale (Kazuaki Seki, 2021) – Fantasia International Film Festival 2021

THE OL BATTLE ROYALE BEGINS!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddNaoko Tanaka (Mei Nagano) is a 26 year-old office lady – a secretarial and clerical worker in a large Japanese company. Her job at Mitsufuji is reliable, the atmosphere is laid-back, and she has some friendly colleagues, but the fires of war burn brightly beneath the veneer of the office’s calm banality. Cliques of office ladies fight for departmental supremacy like sneering gangsters and posturing delinquents. These warring clans battle daily until a new employee arrives, Ran Hojo (Alice Hirose), armed with the strength and charisma of a manga hero to become the company’s top office lady and unite its competing factions. An unlikely friendship between Naoko and Ran is found, but what will happen to them and their company when powerful OL gangs from other companies arrive to test their honor and resolve? Can Ran, Naoko, and the office ladies of Mitsufuji survive the onslaught?

Director Kazuaki Seki’s debut feature is a hilarious, uproarious, action-packed send-up of workplace pettiness and office territorialism, pitting mild-mannered, pink-collar workers in vicious duels over coffee breaks and alongside photocopiers, all under the oblivious noses of their male superiors. Comedian Bakarhythm’s screenplay riffs on the conventions of Japanese comics with a witty meta-commentary and a furiously paced series of fights. Setting superhero grandeur in an unremarkable context, Office Royale is a hysterically energetic satire and a grandiloquent action spectacle.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio
  • Optional newly translated English subtitles on both films
  • Introduction by historian and critic Kim Newman
  • Yankees, Yakuza, and Making Copies, interview with director Kazuaki Seki
  • Heroic OL Diary, interview with screenwriter Bakarhythm
  • One-Punch Lady, interview with actress Mei Nagano
  • Ran’s House, interview with actress Alice Hirose
  • Press conference interviews with the cast
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian McEwan

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Mad God (Phil Tippett, 2021) – Fantasia International Film Festival 2021

READY YOUR EYES. READY YOUR SOULS. PREPARE TO MEET YOUR MAKER.

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddFollow the Assassin, Mad God’s silent soldier, on his mysterious mission through Miltonesque worlds filled with grotesque monsters, mad scientists, and savage war pigs. This darkly surreal realm where nightmares roam free is forged from the subconscious mind of legendary visual effects and stop-motion craftsman Phill Tippett (contributor to the original Star Wars trilogy, RobocopJurassic Park, and Battleship Troppers). Commenced over thirty years ago and later resurrected at the behest of animators at Tippett’s Berkeley studio, this ambitious personal project employed hundreds of puppets, dozens of environments, and a crew of more than 60 artists who painstakingly animated every set, creature, and effigy in this macabre masterpiece.

Each element of Mad God is independently created and hand-crafted from its creator’s heart. At times, that heart bursts with love for its craft, while at other times it is morbidly gruesome, punctured and left bleeding. Altogether, Mad God is a testament to the power of creative grit and an homage to the timeless art of stop motion animation.

Limited Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio
  • Introduction by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • Audio commentary by filmmaker Phil Tippett and special effects artist Dan Martin
  • Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 live-streamed tribute, masterclass, and Lifetime Achievement Award with Phil Tippett, hosted by Rupert Bottenberg
  • Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters, Alexandre Poncet and Gilles Penso’s 2019 documentary on the life and work of Phil Tippett
  • Worse Than the Demon, a short film by Phil Tippett’s daughter, Maya Tippett, on the making of Mad God
  • Dammit Phil, You Had One Job!, Phil Tippett on his infamous meme
  • Nightmare Music, new interview with composer Dan Wool on the music of Mad God
  • Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Frank
  • Double-sided fold-out poster
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Sam Ashurst and a gallery of exclusive production writing and artwork by filmmaker Phil Tippett

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13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats (Makoto Naito, 1975)

KARATE LADY RETURNS!

Amid the success of The Street Fighter and Sister Street Fighter series, Toei Company had found a new star in Etsuko Shihomi and had created its first female martial arts hero, one that was tough, virtuous, and courageous. In 1975, Shihomi found herself in possibly her sleaziest film: 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats, a pinky violence genre mash-up that mixed girl gangs, women in prison, yakuza, and martial arts action into a single sensational movie. As Maki Hyuga, Shihomi is the leader of the Stray Cats girl gang, fighting for justice against evil gangsters and stuck up rich girls. Though her karate skills are unsurpassed, Maki is framed and thrown into a sadistic women’s prison. Will she escape and take her revenge?

Making its worldwide Blu-ray debut, 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats is paired here with Norifumi Suzuki’s The Great Chase, an oddball action flick released the same year and starring Etsuko Shihomi as a race car driver moonlighting as a secret agent. Filled with unceasing action, outlandish situations, and plenty of female resistance to male domination, 13 Steps to Maki and The Great Chase reveal new shades to Etsuko Shihomi’s stardom and stand as spectacular examples of Japanese exploitation in the 1970s.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats and The Great Chase
  • Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio on both films
  • Optional newly translated English subtitles on both films
  • New video interviews with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba and director Makoto Naito
  • Theatrical trailers for both films
  • Stills and poster galleries for both films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Kungfubob O’Brien

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