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?

Taxidermia (Gyorgy Palfi, 2006)

A BAD TRIP(TYCH) THROUGH HUNGARIAN HISTORY.

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddThree stories. Three eras. Three men. One is an orderly in a remote outpost during World War II consumed by lust but who passes the boredom by spying on the women around him and discovering his ability to ejaculate fire. The next is his son, a corpulent speed-eater competing for the glory of the Communist state and the attention of a hefty female colleague. The last is their son, a master taxidermist in the post-socialist era who turns his trade onto himself with gruesome effect. This is Taxidermia, a grotesquely surreal offering from director György Pálfi that inscribes the history of his native Hungary into the unusual bodies of three generations of men who are all damned from birth. Based in part on the stories of Lajos Parti Nagy, Pálfi creates a queasy masterpiece of historical body horror not recommended for the squeamish.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio
  • Optional newly translated English subtitles
  • Feature-length audio commentary with director György Pálfi
  • Making of Taxidermia behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Horrific Histories and Bachelor Machines, a brand new featurette with Steven Shaviro on the film’s political and philosophical underpinnings
  • Deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary
  • Visual design and concept gallery
  • Storyboards
  • Interactive game
  • Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen, Pálfi’s feature-length extravaganza of movie love and adventure pieced together from found-footage taken from Hollywood and abroad
  • Taltosember vs Ikarus, a short film by Pálfi with optional director commentary
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by scholar László Strausz

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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!

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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MMC! Double Feature #39: Budget Christopher Nolan at Fantasia

We all love Christopher Nolan, right? With his high concept structures, embedded narratives, elliptical storytelling, and problematized causalities and memory projects, what’s not to love? If your answer is massive budgets and less than mind-blowing executions, then the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival has you covered with a pair of highly inventive, totally mind-bending, and decidedly handcrafted gems!

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Junta Yamaguchi, 2020)

You would be hard pressed to find anything at Fantasia 2021 as simple and clever as Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. Cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) returns to his upstairs apartment one evening and finds himself unexpectedly visited on his computer screen by himself two minutes into the future and speaking from a computer screen in the coffee shop. As Kato tries to make sense this micro-time loop, employees and friends arrive and begin playing with the phenomena, managing to modestly extend the loop by placing the screens in front of each other and creating repeating images of the screen each two minutes farther away than the last. Options for fun and profit remain limited in their DIY time tunnel but shenanigans naturally ensue through the interventions of a potential love interest, a couple of gangsters, and pair of mysterious men.

Strawberry Mansion (Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, 2021)

Set in a future world where dreams are taxed by the federal government, co-writer/co-director Kentucker Audley plays James Preble, a dream auditor sent to the remote home of Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller) to assess the elderly eccentric’s vast collection of VHS-recorded dreams. In her dreams, James meets her younger self (Grace Glowicki), traverses a vast dreamscape, and uncovers the sinister truth behind dreams and his love of Cap’n Kelly fried chicken. Time between dreams and reality pass differently and James’ existence is tested as he searches for his dream-Arabella while also negotiating the intrusion of her family in real life.

Strolling Through Dream/Time

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion explore the stretch and squash of time on causality and reality in deceptively lo-fi terms. Junta Yamaguchi’s film was born from an acting workshop of the popular theatre group Europe Kikaku and was shot on an iPhone, recalling recent Japanese puzzle box films like One Cut of the Dead and Special Actors. Audley and Birney’s film was shot digitally, then transferred to 16mm to give it a home movie haziness, and its thrift store costumes and craft store props give it a Gondry-esque playfulness that is archly twee but still sufficiently foreboding. Buttressed by their own limitations, these films are dreamier, loopier, and more intriguing than any of Christopher Nolan’s massive science fiction epics. And to demonstrate that brevity is the soul of wit, it should be noted that you can watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion in less time than it takes to see InceptionInterstellar, or Tenet.

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion are on-demand titles at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival waiting to be watched whenever it is convenient to you, but be warned — less than a week of Fantasia remains and Festival deadlines are far less forgiving that the temporal rules of either of these films.

Chowboys: An American Folktale (Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Steven Kostanski, and Conor Sweeney, 2018)

Happy Christmas Eve! And what better way for MMC! to extend its season’s greetings than by sharing Chowboys: An American Folktale (2018), the final work of Winnipeg’s irreverent Astron-6. Here, three stupid cowboys struggle to survive in the frigid mountains on the coldest night of the year. Beautiful hands, sheet cakes, St. Nicholas, and cannibalism make for a wacky and gory holiday short set on Christmas Eve. God bless us, everyone (although maybe not Wendigo Santa).

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!