If Rocky 4 Happened For Real (Tony Yacenda, 2015)

Is everyone having a great holiday season? Let’s make sure!

Today is Boxing Day and what better way to observe it than with this hilarious reconsideration of Rocky Balboa’s triumphant Christmas Day victory over Ivan Drago, a boxing match for which the Italian Stallion gave up his championship in order to defeat the man who killed Apollo Creed. Who could have expected that this unsanctioned bout would become a landmark victory for democracy and a turning point in the Cold War. MMC!’s admiration for the ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is no secret and this CollegeHumor parody is a pitch perfect pastiche of that sports program’s house style. All the high points are here – the James Brown performance, the robot, the whiffing swings, the lack of defence, and the inexplicable reversal of allegiances – and Max Kellerman’s appearance here is inspired, placing him right in his pugilistic wheelhouse. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV (1985) got a new cut back in November as Rocky IV: Rocky x Drago that adjusted the aspect ratio, excised the exploding gloves intro, Paulie’s birthday, and the robot, recontextualized the events of Rocky III, diminished the role of Brigitte Nielsen and Hugo Boss, and made sundry other edits. I guess Rocky was right: Everyone (including Rocky IV itself) can change.

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!

Simon & Garfunkel: Songs of America (Charles Grodin, 1969)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Simon & Garfunkel: Songs of America.

criterion logoDirected by their friend Charles Grodin and airing almost two months before the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s 1969 television special Simon & Garfunkel: Songs of America previewed their landmark album and shows the two on stage, in the studio, and on a concert tour across a turbulent country. The documentary follows the duo in cinéma verité style while interspersing footage of the social movements that defined a nation growing more aware, more sophisticated, and more complex. The special’s initial sponsor infamously balked at footage of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, the Poor People’s March on Washington, and the recently slain Martin Luther King, Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Though unpopular at the time, Songs of America has become an enduring portrait of an era and of Simon & Garfunkel as artists, with incisive commentary provided by iconic songs like “America,” “The Boxer,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Sound of Silence,” “El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could),” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Robert Ryan’s 1969 introduction to the television special
  • The Harmony Game, Jennifer Lebeau’s 2011 feature-length documentary on the making of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water album
  • Remembering Chuck, new interviews with Simon and Garfunkel on their personal and professional friendship with Grodin
  • Saturday Night Live sketch from 1977 featuring Charles Grodin, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel
  • PLUS: A new essay by rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres

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People of the Cumberland (Robert Stebbins, Eugene Hill, Elia Kazan, and William Watts, 1937)

In anticipation of our next proposal for the Criterion Collection, MMC! will lead the way a series of “Son of Wholphin” posts focusing on a group of short films that will set a path to and through our next feature subject. We start with People of the Cumberland, a documentary short from 1937 directed by Elia Kazan, William Watts, Eugene Hill (credited as Jay Leyda), and Sidney Meyers (credited as Eugene Hill). The film concerns a progressive adult education project, Myles Horton’s Highlander Folk School, located in the mountain community of Monteagle, Tennessee. Demonstrating the School’s impact on the impoverished coal mining region, the short pivots toward the growing labour movement and advocates for a “new kind of America” free from economic exploitation and privation. The film was made under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration, a New Deal agency, and as part of the Federal Arts Project program. Written by Erskine Caldwell and Ben Maddow (credited as David Wolff), the short is an excellent document of its time and a rousingly populist essay thanks to the narration of Richard Blaine and the footage shot by Ralph Steiner.

The Movie Orgy (Joe Dante, 1968)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Movie Orgy.

A send-up and a celebration of mid-century American kitsch, Joe Dante’s epic pop culture mash-up, The Movie Orgy, entertained college campuses through the late 1960s and 1970s, drawing upon an ever-changing library of ’50s drive-in movies, vintage commercials, TV westerns, and political speeches. Re-discovered and re-cut by Dante for a revival screening in 2008 into its 280 minute “Ultimate Version,” this legendary cinematic event is now available outside of theatres for the first time. SEE a colossal collage of nostalgia! SEE an experience of mind-rotting celluloid hysteria! SEE thousands of performers in roles that earned them obscurity!  SEE bosomy starlets, juvenile delinquency, Christian puppetry, Elvis Presley, Groucho Marx, and Richard Nixon!

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • High-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Joe Dante, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Dante
  • Rated Z, archivist David Neary on the history and significance of The Movie Orgy
  • Posters and promotional materials
  • PLUS: An essay by director John Sayles

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Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1989)

Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) is a short film made for television and produced by Danny Boyle and BBC Northern Ireland. Set amid the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the short presents 18 matter-of-fact murders with a coldly observational approach, providing limited dialogue and utilizing the predatory look of steadicam follow shots. The film takes its title from Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty’s description of the Troubles as “the elephant in our living room,” and it served as an inspiration to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), a film that likewise attended to the broader social problems that underlie American school-shootings and gun violence.

Clarke’s short is overdetermined in its intentions, being full of intense men and purposeful walks, yet it is also disturbing empty. Despite its apparent single-mindedness, there are no explanations of the hows and whys of its killings and there are nearly no sounds of surprise or panic, yet there is always the banality of violence and death, a lifeless body in a drab room and a getaway that rarely strays from the same purposeful walk. For more on Elephant and the psychology it embodies (or withholds) in its particular cinematography, MMC! offers Jordan Schonig’s impressive and insightful video essay, The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants (2018). Schonig’s essay provides a concise exploration of what may be contemporary cinema’s most ubiquitous and conspicuous shot and perfectly unpacks the themes and tensions at work in Clarke and Van Sant’s respective films.