Friday, June 17, 2016

073. The Firing Line and 074. The Mistress of Atlantis

Jump to The Mistress of Atlantis (1932)

073. The Firing Line (1988)
Director: Jun Gallardo
Writers: Jun Gallardo and Sonny Sanders
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In

A mercenary helps take out the leader of a rebel insurgency, but when he finds he's been betrayed by his superiors, he joins the rebels forces.

This one's delicious and I either don't know how to describe it or I don't want to describe it. Just go find it. I mean, my first note about this film is, “'Starring Shannon Tweed.' So it's that kind of movie,” and when I say “that kind of movie,” I'm thinking in terms of The Flophouse Podcast where they discuss films requiring a sex tarp, which is incorrect. The Firing Line is, instead, this kind of movie.

That's right. More than starring Shannon Tweed, this stars Reb Brown as Mark Hardin, one of the names I'm sure the Mystery Science Theater 3000 writers rejected as too stupid for their list.

So we open on two military groups, both wearing vaguely gray uniforms, shooting at each other. I don't know which side is which, but I do know there are several sequences where a member of gray team 1 shots a member of gray team 2 only to be shot himself, and then his shooter shot, and then that shooter shot, and this pattern continuing like a series of human dominoes set off by bullets. This happens several times throughout the movie and it never stops being funny.

We finally come to the end of the battle where the rebel leader and a female subordinate are captured. Our hero, Mark Hardin, tells the leader how much he respects his ideals, but they're on opposite sides this time. After Mark Hardin leaves, the leader is killed and the subordinate is raped and killed.

So, sidenote, it's that movie too. To their credit, the rape happens off-screen and is done by the villains so it's more of a definitional moment—they're these kinds of monsters—rather than an entertainment/voyeurism one. It also leads to a nice payoff toward the end of the film where her sister, now the leader of the resistance, finds the rapist and shoots him in the dick.

Oh God, you guys, I love this movie!

Mark Hardin returns to his hotel where he meets Shannon Tweed in the bar, flirts with her, and then leaves to talk to his superior where he learns about the rebel leader getting killed. As a mercenary/American soldier (I'm not making a political statement, it's actually not clear which he is), I don't know why this would bother him, but he freaks out, attacks his superior, the liaison to the non-specific Latin American country they're working in, and is captured and tortured.

It's essential he be oiled before questioning
Torture involves him being asked questioned by a German and an Australian for some unknown reason and he has phone cords running to his nipples so he can call his pecs. Of course, he escapes, the baddies try to grab Tweed because she was seen with him, he brings her along in his escape, and they go join the rebels.

There isn't much plot from this point on. Tweed and Mark Hardin are both listed as enemies of the state so can't cross the border until the rebels win or without their help or something. There's a vague villain who refers to Mark Hardin as, “Christlike. A peasant Messiah,” as Mark Hardin is murdering people left and right. And it's all just silly.

I mean, after Mark Hardin and Tweed find the rebel camp, the military swoops in and starts massacring everyone, which is fine plot-wise, but there's stirring, triumphant action music playing the whole time. And the whole thing looks like it was shot either in the woods outside town or in the community rec center. Sure, it gets baggy in the middle, the big villain is neither present nor hammy enough, and Mark Hardin's superior looks like a deflated Andy Richter.

Conan, I don't like my hat.
Okay, that last part is kind of fantastic.

One curious element of the film is the politics. This is a late-80's Rambo knock-off and those tend to be relatively conservative, pro-military, and anti-Communist. The US Army and its client states, though, are the villains here working against the Communist rebels. The movie, of course, doesn't actually have or articulate any political views—it's just people taking turns shooting at each other and dying—but it's still a curious element.

Obviously, this is a huge recommend. It's dumb b-movie 80's action in all the right ways. Definitely something to share with friends.


074. The Mistress of Atlantis aka The Lost Atlantis (1932)
Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Writer: Hermann Oberländer and Ladislaus Vajda, English dialogue by Miles Mander, based on the novel by Pierre Benoît
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A member of the French Foreign Legion reminisces about a mission that led him to the lost city of Atlantis and the enrapturing Queen he finds ruling there.

A radio announcer says Atlantis isn't a continent sunken beneath the ocean, but rather a city buried in the midst of the Sahara. Two members of the French Foreign Legion are listening to the broadcast and one of them says that he's not only been there, but he killed his friend Morhange there for the love of the Queen. The rest of the movie is a flashback to the mission Saint-Avit and Morhange were on that landed them in Atlantis.

A movie that lacks much plot but makes up for it by being about tone. It's an adventure piece without the adventure, but, unlike a Monogram Pictures or Sam Newfield production, this isn't dull or poorly done. It's about the desert as a space of obsession and despair, passion and guilt. Saint-Avit meets Antinea, the titular Mistress of Atlantis, and becomes obsessed with her, but she's in love with, or pretending to be in love with, Morhange. Meanwhile, Morhange and Saint-Avit are being denied access to each other, neither sure of the other's fate, and it's helping to drive them mad.

It's difficult to describe this movie because every term I want to use I have to immediately contradict. The movie's dream-like and ardently concrete. There are echoes of German Expressionism among the studio product. It's an early talkie, but already playing with multimedia and nested narratives: the story is started by a radio broadcast that leads to a flashback that includes dream sequences and its own flashback before coming back out into the frame narrative.

This is also a definite recommend, although, obviously, for different reasons than The Firing Line. I'd say this is actually a good movie and worth watching if you like early cinema. The movie is in the public domain, but my copy has a copyright mark for 1999 because someone replaced the opening titles with different titles in a slightly different font.

I'm not making that up. Compare the title card I have on this review to the beginning of the copy on archive.org. That's the extent of the “new material” that they're claiming, but it's enough to prevent me from sharing a copy of this print. That's why I seem so angry when I mention the Mill Creek logo being burned into films—it means that specific copy of a public domain work has been locked out of our culture. Mill Creek didn't do anything to make these movies, isn't doing any special restoration work (like the Criterion Collection does), they've just scrawled “mine” across the movie so they can sue if someone else uses that now-identifiable copy. “Copy,” by the way, is the key word. They've copied it from another public domain source but then took a special effort to make sure no one else could copy it the same way they did. It's petty, it's cheap, and it does a real disservice to our culture.

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