Week 12 of 2019 (3/18 – 3/24)

3/18Retro Puppet Master (w/ Rifftrax)1999 (2017)
3/19Wag the Dog1997
3/20The Eichmann Show2015
3/21Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders2016
3/22Canadian Bacon1995
3/23The Infiltrator2016
3/24Basmati Blues2017

March 18

Day 77 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today is kind of a twofer in terms of films, because it’s a movie I’ve never seen before merged with the Rifftrax treatment that I’ve also never seen.

1999’s Retro Puppet Master is the 7th film in a long franchise of lower-budget, direct-to-video features from Full Moon Pictures. This one stands out for those of us who love bad films because it stars Greg Sestero, who later gained some fame for co-starring in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. He went on to write a book about his time on that movie, which then became another film, 2017’s The Disaster Artist.

In this film, we get the origin story of André Toulon, who is the prime creator of these killer puppets, as illustrated in the original Puppet Master… and its 4 or 5 sequels before this movie. Again, it’s another prequel, so that’s already strike one against it. It definitely has that Full Moon feel from the mid-to-late 90s, which I was a fan of. The effects, plots, and acting were a little rough then, and none of it really holds up over time.

The plot involves an Egyptian… um… wizard who steals some scroll containing “the secret of life” from the god Sutekh (who’s the Egyptian god of chaos and storms, so I don’t know why he has THIS scroll). On the verge of death in pre-war Paris, this “wizard” stumbles across Toulon’s avant-garde– um, creepy-ass puppet show and proceeds to teach him the secret. Sutekh sends undead mummy guys after him and hilarity ensues.

As far as the Rifftrax jokes go, they got some good shots in that I laughed at, but I admit I was trying to follow the actual movie more… my mistake.

NOTE: I have a review of both The Room and The Disaster Artist later in the Challenge (specifically, May 3), having made them a double-feature.

March 19

Day 78 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is 1997’s Wag the Dog, starring Robert DeNiro as a DC fixer who hires a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to help him create a distraction from a looming presidential sex scandal two weeks before Election Day.

This was a pretty okay movie. It’s definitely a product of its time, given its setting before the World Wide Web really went mainstream… there’s no mention of the Internet at all. But the themes and satire are no less biting today. De Niro and Hoffman are great on screen together (it’s unfortunate they haven’t done more work together). I also really enjoyed watching them constantly pivot when their plans keep going awry.

Definitely check this one out if you enjoy some political comedy or especially darker satire. If you want a good pairing in terms of satire, I think this film might pair well with the 2008 John Cusack film War, Inc.

March 20

Day 79 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s movie is 2015’s The Eichmann Show, produced for BBC TV and based on the real-life broadcasts of the Israeli trial of long-hunted Nazi Adolf Eichmann. The film centers on the TV producer and a documentary director as they overcomes hurdles and personal threats to bring TV coverage into the courtroom.

This was surprisingly powerful to me. As with other BBC films, I expected it to be more flat and not quite as engaging. But this film includes actual video and audio from the real trial, as well as film footage from the liberation of Auschwitz. It makes it visceral and painful to watch, but in an important way that makes you not want to turn it off.

Especially in this day and age, when we run the risk in multiple places in the world of sliding back into fascism, this movie gives the message that acts like these should not be forgotten or disbelieved in the face of evidence.

March 21

Day 80 of the 2019 Movie Challenge, old chums! Today’s movie is an animated delight — 2016’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders! Adam West & Burt Ward reprise their roles from the 60’s TV show, along with Julie Newmar as Catwoman.

This movie was ridiculously delightful! I’ve always gotten a good laugh out of the Batman TV series specifically because it was so campy and over-the-top. This movie embraces all of that, with a supporting voice cast that does their best to sound like the live-action versions, or at least capture the spirit of those versions. The animators did a great job of capturing the essence of the TV series, while also throwing in a lot of really solid jokes

At first, I was worried that this movie would be like three half-hour length adventures strung together like a movie, but oh no! It is, in fact, one full story that took me completely by surprise. We get to see the 60s Batman start taking on some of the darker, more aggressive traits of his cinematic successors as the film goes on and Adam West (RIP) really delivers an amazing performance that makes me rethink my respect level for his work. I only really have seen him in the show (and its animated relations through the 70s and 80s) and some horrible B movies he did in the 80s. I really need to find some pre-Batman work and see what he was like as a performer.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of the TV series and haven’t seen this movie, go watch it now! You’ll have a good nostalgic laugh. (There’s also a sequel, 2017’s Batman vs Two-Face that I’ll watch at some point as well.)

March 22

Day 81 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is 1995’s Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore’s one try at making a non-documentary feature film. Similar to Wag the Dog from the other day, this is definitely a satire and actually has a similar premise. When the President’s approval numbers go into a slump, his chief of staff has the bright idea to start a new cold war… with Canada. And, naturally, things go stupidly awry.

This film is primarily well-known more for being the last John Candy movie released (it was filmed before Wagons East!, which he died during the filming of, but released posthumously). And he did an okay job here, but this film is not one of my favorites of his work. Top three there are: Uncle Buck, Cool Runnings and Who’s Harry Crumb?.

Moore’s script is funny in some places, but mostly feels flat. I’m not 100% sure what the message of the film was, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of seeing it. He’s a decent storyteller, but documentary work seems to be more his speed. Sicko is still one of my favorites that he’s ever done.

Alan Alda was terrific as the unnamed President, with shades of Peter Sellers’ work in Dr. Strangelove… the same with Rip Torn as the crazed, war-hungry general. The scenes in Canada were really funny and clearly written with a love for that country. I don’t know that I’d rewatch this in the future, but it was all right for a one-off.

March 23

Day 82 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s movie is 2016’s The Infiltrator, based on real-life events. Bryan Cranston stars as an undercover Customs agent whose team helps dismantle a massive drug money-laundering operation.

Bryan Cranston always brings a gripping performance to the screen. It helps that he had the real Robert Mazur to talk to about his experience. Additional great performances by John Leguizamo and Diane Kruger as his two partners undercover, Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino (who was a known associate of Pablo Escobar), and a smaller role by screen legend Olympia Dukakis as Mazur’s aunt Vicky. This was a pretty straightforward telling of this story — some violence, obviously, and a lot of foul language. But it was told pretty honestly and kept my attention for the entire length of the movie. Well worth seeing.

March 24

Day 83 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s movie is the 2017 romantic comedy Basmati Blues. Captain Marvel star Brie Larson plays a scientist who is sent to India to convince the local farmers to plant her new GMO rice instead of their own.

This was incredibly enjoyable for me. I honestly should have read more before seeing the movie, because it’s a musical. That’s not a bad thing… musicals just aren’t for me. But the filmmakers basically made a Western Bollywood movie that was very charming, sweet and quite funny as well. Her singing ability was on full display in this one (again I had no idea… seriously, is there anything she really CAN’T do?!) Her co-star Utkarsh Ambudkar is also terrific as Rajit, a farmer trying to finish his agriculture degree and convince his fellow farmers to use his planting methods instead of the GMO rice. If you can’t tell from the cover photo, romance ensues. I mean, that’s not really a spoiler, is it?

This was a good, light movie that I think the whole family could enjoy. For those looking to make it a double-feature, I might suggest pairing it with the 2006 comedy Outsourced*, which has a similar culture clash premise.

*There is also a short-lived 2010 series from NBC based on this movie.