Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It Came from Netflix! SOS Iceberg

Leni Reifenstahl died in 2003, at the age of 101. Most infamous as the director of Nazi propoganda films, especially Triumph of the Will, Ms. Reifenstahl was the subject of an amazing three-hour documentary entitled The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, it’s extraordinary.

Reifenstahl’s lengthy life can be cut up into segments. Early on, before making films for Hitler, she was a movie actress in post war Germany. She was known for starring in a series of ‘mountain movies, ‘ an apparently popular genre in that country featuring actors performing feats of unassisted mountain climbing and the like, portraying dangerous physical acts by actually doing them.

SOS Iceberg is a similar film, made by the same director, Arnold Fanck. This one concerns a search party seeking a lost scientist in the wastes of the Arctic. Recently released by Kino on DVD, we are treated to both the English and German language versions of the film. Rather than a simple redubbing, the English version is an entirely different cut of the film featuring unique footage.

The German version lasts about an hour and a half. We open in the aftermath of a mission to explore the remote glacial regions of Greenland. During this, scientist Karl Lorenz went missing. His partner, Krafft, is called before an investigating board. He testifies that he and the rest of the team conducted a thorough search before the passage of time and the coming break up of the ice forced them to admit that Lorenz was dead.

Krafft is therefore shocked when evidence is presented proving Lorenz was alive just a few days ago. Apparently he snuck off to explore a region he had always wanted to investigate, but which was far from the locale they were scheduled to go. Because of this, Krafft and the others were searching the wrong area entirely.

Hella, Lorenz’s wife (Reifenstahl), is relieved by this news. Krafft, however, is pissed. Lorenz’s selfishness in secretly running off has not only damaged the goals of their original mission together, but has made Krafft look like a cowardly rat for leaving Lorenz out there alive. Now the whole area is disintegrating with the coming of spring, but an almost manically driven Krafft gathers the three other mission members and travels back to search for their errant colleague.

As with the mountain movies, the real thrill here—and it continues to fascinate—is in watching actors struggle against Nature in a very real and dangerous looking manner. Krafft and his crew find Lorenz’ trail and follow along it, despite this meaning that they must hop from one floating and continuously melting piece of ice to another. Several times the actors fall into the frigid waters, and I don’t care if help was available just off camera, there’s no way they weren’t putting their lives in some jeopardy here.

Eventually the crew finds Lorenz, although the scientist has (I think) lost his legs to frostbite. However, in the end they are all stranded on a floating iceberg, which has broken loose from land. Drifting ever south, it is melting and falling to pieces under them. Meanwhile, the stranded men begin going mad from lack of food and water, not to mention the horror of their plight. For her part, Hella, who proves a pilot, flies an alarmingly fragile looking prop plane through the icy wastes searching for the party.

As I indicated, I assumed the English version to be substantially the same, but it wasn’t. It’s shorter, yet opens with quite a lot of footage taking place both before and during the initial exploration mission that Lorenz sneaks off from. This involves almost all of the same cast from the German language version, who film these scenes in English. This seems odd, as the German version sports so little dialogue as to almost be a silent film. Dubbing it would surely have been easier.

The English version is more concerned with the humans and offers a straighter, cleaner storyline. However, the superior German version features more of what we came to see, simply amazing footage of puny man struggling first to dominate, and then simply to survive, implacable Nature.

Great stuff.

The rest of the year for the Cubs...

Assuming that woefully failed manager Dusty Baker (and presumably at least some of the coaches) is, in fact, finally to be shown the door--and GM Jim Hendry is making noises to that effect--it’s time to set down in stone what the team goals should be for the second half of what is already one of the worst seasons of Cubs baseball ever. Which is saying something.

First, it is essential to acknowledge that we will, under no circumstances, be in the race for a post-season slot. This is obvious, so both we the fans and the team should all be comfortable acknowledging it. (The fans, in fact, have proven more than ready to concede this. Hell, we've been screaming it for months now.) It would be a downright miracle if we could get back up to .500, much less win the wild card.

Hendry needs to sit down with whomever he hires to fill Dusty’s shoes, whether we’re talking the new long-term manager long term or simply an interim guy, and emphasize that his job is about nothing other than preparing the Cubs for a more successful 2007. That’s the only profitable course remaining for a team mired this far into the depths of the standings. With players like Kerry Wood gone and off the payroll next year, big changes are in store. The rest of the year should be about mapping out exactly what we will have and what we will need to acquire.

In sum, the number one job (and two, three, four and five jobs) of the new manager has to be PLAYING THE KIDS. We should see as little of Wood, Niefi, Mabry, etc., and as much of Murton, Cedano, Marmol, Guzman, Pie, whoever, as possible.

Hendry and the new manager have to sit down with the kids and tell them explicitly that there is no pressure to win anything at this point. Instead, they should relax and play to their abilities, and most of all, work on improving their fundamentals. They should be told that they won’t be judged on the second half win totals (which in any case almost have to be better than the first half’s), but on aspects of the game that have not be emphasized under Dusty: Plate discipline, on base percentage, and keeping your head in the game and not making the incredibly boneheaded miscues we’ll been witnessing nearly every game.

Let them know that there’s no need to pressure to win that day’s game. The idea is to see day-to-day and long-term improvement, not (as Dusty would no doubt call for) to strive to battle their way back to a pointless .500 record. If they follow this plan, their win rate will improve on its own. The new manager must have regular one-on-one meetings with the players, many more team meetings to keep everyone on the same page, and re-instigate daily game practice.

Some are asking what it will profit us to dump Dusty at this juncture, rather than letting him manage to the end of the year. The answer is, because it is literally impossible for him to manage the way I’ve described. He didn’t care about long-term betterment of the team when he knew his job was secure, much less will he when he knows he’ll be gone next year. Rather than a slow, patient, tough focus on team improvement, we’d hear the same stuff about “putting the best guys out there to win today” and guff about how “these veterans have earned the right to play.”

It’s time we stopped worrying about the player’s “rights” and focused on the team. The fans are calling for a youth movement, and for good reason. If we’re going to watch the team lose—and again, I can’t see how they wouldn’t in fact win more games doing this—then it’s still better to do so while also getting the chance to evaluate the team’s future. Winning two or three more games total makes little sense if it means holding off until next year the essential, grinding scutwork this team requires to rebuild. If we start now, we’ll be in a much better position to hit the ground running in 2007.

New on DVD...

Not a lot new on DVD this week, perhaps because of the holiday.

The big news this week is the release of the recent revival of one of the world’s most beloved sci-fi series, Doctor Who The Complete First Season. Its street priced at an exorbitant $100 (bastards), but can be found for around $65.

Other TV sets this week include Alice: TV Favorites, and Charlie’s Angels S3.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is out in a new edition, including both the original B&W and a (blech) colorized version. However, Mike Nelson provides a commentary, so there’s that. There’s additional Ed Wood content (home movies, commercials), but don’t get rid of your old Image DVD, which contains the brilliant feature length Flying Saucers Over Hollywood documentary.

Meanwhile, the original Little Shop of Horrors is getting the same treatment (Nelson commentary, etc.)

The Matador is a black comedy with Pierce Brosnan trading off his Bond image to play an aging hitman experiencing a mid-life crisis.

‘80s softcore fans will be pleased to hear that two of the decades pivotal sex comedies, including the obligatory “high school guy hooks up with hot older chick” flick, are hitting disc in My Chauffer (with Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman) and My Tutor (Emmanuelle’s Sylvia Kristal). The films are available separately or in a pack.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Horror, the Horror...

I was just flipping around the TV stations during a commercial break. As I surfed past the local WB affiliate, I saw an ad for Living with Fran. Living with Fran?! Did anyone know that was still on the air? How is that possible?

Destroying an entire TV network might seem an exaggerated price to pay to make sure a Fran Drescher show is banished from the airwaves. But is it? Is it really? I'd say the death of a UPN is a small price to pay.

However, as insane as it sounds, Drescher could get another show. It's happened before. Therefore, I bring you a warning.

Every one of you reading this blog; tell the world. Tell this to everyone, wherever they are: Watch the TV listings, everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the TV lisings.