Tag Archives: Jackboots on Whitehall

EIFF Roundup (pt 4)

*Puppet shenanigans bring hilarity in Jackboots on Whitehall

*Nuclear proliferation documentary Countdown to Zero irks and informs

*Monsters suddenly becomes a contender as one of my favorite films of all time (Fight Club and Children of Men, its challengers)

other news

Friday was a big deal given I got to see Monsters. If this doesn’t become one of the most talked about films this year, the world will gloss over an amazing piece of cinematic storytelling.

After the film, director Gareth Edwards and the lead actors, Skoot McNairy and Whitney Able, hung around the cinema’s bar to chat about the film.  I spent a fair bit of time sharing with Skoot how the film delivered to me.  When he was heading out with the rest of the staff from Vertigo Films (who produced Monsters) he invited me to tag along.  Suddenly I was glad I chose the button up shirt that morning.

We got to a club near Princes St. and planted ourselves in the VIP room with an open bar.  Considering the absence of food in my belly, I maintained a two drink maximum.  Now, I’m not really a bar guy.  I like to hang out talking one on one, or organize  an event with an activity at the center, keeping casual drinking on the periphery.  Considering all this, I didn’t know how long I would be staying.

But it couldn’t have been a better environment.  I got to meet people working in different areas at Vertigo (trailer creation, script development) and even though I was just a random guy invited along (I was frequently asked my place in the production), no one gave me the cold shoulder.  I actually had a good time.

Not to mention that despite the loud, festive atmosphere, I was able to talk with Skoot and Whitney about the film (among other things).  As a filmmaker and critic, there is a lot to praise in Monsters, most of it’s in subtle ways general audiences won’t recognize.  So as I was rolling out my thoughts to Skoot or Whitney, I’d feel like I was talking at them, but they’d quickly tell me how much the appreciate such specific feedback, not just “Oh, it was great.”

I know that when I screen a short film I’m itching for the same type of feedback: Did you notice this sound effect?  Did this twist hook you?  Specifically with films distributed at the international level, there is little room for interaction between actor and the audience receiving that performance.  So the lengthy ramblings of someone who knows the nuance and difficulty of filmmaking, but who has had no involvement with the production, counts for a lot.  I know I’d love it if someone wanted to point out all the things that I displayed well.

Plus, how often are we allotted the chance to explain how a work of art affected us to the artist her/himself?  It’s definitely a two-way street of appreciative barter: artist wants to communicate to the world and the audience wants to return the call.

Fear keeps us locked away from one another, blockading the beautiful connectedness between us all.  Thus, it was soothing to walk home toward the rising sun, away from the assorted conversations with Vertigo people, and especially with Whitney and Sckoot,  and only feel the buzzing aura of connected sincerity that make our lives worth living.

reviews to come

HIGH School, Winter’s Bone, Lucky

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“Jackboots on Whitehall” is puppet fun for all cultures

Fans of Team America: World Police are probably dying for more films from Matt Stone and Trey Parker.  Until they finally cut their ties to Viacom, there’s another outlandish puppet comedy to whet your appetite.

It’s 1940 and in this alternate history, the Hindenberg flies with armor plating and England has been invaded by the Nazis.  Denied a military job due to his grizzly bear sized hands (his fingers can’t fit in the trigger guard), it’s up to farm boy Chris to rescue Winston Churchill and his country from the Third Reich.  Joined by Fiske, the explosion retardant American, and an elite Punjabi unit, the Englanders flee North to the inhospitably barbaric “Scot-Land” for safety.  Stuck between Nazis and the foreboding territory of the Scots, they make a final stand.

Where Team America relied on mad puppetry and The Nightmare Before Christmas utilized stop motion claymation, Jackboots on Whitehall manipulates Barbie doll type puppets and minor digital effects for mouth movements in a manner familiar to those who watched Shining Times Station.  The attention to the minutiae of this miniature world will have Coraline and Team America fans alike struck with wonder.

Click for a bigger image. Isn't that amazing?

Especially when sh*t gets blowed up good.  When the Nazis attack Downing Street, it recalls the chaotic, gritty combat of Saving Private Ryan, and the ending, that of Helm’s Deep and Braveheart.  For those of us still in love with practical special effects (and the action films that are allowed to exploit them to the hilt), you’re going to freakin’ love this movie.

When puppets aren’t being brutally slaughtered with the flourish of Tom Savini, hilarity is found when we meet the Nazis and the Scots.  Goebbels looks like an orc toddler, gangrenously colored, mouth agape, and eyes plucked from Gollum.   He, Göring, and Himmler, plot death to the Englanders and run around Buckingham Palace with Hitler in Queen Elizabeth drag. The Scots are equally parodied, effectively saving the day (in more ways than one) with their Viking manliness and 13th century weaponry.  The way the English talk about “Scot-Land,” and even the accompanying Nazi’s fearful whispers of the region, hit the precise note of over-the-top humor it should embrace for the full 93 minutes.

Unfortunately, it takes missteps: treating the angst of Monster Hands McGee Chris and his romantic sub-plot with Daisy with dramatic tonality ill-fitting to the overall picture.  These moments lack the madness and outlandish caricature that the lone American hero,* the Nazis, and the Scots all receive – which reveals how the film goes conspicuously light on the English caricaturizing. Sure, Daisy’s crazy vicar father brings chuckles whenever he brings up Chris’ freak fingered features, but the English jokes are mere light ribbings that play outside of the film’s zany atmosphere.

When the film’s life is seeping out during these moments, the formalistic restraints depress it further. Unlike other animation films, the Barbie doll puppets (shot live action) lack varied movement and thereby, the energy, to hold our interest. The dynamic movements of Robot Chicken or even Pixar films is part of the joyride, but in abandoning stop motion, the makers of Jackboots on Whitehall rely on stiff mechanics that prove a detriment to the film when it can’t blow things up or deliver hilarity.

Though Jackboots on Whitehall isn’t committed to the type of self-aware ridiculousness in overdrive that makes Team America so entertaining, the Nazis and Scots pick up the slack while you’re enchanted by the intricately detailed sets, characters, and war machines. Though it loses its way from time to time, the miniatures and outlandish caricatures from World War II iconography make it a unique, and at times, hilarious viewing.  Jackboots on Whitehall earns double plus good points.

*imagine David Koechner’s Texas pilot character from Snakes on a Plane, but less jokes about Thai hookers