OSS 117: Lost In Rio (2009)

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Last year, we were extremely complimentary to the first OSS 117 movie, “Cairo, Nest Of Spies”. It was genuinely one of the funniest films I’d seen in years, multiple laugh out loud moments, as well as having a real feel for the genre and time it was spoofing (Eurospy thrillers of the 1960s). And I’m happy to report that the sequel is every bit as good, and the sole less-than-happy thing about it is that director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin only made two of them.

 

To recap the character – OSS 117 is a French institution, predating James Bond by four years and still hugely popular. Subject of 265 novels and 10 films, he’s Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, an American from Louisiana who works for the French intelligence agency OSS as well as the CIA (his being American is completely ignored in this movie, however). A dashing spy, his adventures were largely serious affairs, but more than a decade after the the last new novel or movie, he was brought back to both pay tribute to and parody that whole era. “Cairo, Nest Of Spies” also starred Berenice Bejo, who’d go on to marry Hazanavicius, but OSS 117 isn’t a man to be tied down, so she doesn’t return for the sequel.

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Jean Dujardin is so good, right from the first scene (which is a shootout between him and some Chinese gunmen, where his guests, a bunch of beautiful women, are mown down with neither side being remotely interested about saving or protecting them); and it just keeps on getting better. He’s asked to go to Rio to hand over $50,000 in return for a microfilm with a list of French collaborators with the Nazis, and Bath’s response – “must be a micro-sized list” – shows how completely naïve he is about both history and international relations, things he’s supposed to be an expert in. The knowing look of his superior officer also indicates that Hazanavicius, who was born and brought up Jewish, has a point he’d like to make through all the jokes.

 

ASIDE: the literal translation of the film’s French title is “Rio Is Not Responding”, a reference to a 1933 sci-fi novel by Clifford Siodmak, “F.P.1 Is Not Responding”, about a man-made base in the middle of the Atlantic, which was also made into a movie with Peter Lorre in it. If I can find the English language version, get ready for a review soon.

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Bath meets an American agent (the wonderfully named “Trumendous”) in Rio who helps get him acclimatised at the same time as insulting him in extremely graphic English. Admittedly, I don’t watch tons of non-English cinema, but it’s interesting how rarely you hear “foreign” language spoken by an American with an obviously American accent; especially compared to the heavily accented English spoken by many foreign actors. Perhaps it’s more common than I realise, but it’s still pretty cool to see.

 

The most important thing about Bath, and “Lost In Rio”, is how spectacularly racist and misogynist he is, with an added dash of anti-Semitism, and how lacking his view of other countries and cultures is. When he meets up with Mossad to discuss bringing some Nazis to justice, he says that Jewish people can’t go undercover because Nazis would recognise them by their noses; when the beautiful Mossad agent Dolorès Koulechov (Louise Monot) compliments his career and says she’s looking forward to working with him, he says “what a pretty secretary!” When discussing the treatment of Jews by the Nazis, he says “obviously, you’re a little bit responsible”. It’s jaw dropping and it’s said by a character that, for all his enormous character flaws, you’re really supposed to like.

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This is what cloth-eared comedians like Ricky Gervais have tried to make a career of, done effortlessly and in the space of 90 minutes. It’s not enough to say racist or sexist things and then do a cheeky grin at the camera; Dujardin does it all completely convinced he’s right, he lives in an utterly sheltered world of self-confidence, and experience teaches him he’s wrong. It’s done with such cleverness and such perfect timing, I laughed out loud over and over again.

 

I’ve not even mentioned how he goes to a hippie commune to find the son of the former Nazi who’s selling the list of collaborators, takes acid and gets involved in an orgy with him enjoying the company of both genders; the two luchador assassins and their gunfire gag; the running joke with Chinese revenge squads who try to get him back for what happened at the beginning of the movie; the Nazi party and their rendition of “The Girl From Ipanema”, or a hundred other things. It’s bloody brilliant, is what I’m trying to get across.

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Also worth mentioning, how perfectly Hazanavicius and his team recreated the cinematic era, with its cheap back-projection during driving scenes, its colourful locations and characters, and its fast-paced plot. But most importantly, it’s really really funny. Would that Hollywood could so skilfully navigate the bounds of good taste in such a charming way! But enough from me. If you’ve ever listened to a recommendation from me before, this is the time to listen again. Check this series of films out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Trailer Trash: No. 1 of the Secret Service

As a boy I was a big fan of the ‘Naked Gun’ spoof films, they seemed to end appropriately at the golden dawn of spoof movies in the nineties, around ‘Wayne’s World’ (I will argue firmly that Wayne’s World is part of the spoof genre), the tail end of ‘National Lampoon’ and both ‘Hot Shot’s’. The thought that morons in Hollywood are even considering reviving the franchise (with Ed fucking Helms no less) saddens me greatly.

‘No. 1 of the Secret Service’ was one of the original spoofs, the ludicrous opening to the trailer is part Bond, part ‘Dirty Harry’ as the Secret Agent No. 1 gives double barrels to a sniper and somehow catches two bullets in mid-flight, forming them into a little cluster of lead. It’s the kind of thing you’d see as commonplace in one of those atrocious Marvel movies (I’m a DC guy, so Fuck you Kevin Feige!).

A sleazy guitar riff that encourages trousers to fall and bras to unfasten, soundtracks assasinations, a barber shop fight scene and a demonstration of invisble bullet proof walls. The villain introduced is Mr Loveday, a confident member of the elite whose organisations evil mantra is the acronym K.R.A.S.H. that stands for Killing, Raping, Arson, Slaughter and Hits.

I especially like the final thirty seconds of this trailer, as No.1 piles up the bodies with a Machine Gun, the clip is part ‘Hot Shots Part Deux’ as the body count piles up, and part ‘Rambo 4’ which parodies the parody in a serious way (is there a word for this other than post-modern imitation?). Shit, this came out in 1977, so ahead of its time.

The voiceover guy tells you that “No.1 sleeps with his 2.357 combat magnums and both eyes open”. Glorious!

– RJW

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Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)

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Directed by: Roger Corman

In recent months I’ve been reviewing movies in bunches. The films I’ve reviewed have had a uniting theme, such as forgotten gems of the early nineties or outlaw biker films. Given that the last film I reviewed was ‘The Fifth Estate’, it is asking a lot to try and connect a film about WikiLeaks with ‘Creature from the Haunted Sea’, but both somehow they both fit under the airy umbrella of ‘films with a political theme’. See, ‘Creature from the Haunted Sea’ is set against the backdrop of cold war paranoia, and the United States embargo against Cuba.

I’ve been thinking about politics a lot recently, mostly populist rhetoric. Russell Brand’s interview with Paxman on ‘Newsnight’ to promote the latest issue of ‘The New Statesman’ has got a lot of my friends excited about the possibility that revolution is in the air. Although if I’m not mistaken similar sentiments were sung by forgotten singer songwriter Sandi Thom. I’ve watched the interview a few times and all I hear is a charming witty verbose man using a lot of big words but ultimately saying nothing. If anything Brand seems to be advocating the continuing wave of apathy that lurks around the ballot box. Forgetting that exercising your right to vote doesn’t just mean National Elections, but at local level as well. It is here, locally, where significant changes can be made, and in his words provide “a service to humanity”. Change can happen, and indeed has happened thanks to a democratic political process. I respect Brand as a comedian, and admire has stance on drug rehabilitation, but he just seemed a long way off the mark here.

Phew… went a bit off track there. ‘Creature from the Haunted Sea’, Roger Corman’s black and white B movie, brings together spies and sea monsters. Imagine James Bond meets ‘Sesame Street’. The film begins when a shoe shiner gets murdered by two bearded men. Prior to getting shot the shoe shiner had got off his fuckin’ shinebox and put a message in the sock of an American agent who goes by the alias of Sparks Moran, his real name is SK150.
SK150 meets a woman in a shady bar; their dialogue is hilarious, taking me back to childhood memories of Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley’s exchanges in ‘The Naked Gun’ franchise. After finishing a game of chess a woman says “Long live the king”. SK150 asks her “Is that supposed to be a political remark”. The woman says “I don’t know anything about politics”. After the bar scene we’re treated to a cartoon montage that explains to us the overthrow of the Cuban government.

The spy’s job is to retrieve Cuban gold that is being held on a boat Captained by a dodgy fella named Renzo who’s done a deal with the Cuban treasury to transport some the loot out of the country. The crew comprises of crooks, gangsters, Cuban military and a moll called Mary-Belle. All of the crew have several aliases and Corman introduces us to almost each and every person on board. The best of the bunch is a simpleton who imitates animals, he makes a guttural sound after his introduction and we’re told “that for instance was the mating call of a Himalyan Yak”. He becomes more annoying than Michael Winslow in the ‘Police Academy’ films.

‘Creature from the Haunted Sea’ drifts along until the boat is deliberately crashed by Renzo into the rocks; he tries to blame this accident and the disappearance of a crew member on a mythical sea monster. This bizarre opportunity allows SK150 to try and get the treasure away from the clutches of Renzo. When the crew find themselves on a desert island we finally get introduced to the creature. This sea beast looks like the entry in a playschool competition for making your favourite ‘Sesame Street’ character. The whole film takes a bizarre turn when the creature appears. Not least because it encourages the local islanders, a bunch of bad Latin stereotypes to get in the way.

At times the scenery literally falls apart around the actors, in one scene somebody is on the phone and a bit of shrubbery drops on them. Corman’s intention with ‘Creature from the Haunted Sea’ seemed to be to make a comedy that parodies our fascination for mythical monsters. The movie provides a host of laughs, and demonstrates the appeal of a giant farce. Everything is ridiculous, and that’s what makes it wonderful. Corman when filming ‘The Last Woman on Earth’ in Puerto Rico decided to put together this movie with the same cast because of tax incentives. It showcased his abilities as a filmmaker, because somehow he managed to put together something unique like this on the fly.

– RJW
7/10

Creature from the Haunted Sea on IMDB