Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Please forgive our appearance while we switch the blog over and give it a make over. Thank you.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A pre-code tour de force!

Once is a great while, you see an older film and ask yourself the question “why haven’t I watched this sooner?” Such is the case for me when it comes to the 1931 version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Made the same year as James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and Tod Browning's “Dracula” to say that 1931 was a good year for horror movies is an understatement!
And this film puts the kibosh on the notion that movies “stopped moving” in the early thirties because of sound. In fact, this film starts off with a brilliant point of view tracking shot that puts us into Dr. Jekyll (pronounced Jeekyll in this version) shoes.
And the transformation scenes have to be seen to be believed! This film proves that CGI is not the end all to be all. Sometimes “in camera” effects can be just as effective! It really is very impressive, even by today’s standards.
Director Rouben Mamoulian along with cameraman Karl Struss create the perfect expressionistic mood the story calls for. From split screen wipes to subjective camera moves, the film is really a tour de force.

Also great are the performances by Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. March won the 1931 academy award for his performance. But Hopkins is just as good. She moves effortlessly from sultry temptress to helpless victim. It’s truly an amazing performance that’s definitely on a par with March.
The DVD release contains 14 minutes of newly restored material. Original released pre-code and then chopped after various re-releases, this version comes as close as possible to the original vision. An informative commentary is provided by film historian Greg Mank.
Also included on the DVD is the 1941 version of the film starring Spencer Tracy. While the Tracy version has its moments and that MGM gloss, the 1931 version is the true classic.

Miriam Hopkins as Champagne Ivy

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Superman Returns…but I wish he didn’t!

John Williams opening theme begins to fill my ears. One of the best pieces of film music ever. The hair rises on my arms. Superman is back and I think it’s a great thing. Its opening night and I have dragged some friends out for this momentous occasion. The film is getting rave reviews (a certified fresh 76 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes) and I’m pumped to see this film. Two hours and 35 minutes later, the lights come on and I have a bad feeling in my gut. Why didn’t this film work for me? Bryan Singer is a fine director (his X-Men films really deliver the goods.) So what the hell happened? I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings for this film. The box office, while good, is far from outstanding. I’m sure a lot of Hollywood power players are scratching their heads on that one. I’ll play Monday morning quarterback here and try to figure out why “Superman Returns” fails as a story.

I’ve seen the film twice theatrically. The first time on opening night and then a few weeks later I caught the Imax presentation with sections in 3D. I‘ve also read the shooting script which contains material not in the finished film. (Did you know that Martha Kent is shacking up with Ben Hubbard?! Believe me, you’re not missing anything.)

I have so many problems with this film. First off, it’s too dark for a Superman movie. Kate Bosworth (a fine actress) is miscast as Lois Lane. She’s way too young to be playing the character. They get Superman’s suit all wrong. I mean, what’s up with that dull red cape?! Frank Langella is a great actor but he’s no Perry White. His Perry White is dark and brooding. Perry White should be energetic and snappy! I found the casting across the board to be generic. It’s like a summer stock company putting on a Superman movie! And the movie is sluggish. When it should soar, it fizzles. And the film almost comes to a complete stop at its climax. I think Lex Luthor INC might be a silent partner with the producers on this one!

I also really miss the "His Girl Friday" dialogue that was a staple of the Daily Planet scenes in Superman 1 & 2. In fact, most of the good Daily Planet stuff has been replaced by the "Lois Lane love triangle". It feels like a lifetime movie of the week. This is fun? Mr. Mankiewicz, give these screenwriters some lessons!!

I think my biggest problem with this film is Lois Lane. The idea the Superman has a “love child” with her is one of the worse ideas ever. Superman should be role model. Standing for truth, justice, and yes, the AMERICAN way. (By the way, this year I was lucky enough to catch a screening in New York of “Superman the Movie”. When Superman says the line “I’m here to stand for truth, justice and the American way”, the audience burst into applause! It was an obvious reaction to “Superman Returns” notion that Superman should stand for “Truth, justice and all that stuff”.) He shouldn’t be “doing” Lois on the side! Plus, Superman and Lois should always have a sexual tension between them. Once the cat is out of the bag, all the tension is lost. That’s why I think their scenes together don’t work. And what’s up with that kid? Is it Singers tribute to Donner’s “The Omen”?! Creepy stuff.

Yes, when it comes to Superman I’m a prude. But I don’t want my Superman to be a dark, angst ridden character. That’s Batman folks. It doesn’t work in a Superman movie.

Here's another point of view on the film sent to me by my friend Joe. He really nails it!

I had one thought at the end of the movie... 'Can't anyone actually WRITE anymore?'

I really, really, REALLY, wanted to like this movie. And on one hand, I do like certain aspects of it. But, when all was said and done, once you looked past all the flaws, there wasnt much left. The writing was just so bad, the dialogue was flat and boring, and many of the scenes were down-right uncomfortable. I just felt that, at every turn, I was sitting there like... "huh?"

First off, I dont know why they had to go with a whole 'Superman Returns' concept. If they wanted this film to be a part of the Christopher Reeve series, why not just pick up where they left off? I heard they wrote this with Supe 1 and 2 in mind, and ignoring 3 and 4. So you are talking about a 26 year gap since Superman 2. Writing 'Superman's 5-year absence into the film does little to explain the gap away. But, an explanation wasnt really needed anyway.

The Superman story already asks us to ignore the obvious fact that no one in thier right mind wouldnt know that Clark Kent and Superman are one in the same. Why pile on the fact that Clark and Superman leave at exactly the same time, and return to Metropolis at exactly the same time too? Lois doesnt notice that she says "Welcome back, Clark" and "Where ya been, Supe?" in the same afternoon?

Oh, the fact that Luthor has gotten out of prison the same week is also pretty convenient. And what does this criminal mastermind do to rebuild his empire? Bangs an old widow, and inherits her fortune? He should have talked to Anna Nicole Smith before assuming that was a guaranteed way to make instant cash.

I digress... Luthor wants to hatch a real estate plan to put his California earthquake deal to shame. He's so impressed with Superman's Fortress of Solitude that he decides he wants to essentially rebuild Krypton on Earth. (Either that or it's just the fact that crystals work faster and cheaper than your average subcontractors.) Superman gets sent to earth with a green crystal, which is apparently used to build the Fortress of Solitude. Fair enough. Now here I thought that this crystal was specifically designed (or 'programmed') for this purpose... little did I know that these crystals are basically like Gremlins -- Get them wet and these suckers just grow like weeds. Even a tiny crystal the size of a grain of sand will explode into a mammoth, mini-Fortress. Advanced technology, or non-thinking weed? (Metachlorines, anyone?) If it was that easy, why didnt Jor-El just launch a few of those little buggers at a nearby uninhabited planet, and viola, a brand new Krypton! Ok, so Luthor's a little smarter than Jor-El I guess.

And please, would someone either lock the door on the Fortress of Solitude, or put a 4-digit PIN number on that control board??

Ok, so Luthor wants to create a 1:1 scale model of Krypton which will destroy and occupy most of America. I guess Luthor really prefers the Europeans, cause there wont by any Americans left to buy up his beachfront land. Yes, he did say 'beachfront land'... did anyone else see anything resembling sand on these giant masses of crystal? Living on miles of jagged crystal suddenly makes living on the moon as not such a bad deal.

Well luckily Superman is around to slap the kabosh on this. After 5 years, baby Kal-El crash lands his spaceship in the Kent's cornfield. (Oh wait, it's grown up Superman crash landing in the Kent's corn fields.) ummm...Where did he get the rocketship from?? And why is he even IN a rocketship? Why did it crash? Can't he just land it? And did I see this right? -- Why is he in 'swaddling clothes', and half naked, and in such bad shape? Hello? Writers?? And while you're writing, can you at least camoflage this blatent shortcut with more than a simple "Astromomers thought they found Krypton.... but nah." I payed $9 for this movie, can you give me some interesting side story about what happened? "Look, Superman left, and now he's back. What's the difference where he went and why."

But, Superman returns to Earth, just as Clark Kent returns to the Daily Planet after going on a five-year long African safari. And just in time too, cause Lois Lane is about to get toasted in an airplane when the space shuttle on the back of the plane fails to disengage, and the rockets will blast the plane. I guess they are still setting this movie in the 1970's, cause I havent seen this happen since Moonraker.

So Supe saves the Shuttle, saves the plane from crashing, and quotes himself verbatim from the original film. Sorry...but, duh.

But, despite his unchanging taglines, Superman seems a little different. He hasnt lost his crush on Lois despite the fact that she's in a solid relationship with the man who has born her a child (or so Supes thinks). Doesnt stop him from putting the moves on Lois, which is ironic since he seems to take things a lot slower back when she was single, childless, and practially gagging to show him a super good roll in the hay. When his advances arent returned, he goes to her house, uses his X-ray vision to become a Super-peeping tom, and his super hearing to listen in on her private conversations. Ew. Insert jokes about girls locker rooms.

Nothing makes you forget your women troubles like saving a few lives. Little does he know that the trashy-dressed girl with car troubles is really just a distraction while Luthor steals himself a little meteor from Addis Ababa. Didnt he already steal this one? Or is Addis Ababa the only place kryptonite lands?

Ok anyway, Luthor tricks the crystals into rebuilding Krypton out of kryptonite. Leaving out all the obvious questions about how the crystal makes a little kryptonite grow into a giant island. Maybe he should have thrown a bar of gold in there too, and 'isnt Krypton made of kryptonite anyway?' Whatever... Superman confronts Luthor and walks into the kryptonite trap yet again. Rather than proving 'mind over muscle' -- Spacey's Luthor doesnt show off his witty mind, no great dialogue here... Luthor starts kicking the shit out of Superman, and then actually stabs Superman with a kryptonite shiv. Um... can I have Gene Hackman back?

And after all this, there isnt any satisfaction of seeing Superman march Luthor off to jail. And I agree with everyone else that it was too long. The whole hospital scene didnt add anything. As someone said, if Supe knew he was going back to throw Krypton Island into space... why not grab a radiation suit or something? And it's a pretty lucky thing he landed in a park in a populated area, and not back down in the ocean where he just came from. Ahem.

Anyway, throw in Super-baby who commits his very first murder-by-piano, and there you have Superman Returns.

Incidentally, the whole concept of the super-baby was confusing as hell too. Would Superman's son, conceived after he lost his super powers, be a super baby? Would super babies have asthma?

I think this story was crying out for a Mario Puzo to craft a real story. I think the next one has potential, but after this one, I'm not really too anxious for it.

Thanks Joe for letting me share this e-mail!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


“This is no fantasy. No careless product of wild imagination.” And so begins the opening moments of “Superman the Movie.” Pretty ballsy to set the bar so high right from the get go. But this movie delivers on its promise. For me, it’s the “Citizen Kane” of superhero movies. I first saw this film as a young lad at the age of 10. I marveled to Superman’s daring rescues and the spectacle of it all. Then, 3 years later, “Superman 2” arrived on movie screens. Every 13 year old I knew thought it was the best Superman movie ever! Lots more daring rescues and thrilling battles over and in Metropolis. But as the years rolled by, I found myself drawn more and more to the first film. As I came of age, I realized that this film was something I would have run away from at 10 years old had somebody said these words about it; this is a love story! I also began to realize that the first film had a style and class that the sequel didn’t. “Superman 2” has curious slapstick thrown in where it doesn’t belong. All the pedestrians in the film come off as real dopes (and would be brought to embarrassing new heights in “Superman 3”) and it’s really annoying, especially with repeat viewings. Then, I was to discover the whole “dirty” truth about “Superman 2”. That Richard Donner, director of the first film, was dismissed from the project. That Richard Lester took over. That the Brando footage was dumped. That the original script was re-tooled. Over the years, the Donner footage shot for “Superman 2” became the stuff of film geek legend. And now, almost 30 years after it was shot, we finally get to see “Superman 2: The Richard Donner cut”. Was it worth the wait? Hell yeah! Is the whole experience a little bittersweet? Well…in a word, yes.

One of the problems the new cut encounters is the ending. Originally planned was Superman turning back the world. When this idea was instead used for the climax of the first picture, a new ending had to be conjured up for the second part. Unfortunately, Donner never got that far. He was dismissed before he and the screenwriters could come up with a new ending. So what we get in the Donner cut of “Superman 2” is that ending. I think the ending of the Lester cut works better. And I really miss the whole patriotic climax. There seems to be a mantra of using as little of Lester’s footage as possible. I can understand this from Donner’s point of view. However, as you watch the film, you begin to wonder if this is a good idea from a story standpoint. Does the film still work? I think it does. But the compromises do keep it just shy of being the classic that the first installment is.

The Brando footage is amazing! I always missed Jor-el in the Lester cut of the film (and his absence was always conspicuous.) and it’s great to have him back. The “new” scenes at the fortress of solitude really blow away the Lester version. And Superman getting his powers back has a lot more of an emotional punch in the Donner version. A vast improvement!

And we do get a little bit more of Hackmen here too. Most of his scenes have been extended. I loved that he gets a little more time with Miss Teschmacher. (By the way, all of his scenes in the Lester cut were filmed by Donner.)

The new cut is edited by Michael Thau and I have to say, he makes some curious choices from time to time. The prologue of the new cut is just too long. Do we really need to see the scene from part one where Luthor springs the kroyptonite on Superman? Or Miss Teschmacher rescuing Superman? I don’t think so. But in the same prologue, he does a great job using alternate takes from the first film as the 3 villains are sent into the phantom zone. The film also cuts between the villain’s arrival on earth and Lois discovering that Clark Kent is really Superman. I think the Lester cut has a better pace with the cross-cutting between these two storylines. But I also think the Lester cut has more material to work with. But other sequences are much better. Like the villains assault of the astronauts on the moon and their siege of the White House. And almost all the pedestrian slapstick is out. A good thing for sure.

One key sequence uses screen test material of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Surprisingly, the scene DOES work! But you can see how both became better actors as the shooting progressed.

Even with its compromises, “Superman 2: The Donner cut” is way better than this year’s sluggish and miscast “Superman Returns”. But it’s probably due to that film that the “Superman 2: The Donner cut” has reached DVD. So, with that mindset, I’m grateful that there is a “Superman Returns”!

For more about Lester vs Donner footage, check out this great link from SUPERMAN CINEMA.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Excuse me waiter but there's a DiCaprio in my Scorsese

I have to give credit to Scott for my title. Way back before "Gangs of New York" came out we both were bemoaning the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio was the lead in the next Martin Scorsese movie. But taking into account the realities of the movie (money) making business we knew the days of Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro were behind us and if Scorsese wanted to keep on making films he had to ensure box office returns. So we sucked it up and surprisingly "Gangs" turned out to be a really good film. Mostly due to the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis in my opinion.

Then came "The Aviator". Leo all by himself and playing Howard Hughes no less. We held our collective breath. But yet again I have to say another solid film that actually had me reluctantly admitting that DiCaprio gave a really great performance. So When "The Departed" was announced I was nonplussed. Bring it on!

"The departed" is a twisty turny cops n robbers suspense film, based on the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs",that is just a joy to watch. Early on after I had settled into my seat and the movie started there is an opening image, an establishing shot of a candy store where inside Jack Nicholson menaces the shop keep into handing over protection money. That shot blew me away!

It was like being teleported onto that very street where not only could you see and hear the goings on down the block and inside the candy shop but I could taste and smell exactly what it would be like to be standing there. I was hooked. He had me and from then on it was like taking a walk with Martin Scorsese along these mean streets where he was pointing out various points of interest on this personally guided tour where we laughed and talked and debated and shuddered with horror at all the goings on of these characters. To me this was Scorsese having fun, goofing around and playing with material he knows backwards an forwards. I enjoyed it immensely.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hostel 2005

Eli Roth doesn't like you.

Don't worry, he doesn't like me -- I'm female -- any more than he likes his own sex. Or foreigners. Or homosexuals. Or anyone, it seems.

How could he, when he has so little respect for his fellow man that he asks you to believe, quite seriously, that European women are so desperate to meet mindlessly horny Americans (and Roth painstakingly ensures we understand just how mindless and horny) that they'll practically hand their panties over as soon as they do?

Let's see, we've got Yer Average Mercenary Tramp or Yer Average Virginal Victim. 'Nuff said. They both scream a lot, but for vastly different reasons.

For the middle third of this mess: our very own Cornucopia of Xenophobia and Homophobia. After all, every gay man I know, Roth (all but) asks us to swallow with wide-eyed innocence, begins a relationship with a nice sudden cop to the joint? No? Alright then, where would any self-respecting story be without gruntingly illiterate locals, who serve no more purpose than to direct visitors to Punani Paradise and Hashish Heaven, found a short train ride away? Do watch out for those all-too-common packs of roaming kiddies though. Oh, yes quite the thing around these primitive parts, he seems to insist.

And amen, with the final third, it's almost over, and we find someone loves us after all: the special effects guys, also known as KNB EFX Group, better known as Greg Nicotero and the Gang (ok, well to me, at least), the people largely responsible for showing us gory love with the likes of "Land of the Dead", "The Amityville Horror" remake, "Sin City", and "Kill Bill" Vols. 1 & 2.

As has been previously stated, I'm of the mind that if you're going to make a horror film, be a man and serve it up hot and fresh with some fake eyeballs, buckets o'blood and a decapitation or three. I enjoyed the much-maligned bloodfest, and this is one area where Roth has at least learned from his mistakes: let the big boys handle it and get the hell outta the way.

What does it all mean, dear? I couldn't stand anyone in this film, and the only true pleasure I got out of it was watching them get picked off, one by one and in horrifyingly creative ways, thanks to Greg et al.

Which does not make up for the mindless, masturbatory blather I sat through to see it.

In short: as deep and meaningful as popping a zit. Sure, you can't help but look, but after you have....eww.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Director as visualizer...

Why do so many movies have so unsatisfying stories these days? There are many reasons to be sure. I think one is because the current crop of directors that populate the Action genre are really visualizers and not storytellers. You always hear that a movie is a story told visually. And that's true but for a movie to work the visuals must contribute meaning. They must serve the story that the screen play is trying to tell and not be an end in themselves.

To many action sequences are shot not because they contribute this meaning but because the visuals are stunning and the stunts and CGI create a spectacle that the movie studio's can then market and sell to an audience. Examples of this would be the wave in "A perfect Storm" or the White House being demolished in "ID4"

It takes a special talent to read a screenplay and be able to visualize the movie from it. I don't think that any director sets out to make a 200 million dollar vanity action sequence for themselves. I do believe that everyone sets out to make a great movie. But I also believe what goes wrong is the way this new crop of Action directors pick the movies they want to make.

They receive a screenplay. They read it. They try to visualize the movie they could make from it. When they do this they revert to their natural tendency to emphasis the visuals. The story calls for a chase in the London Underground. Now maybe they have been to the London Underground and had a idea about a unique way of shooting a chase scene down there. So they start concentrating on how they would do it. What the shots would be. How they would technically be able to get that close-up of the hero's face while the train screams by at 100 miles an hour.

Or maybe they have seen a million of chase scenes in the London Underground. They are board by it. So they think to themselves how can I jazz this up so it's exciting to me and everyone else. They hit upon and idea like this incredible train wreck with unbelievable CGI. The movie studio now has a hook to sell the movie and poof the movie is green lit.

But the problem is they have already lost the reason why the scene is there in the first place. Why are the characters chasing each other. How is the sequence set up by the motivations of the characters. How do the hope and fears of the characters play into the scenes. What is at risk for them and what is to be gained. And most important how does this sequence propel the story forward and not stop the story dead in it's tracks. How does it contribute meaning to the story and the character's arc's.

It takes a special talent to hold all these idea together at once and not let one overtake the others. You must have meaning and spectacle together. And the directors that can do that are the ones making worth while Action movies today.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Strangers in the Night

Gary has been hounding me to write a piece on the short film we made, “Strangers in the Night”. I think, for better or for worse, a film, long or short, should stand on it’s own without an explanation from the filmmakers. With that in mind, I won’t talk about the story itself. But I will talk a little about the making of the film and how it all came about.

Gary and I had been working on a full length screenplay called “Bar Stories”. The premise of this script was quite simple: We would follow different stories that all originated from the same place, the “Bar” of the title. While this script was, at best, uneven, it did have a lot of heart.

When I decided to attend the Motion Picture Pro Course in New York City, I needed an idea for a six minute short. Gary and I plucked part of one of these “Bar Stories”. We did quite a few rewrites, getting the script down to about ten pages. Unfortunately, real life interfered with “reel” life and Gary could not be present for the actual shooting.

My instructor at the school was Ralph Toporoff. He has been in the business for many years and had made his own full length feature, “American Blue Note”. Ralph and I did more rewrites on the script. We cut a few things here and there, trimmed some dialogue, and finally got the script down to a mere six pages. (For some of you who might not know, one page of a screenplay equals about one minute of screen time.) I then started to storyboard and get my shot list in order.

We started the casting process, auditioning real New York actors. I met a lot of talented people in this process. So many in fact that it became tough to make a decision about who to cast! But, in the end, I’m happy with the choices I made.

Shooting went smoothly. We shot about four pages before lunch. The remaing two pages were shot that afternoon. We had to lay down dolly tracks, so it took a little longer to shoot. The cast and crew were all true professionals. It was a joy to work with them.

The film was cut over the next few days. As you now can see, "Strangers in the Night" really has three fathers: Ralph Toporoff, Gary and myself. And so, to make a long story short (pun intended) that’s about it. It was a great experience. What are my feelings now? I’d like to leave off with a quote from Orson Welles from his 1979 documenty “Filming Othello”.

“I leave you with a confession. This hasn’t been as easy as I could have wished. There are too many regrets. Too many things I wish I could have done over again. If it wasn’t a memory…If it was a project for the future, talking about Othello would have been nothing but delight. Promises are more fun than explanations…With all my heart I wish that I wasn’t looking back at Othello but looking forward to it…That Othello would be one hell of a picture…”

My shooting script of "Strangers in the Night". The straight lines with arrows at the ends are the shots. The numbers next to these lines refer to the shot number. The scribbled lines mean the shot has been completed.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dawn of the Dead 2004

Let's get this straight. I don't like remakes.Given the current fashion in Hollywood, however, it looks like we're stuck with them, and thus, this had to be done sooner or later. And may well have increased my respect for what is rapidly becoming a genre on its own.

Or maybe just for James Gunn and director Zack Snyder.

What we got was what felt like true homage to me -- right down to a sweet cameo of Tom Savini -- liberally splashed with a gutful of gore that George Romero, the father of the modern zombie himself, no doubt would have loved to get his twisted mitts on.

They're bright enough not to mess too much with the Master's sociological insights, yet still manage some pretty decent character background and development -- even a little reformation for you moralists out there -- and, although Ving Rhames was as typecast as ever, it's always fun to watch him grunt a role out. Sarah Polley manages a combination of backbone and low-key likeability that is a relief from the shrill heroines of today's cinema. A thread of humor running throughout, highlighted by a hilariously-faithful swing version of Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness", kept things nicely well-rounded. Singalongable as hell, you'll be snapping along and singing it months later, and in the same smarmy tone, if you can manage it.

The true stars of the film? The makeup department. Gore, gore, and more gore -- they give us everything available to the modern makeup, prop and prosthetic artist and then some -- going to lengths you'll need to watch the DVD extras find out about. I frankly regressed to a 14 year old boy with every splash and splatter, driving Dear Hubby nuts with gleeful "awwwwwesomes!!!" at every in-your-face headshot and flying skull fragment. An incredibly detailed featurette on the makeup and props in the Extras section made me damn near want to rethink my career plans and start playing with corn syrup.

Which brings me to the other great thing about this film -- I've yet to see better Extra's on a dvd yet, and they served as inspired prologues and epilogues to what was already a stand-alone great horror film. What felt like inspired amateur work served to lock you in so completely to the suspension of disbelief that the subject matter required, that by the time it was all over, at least 2 hours later, I briefly regretted not boarding up my doors and windows.

From the perfectly-paced deterioration of Mr. Properly Coiffed TV Reporter to Andy's Lost'll be checking your home's weakspots too after this gleeful and intelligent splatterfest.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Scott Does A Musical Movie Marathon?!-Part 1 KISS ME KATE in 3D!

I have to admit, it there's one genre I really don't know too much about, it's the movie musical. I've always avoided most musicals. I just never gave them much of a chance. But when the Lafayette theatre in Suffern announced a Musical Film festival, I thought this would be a perfect chance to give some of the films I'd been avoiding their due. I would be able to see these movies on a big screen and in a wonderful atmosphere.

First up was "Kiss Me Kate" shown in it's original 3D format. This was one of my favorite films of the festival. A very clever adapation of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" the story backstage mirrors the play onstage. The score is by Cole Porter and the film also features some early work by Bob Fosse. Also of note is the footwork of Tommy Rall.
What was great about seeing this film was that I got to meet some Tommy Rall fans, Beth & Jeremy, at the screening. Beth sent me some neat trivia about the film:

"A little trivia about Kiss Me Kate - the sailor who appeared at the end of "Always True to You..." is Hermes Pan, the choreographer of the film. He was a long time work partner of Fred Astaire and they looked a lot alike."

"The three male dancers choreographed their own sections of "From this Moment On" at the end of the movie. This was the world's first opportunity to see Bob Fosse's style. Also, the girl who danced with Bobby Van was Jeanne Coyne, an assistant to Gene Kelly and his future wife."

"Kathryn Grayson's character had to say the word "louse," because the censors wouldn't allow her to say "bastard," which was in the script for the original stage version."

Beth has a great site dedicated to all things Tommy Rall. It can be found here:

Coming in Part 2- Scott does a musical triple feature! "42ND Street" "Swing Time" & "Singin' in the Rain"!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hammer Glamour-Caroline Munro!!

Caroline Munro is arguably one of the most beautiful actresses to appear in a Hammer film. But what makes her so special is her genuine charm. You'll never hear a bad word about Caroline and that translates to the screen.

After making brief apperances in such films as "Casino Royale", Caroline landed her first big role in "Dracula AD 1972". The film takes place in "hip" London. Viewed today, the only thing that stays really hip are Lee, Cushing and Munro! (Although I must admit that I do also like the performance of Michael Coles as the Inspector) The film is a hoot and, taken with a grain of salt, fun to watch. Poor Caroline turns out to be Dracula's first victim in the film. The real missed opportunity for this flick is Caroline's early exit. She would have been a terrific vampire! Caroline talked a little about the experience of making the film on the Hammer documentary "Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror". "That was the first time in my short career (at that time) that I realized I wanted to act. That was really it. Because I believed in what I was doing." On working with Christoper Lee: "You don't have to act much because he's very frighting when he has all his gear on, his white face, the contact lenses. He's very tall! I'm not small and he's VERY tall! At that moment, I WAS bitten by Dracula and I believed it!"

"Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter" was also made in 1972 but the film was not released until 1974. Poor distribution hurt the films grosses but I think the film really stands up well today. It also provided Caroline with one of her best roles, that of the gypsy Carla. It's one of her favorites. Caroline talks about the film on the "Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror" documentary: "Possibly, (Kronos) was too romantic. Maybe it was either ahead of it's time or the other way. Maybe it was lost in time. I'm not too sure. The timing was wrong anyway." Ironicly, time has been kind to this film. Check out the DVD for the commentary track with Caroline and Director Brian Clemens.

Other non Hammer films that Caroline has appeared in. The fan favorite "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" and as the ill fated Helicoptor Pilot Naomi in the James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me".

A publiciy shot for a proposed "Vampirella" Hammer film that never got off the ground.

As Naomi in "The Spy Who Loved Me"

Christopher Lee surrounded by female cast of "Dracula AD 1972"

As the Gypsy Carla in "Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter".

Mina's blog questionnaire

List a couple of your "least"  favorite movies:

  • The Man Who Wasn't There -- one of the most incredibly
    depressing films I've ever seen. I'm sure that
    technically-speaking, it's impressively done, but when
    it was over I frankly wanted to kill myself.

  • Misery -- No doubt to avoid an R-rating, their depiction
    of Annie Wilkes was ridiculously tepid.

List a couple of your favorite movies:

  • Poltergheist -- the juxtaposition of thoroughly
    likable-yet-realistic suburban family alongside the eruption
    of decades-old erupting coffins, gave us a story that was all
    the more horrifying for our ability to identify and sympathize with them. That and they didn't pussy out on the gore.

  • Land of the dead -- Finally George can give it to us the way he's always wanted to because now he's fucking George, instead of just George! Plus I love Greg Nicotero's work. I also liked the strange emergence of Big Daddy as the film's first zombie anti-hero.

List a couple of your favorite directors:

  • Quentin Tarantino

  • George Romero

List a couple of favorite movie quotes (dialogue):

  • "Did you see a sign out in front of my house that said Dead Nigger Storage?", Qt -- Pulp Fiction

  • "Half! Give me half eddie. Give me half Mr. Fuck-you man", Eddie Murphy -- Raw

  • "You haven't a womb! Where's the fetus gonna gestate, you gonna keep it in a box?", Monty Python -- Life of Brian

List a couple of your favorite genres:

  • Horror

  • Heist

List a couple of your favorite movie moments( with or without dialogue):

  • When Bruce Willis shoots off Jack Black's hand with the 50 cal.
    in The Day of The Jackal.

  • When Shaun (of the dead) and Ed stare in shock at the female zombie in their backyard...then crack up, snickering, "She's so drunk".

A short paragraph on why you like movies and why you want to write about them here on this blog and what you hope to accomplish by putting your thoughts down here:

Movies are society's safty valve. Without regular doses of fantastical violence, we'd be left with no release and be forced to act out our aggressive fantasies on each other. Or maybe that's just me.

Anything else you would like to include on this Bio. sheet?:

Make something up for me and slap an 18+only warning label on it. xoxoxo

Scott's blog questionnaire

List a couple of your "least"  favorite movies:

  • Pearl Harbor and anything else directed
    by Michael Bay!

List a couple of your favorite movies:

  • North by Northwest

  • Yojimbo

  • The Maltese Falcon

  • Schindler's List

List a couple of your favorite directors:

  • Hitchcock

  • Kubrick

  • Scorsese

List a couple of your favorite movie quotes(dialogue):

  • "If they move, Kill em!", The wild bunch

  • "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the war room!", Dr. Strangelove

  • "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!", Casablanca

List a couple of your favorite genres:

  • Horror & Crime,  but I like any well told story.

List a couple of your favorite movie moments (with or without dialogue):

  • That last walk before all hell breaks loose in the Wild Bunch.

  • Janet Leigh's last moments in Psycho

  • Sterling hayden realizing it's all over in the last few minutes of The Killing.

  • Toshiro Mifune walking into town and seeing a dog with a human hand in it's mouth in Yojimbo.

A short paragraph on why you like movies and why you want to write about them here on this blog and what you hope to accomplish by putting your thoughts down here:

I hope to maybe influence someone who hasn't a clue to who Toshiro Mifune is. We have a wonderful history of great films.

Instead of getting that "hot" new release. I would love it if someone checked out a Kurosawa film for the first time. I hope to maybe turn someone on to a gem like "yojimbo".

Or let them know that Christopher Lee made some great films way before "The Lord of the Rings trilogy".Or that a great part of the influence on the "Star Wars" films comes from Lucas's love of Kurosawa's films.

I would love to get the "newbie" interested in classic films from the masters. And I hope to discover gems from others!

Anything else you would like to include on this bio. sheet?:

I miss my days at the chess and water polo clubs...My days of laughter...

Gary's blog questionnaire

List a couple of your "least"  favorite movies:

  • Any movie that tacks on a "happy ending" just for
    comercial purposes. Any movie that is more concerned
    with being "polically correct" instead of being truthful.

  • Oh and Forrest Gump, I hated that movie!

List a couple of your favorite movies:

I wanted to list my personal favorites, movies I've watched over and over...
  • Millers Crossing -- A coen brother's masterpiece.

  • Kiss Me Deadly -- Noir at it's parinoid best

  • King Kong vs. Godzilla -- Best Monster movie hands down.Only thing missing? Aliens trying to take over the world with the help of the monsters.

  • You only live twice -- I know almost every line of dialogue in this entire movie.

  • First Contact( Star Trek Next Generation) -- "We've engaged the Borg",....Nuff said.

List a couple of your favorite directors:

I wanted to list directors who had at least 4 or 5 masterpieces. When you watched their movies you knew you were watching art.
  • Alfred Hitchcock -- The master of suspense and the build up.

  • Woody Allen -- Funny is funny plus he's about the only one left who makes films that require thought.

  • Martin Scorsese -- He's always mentioned in any list of the best because he is one of the best.

  • Stanly Kubrick -- I regreat that we don't have more films by him., but if he had worked faster would the movies we do have have been as good?

  • Quentin Tarintino -- I have a love/hate relationship with him but I have to give him his props. Everything he's put out has been stellar.

List a couple of your favorite movie quotes (dialogue):

  • "Okay, nobody move, Popeye's here!", The French Conection

  • "Forget it jake, it's Chinatown", Chinatown

  • "This far And no farther!, First Contact (Star Trek The Next Generation)

  • "Godzilla!!!!!", King Kong vs Godzilla

  • "I'd hate to take a bit out of you, your a cookie full of arsenic", The sweet smell of success

List a couple of your favorite genres

  • Crime
  • Thriller
  • Action

List a couple of your favorite movie moments(with or without dialogue):

  • The 20 minute, totaly silent bank heist in the middle of the movie Riffi.

  • The overhead soaring shot of James Bond running across the rooftops of the Kobe docks in You only live twice.

  • Zefran Cochran jitterbugging while counsler Troi tries to explain the situation to Riker in First Contact.

  • Dallas hunting the Alien in the airshafts in Alien

  • Willard getting stinking drunk and exorcising his demons
    at the begining of Apocalypse Now

A short paragaph on why you like movies and why you want to write about then here
on this blog and what you hope to accomplish by putting your thoughts down here:

There are enough review sites already. I wanted to be a part of a place where you could explain how a movie personally touched you, be it an old one or new, and create a community of sorts where you had a give and take disscussion over it's merits.

Anything else you would like to include on the bio. sheet?

I regreat that this is too short and I have left out too many great movies...

Monday, February 27, 2006

R.I.P. Darren McGavin

I just wanted to take a quick second and post my condolences about the passing of Darren McGavin.

A long time working actor, in such films as, The Man with the Golden Arm and A Christmas Story, he was first brought to my attention as Karl Kolchak in The Night Stalker T.V. series. McGavin's performance as Kolchak has solidified my long lasting love of the over achieving underdog, the guy who knows he's right but the world just won't listen to him. He always managed to give whatever role he was in a style all his own. He will surly be missed out here in movie blog land as I expect elsewhere....

Sunday, February 26, 2006

John Carpenter's The Fog (1980)

( A Mina post, by way of third party, so credit should go to her)

In 1978, On a budget of $325 000 (and eventually grossing over $50 000 000 worldwide, between box office and domestic and foreign distribution receipts) , director John Carpenter and screenwriter Debra Hill sliced their way to the forefront of horror with the classic Halloween. Based on that success (which was so surprising to John himself that he had to be informed of it by Avis: "Success? What success? It tanked!"), Avis Embassy Pictures offered Carpenter a 2-picture deal, the first of which resulted in another horror classic, 1980's The Fog.

Inspired by the thought "what if?", when greeted by an eerie fog bank during a visit to Stonehenge, I'd never seen the film before last night, and was about 9 years old when it first hit theaters. It was, of course, deemed way to scary for little me, and by the time I was old enough to decide for myself what was too scary, there was a whole new mess of fright flicks to see. So this one slipped by the wayside. A resurgence of interest generated by the remake resulted in the thought that, if we see the remake, we should probably see the original first.

Antonio Bay is a small seaside town about to celebrate it's centennial. But with the discovery of an ancestor's diary, the locals are about to learn of the town's darker history, and of the night when the ship, The Elizabeth Dane was lured onto shore. Thanks to a well-placed campfire and a thick fog, a pesky leper colony led by a rich man is conveniently exterminated. Now a century later, the colony and the fickle fog are back -- and the dead will have their revenge.

Snappy dialogue, strong leads like Adrienne Barbeu and Jaime Lee Curtis, and a great supporting cast like Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, and John Osmium, gives us just enough character development to quickly humanize the townspeople and ensure that we're as concerned as they are when Folders activity sweeps town as Just The Beginning of the Horror. The story is well paced and moves quickly from the puzzling and possibly explicable -- exploding windows, ranks of cars honking their own horns and armchairs that move themselves -- to the much more frightening ragged, dark figures that appear in an out-of-nowhere fogbank that first seems to consciously attack a fishing boat, and then heads for town. Curls of mist creep thickly under even the tightest door sill, preceding heavy knocks as the dead lepers come calling. Finally it's a race against time to find the riches stolen from their leader and give it back before he and his unnaturally still (until they slice you open, that is) crew of vengeful dead can take it out of the descendants' asses.

Effects were well done for the era, with the fog itself becoming a full-fledged character. It goes pretty much wherever it, the angry dead, and John Carpenter wants it to, leaving you to wonder uncomfortably if Mother Nature herself has it in for Antonio Bay. The answer seems to be a resounding yes, as Our Heroine in her lighthouse radio station is finally located and the dead decide they've had enough of her playing Early Warning System to her terrorized listeners.

Disturbing sound effects like the flat relentless clang of the hammering on the stations metal door isn't quite enough to reduce you to nail-biting, but twenty-five years ago, it had to have made for a satisfying jump, with each crash of slow dead fist on steel door.

All in all, The Fog is well-deserving of it's status as Modern Classic and did a great job of solidifying Carpenter's position in the horror pantheon. Twenty-five years later, it's still lots of fun to watch, especially with strong female leads who snap out lines like "I'm not sure I want you", as dubious flirtation. The lack of any real gore created a focus on well-constructed atmosphere that's missing from a lot of today's films. After all, what need for atmosphere when you can use up at least three minutes with a good full-frontal vomit?

John Carpenter knew very well "what" then and probably still does now.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Match Point-A Woody Allen Tour De Force!

Woody Allen bounces back strong with this exceptionaly crafted story of infidelity and chilling deceit. One of the best films of the year.

The offical "Match Point" site:

Rotten Tomatoes:

Chinatown at the Ziegfeld!

I've seen Chinatown many times at home. Seeing the film for the first time in a movie theatre was a revalation.

I didn't watch Chinatown. I experienced it. This film was composed to be seen on a big screen. Sure, the film plays well watching at home. But I was completely blown away by this presentation. The ziegfeld has secured a wonderful print. I love going to a Theatre like this. I don't have to worry about projection or sound quality. Add to all of this the $7.50 admission price (!) and I'm in 7th heaven!
Seeing this film again reminds me of what I don't like about most contempory films. Where today's films are almost all cut for the sake of pace, Chinatown has a deliberate pace. It's not single minded in it's editing. You get to savor the story as it unfolds. It like having a wonderful 5 star dinner. It makes today's films seem a lot like fast food.

Here's a link to the 3rd draft screenplay by Robert Towne:

Here's Roger Ebert's review:

And here's Rotten Tomatoes 100% rating!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Film Festival at the Ziegfeld in NY!

Exciting news! The Ziegfeld theater in NYC is having an awesome film festival that runs from Feb. 3- March 9.

This movie theatre has great sound and projection! It's the largest single screen movie theatre in NYC! Among the films being shown: The Godfather Parts 1 & 2, Chinatown and the entire Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings trilogy! Details can be found here!

An exciting update! The Festival has been extended for 3 more weeks! Some of the films to be shown are: "North by Northwest", "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Alien" and "Lawrence of Arabia"! All of these films are definitly worth the trip into NYC! If you've never seen "2001" on a big screen, here's your chance!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hammer Glamour!-Linda Hayden

As much as Hammer films are known for there gothic horror, they are also known for there glamourus leading ladies.

These ladies were "scream queens" way before Jamie Lee Curtis was menaced by Michael Myers in "Halloween".

I've chosen to start with Linday Hayden who appeared in "Taste the Blood of Dracula" and many other non-Hammer genre films of the seventies.

Linda's performance in "Taste the Blood of Dracula" is right on the money. She plays the innocence of her character, Alice, just right. But boy when she falls under dracula's influence, watch out! She looks like she's enjoying being bad! She even stakes a poor guy (not a vampire btw) right in the heart!

I guess that's a part of why I like these Hammer Horror films so much. They look beneath the surface into the dark side of even the most innocent of us. As a matter of fact, Linda's character Alice does not embrace the good side until Dracula scorns her! You would think that after 600 years or so Drac would know better! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!!

"I have no further use for you!" Oops!

A great interview with her appears in the current edition of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS, a magazine that has been dedicated to all things Hammer for the past 34 years! Issue number 17 also has an in depth look at the Peter Cushing Pirate film "Night Creatures" AKA "Captain Clegg".

Linda Haydens selected film credits:
Baby Love (1968)
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Satan's Skin (1970)
Something to Hide (1972)
Vampira (1974)
The Boys From Brazil (1978)

The Little Shoppe Of Horrors Site:

A few reviews for Taste The Blood of Dracula:

Positive ones:

A negative one:

Also of note is James Bernard's score. It's one of his best. A review of the score can be found here:

Next Week: Reel Cinema continues our tribute to Hammer Glamour as we take a good look at the wonderful Caroline Munro! Be there or be square!!