Saturday, June 29, 2024

Cinema presentation of my documentary "The Picnic" at The Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge MA!


 My documentary "The Picnic" is playing July 20, at 3:30 pm at The Brattle cinema in Harvard Square Cambridge! The doc is about the 50 years of the legendary comic book store I used to manage a very long time ago and is still there, very close to the theatre. Some of the interviewees will be in attendance as well! 

This was a long, multi-year project made possible by donations of many people but particularly Denis Leclerc and Spike MacFee (the first employee of the Picnic who sadly passed in 2019.)

If you or anyone you know would be interested and can be there please show up, it would mean a lot to me, the store and those who are in the documentary. 

The Brattle:  40 Brattle St. Cambridge, MA 02138Saturday, July 20  -  3:30 pm    40 minutes 



Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Marooned (1969) directed by John Sturges

 


While 2002 A Space Odyssey is rightly lauded for its ground breaking realism depicting space travel, Marooned is no slouch in the department either and has the advantage of being produced as man was really going to the moon for the first time. 

The effects are excellent, not the level of Kubrick's epic film but more, if one can say this, down to earth. They are based on current NASA tech and design and the story of astronauts trapped in their capsule and slowly suffocating as mission command tried to find some way to help them. This film was still in release during the Apollo 13 mishap so what is shown was no hypothetical sci fi plot to viewers, it was really happening. 

The cast is quite amazing, so many good actors giving very good performances and the entire production is treated with the gravitas it deserves considering men were very much risking their lives at the time.  The whole thing reads as real life, including some heart breaking understated moments when the wife of one of the crew is given bad news. 

As the situation in space gets worse, they are aided by soviet cosmonauts who have come to deliver oxygen as that is all the can do. A very hopeful message for the time.

At 134 minutes I did not find it slow moving, so some might. It was very well received but lost money on initial release and while it seems to be forgotten mostly It does not deserve to be. 

Friday, June 21, 2024

Award: Pulled Towards the Sea voted best Horror film in Warped Dimension 5 Festival!


 


Part of the "Another Hole in the Head" San Francisco, "Warped Dimension" is a fun online festival I have been a part of for many years now. It was wonderful be voted for an award! 

If you missed the film, it's on Youtube. Be sure to like and subscribe and all that so more people can see it. 


Saturday, June 8, 2024

Silent Summer: The last laugh (1924) FW Murnau




 Can a Murnau film with Emil Jennings go wrong? Nope, but it can sure go right. This is the height of silent cinema. The acting is outstanding, the sets are breathtaking, the cinematography is draws you in and keeps you in.

The story is very simple, hard to believe such a good film is based around something that should be mundane. A doorman loses his job at a famous hotel. That is basically it. He is deemed too old by his cold hearted boss and demoted to washroom attendant. When his neighbours find out they mock him and doubt he was ever the doorman and was just trying to make himself seem important. Jennings gives his typical top drawer performance and brings humour and pathos to the character. 

This is spoiler (the film is 100 years old this year but I doubt too many know it now). 

At the end, the humiliated doorman reads in the newspaper that he inherited a fortune from  a patron who died in his arms in the hotel washroom and shares his wealth by going back t the hotel and treating the staff to generous tips. Especially the night watchman who was the only one there who teated him kindly. 

This is one of those films that will amaze anyone not familiar with the silent era and think they are all overacted, sped up comedies. Its hard to imagine that the street shots are actually sets, they have a realism you don't expect and the editing, effects and compositions are far beyond what anyone would think of as "early cinema". 

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Silent Summer: Dans la nuit (1929) direccted by Charles Vanel

 



One of, if the last of the French silent film era. this film is a tour de force in acting and image composition. The editing and transitions are amazing and the recent restoration really lays to rest any ideas that silent films were primitive filmmaking in any way. 

After a disfiguring mining accident, a man hides his face from his wife who he discovered is charting on him. He catches her and her lover who is also wearing a mask and in the struggle, the husband is killed and the body dumped in the river. I won't spoil things but suffice it to say that murder leads to to a number of twists and turns that use creative montage to show the [present, what really happened and to move between the past and present in a truly masterful way. The only problem I have is with the ending, which was forced on the director by the studio. It still works but could have been a much more powerful ending if the studio had kept their hands off it. 

I saw this on French TV and I have no idea where else it can be seen. I did not find it on Amazon or on YouTube but if you get a chance see it! 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) Directed by Sam Wanamaker

 


The third and last in the Schneer/Harryhaussen trilogy is sadly the weakest. Patrick Wayne plays the title role and Jane Seymour is the love interest. They are joined by another Doctor Who! Patrick Troughton plays the hermit who guides them to mythical island where they think they can find a cure for a prince who has been turned into a baboon  by and evil sorceress who’s son will become king if the prince cannot be transformed back into a human in time for the crowning ceremony. 

Some of the creatures in this film are a little sub par. A giant walrus and a couple monsters that look borrowed rather than inspired by other Harryhausen films. The saber-toothed tiger is a little too cuddly looking but the troglodyte is good and the baboon was so good you forget it’s an animated puppet in some shots. The overall creature effects are up to standards but some other shots are just plain awful. The actors were obviously not on location and were matted in over a background plate and those shots really stand out. I thought Wayne was fine in the role, he was sexy and shirtless enough as was Jane Seymour in some discrete shots and the evil son also looks pretty hot in a couple scenes that felt out of place as Schneer tried to bring the series up to the times with more sex appeal. 

The sorceress is also interesting and transforms herself into a gull with a magic potion, which spills and there isn’t enough to change her back completely so she is left with a gull’s foot for the last part of the film and that was pretty horrifying! 

This film suffered a bit by coming out the same year as Star Wars… like all films did that year! So maybe it was time for this series to end, but even at it’s weakest it was great fun! 

Note: The Sinbad movies were without a doubt a product of their time and I am well aware of that. Women’s roles weren’t very much more than damsels in distress, though all of the main women showed streaks of independence and were crucial to the story. The cast in all the films is almost completely white with rare exception despite being set, in effect, in the Middle East and no one looks like they are Middle Eastern in any way. It’s pretty obvious none of these problems are malicious in any way, just things not thought about in movie making of the time and I could see this trilogy being remade as a streaming series with better plotting in the same storylines with actors that match the locals better and maybe all three strung into one three season storyline with the same Sinbad and  and princess/love interest having more equal roles with modern effects that pay homage to Harryhaussen’s aesthetics. Netflix, Apple TV, whatever I am waiting for your call to develop this idea and bring this character back to modern day thrill seekers! 


Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. (1973) Directed by Gordon Hessier

 


The second Sinbad outing was bigger but not entirely better than the first. It still had amazing monsters and set pieces but John Phillip law I thought was a little weak in the role. Caroline Munroe is the love interest (love her) and a pre Doctor Who Tom Baker steals the show are the evil sorcerer. It made even more money despite having higher, 2 million dollar, budget. The plot isn’t too much better than 7th Voyage but it moves along and has interesting elements that lift it above many fantasy films and it is a little more consistent. 

Not content to sit on laurels, Harryhaussen created some very memorable creatures in this one. A living ship figurehead, little flying bat winged creatures, a one eyed centaur and there is a incredible sword fight between Sinbad’s sailors and a mutli-armed Cali statue come to life. The griffin looks a little janky but ti all works. 

This was a strong, if not delayed, follow up to 7th Voyage and I do wish Kerwin Matthews had returned but Tom Baker shows what a star he is and I can’t complain about anything important. There is a dumb recurring joke that just bugs me, but that is just me. 

I remember when this came out and saw in the cinema and also at the drive-in with cousins on Cape Cod. It was quite the poplar film among my crowd and it was the first Harryhaussen film I saw in a cinema i think so it ignited my imagination. 

Note: The Sinbad movies were without a doubt a product of their time and I am well aware of that. Women’s roles weren’t very much more than damsels in distress, though all of the main women showed streaks of independence and were crucial to the story. The cast in all the films is almost completely white with rare exception despite being set, in effect, in the Middle East and no one looks like they are Middle Eastern in any way. It’s pretty obvious none of these problems are malicious in any way, just things not thought about in movie making of the time and I could see this trilogy being remade as a streaming series with better plotting in the same storylines with actors that match the locals better and maybe all three strung into one three season storyline with the same Sinbad and  and princess/love interest having more equal roles with modern effects that pay homage to Harryhaussen’s aesthetics. Netflix, Apple TV, whatever I am waiting for your call to develop this idea and bring this character back to modern day thrill seekers! 


Saturday, April 13, 2024

7th Voyage of Sinbad. (1958) Directed by Nathan H. Juran



 Ray Harryhaussen and Charles Schneer were had made several films together before making this fantasy/adventure but this film was in colour and had a higher budget. The studio seemed to think "period films" were a risk at the time and didn’t notice the fantasy elements for some reason. Their fears were unfounded, the 650 000$ budget made them 8 million dollars on release worldwide. 

This is, in my opinion of course, the best of the 3 Sinbad films they made together and one of the best they made throughout their careers. The story isn’t complicated or particularly consistent but it is tons of fun and made to show off Harryhaussen’s stop motion monsters in a way that still looks amazing. It took him 11 months to do the animations by himself and showed the world that fantasy films were bankable and could be done in a way that drew you in and didn’t look cheap or unintentionally funny. The creatures in this movie are cool they still are decades and new special effects techniques later. 

There are some clunky bits. The villain is so obviously the bad guy but no one notices for a good part of the film. The heroes also have use of a Genie that could have cut this film in ½ if they just asked him to help a little more. None of this really matters because these plot holes lead to Sinbad fighting a skeleton! A fight between a cyclops and one of the best dragons on film! The plot is just a medium to show off the monsters and that is more than fine. The Bernard Herman score helped bring the action to life and will stick in your head.

This film is rightly credited for inspiring a whole film genre that was done well almost exclusively by Harryhausen and Schneer for the next few decades.  Kerwin Mathews worked with them again, but not on the following Sinbad films, he might have been considered too old as they were made over a decade later but he is a treat to watch and sells the effects scenes like no one who followed him. 

Note: The Sinbad movies were without a doubt a product of their time and I am well aware of that. Women’s roles weren’t very much more than damsels in distress, though all of the main women showed streaks of independence and were crucial to the story. The cast in all the films is almost completely white with rare exception despite being set, in effect, in the Middle East and no one looks like they are Middle Eastern in any way. It’s pretty obvious none of these problems are malicious in any way, just things not thought about in movie making of the time and I could see this trilogy being remade as a streaming series with better plotting in the same storylines with actors that match the locals better and maybe all three strung into one three season storyline with the same Sinbad and  and princess/love interest having more equal roles with modern effects that pay homage to Harryhaussen’s aesthetics. Netflix, Apple TV, whatever I am waiting for your call to develop this idea and bring this character back to modern day thrill seekers! 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Dune 2 (2024) directed by Denis Villeneuve

 


There will be some spoilers in this one. 

Starting immediately where the first film left off, Denis Villeneuve hits the ground running with no recap of the previous film and manages to make a film that looks like it filmed at the same time as the first part. All of that is to the credit of this sequel which had a lot to live up to after the huge critical and financial success of its predecessor. 

I am a long time Dune fan I could say, I reread all three of the books in the original trilogy before part one came out and that was maybe the fourth time for all three. I was not a huge fan of the Lynch film in the 80s while liking some things in and thought the SciFi channel miniseries was OK. Neither really captured the story but that is a tall, if not impossible order for such a complicated and galaxy sprawling story of political intrigue and complex cultures. I am a Montrealer and have been admiring Villeneuve’s films for a long time and was excited to see how he would handle Dune and was not disappointed. I would not expect a word for word recreation of the book and didn’t get that. As a filmmaker myself I know that sort of thing isn’t possible or even a good idea. That said this second film strays pretty far from the text in ways I would not have expected. sometimes this worked for me, Lady Jessica switches from concerned mom to villain which takes three books to happen and I can see the reasoning for that. The story is compressed into month when it should have taken place over years and this is a detriment to the story telling. Jessica is pregnant at the end of the first film and still is at the end of the second meaning one of the book’s best moments and most intriguing character, her daughter born with generations of past knowledge, doesn’t really appear and worse, (spoiler warning again) doesn’t kill the Baron and that crucial scene is given to another character leaving her role in future films nebulous. 

This is not the say the film doesn’t work, while losing my favourite part of the book is annoying it didn’t kill the movie for me. Its a HUGE beautiful film and the almost three hours past before I knew it. I think Timothy Chalamet looks the part but lacks the charisma Paul Atreides should have. The rest of the cast is fine to great and the film does a lot of interesting cinematography that might have failed in a lesser production. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Babylon 5: The Road Home (2023) Directed by Matt Peters


 While waiting for a rumoured reboot of Babylon 5 the groundbreaking TV show from the 90s we were treated to a surprise animated movie with the original characters and starring the voices of the surviving cast. 

The story revolves around a time travel/ alternate universe concept that has new Interstellar Alliance president John Sheridan leaping around reality because of an accident involving a new power source starting up. It was written by J. Michael Straczynski who created the original show and all it's various spinoffs. The animation is pretty good and some of the shots are beautifully done and while it might be heavy on fan service, seeing these characters in a new adventure that takes place before the end of the series was nothing short of wonderful. This will limit it's appeal to newcomers but it obviously wan't made for anyone not familiar with the original but it also likely added new enthusiasm that the reboot, long spoken about but never materializing might actually be coming. 

I admit I am a fan of the show and this was at treat for me even though multiverse/time travel plots are not my favourite thing in the world. The proposed new show will not be a continuation so this was a last chance to see it in it's old form with the characters and actors fans like me love so much.