Friday, December 21, 2018

King Kong (1976) directs by John Guillermin

The 1976 remake of King Kong was a BIG deal. Firstly there were two version set to come to the big screen, this one and another that was to use new stop motion animation techniques to update the classic film as opposed to the guy in suit this one used.  Secondly, once this version as set to go, the ad campaign for it was enormous. Posters, bubble gum cards, you name it. They pulled out all the stops to make sure everyone on earth near a movie house knew this film was coming.

Since it follows more or less (mostly less) the original classic film script, there is no real need to recap it here. It is an updated telling however and the adventurer film maker Carl Dedham is replaced by Fred S. Wilson, his 70s evil petrol magnate version ( now plated by Charles Grodin) who wants to exploit Skull Island for oil, but when that doesn't work out, he decides to kidnap the giant gorilla living there and show him off to reduce his losses. Ann Darrow is now called Dwan (seriously, she is) played by Jessica Lang in her first role and she is, in a word, terrible. Funny, but terrible. She made good use of her 3 year work hiatus after this movie to really learn her craft and become the great actress we know now. Her lover, Jack (Jeff Bridges) is now a palaeontologist who stowed away on the boat going to Skull Island just in case there was giant monkey there. The Empire State building was replaced by the ill-fated Twin Towers that had recently been completed.

For reasons I cannot fathom, reviews for this movie were pretty good all around and the praise for its effects were almost universal. The script by Lorenzo Semple Jr, who is one of my favourite writers from the time he wrote the Batman TV show to his amazing campy update of Flash Gordon, is uneven at best and totally inappropriate and plain wrong at worst. It is really funny at times, but this flies in the face of how everyone else in the production saw the project. He seems the only one to get the joke. Because of that humour, I find it hard to just trash this film for the pretentiousness Dino DeLaurentis had to take on this big budget update of the RKO classic and still find it enjoyable in that "bad film" way.

To be clear: This film does not hold up. I liked it well enough at the time, there were few effects movies to compare it too until Star Wars came along,  but the effects are all pretty dismal. I don't know where the high praise for them came from. Bad matte work, and a monkey suit that was disappointing even to its creator, the very talents Rick Baker. The biggest issue is the lack of scale. Kong never looks any larger than a guy in suit walking around miniature scenery. He has a range of facial expressions from angry to rape-y pervert eyes when Kong looks at Dwan - which is uncomfortable to watch to say the very least. The updated touches are ridiculous as well. Kong is rolled out in New York City in a giant gas pump. For about 2 seconds the suited actor is replaced by a full sized robot (with 2 left arms) that was made solely for the purposes of giving the impression before the film was released that the monster would be the giant robot throughout. The end scene is totally banal and meaningless. There is no "Twas beauty that killed the beast" in this film.

And...good god, there was a sequel. King Kong Lives that was MUCH worse.


Mighty Joe Young (1998) directed by Ron Underwood

While this film is not a classic either, it does satisfy the giant ape desires you might have much better than the Kong remake. The story is serviceable, light and fun. Made by Disney for 90 Million Dollars, it only grossed 50 million. I can't explain why it flopped while Kong was box office gold. Rick Baker returned to try again to make a believable ape suit and this time it works in spades. Mixed with a digital version of Joe, it is impossible to tell which is which and the scale and believability of the giant ape is worth watching the film for. Charlize Theron also gives a great performance as does Bill Paxton.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Obit: Nicolas Roeg ( 15 August 1928 - 23 November 2018)

Nicolas Roeg has worked on many films and Tv projects but his output as director is relatively small, only 14 films total. Starting out as a cinematographer on films like Lawrence of Arabia and Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451,  he earned a reputation for excellence - and eccentricity.

As a director he developed a style all of his own and hard to describe. He was able though editing, to pass the limits of space and time with a seamless cut or fade. many of his cuts would take you into the past or mind of the character and then back again with ease that only Roeg has ever accomplished in my opinion. It makes for fascinating, complex and sometimes confusing works of art.

He also broke the mold by hiring musicians as actors, rock musicians in particular. He saw in them the ability to project an image on stage that, while not traditionally acting, was nevertheless engaging and presented characters in a way trained actors had not done before.

Despite his acclaim and influence, not many, if any, of his movies were considered financial successes. Even his adaption of Roald Dhal's The Witches which boasted an over the op performance by Angelica Huston and puppetry by Jim Hensen's studio never made a splash a the box office that it should have. Even so, Roeg films had star power behind them. Actors like Donald Sutherland and his ex-wife Theresa Russel appeared in a several projects as did Christopher Loyd and Gary Oldman.

While the movie studios and theatre chains might not have given him the respect his work deserved, a couple generations of actors, film goers and critics (me included) mark him as one of the great filmmakers of all time.

There is nothing like a Nicolas Roeg film. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Documentary: Men for Sale 2008 directed by Rodrigue Jean

11 male sex orders are followed over the course of one year and open up about their lives, past and present. As you might imagine, it's pretty hard to watch and you won't feel sympathy for all the men presented I'm guessing. Though if you don't, you have some self reflection to do.

Simply filmed, the interviews are non-judgemental and very intimate. Needless to say, by the end of just one year, many of the subjects have slid downwards in every way possible, a couple seem to have  a have maybe changed their lives.

While started as a film about sex workers, it is more about drug addicts who have become sex workers, the sex work is  part of everything else they do to get drugs which includes robbery, etc.

I was left thinking how far we still have to go with getting people the mental health care they need sooner and with less stigma.

Many of the comments below the film wanted a follow-up and that would be amazing and heart breaking. I doubt it's possible to find these lost men after 10 years. I live where it was filmed and don't recognize any of them.

A hard watch but important.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Prophecy 1979 directed by John Fankenheimer

In a Halloween special review, the Celluloid Slammer brings you Prophecy... a late 70s horror film that is basically about a mutant bear attacking people. The mutant part is brought about by about by chemicals that are changing the wildlife into improbably deformed creatures. For example, a fish that eats a duck.

I saw his film in the cinema, the Everett Park Theatre outside of Boston, with much anticipation from all the full page ads, TV spots and trailers I had seen. Some mentions were made about being more of a thinking man's horror film with a message. That message was pretty much the same one as in Godzilla VS the Smog Monster, basically - don't pollute. Sadly thinking is not something the writers of this movie did much of, in my opinion. There are some suspenseful scenes at the start, a mystery about killed loggers and the introduction of a Native American legend possibly responsible but that all gets forgotten when we are face to face with the terrible man in a mutant bear suit. The lead up is for something big and horrifying and that bear isn't those things. It becomes unintentionally campy as it goes on, culminating on the best scene ever filmed in motion picture history.

The sleeping bag attack.

Even in 1979 I was rolling on the floor and to this day I have friends who will bring up as one of the stupidest things they have ever seen in a motion picture. Did that kid sleep with explosives? Seriously, that sleeping bag pops like a balloon!

See this movie? Maybe don't unless you have a banking for bad horror films or monster movies. It's all of clichés, bad acting, worse effects and even ends with the audience being made aware there is another mutant bear about, ready for a sequel. Thank goodness, that never happened!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tell Tale Heart at Another Hole in the Head film festival!

This year, the Another Hole in the Head film festival has chosen my short animated adaption for Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell Tale Heart to be part of the films shown!

If anyone is close, please go and be sure to mention to everyone how much you love my movie! I would like to keep making them and word of mouth is about all I can afford these days to find support for them!

15th Annual Another Hole in the Head
SF IndieFest’s Genre Film Festival
November 28 – December 12, 2018

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Excalibur 1981 directed by John Boorman

John Boorman's attempt to put the Arthurian legends into one coherent film was an enormous effort, one that I think pays off.

The film was a big success, something Boorman really needed after the failure of Exorcist II - the Heretic bombed at the box office. It was also a passion project for him and getting it on the screen was one of his most impressive accomplishments. Not everyone was sold on his interpretation of the legend or on the merits of the film - some saying the dialog and characters were poorly rendered but pretty much across the board, it was lauded for its visual style.

Spoilers and a really simplified plot synopsis.

The story is more centred around Merlin than Arthur which is a good choice as Merlin has first hand knowledge of much more going on than Arthur. It also allows us to see some back story of how the sward Excalibur is given to merlin form the Lady of the Lake and ends up in a stone and only able to be extracted from that stone by England's future king.

Arthur's personal tribulations of betrayal and ego lead to Morgan, an evil sorceress imprisoning Merlin and causing the kingdom to wither and die. Arthur has caught his wife sleeping with his best knight and friend, Lancelot and left Excalibur stuck in the ground between their sleeping bodies. Arthur goes on a quest to find and drink from the holy grail which restores both him and the kingdom to health. On his return his wife returns Excalibur to him and they reconcile. Lancelot, non the other hand, has left the kingdom out of shame and guilt from betraying his king and friend.

Meanwhile Morgan and her son Modred, whom she has produced from an incestuous relationship, have gathered their forces against Arthur and his remaining knights. Merlin tricks her into using up her powers and she loses her eternal youth, becoming an old hag. Her son, disgusted by this, kills her and goes off to conquer the kingdom. He is defeated by Arthur with the help of Lancelot who has returned to redeem himself in Arthur's eyes and the men reconcile in time for Lancelot to die with a clear conscience. A bloody battle between Arthur and Modred leaves Mordred dead and Arthur about to die. Before he passes into legend, Arthur manages to make his way back to the Lady of the Lake and returns Excalibur to her. He is last seen lying on a boat attended by three maidens on their way to the isle of Avalon.

This film is gorgeous. And I disagree that the characters and dialog are low points. It all works together to make a dreamlike spectacle that while it might be hard to keep ahold of the plot at times, like most dreams, makes its own sort of sense.

It started the careers of future stars like Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne. Nigel Terry makes a convincing King Arthur and Boorman keeps the supernatural and magic elements to a subdued minimum saving the effects budget for elaborate armour and incredible looking settings. The R rated version is pretty bloody,  but the explicit sex scenes with Nicholas Clay's full nudity is more likely the case for the adult rating. He pushed that further in Lady Chatterley's Lover with full frontal. So - not a shy boy. Not a bad actor either, his performance in this is a great asset to the movie.

This film really holds up to this day, Partly because of it's timeless setting but mostly because of the director's decision to focus on elements like character, costumes and set pieces instead of magical special effects which can really date a film quickly. it is long, but its also hypnotizing from start to finish.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

New Animation short: Dramatic Readings: Side Effects

This time out, Charles Webster Billingsworth the 3rd warns about the side effects of acne medications in his own dramatic style, of course.

Mike Luce again provides the voice and we pushed the performance farther this time. It's a third longer than other shorts with him as well. I originally had all the side effects of isotretinoin in the script and read out but seriously... the short would have been twice as long! I also took out things like suicide which while I could have made a joke from it, I decided against it and cut out some repetitious symptoms as well for time. It's not a real PSA afterall and I don't think Charles screaming every single symptom was really necessary to get the point across!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Harold and Maude 1971 directed by Hal Ashby

My first experience with this film was at the Harvard Square theatre in Cambridge, MA somewhere around 1979-1980 and was, maybe appropriately so, an odd one. As I approached the ticket booth I was pulled aside by the cinema management and I immediately thought they somehow knew I had a bottle of vodka hidden in my coat pocket but it was much stranger a reason. I was told I was getting in free for my excellent costume… apparently I looked exactly like Harold and for a free ticket I played along. I have never seethe movie, not did I know much about it but I have to say - they weren’t wrong - I truly did look like I was dressed as the main character. I left the cinema with a new favourite film that night and I had barely touched the vodka I bought. 


The story is quirky and certainly not for everyone. The humour is pretty dark but the emotional responses it brings are equally bright. Harold is a rich teenager, emo and goth long before they were a thing who tries to get his mother’s attention by faking suicide on a regular basis. He goes to funerals for people he doesn’t know and that’s where ehe meets Maude, a woman close to 80 and they fall in love. Maude is a firecracker, interest in death like Harold but a lot closer to it, in so many ways we discover as the film goes on, that she is hell bent on living as full and crazy a life as she can. She steals cars and trees. She poses nude. She teaches Harold how to live free and to enjoy what he has. 

There is a dark side to the humour and a dark side to Maude. Harold’s suicides attempts go beyond bad taste as his mother tries to set him up with various young girls to marry. He sets himself on fire in front of one and in a very funny scene stabs himself in front of another who decides he (rightly), like her, is acting and then she stabs herself. His mother checks in on them to see him standing over her in a pool of fake blood. Maude gets him out of military service by faking her own death at his hands and his military uncle does not call the police but instead decides to cover it up. The most poignant part of the film passes so quickly many don’t see it on first viewing. As Maude and Harold talk, he see a number tattooed on her wrist. She was a victim of the holocaust, she never says anything about it but it becomes obvious that a lot of her outlook and behaviour is coloured by that terrible experience. 

Then ending of the movie is either unbearably sad or life affirming depending on what you bring into it yourself. Maude had decided long ago to kill herself at 80 and despite Harold proposing to her she goes through with it, leaving him screaming and crying in pain and grief. He brings his sports car turned into a here to cliff and drives it off the edge. But he hasn’t killed himself, he has killed that old morse part of himself and plays the flute Maude gave him as a gift and walks away from the cliff’s edge. 

Critics and audiences did NOT like this film on release, it was too strange and morbid many thought. I suspect the idea of a teenager having sex with an elderly woman was also a huge factor and for that reason I think the film missed out on the second life many others get on TV after the theatrical run is over. 

Colin Higgins who wrote the original story, had a prequel and sequel planned, but they never materialized. Maybe that is for the best, it’s hard to imagine adding more to this story in any way that would work. There have been many stage productions in both English and French that I have somehow managed to not see over the years. 

Ruth Gordon is so amazing as Maude you’ll never forget her performance. She is inspiring. She lived in nearby Quincy when I lived in Boston and gave a talk a the Boston Public Library that is was privileged to attend. She did not disappoint. Bud Cort as Harold was also inspired casting.

Does the film hold up? It’s still one of the oddest and funniest films made so if you have not seen it, give yourself a real treat and do it NOW. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Filthy Sheep - 2 new animations completed!

This first one is the longest, 1 minute and the second is about ½ that.
Small warning: the sheep has a potty mouth that is bleeped out.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Incendies (2010) directed by Denis Villeneuve

Budget 6.5 million$
Box office 16 million $

Denis Villeneuve production schedule for this move was only an amazing 40 days with most f it being shot in Montréal and only 2 weeks in Jordan. The story of fraternal twins uncovering the terrible history of their mother and the search for their until now unknown brother and uncle is not for the light hearted. It is well filmed, deliberate and heart breaking. I don’t want to give too much away as seeing it unfold is the beauty of this film and even though its release was ten years ago, its a sure bet not many of the readers here have seen it. 

Performances are understated and fantastic and while I am not a big fan of Rémy Girard, he is great as the family’s notary. The connecting elements at the pool visually bring the various storylines together in a way that hits an emotional cord few movies pull off. 

I won’t lie, this can be hard to watch. Honour killings, rape and violence are important elements in the screenplay but they are handled in ways that add to the story being told. The limited budget and short shooting schedule are not apparent in any way during the runtime, its just proves a good story, with great actors and a careful director can pull off something meaningful and as high quality as any film with ten times the resources.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Max Mike Movies - new podcast!

Mike Luce has a new podcast with his friend Max. The conversations are loose and fun and they need support! So look fro them on tunes which is the process of getting done but in the meantime.... listen to them here

I have heard a sneak preview of a couple and they are well worth checking out! DO IT!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The tell tale heart - short animation 2018 Vincent-louis Apruzzese

My new film is based on Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell Tale Heart. It took a lot out of me this time... it's a lot of work doing everything from writing to animation to the voice myself. I have a couple more Poe tales on the back burner - but they will wait for next year, I think.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Burroughs: The Movie 1983 directed by Howard Brookner

I discovered this film at a limited showing in Boston in 1983 and if I remember right, I was the only person in attendance. It was a highly acclaimed film so it wasn’t the film’s fault no one was there. I had been a long time admirer of William S. Burroughs, his writing and his eccentric ideas and particularly loved the way he read his own stories. I knew only bits and pieces of his history and was impressed at the information this movie gave me not just of the facts but of how it gave a real impression of the man Burroughs was and he he affected those around him. 

The filmmaker, Howard Brookner, followed Burroughs for 5 years and did an incredible amount of interviews with Bill’s friend’s and associates. The director and his subject because close friends during the project and it remains the only documentary that Burroughs participated in personally. Watching the subject interact with friends and places he knew since childhood you see glimpses of the real person under his very constructed public persona. Burrough's son died during the production, ending a very strained father/son relationship.

In 2012, archives of Brookner’s works were found in various locations and included all kinds of original materials and out-takes which were then reworked into a restored version of the documentary. Seeing it again really shows how much things have changed over the years. For one thing, it’s in square format something that has long since disappeared with the advent of the 16:9 standard being brought to televisions over recent years. It is without a doubt made on film, which gives it a look that digital just doesn’t have for better or worse. 

Sitting alone watching this the first time was like having a private viewing of a rare gem and seeing again I had that same feeling. I can’t recommend it enough.  Sadly it’s creator died of AIDS in 1989, working up to the very end and depriving us of who knows how many wonderful future projects he might have done. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Godzilla VS. The Smog Monster 1971 directed by Yoshimitsu Banno

This film’s actual title is Godzilla vs. Hedorah and is maybe one of the campiest films in the series. There was a planned sequel but the series producer had the film so much those ideas were scrapped. still, in the hearts of many people, this film has a warm place in their hearts - including mine. 

The story is meant to be a warning to humanity of the danger of pollution, which spawns a giant monster that evolves quickly from turd tadpole to flying turd that seems to fart killer gases that kills hundreds. Finally it becomes a walking creature about the same size of Godzilla so they can fight man to man so to speak. The military creates of wall of giant electrodes to dry out the stinky giant piece of crap but it gets damaged during the monsters battle and Godzilla must activate it with his atomic breath. Hedorah has one more trick up it’s sleeve(?) and another version flies out of the remnants of the last forcing Godzilla to fly after it using his breath as propulsion. He catches it, using the electrons again and pulls out what we assume as eggs and drys them out too before leaving humanity behind - giving us a dirty look on his way out the door. Godzilla wants us to know this was a problem of our own making. 

The film starts with an AWESOME go-go dancer singing the theme song and is filled with all sorts of 70s kitsch. As a kid seeing this at the movies I wanted the toys the young boy is playing with at the beginning. I still do. The message of the film though clunky is still unfortunately relevant. More relevant in fact as we have done pretty much nothing to solve the problem of pollution. 

Production for the movie was pretty low end. 35 days to shoot it and a budget of only 250,000$. To top it off the guy in the Smog Monster suit had a ruptured appendix and had to be operated while still in the suit! 

If you want to see my Dramatic readings animations of the theme song, and why wouldn't you, click below!
Dramatic Reading:Save the Earth

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Jaws 1975 directed by Steven Spielberg

Based on the best selling book by Peter Benchley (who now regrets the damage it has caused to shark populations because of the reputation he helped give them) Jaws was one of the early blockbuster films. It takes many liberties and veers off the book on many areas but, for the most part, you can see why the changes were made and Spielberg has created a true cinema classic partly because he wasn’t a slave to the novel. 

I recently watched this movie with my mom and cousin, which is funny because my cousin is terrified of horror movies and when deciding what to watch, she said « nothing scary » and when picking something from my collection she said, « Let’s watch Jaws ». I thought she was joking - this film, even 30 years later - is TERRIFYING. There is a reason millions of people still avoid the beach after seeing it. It starts immediately with a shark attack on a helpless young woman, seen partly from the shark’s point of view from below with John William’s truly scary score heightening the tension and setting us up to get scared every time it starts playing as we know it means something terrible is about to happen. It goes on from there to kill a child, boaters… the death toll isn’t over the top which would quickly become numbing, instead it’s just frequent enough to keep you on your toes and afraid that anyone could be next. 

If you are watching the film for the first time don’t be lulled into thinking most of it’s effect will be muted because of it’s age, you’ll be surprised. Yes, the clothing and cars  put it in a certain time period but the location - an island off the coast of Massachusetts - is remote enough that it gives it a sort of look and feel that might even enhance the reality of the story. The performances are all great, Roy Scheider as the land-lubber new sheriff faced with a human and economic tragedy getting out of control all around him is very endearing and relatable. Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper the marine biologist is also perfectly cast. Speaking of casting, even the supporting cast is not just good as actors but - as it was still the 70s - they aren’t all fashion models with hot bods at the beach. They look and act like real people. Sure, they are pretty much all men and ALL of them are white but that is maybe the only thing I’d change about it. 

On release, Jaws was considered a gorefest to some people when, while it is gory in parts, its not really anything we don’t see on TV today. The impact of the gore is what sets it’s apart. Kudos for Spielberg for showing photos of actual shark attacks to prime us to be scared so when the creature’s presence is hinted at we know the danger is REAL  and our emotions respond accordingly. When the 3 main  characters take off to find and kill the shark, its feels serious and we know they might die. The attack on the boat, leading to the violent death of the Quint (Robert Shaw), the shark hunter, whose character is this films Captain Ahab in many ways is full of classic dialog, suspense and outright terror. Quint’s gory death is not gratuitous and the gore adds to our fear.

Another aspect of the movie was the marketing behind it. Books, T-shirts, merchandise were all part of the promotion scheme — something we didn’t see done as forcefully until Star Wars came out in 1977. The promotion pushed the film into top grossing category (cost 9 million, box office 471 million) and it’s popularity not only brought in money but had some pretty serious social repercussions. Outside of the film world, this movie to this day is the main reason many people are scared to swim at the beach and at release beaches felt the impact with reduced visitors. The effect of shark populations was even worse and there isa point to be made that his story led to the wholesale slaughter of sharks until many are on the verge of extinction - despite the fact that actual shark attacks are super rare. Sharks it turns out don’t think of us as particularly tasty. 

Like many classics, not all the filmmaking decisions were due to simple genius. The idea to use point of view shots from the shark thought most of the film stemmed from the problems with the mechanical version. It was both temperamental and not totally convincing. This made the music all the more important and the music became one of the most recognizable horror scores since Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

A must see and see again. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Blade Runner 2049 directed by Denis Villeneuve 2017

So as not to retread things everyone has already read elsewhere, I’ll assume that by now most readers are familiar with the original movie and this sequel. 

One of the things the original Blade Runner fit had in spades was the  believability of its world building. It did so by giving you just enough information to keep you from being lost while at the same time giving you the mystery of looking into a new place where not everything is handed to you in a silver platter. The sequel does the same and I appreciated that. it did a great job of introducing new things and how they function without techno-babble. The world looks lived in and the people in it know how things work the same as we know how things work in our world. It all looks very natural and sells the idea you are in a real place. 

The scope of Blade Runner 2049 (I so wish the original had not put a date at the start of the film - it never works out well as that date comes and goes in the real world) is pretty large. Instead of taking place just in Los Angelos, it goes to a few other locations we had never seen. Sadly, we don’t get the feeling of an integrated world - the locations seem unrelated to each other in a grand sense, at least they did to me. Still, the visual beauty of all can not be over stated. It looks amazing. 

Much has been made of the run time of this movie and I’ll agree it’s long, but not boring or too slow. I liked the pace and never lost interest in what was going on, even if what was going on didn’t get me anywhere in particular. The choice to have it told from the point of view of a replicant and follow his investigation that leads him to look for a human (Harrison Ford from the first film) was a flip from what we had seen before and it worked out well. Ryan Gosling is a little too human maybe in the role but everything is the film supports and helps him keep the story progressing.  Jared Leo’s role as the eccentric creator of new breed of replicant workers which was to go to Bowie before he died was sparse and not as over the top as I was led to believe, he was pretty dialled back, but also a weak link as a character. I wasn’t sure he was really needed. 

The most interesting thing in the sequel to me was the relationship between humans and replicants and replicants with other technologies. Society has decided to « retire » the older models and replace them with less autonomous newer versions. Leo’s character seems to want to make replicants that can breed and everyone has opinions after realizing that that trick had already been done. Gosling’s blade runner is sent to find and kill the baby (which was fathered by Harrison Ford and his replicant lover Rachel after the first film ended) and begins to suspect that HE is that child. His boss (Robin Wright) wants to sleep with him (who doesn’t? it’s Ryan Gosling) and his holographic girlfriend and he seem to developing a real emotions for each other. In a way, the humans have to figure out if he is a real being and he has to figure out if his holographic sweetie is real - it’s turtles all the way down. When Gosling’s character see a giant hologram ad for the his holographic girlfriend and she says many of the same things to him - we are left as unsure as he is if her AI gave her a real conscious or if it all just part of her program. How much of him is programming - how much of us is? 

As the story progresses we discover the answers to some mysteries but not others. Wether Ford’s character is a replicant is still unknown and the film plays with us (unfairly, I think) in that regard, Gosling’s character discovers he isn’t the child he is looking for but has a memory lifted from her, leading to a really confusing reunion between her and her father which opens ups lot of plot questions that never get answered. As a story, this film is not very satisfying. It’s fascinating to watch but we don’t learn about this new version of the Blade Runner universe. Too many of characters are far too underdeveloped and too many plot points are as well. 

Overall, is it worth seeing? I would say yes. The visuals alone are worth spending almost 3 hours watching but this movie shows us, it does open conversations. Even if those same conversations were opened by the first film, we still don’t have good idea where they are going decades later. So not the classic the first one was but not a failure artistically either. Box office-wise, both were failures on release and maybe this film will find a cult audience and more meaning over time.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Aguirre the Wrath of God 1972 directed by Werner Herzog

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes is one of my favourite films of all time. I refused to buy a DVD player until it was available in that format so it could be the first film I saw on the player. Like most Herzog films, it's hypnotic and slow paced, pulling you from one scene to the other. The actual story is secondary to the feeling you get watching it, it pulls you into its world.

Based on a true story is something Herzog excels in. Not that he remains true to the facts of whatever story it is. As a director he is more concerned with the emotions the story bring over the facts and, for him, it pretty much always works. Aquirre is his 3rd feature and it strays wildly from the source material. Frankly with Klaus Kinski as a Spanish conquistador, how could it not?

In a nutshell, a Spanish expedition to find the lost city of Eldorado is doomed to failure by the foolish audacity and ambitions of the explorers and the unrelenting jungle that surrounds and eventually envelopes them within itself. They are doomed from the start when we see hundreds of them walking along narrow mountain pathways to the very end where Aguirre is the last left alive, raving at monkeys and telling his dead daughter they are going to start a new world as his raft slowly disappears around a river corner. In real life, Aguirre was brought back home and executed, apparently mocking the marksmanship of the firing squad as he died.

I would say this film has really only two characters. Kinski and the Amazonian jungle. Klaus's interactions with everything around him are what makes this movie work. His intense face says more than his words ever could and as his madness grows, the jungle seems more determined to absorb it and make it it's own.

The film is both a straight forward narrative and a dreamlike voyage. You never get explanations for things the characters don't get explanations for - so we know no more than they do about what is going on at any given time and Kinski's performance is unsettling and crazy while being understated and calm. He not exactly a sympathetic persona, but it is impossible to take your eyes off him.

Herzog's direction and the cinematography as stellar. After seeing this film for years in revival houses with damaged, dusty copies, the DVD release was a revelation of how beautiful this movie looked. I would LOVE to get a Blu-ray but my finances forbid me from re-buying films I already have these days. Pretty much every frame, every shot is intriguing and painterly. The music is perfect and all the performances add to the overall feel of the production. It's easy to see why this film developed a cult following.

Instead of going into the plot details and relevant scenes of the film I would rather encourage everyone who loves film to see it, multiple times. I have quite honestly put it on repeat in the DVD player and watched it on and off for an entire day and it never got tired of it.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Dramatic Readings: Save the Earth!

Another one! This is based on the theme to Godzilla VS the Smog Monster because - why not? Oddly the message, such as it is, is still relevant today... more so even. Plus it's totally weird, 60's and silly.

Thanks as always to Mike Luce for the voice work!

Friday, April 13, 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 directed by Stanley Kubrick

2001 is one of the most influential films ever made and will soon get a re-release in 4k for it's 50th anniversary.  It's visuals are striking and 50 years later they still hold up despite being done at time long before digital effects existed. It's non traditional story telling keeps people guessing as to the "true meaning" of certain elements  of the film and the soundtrack, though pretty much all classical music,  has become symbolic of the future we have in outer space. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1991.

The story, though told unconventionally, isn't all that complicated in essence. Extraterrestrials have been promoting human evolution and development since they roamed the plains as primitive apes - prodding them to use use tools ( for violence at first) and take the first steps towards intelligence. This is done trough a totally black and smooth monolith which appears out of nowhere. Jumping thousands of of years later in one of the most iconic jump cuts in film history, a group of scientists on the moon have discovered another monolith, deliberately buried there which emits a signal toward Jupiter. A ship is sent to Jupiter where it discovers another monolith near the planet which opens a star gate, apparently taking the astronaut to wherever the aliens are and returning him... or some version of him maybe back to Earth int he form a "star child" who might represent the next stage in human evolution.

Fair to say, the actual plot of the film is secondary to the effect it has on the viewer and how it changed sci-fi and cinema after it's release. Never before had so much care been taken to realistically show the future in space. Some might say no one has ever put that much car into it again. The effort pays off and everything from the way we see travel to the space station, the moon and beyond is still not only believable but pretty accurate for a movie made before man had even set foot on the moon.

The realistic presentation of technology made a huge impact. Spaceships and alien encounters aside, the character of HAL, a super computer that proves to have  mind of it's own, has become the poster child for tech and artificial intelligence gone wrong. This is unfair to HAL, I would argue, as his actions though severe (I think killing almost the entire crew as they sleep counts as severe) are not totally beyond comprehension. HAL has become emotionally unbalanced because he was told to keep information from the crew, something that leads him to think the crew can not be trusted with such an important mission. The sequel 2010 goes into this in more detail, but the seeds are planted here. When HAL tell the last living crew member "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I am not able to do that", it's terrifying.

To be sure, the film goes into complete mind-fuck mode by the end as the sole survivor disconnects HAL and leave the ship to meet up with the monolith. A mind blowing psychedelic display later, he seems to go through the rest of his life in minutes, and solitude, only to be transformed into the star child which heads back to earth. How someone reacts to all this is dependent on each person's personality and beliefs - and possibly what drugs they took before entering the theatre.

Like most Kubrick films , this one had some people loving it while others hated it with a burning passion. It did quite well on release and became not just a cult classic, but a true classic of modern film. It won an Oscar for best special effects but lost to Planet of the Apes for make-up, leading many to think that it was overlooked in the category because the apes in Kubrick's film were so real, academy members thought they were. The techniques uses in the film are revolutionary. On example is the use of font projection over matte work. This meant that instead of tracing an element and adding it to another piece of film (leading to that black line seen in many effects shot of the period) it used a giant super reflective screen that had an image projected on to it so the camera could film both the foreground action and the affects backdrops at the same time with seamless realism. In fact, even the outdoor shots on the African plains were all done in doors. The designs of everything form the ships to the clothing to the zero gravity toilet hold up to this day. Even though we have now been to the moon, have a space station or two and have sent probes to the other planets - none of that seems as real as some of the stuff we see in this movie.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Movie Wrench is now covering music as well!

Mike Luce has expanded his Movie Wrench blog to cover music too, so is basically just the Wrench now. Check it out, comment sand tell him wha you think!

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Exorcist 1973 directed by William Friedkin

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, the Exorcist is the story of famous actress whose young daughter is possessed by a demon and calls in the aid of a Catholic exorcist to expell the evil force. The story was inspired by a "real" 1949 exorcism story of a young boy that shared some details with Blatty's book and then the film that followed.

The film was a huge success and changed not only horror films but introduced the public to the idea of the blockbuster. It was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture and it scared the living crap out of most of the people who saw it.  Just hearing the theme "tubular bells" was enough to set people on edge after seeing it.

I had read the book before seeing the film and the movie version very closely follows the base material, so I wasn't as unprepared as many to see some of the more shocking moments in the film. Still, some shots to this day are very shocking and unsettling and while some like the infamous pea soup vomit scene have been reproduced in other films and in parody, there remain a few scenes that I've never seen anyone have the nerve to copy.

The film is slowly paced, but keeps the tension up from start to finish. It uses almost but not quite subliminal imagery superimposed over background elements to add to the nightmare quality of what is happening. The make effects stand the test of time, even the head turning 360 degrees scenes hold up and the soundscape of the film is really haunting. I have to say while the movie is known for it's shocking violence and gore, it's the more subtle, quieter moments that stay with you. They compliment the more over the top moments and make this a more psychological horror piece than a gore film. All the technical aspects are enhanced by the case, everyone  - Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Max von Sydow - give performances that draw you into the supernatural story in a way lesser actors never could.

The version I just saw was the "version you've never seen" DVD and it had several added scenes including the bloody version of the "spider walk" scene which you would think would  look like comic relief in a movie made this long ago... but it's pretty damn bizarre and scary even today.

It's hard to remember that before this movie practically no one had ever heard of an exorcism. After it was released, there were exorcisms galore, not just in other films but in real life. Suddenly demon possession was in all the papers and the Catholic church had it's hands full with all the new cases being brought before them.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Dramatic Readings: Leave Britney Alone!

Based on the Chris Crocker's dramatic internet rant. Another in the Charles Webster Billingsworth the 3rd series of dramatic performances.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Twin Peaks - the Return 2017 by David Lynch

It's hard to criticize the work of David Lynch under the best of circumstances. His mix of genres, notable film noir and surrealism is unique in the creative world. He takes chances and for that at least, the new season of Twin Peaks, 25 years after the last one, is something to watch, appreciate but not really to understand.

In many ways this is a followup to his film "Fire Come Walk with Me" over the TV show as he seems to be following the ideas presented in that film. He doesn't forget the TV show, not by a long shot and there is plenty (maybe too much) fan service in this Showtime special event series. He is David Lynch and could have avoided following up on our favourites from the past, but instead goes full in and because of that his affection for the material shows through and his desire to include the fates of actors who died in real life over the preceding ¼ century is truly touching.

The story of this new series explore the identities of doppelgäners, the most notable is that of agent Dale Cooper who is trying to return to the corporale world while his evil twin is loose and causing violence and havoc. There is a third version of Copper, Dougie Jones who we spend the most time with, who has the real Cooper trapped inside him. This show has entire episodes of just flat out bizarre imagery and odd story lines and goes in and out of colour and black and white, traversing dimensions and timelines. It does this without any exposition to explain any of it. You are truly on your own but Lynch has enough "real" plot to keep you going if you just get completely lost in the more out there segments.

Overall this is a worthy successor to Lynch's maybe best known work and Showtime should be commended  for (eventually) giving him free reign over it. It's not without its flaws though. I don't buy the relationship between Cooper and Diane who we finally meet in the flesh and some of the returning characters don't add much to the new story. Some of those nostalgic bits are the most heartwarming so it's difficult to argue they shouldn't be included. Dale Cooper is not the same person we saw in the original which makes sense, but he is a sombre much less fun version of himself. All those quirks about the Dali lama and his free form investigating techniques are gone which is a shame. This lacks much of the humour that helped us through the horror of the shows first 2 seasons.

The series ends in a way which I'm sure is exactly at Lynch intended, but as an audience member, it falls short of satisfying. Maybe after 25 years of suffering, I feel the residents of Twin Peaks merited something a little more upbeat. I was happy to see this on air and happier to see it was done without compromise but I doubt I'll got back to it like I do the first 2 seasons.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wonder Woman 2017 directed by Patty Jenkins

I know this film has been out awhile and a lot has been said about it but I'll put in my 2 cents anyway.
(Spoilers will follow.)

In a nutshell, it's a pretty awesome super hero film and Patty Jenkins' direction has a lot to do with it, Gal Gaddot is so good you might almost forget Linda Carter in the role. Almost.  A woman superhero, a woman at the helm, two things Hollywood has been pretty stupid about over the years, stating no one will buy women in those roles. Screw you, Hollywood this film made a mint and Warner's more male oriented super heroes outings can't hold a candle to this film in any way.

I have seen it twice, second time in French and I liked it better for some reason in French. Go figure.  More likely I was able to see more of what was good in it. My first viewing, I really hated the ending... another giant battle between what amounts to gods on earth. Like every almost super hero film it before it. I still think it was the low point of a great movie but not bad.

Wonder Woman has some amazing scenes. The island scenes introducing us to the world work really well and the scene where Wonder Woman steps into no man's land, as only a woman can, takes the film from 5 to 100 in terms of emotional impact. Action packed, yes, but Gaddot takes us from uncertain fish out of water Diana Prince to saviour of an entire town and has us cheering for her. The problem I had with the ending is I wanted more of this sort of action... Wonder Woman in WW1, taking on the bad guys bringing them to justice. They could have have kept the poison gas plot, Steve Trevor's death, basically everything but the gods fighting part and had a movie that really showed the horrors of war and found a way to challenge our heroine without the typical evil also having to be a super being trope - it could have been her against a much more real version of evil. It's not bad, as I said but disappointing because this movie deserved better.  It could have been just as fantastic and action packed, but the stakes would have meant more.

You can't really understate how good Gaddot is in this role. Her presence is capable and seems very real. I'd see just about anything else she does after this.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Daimajin, Return of Daimajin, and Wrath of Daimajin 1966 by Daiei Film

The Daimajin Trilogy is an odd little side step in the world of giant monster movies. All three were released the same year and all three have pretty similar plots. Daimajin is a giant statue possessed by a spirit owlet's say... justice.  He is usually called into action by the members of the deposed family or a religious figure, though not always and once his wrath is set in motion, he will not stop until peace has returned to the region. 

In the first film he is called to rid the people an evil warlord who sends his men to destroy the statue, but when they hammer a giant spike into its forehead, it bleeds, comes to life and returns the spike to the terrible warlord by impaling him with it. Revenge was not enough it seems and the monster continues destroying everything in site until the hero, a woman named Kozasa, cries on it's feet - causing the spirit to leave the statues which crumbles into rubble.

The second film is much the same, but Daimajin nows live sin the middle of a lake. Another evil warlord, who takes no chances this time and blows the statue to bits, has taken over the peaceful land.  Despite this, the spirit is summoned and rids the kingdom of the warlords forces and the warlord himself.

In the third outing, the statue is now on top on a mountain instead of the side of one. This time the common people call on his aid and he once again destroys the evil warlord and anyone associated with him. He also becomes a sort of "friend of the children" AKA Gamera the giant turtle series which was also done by Daiei Film. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

In the Future with Nostro-dumbass! 2018 directed by Vincent-louis Apruzzese

This is a remake of sorts. In 2010, I made a couple shorts using this character and dialog recorded by Michael Z. Keamy with a very primitive 3D puppet using Cinema 4D. It did win a small prize in a festival but I wasn't super happy with it overall so I've decided to re-do it, redesign the character and set and re-edit the sound into a shorter snappier and I hope, funnier piece.

For more information about making it:
Behemoth blog page

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Dream Boat 2017 directed by Tristan Ferland Milewski

Dream Boat is a 92 minute documentary following, more or less, five guys from different countries on a yearly all male gay cruise. It is composed of little audio vignettes and conversions of the vacationers impressions and feelings as they navigate though the myriad of parties, activities and 1000s of other guests - waxing poetic about their lives outside the bubble of the cruise ship and what they hope to get from this experience.

The cinematography, editing, sound - all the technical stuff are very, very good. It's obvious the film has a budget, but not big enough one to include the actual music played on the ship (which is  financially prohibitive these days) but to be honest I prefer the music made for the film, it's less distracting and gives a mood over a greatest hits list.

I feel less kindly towards the content we are shown. Slow films that move a their own pace are something I really appreciate, and I like that the filmmaker avoided the quick cutting party, music video look that would have been a given in most documentaries about gay men on a party boat.  However... this film would still be lacking enough real content if it was ½ it's current length. So many butt and crotch shots, so many beautiful drone shots of the boat from above, so many people just milling about in slow motion and so little actual information transmitted to the viewer.

It's hard to know what story or stories this doc is trying to tell. To be fair to the people interviewed, I think pretty much all of them had interesting stories to tell but we never got to hear more than the most superficial read of who these people are. The meandering pace and constant b-roll filler of party goers completely obscures anything we might get to find out about the cast.  Seriously, a 45 minute cut of this movie would be a huge improvement but I suspect still unsatisfying.

The elements of interest are present. Guys from very gay hostile countries, guys who have been serious hard times in their relationship,  he handicapped older man with his partner finding ways to participate in the activities - any one of these stories could be worth hearing about. Instead we hear far too much complaining about "gay culture" from them when practically everyone we see in the background is having a great time. I want to believe there was a lot more said in the interviews than the banal, lazy "all gay men want is..." statements that show lack of self reflection more than tell anything profound or true.

In the end, what could have been eye opening, is just eye candy. Did we really need to see someone getting a blowjob in public? I was left thinking the subjects were looking less for love and acceptance as they claimed but for attention.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

An Honest Liar 2014 directed and produced by Justin Weinstein

There will be spoilers!
Odd that a documentary has spoilers but the one does.

This documentary documents the life of James Randi, otherwise known as the Amazing Randi. It goes lightly into his early life and career as a magician and escape artist but concentrates more on his activities as de-bunker of supernatural and religious claims.

His magic years could have been covered more, but as he was born in 1928, there is a lot of road to all over to get to present day. I was little disappointed at the repetition of the older photos They are great photos but show up several times each. I suppose this might be because of photo right issues which can up the cost of a production in no time flat.

Randi exposed noted faith healers like Peter Popoff and notably exposed the trickery of spoon bender Uri Geller who, to his credit is interviewed in this film and while not happy with Randi's interference in his career, he is still rich and seems to hold little animosity against the escape artist. They also cover the guilt some the people who helped expose these scams felt. Yes, the scammers were thieves and users, preying on desperate people but a few serious scientists were also convinced what they were doing was real and found out the guys they thought were going to give you place in history as the guy who proved supernatural powers exist are only there to show how gullible you are. To be fair, they were given all sorts of clues and ways to expose the debunkers and never did.

Randi's young boyfriend, José Alvarez was a key part in bringing to light the scam of the channeling craze in the 80s. The introduction of José becomes the new thrust of the documentary as during the filming it is discovered he has been living under an assumed name the whole time after escaping to the USA from South America as a teenager. I appreciated how all this was handled in the film. Randi is interviewed talking about how he knew of the deceit and demands that the filmmaker not expose that in the final cut of the film. To Randi's great credit, he reverses this decision and lets it all come out. (Speaking of which, many did not know Randi was gay until this incident.) This is actually the doc's big reveal, not the gay relationship but the immigration situation which was refreshing and not a little heart wrenching. After over 25 years together, they must face the idea they will be separated.

It's a good watch and while lacking in details, it is a very good resume of one of the world's best magicians. skeptics and takes a surprising personal turn that humanizes a man who spent his whole life in the spotlight.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pinocchio (1940) Walt Disney Productions

After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Walt Disney went to the Carlo Collodi story The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881-1882). The film strays, like most films do, form the source material in many ways (the blue fairy for example plays a much more central role in the story) but the basics are still there. A lonely woodcarver, Geppetto carves a puppet out of a talking piece of wood and the puppet then spends the rest of the story trying to become a « real boy »  after learning this is possible through the intervention of the blue fairy and with the help of a friendly cricket. In Collodi’s version, Pinocchio kills the cricket almost immediately. This does not happen, of course in the Disney version and the puppet has a series of adventures that lead him back to his father and the realization of his dream to become human. 

This is one of, if not the most satisfying of all of Disney’s films. Made for about 2.3 million it has made about 84 million at the box office total but was a flop at the start pulling in less than ½ of it’s budget on first release. By 1994 the film was added to the National Film Registry in the USA and Time magazine has put it in the best 25 films of all time. 

The script moves from one adventure to the next with great skill and the animation is rightly considered some of the best ever done. The songs and background designs are top notch. Many breakthroughs in animations were brought about by this film. Disney had 3D models of the characters and set pieces made so the animators could have realistic perspectives to work from, early forms of rotoscoping and integration of stop motion were used to add realism. The opening shot where Jimmy Cricket jumps down the street to Geppetto’s shop window with everything moving in parallax is truly amazing. There is a story that having spent so much time getting this scene right, Disney was very disappointed it did not get the notice it deserved and was upset when a boat shot in Peter Pan,done with the simplest of techniques, got an ovation, prompting him to swear to never do anything as complicated as Pinocchio’s opening shot again. 

The movie pushed special effects animation past it’s limit. The fairy dust and especially the water effects are so impressive that I would take them over 3D simulations any day. The backgrounds are beyond amazing. I saw a few at an exhibition and they were not only just beautiful paintings but the ability to draw them in ways the camera could pan across them and give the impression of turning a corner or zooming in... all through use of perspective tricks on one canvas was mind boggling. 

Obviously it is on my top list of films ever made, I never get tired of seeing it and get choked up every time I see Pinocchio face down in the water after saving his father from Monstro the evil whale. I can’t explain why, but that simple shot is always a shock to me. The entire film is memorable from start to finish. 

In the last few years, Disney Studios has been making noises about a live action film, as it has done with and plans to do with many of it’s other animated classics. Please… don’t. Re-release the original in theatres instead and let new generations experience how magical it is.