Friday, December 24, 2021

Black Widow (2021) directed by Cate Shortland


The long awaited solo Black Widow finally arrives this past year and while it's a fun film to watch with some nice performances by Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh, it's sort of too little too late for it to make a big impression. 

The story takes place between other Marvel movies, obviously before Black Widow dies in Endgame and involves her finding her lost sister and reconnecting with the rest of her "family who were really just Russian agent from a shadowy secret group training girls from childhood to be "black widow" assassins. Shenanigans ensue and the characters are lively and fun to watch with nice action set pieces and some ridiculous scenarios... how long would a giant floating fortress take to fall to the ground? Hours apparently! None of that gets in the way enjoying the action and it move along fast and furious with Shortland's excellent direction. 

It's pretty good fro a project that was in development hell for so long but it does suffer from a little too much Marvel in universe referencing and doesn't set itself apart from a typical superhero movie except in one area. The main characters are not really all that super. The two woman leads are highly trained assassins and much of what happens is more like a Bond film than anything else plot wise and that was much appreciated. If this had been  released 10 years earlier it would have had a much larger impact and being released now takes that thunder away. It simply isn't needed and adds very little to the Marvel universe or what we need to know about Black Widow in the end. 

Enjoyable, yes. A much watch? Sadly,  no. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

La guerre des tuques (1984) Directed by André Melançon

Well this is one NOT to watch.
SPOILERS but read anyway! 

Yes I know this is holiday classic, beloved by all of Québec. A light romp, growing up story of a snow fight "war" between children around a huge snow castle/fort. I understand fully that is a commentary on actual war using the children as proxies. Whatever. 

The filmmaking's below par, it has many elements I can't stomach like "funny" music to tell you when things are funny and the images overall are sort of muddy. This can be excused, many films are not beloved because of their stunning cinematography, etc. but because they represent a time or a place in the lives of people having lived through similar times and places. How and when you saw the film can make a big difference in how it affects you and how you think about it late in life. 

At the end of the "war" part of the snow fort collapses, killing the much loved dog of one of the main characters. The two sides stop fighting and bury the dog... then fun happy music and funny shots from the film are played over the credits - like nothing TERRIBLE happens at all. War metaphors aside, I don't think this film is great for young children, especially those with pets. The dog is crushed and suffocated to death because of the actions of horrible, selfish children. Anti-war point made - cue the goofy happy music! 

There was a cartoon version remake in 2016 which does try and handle the subject better, but still kills the dog in the end so there's that. 

The cavalier way the dog's death is handled and the all is well now the "war" is over really rubs me the wrong way as if you couldn't tell.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings 2021 directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

 At the start of this films mother bestows a special pendent to her children as she puts the pendent around her son's neck, I said out loud to my brother also watching the film: "One day you wake up wearing this pendent totally hot looking and shirtless". And that is exactly what happened. This is not to say that this was any more predictable than other Marvel films, it isn't and it has plenty of nice touches that puts it apart from the growing library of superhero movies already produced. Not far apart, but enough to make it a pleasant watch. The leads are good and the supporting cast ids even better. Michelle Yeoh is in it and that alone makes it worth watching. 

The story is more complicated than some action movies and covers a long expanse of time as the Xu Wendy discovers 10 rings that give him power and immortality which leads him to conquering and exploiting the world until he falls in love and give it up. He is the father of the two children I mentioned with the pendants and he returns to his powerful rings and habits after his wife is killed by criminals seeking revenge on him for his past deeds, The son is taught to be a tough fighter while the daughter is ignored but teaches herself to fight and be ruthless. The son finally runs away from his family and leads a fairly normal life until he is attacked for his pendants the story really begins. Great fight scenes and action pieces ensue and they are certainly fun to watch. He does this all with the help of his quirky best friend Katy and the actress, Awkwafina, is really good in the role. The two end up on and dangerous adventure where family secrets are revealed and a secret magical land is discovered. The two leads do not become romantically entangled, no one does and for that alone makes this a stand out movie for avoiding all those tired tropes. It's nice to see friendship shown so strongly in any film. 

There is, of course, the fight between good and evil forces which doesn't always work or make complete sense but it's entertaining and the supporting cast brings it all to life. I would love to see what Disney and marvel does to include these characters in their universe.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Polish Posters: War Films

 Tora! Tora! Tora!

Not a bad poster at all, in my opinion anyway. Nor clear what is going on except "explosion" but ti does convey a war is going on.

Apocalypse Now

Another successful poster! It captures the craziness of the film and the intensity of Brando in the role.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

My film at the "Another Hole in the Head" festival! December 1 - 15th online!


 My film "A Vine on a House" is selected for presentation at the "Another Hole in the Head" film festival.

My film will be streamed online as will much of the festival so anyone can watch. The festival runs from December 1-15th, 2021

Festival link

Link to my film

Please support my work and the festival, they are a great group of people! 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Tesla (2020) directed by Michael Almereyda

 I fully prepared to fall asleep during this movie... not sure why I had that attitude because it flew by as I watched it. Not that it was action packed but because it's slow pace works so well with the performances and odd editing and anachronistic touches keep your attention flowing along with it. 

I thought this was going to be a dramatic telling of the life of the inventor Tesla and a period piece. It isn't exactly that. It is more like a documentary with enactments told by one of the historical figures in the story, Ann Morgan (Eve Hewson). Her character swings between a being present in the story of Tesla and modern day where she is using a computer to search for information on the other historical figures throughout the film. The editing is pretty brilliant... cutting between complete period recreations to actors superimposed in front of period images to standard documentary techniques like panning across photos. 

It works.. somehow. The actors are all super. Ethan Hawke as Tesla starts  was so unlikeable that I wondered if this was going to be one I had to abandon part way through but he really manages to grow on you and open the character up. Kyle MacLachlan plays Edison and I totally bought him in the role. 

A big plus for this movie is how it doesn't worship Tesla and overplay his achievements which was amazing and important but he also made some unsupported leaps of logic with devices that were less than successful. This may or may not give a reality  based portrayal of the great inventor but it does come off that way. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Dune (2021) directed by Denis Villeneuve

 I have read the source material for this film at least 3 times and the next two books that followed it at least twice each and then the 4th book once (which was enough of that). SO I am fairly familiar with the story and what to expect. I have seen the Lynch attempt at the story and the Sci-fi channel mini-series. Lynch's movie was a mess of good and some very bad and I don't get the trend to try and turn it into some sort of misunderstood classic. It's not. The Mini-series took the hard sci-fi approach with a much lower budget and while I thought it was fine, I forgot what I saw a couple of days afterwards, it didn't really capture the novel any more than Lynch did. 

Now Denis Villeneuve has had his try and I have to say I found it very compelling. Visually stunning and  doesn't defer to the lowest common denominator by turning into a Star Wars wannabe or superhero origin story. He keeps true to the book as much as I would expect a film adaption to do. Reading and watching are very different beasts and he knows that and takes the opportunity to show as much as possible and keeps the telling, or explain part to a minimum without, I don't think, making it too difficult for anyone who hasn't read the book. There are a lot of characters and some of the main ones... quite few of the main ones die before this part one ends. Others are introduced but he takes the chance of waiting to do more with them in the second part. It won't placate the more rabid of Frank Herbert fans, but that is fool's errand anyway. 

The casting worked out better than I predicted. Timothée Chalamet looks young enough to be the main character and Oscar Issac gets little to do in terms of character development but works well as Paul's father. Jason Momoa seemed a mistake, but his short role worked as well and didn't take me out of the movie. Josh Brolin stood out in his role for me. He seemed to get across a lot of character points with limited screen time. Another thing I liked was that the bad guys, while over the top in many ways didn’t fall into the trope of making them ”gay” to add to their perverseness as the 80s version did. 

Technically, the movie shines. Visually it was amazing on the big screen. I did think the music was a little over the top at times and too in your face but it does it's job. The design of the world is breath taking. The ornithopters looking like mechanical dragonflies were easy to imagine in my mind while reading but they look much better and more real than in my imagination. In fact, most of the effects are shown in a very realistic light. Each shot is a work of art but everything is treated like a real place/object. Camera positions are mostly at human height  or seem to be positioned on walls or rocket nearby with none of the over the top video game/drone tracking shots that are FAR too common these days in big films. The overall tone of the performances is somewhat cold but I got that impression of the characters in the books as well. The handling of dreams and some of the magical-like elements were handled  superbly and when "the voice" was used in couple spot, some audience members jumped. 

If you want a plot summary... read the book... it's way too complicated to pare down for this review. That makes this movie even more of success. It manages to move along and tell that complicated story at pace that allows the viewer to take it all in. Even the action scenes are paced slower and are easier to understand  than the typical action film. It doesn't throw the kitchen sink and all the other appliances at you at once but you end up with a fully functioning kitchen at the end with everything in it place for part two. 

That fact that this is part one is something to consider before going. it will be 2 years before it comes out and while this movie tells a great story it took a huge risk in not trying to give it a false ending in case there was no second film, it stops at a logical point but it's painfully obvious there is MUCH more coming up. I look forward to it. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Lighthouse (2019) Directed by Robert Eggers


Robert Eggers' debut feature film, "The Witch", was an astonishing piece of work. Written in old time English and brought a slow burning story to a disturbing end with beautiful cinematography and great performances. "The Lighthouse" is a very different film but still brings us a version of English we might not be so familiar with, a different pace and even more great performances. 

Set on a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere, the new assistant and the old lighthouse keeper find themselves trapped as they fall deeper and deeper into madness because of isolation, booze and more than a small amount of supernatural insinuation as storms keep them from getting new supplies.  DeFoe and Pattinson give top drawer performances that may be beyond many other actors. They both seemed prepared to do anything in their roles and it shows. 

The editing and the cinematography is truly beyond almost any modern film I've ever seen. Shot on an almost square format in black and white by Jarin Blaschke who also worked on "The Witch", the film transports the viewer to a surreal, yet very believable world filled with dread and hidden horrors. It is notable to say that the lighthouse itself is a set in NovaScotia and while it reads as a real place, the surrounding terrain has a 1940s gothic horror quality about it that brings you even more into the film than if it was shot on location somewhere, I think. In the hands of a lesser crew, the transitions from shot to shot might seem pretentious and draw attention to themselves but as amazing as they are they only serve to draw you in

Not a traditional horror, but more of psychological thriller, this movie has elements taken from Lovecraft, Poe and while it often goes into violence it never seems exploitative or falls into standard tropes. The sound design is amazing and (especially very near the end) goes right into David Lynch territory. 

With a budget of only 4 million, the box office was over 18 million - a good haul - and I wish there were more projects like this that challenge the filmgoer and don't require a 300 million Industrial Light and Magic budget to pull it off. 

I look forward to anything Eggers does next as its obvious he is s serious force with a very strong personal vision in his film work that will likely build over time and leave us with a series of films that, while not to everyone's tastes (nothing is), will outlive any of the blockbusters that have come out in the same period. Pretty much every frame is a visual masterpiece.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Raven (2012) Directed by James McTeigue


I have to admit I was dreading watching this film as I am huge Poe fan (I have made several animations based on his works) and I heard it was terrible. Maybe my low expectations elevated this to be better than I imagined as I found myself liking more than anticipated. 

The Raven is one of those speculative history ideas, the kind that take a well known historical figure or event and then put that into a new story, usually modernized to a certain extent but try to keep it in line with the real event or the real details of that person's life. This is pretty much what we get, Poe's stories are being used against him as a mysterious person using them to commit horrible murders. The details of one Poe murder lead to the next and it is revealed that the killer is trying to get to Poe for unknown reasons. 

The film starts and ends on overly pretentious filmmaking tropes. A little over the top and on the nose for my tastes, but as the movie goes on, I did get drawn in and it didn't bore me. I know too much about the main character to believe any of it could be real and John Cusack in the role didn't sell it enough for me to see "Poe" but rather someone with his name. The problem mostly is the dialog is not very period at times and while Cusuack is OK and some of the other performers are pretty good, you just don't buy it as a period piece but more as an alternative reality piece.I rather liked Luke Evans as the detective. He was the best and to me the actual main character. He could easily go on to make more movies in this role and they almost set the end of this up for that - but next time it would be Jules Verne in place of Edgar Allen Poe. 

Costumes and sets are great, the filmmaking is a little artsy at the start and finish but very well thought out in the middle and calls less attention to itself and more to the story. The story kept my interest but it really doesn't hold up to scrutiny and just too preposterous to quote another critique to make you really feel anything for what is going or keep any real suspense. The resolution, if you can call it that , is  ahead scratcher in the worst sense... it just doesn't make any. 

Overall, I can't say it's as bad a movie as I was led to believe but that doesn't make it a good one. just Mildly entertaining and distracting with some potential that never gets realized. I guess turning Edgar Allen Poe into an action hero of sorts isn't such a great idea in the end. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Dracula - Sovereign of the Damned (1980) animated Marvel Comics adaption


It is no secret I am a fan of the 1970s comic book "Tomb of Dracula" and particularly the artwork of Gene Colan. It was a great comic that ran 7 years and had a fairly steady storyline form start to finish. 

This is an animated TV show version taken directly from the comic. I had heard it existed and finally saw it online, as you can now too!  I wasn't expecting artwork anywhere close to the books and I didn't get it but they did make an effort to keep the characters similar to their original look. The backdrops have much to be desired and the animation itself is very low end. The dubbing in English is pretty awful.

They do keep to the storyline, the one where Dracula is worshipped by a Satanist cult and they did not shy away from the more shocking elements including a little nudity. What really did shake me was they included Dracula's newborn baby son getting shot in the face! I have NO idea who this project was aimed at. Certainly not Saturday morning kid show audiences and it's a little too kiddy looking for teenagers. 

All in all I would say if you are a "Tomb of Dracula" fan it is worth a look, otherwise it might confuse the hell out of you. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Vampira and Me (2012) directed by Ray Greene

The character created by Miala Nurmi in the 1950s did not bring her riches in the end but it did give the world an iconic creature that was often copied or referenced by many others right up until present day. Though she borrowed her look from the comic version of Mortician Addams, she took that look and gave it a voice, including a blood curdling scream.

The documentary does a great job taking the character away and replacing it with the real person behind it. The fact that Greene was personal friends with her for years gave him the chance to get deeper than anyone else could have ever been and his interview with her is amazing and we get a rare look into the real life of what we have only known as a camp icon. She was an amazing woman and actress that should have had a long, varied career but ended in abject poverty instead. We learn of her friendship with James Dean and how she ended up in Ed Wood’s trash classics Plan 9 From Outer Space. If you never heard of her before, this film will still hold your interest and leave you with nothing but respect for her. 

There are a few quibbles that I have with the doc, but they are really minor. It starts or with some lower end graphics that I think take away from the rest but they are dipped quickly and Greene does am admirable job making the most of a subject with only minutes of damaged footage and some publicity shots surviving. 

While her life ended on a mostly happy note, the movies touched briefly on her attempt to sue the people behind the “Elvira mistress of the dark” character which she had some influence in creating but ultimately lost, even though, much as I love Cassandra Peterson, Nurmi had every right to profit from what was truly an updating of her ground break work in the 50s. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Documentary: Parc de L'espoir (2021) Directed by Vincent-louis Apruzzese

I added new material to the end of my 2014 documentary abut the AIDS memorial park here in Montréal. The park has been completely renovated and it 4 times it's previous size as well as much cleaner looking and inviting. I also added English and french subtitles to make the doc more accessible. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Mary and Max (2009) directed by Adam Elliot

 This stop motion animated film by Adam Elliot and based on his correspondence with a friend in New York for over 20 years. Voice talents include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Eric Bana and Bethany Whitmore. 

The basic story is the long distance friendship between a  lonely young girl who lives in Australia who randomly sends a letter to New York after finding max's name in a phone book and asks him where babies come from the United States. Max is has Aspergers syndrome and, after panicking about receiving the letter, responds and the two begin a back and forth that goes on for decades. 

The film follows the two and their relationships changes over the years was Mary grows up and Max has his own changes over the years. They lose contact for a time but they continue to inspire each other .

This film is without a doubt a black comedy... some of it is pretty bleak and depressing even with a layer of comedy painted over it. The characters are very endearing nevertheless less and the animation is stylized and original. Mary's world is sepia-tones while Max's new York is in black and white. Both have splashes of red here and there. There is a lot of child abuse in this movie, in Max's history and Mary's [present and it sort doesn't get better as time goes on but the bond between them helps them cope and survive. 

I want to avoid spoilers in case anyone decides to see this, but I will say it ends in a touching but heartbreaking way and it made me cry. Partly from sadness and partly from Mary realizing how important she was to Max.

Not exactly a fit for the whole family and it is a challenge to deal with the subject matter. It is well worth watching and VERY far out from most films I've seen and can be harrowing but well worth travelling the journey it takes you on. 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Polish poster: Jaws 2

 I mean... it's taking the title pretty literal, non? It is clever in one way but confusing in every other way! 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Polish Posters: The Shining

 I am not sure what the top poster says about the movie... but I like it. You can almost make Jack Nicolson's face behind the abstraction and there is what looks like a still from the movie near his chin.  The bottom one is certainly terrifying, but it's super weird. I bet Shelley Duval is not happy with it. The posters both seem to be showing some sort of psychosis and at least they get across the disturbing elements of the film... of which there are many. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Mommy (2014) directed by:Xavier Dolan

 I have been wanting to watch this film for years and when it came on TV I reordered it... and waited more years to play it. I do like the films of Xavier Dolan. Like most filmmakers he has his strong and weak points but overall I don't think anyone can really deny he is a serious and seriously good director/writer/actor and editor. I knew going on this was an intense one and it didn't let me down on that level. 

The story of a mother, her son with severe behavioural issues and the neighbour who befriends them, this film while not without humorous moments exposes its subjects and the difficulties they face directly and forced the viewer to deal with it all head on. Filmed in a 1:1 ratio like classic films were, the cramped square restricts and contains their lives and options. It's very effective and the cinematography and editing are amazing. The only quibble I have is the use of popular music throughout. It's not inappropriate but for me personally it takes me a little out of the story from time to time. 

The start of the movie has an overly long series of title cards outline how a new government has enacted a law that allows poor parent's of troubled kids to place them into hospital with basically no question asked. I think this could have been told in a short line of dialogue or some other way that didn't drag out the start of the film as it's a plot convenience and the story is not about it.

I do not want to spoil the film, though to be honest, there isn't much room for what happens at the end to progress in many other directions but there is point where the lives of the characters and literally the world of the film opens up for a brief time before it all closes in on them again. 

The there main actors Anne Dorval, Antoine Olivier Pilon and Suzanne Clément are stunning in their roles. Dolan's collaboration with the actors, particularly his long association with Dorval pays off with her giving a very real intense performance that will likely bring you to tears. Pilon keeps you n edge the entire running time. He never overplays his condition and makes it clear there is no predicting his behaviour from one moment to the next.  Clément with her stutter and reserved manner is a calming influence on the others and us. 

*I would like to give a pat on the back to out Québec productions. Less than 5 million $ to make this film which is typical and the quality is in line with anything I've seen at 100 million $. Proof that the success of a movie lies in it's tory, actors and technicians and dedication to strong ideas and situations over flash and high paid "stars". 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Who Are You,Charlie brown? (2021) directed by Michael Bonifiglio

 Narrated by Lupita Nyongo, this hour long documentary for Apple TV+ is very well produced and does a good job telling the basics of Peanuts cartoon creator Charles Schultz. It has nicely done appropriate graphics setting the cartoon strip as a template to tell the story and includes a Charlie Brown animated story throughout in which he is asked to do an essay about himself. 

I can't say it's bad doc because it really isn't. but it lacks depth mostly because I think it is aimed a very young audiences as an introduction to Shultz's life which was pretty interesting. To my ears, Nyongo's narration is in that tone we reserve for young children, and the details of the artist's life are spoon fed through very simple factual statements. If it is aimed directly for younger children, then it's a good effort. If it was aimed at adults or fans of Peanuts then it's a little too simple and shallow a dive. maybe I knew too much about him already to be a target audience. 

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Polish Posters: Rosemary's Baby

 I highly recommend a search of "polish movie posters" if you get a chance. Better yet, just keep reading the Slammer and I'll be posting quite a few over the next year.  I don't know what got me started on this, maybe it was the super bizarre Godzilla poster I saw in a video on monster poster art or maybe it was one of these... lets say varied... interpretations for the film Rosemary's baby. 

The top image is my favourite... it's great even it it tells you nothing about the actual film. 

The two above really have  different take on the baby part of the name. One is a creature's hand and the other looks almost like a Madonna and child. 

These two obviously have the same inspriationbut took it in wildly different directions. Ones is a very chaste, creepy and , I think well rendered image.. something I might want to draw myself while the other is some sort of 80s exploration film version of the same image. Sexy as Mia Farrow is in the film I just don't see her in that...pose. 

Click the images to see larger versions.

Believe me, this is the just scratching the surface and I'll be exhibiting many more Polish posters soon. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Waxworks (1924) Directed by Paul Leni

There are three main reasons to watch this silent film.  Emil Jennings (Caliph of Bagdad), Conrad Veidt (Ivan the Terrible) and Werner Krauss (Spring helped Jack). Such a test should be enough but the wonderful cinematography, sets and great cutting and superimpositions life this anthology film to a higher level. A poet is hired to make up stories about an exhibitions main wax figures and each one plays out with him and the proprietor's daughter as the love interests in each. The three sections are imaginative, I'll give it that and it ends in a surreal chase. The set pieces are reminiscent of the expressionist classic, Cabinet of Doctor Caligari but not quite as out there. Close, but not quite. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

City Lights (1931) written, produced, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin


Made several years after sun was taking films by storm, Charlie Chaplin defied the odds and produced not only a work of art but a huge hit in this silent film. He would avoid sound another few years but this is considered one of his best projects. 

The little tramp character befriends a millionaire after stopping him for committing suicide who helps Chaplin by giving him money so that a blind girl, the tramp's love interest can have an operation restore her vision. When the rich an is robbed and the tramp is found with  a ton of his cash, things get complicated. The tramp evades the police long enough to pass the cash to the girl but is soon arrested and put in jail. 

After being released he sees the girl in a flower shop window, the girl comes out and replace a crushed flower he is holding and when she touches his hand she realizes who he is and they smile at each other. 

Well acted, filmed and maybe a little sentimental the film still has impact and can touch your heart like few other movies can. Chaplin is a master of his medium and this is considered by sum to be his masterpiece. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Mark of Zorro (1920) directed by Fred Niblo

This original film version the Zorro legend is a pure delight. At this point we all know the story of the rich dandy courting the beautiful woman who finds him annoying but is also the dashing hero of the people, Zorro who cuts the faces of evil doers with sword, leaving his trademark "Z" on them as a warning to others. 

This is the role that catapulted Douglas Fairbanks to international fame and it is no mystery why. His dual role is done with an amazing amount of humour and his physicality and joyful energy in the role has never been matched. The sword fighting and the amazing stunts are still thrilling to watch and done with a grace and sense of fun that just keeps you engaged with the film from start to finish. 

Fairbanks produced the film and adapted it from the the 1919 story The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley as well as playing the titular role. 

I was introduced the character by the old TV show and have a soft spot for Zorro I have to admit. He was in some ways the inspiration for another vigilante of justice, Batman. In the comic, Bruce Wayne's parents are killed after seeing this this film so it's no wonder why the grieving child took on the role of a masked hero. To be honest this film would many anyone want to do that. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Pandora's Box (1929) Directed by: Georg Wilhelm Pabst


This one of my favourite films and one of the best films of all time. If that sounds over the top, watch this and see for yourself. Even today, the actions and personality of the lead character, Lulu, is iconic and unmatched almost 100 years since the film's release. Playing the lead, Louise Brooks created something unique... an image and look that survives to this very day. She is more than just one of the most beautiful women of all time... her character is so full of life and ch charismatic is just pouts out of the screen into the viewers eyes. He haircut and look literally influenced the entire flapper era and Lulu's lust for life and new experiences is infectious. Look toward almost any advertisement, decoration almost anything from the flapper era and Brook's image is on it. 

Pabst and his team took Brook's natural talent and brought it to life with amazing photography. Every frame could be a still photo. This is German film so it goes the way many did and have gone since...right into a nightmarish world of horror and depression but it's so well done and you are so caught up in the main character's story you just can't stop watching as it all starts going from fun to tragedy. 

The plot is complicated, involving a devil may care young woman who is basically sleeping wiht almsot everyone else in the cast including her fiancé, his son, an acrobat and some woman she knows. Somehow they mange to present this behaviour as freeing and endearing and beyond the prudishness of that and to be honest, this generation. Lulu isn't looking to hurt anyone... at least not at the start. 

It was inevitable that such a free spirit would get herself into trouble and boy does she ever get into trouble. Her fiancé is not happy catching her with so many people during their wedding reception and orders her to kill herself. They struggle with a gun and he is accidentally killed, the door to the room opens and the guests see her holding the smoking gun with his head buried in crotch - one of the most memorable shots in cinema history. 

Her dead husband's son helps her escape to London to avoid going to prison for murder with some of her other associates but it all goes down hill from there, leading her into prostitution and a shocking ending that even for a film this old, if you have never seen it, you won't see it coming. 

Anyone I can get to watch this movie finds it shocking and intriguing. Louise Brooks is mesmerizing. Too many people are unfamiliar with silent cinema to know it was not all Keystone Cops but often poignant, complex and talking about subjects that even today people find controversial and scandalous. I cannot imagine something this wildly free being made today. 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Crowd (1928) Directed by King Vidor (updated repost from April 2009)


This film is one of the all time classics of cinema. Made in 1928, it follows the life of a «nobody» born on July 4 who has asperations of grand things in his life. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he does not really distinguish himself from the crowd or society, which in this film becomes a character in of itself, always present and taking away his space, always surrounding him and restricting his movements in some way. The lead character is (played by James Murry) and, in fact, the whole story is morally ambiguous. He seems a total egotistical jerk, concerned only with his own delusion that he is better than everyone else - somehow... he has no clear idea why. His life is a mess and so tragic you can’t help but feel not only sorry for him but for yourself. Who amoung us hasn’t has big dreams only to find they were in fact, impossible to reach no matter what efforts made? He and us all have to learn to live in the world we get, not the one the one we wish we could live in. As a result, the film is thoughtfully indifferent to him all the way to the happy/bitter end. The last shot is haunting. It is at the same time hopeful and defeating as the main character start to put his life together and find happiness again we realize he will never differentiate himself from the crowd around him.

Visually, the direction by King Vidor is outstanding and the effects top-of-the-line. Some fo the images so powerful they stick on your head long after the film is done. For me the shot of the parents in the window watching helplessly as their daughter is accidently hit by traffic, the mother moments ago waving a doll he bought her now slumped against the window with the doll clutched in her hands show just how powerful silent films were and still are to those of us open enough to watch them. Director Jean Luc Godard was asked once why films about ordinary people were not being made. He responded with "Why remake «The Crowd?» It has already been done". The one terrible thing about this film is that, somehow, it is not on DVD.The lack of certain films updated and restored to the current format is, in my opinion, an abuse of the film going public. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Indifference - short stories by no one in particular had been updated and price lowered!


 I recently updated the design and re-arranged the stories in my first book of short stories. I cut one and added a new one and also added illustrations for those that didn't have them the first time out. The story "The Face in the Glass" was a head scratcher in terms of what sort of image to make and I ultimately deiced something "punk-ish" might be good. Originally I was going to do a mohawk only from the side. I decided instead to really simply and stylize a photo of me from the 80s. So not sure it counts as a real self portrait or not. I wasn't really going for resemblance as much as I was going for a certain look - much like I was going for for myself in that era! It would have been cool to colour the make-up but the book is printed in black & white so greyscale had to suffice. 

The book is for sale on Amazon as a printed book and a Kindle book.

The new price is 5.99$ (CAD) and the print version should be updated in the next few days, but the Kindle version is ready now. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Varan the Unbelievable (1958) Directed by Ishirō Honda


There might be several versions of this film but the one I saw was about 1 hour 7 minutes, making it about 40 minutes too long. The film was meant to be a USA/Toho joint production but that fell apart and the resulting English and Japanese filmed parts never mesh together. The Japanese sections don't even have subtitles. 

Some military guy and his wife are doing some sort experiments on a remote lake that will poison the water. The locals think a monster lives there who will destroy the world if the lake is threatened. Most of this film is the military guy trying to evacuate the residents while being as sexist as possible to his far too subservient wife who wants the villages to be able to stay in their homes. There is a ton and I mean a ton of expositional dialogue that makes the film drag and the clichéd plot doesn't help it much. I expected more with Honda as director. There are many references to Godzilla, including his theme song being snuck in at one point. 

Turns out there is a monster andit goes on a  rampage. Who would have thought? The wife blames herself because she wanted the villagers to stay and her brilliant husband states "this was no one's fault". Ummm... it was HIS fault 100%! He was poisoning the water and displacing an entire village for... reasons? 

The monster itself is a highlight. Not too badly designed and it moves well on all fours. The effects overall are pretty good for a film of this kind, era and budget but they can't save the tedium between shots of the giant creature destroying stuff. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

SHAZAM! (2019) Directed by David F. Sandberg

 I know it seemed impossible but this a very good DC superhero movie. Wonder Woman was great but faltered towards the end by going for spectacle over what could have been a perfect introduction to that character. SHAZAM! though lighter and filled with clichés of its own manages to own those clichés and give us something entertaining with good performances pulled out of what could have been bland characters. I do have questions as to what age this film is aimed at... it's funny and seems like an ideal children's film but the violence and killing in it, though not bloody is too intense for kids. I mean, a guy shows his brother out the windows of a high rise while a demon bites the head off someone else... not family friendly exactly.  So let's say teenagers were demographic. 

It's a rare comic book film where the characters motivations, including the villains, are so clear. It knows not to pull at the heartstrings too hard and brings the source material into today's world and what I would have to describe as a side-car film in the DC hero universe. It's too light and fun to fit into the other films and knows to not take itself so seriously, which is why it works. The plot points seemed earned, even the battle at the end is tapped down to a certain extent and comes from the events in the story and doesn't feel like a marketing excuse for a 100 million CGI battle. The movie gets into the action right away and doesn't waste time with a prolonged prologue. There is an end credits scene, of course, but for once I feel like... Yeah, I might go see that next one

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Midnight Sky (2020) Directed by George Clooney

Maybe it's just the result of the pandemic the world has been living through and how it has effected me, but I found this to be a little gem of a film. I like the slow pace some critics held against it and some of the plot elements are tropes but I thought they were well integrated and well done. 

After what appears to be nuclear Holocaust that is hinted started from a mistake, one man (Clooney) who is dying of an unnamed illness decided to be left behind at an Arctic station while everyone else is evacuated, knowing he will die there alone. While there he discovers he is not alone and a little girl had hidden herself away and he must deal with her. There seems to be literally no one on earth who can come and get her and her fate is as sealed as his in the long run. At the same time, a ship is returning back to earth from a  habitable moon the Clooney's character discovered as almost a second chance for earth. They do not know what happened but as they get closer to home with no contact, they are faced with a mystery of what could be going on. they get in touch with Clooney and he tells them to turn back and has calculated a route for them to take so they can start again on the moon. 

Since this is new and I really don't won't give away some of the plot turns, I won't say more. It's true at least of two of them are a little to coincidental for me but it still works. It's not hard sci-fi but it has the look and feel. It benefits greatly by not trying to explain too much. The holocaust, his sickness and the tech that takes them to another planet are all taken as fact without having needless exposition. I will say setting it in 2049 is a bad move, too soon and usually a bad idea to "date" a sci-fi film. Nice performances, nice effects and only what I would describe as a "soft" feel to the whole thing. A welcome change from movies that feel they need to overstimulate the viewer from start to finish giving no time to breathe. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada

500 years after all the dragons have been turned to stone by the evil Drunns who were in in turn banished by the a crystal welded bu the last of the dragons, humanity has turned against themselves and separated into tribes. One of the leaders wants to unite all 5 tribes but he is betrayed and the Drunns come back when the crystal is shattered and dived amounts the rides. The Drunns over the following years turn most of the population into stone but the daughter of the would be unifying leader goes on a quest to find the last dragon, bring the crystal pieces together and save their world. 

While not a life changing event, this is a pretty fun, beautifully animated and hits many of the right notes. there are cute animal sidekicks and other typical Disney tropes but if you are looking for something light you can do a lot worse than seeing this. The voice of the dragon was the only thing that didn't work for me and the modern day references and speaking styles were sort of out of place but there was some nice action that kept me from leaving the story being told. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) directed by Dave Fleisher


Fleisher Studios was Walt Disney's biggest competition at the start of the early cartoon era. In the end, the two became friends but they were fierce rivals for years. In may ways, the Fleishers out Disney'd Disney with animation and new techniques. The had parallax shots and filmed cels over 3D models to get depth into the cartoons. They invented Popeye and Betty Boop and were in many ways a more adult focused company. 

While many people remember Gulliver's' Travels as their full length feature animation, they did do another... Mr. Bug Goes to Town. Animation-wise its a tour deforce of smoothly moving characters and wonderful background pantings. It's close to 2 hours long... and eternity for even live action films of the time. 

The story is of a grasshopper returning to his little home (bug) town which has been under siege by the humans who walk through it destroying everything and setting things on fire with their cigarettes and cigars. There is a complicated plot involving the grasshopper's girl friend being pursued by the local rich bug who lives on higher and more secure ground. In the end, none of them is safe as the lot they are on is about to be used for a skyscraper. The grasshopper eventually leads the town, after lots of pitfalls and misunderstandings, to a new garden on the top floor of the building where they can be in harmony with the human couple who live there. 

In most ways the film is delightful... despite the racism that is sort of inevitable in a film, particularly animated ones, of this period. It's not close to worst ever seen, but it till does make one's teeth grind when you see it. Visually beautiful with endearing characters, I would say it's a bit too long and complicated, The Fleishers were ahead of Disney in many ways but story was a weak point and while never dull, it could move along a lot faster. 

(Also called Hoppity goes to Town)

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Visible: Out on Television (2020) directed by Ryan White

 On Apple TV +

Spread over 5 episodes, this documentary details the presence and presentation of LBGT+ people from the beginning of TV to present. It is filled with interviews not just of actors, writers and producers but has some interesting political figure thrown in as well. The result is entertaining and informative and if you know someone who doesn't understand why representation in media is important for minority groups, particularly maligned groups, this might actually bring them around. 

The stories are deeply personal and the series skips over superficial career details and heads right for the meat of the theme of each episode bringing to light the story of LGBT+ people as they were seen in peoples living rooms across the decades, ties them to other groups and doesn't sugar coat the steps backwards it takes before you can go forward again in media representation. It ties political and news of the day with how gay people were forcing themselves in front of cameras to save their own lives at times.

There is some overlap between the segments but it doesn't get repetitive so that even someone like me, who lived through 90% of the time covered, can learn or be reminded of things forgotten in the still uphill battle for sexual minorities to be seen as real people. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Soul (2020) directed by Peter Docter

Pixar is in top form with this film. Yes the animation is fantastic as it is with all Pixar films but I honestly barely noticed it as the story and characters rightfully took all my attention from start to finish. 

A musician (Joe) dies unexpectedly by falling into a manhole on the day of his big break to join a legendary jazz artist in her band and dies. That is the start of the story. On his way to the great beyond, he refuses to go there and leaps into space only to find himself in a place where souls are before they are born. He is mistaken for someone else and is charged with helping a reticent (to say the least) pre-born to find its purpose so it can go to earth. Joe uses them to sneak back to earth but he ends up n a cat while the other (22) ends up in his body. The film then turns to them trying to get Joe to his gig on time and back to his his own body. 

One thing I loved about this film was the design of the characters. There is often a tendency to try for "realism" in modern animations and this goes the opposite direction and avoid all the uncanny valley pitfalls and distraction "realism" can burden an animated film with.  Some compare this to another Pixar film "Inside Out" but it's truly it's own thing and a very mature project with problems dealt with a way anyone can understand. 

I don't think it's my favourite movie even in Pixar's history but I really appreciated the risks it took by making something so thought provoking and adult in nature. I really does not seem to be aimed at kids at all, in very good way. The end is open to interpretation, we are not sure what direction Joe is heading and that makes the film point... it's not what he ends up doing, it's how he ends up doing it and why. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Poster Project: The Man Who Fell to Earth


 I went through the film frame by frame to find interesting images to work from. I wanted this to be clean and simple and not give anything of the movie away. The image I picked took a lot of retouching to look ½ decent between the grain of the film and the fact it was a screen grab but it works,  I think. I often wonder if there is a remake in the works for this based closer to the book but I think it would be a long hard climb to get over Bowie's interpretation which makes this film. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Man from Earth: Holocene (2017) directed by Richard Schenkman


This is the never asked for sequel to the 2007 film I reviewed a few years ago. Written by Emerson Bixby the son of the man who wrote the first film and who worked tirelessly to get that film produced when his father died. The film also had actors from Star Trek, (notably Michael Dorn who is really good, I wish he was in more things) and includes Vanessa Williams as the main character's new love interest. 


The story is more complicated than the first film and it suffers from that in some ways. The immortal college professor is in another job and a group of his students put a series of dubious facts together and discover his secret, tell a character from the 1st film (William Katt) who wrote a book about that experience and lost his career as  result. John, the immortal who is also beginning to age and heal slower,  is about to leave and move on again when the students come to his house to delay him so the discredited professor can identify him with certainly. So they knock him out and tie him up, leaving him with the born again Christian of the group who decided he is not Jesus but the anti-christ, stabs him and then...  it sort of becomes a narrative mess. The other students arrive with his old friend and find blood everywhere and the student and John gone. They somehow get away with not calling the police. I guess the kid's mom never wondered where her son went or filed a missing persons claim The same goes for John's now ex girlfriend who lived there with him. She came home, finds blood and a chair covered in duct tape in the basement and never freaked out and called for an investigation? The worst part is the after titles sequence... back at the discredited professor's house the "FBI" comes in the form of one man who we never see and causes John of being an immortal serial killer... What? Is it Christian boy or the "other" immortal John mentioned forth first film or... ?

The adult actors are well played but the students are cardboard cutouts for the most part and needed more acting guidance to pull off their roles. The film seems more like a TV movie and was maybe a sort of pilot for a proposed series. The standoff between Christian boy and John is interesting in many ways but the result of that scene is just confusion all around. Apparently, John WAS Jesus in some sense who accidentally started a religion after a particularly good talk he had on a mount. He's been hiding ever since. This lacks the mystery and ambiguity that made the first movie work so well. Bixby, the son, does have a good handle on his father's characters but it would be impossible to get  job at any college without proper ID, a work history etc and the police would most likely find John and the missing kid in time. We live in a very different world these days and hiding from it in the present day United States is not really possible. 

There is a love of the subject that carries this film away from being just plain bad, it's not. It still held my attention but didn't affect me as the previous film did. I would have explained less, not more and spent more time on the plot... probably cutting the students out it completely and making more about the personal relationships John has left behind over the last few decades. If does deal with that here and there and those parts are the best parts to me. 

Would I see a third film or a TV show? Maybe. There is something good in here left over from the first film that still could be molded into something more than a made for TV followup. Please cast Michael Dorn for that one and I'm in. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Godzilla VS. Kong (2021) directed by Adam Wingard

I thought the first Legendary Godzilla movie had a ton of flaws like killing the one engaging character 20 minutes in and showing most of the monster fight scenes on TV screens instead of giving us clear shots of the action but it wasn't unwatchable and the effects and cinematography was pretty good. The second gave us even less characters to get involved with but did have a ton of posters, including an awesome King Ghidorah with a fight between him and Godzilla in Boston's (my home town) Fenway Park which was enough to keep my attention for a goofy movie about giant monsters. Godzilla VS Kong continues the trend of making the humans not just uninteresting but somehow makes them so dull you feel like that might be sapping your own personality out you since nature abhors a void. 

To try and find a positive... it's colourful. That's it. The monsters fight for no good reason they story isn't one and every element seems to have been pulled out of hat and just inserted randomly. It manages to make less sense than any of the early Toho monster movies and introduces conspiracy theories like the hollow earth and fluoride in tap water! WTF? The characters are so dumb and unappealing cardboard cutups that there is suspense, not way to care about is going on even if you could decipher a plot line form this mess. You can't even figure which characters are where on the earth. There is no sense of time as they seem to go form the USA the Hong Kong without having to book a flight, pack or get a hotel room in more seconds. There is no sense of scale either. The giant monsters could be any size, they have no real sense of weight or how huge they are. There are not consequences you would care about to anyone or anything in the entire film. It just happens and they mix dull over tropes with confusing and incredibly dumb but not fun elements.  then the put in Mechagodzilla for 10 minutes.

No one wins this battle of the titans. We all lose. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

American Swinger (2008) directed by Jon Har & Matthew Kaufman

 In the 1970s Larry Levenson decided to open a straight sex club in New York at the Continental Baths with had been a gay bathhouse that had hired the likes of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow at one point. Soon the place was called "Plato's Retreat" and it became infamous. 

The film is, rightly, mostly about Levenson and his obsession with being some sort of king of the sexual revolution. Have taking over the gay club he immediately forbid sex amount the male guests (women on women was perfectly fine, of course) as well as alcohol, drugs and prostitution. These restrictions proved hard to enforce and honestly they didn't seem to make make of an effort making the place a haven for drug use and prostitutes. His plan was to open Plato's Retreat all over the United States, which never happened and the original club was eventually plagued by tax fraud and the changing policy landscape which included the rise of AIDS in the 1980s. 

The documentary is well done, I learned a lot about this famous club. It also has a few clips from Levenson and his then wife being interviewed by Phil Donahue which did nothing if not reinforce what a shitty, mean spirited and exploitative show he had. The directors show the many ides of the sexual revolution but despite all the talk of freedom and acceptance of non tradition (heterosexual) lifestyles - I have to say it comes across pretty clearly that the high minded "sexual liberation" was certainly a thing for many of the club goers but there was an overarching feeling that this place was more than a little sleepy and exploitive as well. 

I found it interesting to see how AIDS affected the straight sex scene in the 80s as most times AIDS is mentioned, if not every time it's only about the gay community's experience with it. The people interviewed show how far their heads were in the sand about the danger and how easy it was for straight people to buy into that a disease could only effect gay people and not them. One woman highlights this and states she realized she was only still alive by sheer luck and not all her friends from the time were not so lucky. 

This is an interesting view of the sexual revolution that lets you decide what to think of the players in the Plato's Retreat saga.