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. 

SPOILERS

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.

Friday, March 5, 2021

A Room with a View (1985) Directed by James Ivory


I recently had the chance to rewatch this film. I had seen it on release and it was a sensation at the time with its take on the British historical romance genre. It's intellectual, touching and funny at the same time with great actors in early roles and started 

A short list of some of the people in this film might give you an idea on how good it is. No one in the cast disappoints which is amazing considering for many of them this was one of their first projects. Danial Day-Lewis was also in "My Beautiful Launderette" this year and both films were out at the same time and I would say that fact catapulted him into international stardom as a serious actor. The 2 characters he played could not have been more different and many people had no idea it was the same actor in both films. It cemented in many people's minds what a "Merchant/Ivory production" should be even though they had produced films together for many years at this point already. It was nominated for an incredible 8 Academy Awards. 

At it's base (which is an E.M. Forster novel) it's a simple girl meets unsuitable boy on holiday fall in love story. Even the main character's engagement to be married nor everyone's impeccable manners can keep them apart in the end. 

If you have never seen it, seeing it now might take some patience as the pacing is slow by today's film standards but it's worth it. Julian Sands is super handsome as the romantic lead and Maggie Smith plays a role that could have easily been the same character she played in Downton Abbey decades later. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Goodbye Cinefex magazine

Cinefex magazine, the most incredible source of information and inspiration about special effects for over 40 yers is shutting down, apparently due to the COVID downturn. 

As someone who bought the first few issues at his corner store and would continue to buy them when money allowed (the magazine was not cheap  to buy but beautifully done and worth every single penny)and continued to get digital versions on the iPad when finances allowed I find this new devastating. A lottery win for me would have started with finally getting a full year subscription. Every issue was eye opening and they made the transition from physical effects to digital and now the current hybrid model with grace and kept on top of all the advances in visuals the cinema was able to pump out. It coved not just current films but went deep in the past to have well researched articles about classic films and effects pioneers like Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhaussen. 

It is a HUGE loss to film and effects fans alike. Maybe it can come back? Who knows but if it does I will be first in line to get that new issue. If there is anyway to buy back issues I would like on the iPad I'll be doing that as well. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Lucy (2014) Directed by Luc Besson

 


Luc Besson has made some amazing films and some pretty bad ones. It is a mixed bag. To me, this movie exemplifies that. It had some great actors giving interesting performances and some nice visual touches but while the sort starts out with promise the undeniable dumbness of the main conceit of the film catches up to it by the end and it left me feeling... MEH. The main character is hard yo feel anything for and the whole using only 10% of your brain thing one of those stupid ideas that has never.... never... had any validity to it but somehow keeps itself alive in the mind of popular culture. It would have worked better as a super hero original story where it could have dropped all pretence of trying to transit anything "deep" to the audiences watching it. 

It moves along at a pace that I think works and the effects are very well done but without a sympathetic lead and a ridiculous premise it takes far too seriously, it just falls flat by the end.  So not boring but not something to go out of your way to watch and if you do, expect very little from it and you'll be fine.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Animated short film: A Vine on a House, based on the short story by Ambrose Bierce

 


My latest gothic horror animation is based on a very short story by Ambrose Bierce, read it here if you like, and is itself fairly short. Like my previous Bierce animation, this one also strays quite a bit from the text as I try to make it relevant and more visual. For all the character, save one (the man on the porch) I used a free character generation application called "Make Human" which lets you create realistic humans with slider controls, including dressing, rigging and weighting. This means you can, hypothetically start using them in minutes and creating them takes only a few minutes as well. It is a huge time saver, especially for subjects that are not required to be created in a specific style or have to do anything unusual or complicated. I used this as a starting point and repainted the clothing myself and added controls to the rigging to make moving then less of a bone by bone affair and it worked for the most part. 

The setting itself took few months to put together. It is one location but one that ages and rots over a long time period. I wanted the fade from past to present to be noticeable but for the house to retain enough features that no one would thing the location had changed. 

I found the Make Human models were not suited for some of my rigging techniques. At least I could not figure out how to use them which was  ashamed because there are some plugins I rely on for every project that I could not use. I did find some work arounds but making them walk was really a challenge so I had to limit that as much as possible. 

This IS a horror short so there is some blood and violence but nothing like we see on TV show everyday. I do hope there is a little shock or 2 for people watching, however.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Gorgo (1961) and Gappa (1967)


 I was working on a poster for Gorgo for fun and after rewatching the film I realized I had seen something else really similar.

Gorgo is the giant monster story of mercenaries finding a treasure and a giant monster who turns out to be a baby with parent that comes to find it after it has been put in a sideshow in London. The two main characters also just sort of kidnap/save a young Irish kid. Doing so saves his life but it still seemed sort of sketchy. In the end the monsters return to the sea from which they came. The effects are pretty good thought monster is sort of goofy looking. The giant props work well and there is enough monster on major city destruction to satisfy kaju fans. 


Gappa, goes by a few names but has a similar story. The detail are different and follow well established Japanese monster tropes closer than they follow the plot of Gorgo. This time an egg hatches as adventurers are looking for animals to exhibit in a theme park. they take it back but pretty soon its parents are flying to Japan looking for it and no building will stop stop them. In the end they all fly off, back to island they came from, one assumes. Though nothing amazing, it's not a bad giant mosnter flick with the sort of effects expected for a 60s Japanese film. 




Saturday, February 6, 2021

Twilight Zone season 2 - Showrunner Jordan Peele

 


I did like the first season of the Jordon Peele reboot of the Twilight Zone. That first season was fairly intense and made pretty strong political and social statements. This second season is less intense, more fun but still interesting and though provoking. From dead daughter's being replaced by alien invaders to killer intelligent octopus the season runs the gambit from silly to serious and keeps the variety we should expect from a twilight Zone season intact. 

Jordon Peele seems much more present as the Narrator and I really love how he inserts the character into the openings of the episodes. His delivery seems more confident. There are less references and Easter eggs to find which I think is a good road to travel. there is enough of that in genre TV and film these days - it's gotten out of hand, I think, so pushing that back a little makes the shows stand more on their own. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Wonder woman 84 (2020) directed by Patty Jenkins

 


I really did love most of the 2017 Wonder Woman film, everything except the useless CGI battle with the useless villain at the end. The no man's land sequence alone makes it one of the great super hero movies. This sequel, sadly comes nowhere near the first movie. At 2 ½ hours it is an hour overlong and while all the performances are good, the motivations of the characters, especially the villains are muddy at best and unconvincing at worst. There is simply too little Wonder Woman in it as well. I don't count the opening Diana as a child warrior sequences as seeing Wonder Woman. They have little to do with the plot and I swear it seemed to go on for days to make a point that could have been madd before the credits started. The weird return of Steve Trevor makes little sense... there is a magic element to the plot that takes away from the depth the first story had by being set in WW1. The whole thing reads like a mediocre TV episode. That is not to say there is no fun in watching it, there is some of that but it drags out everything from the action shots to the poignant moments. Despite making an effort to set it in the 80s, it really could have happened at any time, including yesterday. The 80s conceit is simply to avoid conflicts in the DC Universe timeline and doesn't add anything. 

I would not spend too much money on seeing this and was glad I didn't have to. I haven't given up on Patty Jenkins, I think she has more awesome Wonder Woman ideas in her but I will be much more cautious in my enthusiasm for a third film. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Gamera the Brave (2006) directed by Ryuta Tasaki


 I admit I have soft spot for Gamera, the giant flying turtle, as it is my mom's favourite kanji. Why my mom has a favourite kanji is another story. Gamera has always been a softer, maybe more kid friendly than some of the Godzilla films and with even smaller budgets. 

This film has some interesting elements. A man who was saved by Gamera as a boy and has a young son with psychological problems after his mother died. He finds a weird egg that hatches into  turtle that exhibits all sorts of intelligence and powers... much like Gamera, who had sacrificed himself when he saved the man. The son and the turtle grow a bond as the animal grows to gigantic size just in time fight the newly emerged monster Zedus. With the help of the young boy and his friends, the new Gamera is given extra power by a magic stone that was found at the same time the boy found the egg.  An epic battlic ensues and the new Gamera wins the day while the children cheer him on. 

This film is fairly fun though pretty dumb in many respects.  It has the problem most Gamera films do, one or more annoying child actors that really get on your nerves. It does have a really cool monster in Zedus, maybe one of the best giant monster designed out there. The effects are better than you might expect but Gamera has the look of kid's plush toy with giant eyes and baby like features that just do not work. It's hard to recommend this as children's film - Zedus is blown to pieces at the end which is gross but before that we see him eating hapless like chicken nuggets people multiple times throughout the film! 

Following the current trend for Japanese monster films to have better effects and more complicated storylines that may or may not work, this movie hits enough marks to be an enjoyable watch as long as you remember that it's a film about a giant flying turtle who is "the friend of the children". 


Monday, January 11, 2021

Poster project: Lon Chaney Jr's The Wolfman

 

Click image for larger version.

This was the one that started it all and almost anded it all. I tried several times to do a Wolfman illustration/poster over the years and never came close to getting anything close to what I envisioned. This is pretty far from what I going for back then, but I have been fairly successful or at least having enough fun with making monster poster more recently and gave Lawrence Talbot another go. 

I made a pretty detailed sketch based on quite a few reference images. I wasn't sure how much I wanted to show his shirt details and decided to try a style in-between the giant monsters and the classic horror monster posters. So mostly black and white wth hints of colour and still used the charcoal brushes in Krita  for the character. I used some brushes in Affinity photo and modified a 3 moon image I made a long while back which I painted over. The logo is from the opening credits of the film and remade in Affinity Designer. 

Despite the references I have myself  much more liberty to use my own imagination in the pose, details and lighting than in previous projects. Sadly the TONS of detailed I put into the fur on the head is now hidden in shadow but it looks better this way in my opinion. 

This one has a true "move poster" vibe to it. 


Sunday, January 10, 2021

poster project: King Kong (1933)

 


 I love the original King Kong, it was my Aunt Helen's favourite movie. She saw it many times when it was released. The looks of the creatures and the jungle scenes are just amazing and Kong is one of the few effects that really reads as a real character even today. 

This went through something like 30 iterations before I stopped changing things. Should Fay Ray be on the top of the Empire State? Should I draw the planes coming for Kong? At first it was to be just a long shot of the Empire State with kong seen tiny at the top and the planes arriving.  Finally after going though the film a few times I saw some interesting shots I had not seen used before and decided a mostly silhouetted Kong hanging off the building inspired by the screenshots and Willis O'Brian's preproduction drawings with an art deco design inspired by the opening credits might be best. 

The logo was interesting. It looks normal enough watching the film but if you start to recreate it it's sort of Escher-like in its construction. The letters looked carved but actually could never exist in the real world. I drew a simplified version of the tower and kept Kong mostly black with white highlights and some subtle dark greys to fill in details around his face. I looked at how the stop motion puppet was constructed to draw the feet and hands. 

There were a bunch of RKO logos in the 30s and I picked one that looked the most interesting with the other deco details. I added grain to the background elements so it would have that airbrushed from the period but excluded Kong and the titles so they would be super clear and stand out more. All things considered I am happy with this as it looks like what I was going for and combined my drawing and design skills in equal measure. I think so, anyway. I struggled with where to to put the title as it was on the bottom and small for most of the process and I did not want to cover his upper hand but it fits more on the top and larger and gives it more a feel of a poster from the time the film was released. 

A good start for 2021!

Monday, January 4, 2021

2021 Another Year in the Slammer

 I have been thinking seriously about the future of Celluloid slammer. Should it expand? Should it continue at all? 

Expanding might include a podcast or youtube channel, either would be a lot of work and cost more than zero dollars. Should I have Patreon? Not just for here but for the rest of my work including films, animations and artwork? 

We don't have a million followers here but a few that seem to read each post so my question to them and anyone out there is  - what do you think should happen? Let me know in the comments.

Speaking of comments, there are not many of them, just a few time to time which is OK but we do have trolls who post here and recently at my other site. Hard not total these things personally and keeping on top of deleting them is sometimes a chore. They are inane sexist rants about nothing or sometimes just some random post with a link to some random site in them. 

If anyone wants to join the Slammer and write posts, I'm more than open and that could help expand into you tube idea. There were ton of writers here for the first 7 or years and then a couple and now it's just me in solitary confinement, which to be fair is my favourite kind of confinement, but it makes for less voices talking about film and related topics here. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Poster: Creature of the Black Lagoon

  


Click images to see larger versions.

Still not sure how successful this is but it is a much more fully realized illustration I think. It has background and foreground elements and isn't as graphic design oriented as my giant monster  or sci-fo posters. Again done in Krita and charcoal brushes and too about 25 hours of drawing time. There are many details hard to see unless you are close up to it, like the texture on the creature's skin. I used  the blending stump brush like I did with real charcoal sticks on paper. I drew the underwater weeds over and over again, simpler versions just didn't look right. The sketch was a good guide even though I changed some details like how the swimmers foot was postitioned. For something like this I make a detailed sketch so I can make a grey silhouette and then add shadows, highlights and details and the drawing seems to push itself out of the canvas as I draw. The bubbles etc were just freehand with no plan. I just kept at them until it looks OK to me.  

I looked through the film for references and used bits and pieces as inspiration but I have found the clearest references were photos people took of models made of the monster. The film is burry and grainy and the details are often obscured, especially with the pose I was looking to use. I wish I had unlimited funds to buy some of these toys so I could play with more poses myself. 

I love the costume from this movie. It's one of the best monster design out there and rivals Lon Chaney Jr's Wolfman make-up. It is really well thought out and detailed. The eyes look a little too painted on in some shots but it works