Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church

While volunteering at the PAHRC I went through parish monthly calendars (essentially church bulletins) for hundreds of parishes. While I didn't go through each page of these calendars, there was one parish that stood out. Church of the Holy Infancy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania showed "motion pictures" each Sunday in a parish building. Here is the first article announcing the showing of these movies from October, 1926.


The Catholic Church has had an interesting relationship with cinema over the last century so I find it fascinating that this Church was showing movies every week, and on a Sunday no less! Over the course of several years, most issues of this calendar list the movies shown each month. So for my next installments of Tales from the Archives I'll put up these listings of movies and do a little research on those films. What movies were they watching at this Church? Did these films feature any famous actors? Do any of these motion pictures survive or are they lost? Find out starting next Thursday! Sunday is the weekly wrap-up as usual.

A condensed version of my Tales from the Archives series has been posted at the Archives official blog! Check it out here: PAHRC

Monday, September 26, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (9/25)

Ed Wood
Prior to viewing Ed Wood I had seen some Tim Burton movies I liked (Beetlejuice, Batman) and some I didn't like (Planet of the Apes remake, Mars Attacks). So far Ed Wood is by far his best that I have seen. I have only seen one Ed Wood movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and thought it was terrible. However as somebody who watches a lot of bad movies, I wouldn't call it the worst movie ever made as did have some fun, campy moments. The absolute worst movies ever made are so boring they are almost unwatchable. A few of Wood's movies were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, although I haven't seen those episodes yet. Getting back to the movie in question, Ed Wood blew me away. Martin Landau put in an amazing performance as Bela Lugosi and certainly deserved his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role that year. Johnny Depp was incredible as the titular character and how he didn't get an Oscar nomination is beyond me. Depp is a versatile actor and it is a shame that he didn't get an Oscar nomination until Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp has gotten a lot of wacky cartoon type character roles after the popularity of his Jack Sparrow character but he has great range as an actor and can do much more than that. Bill Murray and Jeffrey Jones are a lot of fun in supporting roles. Although the movie is about Ed Wood, people associated with him such as Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Criswell, Tor Johnson, Bunny Breckinridge all led fascinating lives and could have biopic movies of their own!
While Ed Wood was a critical success (besides Landau's Oscar it also won best Makeup) it was a commercial flop. This isn't surprising as most people wouldn't think you could make a good movie about a guy who made a lot of bad movies, but Burton still managed to make a great film.
Like most biopics and movies based on historical people and events, Ed Wood features its share of historical inaccuracies. However this was part of Tim Burton's vision as he was trying to make the movie through the eyes of Ed Wood. I think it is possible for truth to rise out of fiction and I believe it happened in this movie. While the real Ed Wood never met Orson Welles, Ed Wood did indeed idolize Welles, so I felt the scene in which they met was necessary to the movie (also it could have been a daydream since we only see those two together). Plus I think anybody who watches the film would be compelled (like I was) to do some research on the real Ed Wood as well as the other people depicted in the film. Bela Lugosi never cursed or hated Karloff, and his later years were not quite as bad as depicted in the movie. However, I wonder if Burton did this because he didn't want show Ed Wood's later years. The film covers Wood's life from just before he made Glen or Glenda to just after Plan 9 from Outer Space and while those movies were not successes, his later years were quite depressing.
Wood often gets called the "worst director of all time" which is unfair considering what he had to work with and that he never was able to focus on director since he also wrote, produced, and even acted in his films. Some people claim that the movie is too positive about Wood but since he usually gets slammed, I thought the way portrayal of Wood was fine. The film does have plenty direct criticisms of Wood like his refusal to do more than one take. Wood's optimism blinds him to these critiques and Depp sells it so well that I really wanted Wood to succeed, even though I knew that is not what actually happened.
Ed Wood was filmed in Black and White which was a great idea. Not only does it work for the atmosphere, it also gives us a hilarious meta joke in the scene in with the camera man is asked to pick a dress by color, but can't because he is color blind!
The film gives the sense that Ed Wood really loved to make movies, and from what I have read about the real Ed Wood, this certainly seems to be true. Wood didn't have the best resources but still did what he loved and for that he should be praised. It doesn't make Plan 9 from Outer Space a good movie, but the fact that people still talk about the movie and that it has almost 1,000 more votes on IMDB than Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder which came out the same year (1959) and was nominated for 7 Oscars counts for something. Plenty of people have made bad movies and didn't care about the final product, but Ed Wood did care, even though his movies weren't that good. And you have to admire the guy for giving Bela Lugosi work in his later years. Even though Lugosi was older and working with inferior material, he was still having fun being an actor as you can see from the clips on YouTube.
When it comes down to it, Ed Wood is not only about the man, but about artistic vision and creative expression. And that is why the film transcends its subject matter to be inspirational to all of us.
"Visions are worth fighting for. Why live your life making someone else's dreams?"
I think I've said enough about this movie as I can, watch it now!

Say Anything... (1989)
After watching Jerry Maguire last week I decided to see another Cameron Crowe movie. I liked Jerry Maguire a little better than this one, probably because of the sports angle, but Say Anything was still a solid movie.
John Cusack does a good job of playing Lloyd Dobler, an off-beat oddball who becomes obsessed with Diane Court. Diane's father, James Court, is played by John Mahoney (Martin Crane on Fraiser) and has a close relationship to his only daughter. Mr. Court is an interesting character as his life is falling apart (divorced, being investigated for doing bad business by FBI, only daughter about to leave home for college on fellowship) while Lloyd is wooing his daughter, and in way taking her away from him. Lloyd's sister is played by Cusack's real life sister, Joan. I always think its pretty cool when real relatives play relatives in movies and their relationship reminded me of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko.
Crowe is a good writer and does a great job with dialogue and creating interesting characters. The film is a dramedy as it is more introspective than most teen movies, but still humorous.
The scene with Cusack holding the boombox and playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" is iconic and certainly memorable. Although when it comes to famous scenes in Crowe movies I still prefer "Show me the money!" or any scene with Spicoli and Mr. Hand.
The movie features cameos by Kim Walker (Heather Chandler from Heathers who essentially plays the same character!) and Jeremy Piven who is a real life friend of John Cusack.
Overall I liked them film as it was well written and Cusack's Lloyd was a fascinating character. While I wanted to know if the couple would end up together, the movie still didn't really grab me. Sure Mr. Court doesn't like Lloyd as he sees his daughter less because of him, but Mr. Court doesn't seem to hate Lloyd either since Diane is never forbidden to see/talk to him. Perhaps there could have been more tension in Lloyd and Mr. Court's relationship.
While Crowe had writing credits for other movies prior to this one, Say Anything was his directorial debut and its a nice first film. Crowe is certainly a good writer, but the last two movies I saw by him just aren't really my thing. I still want to see Almost Famous as I've heard that is Crowe's best. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is still my favorite movie that he has written.
Crowe might not be my favorite director, but all of his movies I've seen so far have awesome pop/rock soundtracks, which is definitely a good thing!


Major League
This weekend Moneyball came out. Although I am a huge baseball fan who loved the book and heard the movie is getting great reviews, I haven't seen it yet. Instead I finally got around to seeing Major League! It's actually sort of a fictional comedy version of Moneyball as both films are about small market baseball teams who go on improbable playoff runs. Major League was written and directed by David S. Ward, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for The Sting. While many comedies often put their effort into jokes, Major League focuses on the story and characters first, and lets the humor fall into place from there. The characters are interesting and likeable, which makes you root for them to win. Wesley Snipes is mostly known for action and dramatic roles in recent years, but he did a good job of pulling off a fun character. Besides Snipes, Major League also helped launch the careers of Charlie Sheen and Dennis Haysbert (Allstate Insurance commercial guy). Famous Milwaukee Brewers announcer Bob "Mr. Baseball" Uecker plays the Indians announcer and he was great. Major League is a lot of fun although perhaps a bit derivative and predictable in spots. However, it is still one of the better sports-comedy movies out there. I just want to know why this movie has two sequels? And there is even news that Charlie Sheen wants to make a fourth movie!
I have read that there is an alternate ending for Major League that was intended to be the original ending but changed after reviews from test audiences. I won't say what happens but I think they should have kept that ending. The other ending isn't that different, but makes a little more sense and would have been a cool twist.

Death at a Funeral
This movie is the American remake of 2007 British film. I love the original, but figured I should still see both. I still don't see why the remake was necessary as the humor of the original was universal and not overly "British." Just release the 2007 film in American theaters!
Unlike the original, the remake has lot of pop culture references which will date the film. Now that I think about it, the Amy Winehouse joke is already dated! We also have musical cues that tell us when to laugh, which the British film did not need. This movie made a few other changes, I guess so it wouldn't be a carbon copy of the original even though it is still the same basic story. For example, Aaron (Chris Rock) and wife are trying to conceive a child. We also have Ryan (Martin Lawrence) hitting on an 18 year old girl at the funeral. In the original every subplot related directly back to the family reuniting at the funeral. Both these subplots felt shoved in just to add something new, even though there is already enough going on in the movie.
The cast is hit or miss. Danny Glover and Ron Glass (Firefly) were great but Tracy Morgan and Martin Lawrence put in weak performances. Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the midget from the original film. The part was initially written for someone of normal height, but Dinklage auditioned and got the role! Dinklage recently on an Emmy award for his work on the TV show Game of Thrones. While I haven't seen that show he was great in both versions of this movie and I'll have to see more of his work.
The remake sticks close enough to the original story. It is still funny even though its not as good as the original. There are far worse comedies out there, but please watch the original 2007 British film as it is one of the funniest and well-written comedies made in recent years.

Double Team (1997)
Double Team is a 90s action movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme and the outrageous basketball player Dennis Rodman. I have no idea who decided to let Dennis Rodman become an actor, let alone put these two together, but that person should be fired from the film business immediately. Dennis Rodman won three Razzie awards for being in this turkey: Worst New Star, Worst Supporting Actor, and Worst Screen Couple which he shared with Van Damme. Mickey Rourke plays the villain and he's actually not bad. The cast also includes Paul Freeman who is best known for playing Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark... oh how the mighty have fallen. The action scenes are decent but the acting by the two leads is terrible. The basketball one liners are so bad they are actually kinda funny. The plot doesn't make much sense but who cares, we have explosions and a lot of glass breaking for some reason! Oh and I could I forget the ridiculous amount of Coca-Cola product placement! Double Team is a great "so bad, it's good movie" as it is awful but still fun to watch. The ending features one of the most ridiculous action scenes in all of cinema and is worth watching for that alone. But unless you are a bad movie connoisseur like myself, just see the Nostalgia Critic's hilarious review here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tales from the Archives: Faith of an Actress

This week's installment of Tales from the Archives comes from a Parish Monthly Calendar dating from July of 1939. Here is the cover page:


Today's article is about a Catholic actress named Elinor Flynn who was in movies during the late 1920s and 1930s. Although the article says Flynn appeared in 39 films, she only has 5 credits on IMDB. I am guessing that this is because most of her movie roles were as bit parts that were uncredited. Flynn also did work on Broadway and radio. Sadly Flynn died at the age of 28 in an automobile accident. The article praises Flynn not only for her career, but also for her strong Catholic faith. Flynn is noted for saying the rosary every evening as well as making the sign of the cross before she went on stage. The article tells us that Flynn was a close friend of Rt. Rev. Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen, better known as Archbishop Sheen. Yes, this is the same Sheen who became famous as one of the first televangelists. His television show Life is Worth Living ran from 1951 through 1957 and drew tens of millions of viewers each week.


According to IMDB, (not the most reliable source as like Wikipedia anybody can edit it) she had an uncredited role in the pre-code comedy Let Us Be Gay starring Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler. This movie appears to be the only one featuring Elinor Flynn that is available on home video today, thanks to WB's Archive Collection. However I couldn't find a picture of her and since she is uncredited I would have a hard time proving for sure that she is in this film even if I was able to see it. I'm not sure if the other films have survived or not as I couldn't find information one way or the other. While most lost films are silents, there are also a good amount of early talkies that have been lost. Sometimes this can be even more frustrating as there are films we only have the audio for (sound discs) or only have the visuals and not the sound/dialogue. It wasn't until 1930 that studios went to the sound-on-film process.

IMDB: Elinor Flynn

Come back Sunday for the weekly wrap-up!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (9/18)

Note: This week I also watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Hands of Orlac. See my last post (blogathon entry) for an in-depth review of those two films.

Jerry Maguire (1996)
This movie had some false advertising. While I liked how the film depicted the business aspect of sports, I didn't care for it when the movie shifted its focus to Jerry's relationship with his secretary. I admit that this is a matter of taste. I enjoyed the behind the scenes look at sports agents and the discussions about morals and integrity. These parts were pretty funny and gave us the film's most famous line: "Show me the money!" However, about a third of the way in the film it turned into a romantic comedy. Eventually the movie shifted its focus back to Jerry's relationship with his last remaining client, the football player Rod Tidwell. But by this point it was too little, too late despite a satisfying ending. To be fair, the romantic aspects were probably why the movie did so well financially. Those scenes were well written and acted, just not my cup of tea and not what I was expecting. I wanted to see more of Jerry working with sports stars and trying to change how agents operate. I knew from the beginning that Jerry would start a relationship with his secretary, I just thought it would be a sub-plot and not the focus of the movie. Tom Cruise created a fascinating character who is fun to watch and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading role. The movie also got Oscar nominations for best editing, best writing, and best picture.
Cruise wasn't the only bright spot when it came to acting as all the leads were good. Jerry Maguire helped launch the career of Renee Zellweger who played Dorothy Boyd, a struggling single mother who is Jerry's secretary and love interest. Cuba Gooding Jr. was Rod Tidwell and stole every scene he was in. Gooding even won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Tidwell's wife was played by Regina King who also put in a solid performance. Jay Mohr did well in a small role as the sleazy sports agent who betrays Jerry.

Jerry Maguire
is now 15 years old and the film is kinda dated since the contracts players get in 2011 are much more ridiculous than what we see here. Agents like Scott Boras ignore reality and make unreasonable contract demands, but somehow get teams to pay up anyway. If Jerry worked with guys like Boras he wouldn't just leave his company, he would leave the business!
There were tons of cameos by sports players and announcers. The movie even used archive footage from Monday Night Football which also added a sense of authenticity to the film.
Jerry Cantrell from the band Alice in Chains had a cameo as a copy store clerk, although I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because they couldn't fit Alice in Chains on an already great soundtrack. Or the simplest explanation: It was the 90s!
This is the first movie I have seen directed by Cameron Crowe. However, I have watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High and its pseudo-sequel The Wild Life which were both written by Crowe. Crowe is certainly a good writer and his directing for this film was fine as well.
Overall I would recommend Jerry Maguire, just be aware that this is a chick flick disguised as sports-comedy movie.

Time Chasers
aka Tangents (1994)
This Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode has good riffs and host segments. Time Chasers is perfect for MST3K as it is bad, but still watchable. Although the movie has poor acting, editing, and directing, the time travel story wasn't as bad as I expected. The ending even reminded me of the Denzel Washington movie Deja Vu (2006). There were some good ideas here which were ruined by poor execution. Time Chasers is one of those "so bad, its good movies" that are fun to watch with a group of friends. It is also one of the better movies featured on MST3K, which isn't saying much I guess!
Time Chasers was filmed in 1990 but not released until 1994. The movie finally broke even financially when MST3K featured the movie as an episode! The cast and crew of the movie had a reunion party to watch the first airing of the MST3K episode. While some people involved with making the movie took it with stride, others were not amused. What were they expecting?! I'm guessing some of them had not seen MST3K before. The Time Chasers MST3K can be seen on YouTube.
There were a ton of great riffs but I'll pick just one: "I'll WALK back to the past!" - Tom Servo

Friday, September 16, 2011

Juxtaposition Blogathon: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Hands of Orlac

This week is the Juxtaposition Blogathon over at Pussy Goes Grrr. I will be discussing the silent films The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and The Hands of Orlac (1924). Both of these German films were directed by Robert Wiene and star Conrad Veidt. This post will serve as my film topic post for the week.


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
is very well known so I'll try to keep it brief before getting to
The Hands of Orlac and comparing the two films. Caligari is known for being one of the first films to feature a framing story as well as a twist ending. However, I have read that both the framing story and twist ending were not in the original script and it was changed because the film could be read as a critique of German politics at the time. I won't give spoilers, but I do think the framing story and ending hammer home the themes of the film such as dreams vs. reality, sanity vs. insanity, control (of others and being controlled), and obsession. The ending is still up to some interpretation thanks to the cryptic last line made by the doctor. Caligari is best known for its expressionist sets. The set design is still pretty fresh and fascinating to watch since we don't see sets and art design like this much anymore, with the main exception being Tim Burton movies.
I saw the TCM version of Caligari which uses music by Timothy Brock. The score was great and fit perfectly with film.


The Hands of Orlac is about a concert pianist named Paul Orlac who loses his hands in a train accident. However, Paul receives replacement hands from a convicted murder after an experimental surgery. In this sense Orlac could be considered the first body horror film. Paul now has to deal with the loss of his hands, which are directly tied to his identity as a pianist. Paul also has the guilt of now having the hands of a murderer, which causes him to lose his ability to be a master pianist. The film features the motif of hands, even before the accident, such as the love letter Paul writes to his wife where he says he can't wait to touch her hair and feel her body with his hands. There were some great scenes such as the knife hidden inside piano (combining the tool of a pianist with the tool of a murderer). We also see Paul discovering his wedding ring no longer fits his new hand and that his hand writing is now different, furthering his perceived loss of identity.


The TCM version uses music by Paul Mercer. The unsettling score fit the film well although it dragged at times. While I really liked Orlac, its pacing was a little too slow and the film was longer than needed to be since the story could have been told in less than 110 minutes.
Orlac has a twist ending which I didn't see coming, but tied together all the loose ends. I still would have liked to have known why Mr. Orlac hated his son Paul, although to be fair that was not the main part of the story.

Juxtaposition time:
Both Caligari and Orlac are silent horror films that share the same director (Robert Weine) and actor Conrad Veidt. Another similarity is that both films have been re-made at least three times each. Caligari was re-made as recently as 2005 as a talking version that made use of a green screen to merge the original backgrounds into the new movie. Orlac was first re-made in 1935 as Mad Love starring Peter Lorre.
Both of these films have twist endings. While Orlac does a better job of wrapping things up, I like how Caligari is a bit more mysterious with its ending.
Perhaps the reason for this is that Caligari runs a sleek 71 minutes while Orlac is over 40 minutes longer. However we do get to see a lot more of Veidt in Orlac than in Caligari and while he was great in both he gets to shine as the lead in Orlac.


Caligari is much more well known today than Orlac. Although it is impossible to say why, I think it is because of Caligari's expressionistic sets and more fantastical tone. Orlac is darker than Caligari and even though they are both horror films its more grim and depressing. Orlac is not just darker in tone, but literally as the films plays with shadows and light to set the mood. Caligari makes frequent use of fade ins/outs which Orlac uses sparingly. While both are generally said to be German films, I do want to point out that Orlac was actually an Austrian-German production as it was filmed in Austria. Caligari is in public domain in the US and can be found all over the internet, but there are also several DVD versions. Orlac is also available on DVD by Kino.


The backgrounds and set design for Orlac are dreary and gothic as opposed to the more unrealistic and whimsical sets in Caligari. This brings me to two other points. Even though both films are considered to be from the horror genre, Orlac is more of a dark thriller than straight up horror. Orlac
is also usually said to be an Expressionist film. However, the dream sequence where Paul is haunted by the (now dead) murderer is really the only scene that could be considered expressionistic. Everything else is pretty realistic as we have city streets, trains, cars, and hospitals. While I won't get into the debate as to what films can be considered expressionist, and even if it was an actual movement in film, I do think that Orlac often gets put into this category simply because it shares Robert Wiene and Conrad Veidt from Caligari and is a German silent horror film from this era. Below is a picture of German director Robert Wiene.

Thanks for reading and please check out the other entries in the Juxtaposition blogthon! My next post will be the weekly wrap-up on Sunday. See you then!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (9/11)

The Thing from Another World (1951)
Although this movie was re-made in 1982 by John Carpenter, that film is not really a re-make as it simply goes back to the source material and follows the 1938 John W. Campbell, Jr. short story much closer than the 1951 version. Now that I have seen both films I prefer Carpenter's vision, but did enjoy both. The two films start from a similar premise but go in different directions. The 1951 movie puts more of an emphasis on a monster stalking the crew, while the 1982 version is about the replication of those at the station. Both movies have a claustrophobic feel plenty of paranoia. The main title screen of this movie was later re-used in Carpenter's version.
You can read the original short story here
Here is a good comparison of Campbell's novella, this movie, and the 1982 version: The Thing
Now that I am done comparing the Thing films, let's get to my thoughts on The Thing from Another World. The movies starts without any opening actor credits which is unusual for a film from this time period. The pacing is slow at first as it takes awhile for the military crew and scientists to find the spaceship trapped inside the ice. However after the creature entombed in ice is taken back to the station the pace picks up considerably and doesn't let up until the end. Although the love story was not necessary, it gave us some funny situations and the couple did have chemistry. Viewers never get a good look at the alien, and don't see the monster at all for most of the film, which is always a good idea. The concept of the alien being a sentient creature with a different biological make-up (plant based life form) was interesting. It was kinda silly when the crew referred to it as a carrot or vegetable, but the point is that this is a totally different type of life.
The scientist who want to keep the alien alive in order to study it, even if the alien kills people, reminds me of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from Alien and Aliens. I am sure both Ridley Scott and James Cameron saw this film, as well as other 50s science fiction/monster movies. The journalist, Scott, was good comic relief but also put in a different type of character from the military and scientists. This kept things fresh as his concerns, other than surviving, were different than the other characters he was surrounded by. The scene with the monster on fire was fantastic and is thought to be the first "full body burn accomplished by a stunt man." The music was good and helped sell the atmosphere. The movie was made during the Red Scare and the film incorporates a similar sense of paranoia with the scientists and military having different objectives. The use of the Geiger counter as a sensor to detect the creature was suspenseful and added the paranoia. There is a director controversy surrounding this film. Christian Nyby was credited as the director, but producer Howard Hawks is generally considered to have done extensive directing and writing for the film.
The Thing from Another World is one of the better 50s Sci-Fi/monster movies, but there are some much better ones (Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, etc.) The film still holds up pretty well today, especially considering how many bad monster movies there were from this era.

Them! (1954)
This movie starts out with a bang as we have a nice fast-paced opening chase scene. At first the story begins as a crime/mystery tale before delving into science-fiction and horror. Them! was a big influence on James Cameron's Aliens. The similarities include a young girl survivor similar to Newt, a strong female character who knows more about the monsters than the military men, Queen monsters, saving children from a monster nest near the end, and flamethrowers destroying big eggs. Cameron's take on the Xenomorphs posits them as more insect like than Ridley Scott envisioned in Alien and he clearly borrowed some ideas from this film.
Like any good monster movie, we don't see the giant ants at first, only the havoc they have caused. Them! is the first big bug movie. While this was a trend that mostly stayed in the 1950s, we have seen a few in recent years such as Tremors (1990), Arachnophobia (1990), Mimic (1997) Starship Troopers (1997) and Eight Legged Freaks (2002). I am also guessing there are some crappy Sci-Fi Channel original movies hailing from this sub-genre!
Them! was nominated for an Oscar for best special effects. The ants might seem a little hokey to modern audiences but still hold up better than a lot of 50s monsters. The movie was both a critical and commercial success as it was Warner Bros. top grossing film of 1954. The acting is solid, not by not only the leads, but even minor characters such as the girl who survived the ants. However, the story runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way through and like The Thing from Another World has some pacing issues.
The opening title is in color with B/W background. While this adds to the great beginning of the film, it was a hold over from when the movie was originally supposed to be made in color and 3-D but scrapped at the last minute.
The movie has several uses of the Wilhelm Scream. The famous sound effect was first used in a 1951 film so this is one of the earlier examples of the Wilhelm Scream before it became a fun cliche.
Leonard Nimoy has an uncredited one line cameo as an Air Force Sergeant in one of his earliest roles, but blink and you'll miss it.
deals with the nuclear fears of the time as that is how the ants grow to such an enormous size. This movie even came out same year as first Godzilla film which deals with a similar subject matter. The great final lines and closing shot hammer home this theme.
Them! is one of the better science fiction/monster movies from the 1950s and probably the best of the big bug sub-genre.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?
This movie was one of those really boring bad movies. The MST3K riffs were good, but the movie itself was god awful. This MST3K episode is from the 8th season, the first season on the Sci-Fi channel. I'm not even sure what this movie was about. There was a fortune teller, an amusement park, strippers, and a Torgo wanna-be named Ortega.
The more I think about this movie the more it hurts so I'll just jump to one of my favorite riffs: (as Jerry, Harold and Angie have fun) "Outtakes from the Manson family Christmas!" - Crow T. Robot

Weird Science
Weird Science doesn't have much of a plot. Two sex-starved teenage nerds somehow use a computer to create a woman who turns out to have magic powers and wants to help the boys lead normal lives. However, this doesn't really matter as it is essentially a version of Mary Poppins for 16 yr old boys. There is even a direct reference to Mary Poppins at the end when the house goes back to normal. The age gap between the boys and Lisa might bother some viewers, but since I saw it as Mary Poppins type thing with as she was trying to help them straighten out there lives it didn't really bother me. The title "Weird Science" comes from the name of the EC Comics Science Fiction comic and the movie is apparently loosely based on a story from those comics.
Weird Science is zany, wacky, over the top fun. It never takes itself too seriously (after a joke one of the main characters looks directly into the camera like Ferris Bueller). However, it doesn't become so silly that we don't care about the characters or don't wonder if Lisa will be successful in her mission to help the boys improve themselves.
I guess because of the use of the computer (and the references to Frankenstein) this movie has been labeled a sci-fi/comedy. However, fantasy/comedy would be more appropriate as Lisa is just as magical, if not more so, than Mary Poppins. This is a departure for John Hughes as the movies he directed (and wrote) were usually grounded in the real world such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Uncle Buck and others. I must admit that this was better made (directing, camera work, special effects) than I would have expected, probably because John Hughes was at the helm. Kelly LeBrock was great as Lisa. Even though she probably got the role mostly for her body, she brings a confidence to the character that along with her powers and looks makes her quite memorable
Anthony Michael Hall had a ton of roles as nerds in the 80s. He eventually broke this typecasting in recent years (The Dead Zone TV show) but was still a precursor of sorts to current actors such as Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse who are the movie teenage nerds of today.
Vernon Wells has a cameo where he plays "Lord General" who is basically his character from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Bill Paxton and Robert Downey Jr. have supporting roles and its fun to see them here after watching their other work. We even have a quick clip featuring Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth! As fans of these actors it made this movie even more enjoyable to me. I also loved the eclectic 80s music (Oingo Boingo who performed the title track, Ratt, Killing Joke, etc.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tales from the Archives: Movie-Fan Addict

This week's installment of Tales from the Archives comes from a Parish Monthly Calendar dating from August of 1940. Here is the cover page:

There are two related articles within this calendar on the topic of children watching movies. Both articles are fascinating as they show that children were a large demographic of the movie-going public in 1940. I've heard some people say that movie audiences are younger in 2011 than ever before, but I'd like to see some data to back that up. The first article not only says kids see a lot of movies, but that they are going by themselves without parents/families. Where the first article brings up religion and morals, the second article is secular as it is about a doctor discussing the effects of movies on children. The doctor says that constant movie watching may cause youngster to be high strung and want to be "always on the go." I find this fascinating as we often here this argument today, not only with movies but with video games as well.

Come back Sunday 9/11 for the Weekly Wrap-Up. My article for the Juxtaposition Blogathon will follow a day or two later.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Juxtaposition Blogathon Announcement (Sept. 12 - 16)

In case you did not see the banner on the right hand side, I will be participating in the Juxtaposition blogathon at Pussy goes Grrr next week! I will be discussing the silent films The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and The Hands of Orlac (1924). Both of these Expressionist films were directed by Robert Wiene and star Conrad Veidt. I haven't seen either film before and have been meaning to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for some time now. The Hands of Orlac is the lesser known of the two, but has been re-made a few times.


So far I should be on the same schedule with a film topic post on Thursday and the weekly wrap-up on Sunday. Since I will be doing an in depth post on these two films for the Juxtaposition blogathon I won't be including them in the weekly wrap-up except mentioning that I saw them. I'll try to get the blogathon post up on Monday or Tuesday of next week. I might not get a film topic post up next week, but we'll see what happens.


Speaking of blogathons, I've finally had a chance to see a couple of films that were discussed in the 50s Monster movies blogathon that I hadn't seen before! Look for my thoughts on those films in this Sunday's weekly wrap-up.

And just to get it out of my system before the Juxtaposition blogathon since I'm an MST3K fan, Manos: The Hands of Orlac!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (9/4)

The Purple Rose of Cairo
This is first Woody Allen film I've ever seen. I had heard of this movie awhile ago and thought the plot was interesting so I put it on my "to see" list without even knowing it was written and directed by Woody Allen. Since I love the concept of fantasy vs. reality I thought that The Purple Rose of Cairo would be a good introduction for me to Allen's movies. To be fair I have seen two shorts plays written by Woody Allen and did see clips from Annie Hall in a film class, but until now hadn't actually seen a full film made by the man.
The story is about a movie character who walks off the silver screen and falls in love with a woman of the 1930s. The acting from the two leads (Jeff Daniels in a dual role and Mia Farrow) is great and even the secondary actors all put in solid performances. Of course they have great material to work with as the writing is top-notch and filled with witty dialogue
This film feels like a stage play at times and certainly reminded me of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Exit. Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. is said to be a major influence on this film, although I actually haven't seen that classic yet. Pleasantville (1998) is sort of reverse of this film as those characters spend most of the movie in the "TV world." Oddly enough Jeff Daniels is in both films. And while I'm at it, Last Action Hero (1993) has a similar sort of premise although it obviously takes the concept in a different direction.
The Purple Rose of Cairo did a good job recreating the time period of the Great Depression from the acting to costumes to the music. However, the use of the word "douche bag" as an insult does not sound like 1930s slang to me!
The concept of a character meeting the actor who plays him is a great idea and it is executed perfectly. It might have been cool if Tom showed up in Black and White while in the real world and Cecilla appeared in color in the movie world, but maybe that would have been too expensive/difficult to pull off at the time. This is just a thought as I felt it worked fine as is since the film was trying to contrast Black and White with Color.
Allen received an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Written for Directly for the Screen which was certainly deserved. It did not win, but was in some damn good company with Brazil and Back to the Future who were also nominated, but also lost out to Witness. I liked Witness but how the Academy didn't give the award to one of these other three films that year boggles my mind.
Getting back on track, I thought that the ending was great and fit perfectly with the themes of the film, although I can see why some people wouldn't like it. 
The Purple Rose of Cairo is short for a feature film (82 minutes) and there is some filler. While the film could have used a little more meat, I'm just glad it wasn't padded with fluff by the studio to be 90 minutes.
I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record by this point, but the film looks great in HD! Sure its not a special effects blockbuster that needs to look amazing, but its a lot of fun to see little films like this with excellent visual (and audio) quality.


Lost Continent (1951)
Lost Continent was featured on a second season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 which is how I saw this movie. Although MST3K was still coming into its own by this point, what I have seen of the second season is surprisingly good and this episode is not an exception. To sum it up, the riffs are good but this is a boring bad movie. The plot is that a crew on a rescue mission land on a mysterious island and get into "adventures" with natives and dinosaurs while trying to find the lost rocket ship. The endless rock climbing sequences are what everyone remembers about this movie and they are mind numbingly boring. It was interesting to see actors Caesar Romero (Joker on the 60s Batman TV Show), Hugh Beaumont (Dad on Leave it to Beaver), and John Hoyt (prolific character actor in TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits as well as movies such as X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and much more) work together although they mostly climbed rocks, took breaks from rock climbing, and watched dinosaurs fight. I watched this with a group of friends so maybe I missed some plot elements but not much happened. While I have seen movies that are even more boring (Red Zone Cuba, Snowbeast), this one is up there. Sometimes I can enjoy the movie along with the riffs like Overdrawn at the Memory Bank or Space Mutiny but I couldn't get into this as a film at all and just kept waiting for the next funny riff. The host segments on MST3K are often hit or miss, but all the ones in this episode are pretty funny, particularly the one with Mike Nelson as Hugh Beaumont/Ward Cleaver.
Here is my favorite riff, although there were plenty of good ones:
"Hey we landed on a witch! Maybe the film will be in color from this point!"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tales from the Archives: James K. Hackett Follow-up Research

Today's film topic post is a follow-up to last week's Tales from the Archives post about stage and silent film actor James K. Hackett. From now on I will be also posting these entries on the Archives blog! PAHRC Blog
I will also be using the scanner at the Archives so the pictures I use in future articles will be of high quality! I am really looking forward to this as it will be the best possible way to present my research.

In last week's Tales from the Archives post I mentioned that a copy of the James K. Hackett film The Prisoner of Zenda (1913) is supposedly held at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.The Eastman House is the oldest museum dedicated to photography as well as one of the world's oldest film archives. The Eastman House holds over 25,000 motion picture titles as well as over 3 million artifacts in their collection of stills, posters, and papers.
IMDB is not exactly a reliable source, and there is already a lot of misinformation out there regarding silent era films so I wanted see if I could verify whether or not The Prisoner of Zenda (1913) does indeed survive at the Eastman House. I sent an e-mail to the Head of Cataloging and Access (Jared Case) in the Eastman House's Motion Picture Department who was happy to tell me that the film is indeed in the Eastman House archives and was preserved in the 1970s. Stills from the film can even be ordered from their website. Not only that, but for a small fee the film is available to watch at the Eastman House!
George Eastman House


While I was at it, I decided on a whim to ask if any of Hackett's other films were located at the Eastman House. I could not find any information about them besides their IMDB listings, so I just assumed they were lost but figured it couldn't hurt to ask. I was surprised when Mr. Case informed me that there was a listing for "a fragment" of Hackett's film Ashes of Love (1918) at the Library of Congress! He forwarded me what little information he had, but when I searched the Library of Congress website I couldn't find any listing for this film. I then contacted the Library of Congress to get to the bottom of this new mystery. I got a response from Mike Mashon, Head of the Moving Images Section (Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division at the Library of Congress. Mr. Mashon told me that the reason I was unable to find a listing was because many of the holdings at the Library of Congress are not findable online, including "everything derived from nitrate" such as Ashes of Love. According to the LOC records, they have "one reel of what seems to be a six reel film" but it doesn't indicate which one of the six reel they have. The reel is available to be viewed at the LOC reading room in Washington D.C.

It was great able to confirm that The Prisoner of Zenda exists at the Eastman House. I was pleasantly surprised that any of Ashes of Love survives.There is almost no information about the film and as you saw it my last post, I just believed it was completely lost. Both copies of these films may be the only ones that still survive. This proves never know what you will find in archives, museums, and libraries. The records for nitrate films at the Library of Congress need to be updated, so who knows what hidden gems they have that nobody knows about.
Someday I would like to visit both the Eastman House and the Library of Congress as they sound like fascinating places. It would be interesting to see these films, especially Ashes of Love since we don't even know which reel survives at the LOC. Who knows, as someone pursuing a career in archival studies I may one day get a job at one of these places! That would certainly be a dream job for me as I'd be able to combine my passion of history with my interest in films.

On Sunday 9/4 I'll post the next weekly wrap-up.