Monday, December 24, 2012

Carol for Another Christmas (1964)

Carol for Another Christmas
I am a big fan of the Twilight Zone, and while it is Rod Serling's most famous creation, he also did a lot of other writing for TV and film. Carol for Another Christmas was written by Rod Serling and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Cleopatra, and Sleuth, among other films). This 1964 TV movie special was produced by the Xerox Corporation to promote the United Nations and is a modern re-telling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
As a version of A Christmas Carol it is quite different than most I've seen. While we still have the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and the Scrooge character (named Daniel Grudge) played by Sterling Hayden, there is no Jacob Marley or Tiny Tim. Instead Grudge has some live-in servants and a son who died in the war. As a Rod Serling fan this certainly feels like an extended Twilight Zone episode. Unfortunately it is too preachy at times, probably because it was made for the United Nations. Still it is an well made and interesting to watch as a product of its era, especially since it hadn't aired in 48 years before being shown on TCM this December.
Besides Sterling Hayden, the cast includes Peter Sellers (who would star in Dr. Strangelove with Hayden which also came out in 1964), Pat Hingle, Ben Gazzara, and Eva Marie Saint.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bad Christmas Specials

I'm back! Time to take a break from your regularly scheduled programming to talk about some crappy Christmas themed TV specials!

He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985)
This will probably come as a surprise to most, but the The He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special is not that bad, especially considering the next two specials. Some children from Earth are stranded in the mystical world of Eternia with only He-Man, She-Ra, and Christmas cheer to protect them! This special is pretty silly but still enjoyable for what it is. The scenes in which Skeletor shows his Christmas spirit are hilarious and those parts alone make this special worth watching. I've only seen a couple episodes of He-Man, but this is pretty much what you would expect, cheesy 80s fun.

Christmas Comes to Pac-Land (1982)
Everything had a Saturday morning kids show in the 1980s: Rubik's Cube, Rambo, and even Pac-Man! Christmas Comes to Pac-Land originally aired in 1982 and this special hasn't aged well after thirty years. The special is a spin-off of the show, so if you have only played the video game you'll probably be surprised to see that Pac-Man's wife is named Pepper (who I guess is not Ms. Pac-Man?!) and that the couple have a child aptly named Pac-Baby. Apparently the show did a good job of cashing in on the success of Pac-Man and early 80s arcade games as it lasted two seasons and besides this Christmas special there was also a Halloween special. The Pac-Man show originally aired on ABC. A year after its premiere, rival network CBS came up with their own Saturday morning cartoon featuring video game characters titled Saturday Supercade. As for the actual special, Christmas Comes to Pac-Land is nothing more than an 80s artifact. Not even talented and prolific voice actors such as Peter Cullen and Frank Welker can make it interesting as Christmas Comes to Pac-Land is surprisingly boring. The Pac family fights the evil ghosts and helps Santa deliver toys on Christmas which is pretty much it for 22 minutes. If Christmas Comes to Pac-Land couldn't hold my attention I doubt overactive kids chowing down Fruit Loops even bothered to finish watching it. Kids in 1982 would've had more fun heading down to the local arcade and popping in some quarters to actually play Pac-Man.

Sonic Christmas Blast (1996)
Sonic the Hedgehog was so popular in the early 90s that the character headlined two TV shows airing at the same time! Sonic the Hedgehog aired on Saturday mornings at ABC. The show was surprisingly serious and dark for a kid's cartoon as it focused on Sonic as a freedom fighter in a post-apocalyptic world and in my opinion, certainly the better of the two. The other show, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, had a much lighter tone and aired weekdays in first-run syndication. Sonic Christmas Blast was a spin-off of the second show, despite a non-speaking cameo by Sally Acorn who was a character from the Saturday morning show. Although Sonic Christmas Blast managed to keep me interested more than the Pac-Man special, it was much more annoying. The voices of Dr. Robotnik's robots are irritating and Sonic's quest to attain "ultimate velocity" has nothing to do with the main plot of Santa being kidnapped and replaced by a robot. The animation is better than that of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, which isn't saying much considering how cheap and lazy that show was animated. Although Sonic Christmas Blast is nowhere near as boring as Christmas Comes to Pac-Land, you are better off just sticking with the video games for both.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December Schedule Update

As you can see I haven't made any posts in about a month. I got busy with classes and work and simply didn't get around to it. I plan on getting things back on track in a few weeks when my classes are over and my job is less hectic. Some of the reviews you can look forward to are: a movie that came out this year, an animated film that was nominated for an Oscar in that category, and several bad movies! My Tales from the Archives series will return as well, though I may change the day of the week for that series of posts. See you soon!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dracula (1992)

Today is Bram Stoker's 165th birthday so its a perfect time for this post! I had actually seen Bram Stoker's Dracula (this movie's full title, apparently for legal reasons) before in high school around the time I read the book for a class. However it has been a while since I last saw it and I've actually read the book again since.

The main thing I remembered from watching it years ago was that Keanu Reeves has a terrible British accent. And upon re-watching Dracula his accent is just as bad as I remember! To be fair Reeves does a decent job expressing the confusion and unpreparedness Jonathan Harker faces while meeting Dracula in Transylvania. The main problem is that every time he opens his mouth he sounds like his character Ted from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure attempting a British accent. Other than Keanu, the rest of the cast is very good with Gary Oldman dooing an amazing job in the title role. Anthony Hopkins is a little over the top but fun as vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, and Winona Ryder plays Jonathan Harker's independent fiancee, Mina Murray. Monica Belluci, who was in the last movie I wrote about (Shoot 'em Up), has a small role as one the female vampires who attempt to seduce Jonathan Harker at Castle Dracula.

I really liked how the movie managed to keep the epistolary form of the book by showing us characters writing letters, composing diary entries, making phonograph recordings, etc. There is also a scene done in the style of early movie camera, which while a bit ahead of this time period technology wise with color film, looks great. The visuals in Dracula are fantastic and the best part of the movie, though the makeup, costumes, and special effects look great as well. The practical effects hold up nicely after 20 years, just another reminder that CGI isn't perfect. Dracula won three Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Makeup. It was also nominated for Best Set Decoration.

The pacing could have been better, but keep in mind that this is a long book and it would not be practical to film everything from it. The movie also features the backstory of how Dracula became a vampire with Mina being a reincarnation of his wife, which was not in Bram Stoker's novel. Despite this part being an invention of the film, it works here to make Dracula a somewhat sympathetic villain, include more tension with Mina, and to tie in with the historical figure Vlad the Impaler. Again, its been long time since I've read the book but overall this is a solid adaptation that also works well on its own.

I've seen several vampire movies, a few of which I've reviewed on this blog, but this is actually the only Dracula movie I've seen so I have some catching up to do in that department. Speaking of films I still need to see, the only Francis Ford Coppola movies I've watched are this one and Jack... So many movies, so little time!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shoot 'Em Up (2007)

Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
All I knew about Shoot 'Em Up before watching it was that it was an action movie released in 2007 starring Clive Owen. I had no idea what to expect, which when watching films can lead to great surprises or big wastes of time. Luckily Shoot 'Em Up ended up being tons of fun!
The opening scene sets the tone for the entire movie as we have a drifter, Smith, eating a carrot at a bus stop who then helps a pregnant woman being attacked by a hitman. Smith (Clive Owen) helps the woman give birth while being shot at (a bullet cuts the umbilical cord) then kills the hitman by stabbing him in the eye with a carrot! However, backup assassins arrive led by Karl Hertz (Paul Giamatti) who end up killing the woman. Smith escapes with the baby who tries to figure out why this woman was murdered and plan his next move, which involves getting help from a prostitute!

Shoot 'Em Up
is oodles of violence combined with over the top action and great one liners. This is what I was hoping Hobo with a Shotgun would be and while I liked that movie I doubt I'll ever watch it again due to its grim tone. I still need to see Grindhouse which came out the same year as Shoot 'Em Up. There is some cool gun play like somewhat similar to Wanted (2008) but think that type of action works better here.
Shoot 'Em Up is basically a grindhouse exploitation movie combined with live action Looney Tunes. The characters played by Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti certainly have a Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd type relationship and at one point their banter even leads to the phrase "Wascally Wabbit" being used!
This type of movie only works with a good cast who understand what the film is trying to accomplish and that is certainly what we have here. Clive Owen does a solid job as the lead. He had some great dialogue to work with his and the habit of eating carrots was pretty unique. Besides the zingers and quirks Owen does make us care about his character as well. Paul Giamatti was awesome as the villain, especially because I'm used to him playing nebbish supporting roles like in Paycheck. Giamatti crafts an interesting character in Hertz, who besides his goal of trying to kill a baby also disgusts the audience when he feels up a dead woman. Hertz has marital problems (not a huge surprise after reading that last sentence, right?) which were depicted through phone calls to his wife who we never actually see.

Italian actress Monica Belluci (best known to me as Persephone from The Matrix sequels) pulls off a fun but surprisingly nuanced performance as a hooker who specializes in lactation fetishes. Although she was in her early 40s when filming, it made sense to have her character the same age as Clive Owen and she still looks fantastic. Stephen McHattie plays a secondary villain named Hammerson who is in cohoots with Hertz. McHattie is a great character actor who shows up in tons of movies and TV shows with over 165 credits and counting on IMDB. He had recent memorable roles in 300 as a Loyalist and Watchmen as the first Nite Owl. I have refered to McHattie as "Not Lance Henriksen" since the two look alike and even played twin brothers once on the TV show Beauty and the Beast.
Shoot 'Em Up is not without its flaws. For example, the bone marrow and gun control subplots could've been tied together better. However, the movie makes up for it in sheer/pure entertainment value. I had a blast watching this with a bunch of friends who all enjoyed it.
Although Shoot 'Em Up did not perform well at the box office, I think that it is on the way to gaining a cult following. This movie isn't for everyone and is rated R for a reason. But if you are older than 17 and in the mood for a fun, sleazy action movie that never takes itself too seriously check it out!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church - Dec. 16th 1928

The schedule at the "Movie Church" for December 16th 1928 contained one feature film, Hold 'em Yale (1928), followed by the short films When a Man's a Prince (1926) and Matching Wits (1928).

Hold 'em Yale
(1928), like several of the films shown by this church, was produced by the DeMille Pictures Corporation. I wasn't able to find out if it survives or not so I'll have to assume it is a lost film. However, you can buy a framed print from the movie here!
The actor on the left in the above still from Hold 'em Yale is Rod La Rocque. Although he is sitting down in the picture, La Rocque stood a tall 6'3". La Rocque was an American actor who married the famous Hungarian silent film star Vilma Banky in 1927. Unlike a lot of marriages between movie actors, they stayed together until his death in 1969. La Rocque started appearing in films in 1915. He retired in 1941 to become a real estate broker. La Rocque received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry.

Another actor in the cast for Hold 'em Yale was Lawrence Grant. Grant was a British actor whose career started in the silent era and continued into the 1940s. He appeared in popular films such as Shanghai Express (1932), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), Werewolf of London (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). Grant hosted the 4th Academy Awards in 1931.

When a Man's a Prince (1926) was a short film starring silent film comedian Ben Turpin. The film still exists, but seems to be an incomplete version from a 1947 re-release. Turpin was cross-eyed due to an accident in his youth but managed to turn his affliction into a movie career. He even bought an insurance policy in case his eyes got uncrossed!
Turpin's earliest film credit goes all the way back to 1907. Turpin received what is believed to be the first instance of a comedian being hit with a pie in the face in the 1909 short Mr. Flip. In 1917 Turpin joined Mack Sennett's studio and became hugely popular in the 1920s. Many of his films were parodies of contemporary films and actors. For example, When a Man's a Prince pokes fun at Erich von Stroheim.
Turpin was a devout Catholic so I think he would've been happy that a Catholic Church showed his work.

Above is another picture of cross-eyed Ben Turpin as I couldn't find any pictures related to the final short!
Occasionally I will discover spelling errors in the titles of these schedules and we have another one this week as it should be Matching Wits (1928) not Matching Mits. Matching Wits was a Sport Pictorials production. Sport Pictorials were short documentaries on various sports which the company produced from 1921 thru 1929. This church showed Sport Pictorials shorts quite often. Two other series the Church liked to show a lot were Aesop's Fables and Our Gang, both of which I covered last week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church - Dec. 9th 1928

The schedule at the "Movie Church" for December 9th 1928 contained one feature film, The Wreck of the Hesperus (1927), followed by the short films Ride 'Em Cowboy (1928) and Seeing the World (1927).

The Wreck of the Hesperus was based on the 1842 narrative poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I can neither confirm or deny if the movie still survives so unfortunately I have to assume it is a lost film.
The Wreck of the Hesperus starred Canadian actor Sam De Grasse, pictured above in a still shot from the film, as the captain of the doomed Hesperus ship. Like many of the movies shown by this Church, The Wreck of the Hesperus was produced by the DeMille Pictures Corporation. Sam De Grasse appeared in several films that were directed by Cecil B. DeMille himself such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), and The King of Kings (1927).
De Grasse was known for playing villainous roles, such as Prince John opposite Douglas Fairbanks as the eponymous hero in Robin Hood (1922). De Grasse was also in the classic silent film The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Conrad Veidt.
De Grasse retired from the film industry shortly after the silent era ended and died in 1953 in his seventies. His grave says he was born in 1880 but IMDB and Wikipedia place his birth year as 1875 so I'm not sure which is correct as actors often lied about their ages.

The motion picture industry was the family business for Sam De Grasse as his brother was actor/director Joseph De Grasse (pictured above) and Sam's nephew was cinematographer Robert De Grasse. Joseph De Grasse was one of the founders of the Motion Picture Directors Association in 1915 along with John Ford and William Desmond Taylor. The Motion Picture Directors Association was a precursor to the present day Directors Guild of America. Joseph De Grasse directed about 90 films including The Scarlet Car (1917) which featured his brother Sam and starred Lon Chaney, Sr.
Robert De Grasse started his career in the early 1920s and continued working as a cinematographer into the 1960s. Robert De Grasse received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for Vivacious Lady (1938) which starred Ginger Rodgers and Jimmy Stewart. Robert De Grasse also worked on classic TV shows such as I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Program, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Slim Summerville was also in the cast of The Wreck of the Hesperus. Summerville was one of the original Keystone Cops, appearing in the first film of the famous series, Hoffmeyer's Legacy (1912). Summerville was mostly known for his comedy work. Besides the Keystone Cops Summerville appeared in other films with famous silent comedians Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. After the silent era Summerville continued to have supporting roles in "talkies" and made films until his death in 1946.
Summverville was able to take some more dramatic roles in "talkies" appearing in the classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the Western Jesse James (1939) which starred Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda. Summerville still tended to get comedic parts and was frequently paired in films with comedienne Zasu Pitts. Summerville was also in a couple of Shirley Temple movies such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). For his contributions to the film industry Summerville earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Another actor in The Wreck of the Hesperus was Alan Hale Sr. Like Sam de Grasse, Alan Hale Sr. was also in Robin Hood (1922), as Little John. I wrote more about Hale in a Tales from the Archives post from last December. Hale was the father of Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on the classic TV show Gilligan's Island.

Ride 'Em Cowboy (1928) was a cartoon in the Aesop's Fables series which this Church showed quite often. I don't know if this particular cartoon still survives, but there are some episodes of Aesop's Fables available on YouTube. I covered this animated series in depth with a post for the Short Animation blogathon so check it out here to find out more.

Besides Aesop's Fables, another series of short films this Church loved to show was Our Gang. Seeing the World (1927) was the 57th Our Gang short released. This Our Gang episode is notable for featuring Stan Laurel, one half of the famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have appeared in other films shown by this Church. Hal Roach created the Our Gang series and his studio also had Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy under contract which explains Laurel's appearance here. Seeing the World still exists and has even had a home video release.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
Based on the Frank Miller comic of the same name, which I highly recommend, this direct to video adaptation is the first half of the story. As a fan of the comic, I felt that this was a good idea as the book does feel like two stories that can easily be cut in half.

Peter Weller is great as an older Bruce Wayne who comes out of a ten year retirement to become Batman again in order to deal with the Mutant gang that has been menacing Gotham City. The rest of the cast also does a fine job. Voice acting veterans Frank Welker and Tara Strong provide additional voices. Batman: The Animated Series co-creator Bruce Timm has a brief role as Thomas Wayne.

It has been long time since I've read the comic but as an adaptation it seemed to hit all the right notes. The animation is nice and fits the style of the comic without being a carbon copy of the book's art. The Dark Knight Returns truly embraces the medium of film and isn't a motion comic. What this means is that the internal monologues of the comic as missing, but that is an essential change to turn it into a film. For example, there is one scene in the comic where Batman gets shot and thinks "Why do you think I wear a target sign on my chest" to reveal a bullet proof shield. Although we don't hear this line in the movie, we do see the shield when he gets shot at.

It seems that the intended audience of the movie is fans of the comic. While they probably won't be disappointed with the film version, I think they will still be more likely to re-read the book then re-watch the movie. Those who are new to the story should be able to jump right in, though it's probably helpful to have a basic knowledge of Batman coming into both the comic and the movie.
I wonder if we'll ever see a live action adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns. I wouldn't mind if that happened someday, though if this ended up being the only movie version I'd be fine with that.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 will be released in Winter of 2013.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Airport 1975 (1974)

Airport 1975
Despite the title, Airport 1975 actually came out in 1974. Airport 1975 is a sequel to Airport (1970) so why couldn't they just call it Airport II?
Disaster movies were extremely popular in the 1970s thanks in large part to the commercial success of the original Airport which was also nominated for 10 Oscars. Airport 1975 is the second of four films in the series, though this is the only one I've seen at the moment. Like the first Airport movie, Airport 1975 was a box office success and the sixth top grossing movie of 1974 behind a couple of other disaster movies, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake.
The basic plot of Airport 1975 is that a small plane crashes into a Boeing 747, killing and injuring the pilots. A flight attendant flies the plane with instructions from ground controllers but it is eventually decided that a real pilot must be brought in to land it.
Like most disaster movies of its time, Airport 1975 features a large ensemble cast. Pretty much everybody is in this movie such as Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Linda Blair, Nancy Olson, Erik Estrada, Norman Fell, Jerry Stiller, Gloria Swanson (as herself!), Myrna Loy (who has showed up in a couple of my Tales from the Archives posts), and many more.

Despite being a hit in its time, Airport 1975 is very dated with references, clothes, and politically incorrect jokes that make this a time capsule of the mid-70s. There is a lot of melodrama which at times makes it feel like a soap opera. Although this was a disaster movie, I never felt that these characters were ever in true danger. There are some scenes full of tension, like those with the flight attendant (Karen Black) being instructed on how to fly the plane, but others fall flat and can be boring. Airport 1975 is competently made with a lot of good actors but just ends up being mediocre and a product of its time.
Airport 1975
was directed by Jack Smight. Although this is the first of his movies I have seen, Smight directed four episodes of The Twilight Zone including The Lonely, a personal favorite of mine.
Airplane! (1980) would later parody disaster movies like this one. Although I already loved that comedy, I appreciate it even more after watching Airport 1975 since I got a better sense of what they were parodying. It was interested to see plot elements of this film that Airplane! would later go on to directly make fun of.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Judge Dredd (1995)

Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd is based on the comic of the same name. I have not read these comics so I'm judging it only as a movie and not an adaptation. I have heard that in the comics Dredd never takes his helmet off but in this movie he does. There are probably other differences that I'm not aware of but since I wasn't already familiar with the character and stories it didn't bother me.
Judge Dredd opens with a comic book introduction and while I'm sure this is not the first movie based on a comic to do so, it was still before the Marvel movies made this common. James Earl Jones provides the opening narration setting up the story though he is not actually in the movie.
Sylvester Stallone plays our title character who gets convicted for a crime he didn't commit and discovers that the law of the future is not as perfect as he used to think. The rest of the cast is solid with Diane Lane, Max von Sydow, and Jurgen Prochnow as other judges. Armand Assante is the main villain, Rico, who is a former Judge that was jailed for murder but breaks out of prison near the beginning of the film. It is later revealed that Rico has a connection to Dredd. I remember Assante as Odysseus in the enjoyable 1997 miniseries The Odyssey based on Homer's ancient Greek epic poem of the same name. Joan Chen plays scientist Dr. Ilsa Hayden who helps Rico. However, she doesn't do much as her character is just there to be evil and sexy.
Rob Schneider does a decent job as the comic relief. I generally liked his run on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s and Schneider had fun supporting roles in stuff like Home Alone 2 and Surf Ninjas even though those movies weren't very good.

Despite the fact that Judge Dredd is now over 15 years old, the special effects and Blade Runner-esque set design are surprisingly good. Practical effects, or those combined with CGI, always age better than CGI alone. Although the movie was a box office bomb, it had a big budget which shows. The overall look of both the dystopic city of the future (Mega City One) and the post-apocalyptic wasteland is the strongest aspect of the film. The action scenes are pretty fun but nothing groundbreaking or particularly memorable.
Stallone has a bunch of witty one liners such as "I'll be the judge of that!" My favorite humorous moment was when Dr. Hayden calls Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) a bitch and Hershey responds with the retort "Judge Bitch!" Of course the most well known dialogue from the movie is Dredd yelling "You betrayed the law!" at Rico who screams back "LAAAAAWWW!"
The satire seemed to have been toned down from the comics, though as I said earlier, I haven't read any yet. I wonder what someone like Paul Verhoeven would have done with the material as there were some thematic similarities to his films like RoboCop (which probably borrowed some concepts from the Judge Dredd comics) and Starship Troopers.
I had never heard of director Danny Cannon before. Cannon is still active but mostly directs TV shows now. I thought his directing was passable but that the story ran out of steam by the last act. 
Besides being a bomb with audiences, Judge Dredd was a commercial failure too. Despite the generally negative response, I did like it. It's not a bad movie but obviously not a great one either. I can understand fans of the comic being upset that things were changed and you could say this is a good Stallone movie but not a good Judge Dredd movie. Of course there have been many good movies made out of books or comics that were quite different than the source material.
The latest Judge Dredd movie, Dredd, came out last month. Like the 1995 Judge Dredd it also performed poorly at the box office in the US but did better in the UK and worldwide. Dredd did get very good reviews from critics so I'll have to check it out when it hits Blu-ray.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church - Dec. 2nd 1928

This week's post is going to be short because the Church of the Holy Infancy didn't watch any movies on December 2nd 1928. However, the reason they gave in the schedule is worth talking about.

Although this Roman Catholic Church would usually watch movies every Sunday, they took a break this week due to the Forty Hours' Devotion. The Catholic practice of Forty Hours' Devotion is a forty hour period of continuous prayers while the Blessed Sacrament, or host, is exposed on the altar. The Forty Hours' Devotion usually takes place in a succession of Churches, with one starting the devotion once another Church has finished.

The Church showed these films on Sundays, the traditional day of rest. However, the schedule shows that even though the Church loved their movies, the balanced this hobby with their religious priorities. The Church went back to showing movies the next week, so my next Tales from the Archives post will go back to the same format as my other Movie Church posts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church Nov. 1928 Part 3

After being on hiatus since December 2011 (except for a special post back in April that was part of the Short Animation blogathon) my Tales from the Archives series is finally back! To catch up on my previous posts simply click on the Tales from the Archives tag at the bottom of this post. New Tales from the Archives entries will be up every Tuesday.

I'm picking up exactly where I left off, which was in the middle of going through schedules of movies shown by the Catholic Church of the Holy Infancy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the 1920s. My last entry was about the movies shown on November 18th 1928, so without further ado let's get to the movies people watched at this Church the very next week!

Like November 18th, the Church showed another double feature the following Sunday the 25th. The first movie was The Girl From Chicago (1927), a crime film with romance starring Conrad Nagel and Myrna Loy. Myrna Loy was in another movie this Church showed a few weeks earlier titled Ham and Eggs at the Front (1927). Like that film, this movie was another early role for Loy before she would breakout as a superstar playing Nora Charles in The Thin Man series which started in 1934. Like many of the movies shown by this Church, The Girl From Chicago was a Warner Bros. Vitaphone production. This meant that even though it was a silent film, there was a recorded musical score and sound effects which were synched with the movie when shown. It appears that is a lost film, but I was able to find a contemporary review of the movie! Check it out here.

Conrad Nagel received top billing for The Girl From Chicago, and unlike Myrna Loy this is his first appearance in my Tales from the Archives series. Nagel was a prolific actor with over 135 credits spanning from 1918 to television appearances into the mid 1960s! Nagel was in a famous lost film, London After Midnight, which I discussed in this post last summer. Nagel had no problem making the jump from silent movies to "talkies" and later television. He must've had a great voice since he also hosted the popular radio program Silver Theater in the 1930s and 1940s.
Conrad Nagel was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization best known for giving out the Academy Awards or Oscars! Nagel hosted the 3rd Academy Awards in 1930 and the 5th Academy Awards in 1932. Nagel would later co-host the 25th Academy Awards in 1953 with none other than Bob Hope! The 21 years between hosting Oscar ceremonies still holds the record for the longest gap between hosting the Academy Awards. Nagel was given an honorary Oscar in 1940 for his leadership and involvement in the Motion Picture Relief Fund. In 1960 Nagel received three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in Motion Pictures, Radio, and Television.

The second movie of this week was a romance film titled Dress Parade (1927) about a boxer who enrolls at West Point and falls in love with the commandant's daughter. The star of Dress Parade was actor William Boyd, who was featured in many of the movies shown by this Church. William Boyd would later become famous for role as the cowboy Hopalong Cassidy. The Hopalong Cassidy character was extremely popular as the series lasted from 1935 to 1947 for a grand total of 66 films! Hopalong Cassidy was so well received that the movies even spawned an amusement park in Los Angeles named Hoppyland! Boyd made regular appearances at the park but it ended up not being a success as it only lasted from 1951 to 1954.

The director of Dress Parade was Donald Crisp, pictured above. Crisp was also an actor and won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for How Green Was My Valley (1941). Crisp co-directed The Navigator (1924) with Buster Keaton and worked as an actor and assistant to D.W. Griffith for many years.
Dress Parade survives today and has even been released on DVD.

The Flight That Failed (1928) was an animated short in the Aesop's Fables short film series. The Flight That Failed is not on YouTube and I'm not sure if it still exists. I covered these cartoons in depth with a post for the Short Animation blogathon so check it out here to find out more.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

2012 Summer and Fall TV Roundup

Now that the summer shows are finally finished their respective seasons, it's time to take a look back on how they fared. I'm also going to look ahead to TV shows I'll be watching in the fall, some of which have already started.


Deadman Wonderland
Although this anime was crazy and ridiculous, it was still fun and made me keep tuning in to see what would happen next. Although the show was a mere 12 episodes and only adapted parts of the manga, it doesn't look like it will get another season. Luckily the last episode tied up most of the loose ends, while still leaving it open for more just in case.

Aqua Something You Know Whatever

Aqua Teen Hunger Force has started to change its title every season now even though it's still the same show. That said, I was happy that the creators clearly tried this season, took more risks, and stepped up the animation (though the show was never about good animation). I felt that this season was much more funny and creative than last season which had its moments but overall was disappointing to me. My favorite three episodes of the ten episode season were Big Bro, The Granite Family, and Fightan Titan. Also, whatever happened to the promised new Aqua Teen, the baby pepper named Pepe? Maybe it was just another Adult Swim joke but there was a picture with him on the Cartoon Network website.

Black Dynamite
I have really enjoyed this show so far and can't wait for the next season. The transition from live action movie to animated TV series went smoothly as it allows for them to do whatever they want. This can manifest itself with crazy action scenes or actual people from the 1970s! The season finale was a sequel to the pilot.


I am a big fan of Wilfred and loved season two. This year built upon last season while still pushing the envelope and keeping things fresh such as Ryan getting a girlfriend. The season finale was good but there had better be a third season as there are still some mysteries left to be revealed. But most importantly I just want more Wilfred!

I started watching Louie last year but only caught about half the season. This year for season three I watched it from the beginning and it's right up there with Wilfred as one of my favorite current TV shows. The recent three parter about Louie having a chance to succeed David Letterman as host of the Late Night was great, as was the holiday themed season finale. Louie has already been renewed for next year, its fourth season. FX has been on fire for me lately with Wilfred, Louie, and Archer so I should probably make it a point to watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia this season as I usually just watch it when it's on but never seek it out.


Robot Chicken
Adult Swim's Robot Chicken began its sixth season recently with a bang thanks to its DC comics special. My favorite segment of that episode was when the Green Lantern couldn't stop laughing while at the funeral of Captain Carrot because of the silly nature of his "zoo crew"!

South Park
The second half of the South Park's 16th season started last week. The show isn't as great as it used to be but still worth watching. The mid-season opener was titled "Sarcastaball" and is about football injuries. I thought they would've gone with something a little more timely, such as the recent NFL referee strike (though there was one joke about it) or election season politics.

The Boondocks
The fourth season of The Boondocks hasn't aired yet even though it was announced a while ago. I haven't heard anything since so I'm guessing it got pushed back. Maybe it will start late in the fall but I have a feeling it we won't see it until sometime next year.

Beavis and Butthead
Last fall we got the return of Beavis and Butthead. Although the first episode garnered about 3.3 million viewers, that number tapered off to under 1 million by the end of the season. I don't think the show has been officially canceled but it doesn't look like its coming back anytime soon.

Last Man Standing
Speaking of shows I watched last fall, Last Man Standing will be back on ABC for another season. However, the show is being retooled with the classic sitcom aging syndrome as the two year old Boyd will now be a five year old. Besides that age change two other characters (eldest daughter Kristin and her ex-boyfriend Ryan, the parents of Boyd) are having their actors replaced. While I enjoyed the first season, I do think some changes were needed but we'll have to wait and see if these are the right moves.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)

Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist is a parody of Hong Kong Kung Fu movies. What makes Kung Pow unique is that director, writer, and lead actor Steve Oedekerk actually took an old Hong Kong martial arts movie (1976's The Savage Killers aka Tiger and Crane Fist) and edited himself along with some new effects into this other film. Although a few of the CGI special effects are dated ten years later, you can tell that a lot of effort went into putting Oedekerk into the old movie and that there is clearly a love of the source material here while also having some fun with it.
I found the humor to be hit or miss though usually when I did find something funny I laughed pretty hard. I liked the subtle humor ("that's a lot of nuts!", Taco bell and Pringles logos in the background, "THIS IS CNN!", etc.) a lot better than the more obvious jokes such as the Kung Fu cow or the tongue with a face that didn't make me laugh at all.
The "bullet time" parody is dated not because it is a reference to The Matrix, but that for years following that movie everybody and their mother parodied the bullet time scene and the joke became played out. I'm not blaming the makers of this movie for putting that in there as it worked perfectly with what Kung Pow was trying to do, but it took me back to when it was almost mandatory to parody that scene.

Although Oedekirk hasn't acted or directed much since Kung Pow, he has kept busy on the writing side of filmmaking with recent credits such as Evan Almighty and Cowboys & Aliens. Oedekirk was nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature for Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius which he co-wrote and produced. Oedekirk has writing credits for a lot of well known movies from The Nutty Professor to Bruce Almighty and is also known for his Thumbs! comedy series which parodied famous films.
When it comes to parodies of Asian  martial arts movies I prefer the recent web series "Ninja the Mission Force" which I hope gets another season. "Ninja the Mission Force" took a different approach from Kung Pow as instead of putting a guy into a preexisting film, it re-used old footage and claimed that it took place in the same continuity with new scenes, much in the way these Hong Kong cut and paste movies did like Ninja Terminator with hilarious results!
I liked Kung Pow but at this point it seems doubtful we'll get the sequel promised at the end!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vampire's Kiss (1988)

Vampire's Kiss (1988)
In the mid to late 1980s a bunch of vampire movies came out such as Fright Night (1985), Near Dark (1987), and The Lost Boys (1987), all of which I enjoyed. 
Vampire's Kiss is a horror-comedy movie about literary agent Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) who thinks he may have turned into a vampire after being bitten by a beautiful girl named Rachel (Jennifer Beals). There isn't much of a plot and the main thing driving the story is a missing file that Loew's boss says early on it's not important. Despite this information, Loew uses the missing contract as an excuse to constantly harass his secretary (played by Maria Conchita Alonso who was in The Running Man and Predator 2). The harsh treatment of the secretary by Loew was just petty and made it hard for me to care about him, vampire or not. Not to mention the fact that he apparently raped this secretary?! Now I guess it is possible he simply imagined it but we see scenes between her and her brother without Cage's character that seem to imply it actually happened. It is possible for a film with an unlikeable protagonist to be work, but Loew is just not interesting outside the fact that he may be a vampire and the story just isn't there.
Most of the humor in the movie comes from Nicolas Cage's hilarious over the top but frantic performance. Although Cage is pretty ridiculous as usual, it does make Vampire's Kiss fun to watch. Overall though the tone doesn't work as the movie is trying to be a vampire horror-comedy along the lines of Fright Night but without much of a plot to support it. In Fright Night you had laughs and scares but they were used to reinforce an interesting story that wasn't just about whether or not the new neighbor was a vampire but how to stop him from turning others into vampires once his true nature was revealed. In Vampire's Kiss we are just left to wonder if Loew is really a vampire or a crazy yuppie dreaming this all up.

The above picture shows you what you are in for when it comes to Cage's acting in the movie. That facial expression in particular caught on with the recent "You Don't Say?" internet meme.
I watched Vampire's Kiss with a group of people and many of them didn't believe the movie was intentionally a comedy. I had no problem as identifying this movie as an intended horror-comedy and it seems to have always been marketed this way judging from the original trailer and posters. However, I think this shows that the movie wasn't able to capture the fun but serious enough tone of a movie like Fright Night.
Jennifer Beals is sexy as a vampire but she doesn't do much besides bite Loew then have sex with him. Couldn't she have helped find that missing file when she isn't out at night seducing Nicolas Cage?! Oddly enough Beals was also in Frankenstein movie The Bride (1985) a few years prior to this film.
Although Vampire's Kiss had its moments, all related to Cage's performance like him buying plastic vampire teeth or eating cockraoches, the movie didn't work for me. I liked that it was ambiguous as to if being a vampire was all in Loew's imagination, but there wasn't much of a point other than that. I feel that there needed more to the story than just "is he crazy or not?" since we don't get any definitive answers on that anyway. Maybe if Loew actively tried to be a human again or stop Rachel there would've been more to suck me in (pun intended) while keeping the ambiguity. I also think Loew should have been more likeable (like, you know, not a rapist!) so that we would have cared more about the character other than just what outlandish thing Nic Cage would do next.
Vampire's Kiss is watchable thanks to Cage's hilarious screams and wacky facial expressions. Without his memorable performance this movie would have been totally different and probably have been completely forgotten today. Nicolas Cage seems to always put in either great or terrible performances, all of which are usually interesting to see. I've now seen eleven Nicolas Cage movies, including his brief role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).
Another mid 80s vampire comedy is the movie Once Bitten (1985) starring Jim Carrey. I'll have to check it out sometime and see how it stacks up against Vampire's Kiss.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fugitive Alien (1987)

Fugitive Alien
My last couple of posts have been related to MST3K and RiffTrax. Before I move on to other stuff here is another MST3K episode!
Fugitive Alien is a movie made from episodes of a late 70s Japanese TV show called Star Wolf. The show seemed to be the Japanese version of Star Trek combined with Star Wars. For example, the Arabic area the crew visits reminded me of how original Star Trek series often went to planets that modeled themselves on different time periods, usually a result of the shows small budget and the need to re-use sets and props. Considering the low budget perhaps one could even say that Fugitive Alien is the Japanese Space Mutiny!
The episodes of Star Wolf are poorly stitched together with bad dubbing. If I was probably just watching the show itself (and with subtitles instead of the bad dub) it would probably just be cheesy fun but as is its hard to figure out what is even going on. Despite its major flaws, at least Fugitive Alien is never boring, which I consider to be the worst flaw of bad movies.
Fugitive Alien is from the third season MST3K so it has Joel as the host. MST3K would feature the sequel Star Force: Fugitive Alien II on the show later that same year. The host segments are fun with the first appearance of the Jack Perkins character (based on the real Jack Perkins, host of the TV show Biography) who would later host MST3K in syndication as The Mystery Science Theater Hour. Although the movie is a big mess, Joel and the bots have a blast with the material and make it very enjoyable.
There were a bunch of great riffs in this episode but some of the best were the recurring jokes about everybody being named Ken and the catchy "He tried to kill me with a forklift!" song.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

The Beast of Yucca Flats
I, like most people, first discovered Coleman Francis thanks for the TV Show Mystery Science Theater 3000. MST3K riffed all three films that Coleman Francis wrote and directed. The Beast of Yucca Flats is the second Coleman Francis movie I have seen after Red Zone Cuba. I still need to see The Skydivers so I can say I survived all the Coleman Francis films!
The Beast of Yucca Flats stars Swedish professional wrestler Tor Johnson who is probably best known for his role as a police officer in Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space. But even Plan 9 is better than this movie!
Coleman Francis takes most of the blame for this awful movie (along with Tony Cardoza who acted in and co-produced all of the Coleman Francis films) as he directed, produced, wrote the screenplay, acted, and edited the film. The Beast of Yucca Flats was Francis' debut film but that is no excuse for the fact that it is incompetently made with an incomprehensible plot. For example, there is a murder at beginning of the film that had nothing to do with the rest of the movie and is never followed up on. The story, or lack thereof, is about man (Tor Johnson) who survives a nuclear explosion that turns him into a monster. Although the movie is pretty short, there are still a bunch of filler scenes like random shots of nature and a scene at a gas station in which the attendant is played by none other than Coleman Francis! I can't say I'm surprised that The Beast of Yucca Flats is currently 20th on the IMDB users all-time bottom 100 movies list.

The movie clocks in at only 54 minutes (even though it feels three hours long!) so two shorts were including in the MST3K episode. The first is called Money Talks! in which a 1950s boy gets advice on how to save cash from the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, while the second is titled Progress Island, U.S.A. and is essentially a 1970s infomercial for Puerto Rico. Both stunk but are good riffing material and certainly more watchable than The Beast of Yucca Flats!
This MST3K episode is from the sixth season of the show's Comedy Central era with Michael J. Nelson as the host. The episode aired about a month after the Red Zone Cuba episode which is referenced a few times with lines like "I'm Cherokee Jack!" Although The Beast of Yucca Flats is a terrible film, the riffing and host segments are great so I gotta give Mike, the 'bots, and the Mads credit for actually making this movie fun to watch!
Here's one of my favorite riffs from this memorable episode: "Abbot and Costello meet the Beast of Yucca Flats!"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

RiffTrax Live - Manos: The Hands of Fate

RiffTrax Live - Manos: The Hands of Fate
I'm a big fan of the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000. Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, three of the main riffers from that show, now do RiffTrax. RiffTrax is basically the same sort of riffing style from MST3K, but the material is a mix of new films along with the older low budget movies. While RiffTrax are usually bought and downloaded online, the guys also do RiffTrax Live in which they perform live and have the event simulcast across the nation. I've enjoyed MST3K since I was a kid and love the recent RiffTrax stuff, so when I heard Mike, "Servo," and the second Crow T. Robot were going to riff Manos: The Hands of Fate live and in theaters I couldn't resist!

It is common for movie theaters to play trivia before a film starts. This was parodying by RiffTrax Live with humorous trivia and jokes. Once we got started there was a brief introduction of our heroes who performed live from a theater in Nashville, Tennessee. The guys then told us that we would be getting a couple of shorts before the movie! There was a short seven minute film from the late 70s titled Welcome Back, Norman and another short from the 70s about kids making toys of out cylinders, both of which were great riffing material. Besides the two shorts we were also greeted with a prune juice commercial!
The main attraction was Manos: The Hands of Fate, a film that languished in obscurity until it was re-discovered by the MST3K crew. I've seen the Manos episode of MST3K more times than I thought humanly possible and practically know the jokes by heart. Mike, Kevin, and Bill brought their A-game to RiffTrax Live and scripted all new riffs to put on a show completely different than the classic MST3K version. The MST3K episode featured two different riffers: Trace Beaulieu as Crow and Joel. The MST3K version of Manos originally aired in 1993, so the RiffTrax Live version allowed for some updated references for 2012 to stuff like Twilight, Toddlers & Tiaras, and Michael Vick.
Obviously there were no silhouettes this time but instead we actually got to see the guys riffing which was pretty cool. The movie would cut back and forth from a full screen of the movie to a split screen showing the guys alongside Manos.
Mike, Kevin, and Bill still have it and are perhaps even better than ever! This was a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend it especially to any MST3K/RiffTrax fan or bad movie lover. The next movie the guys are doing for RiffTrax Live is Birdemic this October.

Just in case you were wondering my thoughts on Manos: The Hands of Fate, it is a truly terrible film created by people (mainly writer/director/producer/actor Harold P. Warren) who had no idea how to actually make a movie. But is it the worst movie ever made? I'd actually say no. It has a bizarre charm that enables it stand out and even though it can be boring at times, I have seen films that are even more boring (Red Zone Cuba, Creeping Terror, Snowbeast). Torgo is a memorable character, and there are plenty of movies that don't have one of those. Maybe I have just seen it too many times, but Manos does has a strange charm since that as bad as it is, I can't hate it. Right now my pick for "worst movie ever" would be Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, which I discovered thanks to the RiffTrax. The worst Hollywood movie I've ever seen would probably be Cool as Ice, which I reviewed on this blog, or perhaps Mac and Me.
RiffTrax Live Manos: 11/10
Manos: 2/10

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
This documentary is about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei is a dissident who basically "trolls" the Chinese by speaking out against them through his artwork and use of social media. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is an impressive debut film from director Alison Klayman.
The film is a good start at understanding Ai Weiwei as you get the sense of who he is but still want to discover more about the man and his art. There are other documentaries featured in film both by and about this man (one is about efforts to track down earthquake victims, another is about when Ai Weiwei was assaulted by police and despite having recorded it the Chinese government denied the incident ever occured) so this isn't the first time Ai Weiwei has been the subject of a film. Ai Weiwei is an entertaining guy as even though the film is about free speech, censorship, and oppression it can be funny at times since he's a "hooligan." Ai Weiwei is a fantastic subject for a documentary, but perhaps too good in that anybody could point the camera at him and get something worth watching. We see Ai Weiwei doing everything from confronting Chinese police officers to eating with his son and even the peculiar such as a cat owned by Ai Weiwei that learned how to open doors.

Some of Ai Weiwei's performance art has including dropping Han dynasty urns and painting ancient pottery with the Coca-Cola logo. As a history buff this made me cringe at first, but then I realized what he was doing. These actions show how the loss of history and the past happens all the time. Is painting a Coca-Cola symbol on an antique vase much different from tearing down an old historic building to put up a McDonalds? The extreme always makes an impression and his message is meant to shock in order to get people to pay attention. These displays show that the times are changing and that China needs to change with it and move forward.

China doesn't know what to do with him as they try to silence Ai Weiwei even though they know that he doesn't fear them and that it would be unwise to make someone with his following disappear. permanently. The world has felt the effect of social media and digital technology. Despite China's censorship of the internet, Ai Weiwei has put good use to blogs, Twitter, the internet to spread his art, messages, and keep in touch with his followers and fans. Ai Weiwei has become an inspiration to others as many of his followers organized events, such as "celebrating" the destruction of Ai Weiwei's art studio by the Chinese government, in the spirit of Ai Weiei, but without his involvement.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary was funded in part by Kickstarter which shows how the internet, technology, and social media are even affecting how films get made.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was the fourth 2012 movie I've seen in theaters and fifth overall. If only Jersey Shore Shark Attack got a theatrical release!