Saturday, June 29, 2013
The special Blu-ray Director's Cut of GETTYSBURG has a running time of 4 and a half hours. Some might think that a bit excessive, but Ronald Maxwell has to be given credit for taking the time to properly interpret the many factors and situations involved with such a complex event. The real-life battle took place over three different days, and each day had it's own stories and highlights. Maxwell did his utmost to explain to the audience all the military strategies in a dramatic and interesting manner. This is something that is not easy to do in a historical film--there's always a danger of the scenes becoming nothing more than a history lesson.
Maxwell's script was based on Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels (which this blogger has not read). Thankfully GETTYSBURG is relatively free of the usual "Hollywood" moments--for example, there isn't any tacked-on romantic subplot....because there isn't any major (or even minor) female roles! I'm certainly no Civil War expert, but it appears the movie is historically accurate. The production made use of thousands of Civil War re-enactors, which gives the film a sense of verisimilitude that it would not have if just ordinary extras were used.
Greatly helping the historical feel is the fact that several scenes were filmed in Gettysburg National Military Park, the site of the actual battlefield. The production design and the costuming are top-notch. And the battle scenes--particularly the defense of Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge--are some of the most spectacular ever recorded on film.
It's obvious that Maxwell tried very hard to make things "even" between the presentation of the Blue and the Grey. There still seems to be a lot more attention paid to the Confederate officers than those of the Union. The commander of the Union forces during the battle, General George Meade, only gets one scene...and if you aren't paying very close attention you might miss him. When it comes to Civil War scholarship, the Rebel side almost always gets the most coverage. After all, it's the Confederacy that had all the "colorful" officers--men like Lee, Longstreet, Hill, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, etc. Most Union officers are almost always portrayed as either bunglers or butchers. Some critics have accused Maxwell of favoring, or being sympathetic, to the Southern cause. (Maxwell would get a lot more criticism over his other Civil War epic, GODS AND GENERALS). I honestly don't think Maxwell was favoring one side or the other; but I do think he was doing what several others have done when presenting the Civil War...that is, paying more attention to the most "colorful" side, the South.
There is a huge amount of acting talent in this film, including: Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Sam Elliott, Stephen Lang, and many other character actors who you may not know the names of, but whose faces are familiar. For my money the performer who steals the show is Richard Jordan as Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. He's the one you remember after the movie is over.
When it comes to historical films, it's not enough to pick just a great actor....one must pick the right type of actor. There are certain actors who would never look right in a period piece. Nearly all of the cast of GETTYSBURG look as if they belong in the Civil War era. There is, in my opinion, a big exception...and that is Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee. I've seen GETTYSBURG a number of times, and I still think that Sheen was mis-cast. It's not enough to hurt the story, but I just can't believe in Sheen as Lee. Robert Duvall played Lee in Maxwell's GODS AND GENERALS, and it's too bad he didn't play Lee in GETTYSBURG.
One of the things I love about movies is that they enable the viewer to experience a time and place that one would never have the chance to. The historical epic is the ultimate example of this. I'm a huge fan of the so-called "war film", and it's not because I like watching people get killed or that I want to see a bunch of explosions. History is more than just a bunch of facts & figures, it's pure human drama. When done the proper way, like GETTYSBURG, it can allow you to understand and appreciate America's past and what this country, and it's people, have really gone through.
Monday, June 24, 2013
But Matheson was also the screenwriter for some of the most famous horror and science-fiction films ever made. Even a partial list is impressive:
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (adapted from Matheson's novel)
HOUSE OF USHER
PIT AND THE PENDULUM
MASTER OF THE WORLD
BURN WITCH BURN
TALES OF TERROR
THE RAVEN (1963)
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (adapted from Matheson's novel)
SOMEWHERE IN TIME
FANATIC (also known as DIE! DIE! MY DARLING!)
Matheson's most famous work was the novel I Am Legend. It has been made into a feature film three different times....so far (THE LAST MAN ON THE EARTH, THE OMEGA MAN, and I AM LEGEND). The book has been ripped off countless other times. Even though the novel deals with vampires, the entire zombie craze which has taken over the entertainment industry owes a lot to Richard Matheson's story. What made I Am Legend stand out is that it was set in 20th Century America, and not in a distant time or a distant country. The book is one of the greatest horror stories of all time....and the movies have never gotten it right.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
A know a lot of poeple would say, "If you've seen one Three Stooges short, you've seen 'em all." Actually there's a lot more diversity in the Stooges' catalog than one would expect. The Stooges' Golden Era was from about 1937 to 1944. This period featured the Stooges (and the Columbia shorts department) at the top of their game. A successful formula had been developed for the Stooges, and it worked very well until Curly's health started to worsen around 1945. The arrival of Shemp kind of reinvigorated the series for a while, but once Jules White took total control of the shorts (and started re-using every piece of old Stooges footage he could get his hands on), the films became pretty mediocre. However, not all the shorts on my list contain Curly.....and there's plenty to rediscover if one takes a good look at the Shemp period.
The shorts are listed in order of preference.
1. A PLUMBING WE WILL GO (1940) Directed by Del Lord
My all-time favorite Stooges entry. It has all the classic elements--the Stooges are on the run from the police; they attempt to do a job involving household work; and they are involved with snooty society types. If you ever meet someone who has no idea who the Stooges are (if such a person exists), and you want to explain the Stooges to them, this is the short you should have them watch.
2. PUNCH DRUNKS (1934) Directed by Lou Breslow
Fight promoter Moe finds out that Curly goes crazy when Larry plays "Pop Goes the Weasel". This is the second Columbia Stooges short ever made. The first, WOMAN HATERS, was more of a musical comedy, so PUNCH DRUNKS is the true beginning of the "real" Stooges. The scenario of this short was developed by Moe, Larry, and Curly, and it sets the template for the rest of the Stooges' careers. The Stooges' individual personalities, and the formula their adventures would follow, were established in PUNCH DRUNKS. Because of this, PUNCH DRUNKS may be the most important Stooges film.
3. AN ACHE IN EVERY STAKE (1941) Directed by Del Lord
The Stooges start out as icemen dealing with a very long flight of stairs, and then wind up being party caterers. A takeoff on Laurel & Hardy's THE MUSIC BOX. Features the Stooges' number one foil, Vernon Dent. "Hey Curly, go shave some ice!"
4. THE SITTER DOWNERS (1937) Directed by Del Lord
The Stooges are not allowed to marry their girlfriends, so they stage a sit down strike, which nets them nationwide publicity. It also gets them a free house--but they have to build it themselves. A perfect situation for a great Stooges comedy.
5. YOU NAZTY SPY! (1940) Directed by Jules White
The Stooges take a satirical look at the Axis Powers--over a year before American entered WWII. Jules White's "anything goes" style of direction works best in a situation like this.
6. BRIDELESS GROOM (1947) Directed by Edward Bernds
Without doubt the best short of the Shemp era. Shemp can inherit a fortune if he gets married. The problem...it's Shemp. A number of highlights here, including: Moe and Shemp being stuck in a phone booth; Shemp nearly getting slapped to death by frequent Stooge leading lady Christine McIntyre; and the wedding climax, featuring Emil Sitka as a jittery Justice ("HOLD HANDS, YOU LOVE BIRDS!!").
7. VIOLENT IS THE WORD FOR CURLY (1938) Directed by Charley Chase
The story opens with the Stooges working at a service station, and leads on to the Stooges as professors at an all girls college. Features the Stooges' legendary performance of the song "Swinging the Alphabet".
8. THREE PESTS IN A MESS (1945) Directed by Del Lord
The majority of this short deals with the boys' attempt to bury a "dead body" (actually it's a mannequin) in a pet cemetery. Probably the best of their many "scare" comedies.
9. DIZZY PILOTS (1943) Directed by Jules White
The Stooges (as the Wrong Brothers) try to build their own plane for the war effort. Highlights: Moe being covered in rubber and floating away like a balloon; and the Stooges' test flight.
10. GOOF ON THE ROOF (1953) Directed by Jules White
The Stooges decide to do their friend Bill a favor by cleaning his house and installing a TV set before Bill comes home from his honeymoon. Some favor. Nothing really out of the ordinary here....just 17 minutes of pure slapstick. I loved watching this one as a kid.
Friday, June 21, 2013
MAN OF STEEL is another "origin" story--as a matter of fact, the film literally begins with Kal-El's birth. Because of the nature of the screenplay, one has to compare it with Richard Donner's SUPERMAN...and the comparison is somewhat lacking. MOS's Krypton sequence sets the stage for what is to follow--there's plenty of explosions, CGI destruction, and annoying digital camera moves. For all the sound and fury, Zach Snyder's version of Krypton falls way short of Richard Donner's elegant simplicity.
The middle part of the story looks at Clark Kent's upbringing. It's here that Snyder and Nolan employ a flashback-flashforward technique that just confuses the audience. Kevin Costner is okay as Pa Kent, but he's nowhere near as effective as Glenn Ford was in the role. Eventually we get to the main plot, involving Kryptonian villain General Zod. Terence Stamp played Zod back in the Christopher Reeve era, and he became a pop culture icon. Michael Shannon's Zod is just another comic book movie bad guy....and in the last few years we've had dozens and dozens of them. The new Zod is nothing special.
Once the fight scenes start, MAN OF STEEL becomes one big action sequence after another. There's so much CGI-filled spectacle that after awhile it just becomes par for the course. The subplot about Clark Kent/Kal-El choosing to be the man he is destined to be gets lost in all the mayhem. There's a sense of humanity, a sense of heart, that's missing here. What heart there exists is supplied by Russell Crowe as Jor-El, who by far gives the best performance. Amy Adams is now on the top of the A-list, but she's not really my idea of Lois Lane. Henry Cavill is good in the title role, but you just don't get the feeling that you know this Superman well enough. Out of all the major comic book heroes, Superman is the one that is easiest to understand. Superman knows exactly who he is, and exactly what he is supposed to do. He really does believe in truth, justice, and the American Way--and that's something that is unfortunately considered politically incorrect in our day and age. It's why movie makers have never really gotten Superman right (the 1978 film did a pretty good job, but it was all downhill from there).
The big problem with MAN OF STEEL is that it starts at Superman's beginning...so we get a Superman who is "incomplete". Superman (in my opinion) shouldn't be portrayed as conflicted, or unsure of himself. SUPERMAN RETURNS made the same mistake in having a less-than-confident hero (don't get me started on that movie, please). When I go to see a movie about Superman, I want to see him ACT like Superman. I want to see the ultimate super hero. MAN OF STEEL seems afraid to show that. Maybe there's something about honest decency and true responsibility that the modern-day entertainment industry will never understand.
The other thing working against MOS is the fact that there are so many comic book movies being made. They're all starting to look alike. The final battle in MAN OF STEEL is set in Metropolis, and it bears a certain resemblance to Loki's attack on New York in THE AVENGERS. The major studios are churning out comic book tales as fast as they can, because they make so much money, but they're also killing off the Golden Goose. All the supposed spectacular elements of MAN OF STEEL don't seem so grand when you've seen them all before in one form or another.
If DC Comics really wants to be like Marvel when it comes to money-making movie blockbusters featuring comic superheroes, they need to go to the people who have already successfully visualized the DC Universe. I've said this before but I'm going to say it again...Bruce Timm and the Warner Animation team know the DC charcaters better than anybody. Some studio needs to give Timm and his associates a $200 million dollar budget and let them go. And please, don't tell me that "animation and a live action film are different things"....there's so much CGI in MAN OF STEEL you may as well call it an animated movie.
It amazes me how hard it is to make a decent movie about a character as iconic as Superman. If all these brilliant filmmakers would just take the time to actually pick up a comic book and read it....nahh, that's too easy.
Here are links to some of my other comic book movie-related posts:
Sunday, June 16, 2013
PETER CUSHING: THE COMPLETE MEMOIRS is actually a special edition of Cushing's two volumes of autobiography, written in the 1980s. The books (PETER CUSHING: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY and PETER CUSHING: PAST FORGETTING) were originally published by Weidenfield & Nicolson in the late 1980s, and there was later a combined edition released by Midnight Marquee Press in 1999.
Most Peter Cushing fans more than likely own one of these earlier versions (I own the Midnight Marquee book), so why buy this? Well, the new version is in hardcover, it has a very nice design (it is published by Signum Books, and edited by Marcus Hearn), and it has a number of great photos. There's also a an introduction by British horror film historian Jonathan Rigby, who gives a personal perspective on Cushing's career, and a foreword from Joyce Broughton, who was Cushing's secretary.
This volume also includes an article called "The Peter Cushing Story", which was prepared in 1954 and revised in 1955. This is somewhat of an earlier version of Cushing's autobiography--but some of his recollections are a bit different than what he recalled later on.
The best thing about reading Peter Cushing's memoirs is that it gives you a true personal reflection of the man. Cushing's work is not written in a typical linear sense--it's more of a series of incidents in his life that he felt was important to relate. Because of Cushing's unique writing style the reader gets the feeling that they are sitting in a room with the author and listening to a conversation. Cushing's slightly off-beat way of discussing his life and acting career tells you more about him than a dry recitation of information would.
If you want all the facts concerning Peter Cushing's film career at Hammer and Amicus, there are many, many other books to choose from. These memoirs are not about someone who made a bunch of monster movies--they are about a kindly and artistic British gentleman. That's the charm and the true value of PETER CUSHING: THE COMPLETE MEMOIRS.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
What's different about this book is that it is more than just a simple biography--it's jam-packed with photos of Cushing's personal items and mementos. There's also a huge selection of Cushing's drawings, sketchings, and portraits (he was an artist as well as an actor). All of Cushing's feature films are covered, as well as his stage and television career.
Among the items represented in the book are: Peter's personal copy of PRIDE & PREJUDICE; the walking stick he used while playing Sherlock Holmes in the Hammer version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES; and his own copy of Bram Stoker's DRACULA. The latter has to be one of the greatest pieces of monster movie memorabilia ever, considering the owner was the greatest Van Helsing in movie history.
This is more than just another monster movie/Hammer themed product, however. The sheer volume of annotated script pages show how painstaking Cushing took his work--most of the pages reproduced here have more of the actor's hand-written notes than actual script! Even the scripts from Cushing's lesser films have the same attention to detail. Peter Cushing was a man who gave the utmost of his talent no matter what the project might be.
There is also a huge amount of personal correspondence included, which shows the human side of the man. The wealth of material here is simply overwhelming, thanks to the donations of various Cushing fans and the help of Joyce Broughton, who was Mr. Cushing's secretary and personal friend.
The book also features a foreword by George Lucas (who directed Cushing in STAR WARS) and an afterword by Janina Faye (who appeared with Cushing in HORROR OF DRACULA).
I have to admit that when I first flipped through this book, I had a tinge of sadness. Sadness because after seeing all the artistry and natural talent Peter Cushing had, it dawned on me that here was someone who could have pre-planned his own film, wrote the script for it, drew all the storyboards, designed the costumes, and directed & acted in it as well. Unfortunately he never got that chance.
Peter Cushing gained world-renowned fame by starring in horror films, but he was much more than just a monster movie star. THE PETER CUSHING SCRAPBOOK represents all the facets of Cushing's life, and shows what a unique individual he truly was.
THE PETER CUSHING SCRAPBOOK is limited to a printing of 2000 copies. For price and ordering information, go to www.peverilpublishing.co.uk.
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Every issue of LSOH contains a number of excellent writers & artists who have an abiding love, and a great knowledge of, the entire Hammer Films catalogue. If you have ever read any books, magazines, or internet stories on any Hammer production, chances are the majority of the information was "borrowed" from an issue of LSOH. Dozens and dozens of performers, screenwriters, directors, and film technicians have been interviewed on the pages of LSOH...some of then for the only time in their careers.
Usually an issue of LSOH will focus on one particular Hammer movie. #30 spotlights VAMPIRE CIRCUS, which I have to admit is not one of my favorites (that's a post for another day, if anyone's interested). The movie is covered in exhaustive detail, with a production analysis by Hammer expert Bruce Hallenbeck; interviews with producer Wilber Stark, screenwriter Judson Kinberg, and director Robert Young; talks with cast members Domini Blythe, Lalla Ward, Robert Tayman, John Moulder-Brown, and Anthony Higgins; dozens of rare stills and behind-the-scenes photos; and a huge gallery of VAMPIRE CIRCUS-inspired artwork by the likes of talented pros such as Bruce Timm, Neil Vokes, Mark Maddox, Adrian Salmon, and many others.
Some would say that so much coverage for a mediocre horror film is overkill, but that is one of the strengths of LSOH. If this amount of information was put into a hardcover book someone would probably charge $30 for it. The stories behind the making of these types of movies are always fascinating, and no matter how crazy a Hammer fan you may be, you will always learn new facts by reading LSOH.
Richard Klemensen has recently been wondering how long LSOH should continue, especially in an era when so many off-beat publications have fallen to the wayside. LSOH has lately branched out to covering non-Hammer British productions. This has caused some bit of controversy in the monster movie fan community, but recent LSOH issues dealing with movies such as DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES are among LSOH's best. I certainly hope LSOH sticks around for a while. I'm sure every real British horror film fan is aware of LSOH, but those that don't buy it are missing out.
Friday, June 7, 2013
IT'S A GIFT
YOU'RE TELLING ME
THE OLD FASHIONED WAY
MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE
YOU CAN'T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN
MY LITTLE CHICKADEE
THE BANK DICK
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK
These movies had all been released before on two separate W. C. Fields box sets, but now they are on one set.....and I got it on Amazon for $13.99 before shipping. That's a pretty good deal, and I feel bad for those who had already bought the earlier sets (when they came out they were a lot more expensive).
Any classic comedy fan would want to get this. It doesn't have any of Fields' silent movies, but it does contain what is probably his best sound work. INTERNATIONAL HOUSE is a wild pre-code extravaganza, starring (among others) Rudy Vallee, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Bela Lugosi, and Cab Calloway. IT'S A GIFT and THE BANK DICK, in my opinion, are two of the funniest comedies ever made. MY LITTLE CHICKADEE is famous for the one and only pairing of Fields and Mae West.
The discs in the set are one-sided--usually Universal uses double-sided discs in their sets. If you have a large DVD collection you more than likely know that sometimes there are some playback issues when it comes to Universal multi-film sets. This is because Universal tries to cram as much stuff as possible on a single disc. That's the main reason why this set is so cheap. I haven't had any playback issues (yet) but it is a factor to be aware of. If you don't own any of these titles already, and you can still get a good price on the set, this is definitely one to pick up.
Monday, June 3, 2013
The authors' purpose in starting the series was to cover not just little known or low budget classic horror movies--it was to also examine certain lesser-known films which had thriller or Gothic elements, even though the films themselves were not classified as such. Because of this, the FH series is filled with entries concerning crime thrillers, film noirs, B-Westerns, various melodramas, and even some slapstick comedies.
The inclusion of such material is what makes the FORGOTTEN HORRORS books stand out. The earlier volumes were well worth reading, simply because they gave even the most hard-core film buff an introduction to movies they might never have taken a moment's notice of.
Volume 6 carries on this tradition, although it's pretty hard to call some of the movies covered "forgotten". Making an appearance in Vol. 6 are famous genre films such as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, NOT OF THIS EARTH, and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. There are still a lot of obscure titles in Vol. 6....but because of the explosion of information on the internet, and various facebook pages and goofy movie bloggers, just about every movie ever made now has someone giving a thorough critique on it.
Vol. 6 is still worth getting. Michael Price (and co-authors John Wooley and Jan Alan Henderson) have a unique and entertaining way of looking at even the most well-known films. No matter how much Monster Movie information you know, Price & Co. always seem to unearth some new nugget of knowledge. A lot of the movies here have been covered to death in various other books & magazines, and I was wondering whether Vol. 6 would be more of the "same old stuff"....but it isn't.
Accompanying the numerous movie entries are an interview with Fifties Sci-Fi leading man Jeff Corey; a great article on FX artists Paul and Jackie Blaisdell; a remembrance of John Agar; and a discussion of Hammer Films. The book ends with a mini-history of forgotten horror comics.
If you have any of the other FORGOTTEN HORRORS volumes you'll certainly want to get this one. The first four books in the series were published by Midnight Marquee Press. Volume 5 and the latest entry come from Cremo Studios, and unfortunately they are more expensive than the Midnight Marquee books. If you are a major film buff with a taste for unusual fare, this is a must-have....but the casual film fan may not want to pay the price to read about movies they've never heard of.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
One of the best movie magazines still around is CINEMA RETRO. The focus of CR is movies made in the 1960s and the 1970s. This gives the magazine a focused identity, and at the same time an almost unlimited choice of subjects to cover. CINEMA RETRO certainly deals with famous and successful films of the period, but they also cover all sorts of overlooked gems and cult favorites. The lesser know movies are looked at in a expansive and scholarly manner--there's enough information in the average issue of CR to fill an expensive hardcover book.
What really sets CR apart is the photo quality. Each issue includes a plethora of rare stills and behind-the-scenes photos from various productions--some of them never published before. It's amazing how CR's staff can find pictures from famous movies that even the most hard-core film buff has never seen.
Just about all of the various writers & contributors for CR are published authors or film experts themselves. Because of this the articles are filled with detail and perceptive analysis. You get far more than just a "hey this movie is really cool!"
The latest issue of CINEMA RETRO, #26, features a cover story on the making of Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS, still one of the most disturbing movies ever made. As usual for a CR article, there's many rare behind-the-scenes photos, including some rather revealing ones of actress Susan George. Among the other issue's highlights: an interview with Mel Brooks; a look at the Spaghetti Western THE FIVE MAN ARMY; coverage of Mae West's SEXTETTE and the World War II actioner MOSQUITO SQUADRON; and some of the best book, DVD, and CD reviews in the business.
With each issue of CINEMA RETRO you never know what you are going to get--that's what makes it one of the best film magazines still available. I'm sure that a lot of people who read my blog are already familiar with CINEMA RETRO, but if you are not you should really check it out.