Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Monster Bash June 2015

For the third year in a row, I attended the summer Monster Bash Conference held in Mars, Pennsylvania on the weekend of June 19-21. Once again I got together at the Bash with independent filmmaker Joshua Kennedy. At the October 2014 Monster Bash Josh got the great privilege to be able to shoot a video with Martine Beswicke. This year Josh personally presented the video to a number of Bash attendees, and his work got a huge positive reaction from the crowd--for the rest of the weekend several people came up to Josh and told him how much they enjoyed it.

Josh Kennedy at the screening of his video

Among the special guests at the June 2015 Bash was Ron Chaney, the grandson of Lon Chaney Jr. and great-grandson of Lon Chaney Sr. It was a great treat to talk to Ron, and Josh and I even shared an elevator ride with him.

Meeting Ron Chaney

Of course it wouldn't be a Monster Bash without at least one Hammer Glamour lady...this time it was Valerie Leon, best known for her leading role(s) in BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB. Valerie was a bit imperious in that film, but in real life she's anything but. I found her to be a very nice lady who seemed to be delighted to be part of the weekend's festivities.

With Valerie Leon

Victoria Price, daughter of Vincent Price, was at the Bash again as well. I asked her if she had been at any Dodgers games this year, and she told me that she has been so busy traveling around the world that she has not had the opportunity to go to one yet.

A certain famed classic horror monster appeared at the Bash--the actual remnants of the original Blob!!

The preeminent classic horror film historian, Greg Mank, gave two great talks: one on the 80th anniversary of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and another on the Universal Mummy movies. Frank Dello Stritto had a very insightful and informative forum on how British film censors reacted to the horror movies of the 1930s. And Saturday night, at midnight, a special tribute was given to the late Sir Christopher Lee. The video for this tribute was produced by Charles Henson, who makes all the wonderful video tributes to the Bash special guests.

The annual Monster Bash Conference is truly a special event, and Ron Adams and his team deserve to be singled out for the fantastic job they do in putting everything together and making the weekend turn out the way it does.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


On this day exactly 200 years ago, a large Anglo-Allied army under the command of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, fought Napoleon Bonaparte's Armee du Nord twelve miles south of Brussles in what is now Belgium. The huge battle changed the course of European history, and it is the subject of a film that I believe does not get enough respect from lovers of the epic historical genre. The movie is WATERLOO (1970).

Italian producer Dino DeLaurentiis had tried for years to bring a dramatization of the Battle of Waterloo to the screen, and he finally entered into a partnership with Mosfilm of the Soviet Union. This partnership enabled the production to use the resources of the Soviet Army, not only as extras, but as labor in "creating" a reproduction of the site of the battle in the Ukraine.

Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk was hired to helm the project. Bondarchuk had already made a mammoth film version of WAR AND PEACE, so he was familiar with large battle scenes and the Napoleonic Era. The battle scenes for WATERLOO used 20,000 soldiers of the Red Army, and a full brigade of Soviet cavalry. The battle scenes took a staggering 48 days to film.

I've seen plenty of war movies, and I have to say that out of all of them, WATERLOO, hands down, has the most spectacular battles. This movie has to be seen in widescreen so the viewer can take in the full panorama of the spectacle. I have never served in the military, and I've never experienced any real military action.....but WATERLOO is the only movie where it actually looks to me that a real battle was fought. The scope of the fighting is tremendous--the cavalry charges, the cannons going off, the thousands and thousands of soldiers being used, and the smoke and confusion of war. And there is no CGI whatsovever--everything you see in this movie is real.

WATERLOO stars Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as the Duke of Wellington. Steiger has come under a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Napoleon--many see his performance as way over the top. Personally I think his Napoleon is magnificent. Steiger is over the top....but he should be. You can't have a understated Napoleon. The French Emperor was one of the most charismatic and magnetic personalities in world history, and whenever an actor has to play him, that actor has to try and live up to the real man. Steiger acts his heart out--he makes Napoleon emotional, cunning, arrogant, and impetuous. I would say that Rod Steiger is the best out of all of the cinematic Napoleons.

Christopher Plummer makes a very haughty Wellington. Unlike Napoleon, Plummer's Duke is a cool and crafty aristocrat. Steiger has the far more showier role as Napoleon but Plummer does very well matched against him.

Most of the other roles in the film are almost paper thin. We don't get to really know much about Wellington and Napoleon's subordinates and associates. If you are not a military history buff, you will probably be lost trying to watch this film. I'm certainly no expert when it comes to the Battle of Waterloo, but from what I have read and researched, the movie does an excellent job of following the main aspects of the conflict for the most part. But there is very little explanatory dialogue--one enjoys this movie a lot more if one has a basic understanding of Napoleon and this point in history.

WATERLOO was not a big success when it was released, and I can certainly see why. This is not in any way what could be called a "mainstream" film. How can ordinary members of the audience relate to larger-than-life figures such as Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington? The movie does have a very minor character, an English soldier, as a sort of comic relief/regular person part.....but the role is so small he doesn't have much of an impact on the film. It is never explained exactly why Napoleon has to be stopped....if you don't know any of the basics surrounding the story, watching this film is kind of like viewing a sporting event where you have no idea who the participants are. Unless you are a European, you're not really going to have much of an emotional attachment to any of the people portrayed in this movie, or any of the events being shown.

That being said, this movie is worth seeing just for the majestic battle scenes alone. My favorite part of the film is where the French cavalry charge, and Wellington's troops form into squares to better fight the onrushing foe. What we get is a helicopter's eye view of hundreds of troops forming the squares as hundreds of horses speed by, in, and around them. The result is simply breathtaking....it must have been fantastic to see this on a big screen.

And that's the big problem with WATERLOO. It needs to be seen on as big a screen as possible. My region-free DVD of the movie is non-anamorphic, and it is subtitled in Chinese, which makes me think it is an "unofficial" copy (I bought it from Oldies.com). As far as I know, there is not an official Region A DVD or Blu-ray release of this film, which is a shame. My DVD runs about 127 minutes--I've read rumors that the Russian version of the film is almost four hours long. A movie like WATERLOO simply cries out for a Blu-ray restoration. With the 200th anniversary of the battle, I was hoping that someone would officially release the film on home video, or that a cable movie channel would show the film in HD. No such luck.

If you do get a chance to see WATERLOO, by all means do so--especially if you have any interest in military history. If you think you've seen some great movie battle scenes, you haven't seen anything until you see WATERLOO.

Rod Steiger as Napoleon

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


JURASSIC WORLD isn't so much a sequel to JURASSIC PARK as it is a 21st Century re-doing of Steven Spielberg's classic summer blockbuster. To fit modern film making sensibilities, the park is now "live", and there's tons of guests, and a lot more dinosaurs. Instead of having scientists as the main characters, JURASSIC WORLD has a ex-military man who is something of a "dinosaur whisperer", and a uptight ultra-professional career woman. The main threat in JURASSIC PARK was the historic T-Rex, and the main threat in the new movie is a genetically engineered "super" dinosaur.

JURASSIC WORLD does have several references to the original film, and people who love that movie (like I do) will appreciate and enjoy them. But JURASSIC WORLD takes the original premise and super-sizes it. It's very entertaining and well-made, but I don't think it is as legendary a film as JURASSIC PARK.

Paleontology and dinosaur fact take a back seat in JURASSIC WORLD. We find out that the evil corporation that owns the island wants to control the dinosaurs as military weapons--a sub-plot that seems a bit old-fashioned. The sense of wonder that was a major factor of JURASSIC PARK seems to be missing here. The movie's screenplay even references this--there's a conversation on how the park continually has to create "new" dinosaurs, just like regular theme parks have to create newer and bigger attractions to keep attendees from being bored.

If JURASSIC WORLD does anything, it validates Chris Pratt's standing as a new successful major leading man. There isn't really much to Pratt's role here--he's the cool tough guy--but Pratt has such an engaging and likable personality that he makes his character far more memorable than it should be.

As for Bryce Dallas Howard, I didn't really like her character (who is the director of the park) at all. The "uber-career woman who needs to be humanized" is a pretty obvious character arc. In JURASSIC PARK, the leading female role, as played by Laura Dern, was a multi-dimensional, intelligent, brave, and resourceful person. Here the script seems to be hinting that Howard's character needs a man and kids to make her whole--I guess we haven't really come a long way, baby.

This wouldn't be a JURASSIC movie without a couple kids being menaced by dinosaurs--and they're here, in the form of the park director's nephews. They're not annoying, but you have to wonder if they were shoehorned into the script.

Right now this movie is making a huge amount of money, and sequels have already been announced. I honestly don't know how far you can go with this premise. Every JURASSIC movie revolves around humans messing around with dinosaurs, the dinosaurs running a muck, and kids in danger. About the only way you can go forward with the series is to do what JURASSIC WORLD has done--make things even more bigger and the storyline more and more outlandish. Any JURASSIC sequel will make tons of money--but will they be better movies?

JURASSIC WORLD is worth seeing--it's a good time at the movies, and it is enjoyable. But it's kind of like fast food--I don't think it will stick in the memory the way JURASSIC PARK has. By the way, I would not recommend taking very little children to see this film.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

What can I say about this man that hasn't already been said by untold numbers of people throughout the world today?

Christopher Lee wasn't just a guy who appeared in a whole bunch of monster movies--he was a personal hero to me.

He served in World War II. He was an extremely intelligent man who was fluent in several languages. He was a devoted husband and father, and a man who lived his life with dignity and honor. He was a highly professional man, a talented man, a responsible man--a rare thing in this day and age.

He has a cinematic legacy that will live on forever. I fear that no matter what I may write, it can in no way properly articulate the greatness of his life and the feelings I have for him.

So instead, I offer a photographic tribute.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How I Drifted Away From THE SIMPSONS

For those of you thinking, "What is he writing a blog on THE SIMPSONS for?? This is a movie blog!"--hey, it's my blog, and I can do whatever I want. Besides, there was a Simpsons movie, which I'll get to.

Anyway, there has been a lot of Simpsons news lately, starting with the revelation that Harry Shearer, who did many of the show's voices, will no longer be part of the program. Yesterday came internet news that for the show's 27th season, Bart Simpson will get killed by his nemesis Sideshow Bob in the annual Halloween episode, and Marge and Homer will split up.

Anyone who personally knows me can tell you how much I loved watching the Simpsons. I watched it obsessively--I would never miss a new episode on Sunday night, even if there was a major sporting event going on. I had plenty of Simpsons memorabilia, I would buy the season DVD sets the day they came out, and I would still always watch the reruns in the afternoon.

Now I have to admit I haven't even seen a new episode in the last two or three years. I just drifted away from it--it wasn't an overnight decision, it wasn't something I decided to do at a certain moment. It got to the point where I would miss an episode here and there....and eventually I just stopped watching it....and I probably didn't even realize I wasn't watching it anymore.

Fact is, THE SIMPSONS has been running on fumes for years. I don't care how good the writing or acting on any television show may be--after 27 years, there's going to be a decline in quality. The unique nature of THE SIMPSONS makes it even more susceptible to a downfall.

Do any of these plotlines sound familiar to you?

Homer and Lisa try to bond together
Bart goes too far, and realizes the consequences of his actions
Principal Skinner/Mrs. Krabbapple/Moe tries to find true love

I could name plenty others, but THE SIMPSONS has used variations of those plotlines over and over and over again. So much so that after awhile I could watch a new episode for about a couple minutes and figure out what plotline they were going to use.

The big problem I started to have with the show is that the supporting characters were allowed to change (Skinner and Krabbapple having an affair, Barney quitting drinking, etc.) yet the Simpsons themselves stayed the same. The kids never aged. I know that's supposed to be one of the big in-jokes of the show, but think about this: what if--every three or five seasons, for example--the Simpson kids had aged one year? Just think about all the new plotlines and stories that could develop from that. This is where the fact that the Simpsons is animated hurts the show in a way. The family not changing at all for ten or twelve years? Okay, you might get away with it...but after 25 years, it just doesn't work. That's why the idea of having Marge and Homer separate--in the series' 27th year--appears to be nothing more than grasping at straws.

Another reason THE SIMPSONS just isn't what it used to be anymore is that it is supposed to be a "cutting edge" show. Trying to be cutting edge for any amount of time, especially in the world of today, is a hard chore (just ask the makers of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE or David Letterman). In reality, when THE SIMPSONS was at the top of its game, the show was never as subversive as its critics thought it was. At its best THE SIMPSONS was a brilliantly funny observation of American culture--but it also had heart. You cared about and liked the characters. This is what makes THE SIMPSONS different from FAMILY GUY. If you watch two minutes of FAMILY GUY, yeah, you'll laugh--but you don't really care what happens to the FAMILY GUY characters, and I just don't think that show has the resonance that the best of THE SIMPSONS has.

When I started losing interest in THE SIMPSONS, it seemed to me to be trying to be like FAMILY GUY by going down the every-single-second-a-politically-incorrect-joke route. The problem with trying to shock people is that eventually they won't be shocked anymore as society changes. If you watch some of the classic Simpsons episodes from the 1990s, it looks and feels almost like a completely different show than the Simpsons of the 21st Century.

What the makers of THE SIMPSONS should have done was to stop the show and concentrate on making Simpsons movies. Or...maybe they just should have taken a break altogether. Everything now is being re-done, re-booted, remade, or re-worked....but you can't do that with THE SIMPSONS, because they've been around the whole time. Could you imagine how the internet would react if THE SIMPSONS had been off the air for a number of years....and it was announced that the show was coming back? Social media would go absolutely crazy.

There's another reason, a very important one, that I think explains why I don't get into THE SIMPSONS any more, and it has a lot to do with geek culture.

When you watch a television show nowadays, you don't just watch it....you immerse yourself in it. You read books and articles about it, you learn all the facts and trivia about the show, you go online and obsess over nuance and detail of every episode. I believe the main reason why people watch shows like GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD is because they want to be a part of what everybody else is talking about on the internet.

When I was a kid, viewers watched television in a totally different way. There wasn't any multi-episode story arcs, or continuing threads. If, say, on an episode of CHIPS, Ponch or Jon fell in love, you could bet that one of three outcomes was going to happen. The woman was going to turn out to be criminal, or die by the end of the episode, or have to move away to Madagascar or someplace like that....and by next week's episode, that woman was absolutely forgotten.

Now, watching a popular TV show is something of a chore...there's just so much stuff you have to deal with and remember if you want to be a fan of a certain show. After 25 years, THE SIMPSONS has accumulated a lot of stuff....and I think my Simpsons memory hard drive just reached its limit. I have a lot of interests, a lot of things I get into....and as I get older, more and more I have to pick and choose how much time (and money) I devote to certain things. THE SIMPSONS just went off to the side of the road for me. I still consider it one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and just about every day a certain situation comes up in my life, and I think of a line from THE SIMPSONS that fits that situation. But no, I can't watch it like I used to.


Saturday, June 6, 2015


A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on Kino's Blu-ray release of Sam Peckinpah's next-to-last film directorial effort, CONVOY. Now Anchor Bay has put out Peckinpah's final film on Blu-ray--1983's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND.

THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND is adapted from a novel by the same name, written by Robert Ludlum. (I read a lot of Ludlum books when I was younger, but the one this movie is based on I have not read, so I do not know how much it and the film have in common.) The story concerns John Tanner (Rutger Hauer), a investigative TV host who is informed by a mysterious CIA agent (John Hurt) that three of his closest friends are actually spies for the Soviet Union. The agent coerces Tanner into allowing the CIA to set up his house with audio & visual surveillance equipment for an upcoming get-together with the accused three. What follows is a complicated plot featuring lies, secrets, betrayals, and John Tanner winding up having to figure out how to save the lives of his family.

THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND isn't on the same level as Peckinpah's earlier films, but it is a rather intriguing thriller, with an excellent cast. Tanner's three friends are played by Craig T. Nelson, Chris Sarandon, and Dennis Hopper, and Burt Lancaster portrays the Director of the CIA. Hutger is fine in what is a very unusual role for him--a "normal" character (if you can call a famous tabloid journalist "normal"). The real acting honors are taken by John Hurt as the CIA operative Fawcett. Hurt's character is the one who sets everything into motion, and as the story goes along the more and more mysterious (and unnerving) Hurt acts. Without giving the plot away there is a reason why Fawcett acts the way he does...which gives the audience a unique understanding into the man's mind.

THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND does not have as many action sequences as one would expect in a Peckinpah film, but there is a true great one--a finely edited showdown at the Tanner family pool involving guns, gasoline, and bows & arrows (!). The movie is more a psychological thriller than a pure shoot-em' up. The themes touched upon in the film--government surveillance of private citizens, media manipulation, and the extent of which technology intrudes upon our lives--makes THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND feel more like something made in the 21st Century instead of something made in the 1980s. I'm no fan of reboots and remakes, but I'm really surprised this title has not been redone yet. All you would have to do is change the three friends to being suspected of helping terrorists, and update the technology involved in surveillance, and you've got yourself a story.

The main extra on this Blu-ray is a feature-length documentary on the making of the film called ALPHA TO OMEGA. Once again, we find out from the producers of THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND that Peckinpah caused problems and was eventually taken off the production before the final cut. THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND would be Sam Peckinpah's final theatrical film as a director (he would die in 1984). Several members of the cast and crew are interviewed as well. The disc also features a commentary with Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle--these men have done commentaries for nearly every Peckinpah movie on home video, and they once again come through with an enlightening and informative effort.

THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND isn't THE WILD BUNCH, but it is a very effective mystery-thriller, and because of the elements of the story it plays better today than it did when it was first released. Sam Peckinpah's final film may not be a popular classic, but it is in no way an embarrassment, either.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Movie Star.....Or Style Icon?

Last weekend my friend Will McKinley (not the assassinated President of the United States) asked on Twitter whether any other movie star than Marilyn Monroe has been featured on so much tacky merchandise. My reply was that Monroe also seems to have the most fans who have never actually watched most of her films. This led to a Twitter discussion concerning how some film stars are really better known as generic style icons, a discussion rather cogently summed up by a Will McKinley tweet:

There are classic film stars who are embraced by contemporary audiences purely as style icons, as if their work--the films--is incidental.

Marilyn Monroe is the poster girl (pun intended) for Will's tweet. Go into any store with a decent amount of merchandise--Target, Meijer, Wal-Mart, etc.--and you'll find something with Monroe's image slapped on it. Monroe is still considered the world's greatest modern sex symbol--but was she really a great movie star?

The most famous movie image of Marilyn Monroe is the above photograph. And that is not a still from the movie THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, it is a picture taken during the making of a scene in the movie. I bet if you showed that photo to ten different people, most of them couldn't even tell you what movie it is from.

This isn't a post designed to knock Marilyn Monroe. I'm just pointing out that Monroe's fame is out of proportion with her actual film career--in my opinion. I think there are many actresses from the 1950s who were more talented than Monroe and made more interesting films, such as Kim Novak. Heck, I'd even include Dorothy Malone on that list. For whatever reason Marilyn Monroe is the definition of a great female movie star for those who are not film buffs (for the purposes of this blog post, those people will hereafter be defined as "civilians").

But Monroe isn't the only movie star who meets Will's criteria as a style icon. James Dean is another example. Dean only had three major film roles before his early death, and he still is on more merchandise than most of the young leading men of today. There's that famous photo of Dean taken during the movie GIANT showing Dean sitting in a car wearing a cowboy hat and his feet propped up. I have to wonder, for those that have a copy or a poster of that image...have that actually sat through almost four hours of GIANT? (I've never been able to.) I have to say that it appears to me that the Dean cult is fading a bit, and I think the reason for that is so many of those who worshiped Dean in the 1950s and 1960s are starting to pass away.

Humphrey Bogart is another who fits the style icon criteria. Now Bogart had a magnificent screen career, and he was far more talented an actor than Monroe or Dean. But to all the "civilians" out there, he's the cool-looking guy smoking a cigarette and wearing a fedora and a trench coat. In most of his movies he didn't wear those things, but that is how the general public perceives him. Because of that, Bogart's great talent--and his great body of film work--have been watered down to a instantly recognizable (and generic) image.

I believe that John Wayne also fits the style icon definition to a certain extent. But what is funny about all the Wayne merchandise is that it is almost always centered around "old" John Wayne--the John Wayne from the late 1960s and early 1970s. I've never really understood why so many "civilians" like the old John Wayne from that period better than the period when Duke was making some of the most famous films of all time. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Wayne's movies from his "old man" period are shown on television constantly. It's kind of sad, though, to think that a lot of people believe Wayne's persona is defined by a movie like CAHILL--U.S. MARSHAL.

Audrey Hepburn is someone who is now becoming defined by her "style" rather than her complete movie career. In the last couple years I've noticed a huge growth in Audrey Hepburn merchandise--and almost all of it is centered around her role in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Once again, I have to ask the folks that buy the Audrey stuff--have you actually seen BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S? I mean, that movie doesn't really hold up that well today, and it has some strange stuff in it, like Buddy Ebsen's warmup for Jed Clampett and Mickey Rooney's "comic" Oriental.

It is interesting how performers such as Monroe, Dean, Bogart, and Wayne are considered by "civilians" to be the generic definition of a classic movie star. Usually what the "civilians" think they see--or appreciate--in those performers is very different that what their personal and professional lives turned out to be. If you go into any restaurant that has a pseudo-nostalgic interior decoration, the quartet of performers I just mentioned will be represented in some way--either individually or all together.

When I see someone wearing an image from that quartet, or showing an image from that quartet in their homes....and I find out that the person is not a major film buff, I kind of feel the way I do when I see someone wearing a jersey or a hat of a certain sports team, and finding out that person is not really a fan of the team. My feeling is "What's the point??"

I know that there will be those reading this who will say that I sound like a pompous #OldMovieWierdo (a hashtag invented by Will McKinley, by the way), but if you are going to go to the trouble of buying merchandise with some one's face on it, and it is someone you never personally knew, or even met, shouldn't there be more of a reason to buy it than "He/she was attractive and famous"? I'm not expecting everyone to be an obsessive film nerd like me, but it would be nice if those who extol the virtues of stars like Monroe, Dean, etc., actually knew something about them other than the basic facts (which most of the time wind up being nothing more than urban legends).

When you get right down to it, every movie star is a style icon in one way or another--that's part of the role of a movie star. But when the image becomes more famous than the star's actual career--I think that diminishes the star, rather than making them iconic.