Beautiful Dreamer: MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (RKO 1949)


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The folks who brought you KING KONG – producer Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest Shoedsack, writer Ruth Rose, animator Willis O’Brien – returned sixteen years later to the giant ape theme with MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, a classic fantasy that can stand on its own. Though the film usually gets lumped into the horror genre, it’s more a fable than a fright fest, a beautifully made flight of fancy for children of all ages, and one of my personal favorites.

In deepest darkest Africa, little Jill Young buys a cute baby gorilla from the natives. Twelve years later, impresario Max O’Hara, along with rodeo wrangler Gregg and his crew, travel to The Dark Continent in search of exotic animal acts for a new show he’s producing, when they come face to face with the now 12 foot tall, 2,000 pound gargantua, affectionately called Joe by a grown Jill. She’s the only…

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Confessions of a TV Addict #8: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 1


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Irwin Allen  (1916-1991) wore many different hats during his long career: magazine editor, gossip columnist, documentarian, producer, director. He helped usher in the Age of the Disaster Movie with such 70’s hits as THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO, but before that he was best known as the producer of a quartet of sci-fi series from the Swingin’ 60’s. From 1964 to 1970 he had at least one sci-fi show airing in prime time… during the 1966-67 season, he had three, all complete with cheezy-looking monsters, campy humor, stock footage, guest stars (some on their way up… some down!), special effects by Oscar winner L.B. Abbott, and music by John Williams (who later scored a little thing called STAR WARS )! Here’s a look at the Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen:

Allen’s first foray into sci-fi TV was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (ABC, 1964-68), based…

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Adventure of a Lifetime: THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (United Artists 1940) — cracked rear viewer


 

Alexander Korda’s Arabian Nights fantasy THE THIEF OF BAGDAD has stood the test of time as one of filmdom’s most beloved classics. A remake of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s 1924 silent classic, Korda and company added some elements of their own, including Indian teen star Sabu as the title character, and some innovative Special Effects. In […]

via Adventure of a Lifetime: THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (United Artists 1940) — cracked rear viewer

Anime of the Year:2016


I gotta admit, of everyone here, I am definitely the guiding light when it comes to anime.  This doesn’t mean that I watch everything and my word is gospel (Ok, my word is always gospel, because I said so) but I do watch a decent amount of every year’s offerings, in the realm of 1/4 to 1/2 of everything that’s been released (but since there’s been 180 titles released this year alone, and I can manage to watch at the most 20 shows a season if I’m super diligent, which anyone here will admit I’m not) the best I can do is 80 shows.  So it’s always possible that something has fallen through the cracks.  But, I like to believe that I have a good finger on the pulse of things that are good.  Hence, while I’ve long heard the cry for Re:Zerorem-x-ramHonestly, I hated the protagonist to death (anyone that’s watched the show sees what I did there) and I cannot in good faith pick that show as my favorite for the year.  But if not this show, then whom?  Yes, there have been multiple shows that are worthy of a high ranking.

Could I have gone with another highly rated show, Erased?

erasedWell, since I’ve brought it up right now, everyone should know that no, this isn’t my top show.  But, let me say that it was high on my list.  The thing about anime is that shows that appear in the fall and winter seasons tend to be much more highly ranked because they are much more recent in the otaku consciousness.  The fact that a show like Erased, which premiered in the winter of 2016, has managed to keep itself in my otaku brain, speaks volumes for it.  However, as much as I loved this show, it still is not #1 for the year in my expert mind.

Frankly, I could lead you, the viewer, on through many, many more shows, and honestly you’d be better off knowing about them, but really, that’s just not my style.  The last two shows I told you about are ones that I felt everyone reading this blog should experience, whether you’re a fan of anime or not.  Anime fans will have watched all these shows and then some, because that’s what us otaku do.  But for the otaku crowd, who may or may not have been reading this far to see what I think is the creme de la creme, my vote goes, without a doubt, to KonoSuba, or as it’s known in its full name, as Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o!

konosubaSee, the thing about this show is, it has everything that a proper otaku loves, and it knows it.  It’s a complete parody of the whole “Loser otaku gets transported to a fantasy world and manages to kick ass while he’s there” trope, but it still manages to play it off and make it fun.  Totally different from Re:Zero, where the protagonist is flawed, to the point you hate his guts and want him dead.  In KonoSuba, the protagonist is certainly flawed, but in a way that’s completely believable, yet hilarious.  While with Re:Zero, naturally you can look at the situation and agree that, yes, if you or I were put in that situation, we’d likely behave in a very similar way, Konosuba instead says “To hell with realism, isn’t this how you’d want to act?”  And the thing is, the vast majority of us don’t want actual realism in our anime.  We want escapist fantasy.  KonoSuba gives us that in spades.  It’s a total parody of the whole “loser dropped into the fantasy world” premise that so many of us desire, without getting into the more realistic aspects that Re:Zero provides, like the fact that the loser dropped into the fantasy setting will remain a loser.

Again, let me tell you, this list is completely subjective.  If you follow my god-like opinions, then KonoSuba is the obvious choice for Anime of the Year in 2016.  However, if you’re a heretic, and would rather listen to the words that the godless believers would spout, then by all means, check out Re:Zero.  It’s probably better than I plan on listing it, because I cannot stand the kind of protagonist they give us, but maybe you, the readers, have a lot more tolerance than I do.

Curiouser & Curiouser: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Paramount 1933)


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Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s classic ALICE IN WONDERLAND was turned into an all-star spectacular by Paramount in 1933. But the stars were mostly unrecognizable under heavy makeup and costumes, turning audiences off and causing the film to bomb at the box office. Seen today, the 1933 ALICE is a trippy visual delight for early movie buffs, thanks in large part to the art direction of William Cameron Menzies.

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Menzies’ designs are truly out there, giving ALICE the surrealistic quality of the books themselves. He actually storyboarded his ideas right into the physical script, earning a co-writer credit along with Joseph L. Mankiewicz . Menzies was the cinematic wizard whose art direction brought the magical 1924 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD to life. He was co-director and special effects designer for 1932’s CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, and the title of Production Designer was invented for him on the classic GONE WITH THE WIND. Menzies also directed a few films; especially of…

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Giant Lizards and Fur Bikinis: ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1966)


raquelJURRASIC WORLD and its CGI dinosaurs have stomped their way to box office domination this year, raking in over five hundred million dollars (and counting). The youth market just eats up those computer generated special effects. But for my money, you just can’t beat the prehistoric hijinks of Hammer Films’ 1966 ONE MILLION YEARS BC. Two reasons: Ray Harryhausen and Raquel Welch.

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) learned the art of stop motion animation from the master, KING KONG’s own Willis O’Brien. After assisting O’Brien on 1949’s MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, he struck out on his own, using his Dynamation process on such sci-fi/fantasy flicks as BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, and 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Later films included VALLEY OF GWANGI, GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, and his last, 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS.

The second reason is Raquel. Full disclosure: I had a huge crush on Raquel Welch during my adolescence. I had the iconic poster of her in her fur bikini from this movie on my bedroom wall through most of the Seventies. I also had pictures of her from TV GUIDE taped in my locker at school, which got me in hot water with my 6th grade teacher. What a prude! Oh well, it may have been my first time in trouble at school, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

But I digress. Let’s take a trip back to the dawn of time in ONE MILION YEARS BC. There’s a prehistoric tribesman named Tumak (John Richardson) who’s ousted from his people due to a sibling rivalry with brother Sakana. He wanders aimlessly into an unknown world, encountering giant lizards and spiders along the way. Tumak reaches the seashore, where he meets up with a tribe of blonde beauties led by Raquel and her fur bikini. A giant turtle attacks the girls on the beach and Raquel blows her seashell, summoning the blonde males of the tribe. They, along with Tumak, chase the turtle away with their rocks and sticks. The tribe decides to accept Tumak as one of their own.

Which is good for Raquel, because the fur-bikini clad damsel has developed a thing for Tumak. This, however, makes her blonde boyfriend Ahos very jealous. After saving a little girl from a hungry Allosaurus, , Tumak and Ahos duke it out over possession of the victory spear. Tumak gets banished yet again, but this time he’s accompanied by Raquel and her fur bikini.

Across the wasteland we go again, as the couple run into a band of unevolved ape-men, and a battle between a Triceratops and a T-Rex. Tumak and Raquel (and the bikini) are ambushed by Tumak’s old tribe, and Tumak vanquishes Sakana. But a Pterodactyl attacks and carries Raquel off, fur bikini and all! The lovers are separated as the flying terror tries to feed poor Raquel to it’s babies. Eventually, they’re reunited, just in time for a fight between the rival tribes. The battle’s just getting underway when a volcano erupts, spitting lava and causing massive earthquakes.  The villages now all destroyed, the two tribes band together and march toward an uncertain destiny.

ONE MILLION YEARS BC may be pretty goofy, but it does has some bright spots. Harryhausen’s special effects are always a joy to behold, and I’ll still take them over CGI any day of the week. John Richardson makes a sturdy leading man, even with dialogue that mostly consists of grunts and groans. There’s a scene with the lovely Martine Beswick (DR JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE) doing a sort of Jurrasic watsui that’s a highlight. Oh, and did I mention Raquel and her fur bikini…..

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part One.


So, I think it may be fair to say that of most of the posters on this great site, I am probably the one who least enjoys the horror genre…or at least is never as excited about it as everyone else. It isn’t that I do not like horror films – there are quite a few I really love – but I just expect a lot from them. Probably – unfairly – more than I expect from other films. Why? Because I honestly think that when done right, horror films can be some of the most emotionally affecting films from any genre. But when done wrong – as I think far too many of them are – it just feels cheap and manipulative – and as someone who loves film, who loves how they can generate empathy and tell interesting stories, it always just feels like a slap to the face.

This love/hate relationship usually makes me hesitant to watch most horror films, which of course is an issue come October. This month is wall to wall horror from 12:01AM on the 1st – to midnight on Halloween. With this comes the pressure to watch a ton of horror films, and although in the past I have watched a few, I’ve never taken part in any sort of marathon that so many bloggers partake in this time of year…until now. This is part one – of what I hope will be a month long series – of quick reviews for horror films I watch this month. I hope to watch at least one a day.

October 1st: ‘Thale’ (dir. Aleksander Nordaas)

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A very low budget Norwegian fantasy/horror film, with a lot of interesting ideas, that sadly doesn’t execute on enough of them to reach any level of greatness…which I think was possible.

‘Thale’ is about two friends, working in a crime scene cleaning service, who stumble upon a hidden basement at one of the locations they have been hired to clean. Within they find a lab of sorts, and a beautiful young woman who is unable to speak – and is most certainly more than she appears to be. The result is a rather unique horror film with fantasy elements; one that thrives on atmosphere for the first hour or so, building a genuine level of suspense and mystery. It is an intriguing story, one that is slow to build but never boring. There is certainly a lot under the surface.

The only real issue I had was that there is narration throughout that tries a bit too hard to add depth to the story, both narratively and thematically, without much success. Mainly because the exposition within would benefit more from a ‘show don’t tell’ approach – and also because the actual narrative comes off as so simple that many of the themes expressed through the narration have nothing to do with what we have actually been shown.

This isn’t too big of an issue really, and I can’t fault it for trying to give more meaning to the story, but had it executed on some of the ideas it alludes to under the surface than maybe this wouldn’t have been an issue at all – especially if it had been a half hour longer, and explored the fantasy element in more detail.

Still, the performances are very good and – given its very low budget – so are the effects and overall production. It certainly has its flaws, but it still warrants a recommendation.

Oct. 2nd: ‘Pontypool’ (dir. Bruce McDonald)

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‘Pontypool’ is a mostly lean – though often convoluted – and creative horror film that builds slowly and contains just the right dash of humor. It is at times essentially ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ in film form.

It stars Stephen McHattie as an ex-shock jock who has reached a point in his career where he is stuck doing an early morning radio gig in a small Canadian town. He is quick to try to cause a stir, but his producer reminds him that the listeners just want to know the weather. As the morning slowly passes by the station begins to get weird reports of people, herds of people, swarming the streets. Whats seems to them to initially be a joke begins to turn into a life or death emergency situation where a virus is infecting the town, keeping the workers at the studio locked indoors, trying to figure out how it all started.

This isn’t the scariest horror film you will ever see, neither is it the most suspenseful – yet the development of the story, the unraveling mystery and the urgency of the performances make it an absorbing viewing experience. Things do start to get a little convoluted as we begin to better understand how the “virus” infecting people is being spread. The film seems to be making it up as it goes, and ironically it can’t seem to think of the rights words to explain what is actually happening.

But it does managed to create an interesting subtext on how language has been simplified and diminished by gossip, social websites and the media. It would also probably benefit from multiple viewings. But for now, I recommend you at least watch it once.

Oct. 3rd: ‘Pumpkinhead’ (dir. Stan Winston)

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‘Pumpkinhead’ is a creepy, cliche and cheesy as hell horror film about revenge, that manages to overcome all its faults with its brilliant creature design, a great central performance, and an emotional core that gives all the supernatural violence some resonance. The result isn’t a masterpiece – by any stretch – but it is a damn near perfect horror film for Halloween/October – especially with its eerie supernatural aesthetics.

The film stars Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a single father raising his son on a farm in the south. One day a group of teens (including a few blondes and a douchey “bad boy”) arrive in town. Their destination? A cabin in the woods…of course. On their way they encounter Harley at a local store he owns, which accidentally results in his son being killed by one of the teens in a dirt bike accident. The group heads for the cabin, fearing the repercussions, while Harley tracks down a creepy old lady who, according to local legend, can summon a demon-like creature to avenge the wrong doing done to a man.

From there we get a rather unoriginal creature feature – as the demon, called Pumpkinhead, hunts down the group of teens one by one. What kept this interesting, for me, was the structure of the events of the film and the development of Henriksen’s character. Henriksen is a great actor, and the bond that is built between him and his son, and the emotions he displays as he struggles with his son’s death and the revenge he seeks, manages to ground the film and gives it enough of an emotional relevancy to excuse the cheesiness of the supernatural horror elements – and some truly shitty dialogue.

On top of that are the great spooky horror aesthetics and atmosphere – moody lighting, fog…pumpkins – as well as the awesome design of the Pumpkinhead by special effects legend Stan Winston (‘Aliens’, ‘Terminator’) – who actually directed the film. It all adds up to an above average horror flick that I recommend everyone watch this October.