Random Film of the Week: Brainstorm (1983)

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What you really want to see when the nurses come for you…

brainstorm_MP1A few years back, The second thing I thought of when Facebook snapped up “virtual reality” headset maker Oculus was this flawed but still incredible 1983 sci-fi film directed by Douglas Trumbull. Unfortunately, Brainstorm slipped into theaters under the dark cloud of Natalie Wood’s mysterious off-set death as a work that some at the time debated should have been scrapped entirely. At the time, I liked Trumbull’s technical mastery more than the cast’s straightforward performances. Upon seeing the film again recently, I liked it more, but I also think it’s one of the few films where a modern remake would fix a few things such as sofa-sized and room-sized computers and those super-bulky tapes and that huge headset helmet prototype. Then again, that old tech is kind of what makes the film so effective, as it sure looks like all that wiring and doodads do something.

Despite some workman-like performances from its cast, Trumbull’s direction and his blending standard 35mm camerawork and outstanding widescreen shots of real life vistas and indoor locales plus assorted visual effects that predated IMAX in its use of dynamic screen ratio changes. The often stunning widescreen sequences were shot in Super Panavision 70 with an aspect ratio of 2.2:1 are the real stars here. Still, there’s an air of gloom that hangs over the entire film thanks to one character’s on-screen fate that makes you wish the thought-capturing device in the film actually existed, but had a ‘rewind life’ function added. As dry as the pedestrian plot is, the imagery is at times, some breathtaking stuff that mixes in mundane to high flying activities as the assorted fantasy to nightmare sequences play out.

(thanks, BreadCrustCouncil!)

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It’s John Carpenter’s Birthday. You Know What To Do Next.

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And guess who sold off his record player a while ago? Boooo to me!

Clearer message: Go here. BUY STUFF. Be happy. That is all. Rinse and repeat if necessary (and it will be necessary). Show this post to friends and don’t be at all surprised when it works on them as well. OBEY.

Okay, NOW, that is all.

-GW

Random Film of the Week Quickie: DEAD END

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“I hear the marinara sauce is good in this joint…”

Dead End 1937 MPI love Dead End for a few reasons. It’s a great film based off a stage play that yep, both looks and feels stagey, but that works highly in its favor. It’s a classic Old New York City film just for the location it presents and the feeling that, staging aside, that place actually existed. It also marked the debut of The Dead End Kids who’d later morph into The Little Tough Guys, then The East Side Kids and then into The Bowery Boys with a total of close to 50 audience-pleasing fluff comedies made between 1937 and 1958. To some non-fans of the Boys, this only proves the law of diminishing returns should have been more strictly obeyed and enforced (ha and ha). But, I digress.

It also has Humphrey Bogart in an early knockout role as a slickly dressed but menacing thug who returns to his old stomping grounds with a brand new facelift for mixed results. Finally, it’s a nicely directed “message” film by the great William Wyler that works on many levels, some of which soak in only after a second or third viewing. Go grab your popcorn, pal. I’ll wait. Oh, you’re making it on the stove the old-fashioned way? Good. I’ll go get a bowl and meet you back here in five.

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Bogie lets McCrea know he can’t wear a hat AND a bucket at the same time.

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An Animated Discussion (Part 3)

Feebles

So, here we are again. Let’s see how, this time, we’ll see what else was in the bag of cartoons I loaned a friend. I added some stuff that wasn’t animated or not quite cartoons, but they all fit a theme.  So here’s the final countdown with a few surprises for good measure:

roujin-zRoujin-Z:  Here’s the thing. Both kids don’t like anime, but I decided to pop this into the lot because it’s a family film of sorts and I know both parents would be into it because  they’d “get” it and enjoy it even if their two Teen Titans didn’t. Lo and behold, not only did the kids take to it, they were both deciding that the genre was much more that what friends at school were hammering them in the heads over endlessly.

I should have gone with Ghost In The Shell as well, but this Otomo flick was more of an acceptable choice and I didn’t want to overwhelm them, although, yes, I had to field a few questions regarding the crazy ending. That said, I wonder how Akira or something as nuts as a Fist of the North Star would have gone over. That said, I think a Miyazaki film might be a better thing (I’m looking at YOU, Lupin!)

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Some Trailers, “Hmm…” Version

Okay, my “don’t watch any more trailers!” phase lasted about two whole months or so before I started getting bugged by a few folks to, you know, go watch some trailers. I really didn’t want to because in my mind, they make me less likely to want to see a film thanks to too many of them being more or less edited in such a similar fashion that they tend to blend into “CG… or not CG” affairs with performance a secondary consideration. But that’s just my more jaded take. That and hey, I find seeing films totally cold makes them a lot more enjoyable.

In any event, I finally sat down and caught a few trailers for upcoming or already released films and as predicted, liked a few and didn’t like others. Here are a few I liked:

Underwater:

 

Okay, I’ve liked seeing Kristen Stewart really getting into some roles where you forget she was in all those Twilight films, so this not quite new (it was supposed to be released in 2017) 20th Century Fox release has my interest piqued. There’s an ALIEN vibe here that I like but the film seems to touch a few bases I hope get tackled well. It certainly seems to be more action-oriented than Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, though. But then again, modern trailers tend to make everything in a genre look like it’s going to pack in endless action scenes. I’m hopeful this one explores more than expected and can stand alone without a need for sequels galore. We shall see, of course.

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Random Film of the Week Quickie: The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

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It’s too hot for meatballs, but it’s going to get hotter, Tor.

yucca_MPI first saw this really awful and brilliantly bad sci-fi flick very late at night some years ago and again recently after overhearing someone in a diner hilariously recast the Avengers movies as period pieces set in the early 60’s. Yes, Tor Johnson was The Hulk in that person’s version. While you roll that around in your noggin, be warned that The Beast of Yucca Flats is a pretty horrible movie with only three redeeming factors:

1. It’s only 54 minutes or so long. Okay, it’s a long 54 minutes, so there’s that.

2. If you’re in a foul mood, you very likely won’t be in 54 minutes or so*.

3. It almost makes Plan 9 from Outer Space or Robot Monster look like Star Wars movies (which ones are up to you).

(Thanks, Alistair Knight!)

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Arrow Video: Only Two In January, But What A Pair

While there are only two releases from Arrow Video this month, both are films I’ve not seen, so this is a good thing. Actually, every month is a good thing for film releases from Arrow, as their restorations are pretty stellar and in most cases, you get a wealth of special features that give some films a bit of commentary and perspective.

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First up is 1988’s Edge of the Axe ($39.95, 1/28/2020),  a film that I didn’t see back then, but it’s popped up in a few recommendations over the decades, so it’s now on the list of stuff to see. I’ll no doubt be diving under a blanket, if that cover art is any indication.

From cult Spanish filmmaker José Ramón Larraz (Vampyres, Symptoms) comes this long-neglected late 80s slasher classic, finally unleashed on Blu-ray for the first time ever!

The rural community of Paddock County is being rocked by the crazed exploits of an axe-wielding psychopath, who stalks the night in a black trenchcoat and mask. As the victims pile up, the authorities attempt to keep a lid on the situation, whilst computer whizz-kid Gerald and girlfriend Lillian seek to unmask the killer before the town population reaches zero. Nominally set in Northern California but shot primarily in Madrid, giving the film an off-kilter, American/European atmosphere akin to the likes of Pieces, Edge of the Axe is a late entry hack-and-slash masterpiece from one of the titans of Spanish terror.

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
  • English and Spanish language versions of the feature
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Spanish soundtrack
  • Brand new audio commentary with actor Barton Faulks
  • Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks
  • The Pain in Spain – a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur
  • Image Gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes

black angelNext up is Black Angel ($39.95, 1/28/2020) from 1946. This film noir is one I’ve wanted to see for a while, but haven’t gotten around to yet (what else is new, right?). I read a while back the person who wrote the book hated the film version, so that alone had me curious, as the cast made up of a few really solid actors and the director was pretty ace as well.

Elegantly directed by Hollywood veteran Roy William Neill (best known for his 11 Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone), Black Angel is an underappreciated film noir treasure, adapted from a novel by the acclaimed crime writer Cornell Woolrich (Phantom Lady).

When the beautiful singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) is slain in her chic apartment, the men in her life become suspects. There is Martin Blair (Dan Duryea, Scarlet Street), her alcoholic musician ex-husband, nursing a broken heart; there is the shady nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon) who has been sneaking around her place, and there is Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), the adulterer who found his mistress’s dead body and fled the scene. When Bennett is convicted and sentenced to death, his long-suffering wife Catherine (June Vincent) joins forces with the heartbroken pianist Martin Blair to uncover the truth… Black Angel is a consummate 1940s crime thriller which boats a suspenseful narrative, strong performances and atmospheric, meticulously lit cinematography.

Roy William Neill’s film is presented here in a sumptuous restoration, with several illuminating new extras.

  • Brand new restoration from original film elements by Arrow Films
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • New audio commentary by the writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode
  • A Fitting End, a new video appreciation by the film historian Neil Sinyard
  • Original trailer
  • Gallery of original stills and promotional materials
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Philip Kemp

With both set for release on the same day, I smell a double feature here. At least that’s my plan for these two.

-GW

An Animated Discussion (Part 1)

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“Oh nooooo, another post! RUN!

A while back, a friend of mine made a bet with his two teens that he could stay off the internet longer they they could and he noted that after a bit of “sure, Dad, whatever…” snickering and such, they took him up on the offer for a month. Well, I think it may have been the lure of less to no chores for the month as a reward and I think there was a small amount of financial bribery (which isn’t really “bribery” if it’s in kept the family and it’s agreed upon, right?). CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

I got a kick out hearing this because I know for a while he’d been trying to get them to spend more time with each other and less time glued to tiny screens when they were in the same room. I knew he and The Wife were big fans of board games and silly outdoor fun, but the kids? Well, they were when they were younger, they were. But now they did school activities and were busy with them (a few clubs and team sports, from what I understand). But at home, phones, tablets and teen gossip ruled the roost so much that on some days, even the TV went un-watched by the kids. Neither of them is into video games as a hobby, although there is a PS4 in the house that gets regular use (Hi, Dad!). Anyway, it seems that things were going well for about a week, when I get a phone call asking if I had any cartoons in the movie library…

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Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

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One of these folks has not has his coffee yet. One has had too much.

pokemon_detective_pikachu_ver2_xlgWhile I’ll confess I’m more of a Monster Rancher person (ah, memories of popping in random or specific CD’s to generate monsters!), I did dabble in a tiny bit of Pokémon starting back in the ’90’s, playing bit of the Red version and a few other titles, eventually tapping out because it wasn’t for me. In he 2000’s. I did eventually play a few of the free games from the franchise though. Both Pokémon Rumble and Pokémon Shuffle were decent, simple time killers on the 3DS for a while. But I wouldn’t say I was devoted to catching them all and nope, I couldn’t tell some evolved types apart even if you handed me a cheat sheet.

That said, I do know Pikachu is a species of Pokémon, so only seeing ONE of them in Pokémon Detective Pikachu was having my well-aged eyebrow creak up a little. Granted, it’s very likely that some younger kids would be a bit confused seeing more than one, so there’s that to consider. That said, I’ve had random conversations with super diehard fans over the years where from kid to adult, they can go on about Pokémon for a while as if they’re real creatures and you can learn everything about them, even if you’re afraid to ask. Try getting stuck in an elevator with a few restless Pokémon fans for about an hour, and someone’s practically guaranteed to whip out their Pokédex notes (NOTE: this has happened three times over a few years, so I must be either lucky… or I need to take the stairs more).

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Detective Pikachu is quite a decent enough film, hitting all the right technical notes (the assorted Pokémon are all perfectly brought to life courtesy of some spectacular CG) and falling back on the usual formulaic three-act structure you’d expect from a movie like this. It’s also likely the best live action videogame to film translation to date, I’d say, Especially after sitting through a few cash-in films over the years that were lacking in a few areas. For anyone new to this sort of thing, it might be a bit overwhelming what with all the visual information presented onscreen (or: this is one very busy film). But for the most part, director Rob Letterman keeps things interesting and for a film partially based on a game of the same name, it’s pretty solid.

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Random Film of the Week Quickie: Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)

Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) MPA few years ago, I was sitting in a diner waiting for a few friends to arrive and overheard two guys in the booth behind me debating whether or not Orson Welles was a good filmmaker. Wait, what?  My ears perked up as one of the guys noted that he thought the only film he ever saw from the director was one he felt was overrated (and nope, it wasn’t Citizen Kane). He was talking about Chimes After Midnight.

It turned out both were film students who had a teacher who wasn’t a fan of the director, had shown the film in his class, and yep, both were new to Welles’ work while also in that uncomfortable place in one’s youth where one questions too much without searching for the proper answers. Eh, I think they were entitled to their opinions, but I’d loved to have sat down with them and made a few points on some of the man’s work they were clearly missing thanks to their biased instructor’s babbling and their lack of seeing more of his output.

The discovery a few years back of a fantastic quality print plus a few other things falling into place means we now have a superb high quality home video version of Orson Welles’ 1965 masterpiece Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) which just so happens to be one of the better (and looser) adaptations of Shakespeare put on film. Even if you’re not into The Bard’s work, seeing a cinematic genius like Welles pull this off on a low budget while also creating one of the most effective and chaotic battle sequences set to film makes this a must-see movie. Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielgud, Kieth Baxter and the rest of the cast all give perfect performances, the editing manages to make the year plus it took to put this together even more brilliant and overall, it’s a great film that’s influenced quite a few others that ended up becoming modern (and better remembered) classics.

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