Birthdaypalooza, Vincent Price, & Hammer

Well I’m officially one year closer to my end of days. I did enjoy a wonderful birthday though having lunch with my wife and daughter at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Papa’s & Beer (Carnitas Fajitas, Horchada, and Flan for dessert – delicious) followed by a $3 movie at Cinebarre (Dark Shadows – not so good).

The evening’s entertainment was Doc Chey’s (Spicy basil noodles with chicken) with my wife followed by dessert at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge (Chocolate Mocha Stout cake – good, vanilla milkshake – not so good) with some dear friends. My dear friends were not supposed to know it was my birthday but Jen let it slip. They brought me a magnificent addition to my movie books.

A few years ago my wife bought me this wonderful book on the history of Hammer studios. It is chockful of wonderful photographs and provides wonderful detail on a wide variety of Hammer movies – though mostly their horror and science fiction offerings. I think author Marcus Hearn achieved the perfect balance of knowledge and entertainment to make this not only a wonderful, breezy read but also a suitable coffeetable book.

The Hammer Story apparently did very well because Marcus Hearn followed it up in 2009 with Hammer Glamour, an oversized hardcover about the wonderful ladies in the Hammer movies. In 2010 Hearn released another oversized hardcover, The Art of Hammer, that is dedicated to the poster art of Hammer films. I’m not sure if he’s done yet but last year Hearn released The Hammer Vault (yes I think the title should be The Vault of Hammer but that’s not my decision), a compendium of rare material that Hearn had not yet released.

“This remarkable journey through the Hammer Vault includes props, annotated script pages, unused poster artwork, production designs, rare promotional material and private correspondence. Hundreds of rare and previously unseen stills help to create a rich souvenir of Hammer’s legacy, from the X certificate classics of the 1950s to the studio’s latest productions.

Written and compiled by the official Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn, and featuring exclusive contributions from the actors and filmmakers associated with the company, this is the most lavish book ever published on the legendary House of Horror. “

I haven’t bought any of these books because I have yet to read my copy of Universal Studios Monsters. Our dear friends bought me The Hammer Vault and I was quite thrilled. I’m looking forward to reading it so much that I’ll probably just skip the Universal book for now.

My mother-in-law absolutely overwhelmed me this year. My movie room is plastered with literally hundreds of movie posters and placards but they were all modern and the vast majority were FREE from the movie theaters over the last few years (three of the four walls are covered in 12×18 plain black frames to hold the 11×17 posters).

For my birthday, my mother-in-law bought me the above original poster for The Last Man on Earth (she knows I love Vincent Price). I don’t want to know what she spent on it as I know collecting old movie posters is well beyond our means. We’re having it professionally framed (yikes!) and I’ll post a before and after in a few weeks. My eldest daughter also got me The Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-Ray in steelbook from Best Buy. I don’t know why but I do love those steelbook cases.

All in all a pretty sweet birthday.

Revenge of the Asylum – Aliens, Nazis, and a Beast

Here are a few films I started watching but didn’t quite finish.

The Beast of Bray Road (2005) – Rated R

“A wolf man terrorizes a small town in Leigh Scott’s hair-raising creature feature based on actual events. Beginning in the early 1990s, dozens of people reported seeing a werewolf-like creature stalking the cornfields of southeastern Wisconsin. In this fictional account, a big-city cop and an off-kilter scientist must protect the town’s citizens from the werewolf. “

Okay the description sounded intriguing so I started watching the movie. The opening scene acting and effects were terrible. Up came the credits – “The Asylum Presents”. *Click* no need to waste any more time here.

Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012) – Not rated

“When a team of scientists in Antarctica is abducted by masked men, they find themselves in a vast underground cavern populated by Nazis. Worse still, the escaped fanatics are developing ways to regenerate dead flesh, including that of their leaders.”

Okay how could you not love that title? Besides the grindhouse/Jules Verne mashup vibe, I have always loved Nazis as villains. Some of my favorite horror movies use them: The Keep, Shock Waves, The Outpost, The Boys from Brazil and Dead Snow are all guilty pleasures of mine.

Dangit! It starts with “The Asylum Presents” – my own personal kiss of death for a film. The opening fight scene is horrible – apparently no one trained the soldiers on either side to use cover and Dr. Mengele nonchalantly takes out an Allied tank with a panzerschreck (sort of like a disposable bazooka) before dispatching an Allied soldier with a scalpel.

Cut to modern-day Antarctica: Jake Busey stars as an important virologist/Antarctic base manager. Oh my – I don’t think I can take much more of this. I’m not sure which is worse – the acting or the effects. Okay someone’s face just got ripped off. I give up – that’s fifteen minutes I’ll never get back.

Alien Armageddon (2011) – Not rated

“After invading aliens known as Nephilim have eradicated every major city on Earth except Los Angeles, a dedicated and fierce group of humans is determined to fight back against their oppressors, despite the overwhelming odds facing them.”

I loved the title of the previous film. For Alien Armageddon, I love the poster. Not only do they attempt to ripoff Cowboys vs. Aliens with the art but they also try to ripoff Battle: Los Angeles with the text (which Asylum ripped off with Battle of Los Angeles).

I thought this was Asylum but it turns out that it was Morphius Film. I felt really bad when I heard the initial voiceover. It sounds just like Christopher Lee but imdb doesn’t list him in the credits. The special effects and acting are, if anything, worse than those from Asylum.

I only made it through six minutes of this film.


Ice Age, Madagascar 3, Busby Berkeley, & The Company of Friends

Wow! I spent all day yesterday at Carolina Cinemas. Before leaving the house, my daughter Els, my granddaughter Dorothy and I all tattooed up in preparation for Madagascar. I got Alex and Melman:

Els got Marty:

and Dorothy got Gloria and the penguins:

We arrived and Els took my picture as a penguin in the Madagascar display:

We were on a tight budget so it was a good thing that Els and I were armed with two FREE movie vouchers (from a contest) and a FREE popcorn (from our Carolina Card). Refills on popcorn are FREE at Carolina Cinemas if you are an Asheville Film Society member and soda refills are always FREE.

We saw the FREE showing of Ice Age, grabbed some lunch at French Fryz, and then came back to use our tickets for Madagascar 3. A great time was had by all and Madagascar 3 turned out to be pretty funny.

Els and Dorothy went home. I went to see Prometheus again to kill the time before my wonderful wife was due to show up. After Prometheus, I got to luxuriate in the upstairs lounge with Jen and a couple of good friends for a couple hours.

At 8 p.m., the Asheville Film Society put on their FREE Tuesday night show. This week was the Busby Berkeley musical The Gang’s All Here (1943). The movie itself was somewhat incoherent but still thoroughly enjoyable with great dance numbers, Carmen Miranda and her tutti-frutti hat, Benny Goodman and his orchestra, and lots of wonderful costumes.

I couldn’t improve on my wife’s description of the movie:

It’s a timeless story of: Boy has Girl, Boy wants different Girl, Boy lies to new Girl, Boy Loses Girl, original Girl decides to run off to Broadway, Boy’s Father declares everyone knows he wants new Girl, Boy gets new Girl (presumably since the film ends before that’s confirmed).

One further note: I saw this comic titled “How movie theaters SHOULD be laid out”. WARNING: Comic contains profanity. It is not actually one of Oatmeal’s better comics but it seemed appropriate for today’s activities.

An Evening with Kevin Smith – Chasing Amy Edition

Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: A good honest look at a romantic relationship and the insecurities involved slightly marred by the premise.

Chasing Amy (1997) – Rated R

“After comic book artist Holden (Ben Affleck) falls in love with the perfect woman, Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), he discovers she is a lesbian in this comedy from writer-director Kevin Smith. With no help from his friend, Banky (Jason Lee), Holden tries to make a relationship with Alyssa work. Although Holden knows Alyssa cares deeply about him, her homosexual past may conspire to come between them and ruin everything.”

“I don’t know. I love Chow Yun Fat. I just don’t see him playing Batman. “

Kevin Smith followed up the success of his debut Clerks with the sophomoric effort Mallrats. Mallrats had some funny bits but bombed at the box office, pulling in only half of its six million dollar budget.

Kevin Smith went back to the drawing board and reduced his budget to $250,000 for Chasing Amy. He sure got a lot of bang for his buck. He got a pre-fame Ben Affleck as well as his brother Casey and friend Matt Damon. Also starring are a pre-My Name is Earl Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams.

Joey Lauren Adams is absolutely adorable as the somewhat gay Alyssa. I won’t get into the thinking behind the heterosexual male fantasy of being able to ‘cure’ a lesbian but I will say that for the premise, it is handled much better than could be expected. Joey Lauren Adams shows a lot of real raw emotion when she is not busy being cute and, in spite of the other members of the cast, she is the best actor in the film.

Ben Affleck is charming as Holden and thankfully doesn’t try to mug his way through the film as he has occasionally done. Jason Lee is very funny as the crass Banky and is matched well by Dwight Ewell as an aggressively black gay man. Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) put in their requisite appearance but thankfully don’t overstay their welcome.

Kevin Smith does especially well when he sticks to an oeuvre he knows. Here he tackles a slightly unusual romance set in the world of comics. Kevin Smith is a huge comic geek. After achieving fame as a filmmaker both DC (Batman, Green Arrow) and Marvel (Daredevil) have had him write stories and he owns his own comic shop. Interestingly enough Ben Affleck who stars here would later go on to star as Daredevil.

With most of his films, all of the success or failure can be attributed to Smith as he writes, directs, edits, and guest stars in his films and Chasing Amy is not an exception. In fact the movie he didn’t write, Cop Out, is actually his worst.

Performances are quite good as is the writing. The best scene is a wonderfully uncomfortable confrontational scene juxtaposed with a hockey game. Chasing Amy’s Jaws riff is better than the one in Clerks but the Star Wars one isn’t as funny. Smith also throws in a number of references to Clerks to let you know that this is part of a series.

People Watch: Comics VIPs Mike Allred and Joe Quesada play themselves and Illeana Douglas plays Alyssa’s roommate. Also look for Brian O’Halloran (Clerks) appearing briefly as an executive.

An Evening with Kevin Smith – Clerks Edition

Kevin Smith’s first film, Clerks is currently available on instant Netflix. Kevin Smith’s strengths are his wonderful, well-realized characters and dialogue. WARNING: All of Kevin Smith’s movies are crass and have controversial material.

One-Line Review: Hilariously foul-mouthed black and white indie comedy about a video clerk and a convenience store clerk.

Clerks (1994) – Rated R on appeal for extensive use of extremely explicit sex-related dialogue (re-rating after appeal)

“Store clerks Dante and Randal are sharp-witted, potty-mouthed, and bored out of their minds. So in between needling customers, the counter jockeys play hockey, visit a funeral home and deal with their love lives in this classic indie comedy.”

“You know, there’s a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work. Most of ’em just cheat on you. “

If you haven’t gotten the message yet, Kevin Smith has a potty mouth. I had to work hard to find a quote I could print above. This is his debut and yet features some of the harshest material in his oeuvre.

Clerks was obviously made on a shoestring budget. Scott Mosier plays three roles, Walter Flanagan four, and David Klein a whopping five different roles. There are innumerable continuity errors and some reflection shots of the crew. imdb reports that Clerks cost $230,000 to make after post-production. Kevin Smith reportedly maxed out his credit cards, borrowed from his family, and sold his comic book collection to finance it – this is only exceeded by Robert Rodriguez selling his body for medical experiments to finance El Mariachi.

One of the things Kevin Smith excels at is pop culture. He rivals contemporary Quentin Tarantino in that as well as realistic dialogue and offbeat situations. Kevin Smith’s films always have bits on Star Wars but here there are also nice riffs on Indiana Jones, Jaws and more.

The main characters of Dante (Brian O’Halloran) the convenience store clerk and Randall (Jeff Anderson) the video clerk are well-realized and feel quite genuine. They seem composites of people I knew growing up. One of my best friends worked as a convenience store clerk for a bit after he received his Physics degree and had some post-graduate Astronomy work under his belt. The stories he would tell were horrific. None of the customers in Clerks seem out of place.

The only character I found off was Jay (Jason Mewes) and he really grated on me. I understand the character is a stoner but Mewes always comes across as someone trying desperately to get attention. A little of him goes a long way. His companion Silent Bob is played by director/writer/editor Kevin Smith himself.

The reason to watch this is not Kevin Smith the director but Kevin Smith the writer. The dialogue is sharp, snappy and realistic. He also has the ability to give different characters a different voice (i.e. Randall does not talk like Dante who does not talk like Jay). The entire film is simply a day in the life of – the film is shot in black and white and not much happens.

Sequelitis: Strangely even though Clerks is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, I thought Clerks II was just a terrible cash-in. It should have been an easy slam-dunk as the fast food industry is ripe for satire but Clerks II just came across as a crass exercise in paycheck collecting. The somewhat obscure Clerks animated series from 2001 is very funny and worth seeking out if you enjoyed Clerks.

HeroesCon & Lazy Sunday

Okay this is only peripherally movie-related but I did tie it in. Yesterday I went on a HeroesCon shopping trip for my birthday. I bought a bunch of really cheap graphic novels to read over the next several months.

I did not get to see Stan Lee or any of the wonderful artists & writers at the Con because honestly I just went for all the $1-$5 books I could load in my pack while my wonderful wife watched our granddaughter.

Long-suffering wife then took a picture of us outside the convention center with a couple of Ghostbusters and Ecto-1 and we piled back in the car for the two hour drive home.

I did pick up two boxes of The Incredibles notecards for $1 each – one for my eldest daughter who was working and one for myself. We were driving home when I started kicking myself for not buying all the boxes they had as I could see some neat art projects to be done with them. Never mind that I spent my entire allotted birthday budget and all the change in my pocket.


Let the Bullets Fly

Okay this is in the nature of a lazy repost but my favorite movie from this year’s ActionFest just became available on instant Netflix. Go watch it now! Yes it is subtitled but go watch it anyway.

Let the Bullets Fly (2010) – Not rated

“Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter. Hell-bent on making a fast buck, Zhang soon meets his match in the tyrannical local gentry Huang as a deadly battle of wit and brutality ensues. “

This was far and away my favorite movie of ActionFest this year. The writing is superb (yes lots of subtitles to read), the cinematography is great, the action is over-the-top to great comic effect, and the acting is top-notch. There are many reasons why this film is the top-grossing film of all time in China.

Chow Yun-Fat is always excellent, especially in Chinese films but here he is actually overshadowed by the writer/director/star Wen Jiang. The film is over two hours long but I didn’t feel that any of that time was wasted. There are so many wonderful gags/situations but I wouldn’t want to spoil any of them so I’ll only mention that the film opens with an attack on a horse-drawn train.

Netflix Top Ten and MGM Deigns to Sprinkle Amazon

* Ugh! When is Netflix going to fix their suggestion algorithm? I just looked at their Top 10 suggestions for me. Six of the ten are items I have already WATCHED & RATED on Netflix. How is it a suggestion if I’ve already told you that I’ve seen it and how good it was? a seventh suggestion is one that I’ve watched on Netflix but have yet to rate because I haven’t finished it (the TV series Spaced with Simon Pegg). Out of their ten suggestions, there are only three actual suggestions – one animated that I might watch and a science fiction and a horror suggestion that I have no interest in.

* Amazon Prime has signed a deal with MGM for more streaming. Unfortunately while the news services tout this as news, it is not like you get a large selection of their films. Almost the entire Clint Eastwood catalog is MGM. After this deal, Amazon Prime users can watch a whopping four Clint Eastwood films (Where Eagles Dare, The Gauntlet, Paint Your Wagon and the Clint Eastwood-directed Breezy). So well over 50 starring roles and we get three. By contrast Netflix which did not announce a new deal has nine starring and a further two directorial efforts from Eastwood.

Okay let’s look at another hallmark of MGM – the James Bond series. Twenty-two films from Sean Connery’s Dr. No through Daniel Craig’s Quantum of Solace. How many are available through Amazon’s fantastic new MGM deal. Oh that’s right – not one. To be fair they were also yanked from Netflix. I guess they are trying to create value for the James Bond mega Blu-ray set available September 25th (all 22 and a hardcover book) and for the new Bond film, Skyfall (yay!).

True Blood vs. The Christian Right

Just a quick post about a hilarious display I saw at Wal-Mart. For those who don’t know there is a niche market of faith-based movies. Unfortunately they often are not very good, spending too much effort making sure the message is on target and that nothing inappropriate appears in the movie and not nearly enough time making sure the acting is good, the special effects are adequate, the film is entertaining, etc.

Our Wal-Mart has a big display promoting these films (The Jensen Project, Tackling the Past, Field of Vision, A Walk in my Shoes, Who is Simon Miller?) – all with the ‘Family Movie Night’ banner. So what do you do when you order way too many copies of True Blood (a series from HBO that features all kinds of deviant sexual behavior, foul language, and horrific violence)? Well personally I would not have worked them into the ‘Family Movie Night’ display but apparently that’s just me.

Mid-June Netflix Flood

It’s time for the usual mid-month update on Netflix. A slew of new movies just showed up on streaming.

Why not try some classic Cary Grant comedies on for size? His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell and Charade with Audrey Hepburn just became available. You can’t go wrong with either of these.

If you want to try new TV series then the full six season run of Highlander just became available (a beheading in almost every episode!) as did HawthoRNe (medical drama), America in Primetime (TV documentary) and Jim Henson’s The Storyteller.

For fans of really bad movies, there’s Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance (which makes the entire terrible trilogy available on instant) and Tunnel Rats.

New documentaries include American Harmony (barbershop quartets), America the Beautiful & America the Beautiful 2 (beauty industry), Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine (chess), and The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter (Manson).

Fans of westerns can watch the incredible miniseries Lonesome Dove and the not nearly so good Return to Lonesome Dove. Honestly I recommend that if you really enjoy Lonesome Dove, skip Return and wait for the true sequel (the one written by author Larry McMurtry) to show up on instant – Streets of Laredo.

If you are just looking for the latest Johnny Depp vehicle then The Rum Diary is for you.

Finally a slew of Asian/Indian cinema also became available. I have no idea what is good but you have (among others): Shiva, Dholi Taaro Dhol Waage, Chak Jawana, Sikandar, Karz, Dil Dosti Etc., Abohomaan