Film Noir and Class for FREE

I have been spending a lot of time on my FREE film noir course (Thank you TCM and Canvas Network). If you haven’t signed up, the class is still available and, as noted, FREE. Even if you don’t have access to Turner Classic Movies (I don’t – I cut the cable many years back), the instructors provide a link to a public domain film each week that they will discuss.

Scarlet Street

This past week’s PD film was the excellent Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945). It stars Edward G. Robinson in a truly heartrending performance. Scarlet Street is also currently showing on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime. Netflix has a great selection of recent films but their classic catalog is sorely lacking. Two of the film noir from last Friday are FREE to watch on Amazon Prime, Dark Passage (w/ Humphrey Bogart) and Woman on the Run. I enjoyed them but Scarlet Street was haunting.

M

Two important precursors to the film noir movement are currently streaming on Hulu. The Fritz Lang classic ‘M’ (1931) and the French film, La Bete Humaine (1938). If you watch one, M is certainly your best choice.

Rest in Peace, Sir Christopher Lee

Sir Christopher Lee passed away Sunday, June 7th at the age of 93. While 93 is a great age to live to, no age is long enough for those you care about.

Christopher Lee

The last of my childhood heroes passes into the next world. He had such an incredible life. He was a World War 2 veteran, a cousin to Ian Fleming, knew J.R.R. Tolkien, was an accomplished swordsman, played in a metal band, was knighted by the Queen, and has 281 credits on imdb. Rest in peace, Sir Christopher Lee – you will be missed.

Curse you, Netflix! Out of those 281 credits, Netflix is only streaming six and they are not great examples. Only two of these are horror and they are not good. Skip The Bloody Judge and watch Hugo instead. Amazon Prime has eight titles streaming, including three with lifelong friend Peter Cushing (Nothing But the Night, The House that Dripped Blood, and House of the Long Shadows) but I would recommend his wonderful turn as Rochefort in The Three Musketeers.

Goodbye Dracula, Saruman, Scaramanga, Rochefort, Fu Manchu, Tiresias, Rameses I, Death, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Lord Summerisle, Professor Sir Alexander Saxton, Jekyll & Hyde (Marlow/Blake), Rasputin, and so many more.

GeekOut 2015, Honest Trailers, Jon Bailey

Geek-Week

This past weekend, my wonderful wife took me (and our adorable granddaughter) to Asheville’s GeekOut. She even wore her awesome Robin dress for the occasion. Her nemeses were quite gracious in taking a photo of the occasion.

jennyrobin

 

GeekOut was just a local convention the last time I went but it’s growing now. They had several guests this year, including Janet Varney (The Legend of Korra), Dante Basco (Hook, Avatar: The Last Airbender), Aurelio Voltaire (musician, comic book creator), and Jon Bailey. Jon Bailey is the voice of Honest Trailers on YouTube. You should definitely watch them if you haven’t – they can be found on Screen Junkies channel here. He has an epic movie trailer voice.

It is funny because the previous week, my younger daughter had been visiting from Florida and we talked about Honest Trailers. We also ended up watching a few dozen of them on the big screen. Sadly, she went back the week before GeekOut.

marcjonbailey

Jon Bailey emceed the costume contest and his voice made all the entrants that much cooler. My wife and I ended up chatting with him afterwards and getting an autograph for the movie room. He was kind enough to repeat one of my favorite lines, “Ermagerd! It’s Derpdevil!”. He does a lot of voiceover work and even if you haven’t seen Honest Trailers, you will know his voice when you hear it. His website can be found here.

Is The Hybrid an Icetastrophe?

The Hybrid and Icetastrophe are currently available on instant Netflix

Hybrid

 

The Hybrid (Scintilla – 2014) – Not rated

An elite team of mercenaries on a covert mission infiltrate an underground laboratory in a former Soviet state to recover a genetic mutation.

I certainly wouldn’t call them an elite team of mercenaries, more like a ragtag armed motley crew. The rest of the synopsis is fairly accurate. As you might guess, things go terribly wrong.

I understand that it is remarkably cheap to film in eastern Europe. You get all kinds of industrial settings, both current and ruined, as well as a small variety of forest areas for pennies on the dollar. If, as a filmmaker, you do not have a grant, eastern Europe is a great place to film.

Sadly it becomes terribly repetitious as with the found footage genre. You see the same locations over and over again. It gives the movies quite a bit of a generic feel.

The Hybrid is terribly generic. The scenes of the crew infiltrating the base are okay. The acting is okay. The plotting is nonsensical but creature design is pretty nice if subdued. There is a particular costuming decision halfway through the film that really works well but is underutilized.

Once they get into the tunnels the film gets much better but not enough to really stick with you. There is one great scene (no spoilers) with someone doing cleanup.

You may find this a passable waste of time but you won’t remember it in a week.

Icetastrophe

 

Icetastrophe (2015) – Rated TV-14

When pieces of a meteorite strike the Earth and cause icy devastation, two lovers must recombine the fragments to prevent a global deep-freeze.”

I actually breathed a sigh of relief a few minutes in. While Icetastrophe is a Syfy release, it at least is not an Asylum production. The acting is halfway decent with three of the actors (Victor Webster, Jennifer Spence, and Richard Harmon) having also appeared on Syfy’s Continuum.

The movie however is utterly gonzo. If you touch someone who is freezing, then you freeze instantly. If you are in a car that freezes completely solid, then you are okay.

If you are carrying a lantern, the cold avoids you because a lantern is a heat source. Yet it doesn’t avoid people, a hugely larger heat source. It also doesn’t avoid running motor vehicles, a yet still hotter source.

One of the fragments causes extreme cold and the other heat – except the heat one is only a little hot. They have to bring the fragments together because…well who cares. The logic of this movie is beyond imbecilic. Somebody needs to tell the writers that the dinosaurs were not wiped out because a meteorite landed that was too cold.

The filmmakers developed a halfway decent crystal forming special effect. Unfortunately they use it probably two dozen times in the movie. Later in the movie, they just increase the size of the shot.

I did get a few laughs from how bad this film is but not enough to justify watching it.

 

New Netflix Streaming Releases for the Week of 6/9/15

A fair number of new releases this week along with a few returning catalog titles

Mortal Kombat

Action/Adventure: Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, Bad Asses on the Bayou, Mortal Kombat: The Movie

The Great Escape

Classic: The Great Escape

Documentary: Happy Valley

Drama: Grace of Monaco, On the Road, Words and Pictures, My Mistress, Best of Me, Hector and the Search for Happiness

Primer

Fantasy  Science Fiction: Primer

Foreign: Killers (2014), Diplomacy, El Nino, God’s Slave, The Nun, The City, Purgatorio, Y Tu Mama Tambien

Horror: Asmodexia, The Lost Boys: Special Edition, Out of the Dark

Television: Sense8, El Chapulin Colorado, La Rosa de Guadelupe, Li’l Quinquin, Nature’s Weirdest Events, and new episodes of Pretty Little Liars

Regal Franklin Square Stadium 14

Well I got to check another theater off my ‘let’s visit every theater everywhere’ list. The girls were all shopping at some vast fabric shop in Gastonia, NC and were nice enough to drop me at the only theater in town, the Regal Franklin Square Stadium 14.

Franklin Square Stadium

There is not much to say here. Franklin Square Stadium 14 is located along the main shopping street in Gastonia (Franklin, duh) and you have to drive through a very crowded shopping area to get here. My wife was lucky enough to eat at Popeye’s as all of ours closed up years ago.

Franklin Square

 

The exterior and interior show some use but I wouldn’t call it rundown, just older than Asheville’s spiffy Biltmore Grande. The interior is standard Regal as are the concession options. The concession area is an island bifurcating the theater. Prices are $8.10 for matinee but they are the only game in town.

As noted in the name, seating is stadium style. I don’t know why it took so long to come along but now I find it annoying when a theater doesn’t have stadium seating (or a proper layout). Theater doors are organized to block light – another modern innovation taken for granted.

Birthday Party

 

The Franklin Square theater was the first one that I have seen that details their birthday party options. All the other theaters have them vague and nebulous. Any one I’ve looked at has been utterly ridiculous in price (looking at you Carolina Cinemas). I do wonder with the huge disparity in price ($9.50 more per kid than adult) how they would feel with having a mostly adult party.

Mad Max Fury Road Yada Yada

Mad Max: Fury Road is currently playing in theaters

Mad Max Fury Road

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Rated R

In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.”

Well I suppose it is time to write about Mad Max: Fury Road. I saw this on opening weekend but put off writing about it because I read two near-perfect reviews of it (one on themarysue, one somewhere else) that already said what I wanted to say. Then all of a sudden it was everywhere that Fury Road was a feminist movie (somewhat ironic when you consider that noted misogynist Mel Gibson was the star of the original series).

I really enjoyed that Fury Road used one of my favorite plot devices, a story where the protagonist is not the hero. Here he isn’t even the main character. My other favorite plot device is the unreliable narrator but I digress. Max (Tom Hardy) has very little dialogue and most of that is used up in an initial voiceover to set our stage.

Fury Road goes quite a bit further than the Bechdel test. The women have almost all of the dialogue in the movie and the majority of the time they are speaking to each other. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is our actual hero though the women she is escorting to safety and freedom are heroes as well, with wonderful individual personalities.

The wives of Immortan Joe, our main villain, are all clearly victims of sexual abuse and slavery yet there are no rape or sexual assault scenes in the movie. This movie is how you handle this topic if it needs to be handled – I’m looking at you Game of Thrones. Immortan Joe is actually played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villainous Toecutter in the original Mad Max.

The stunts are jaw-dropping. I came out of the movie wondering how many people died making it. I then realized that I didn’t actually want that question answered. There is still quite a bit of supplemental CGI, especially the incredible sandstorm sequence, but the CGI supports the action and doesn’t detract from it.

I also appreciate that creator/writer/director George Miller did not compromise his vision. In a vast sea of carefully neutered PG-13 movies, Fury Road’s R-rating is a welcome sight. Yes, he probably could have trimmed each individual scene of violence down enough to get the coveted PG-13 rating but the vision of the film came before the compromise of the rating.

Fury Road does feature Miller’s fascination with grotesqueries so that may be a bit offputting for some. The prevalent violence and R-rating will deter others. The plot is also very simplistic, just a thin tissue to keep our characters on the move.

Fury Road is a very violent, feminist action movie where the chase scene lasts the entire two hours and I find nothing wrong with that.

R.I.P. Betsy Palmer

Actress Betsy Palmer passed away May 29th, 2015 at the age of 88

Betsy Palmer

 

According to imdb, Betsy Palmer had sixty roles. She appeared in a lot of television during the formative fifties. She had roles in The Long Gray Line and Mister Roberts. She managed to score guest spots on Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Newhart, The Love Boat, Chips, and T.J. Hooker. She even had a regular role as Virginia Bullock in 29 episodes of Knot’s Landing.

In spite of this, she is typically only remembered for a role she disdained. Betsy Palmer was Mrs. Voorhees, mother of Jason, and the original killer in Friday the 13th (1980). She only took the role because she was desperate for a new car. It paid $10,000 for a ten day shoot. She turned down a chance to play Mrs. Voorhees again in Freddy vs. Jason because the part was too small. Spoilers for a thirty-five year old movie follow.

Ironically, the most iconic shot of Mrs. Voorhees isn’t Betsy Palmer. When Mrs. Voorhees gets her head chopped off, the hairy hands in shot, reaching up and grasping, are those of make-up and effects artist Tom Savini.

Rest in peace, Betsy Palmer.

June’s Crop of Streaming Netflix Titles

Yay for catalog dumps!

Dragon Eyes

Action: Dragon Eyes, El Gringo, Four Brothers, Kickboxer (Van Damme), Kickboxer 2-5 (no Van Damme), Philly Kid, Stash House, Sucker Punch (2008), Transit

Anime: Bleach, Expelled from Paradise, Puella Magi Madoka Magica (the Movie, Beginners, and Eternal)

Roman Holiday

Classic: The High and the Mighty, A Trip to the Moon (1902), People Will Talk, Roman Holiday

Comedy: All Over the Guy, The Burbs, Employee of the Month, The Good Guy, Heterosexual Jill, Hits, A Night at the Roxbury, Nine Months, The Queens of Comedy, Sex Ed, Shaq All Star Comedy Jam (Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta), Something Wild

Documentary: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, Deeper, Delivery, Edge of the Earth, Fishtail, Further, Higher, Mexico Pelagico, On the Way to School, Plan B: True, We are the Giant

Drama: Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Now Redux, The Aviator, Big Muddy, Brian’s Song (1971 and 2001), The Escape Artist, Hammett, Mooz-Lum, Night Falls on Manhattan, One from the Heart, The Paper Chase, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Tetro

Faith: Iesodo: Believe

Family: Far from Home, A Feast at Midnight, Plim Plim, R.L. Stine’s Mostly Ghostly, R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, The Rugrats Movie

Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Island of Dr. Moreau: Director’s Cut, Repo! The Genetic Opera

Foreign: 009-1: The End of the Beginning, Amar, Amor Xtremo, Bad Habits, Celia’s Lives, Girl on a Bicycle, Innocent Voices, Kidnapped, Never on a Sunday, Oveja Negra, The Perfect Dictatorship, Tear This Heart Out, Virgingate, A Wonderful World

Dead Snow

Horror: Dead Snow, The Others, Pet Sematary, Pet Sematary 2, Troll, Troll 2

Television: Familia P. Luche, Hidden Kingdoms, La Suegra, Los Tiempos de Pablo Escobar, Maria de todos los Angeles, Metastasis, Pablo Escobar el patron del mal, Elias: Rescue Team Adventures, SheZow, una Familia de Diez, and new episodes of Chuggington

Thriller: Kiss the Girls, The Quiet American

Zombeavers is no Black Sheep

Zombeavers is currently available on instant Netflix

Zombeavers

 

Zombeavers (2014) – Rated R

A group of randy college kids partying in a woodland cabin gets a nasty surprise when a horde of ferocious zombie beavers attacks.”

I love horror movies, monster movies in particular.

I love our modern renaissance of horror and the wonderful and varied feast we have recently had (The Babadook, It Follows).

I love Black Sheep, the 2006 horror film about “An experiment in genetic engineering turns harmless sheep into blood-thirsty killers that terrorize a sprawling New Zealand farm.”

All of this led me to be very hopeful for Zombeavers.

I did not love Zombeavers.

Yes, all art has been done before but a movie has to distinguish itself from its progenitors. The only novel element of Zombeavers is that it is beavers instead of sheep. this leads to an endless string of beaver gags and double entendres, all of them sophomoric.

Most of the plot is lifted beat for beat from Black Sheep, often criminally so. The kids are trapped on a raft in a lake in a scene taken straight from Stephen King’s short story (which appeared onscreen in Creepshow 2). The biohazardous material is lost just as in Eight Legged Freaks (and many other films but the Freaks comparison is spot on). The three young ladies and three young men trapped in a cabin evokes how many films?

If you missed Black Sheep and think you just watch the Americanized version in Zombeavers, think again. Zombeavers has some fun effects work for an independent film but Black Sheep used WETA and had wonderful effects work.

The other problem with Zombeavers is that writers Jordan Rubin (who also directs), Al Kaplan, and Jon Kaplan, could not figure out how to pad the time of the movie they stole. Ultimately the decision was to make a puerile, gross-out comedy to pass the time.

Here is your comedy gold, besides the aforementioned beaver jokes: urine jokes including a dog urinating in the cabin, anal and oral sex jokes, jokes about incest, homosexuality, and rape. Obviously there has to be some skin for this so the three attractive young ladies are kept in skimpy bikinis for much of the runtime and Zoe (Cortney Palm) has a long topless scene. While a sex comedy can certainly be hilarious, Zombeavers certainly isn’t.

Yes, if you get past the lame teen comedy portions, some of Zombeavers is actually quite enjoyable. The beavers are low-rent but in a fun way.

Overall, this is a passable waste of time and doesn’t overstay its welcome at a brief 77 minutes (including end credits, gag reel, and post credits scene). Just don’t make the mistake I made and expect too much.