Twenty years from now, the same thing will happen to some confused young film fanatic when the TV station replaces WAR OF THE WORLDS with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.
2005 saw the release of two excellent fantasy remakes, this one, and Peter Jackson's KING KONG. Spielberg and Jackson obviously both love the original versions of their big budgeted and effect-filled remakes. They never took the sneering tone of "Well, we have better special effects than what they had way back then, so nyah-nyah!"
WAR OF THE WORLDS never takes the ultra-cool, spoofy tone of alien invasion films like INDEPENDENCE DAY. This time it's very cold and dark! You truly get the idea that these are final days for the human race.
DEATH CURSE OF TARTU concerns a group of young, under-equipped archeologists venturing deep into the Florida everglades in search of Tartu's tomb. Tartu is a long dead Indian who protects his tomb by allowing his spirit to take the form of dangerous animals. It's sort of like a cross between THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and ANIMAL PLANET. Whenever Tartu's murderous spirit is nearby, the soundtrack is filled with chanting, yipping Indians. On the same disc is another Sunshine State shocker by the same director, William Grefe - STING OF DEATH
We travel with Boris to all sorts of hidden corners of our weird, kooky world. First we see an Italian rock group in full swing. Their lead singer is Franz Drago, a frantic, almost acrobatic 27-inch tall volcano of energy. Then it's off to Las Vegas, to see Beauty Pageant footage lensed by a boob-obsessed cinematographer. Next stop, a photo session of Asian girls in bondage. "This is for magazines for readers of special tastes..." Karloff purrs. Some of the footage, featuring natives tearing apart hunted animals may turn off some viewers. (Hey, the Mondo films were meant to shock.) An actual African exorcism where a live chicken is consumed, instructions on how to behave at a drunken transvestite party, and a poverty stricken Italian town where citizens visit the cemetery to ask the dead to cast spells on enemies and choose winning lotto numbers, fill the bill. After watching this film, you will think the world is filled only with chicken-eating, gambling drag queens! One scene in BALORDO shows a European freak show where Mr. Karloff tells us "Sometimes the people buying the tickets are the freaks." Tell it like it is Boris!
Courshon's print of GOD SEX AND APPLE PIE was finally set to arrive in Manhattan - on September 11, 2001. Despite the horrors unfolding several blocks south of the theater, the film played, and managed to bring in $ 5,300 at the one theatre. (The film so far cost $ 300,000 to make and market) Finally, Courshon secured a deal with Lightyear Entertainment and with Warner Brothers for a DVD release. All the work finally paid off for Courshon. You have to keep knocking on doors, making those phone calls and sending those e-mails. It's a decent film, but a great lesson in persistence
Two lifelong friends, George (Mike Dufays) and Arnold (Mark Tyler), both twenty-something and girl hungry, go on a fishing trip in a canoe on a secluded Canadian lake. As they wait for some big-mouthed bass to come for the bait, they compare stories of recent sexual conquests. Often we flashback to bars and bedrooms (two easy-to-obtain locations for the low budget film-maker) where these guys "reel in the line" catching the hot chick for the night.
The tensions on the little boat build. As these guys let these stories heat up anger, we wonder, are we going to see a re-enactment of A PLACE IN THE SUN? There's a twist. For its 30 minutes running time, FISH'N CHICKS kept me amused. Some of the dialog is crisp ("For 12 hours what these girls did to me, I wouldn't do to a farm animal.") I often wish low-budget film-makers (especially when working in Digital) would shy away from the notion that they have to use only one key setting, but DeLeo lets his almost single set (the rowboat) work.
When WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW doesn't focus on interviews with scientists and mystics pondering explanations about what is out there in the universe, it follows an average week of Amanda, an on-the-go Oregon based news photographer. Amanda is played by Academy Award Winning Actress Marlee Matlin. Ms. Matlin was rendered deaf in infancy by a bout of Roseola Infantum. Since her Oscar win, she has worked as an actress and producer, and has tirelessly campaigned for deaf people.
Ms. Matlin doesn't aim for expected pathos in her role as Amanda. Without losing her cool, she argues with her editor when assigned to photograph a bland wedding. She allows a pre-teen basketball player to give his thoughts about the universe (His dialog and the terrific visuals that go along will grab you)
If you took any Theology or Physics college classes, think of those lectures spiced with sparkling visuals, humor and speed. That's WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW, a fun thoughtful movie that refuses to take itself too seriously.
John Ford is credited as a second unit director. (I'd love to know what scenes!) There are amusing cameo appearances by Hollywood supporting actors like Charles Lane, Edward Gargan, and Jack Pennick. MIGHTY JOE YOUNG's highlight is the stop motion work, most of it by young Ray Harryhausen. His work here is some of the best animation you'll ever see. The fist-fight between Joe and former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, Joe's rampage through the club (complete with animated lions, drunks, and debris), and the climactic fire sequence, help make MIGHTY JOE YOUNG a high-caffeine treat.
I have to mention how "film-logic" fuels MIGHTY JOE YOUNG's third act. Joe is in a stolen van, being chased by angry policemen who are gaining on him. Suddenly they come across a burning orphanage, and Joe redeems himself by rescuing the trapped kids. (With my luck, if I was helping Joe escape, I'd come upon a burning maximum security prison with death row inmates waiting for a rescue!) While Joe lies there injured, after having rescued the last screaming tot, Jill is assured by her boyfriend (warmly played by Ben Johnson) that "Nobody's gonna shoot Joe now!" Uh, excuse me, Benny, there's a court order to shoot Joe! Are you a lawyer?!
With it's fast pace, brilliant use of locations (King Vidor shot the film in Arkansas and Tennessee), local unprofessional talent, and sometimes expressionistic sound, King Vidor works wonders with his first sound film. His silent films, such as THE BIG PARADE and the superb THE CROWD proved he was a master visual storyteller. (Vidor was also instrumental in solving a fellow film director's murder during the silent era!) HALLELUJAH ends with a beautifully shot, eerie, moonlit chase through the southern swamps.
As Chick, Nina Mae McKinney steals the film from Vidor and everybody involved! She was promoted at the time as "The Black Garbo". A lively singer and performer whose film career never fully took off, the pint sized Ms. McKinney is simply a pocket rocket. In HALLELUJAH, she has more spunk and sex appeal in her eyebrows than Angelina Jolie has in her entire body! Just watch some of her staccato dance movements here. It's Elvis Presley thirty years ahead of schedule!
THE GREEN PASTURES opens with a Sunday School sermon in the deep south. The classroom is made up of attentive black children asking some pretty intelligent questions about the Bible. We peek into one child's view of heaven. Since this child probably knows very little of the world outside her community, heaven is one big fish-fry with plenty to eat, where the adults get to hangout and smoke ten-cent "see-gars".
It's here where God (referred to in the film as "De Lawd") makes an appearance. This is an Oscar worthy performance by Rex Ingram, one of many black actors at the time who seldom received decent film work from Hollywood. Ingram plays "De Lawd" in a sweet, soft-spoken manner, never talking down to the humans he created. "Now you're just doing fine," he tells Adam. "But there's just one thing missing. You need a family." Ingram's quiet tone always tells us this guy has things in order. Film fans may remember Rex Ingram as Jim in HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1939) and as the laughing, constantly sarcastic genie in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940). Not only was Ingram an accomplished stage actor, but he was a certified MD as well!
Ingram also plays Adam and Hezdrel. During the later performance, GREEN PASTURES most memorable time-tested message comes across very simply. We realize this is truly a cinematic classic. The Bible stories are depicted here in pseudo 20th century settings with old world behavior. (Much like the villages in the first three FRANKENSTEIN films) Moses is a modern-day "trickster" who gives Pharaoh's top magician a run for his money. In another scene, a pistol packing gangster in a double breasted suit mouths off to Noah.
At the camp, Allen and the other prisoners are forced to endure 15 hour work-days pounding rocks in the hot sun. They are fed greasy, indigestible food, and are subjected to nightly beatings by sadistic wanna-be tough guy guards. In a scene staged and edited well ahead of it's time, Allen escapes.
Two very talented men help shape CHAIN GANG into a still riveting classic, actor Paul Muni, a veteran of Second Avenue's Yiddish Theatre, and Mervyn LeRoy, an under-appreciated studio director who knew how to tell a story in a fast, brisk cinematic manner.
While Muni in other films (SCARFACE, THE GOOD EARTH) would perform over the top, here he's restrained and calculating. Just watch the way his body jerks and his eyes shifts when he's on the run, fearing the police are right behind him, or in more simpler scenes, the way his body slumps when his minister brother chides him for reaching beyond his means. It was a shame Muni made so few films. This honest, believable actor is surely of the Russell Crowe/Tom Cruise caliber.
From 1919 to 1933, Lang's German films, such as DR. MABUSE, METROPOLIS, SPIES and M focused on the dark side of humanity, often showing vicious gangs or mobs at their worst. In FURY, a small town sheriff believes passing traveller Joe Wilson to be a wanted kidnapper. Following law and rational, the sheriff holds Joe until the District Attorney can determine his guilt or innocence. (The sheriff is played by Edward Ellis, who was Paul Muni's best prison pal in I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG)
Outside the prison, rumors spin out of control. The ordinary citizens believe the real kidnapper is jailed. A justice-hungry mob, led by the local bad-ass (Bruce Cabot) storm the jail, beat up the sheriff and dynamite the jail. We are only half-way through FURY, the second half involves a few hair-raising twists, and a real examination of how black-hearted even decent people can become.
Lang often mixed realism with distorted expressionism (Just take a look at his best film, M) The storming of the jail is often filmed in a documentary style, as if the camera peers at the chaos from some safe haven. He would mix in harshly lit close-ups of the thrill-crazed mob watching Joe burn in prison. While Joe is trapped behind bars, waiting to roast alive, he holds his frightened dog. (The dog is played by the same canine who played Toto in WIZARD OF OZ. Of course, this being a Fritz Lang film, the local witches aren't just talk, they really get Tracy and his little dog, too!)
MUNCHAUSEN begins with a great visual gag regarding an elaborate 18th century costume ball attended by the charming but constantly fibbing Baron Munchausen (Hans Albers, whom film fans will recognize as the strong-man who steals Marlene Dietrich away in THE BLUE ANGEL) Munchausen tells of his wild adventures. One moment he rides a cannonball to a sultan's grand palace, at others he takes a trip to the moon, does battle with flying barking clothing, and encounters a man-hungry Catherine The Great.
MUNCHAUSEN was filmed in Agfacolor, a bright and stunning color process developed in Germany. You will see the storybook-like colors that make this film so enjoyable. MUNCHAUSEN also has some really wild moments for a film made in 1943. In one scene, topless slave girls are auctioned off. In other scenes, Russians are depicted as weasely gluttons slobbering over vats of caviar. As MUNCHAUSEN neared completion, the Germans suffered a crippling blow at Stalingrad. Any jab at the victorious Russians would have been welcomed by German audiences.
MUNCHAUSEN was the film that heralded the 25th anniversary of UFA, Germany's grandest film studio. During the bombing raids on Berlin, UFA studios and its vast achieve were severely damaged. It is true miracle that MUNCHAUSEN survived as well as it did
In the late 1970's George Lucas, and Francis Coppola, fresh from conquering Hollywood with their films, watched in dismay as the Japanese film industry regarded Akira Kurosawa as an unmarketable relic. Kurosawa, who bought the Japanese film industry worldwide recognition with his 1950 film RASHOMON, was now being turned away by every Japanese studio for his latest film project. Both Lucas and Coppola borrowed furiously from Kurosawa films (STAR WARS is almost a remake of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS and SEVEN SAMURAI) Coppola's THE GODFATHER has numerous Kurosawa-styled moments. Lucas and Coppola came to the rescue with international distribution deals. This resulted in KAGEMUSHA, Kurosawa's long-planned samurai epic, becoming a reality. During KAGEMUSHA's "Development Hell" period, Kurosawa made over 200 color drawings of key scenes in the film. The resulting film is a marvel of color usage, shot composition, and character blocking. Tatsuya Nakadai, a veteran of Kurosawa's films (he's the gun-happy punk in YOJIMBO and the cool Tokyo detective in HIGH AND LOW) is both the ill-fated warlord and the mangy thief. With two character arcs to deal with, Nakadai helps to keep the film pulsating.
Adorned with under-lit, very bad photography, Flynn plays an aging war reporter following the exploits of teen-aged rebel girls fighting in the name of Fidel Castro. The main chick here is Beverly, a bored New Yorker who joins the rebel girls mainly to be near her boyfriend whose fighting for Castro. Beverly is played by Beverly Aadland, who was Flynn's girlfriend at the time. She comes across as an Eisenhower era Paris Hilton, an on screen zombie. The film is bit boring for any real camp value. It is fascinating how the love bug bit Errol Flynn, who wrote and stars in this weird film, bit him, and would not let go!
Young Annakin Skywalker, along with his mentor, Obi-Won return from a stunning aerial and hand-to-hand inter-plantary battle. The high point of Annakin's return is his loving, pregnant wife. What follows is Annakin's descent from a warm-hearted returning warrior to becoming the heartless Darth Vader.
Director George Lucas (who also makes an un-billed cameo as alien royalty) keeps the film's pace at high energy. I haven't seen so much cross-cutting between chases and battles since INTOLORENCE or IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.
The preview screening I attended in New York had heavy security. No camera phones, or recording devices were allowed in a theatre. A theatre empl0yee assured the audience the FBI and NYPD were present during the screening. At least they got to sit through a very exciting movie.