Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday linky

I did Friday linky at From the Morgue as Morgue and Cal are busy with their new baby.

Head on over and check it out. His blog's better than mine anyway.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Black Dynamite (2009)

Somehow, I have not yet written of Black Dynamite.

Black Dynamite was unexpected. Black Dynamite is co-written by and stars Michael Jai White. When I think of Michael Jai White, who played the lead role in Spawn and, more recently, was on hand just long enough to be killed by the Joker in The Dark Knight, I don't think "Now there's a first-rate comedy writer and actor." Maybe I'm crazy, but to me he just doesn't look the part.

Trust me, this man is hilarious on purpose.

A lot of people did not get down with Black Dyamite, but I thought that Black Dynamite was the funnest movie that I have seen in a long time. I'm talking that kind of embarrassing "I can't breathe" honking laughter that had barely troubled me since I was a small child. That's right -- Black Dynamite is Road Runner funny.

Black Dynamite tells the story of a man called Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) and how raises hell when his younger brother is killed by drug dealers. Black Dynamite is like a combination of Shaft, Dolemite and Hammer.

A lot of people did not get down with Black Dyamite, but I thought that Black Dynamite was the funnest movie that I have seen in a long time. I'm talking that kind of embarrassing "I can't breathe" honking laughter that had barely troubled me since I was a small child. That's right -- Black Dynamite is Road Runner funny.

Amid the many laughs, Black Dynamite actually has a fairly complicated plot that kept me engaged throughout. The supporting cast is also very funny, especially Tommy Davidson as Cream Corn.

Aesculapius, of course. He had a staff with snakes intertwining all around that bitch. They called it Aesculapius' staff. It's a symbol the medical field uses to this day.

The movie also has a great funk/soul soundtrack that amusingly describes the action as it happens.

Look, I can't possibly tell you if you are going to enjoy this movie or not (unless your name is Bruce Norris, in which case you've surely already seen it). If you enjoy blaxploitation movies, especially the cheap ones, you'll almost certainly get a kick out of it.

Here's a clip that I found hilarious in context, but which might just make you scratch your head and say, "What?"

This poster does not make it clear that Black Dynamite is a comedy

Friday, December 10, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Movies recently seen

Crumb (1994)

I first saw this documentary about underground comics legend Robert Crumb in 1996, with my then-girlfriend. It is not a date movie. Crumb's comics are notorious for their misogyny and racist imagery, while at the same time he is regularly acclaimed as a genius. Although his surname is a common word, a Google image search on the word "crumb" brings up nothing but images relating to his comics. This is despite the fact that he has never been published by any of the "major" comic book companies, and has actually self-published much of his own work. He is a strange-looking guy (skinny and gawky with coke-bottle glasses and deliberately old-fashioned clothes) who is apparently very shy, but on film he has a real charisma. He's a mess of contradictions, and this movie is a fascinating portrait of his work, his family, and himself.

The movie takes you through quite a but of his comics work, some of which is very disturbing, and gives equal time to his defenders and his critics. It's interesting that Crumb does not actually defend himself; he says that he made a decision many years ago to never censor himself and to let all the most disturbing images in his head come out onto paper, and that his creative process is largely unconscious and he doesn't know where his stories are going until he draws them. He says that sometimes he thinks perhaps he should not be allowed to draw this stuff and that maybe he should be locked up and have his pencils taken away from him, but at the same time it seems clear that drawing his comics is what keeps him on an even keel.

We don't learn too much about how Robert Crumb ended up the way he is, apart from some references to his father being a domineering and violent tyrant, but the interviews with his brothers and his mother make it pretty clear that Robert is the most well-adjusted member of his family, at least among those who appear in the movie (his two sisters declined to be interviewed).

This is a top-notch documentary that is best watched when you are not already feeling depressed.

Robert Crumb with two friends

Peeping Tom (1960)

Set in the sordid milieu of under-the-counter pornography, this movie is about Mark, a young photographer who is making his own snuff movies. It has some interesting parallels with the same year's Psycho, directed by the expatriate British director Alfred Hitchcock in America. The main difference is that while Psycho solidified Hitchcock's position as the master of thrillers, Peeping Tom caused director Michael Powell's reputation to plummet; he had been at the very top of his profession to this point, but was subsequently unable to make any more movies in Britain and ended up settling in Australia.

Melodramatic in the extreme and rather dated, Peeping Tom still has a curious power. Mark is very open to the idea of being caught, and manages to get caught between falling for a young woman in his apartment building and feeling driven to complete his "work". I found the comic relief scenes tiresome, but they actually drew big laughs from the audience I saw it with so that must be a matter of personal taste.

Moira Shearer gets it in the neck

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price stars as a crazed organist who is bringing the Ten Plagues of Egypt down on the surgeons he holds responsible for the death of his wife. He also talks through a gramophone horn connected by a tube to a hole in his neck. He has somehow convinced a beautiful silent woman to assist him in his murderous task.

As you can tell from the above plot description, this is the greatest movie ever made.

He calls her Vulnavia

Sunday, November 7, 2010

His Face All Red

I really want to push this wonderfully creepy short horror comic on to people. It's called His Face All Red and it's written & drawn by Emily Carroll.

Click on the picture below to read it.

Click here to read the story

I had not heard of Emily Carroll before, but after this I am very keen to read more by her.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hallowe'en movies

I watched three movies on Hallowe'en.

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Oh dear. This movie was very lavish. I'm sure it was also very artful. It certainly was bugfuck insane. It consistently kept me off-balance, did things I didn't expect, and everything about it was very inventive and bold.

So why was it so terribly dull?

It certainly looks striking

The story involves two students in ancient Rome who have picaresque adventures while fighting over the favours of a svelte young slave boy. These largely involve people going on & on & on at great length against extremely elaborate backgrounds and on extremely elaborate sets. It felt like an extremely wordy stage play that was barelay adapted to an extremely expensive movie, and then filmed by people who were very stoned.

As Michael pointed out, it felt a lot like an Alejandro Jodorowsky movie in terms of how completely weird it is. But for me, it had little of the intelelctual and spiritual charge of Jodorowsky's movies, and almost none of the interest.

I hope that Fellini's earlier movies turn out to be more interesting. This one was just self-indulgent wank. His fellow countryman Mario Bava, who worked in much more low-brow fields, was able to accomplish a lot more with a lot less many times. (And he seemed to know it; Fellini was a huge champion of Bava and was known to give his movies standing ovations - as well as the ultimate compliment of ripping him off; Fellini's Toby Dammit draws extensively from Bava's Kill Baby Kill.)

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

My favourite Hammer horror movie pits an imperious authoritarian figure (Christopher Lee) against a free-thinking mystic (Charles Gray). It feels like the establishment railing against some goddamned hippies, but I liked it anyway. Gray is superb as Mocata, the black magician inspired by Aleister Crowley (Dennis Wheately, who wrote the source novel, met Crowley once and seemed to take a lot of influence from him).

That guy really gets my goat

The best scene involves Mocata having a conversation with Marie Eaton (well played by Sarah Lawson) in which he methodically lulls her into submission and takes over her mind. If you watch the movie, pay attention to the editing of this scene; it's brilliantly put together.

Trick 'r Treat (2007)

Probably the best horror anthology movie I've ever seen, edging out the George Romero/Stephen King collaboration Creepshow (which it resembles in some ways), Trick 'r' Treat was a complete delight. It tells four stories that take place on the same Hallowe'en and in the same neighbourhood, which is being watched over by a creepy little urchin who seems to embody the spirit of Hallowe'en. The only cast members I recognised were Brian Cox (made up to resemble John Carpenter) and Anna Paquin (pre-True Blood). (I guess first-time director Michael Dougherty must have brought them over from X-Men 2, which he co-wrote.)

I am Sam. Sam I am.

All of the stories in Trick 'r' Treat were smarter than I expected, and the EC comics-style twists were perfectly realised. The Hallowe'en atmosphere was perfect, and the stories overlap in a fun way that reminded me of Pulp Fiction. More horror movies should be this well made and this much fun.

Maybe you'll see things my way before we get to Grandma's place...

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's nearly Hallowe'en...

I always get too excited about Hallowe'en. I'll share some of my excitement around now.

Here is an animated version of Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Tell-Tale Heart narrated by James Mason. I first saw this on the dvd of Hellboy, where it was in a section titled "Hellboy Recommends" along with some Gerald McBoing-Boing shorts.

Here is a clip of Ken Nordine, of Word Jazz fame, reading Poe's poem "The Conqueror Worm", taken from the great cd Closed on Account of Rabies. Nordine has the best voice imaginable for this poem.

My buddy David Schmidt wrote & directed the fascinating short film The Lovecraft Syndrome, inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Warning: this one is quite disturbing. It's available to view here on Spike.

Arch Oboler wrote & produced a classic episode of the old-time radio show Lights Out called "The Chicken Heart", rather absurdly about a chicken heart that eats the world. Years later, Bill Cosby did a terrific comedy routine about the effect it had on him as a small child.

Here is the only version of "The Chicken Heart" I could find, much shorter and taken from Oboler's album Drop Dead: An Exercise in Fear.

Here is Cosby's routine, for some reason split into two parts:

Finally, here is one of the scariest things ever: "The Thing on the Fourble Board" from the old-time radio show Quiet, Please. Download the mp3 and then, late at night, on your own, turn out all the lights and settle down to listen to this one. It's old, it's dated.... but it's still scary.

Happy Hallowe'en, everyone!

I love Phantasm so much.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More movies seen recently

Touch of Evil (1958)

Pulp grandeur. Orson Welles wrote and directed, as well as playing the villain. The wonderfully dark and oppressive black & white cinematography is by Russell Metty, but it is of a piece with Welles's filmography and is unlike anything else Metty achieved (Welles was known to be heavily involved with lighting his own movies). This was at the Embassy in the version restored by Walter Murch; if you haven't seen Touch of Evil your movie knowledge is woefully incomplete. And watching this, damned if it wasn't clearly a huge influence on Hitchcock's Psycho.

Orson Welles does his thing

Kick-Ass (2010)

Terrific fun, this is both a satire on comic book conventions and a splendid action movie in its own right. Unlike most other modern action movies I've seen, it was both clever and coherent. The controversy is unsurprising, but misses the point.

Hitgirl does her thing

The Leopard (1963)

Luchino Visconti's masterpiece about the reunification of Italy from the point of view of a Sicilian prince is, well, a masterpiece. I'll admit that it made me sleepy at first, but as it went on I was more and more captured by it, until I finally reached the climactic 45-minute ball sequence - one of the greatest setpieces I've ever seen. Just the part where Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) dances with Angelica Bertiana (Claudia Cardinale) would be the mark of a master filmmaker on its own. Again, seen at The Embassy.

Burt Lancaster fucking rules, and if you disagree you can fuck off

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Jean-Pierre Melville's existentialist heist movie is long, slow, and immensely cool. The news that Orlando Bloom is starring in a remake is just appalling. Someone please convince that guy to join a monastary or something.

Any Wellingtonians who haven't been seeing these classic films at the Embassy on Sundays are really missing out. There are only two left, and I've already got tickets to both.

Alain Delon doing his thing

And just to prove that it's not a complete love-in here at He's Got a Knife Headquarters:

Gladiator (2001)

Ridley Scott's multiple Oscar-winner, starring Russell Crowe as a Roman general turned gladiator, is the worst movie I've seen for a while.

Russell Crowe as Maximus

It was a great shame that it turned out to be Oliver Reed's last movie, but at least he got to drink himself to death.

Oliver Reed as slave trader and ex-gladiator Proximo

This movie was so dull, it was sort of depressing. The high-point was Joaquin Phoenix's performance as the insane, incest-obsessed Roman Emperor, Commodus. He was terrible, but at least he was flamboyantly terrible.

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus

Also appearing was Connie Nielsen as Commudus's sister Lucilla, who is also Maximus's former lover.
Connie Nielsen as Lucilla

What else can I say? This movie sucks. I think it may mark the end of my Ridley Scott marathon.

I think I may have seen some other bad movies lately and forgotten them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Movies seen recently

People keep emailing me and saying that I should update my blog more often. I swear, I keep meaning to. I have some lengthy posts in preparation. But in the meantime, here are some movies I have seen recently.

A Single Man (2009)

This movie was flat-out brilliant. Anchored by a sublime lead performance from Colin Firth, it tells the story of a man who, eight months after the death of the love of his life, has decided to end it all. Which sounds like the movie should be downbeat and depressing, but in fact it is exactly the opposite. A Single Man celebrates life in its every frame. It's based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, which I am going to have to read.

It was very hard to believe that this was co-writer/director Tom Ford's first movie. Almost everything about it is confident and assured. I've never been particularly impressed by Firth in the past, but he is just spectacular here. It's amazing how deep inside the lead character's head we get - something that's very difficult to do in film. Ford and Firth deserve major awards for their accomplishments here. The supporting cast (including Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Goode) are uniformly excellent, the movie looks gorgeous, the music is swooning and beautiful. You should see this movie, and someone should fund Tom Ford to make more (he apparently paid for this one out of his own pocket).

This is not Firth with the love of his life, but with his best friend

Slipstream (2007)

Anthony Hopkins wrote, directed, scored and starred in this movie. It is baffling. It involves a scriptwriter whose movie seems to be taking on a life of its own. Or maybe he's dead and the whole movie is his life flashing past his eyes. Or maybe he's come "unstuck in time" like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. Or maybe something else - I don't know.

It's nightmarish, funny, clever, and completely weird. If this is a peek into Hopkins's mind, then he is clearly a very strange man.

I don't actually remember this bit

Kingdom of Heaven - director's cut (2004)

Ridley Scott's movie about the Crusades is very nearly a masterpiece. It's only significant flaw is the miscasting of its lead character; Orlando Bloom is just not convincing as a charismatic leader. It's easy to see why, as Robert Fisk reported, this movie was cheered in Lebanon; this is far from the sort of jingoistic racist crap you'd probably expect from a Hollywood Christians vs. Muslims movie made in the wake of 9/11. A superb supporting cast, rousing battle scenes and plenty of Ridley Scott's trademark gorgeous visuals are the icing on the cake.

This is a movie where surrender can be noble, and people are more important than ideals. If only it had starred someone more impressive - Edward Norton, in a small role as the King of Jerusalem, manages to be a far more inspiring presence despite playing a character with leprosy who is swathed in bandages and keeps a silver mask over his face.

This is Edward Norton

Blade Runner - the final cut (1982)

Ah, Blade Runner. This movie is a bastardisation of a great book, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In some ways it is the complete inverse of the book.

And yet, it's a masterpiece. I have much to say about this, and currently no time in which to say it.

He's Batty

Lupin III: the Secret of Mamo

This is the first movie featuring the character Arsène Lupin III, the Japanese grandson of the fictional French gentleman thief Arsène Lupin. Lupin III had previously featured in a series of manga and two seasons of an animated series. This movie features Lupin, his sidekicks Jigen and Goemon Ishikawa XIII, nemesis Zenigata, and love interest/rival Fujiko as they are all entangled with a seemingly immortal criminal mastermind known as Mamo.

The last time I watched this movie, I had problems with how obnoxious and unlikable the lead character is. I had previously seen the second Lupin III movie, The Castle of Cagliostro, which was written & directed by Hayao Miyazaki and which softened the character considerably. In the meantime I have seen the first season of the tv show (also largely directed by Miyazaki) and came to realise that Lupin was much more fun when he was self-centred and randy than when he was altruistic.

The Secret of Mamo is weirdly paced and a bit too long, but it has a great psychedelic design sense, and is very much a tribute to such European anti-heroes as Diabolik, Fantomas, Raffles and Irma Vep. I enjoyed it.

Lupin and Fujiko, both looking a little less cool calm & collected than usual

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Duellists (1977)

The Duellists is based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, but the movie is all about the visuals. Ridley Scott was making his feature debut, but had actually directed a number of tv series and thousands of commercials.

The story involves two French officers in the Napoleonic Wars who become involved in a series of abortive duels over an obscure matter of honour. Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) finds himself having to constantly look over his shoulder in case Gabriel Féraud (Harvey Keitel) is around. Féraud seems to want to kill d'Hubert just for the sake of killing him; d'Hubert goes to every length to keep his distance, but Féraud keeps popping up regardless. The movie looks like an historical epic, but it feels like a Western.

I'm a big fan of Westerns that are not set in the American Old West, from No Country for Old Men to Mad Max 2, and as it turns out I am a big fan of The Duellists as well. Its appeal is almost entirely in the way that Scott uses his amazing powers as a designer and a camera operator. The Duellists looks amazing from start to finish. Almost any frame of the movie could be printed up and hung on the wall.

The cast fares less well. Keith Carradine is wooden, as he almost always is. (The only notable exception I can think of is his Wild Bill Hickock in Deadwood.) Harvey Keitel would later develop into one of the best actors os his generation, but he was not there yet. Diana Quick and Christina Raines are there as set decoration, and are unable to do much with their underwritten roles. Albert Finney is fun as Joseph Fouché, but he's only in one scene.

However, the actors all look marvellous and the authentic-seeming duels are magnificently staged. Despite the acting deficiencies, the thin script and the jarring voice-over (nicely delivered by Stacey Keach but as unnecessary as that later foisted onto Ridley Scott's third - and best - film Blade Runner) I was enthralled throughout.

Scott was never an intellectual director, despite Blade Runner, and The Duellists is not an intellectual movie. It is sensual and sensuous, exciting and entertaining, and utterly beautiful from start to finish.

I liked it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Centurion (2010)

This movie follows the misadventures of the Ninth Legion as they invade Scotland in 117AD. Although inspired by real events, it is a work of complete fiction. It is also a work of complete shit.

Olga Kurylenko is apparently playing Marie Curie in an upcoming movie produced by Luc Besson. I may be doing her an injustice in suggesting that she has no dialogue because she can't act.

I won't bother getting into historical inaccuracies or "Roman soldiers didn't fight like that" trainspotting nonsense. You don't care about that, and neither do I most of the time. Unless it's a particularly glaring mistake, that sort of thing does not spoil a movie for anyone who is not being a dick about terms.

Centurion could have been a good movie. The disappearance of the Ninth Legion could certainly be spun into a fascinating story, and writer/director Neil Marshall is definitely interested in making the story morally ambiguous. The protagonists are the Romans, who are out for dominion; the villains are the Picts, who are fighting off invaders who plunder their lands, enslave and kill them, and (in the course of the story) murder their children. Marshall himself is Scottish and there is a clear, intentional irony in his depiction of the Picts as savage and dehumanised proponents of guerilla warfare, and also in the way that the Romans speak Latin as English with pronounced English accent, while Pict is guttural and inhuman (and Picts speaking Latin do so in a Scottish brogue).

Unfortunately, Neil Marshall is the director of Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday, all pulp horror/action movies. If Dog Soldiers was "Aliens with werewolves" then Centurion is "Dog Soldiers with Scottish people" with all of the third-hand self-referential problems that suggests.

The movie is packed with good actors (Michael Fessbinder, Liam Cunningham, Davic Morrissey, Dominic West) but you wouldn't know that they were good just from watching this. It's filled with violent action scenes that are completely unexciting. It doesn't trust the audience to have a clue; every plot and thematic point is hammered home with expository dialogue and endless amounts of voice-over narration. Both the dialogue and narration are head-slappingly obvious, so predictable that I was able to mouth along with the actors at many points.

This movie casts a model as a cliché mute "woman warrior" - presumably to safeguard against non-acting. The only major female character to have any dialogue may as well have "love interest" carved into her forehead. (And if she's exiled to live alone, why does she wear so much modern-looking makeup?)

The battle scenes are filled with heads and limbs being lopped off and CGI blood spraying everywhere, in almost a textbook case of "more is less". Compare them with the battle scenes in Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight for a lesson in the difference between mere excess and genuine impact. These battles are clearly influenced by those in Chimes, though I would wager that the influence is actually via intermediary movies such as Braveheart.

In summary, this is a terrible movie that isn't even a guilty pleasure. It's a shame, as The Descent seemed to mark Marshall as a filmmaker to watch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Movies seen recently

I've seen a few, at the movies and on DVD. Here are some of them.

Enter the Dragon

Bruce Lee's American movie is great fun, although the fight scenes are not as well-staged or well-filmed as the ones in his best complete movie Fist of Fury or in the the footage released from the incomplete original version of Game of Death. Enter the Dragon functions better as an American exploitation movie (poor Jim Kelly doesn't fare as well as he would have in a real blaxploitation movie though). John Saxon is miscast as a kung-fu expert; I would much rather have seen Rod taylor in his role.

But Bruce Lee's charisma saves the day, and although the ending is a straight copy of the superior ending of Orson Welles's The Lady from Shanghai it still works here.

Why John Saxon? Why? I mean, I like him, but WHY?!?

There Will Be Blood

A bona-fide masterpiece. Daniel Day Lewis is superb, and the movie earns its two and a half hour length. Worthy of an entire post, so it'll get one.

Oh yes.

The Haunted Palace

Roger Corman directs Vincent Price from a Charles Beaumont script based on H. P. Lovecraft's longest story, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. It was shoehorned into the Corman/Price Edgar Allan Poe series with a retitling and some brief readings of Poe's titular poem. Great fun, and with the next one will be an entire future post.

The lovely Debra Paget's last movie

The Resurrected

Dan O'Bannon's early '90s adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's longest story, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, was mangled by its producers in post-production, leading to some obviously-truncated scenes and unnecessary voice-over. What remains takes a while to warm up, but emerges as a superior Lovecraft adaptation in its final act. Chris Sarandon actually tops Price as Charles Ward and, er, another character, and the two movies contrast in a fascinating way. A whole post will soon compare both movies with the original story.

Chris Sarandon's character is not actually insane


An old favourite, this action-packed satire of the Reagan era is still hilarious. Superstar Dutch director Paul Verhoeven's best American movie; packed to the gills with great scenes.

Ronny Cox was brilliant in this


John Sayles's first script is far from his best, but director Joe Dante and a great cast (including Kevin McCarthy - who just died aged 96, '60s Italian horror queen Barbara Steele, Sterling Hayden, Paul Bartel, and of course Dick Miller) make it all fun.

Kevin McCarthy, R.I.P.

Piranha 3D

Hilarious intentional-comedy makes great use of 3D effects, and even of Jerry O'Connell! Big, dumb, silly fun with a great in-joke cameo in the opening scene. Recommended to people who loved Gremlins and Mars Attacks.

Don't save him - he's Jerry O'Connell!

I'm sure there were more. I'll remember later. It was a good weekend.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Darker Than Amber

It's a crime that Darker Than Amber is impossible to get hold of without resorting to bootlegs. It closes with one of the best fight scenes ever captured on film, in which Rod Taylor and William Smith go at it. The video quality is terrible, but just check this out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vincent Price

In my opinion, the most fun horror star of all time was Vincent Price. In real life he was a charming bon vivant with a deep knowledge of cuisine and fine art; in the movies he had the face of a villain, a great fruity voice and a flair for being both sinister and funny. Only one of his roles - the lead in Witchfinder General - is still genuinely frightening, but if you want a fun time you can do a lot worse than just picking a random Vincent Price vehicle from the 1960s. Especially if you happen across any of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he starred in for director Roger Corman.

In a comment attached to an earlier post, my friend Sonia (who I wish would update her blog a little more often) referred to Price as "man-candy". Here is the image that prompted this outburst.

I still didn't create this image, but I still approve it.

When Price guest-starred on The Muppet Show, he delivered a memorable performance of the song "You've Got A Friend". Unfortunately this was cut from the DVD release because Disney cheaped out on music rights.

Fortuately, we have YouTube.

Price's distinctive voice was a natural for radio, and he made many appearances on many different shows. Perhaps his most memorable was "Three Skeleton Key" on Suspense, which he starred in on several occasions. Here is an mp3 of what is supposed to be the best version of this, from March 17 1950, three years before Price's horror movie career took off with House of Wax.

A very cool late Vincent Price appearance was Tim Burton's wonderful stop-motion short film Vincent, which he narrated. This is available on the DVD of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but again it's on YouTube. Price went on to appear as the father/inventor of the title character of Burton's movie Edward Scissorhands, which proved to be a fitting end to his long career.

Many horror movies today seem to me to be too concerned with torture, gore and cruelty. I don't mind any of those things and have enjoyed some of these movies, but I think it's a shame that the naive and innocent fun of the old-style horror villains are all but forgotten. Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Peter Cushing were better actors, but for me there are very few movie stars of any kind who are as much fun to watch as Vincent Price.

Here is a sample of his distinctively spooky laugh, from the end of Michael Jackson's Thriller. Use it wisely.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Combust In Unity

My friend Billy made a documentary! It's about Kiwiburn, the NZ equivalent of Burning Man.

Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dario Argento Tuesday

I missed another one!

Oh well, never mind.

Yes, this photo is completely relevant. Why do you ask?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Satoshi Kon R.I.P. 1963-2010

My favourite animator has passed away, aged only 46. I loved cartoons as a kid, but it wasn't until I saw Perfect Blue that I had any regard for them as a grown-up.

Maybe I should do a career retrospective. He made so few films, it wouldn't be hard.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chimes at Midnight (1964) part one

Chimes at Midnight is one of the best movies ever made. Unfortunately because of ongoing rights disputes it is a movie that has been very difficult to see for decades. Writer/director/star Orson Welles, working with a miniscule budget and an inexperienced crew, combined elements from five of Shakespeare's plays (Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, Richard II and The Merry Wives of Windsor) as well as Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (the primary source material for Shakespeare's history plays) to tell the story of Falstaff.

Despite the abundance of no money, the technical limitations of his crew, and the fact that he basically stole the resources to make the movie when he was really supposed to be acting in an adaptation of Treasure Island for another director, Welles managed to make a profound and beautiful movie that I regard as the greatest Shakespeare adaption I have ever seen. Welles was 49 when he made the movie, though with his makeup and padding he looks much older, and it is the most mature and complete movie he ever finished. It was the last feature-length fictional film he ever made as well as his last movie in black & white.

Orson Welles as Falstaff with Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet

Part of the reason for the huge artistic success of Chimes at Midnight is that it was a project Welles had been working on for over twenty-five years. It started as a stage production in 1939, when he was 23 years old and two years before Citizen Kane. That production, which attempted to adapt Shakespeare's full history cycle as one mammoth production, was his first spectacular failure. Welles previously had been very successful with two landmark Shakespearian productions, a version of MacBeth set in Haiti with an all-black cast and a version of Julius Caesar set in facist Italy, but his tendency to try and outdo himself with each successive project finally got the better of him with this one. Eventually by 1960 he had pared the material down to focus on John Falstaff, usually portrayed as a clown but reinterpreted by Welles as a noble and ultimately tragic ruffian who he described as "the most completely good man in all of drama." It's a curious statement about a character who is a drunkard, a wastrel and a thief, but Welles is very sincere in his affection for Sir John.

The interview with Welles linked to above is one of his best, and his description of the themes of the play relating to death is very instructive:

I can see that there are scenes which should be much more hilarious, but I directed everything and played everything with a view to preparing for the last scene, so the relationship between Falstaff and the Prince is no longer the simple comic one that it is in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One, but always a preparation for the end. And as you see, the farewell is performed about four times during the movie, as a preparation for the tragic ending: The death of Hotspur, which is that of Chivalry, the death of the King in his castle, the death of the Prince (who becomes King) and the poverty and illness of Falstaff. These are presented throughout the film and must darken it. I do not believe that comedy should dominate in such a film.

Chimes at Midnight is a very difficult movie for me to write about. It's my favourite movie by my favourite director, and it's also my favourite Shakespeare adaptation. I feel like my knowledge of Orson Welles's filmography and other work is more than sound, but my knowledge of Shakespeare's history plays and their sources is much more shaky.

My blog posts on Chimes at Midnight, therefore, will serve to help me sort out my feelings for the movie and for the character, and maybe they will help to nail down exactly why I feel such a strong affinity for Welles's work.

This poster shows Falstaff as 'that huge hill of flesh'