365 Movie Challenge: Day 4

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THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) Directed by Charles Laughton; Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters

As a cinephile, it’s sad to admit that I’ve never watched The Night of the Hunter. Despite it appearing on many best-ofs (the best that sticks in my head is Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments list), I just hadn’t worked in any time to checking it out. In fact I have to say that aside from the 1990 remake of Cape Fear I actually haven’t watched many films with Robert Mitchum.

The film, which takes place in the 1930’s, seems to expose a certain hypocrisy of America inherent in small towns. When Reverend Harry Powell comes to a small town in West Virginia, he sets about charming the folks, who are impressed with both his knowledge of the Bible, and his ability to sing out a lovely hymn. The truth is that Powell is a sadistic serial killer with a penchant for killing widows and stealing their money. And he has his sights set on the widow of his former prison bunkmate, Ben Harper, who was hanged for killing two men during a robbery. He reveals to Powell that he hid away the money before he dies, but doesn’t tell him where.

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He quickly gains trust of the widow Willa Harper, and they eventually marry. The sinister Reverend, with the iconic “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on his knuckles, continues to press Willa’s children John and Pearl, as to the location of the $10,000.

As far as the look of the film, Laughton shot it in B&W, at a time when color was the common medium at the time. It lends a surreal aspect to the sets, letting the viewer know that this takes place on a stage, but never allowing it to take you out of the narrative. A gruesome scene that takes place about half way through the film has an almost painterly beauty to it.

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Mitchum shines as the dastardly Reverend Powell. He quickly became, for me, one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time, a misogynistic creature with no remorse for his treatment of women, or in the pain he puts the children through.

The other highlight is that the children actors are a delight. I bought Billy Chapin as the reserved John, he doesn’t over act in his distrust for Powell, and Sally Jane Bruce as Pearl does well in her eager pursuit of approval from the only male figure in her life. A little girl who has just lost her Dad, and has replaced him with a dastardly father-figure.

I feel like anything else will reveal spoilers, and I definitely think this is a film that everyone should watch at least once. If I had a critique, it felt a tad bit like the ending was tacked on, wrapping things up a little nicer than they probably deserved to be but that’s minor considering the overall quality of the film

RECOMMENDATION: WATCH

365 Movie Challenge: Day 3

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FADE TO BLACK (1980) – Directed by Vernon Zimmerman; Starring Dennis Christopher

I had a feeling this would happen.

Sometimes, it’s best to not attempt watching a film when trying to put one’s young one to bed. Because I constantly had to start, and stop, start, and stop, etc. Kind of made it jarring to get into. But this isn’t the films fault, but mine.

I have to say that I have generally heard a lot of good things about Fade to Black in the horror circles I follow. So much that I know that the good folks at Scream Factory have tried to broker a deal (for awhile) to release the film on Blu-Ray but the owner of the rights is apparently independently wealthy and doesn’t care to make any more dough off of it. I think as it stands now you can find this on VHS, or an out-of-print DVD. I went through other means, but had to go ahead and finally watch it.

The concept of the film is interesting if not intriguing. A film-fanatic, Eric (Dennis Christopher), has been bullied most of his life by his Aunt (possibly mother?) and those he works around. He lives a life of the movies, quoting them, and using them to identify as much as possible with the outside world. One day he meets the girl of his dreams, who looks like Marilyn Monroe by the way, but quickly, through a series of events that the girl can’t control, ends up standing him up on their first date. This takes our lonely protagonist (?) down the path of destruction through the last half of a film.

This won’t be the first time I say this, but I might end up doing a retro review on this at some point in the future. I liked it enough that it stuck with me, but really feel a second viewing will help me digest the whole thing. Some of the acting is sketchy, but honestly, the story holds up enough to forgive some of these things. I definitely am giving this a recommend, but good luck tracking down a copy.

RECOMMENDATION: WATCH

Episode 4 – World Building

In this episode of Watch.Read.Listen., we discuss the creation of fictional worlds in movies, comics, books, and even music. In This Week, we wonder how New Zealanders are so good at horror-comedy and how Doctor Who can actually be the star of his own show sometimes. In the main bit, we examine how Marvel (e.g. Iron Man, Captain America: Civil War) does a better job than DC (e.g. Man of Steel, Batman v Superman) at world building both in comics and movies,  Hollywood’s love of bandwagons, and why Tolkien is the master of subcreation.

 

This Week:

Duane: “Heaven Sent” (Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 11), Popcorn Poops (podcast)

David: Batman: The Dark Knight Saga Deluxe Edition (comic), What We Do in the Shadows (movie)

365 Movie Challenge: Day 2

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DUEL (1971) Directed by Steven Spielberg; Starring Dennis Weaver

Here’s another flick that had somehow flown under my radar for awhile. I’ve always been aware of Duel as a fan of both Spielberg, and writer Richard Matheson. I’ve been a fan of Matheson’s since I first read I Am Legend back in my early twenties, and am aware of his output as both a film, and television writer (my personal favorite being the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). I’ve been a fan of Spielberg’s work since I can remember, growing up with all of his iconic late-Seventies, early-Eighties work. So, I can’t honestly say what took me so long to finally watch Duel.

From the opening scene, a POV of a car driving, Spielberg shows us glimpses of the masterful storyteller he would eventually become. Taking us from the comfort of suburbia, to the outskirts of the isolated, highway roads, he is building tension and dread from the beginning.

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This tension never let’s up. He plays this battle between man, and machine, masterfully, letting the camera tell us the story. Whether it’s the shaky cam used to show our main character’s fear as a crazed truck driver barrels after him, or the steady frame of the truck on a crash course  with the smaller vehicle. Spielberg only gives us moments to breathe, and we know that this will not end until someone is dead. The fact that he maintains this throughout the film is something that most filmmakers can’t sustain.

My only gripe is the with the narration from our main character, David Mann played by Dennis Weaver, as I felt that Weaver showed us the fear, and disdain on his face. There was no need for an inner monologue, as both actor and director were able to show what Mann was feeling, and thinking, without having to say it. But by no means does this take away from the film.

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The fact that this originally aired as an ABC TV Movie of the Week is even more mind-boggling. Spielberg was working with a minimal TV budget, and managed to elevate even that medium, at a time when TV was generally looked down upon by most feature film-makers.

Also, as a fan of cinematography, this is beautiful work. I forget that at the time, everything was shot on film, and this doesn’t look like a TV production but like a seasoned pro doing the best work possible.  It makes sense that in the years to come Spielberg would bring us JAWS, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So, if you are a fan of the man’s work, this is definitely something you need to get up off your butt and give a peep. It’s so worth it.

RECOMMENDATION: WATCH

365 Movie Challenge: Day 1

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DJANGO (1966) Directed by Sergio Corbucci, Starring Franco Nero as Django

I came to Django by way of Quentin Tarantino’s homage in his 2012 film Django Unchained. Up until that point my familiarity with westerns mostly consisted of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy and his epic Once Upon a Time in the West. Growing up, I’ll admit, I thought that westerns were the boring B&W films my grandparents watched whenever I visited. They were staples of Saturday & Sunday afternoon Television and I was usually outside playing rather than watching TV.

Now with that out of the way, Django was a surprise, at a well-paced 92 minutes. I didn’t feel bored for a moment, despite the horrendous English dub I watched. Considering the film was shot in Italy on a miniscule budget of $60,000, and was, at it’s core, a cash-in on the Spaghetti Western craze of the time, this is a gem in an overcrowded dirt heap.

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Despite not being shot in Technicolor Widescreen, the norm for the time, Corbucci makes the most of the minimal settings, and the scope still feels big, but tight.

Word of warning though, this is far more violent and bloody than Leone’s films. There is definitely a tinge of exploitation going on, so the violence is there to entice, and more than likely to outrage, cinema goers of the time.

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Django at it’s core is a simple tale of revenge. I can definitely see why Tarantino took some of the themes, and framework, in order to tell his similar tale of revenge. Django is a former Northern Soldier who is seeking revenge against the man who killed his wife. He doesn’t even take his time to toy with Major Jackson, the object of his obsession, taunting him and then killing his men.

Much like Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, Django plants himself in the middle of an already established feud between Major Jackson’s Rebels, and the Mexican bandits, led by Hugo, and plays his allegiances to bring the feud to a boil.

I’ll pretty much put a pin in the plot here. I don’t want to give much else away, but I will include that it ends in one of my now favorite on-screen battles, taking place in the cemetery where Django’s wife is buried.

Not a bad start for my 2016, 365 New Movie Challenge. I have a feeling I’m going to encounter more stinkers than I am great, underrated films like this.

Recommendation: WATCH

  • David Watson

Episode 03 – Those Crazy Star Wars

In the third episode of Watch.Read.Listen., we’re joined by Shoe Coble to discuss Star Wars: The Force Awakens! In the This Week segment, we discuss podcasts that raise questions and those whose hosts are questionable as well as how to watch both the Original Trilogy and the Prequels. In our main segment, we start with a spoiler-free discussion of The Force Awakens, especially how it succeeds where the Prequels failed, before moving to the Spoiler Segment where we discuss the characters, themes, and plot of The Force Awakens with as much depth as one viewing can warrant.

Spoiler warning starts at 37:30 and ends at 37:40

 

Episode 02 – Don’t Believe the Hype

In our second episode, author Ian Everett (@IanMEverett) joins us as we discuss hype and its influence on our enjoyment of media. We discuss Star Wars, including the hype for The Force Awakens versus The Phantom Menace, when hype goes wrong, and how hype is dependent on the consumer.

This Week:

Ian’s: Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailers, Coheed and Cambria’s The Color Before the Sun, and Halo 5

Duane’s: Seinfeld

David’s: Cooties

 

Episode 01 – Influences

In the inaugural episode of Watch.Read.Listen, we discuss: over-analyzing A Song of Ice and Fire, New Zealand comedy-horror, James Bond movies that Duane forgot about, the awesomeness of the comic Preacher, and music by Emery and Faith No More. We then delve into our top ten influences (as of this recording) from the worlds of movies, music, books, and comics, all in no real order and subject to change at a moment’s notice.

Duane’s things from this week: Preston Jacobs’s ASOIAF YouTube, Emery’s You Were Never Alone

David’s things from this week: Deathgasm, Skyfall, Preacher Vol 1, Faith No More’s Sol Invictus

Duane’s Top Ten of right now

10. Chris Claremont, 9. Alfred Bester, 8. Starflyer 59, 7. Time Bandits, 6. Douglas Adams, 5. Star Wars, 4. Monty Python, 3. C.S. Lewis, 2. The Choir, 1. J.R.R. Tolkien

David’s Top Nine of right now (because we can’t count)

9. Marvel Comics, 8. John Carpenter, 7. The Last Starfighter, 6. Good Omens, 5. Star Wars, 4. Monty Python, 3. Neil Gaiman, 2. Horror, 1. The Beatles

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