Saturday, December 01, 2018

Stan Lee: In Memoriam...

Every Entertainment Industry, Gets the Brand Ambassador it Deserves. And so it was, that Stan Lee aka Stanley Lieber, former Editor Publisher of Marvel Comics, finally died last month at the age of ninety four. I will give him credit, he took a fourth rate outfit from impotence to market dominance, and it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy the entire time. As a writer, he wrote the worst women in comics, craven passive unheroic creatures, worth remembering that Marvel didn't have a single super hero comic that centered on a female character up and running until the 1970's. In the 1960's Marvel was a chest burs tingly patriotic publisher in the vein of Mickey Spillane until Stan discovered his comics had some cachet on College Campuses and then overnight it enabled so called youth culture to a hilarious degree. He did train a generation of writers and creative, all of them to write just like him. The man had two great talents, he could write (bombastic pseudo mythic dialogue admittedly, but with a heart certainly) and he could hype, lord how he could hype. Hype so strong he himself began to believe it by the nineteen seventies, proclaiming himself soul creator of a good dozen of Marvel's bestselling superhero books, he called Marvel's audience "true believers" but clearly he true believer in his own almighty myth. The man spent most of the nineteen eighties walking back boasts he'd made in the public prints in the nineteen seventies...only Donald Trump can beat a record like that. After Chris Reeve's "proof of concept" with "Superman the Movie" in 1978, Lee managed to convince Marvel Comics to release him from his publishing duties and allow him to take up residence as the company's multimedia ambassador to Hollywood. Thereafter he signed bad development deal after bad development deal, A cheap "Fantastic Four" Movie that has become the exclusive property of video bootleggers a "Captain America" movie wherein the patriotic ubermensch fights...Mussolini (my legally blind ninety five year old mother could take down Il Duce who are we kidding...) and a handful of TV pilots best forgotten. The man had a genius talent for a bad deal, in fact Marvel's cinematic revolution was likely delayed a good decade because key characters like The Hulk, The Fantastic Four or the X-Men were scattered around tinseltown optioned out to different rival studios...somehow that universe has prevailed at the box office despite Stan Lee's legendary business ineptitude. Someday someone is gonna write a great history of this period in Stan Lee's life, from a "what-not-to-do" perspective...it'll be instructive. He Hyped, and he Believed, that is Stan Lee's legacy. If I criticize and list his faults its more or less in the shadow of that legacy, a fantasy empire in Hollywood with global reach, one that will likely soon rival Walt Disney's planetary predominance. When you've conjured at that level, you can afford a little candor..."Excelsior Stan, Excelsior"

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Orson Welles alleged "Last Movie"....

the heretofore uncompleted "The Other Side of the Wind" Has finally be finished and dropped onto Netflix. Its currently playing in New York and Los Angeles, we may get it here in due course. I am legitimately conflicted as to this project, a longtime labor of love from Welles' proteges Peter Bogdanovich among others, I am never sure if the director's intentions are being honored when other's finish the film. The very act of finishing a film, especially from a chronic auteur like Welles strongly compromises it's innate status as a "Film" Directed By "Orson Welles". Ironically Welles himself ruminated on the complicated issue of "artistic provenance" in his 1973 film "F for Fake", ostensively a discursive look at Art Forger Elmyr De Hory among other fakers of note (including Welles himself). On the other hand, just the mere fact that Bogdanovich & Co even finished the damn thing and rendered up a comprehensive film at all is an achievement. I myself sat not one hundred feet away from Stefan Droessler the curator of the Munich Film Museum and the legatees of Welles' personal film collection who told an audience at Harvard that owing to the highly idiosyncratic editing, "The Other Side of the Wind" could never be completed. Welles' personal story is a "cautionary tale" that could easily be summarized as "how to do everything wrong and still somehow make movies". That part of his biography, the endless conflicts with studios and backers, I think sadly obscures his role as a still vibrant film educator, the man literally revised his style several times over the course of his career and made each revision work like gangbusters. A close study of his feature films, a bare fourteen or so (the number may grow, who knows?)is a complete film education unto itself. Which brings me to my own personal utopian vision as "Welles as Film Educator to the World", why not declare his unfinished "Don Quixote" adaptation a public domain property, digitally scan in all the exposed footage into a database and allow everyone a chance to collaborate with Orson Welles and complete "theirs and his" own version of said film? Well, we all know the answer to that, you can't make money off of that utopian vision(at least the people who own the unfinished film itself, several persons and institutions are in play) and if "The Other Side of the Wind" makes money, count on it, Welles other unfinished films (there are at least three more lying around) will be put in play. Which is the final irony, only long after his death, is Orson Welles making money for the studios in Hollywood.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Why Screen "Attack of the Mushroom People"? (1963)

The dirty secret is, most of the classic Kaiju movies, are not particularly scary per se, they are more akin to opera with giant radioactive mutant dinosaurs made of foam rubber as the defacto stars and vocalists. "Attack of the Mushroom People" (AKA "Matango, Fungus of Terror", I am sure that title is way more frightening in Japanese) is a genuinely scary and unsettling Kaiju by every measure. A collection of Japanese Bourgeoisie are shipwrecked on a radioactive desert island presided over by an invasive species of sentient mushrooms, intent of absorbing the castaways into that malevolent vegetable collective. Director Ishiro Honda, clearly wanted to comment on the hedonism and selfishness that came along with Japan's hallowed post war economic miracle...and what better prism by which to do that than a grim little Kaiju movie? The irony is, the film was not a box office success in Japan and the international rights were sold off to American International Pictures where it was duly dubbed and dumped on the US Television where locally it was creepy little staple on WLVI TV 56's "Creature Feature" for years. So far as I can tell, the film has never had an proper theatrical screening in the USA...at least not in the 21st Century as its very much not in that Japanese Kaiju classic repertory canon (I'm looking at You, Gojira!). Channel Zero, as always thinks that is a shame, and bids on Friday October Fifth to kick off the local Repertory Halloween Season with a screening of "Attack of the Mushroom People" in the Somerville Theatre's Micro Cinema. "Be Prepared, To Be Scared! This is a Kaiju Like No Other!!" The Somerville Theatre (micro-cinema) Friday, October 5th 8pm (sharp!) 55 Davis Square Somerville Ma. 617) 625-5700 Admission $7.50 (Cheap! Cash Only) And while yer at it, why not join our official Facebook Fan Group for all the early word on Upcoming Screenings?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Kudos to the Somerville Theatre...

As part of their 70mmm Film Festival this week, they are screening two excellent examples of the Late Charlton Heston's "epic historic drama" filmography, "El Cid" with Sophia Loren & "Khartoum" costarring Sir Laurence Olivier. The Full Schedule Can Be Found Here. I've been fitfully lobbying various local repertory entities for some sort of a retrospective for the late Charlton Heston, (an "axiom" of the cinema per Michel Mourlet) who career spanned decades and overleaped genres with ease. Tickets are still on sale for today's 2pm screening of "El Cid" in sumptuous 35mm... advise purchasing tickets early, a leisurely lunch before settling in.

Monday, August 13, 2018

"Best Popular Picture"...

Is a new category being introduced by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences (AKA "The Oscars") in a attempt to improve the TV broadcast's ratings and hand a statue to a profitable film production with a high recognition factor. The critics have pounced on the proposal and mocked it as a "dumbing down" of the Oscars, which is ironic to me, because the Academy Awards are hardly "movie night" at your local Mensa chapter. There is also some criticism to the effect that this is a transparent ploy of obscure the heavy round of allegedly partisan politics that overshadows the balloting. There is a shit ton of politics in the lead up to the Academy Awards but it isn't always a bicoastal liberal caricature, there is definite "block voting", notoriously by British Artists working in Hollywood, how else to account for Eddie Redmayne's sudden vault to the A-List? And then there is Hollywood's ongoing exploitation of women In Front and Behind the Cameras, everyone sweats and tugs their collars about it, then hands a golden statuette to Judi Dench or Meryl Streep to ease the collective anxiety...for one night anyway. No...I'm guarded FOR this idea, I know it sounds like half baked pandering, but hear me out. Correctly deployed, this might finally get American Comedies they recognition they so desperately deserve, comedy remains the USA's best and most reliably self regenerating genre, it is overlooked almost every single year during "Oscar Season". Science Fiction and Fantasy (once Hollywood's "Red Headed Stepchild") gets a friendlier reception from The Academy that the hard work of Kate McKinnon or Seth Rogen or even James Franco... Granted the whole premise of the Oscars is bullshit from start to finish, anxiety wracked creatives and certain technical guilds none of whom have a strong sense of job security all voting themselves awards down to laughably obscure categories without any critical or outside input of any kind. I say the comedians and the comedy writers in Hollywood, who get Academy Ballots" ought to do some "block voting' themselves, how else to finally grab off what Jim Carrey has called "The Ultimate Tchotchke"? And who knows, this might be Gal Gadot or The Rock's Once Chance to Get Up on that Podium...or (dare I say it,) Bobcat Goldthwaite?

Whatever happened to Slapstick Comedy?

Ya never see it anymore in the movies save for the redoubtable Johnny Knoxville and his crew (and they are rapidly aging out of their "JackAss" racket sad to say). Even the crazy hilarious Kate McKinnon clearly had recourse to a stunt person for a half-dangerous half funny trapeze fight in "The Spy Who Dumped Me". There are still comical chases and explosions and the like in the movies, but the sort of intensive physical slapstick where the performer clears metes it out and or receives it is becoming a thing of the past. The only other example I can think of, is Jackie Chan, and he has pretty much aged out of the slapstick racket entirely alas and alack... I'll say this, Johnny Knoxville's last movie "Action Pointe" lasted a bare two weeks this summer and proved an unstable mix of fiction and "real time stunt work", but it was also likely an epitaph for the whole "JackAss" phenom. You now cringe with fright when a careworn middle aged Johnny gets himself catapulted thru the side of a barn, like when you see an elderly relation slip & fall in the kitchen. This is sad to me, can anyone out there think of even one performer in Hollywood whose comedy schtick is preeminently physical in nature? Sadly CGI has pulled the fangs of strict slapstick I think...you can literally use computers to create sequences that a Charlie Chaplin would have shot in real time. The modern justification is that CGI saves wear and tear on performers, but it also deals the artist out of the creative process in some ways. If Chaplin denied the sound era as long as he did (up to 1939 or so) then he'd a never ever have tolerated CGI on his sound stage. Bring Back the Clowns I Say....

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Apropos of Nothing...

Insofar as "Christopher Robin" is concerned, (a new release told from the entirely superfluous perspective of Winnie-the-Pooh's humanoid sidekick)how much money do you suppose Buena Vista/Disney spent to dig up voice actors that could successfully impersonate Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell? I'm thinking a million bucks and some digital intervention as well....

Monday, July 16, 2018

"Why Don Quixote?"

On Friday Night at 8pm Channel Zero, is gonna try some summer counter programming with a screening of G.W. Pabst's 1933 adaptation of "Don Quixote" starring Feodor Chaliapin. Cervantes classic novel is a wonder of the renaissance and a book that reverberates down to the current era as the "Knight of the Doleful Countenance" wanders Spain with his sidekick Sancho Panza desperately seeking a life of adventure and chivalry. In his battered comical armor and stern devotion to "staying in knightly character", Don Quixote is literally classical literature's first true cosplayer! Indeed the Mad Knight has all the symptoms, his entire world view is subverted, overwhelmed and guided by, the fiction he himself has imbibed. Don Quixote is literally the first character in all of literature to have a rudimentary self awareness of his own fictional status...hell its a book that literally breaks the Fifth Wall! Its always been a sort of wonderment to me at least,that this supremely subtle comical and multilayered book has never yet generated a definitive Hollywood Adaptation, although artists as diverse as Orson Welles and Mister Magoo have all taken a stab at it down thru the years. Some great books are strangely resistant to the full Tinseltown Treatment another example of which could well be "Moby Dick"...but I digress, this is fodder for a future post indeed. Director G.W. Pabst might perhaps be a good counterintuitive choice to adapt Don Quixote, he was in his heyday the only realist working and indeed prospering in German silent cinema, and sometimes as rich as character as The Old Windmill Tilter needs a steady hand to stave off caricature. Anyhow...this is also a film unseen in Boston as an experience of cinema, for perhaps eighty five years, so tell your friends. "DON QUIXOTE" (1933) Friday, July 20th 8pm The Somerville Theatre (Micro Cinema) 55 Davis Square Somerville Ma 617-625-5700 Admission: $7.50 (cheap!, cash only) In French, Subtitled in English