Trailer: Black Dynamite (2009, no not 1974)

Torchwood writer and Twitterpal James Moran turned me on to this righteous trailer that brings back that coffee-black blaxsploitation groove you know we were all hurtin’ for ever since The Man took it all away from us. Set in the early 70’s, if this thing is half as good as the trailer makes it look, we may be in serious need of some new Dolemite action in the not-too-distant future!

Even After All These Films …

I have seen, in my life so far, at least 1500 movies.

That’s not an idle boast: I have supporting documentation from the film festivals I’ve covered, the reviews I’ve written and other sources to confirm at least that number. On the AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest (American) Films (2007 Edition), I’ve seen 73 of them. I would guess that there are a handful of movies I’ve seen more than 50 times, dozens I’ve seen more than 20 times, and hundreds I’ve watched more than once

In short, I am a serious movie geek. And yet after all these years, and all those films, someone like me can still get excited and “hyped up” over a forthcoming movie.

Of course, I’m a trickier customer to please than your average schmoe who actually goes out to the cinema maybe six-to-eight times a year. I know these plotlines. I recognise storytelling techniques. I notice shortcuts, edit points, lighting, cinematography, the whole mix. And I can tell when a trailer is giving me a distorted view of what the film’s really about, or when it’s trying to salvage a turkey, or just trying to get by on quick cuts, explosions and a touch of T-n-A.

But certain trailers still get me excited, usually if they have a very distinct look to them, or communicate clearly that this is the sort of film that will only really work well if you watch it in a cinema, or make it obvious that everyone involved is very proud of how it turned out. A good example of these sorts of trailers would be the ones for Amalie, City of Lost Children, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

This trick doesn’t always work: the trailers for the recent remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Speed Racer and Star Trek actually served to lessen, not raise, my interest in these films. It takes more than just fantastic visuals to get me worked up, there has to be a promise of a story, of the creative vision and imagination necessary to really take me somewhere.

As I sat in the cinema recently for the most recent Harry Potter movie, I noted with some alarm that out of six trailers for upcoming films, five of them were based on TV shows, comic books or toys of the 70s and 80s. Only one was for an original story. How depressing.

Happily, I just stumbled across an HD version of the one trailer I’ve seen in the last year that has me chomping at the bit to see it: the one for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

I’ve been a fan of Terry Gilliam since about 1971 or so, when I got my first glimpse of him in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” and have since discovered and enjoyed nearly everything he’s ever done before or since that point. He’s definitely one of my favourite directors, despite his ability to sometimes miss the mark. He’s had a dud or two, and indeed the last one starred Heath Ledger, as does Imaginarium.

I hope audiences will have long forgotten the similarly-named but pretty-bad Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and that it being Heath Ledger’s final film will push mainstream filmgoers to give this a chance, even though the trailer just screams “This is weird! It will disturb you! It will challenge your comfortable notions!!” I would so love this to be widely seen, and having almost every popular male screen idol in the thing (Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell stepped in to finish the film in Ledger’s stead after his accidental death) might ironically not only salvage the film but make it a mainstream hit.

Have a look and see for yourself. I personally can’t wait.

The Longest Way

What follows is, rather unusually for this site, not a film review of a movie shown in cinemas, but a video on the inter-tubes. I don’t plan to make a habit of this, but this one is extraordinary enough on various levels to warrant the same kind of attention given to traditional movies.

You can find out more about the young man who made the video via his website (currently overloaded) if his story interests you, so I will only recap it very briefly here: Chris Rehage walked almost the entire width of China, from Beijing to Ürümqi over the course of a year. Rather than just “take pictures and/or video” as most of us would have done, he was inspired by the “picture per day” videos that have become a fashion on the net, but took it a definite notch up from there.

This is a brilliant fusion of photo-journal diary, time-lapse travelogue and music video, beautifully edited to a fabulously incongruous soundtrack. I think it really “raises the bar” on self-made travel videos and rises to the level of a genuine work of filmic art.

The first time you watch it, you will likely (and should) focus on Rehage’s own metamorphosis over a year’s time; as he says, “one year walk/beard growth time lapse.” But there’s a lot more going on there; you’re watching a man step into the unknown, and it doesn’t always go to plan. It’s part of the fascination of these sorts of self-portrait videos, looking directly into their eyes.

The second time you watch it, try to look past Rehage most of the time and notice his various surroundings; where he lingers, what goes by fleetingly, all the detail captured in the background. You may be surprised what (mostly) rural China has in store for you …

I also suggest a third, more frame-by-frame (or at least slowed-motion) view so you can catch captions and combined details of each photo (and often, photo-sequence) composition.

One of the best things about projects like this is that modern photography is very “high-def” and so while we are constrained by annoyances like “economical file size” and “bandwidth” in determining how “big” a picture we can see, the “original” in Rehage’s possession is entirely suitable for future, larger presentations. I look forward to seeing a real “HD” version of this again soon.

The Longest Way 1.0 – one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.

Inflation-Adjusted Box Office Totals

Now this is a clever idea, and really the way it should be done. has crunched the numbers and given us the real skinny: Gone With the Wind is still the all-time-so-far* box office champion.

*I really hate the use of the term “all time” without qualifiers, as though Time is officially coming to an end this Thursday and we can finally settle the score. Even worse, most of the time the use of the term “all time” is weighted incorrectly, as box office returns have been up until the publication of this list. You really can’t properly use the term “all time” on anything unless your name is Yahweh. It would really be much better if people put out definitive lists on those things that can actually be considered closed matters, like “best-selling books of the 1800s” and “most popular sandwiches of the 1990s.” These are things we can know. We can never know the best song, or top movie, or worst politician “of all time” because, as Sarah Palin showed us, just when you think you knew who the worst of all time was, another one comes along …

Anyway, the list holds several nice surprises, as well as vastly increases the diversity and timeline of the films that have ascended to the top. Not all of the top films are great classics, but many of them certainly struck a chord with their audiences and the ones at the top are, without exception, the kind of movies that people watch more than once, often routinely.

One of the biggest surprises in the list is that (when you adjust for inflation) the very top film, the aforementioned GWTW, “only” did $1.5B (all figures US$). This suggests that it might be possible for a film to top this someday (as the totals allow for re-releases), as the worldwide market continues to grow. You have to expect the Lord of the Rings films to move up the charts a bit when the inevitable re-release happens, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Harry Potter movies are re-released one more time just before the final film unspools.

I was disappointed to see that E.T. did as well as it did. It’s almost certainly just me, but I have never liked the film, thought it very schmaltzy and better-suited to TV at the time, and the re-release and re-edit/re-visionism was just … an abomination. Even worse than the “Han Shot First” revisionism of the Star Wars re-releases.

The fact that the totals allow for re-releases is the main reason why Disney movies are so well-represented here. Snow White has made many times more money in re-release than it ever did originally. The highest-grossing movie of which I cannot find reference to any sort of theatrical re-release was 1956’s The Ten Commandments, which scored the #5 slot.

I was quite shocked to see that The Rocky Horror Picture Show limped in at a mere #70, a rating that can only mean that midnight screenings don’t count with the compilers of this list as a “theatrical re-release,” because I assure you that film has made way more than (just under) $400M. Heck, I am myself alone probably responsible for 1% of that (I’ve seen that movie many times, though I’m now fairly retired from watching it).

I would be interested to see an adjusted-for-inflation version of the worldwide gross boxoffice chart, rather than just domestic US, but this is a good start that will hopefully inspire a few people to check out some “old” movies.

Speaking of old movies, I note with interest that the all-time-so-far top-grossing B&W movie is the 1945 Bing Crosby film The Bells of St. Mary’s (#49). Other B&W films that made the list are The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, #72) and Sergeant York (1941, #95). I was kinda hoping that 1974’s Young Frankenstein would have made the list, but no such luck.


Hollywood plans to make a movie of the videogame “Asteroids.”I think that’s it, we can officially now say that they have hit bottom.

EDIT: I knew when I wrote that I’d be eating my words, but I didn’t think it would only take a day. A movie based on ViewMaster. Oy vey.

Star Trek Followup

Where no marketing has gone before:

No, your eyes do not deceive you — the chevron logo and the Kirk and Spock figures (among others in the package) are printed directly on the food.

Part of a complete (-ly nerdtastic) breakfast.

A Small Digression

We don’t normally cover short films on this blog, and are even less inclined to cover or promote web-only films, but for this one — Responsible Relationships and You: Facebook Manners — we’ll gladly make an exception.

First of all, as a parody this short is note-perfect. Not since the days of Night Flight on the USA Network in those bygone early days of cable has their been such a beautifully realised parody of the generic 50s-era “educational” film. Second, enough readers are on Facebook or at least know about it for the concept to carry beyond the confines of the web. Finally, it’s cleverly retro-futurist “steampunk” design recalls both Brazil and the 1939 World’s Fair with equal aplomb, and rich reward for those willing to freeze-frame and read the text flashed on-screen. I predict “Timmy Gordon is uh oh” to join other Net-centric catch-phrases like “I KISS YOU!!” and “All Your Base” in short order. Remember, you read it here first!

The best way to experience this mini-masterpiece is to visit YouTube and enjoy it in its full HD glory, but I give you a bite-sized version here in HD to whet your appetite:

The 15th Annual Victoria Film Festival – Introduction

Victoria is the historic “Little Britain” capital of the province of British Columbia, even though it’s actually located on an island off the coast – so close to the United States that Washington’s Olympic Mountains loom large across its southern skyline. Yet America has less of an influence here than the Commonwealth – the member countries of what once was the British Empire. When you notice that the Curling championship being held up-island is getting as much press as the Super Bowl, you know you really are in a different country.
Victoria lies in the shadow of the States and the metropolises (metropoli?) of the Pacific Northwest, but refuses to be defined by them; likewise, their film festival doggedly ignores its larger and more “important” cousins to the south and east – Portland, Seattle, Whistler and of course Vancouver, all of whom get more films, bigger films, more guests, more press.
Like the queen it is named for, Victoria is cowed by no-one, and its festival reflects that sort of quiet pride. For the last 15 years, the Victoria Film Festival has carried on regardless, and has evolved (under the leadership of longtime director Kathy Kay) into a popular but unpretentious champion for Canadian cinema, indie filmmakers from around the world, and “small” films looking for a big boost.
The fest is spread across four cinemas (and one lounge-cum-screening-room) in both downtown Victoria and the nearby suburb of Langford, and utilizes a host of alternative spots (the usual mix of pubs and restaurants, open stages and auditoriums) for non-screening events, mostly centred on conversations with filmmakers, support industry and officials about the state of play in local and indie cinema.
This year, the organizers added a series of adventurous oddball videos shown in oddball places – the tops of roofs, back alleys in Chinatown, inside parked cars, on the back wall of a tattoo parlour – to get patrons out of their comfort zones and focused on the shared ambience as an essential part of the magic of the movies – something you don’t get from a Blu-Ray player and a 52” plasma no matter how nice the surround sound is.
Some 160 films of various lengths will be screened between the opening gala (which features One Week, Michael McGowan’s rite-of-passage feature about a dying young man who commits a kind of life-affirming suicide by riding from Toronto to Tofino instead of getting treatment) and the final flick, the appropriately-named South Korean horrorshow Epitaph. In between are a heck of a lot of documentaries, English (and a few French, Chinese and other language) features, a smattering of shorts and a great huge helping of Canadian celluloid.
The VFF sees the promotion of indie and mainstream Canadian content as not just an obligation, but a passion: up until Juno made a splash, many markets (particularly the US) were stubbornly indifferent to the stories of the Great White North. Like the Northwest Passage, that ice has thawed a bit and the locals are scrambling to take advantage.
The festival is strongly supported by the local population, and attracts more than its fair share of filmmakers, drawn mostly by the less-competitive atmosphere and relaxed but appreciative audiences. This is a fest that likes works-in-progress, indulges in over-running interviews, remembers you from last year, isn’t afraid of a bit of outrage, and generally offers a supportive reception to those just getting started or far from perfect. As a result, the Victoria Film Festival often gets “scoops,” premieres and sneak-peeks that rival it’s better-funded brethren back east.
The caffeinated obstacle courses of the larger fests is replaced with a spot of tea and a comfy chair beside the fire in Victoria’s vision of a meaty but mild blend of business and pleasure; a cinematic Shepard’s Pie.
(this article originally appeared on Film Threat) 

Schneer Genius – RIP Charles H. Schneer, 1920-2009

A toast to Charles H. Schneer, who died on January 21st at the approximate age of 88 (nobody seems to know his precise birthday) in Boca Raton, Florida.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Schneer seems to have always been a film producer — or at least that’s the only role listed for him in the movie business. He’s the fellow in the dark suit in the middle of the photo to your left, standing next to Dr. Werner Von Braun as they discuss the finer points of his biopic, I Aim at the Stars (1960).

“Fantastic films” (a meta-genre name covering all manner of monster, special effect, space and/or sci-fi driven movies) dominate the career of Schneer, who is best known for being the producer of most of Ray Harryhausen’s amazing body of work, and thus what merits his mention here. Among Schneer’s output are some of my favourite (as well as some of the best) films of imagination, and Schneer managed to keep himself at the forefront of such films even as they moved from cheesy low-budget shockers (like his second feature, 1955’s It Came From Beneath the Sea ) to big-budget international epics like his final movie, 1981’s Clash of the Titans.

Schneer’s first picture, the 1953  McCarthy-era thriller The 49th Man , has become strangely re-relevant in light of the paranoia about foreigners, border security and portable “dirty” nuclear bombs. It was on his second picture, the aforementioned It Came From Beneath the Sea, that Schneer entered the “monster movie” trade and met up with Harryhausen, and the two forged a career-spanning bond.

The relationship was cemented with the stunning visual impact of their work on 1957’s Earth Versus the Flying Saucers  (a nostalgic favourite of mine), and from then on it was more common to see both men’s names together than not, though it should be mentioned that Schneer did produce some non-cult pictures such as Hellcats of the Navy  with Ronald and Nancy Reagan (1957) and a bunch of other war pictures, the film version of the musical Half a Sixpence  (1967) with good ol’ Tommy Steele, the Telly Savalas-George Maharis western Land Raiders  (1969) and the unfairly overlooked George Peppard spy thriller The Executioner  (1970).

All of the rest of the years between 1958 and 1977 were pretty much filled with Harryhausen films, including my (and Schneer’s) favourite of their collaborations and one of my all-time absolute favourite movies ever, 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts . To this day a magnificent picture that still holds the imagination of those who watch it. I was lucky enough to see it on a cinema screen a few years back and the memories of that still thrill me. It’s the perfect cross between the kind of (often biblical) sword-and-sandals type epic and a special-effects driven b-movie, and even features Hercules in a minor role — which just goes to show you how interesting the picture is, that they don’t need one of the cinema’s most legendary heroes to carry the film!

Along with another of my all-time “will watch it every time it’s on” picks, 1974’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad , Schneer wisely lets Harryhausen indulge his own rich imagination, resulting in iconic visual sequences such as the fighting skeletons of Jason and the thrilling Kali sequence in Golden Voyage, ideas stolen or paid homage to by many films since.

Schneer was also the money man behind such well-regarded movies as The Three Worlds of Gulliver  (1960), Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island (1961), HG Wells’ First Men in the Moon (1964) — a strangely overlooked part of Harryhausen’s canon — and 1969’s Valley of Gwangi , the best stop-motion-dinosaurs flick every made and featuring arguably Harryhausen’s highest-quality animation.

He also produced all the Sinbad movies, including the final one (and his penultimate picture), 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger . Perhaps someday when the US’s image of Persia improves, another good Sinbad movie can be made (this Sinbad didn’t do any, that’s for sure!).

The same year Eye of the Tiger came out, a pair of movies called Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars ushered in the era of high-quality, high-budget effects pictures, and men like Schneer and Harryhausen must have seen the writing on the wall. It must have been a bit like being a clerk in a Dickensian money-changer’s office as the Industrial Revolution began to unfold. True to their craft, Schneer and Harryhausen decided to die with the old ways.

Schneer’s final bow was one last (and probably most successful) collaboration with Harryhausen, 1981’s Clash of the Titans . With a decent budget and big-name actors, this re-telling of the myth of Perseus and Andromeda stayed faithful to the Harryhausen style and still managed to do very respectable business. Even the owl character of Bubo (an acknowledgement of creations like R2-D2) was lovingly hand-filmed rather than lazily computer-enhanced. In retrospect, Clash of the Titans seems more like Harryhausen reminding his students that although technology had passed him by, he was still the master who had made a lot of it possible.

Following Titans, Schneer retired from the movie business after almost 40 years and a record of mostly profitable and well-remembered pictures. Apart from a couple of appearances on Harryhausen retrospective specials, little is seen or remembered about the man, and yet he was part of a team that gave the world so much. Film Moi wishes Charles Schneer safe passage on his most fantastic voyage, and reminds him to watch out for the Harpies. 🙂