Documentary Review: From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (2014)

Also known as: Von Caligari zu Hitler: Das deutsche Kino im Zeitalter der Massen (Germany)
Release Date: August 28th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Rüdiger Suchsland
Music by: Henrik Albrecht, Michael Hartmann

Looks Filmproduktionen Arte, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), 118 Minutes

from-caligari-to-hitlerReview:

I haven’t read the book From Caligari to Hitler but once a documentary about the subject matter came out, I had to watch it.

For those who don’t know, the book was published in 1947 by German film critic Siegfried Kracauer. It was one of the first major works published on German film, specifically the era between World War I and World War II. The book examines whether or not the German film industry of the time foreshadowed the rise of totalitarianism in German culture.

The main reason why I haven’t read the book yet, is that most copies of it are pretty pricey. Besides, seeing the book’s ideas and themes explored in a documentary format is actually more beneficial, to be honest. With it being covered in actual film, the viewer is visually treated to all the motion pictures and scenes that are referenced in the original work. The documentary also allows modern film scholars to discuss the ideas now, years later, while expanding on Kracauer’s points.

The documentary was made in Germany and is in the German language. The version I watched on Netflix, where it is currently streaming for subscribers, had English subtitles.

The film is pretty compelling. It also isn’t just about the narrative that these silent era German pictures had a link to the rise of the Nazis. The documentary gives a fantastic look into early German cinema. It covers a lot of films and is pretty broad in which genres and styles it showcases. It isn’t just about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which it alludes to in the title, it is about the whole of German filmmaking and German pop culture between the two World Wars. It is actually quite amazing how much territory this documentary covers in just under two hours.

The presentation was great; the narration and interviews were informative and thorough. One couldn’t have asked for a better film on the subject matter.

From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses is fantastic for any fan of film and history. Few documentaries on film history, especially those focused on an international market, are this good.

Film Review: The Birds (1963)

Release Date: March 28th, 1963
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Evan Hunter
Based on: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Universal Pictures, 119 Minutes

the_birdsReview:

I don’t really know what it is about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds but it has captivated me since I was a little kid. While Psycho is the superior picture out of his horror offerings, I still enjoy The Birds more. But like Psycho, it is pretty close to perfect.

The Birds also features Tippi Hedren who did a more than satisfactory job with this being her first big acting gig. She is also glamorous in that old school Hollywood sort of way. She almost feels like the second-coming of Grace Kelly, who mesmerized audiences in some of Hitchcock’s previous work. It is easy to see how the director became infatuated with her behind the scenes.

Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels is one of my favorite female characters from any Hitchcock picture. She is witty, smart, funny, enjoyable and very determined. She is a really strong character that is enhanced by her charm and also benefits from her great chemistry with Rod Taylor’s Mitch Brenner. Man, Taylor is so solid in this too.

Jessica Tandy and a young Veronica Cartwright round out the Brenner family and both actresses do a fine job. Tandy plays Mitch’s mother. Her character’s struggle to accept the women in her son’s life is a really good plot thread that ends on a beautiful note.

I also really enjoyed Suzanne Pleshette as the school teacher and former love interest of Mitch. She was an alluring brunette in contrast to the blonde Hedren. She was also heroic and a strong female character that probably deserved a much better fate.

The Birds is unique in that it doesn’t employ any music, unless you count the song the children can be heard singing in the schoolhouse. Instead, it relies on silence and the unsettling sounds of the birds themselves. The lack of music creates an intense sense of dread that feels very natural. Everything in the film feels so organic that the use of music would probably have made the really important scenes a lot less effective.

For instance, the scene where Hedren is sitting on the bench outside of the school in silence, where the birds quietly amass on the jungle gym directly behind her, wouldn’t have been as terrifying had there been music. It’s the surprise, the shock and awe of Hedren turning around, seeing this army of birds behind her that wasn’t there a minute earlier, that makes the film’s threat work. The stealth-like nature of the birds is more frightening than the attacks themselves.

The special effects in this film are so good, even for the time, that it still looks much better than the CGI-loaded pictures of today. You know that most of the birds on the screen aren’t actually in the scene but it looks as real as it possibly can. Never does it distract from the film or take the viewer out of the experience. I can’t say as much about some of the modern special effects techniques.

The Birds is a magnificent motion picture. Many creature features have come and gone for several decades but none, other than the original Jaws, have had as strong of an effect.

Film Review: The Grand Duel (1972)

Also known as: Il Grande duello (Italy), Storm Rider, The Big Showdown
Release Date: December 29th, 1972 (West Germany)
Directed by: Giancarlo Santi
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi
Music by: Sergio Bardotti, Luis Bacalov
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Marc Mazza, Horst Frank, Klaus Grünberg, Antony Vernon, Dominique Darel

Mount Street Film, Corona Filmproduktion, Terra-Filmkunst, Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC), Titanus Distribuzione, Cinema Shares International Distribution, 98 Minutes

the-grand-duelReview:

The Grand Duel is a pretty fun and extraordinarily bad ass picture.

It stars Lee Van Cleef as Sheriff Clayton, who is trying to clear the name of a man wanted for the murder of a patriarch of a corrupt political crime family. He has stood up for what is right and has thus lost his sheriff’s star before the start of the film. Regardless, he is still on a quest for justice and to ensure that an innocent man isn’t executed.

The innocent man is played by Alberto Dentice (credited as Peter O’Brien in this film). He was great in this movie and it is unfortunate that this is the only film he has ever been in. He was energetic, entertaining and lovable as the character of prison escapee on-the-run Philipp Wermeer.

The gang that the two heroes have to bring down are quite sinister and each character within the family is pretty unique and memorable. It sets up a really awesome gunfight at the end of the film, hence the film’s title, The Grand Duel.

The film also features probably the most famous spaghetti western theme song not orchestrated by the great Ennio Morricone. It went on to be used in the more famous Kill Bill films by Quentin Tarantino. The score of The Grand Duel was done by Luis Bacalov who has also done the music for spaghetti westerns Django and A Bullet For the General.

The overall story in this movie is really engaging and it moves at a good pace. There are a lot of characters wedged into the film but it doesn’t feel overstuffed. There are several flashback scenes done in high contrast black and white and they are alluringly shot.

This isn’t the best Lee Van Cleef spaghetti western but it is certainly in the upper echelon.

Film Review: Spring (2014)

Release Date: September 5th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Written by: Justin Benson
Music by: Jimmy LaValle, Sigur Rós
Cast: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker

Drafthouse Films, FilmBuff, 109 Minutes

spring-2014Review:

I came across this film on Hulu while browsing around. The trailer made it look interesting enough, so I checked it out. Also, it starred Lou Taylor Pucci, who I have liked in several films – most notably, The Chumscrubber, Thumbsucker, Southland Tales and the Evil Dead remake. It also starred Nadia Hilker, who was pretty mesmerizing in this role. Then again, that’s probably just her.

Spring is a mixture of romance and Lovecraftian horror. I went into this blindly and as it evolved, I immediately thought it was a werewolf film, especially when the monster starts transforming and with some of the occult imagery. As the film moves on, it gets way more bizarre than a werewolf film and shows you that it is something else entirely.

The setup and the story builds quite nicely. The problem, is that the explanation for the supernatural stuff is shit. The last third of the film just turns into a steaming pile of crap after a solid build up. But then again, even with the build up and suspense, I still thought they revealed a bit too much, too soon.

Also, the film’s horrible CGI was distracting. Between some of the monster transformations and blood splatter, it looked like something a 12 year-old on YouTube could do. The worst part about that, is that the film is beautiful. The locations in Italy are majestic and alluring, the camera work was stellar, the color palate and lighting – perfect. The spliced in CGI just stood out like a sore thumb when placed in this visually pleasing art piece.

Additionally, the plot just wasn’t believable. Here you have Pucci’s “head over heels” emotional toddler somehow attracting a woman who has lived for thousands of years. He spouts some of the worst written romantic lines I’ve ever heard, such as, “I’m gonna miss the hell out of you. Like it’s gonna fucking hurt… bad.” Whoa, brah! That’s deep love. And an ancient chick didn’t just stab this dude brah through the damn throat?

The ending is underwhelming. Even if you think it is worth sticking it out till the end, it isn’t.

In fact, other than the scenery, the only thing I liked was the old Italian dude that let the American illegal immigrant live in his house. I’m going to look that guy up if I ever decide to take off to Italy to start a new life.

Film Review: King Kong (1976)

Release Date: December 17th, 1976
Directed by: John Guillermin
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph, René Auberjonois, Ed Lauter, Peter Cullen

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Paramount Pictures, 134 Minutes

king_kong_1976Review:

This was the King Kong film I grew up with. When I was a young kid in the early 1980s, this thing was on television almost daily. I also haven’t seen it since I was a young kid. But I have been watching through all the King Kong films in an effort to review them before the newest one, Kong: Skull Island comes out in March.

This was the first of a duo of films, kind of like the two previous King Kong series before it – the original 1930s RKO Radio Pictures films and the 1960s Toho kaiju movies. For the record, the Peter Jackson King Kong film that came out in 2005 was the first not to spawn a sequel.

1976’s King Kong is a better film than its bad reviews and low scores dictate. It stars a young Jeff Bridges, who looks like a twenty-something version of the Dude. He is likable and the highlight of the film, from an acting standpoint.

The film also stars Jessica Lange, who has always been beautiful but this is her at her stunningly best. She wasn’t a great actress here, although she would be in later projects. Lange was still passable, however. Her emotion, towards the end of the movie, once she grew to love Kong, was a much better version of the beauty and the beast tale than the original 1933 film.

Charles Grodin played the slimy stand-in for Denham of the 1933 version. Instead of being a showman and promoter, Grodin’s character was a sort of greedy oil baron. Like Denham, his desires for money, fame and power turn against him, as he is brutally stepped on by a rampaging King Kong when the film reaches its big climax.

King Kong also has René Auberjonois in it. He’s a guy that I have loved from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Benson to Where the Buffalo Roam to Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach to all his television and voice work.

This film, like the original, spends most of its time on the island. It only goes to New York City at the very end of the picture, to show Kong on display and then breaking free, only to rampage until his death at the hands of man.

The special effects of the movie are a mixed bag.

Kong looks great. The ape suit and the animatronics work really well and they have aged fairly nicely. Also, the miniatures, most notably, the elevated train scene, don’t look half bad for 1976. Some of the other effects aren’t great, however.

The green screen work looks too obvious and is distracting. One scene in particular, you can tell that something is about to happen with a window in the shot because it is highlighted and stands out like a wall about to break in an old cartoon. Also, any scene of a character falling to their death, whether humans or Kong himself, looks really bad.

The finale of the film is brutal. It takes place atop the World Trade Center and Kong meets his most violent death to date. This violence became a pattern over the two De Laurentiis Kong films. He is shot by three helicopters with miniguns. Bloody chunks literally fly off of Kong as he screams in horror. At least he takes out two of the helicopters in the process. Kong then falls off of the World Trade Center in dramatic fashion.

This is a better than decent film for its day. I find it to be more entertaining than the slew of disaster pictures from the 1970s. Also, I really liked the dynamic between Bridges, Lange and Kong. It isn’t as epic as the 1933 original and despite being more modern, feels much smaller and confined. Regardless, I did enjoy the film.

TV Review: Ultraman Leo (1974-1975)

Original Run: April 12th, 1974 – March 28th, 1975 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tōru Fuyuki, Makoto Kawaguchi
Cast: Ryu Manatsu, Kōji Moritsugu, Mieko Mita, Tomoko Ai

Tsuburaya Productions, 51 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

ultraman-leoReview:

While the character of Leo might not be as popular as the original Ultraman or Ultraseven, he is my favorite Ultraman of all-time. I also find the most enjoyment with his show, the self-titled Ultraman Leo.

What makes this show really cool, is that it starts with Ultraseven being crippled in a fight. Leo, an Ultraman from a different part of space than Seven, essentially replaces him as Earth’s protector. Seven becomes Leo’s teacher and trains him throughout the series to become the best Ultraman he can be. Seven’s human form, Dan Moroboshi, is played once again by Kōji Moritsugu.

Ultraman Leo is the first Ultra show that I watched outside of the original and Ultra Seven. At this point, the franchise had been around awhile and was pretty comfortable with itself. This was the seventh Ultra series and the sixth Ultraman series in the franchise.

This show featured some of the really cool classic monsters and it introduced a slew of new ones that were equally as cool. Like the previous shows, this version of Ultraman protected Earth from invasion by giant kaiju monsters and alien threats. It was also an incredibly physical series and featured fantastic fight scenes and stunts.

The character of Leo also fights and eventually teams up with his Ultra brother Astra. We also see Ultraman King introduced to the series’ mythos. He would become a powerful figure throughout many of the later series and films.

The thing that really sold me on Ultraman Leo was the pilot. That first episode is pretty incredible and it is the best pilot in the entire franchise. The seemingly unstoppable Seven gets beat by the swashbuckling Alien Magma and his cronies and Leo defends the crippled Seven. Leo proves himself to his future teacher before going on the long journey to becoming the valiant protector Earth needs.

It will take a lot for another Ultraman series to usurp Leo as my favorite. Granted, I’ve loved almost every incarnation of Ultraman that I have seen but there is just something special about the experience I had while watching Ultraman Leo for the first time.

Top 25 Films Starring Peter Cushing

peter_cushingPeter Cushing was one of the greatest horror icons of all-time. He starred alongside the legendary Christopher Lee in more than twenty films and also worked a lot with Vincent Price. He was the king of Hammer Horror, even more so than Christopher Lee.

Cushing could play heroic, sinister or just bad ass roles. He was Van Helsing, Dr. Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and a plethora of other great characters. He owned every role he ever played.

He is known to most people as Grand Moff Tarkin, the commander of the first Death Star in the first ever Star Wars. That character also reappeared via CGI in the recent Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Since I did a list like this for Lee and for Price, I figured that doing one for Cushing was a must.

1. Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope
2. The Curse of Frankenstein (and whole Frankenstein series)
3. The Horror of Dracula (and Dracula installments he’s in)
4. Twins of Evil
5. The Vampire Lovers
6. Captain Clegg (also known as Night Creatures)
7. Sword of Sherwood Forest
8. The Hound of the Baskervilles
9. The Gorgon
10. Madhouse
11. Dr. Who and the Daleks (and the sequel)
12. The Mummy
13. Island of Terror
14. The Abominable Snowman
15. The Beast Must Die
16. I, Monster
17. The Skull
18. The Creeping Flesh
19. Asylum
20. The Blood Beast Terror
21. Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors
22. The House That Dripped Blood
23. Scream and Scream Again
24. She
25. Horror Express