Book Review: ‘A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power’ by Paul Fischer

When I first heard the story about how the North Korean kaiju picture Pulgasari was made, I had to see if anyone had actually written a book on it. Well, someone did and I am really glad that I picked it up.

In fact, this is my favorite showbiz book since reading Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist. Like that book, it goes into the behind the scenes happenings of this picture but it also serves as a biography for the main players involved. Kim Jong-Il and his bizarreness makes for an entertaining read on par with the first time I read about the infamous and awesome Tommy Wiseau.

Hell, maybe James Franco should adapt this into a film too; he’s got experience with showbiz biopics and films that piss off North Korea. Truthfully, this story would make an amazing motion picture.

For those who don’t know the story. Kim Jong-Il ordered the kidnapping of the most famous film director in South Korea. He also kidnapped the director’s wife, even though they were separated, as she was one of South Korea’s premier actresses. The director and his wife were held in a North Korean prison for years until they finally caved and decided to help Kim Jong-Il make better propaganda pictures. This is how Pulgasari happened.

This book is well written and thorough and while it seems to take some liberties in fleshing out the character that is Kim Jong-Il, everything just works and this is a really fun read that I enjoyed.

I love kaiju movies and strange stories. I have also been fascinated with the enigmatic North Korea. A Kim Jong-Il Production hits on all those things and is quite fantastic.

Documentary Review: Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles (2014)

Release Date: December 10th, 2014
Directed by: Chuck Workman
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal (composer, stock music)

Calliope Films, Wheelhouse Creative, Cohen Media Group, 95 Minutes

Review:

Orson Welles was a one of a kind master behind and in front of the camera. His first motion picture is considered the best film of all-time by a lot of people. It is hard to argue against it, as it is a true classic masterpiece.

This isn’t just about the film Citizen Kane, though. This is a documentary that follows Welles’ entire career and life and talks to key people from his life on the personal and professional sides.

I have been a fan of Welles ever since discovering his work when I was a teenager. I saw Citizen Kane in my high school film studies class and I was drawn in when most of the other kids in my class seemed sort of uninterested. Too many kids were in that class because they thought they would just watch movies all day and earn an easy A.

Magician is the premier documentary on Welles, at least that I have seen. It is well organized, the interviews do their job and paint a good picture and Welles’ charm when he pops up to talk about himself and his work, shows just how charismatic and engaging the man was. The Dos Equis guy has nothing on Orson Welles.

I liked the behind the scenes segments on Welles’ films and his professional struggles with the Hollywood system. I loved seeing indie filmmakers like Richard Linklater pop up in this documentary to point out that Welles really was the first true indie filmmaker even though he had to create and express his vision within the major studio system.

Orson Welles is legitimately one of the most interesting people to have existed in the twentieth century. This film does a good job conveying that through Welles’ own words and the words of others.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films’ by John LeMay

I am a big fan of John LeMay’s first two big books on kaiju film history, so when I found out about this one, I had to get a copy.

The subject of this installment also really peaked my interest, as I already knew a lot about existing kaiju pictures but this book was all about the lost films in the genre. It looks at films that were actually made but are now lost or destroyed, films that went into production but were never made, alternate versions of films that were scrapped, as well as some fan produced movies.

This is one of the best books I have ever read on the kaiju genre and it is certainly a must own for kaiju fans. It was just stacked with so much information on films that the vast majority of people have never heard about. It truly digs deep and fleshes out all these kaiju pictures that were lost or just not meant to be.

With a third book on the subject, John LeMay, in my opinion, has become the best English speaking writer on these types of films. I can’t imagine how much time was devoted to researching all the titles covered here. There are literally dozens of films discussed and analyzed with a few appendices added on at the end for dozens more where he wasn’t able to get enough info to write up anything larger than a blurb.

I have always been a big fan of “what ifs”, especially in regards to movies. This book is cool as hell and a lot of fun. LeMay deserves a ton of props for the work that went into this. I hope it pays off, in that this book lives on for years to come.

Book Review: ‘Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema’ by John Pierson

I came to know John Pierson through his show from the late 1990s Split Screen. While I had heard about it back then, through message boards and chat rooms (when they were still a thing), I never really had access to it until it was available on FilmStruck’s streaming service through their extra Criterion Channel add-on.

Having watched some of the earlier episodes, some of which featured Spike Lee, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, I got to know Pierson’s story and understand his influence and importance on 80s and 90s indie film. Because of that, I wanted to know more of the details, so when I discovered that he had written this book, I got a copy.

While the book tells these stories from Pierson’s point of view, they aren’t as exciting as one would hope. That’s not a knock against Pierson but he is sort of a bland guy and it comes through. This could also be my mistake for reading this after I just finished a string of Joe Bob Briggs and Hunter S. Thompson books, which put me on a colorful and charismatic high.

The best parts of this book are the sections where Pierson has conversations with Kevin Smith. Had the book featured more of this or just this, as Pierson tells the stories by conversing with those involved, it would have been a much more entertaining read. In fact, those sections feel more like an episode of Split Screen, which unfortunately could only fit in so much with its half hour running time and magazine style format.

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes is still worthwhile, if you care about the filmmakers involved and how they got their start. It is just very straightforward and dry.

Book Review: ‘Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film Making’ by Greg Merritt

As of late, I have been reading a ton of books on filmmaking and film history. The main reason is due to this website. I want to go through everything I can find on the subject of film in an effort to review it, so that others know which books are better resources than others.

Celluloid Mavericks isn’t so much about the filmmaking process, as it is about the long history of independent films in the United States. It is a thick book jam packed full of history and insight and it is one of the best works I’ve found on the subject.

Merritt goes through the earliest days of indie film and discusses the monopoly that the big studios had and how that all changed, opening doors for maverick filmmakers who didn’t want to have their art be controlled by a conglomerate of massive studios and government regulation.

The book really gets going when it gets into the late 1950s and the quick pace from that point on never stops. Realistically, this is where real indie films were born, leading into the experimental 1960s and the wide open 1970s. Being that the book was published at the end of the last century, means that it doesn’t get passed the 1990s but it is still a great reflection on indie film, as a whole, in the 20th century.

While the book’s cover may be a bit misleading, as it makes it seem like it covers just the 90s, that is only a small portion and the final chapter of this whole body of work.

Greg Merritt was thorough and his analysis along the way is really helpful and adds context to the films he’s discussing.

Documentary Review: Back In Time (2015)

Release Date: October 21st, 2015
Directed by: Jason Aron
Music by: Allen Calmes, G.C. Johnson

Malka Media Group, Jason Aron Media, Patchwork Media, FilmRise, 95 Minutes

Review:

There is an old adage that says, “If you don’t love Back to the Future, you must be a horrible person.” Okay, so maybe I made that up but that’s pretty much how I feel about it.

Back In Time is a documentary about the film and its huge cultural impact. It came out just in time for Back to the Future‘s 30th anniversary.

While not as amazing as I had hoped, it does interview a lot of the people involved in the production and creation of the film series. It talks to Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Huey Lewis and actors Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and others.

Unfortunately, Thomas F. Wilson and Crispin Glover weren’t in this documentary. It would have been really cool to hear their insight and how the film has effected them over the years. Glover, especially, due to how he left the film series and ended up suing over the use of his likeness, forever changing how business is done in Hollywood. While his actions left a bad taste in the mouths of many involved, enough time has passed, one would hope, to where he could have talked about the experience.

Back In Time talks a lot about the films themselves but it really showcases the fandom that has grown since the first one came out three decades earlier. It also interviews other notable people in the entertainment industry who were influenced by the Back to the Future franchise.

If you love the film series and have some time to kill, this documentary is worth a watch. There is nothing vital here but it is cool seeing those involved with it, reflect on it. It is also nice to see how it has captivated so many people since its release.

Book Review: ‘Godzilla FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of the Monsters’ by Brian Solomon

I have read a lot of books about the Godzilla franchise and kaiju in general over the years. Godzilla FAQ is, by far, one of the best books I have ever picked up on the subject.

If you have read extensively on the Godzilla films, as I have, this is a good refresher on a lot of the information that has been available elsewhere for awhile. But this isn’t just a rehash of older books. Godzilla FAQ digs deeper than most books and it is well organized in chapters specific to different elements within the production and history of the franchise.

It gives good bios on some of the producers and actors, unlike any other publication I have come across. It talks a great deal about those involved in the franchise from the American side of the Pacific Ocean too.

The book also extensively covers each of the 30-plus films, the monsters within those films and just about anything you could think of and then it throws in some stuff you wouldn’t have thought of. The book is exhaustive and awesome.

It also benefits from a lot of photos, which is rare in a book about Toho’s films, as they are notorious for going after those who violate their copyrights. I’m assuming the publisher did the right thing and got Toho’s permission, otherwise, this might not last on shelves very long.

The best thing about this book, is that it just came out and is as current as a printed book can be. It covers the 2014 American remake, the 2016 Shin Godzilla film and even mentions this year’s Kong: Skull Island as well as the other upcoming American films in the works.

I’d say that this is a “must own” for avid kaiju and tokusatsu fans or just fans of Godzilla, the true king of monsters.