The art of movie making essentially is a sleight of hand trick. The filmmaker’s craft is convincing the audience that what they’re seeing is real, in a limited sense. What works in filmmakers’ favor is that they only have to make what’s directly in front of the camera seem real. The movie screen creates a very thin slice of reality that only exists as light and sound. By carefully selecting the evidence and manipulating it in front of the camera, a filmmaker can make an audience believe in something, even if that belief is fleeting. For example, Steven Spielberg knew the robotic shark built for “Jaws” wouldn’t be as convincing to an audience as he had hoped. But, by carefully choosing how much of that shark to show and when, coupled with John Williams’ music, Spielberg made an entire generation scared to even dip their toes into a swimming pool. Continue reading
“Star Wars” is about as big of a pop cultural phenomenon as you can get, but there are still some areas where its influence is practically non-existent. For example, even though the major characters of “Star Wars” are global icons with name recognition in even the farthest corners of the world, none of them have ever received enough votes to stand on the dais with the leading candidates for British Prime Minister. However, Lord Buckethead, main villain of the 1984 “Star Wars” spoof “Gremloids,” has. This past June, Lord Buckethead received more than 200 votes in the United Kingdom general election, which was enough to get him on a stage with the top vote-getters and the requisite attention from Twitter. So yes, “Star Wars” may have billions in box office revenue, the respect of high-minded critics, and a merchandising empire responsible for more plastic than Dow Chemical, but “Gremloids” has Lord Buckethead. Continue reading
We’re living in a time of uninspired movie titles. Part of that is because the major studios are so fixated on building franchises that they approach movie titles the same way McDonald’s approaches naming menu items. (“Jalapeno McChicken” vs. “Marvel’s Ant-Man,” for example.) Part of it is because streaming services’ recommendation algorithms do a lot of the studios’ marketing work these days. Part of it might also be because there’s just less creativity at work in the movies these days, although I hope that’s not the case. In any event, they don’t make movie titles or movies like “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh” anymore. Continue reading
The moment a movie’s title appears on-screen is always a huge opportunity to set the tone for the audience. So what does it say about “King Kong Lives” that the movie’s title appears over a shot of desktop computers with gentle music better-suited for something with Sally Field? This is a title that demands an exclamation point, but gets a weak little shrug instead. “King Kong Lives, I Guess.” Or, considering what actually happens in the movie, you could call it “King Kong Lives…For A While.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Continue reading
Earlier this year, there was a minor outrage directed at a dopey-looking dog movie because someone leaked a video that made it look like a dog was pushed into a water tank against his will to make it look like he was swimming. That bit of behind-the-scenes mistreatment is nothing compared to “Wild Beasts,” where what was filmed is often so appalling and cruel that you shudder to think what was going on when the cameras weren’t rolling. “Wild Beasts” is the first horror movie I’ve seen where what happens in the movie isn’t nearly as stomach-churning as thinking about how they must have gotten it on film. “Wild Beasts” is an Italian production shot in Germany, and my theory is they did this because the producers figured that by the time the authorities figured out whose jurisdiction it was under, they would have the movie in the can.
The original “Death Race 2000” isn’t just a nearly perfect slice of drive-in junk food, it’s one of my favorite movies ever. Working off a recipe that balances black comedy, action and sleaze in precise proportions, director Paul Bartel and writers Robert Thom and Charles Griffith created one of the best and most entertaining products to ever come out of Roger Corman’s schlock market. It would take more than another movie to combine road racing with wholesale slaughter to clear the bar set by “Death Race 2000,” and “Death Race 2050” certainly tries. Continue reading
I have to assume that the people who made “Blue Monkey” intended it to be a withering screed against the Canadian healthcare system. Yes, the movie points out that the hospital it takes place in was built around the time of the Civil War and they reference Washington D.C., but this movie is very obviously Canadian well before the credits thank the good people of Ontario. The presence of Joe Flaherty is enough on its own, but there’s also the way all the characters say “oat” when they mean “out.” So, when a string of administrative blunders in this hospital leads to a giant grasshopper ripping people’s heads off, it’s hard not to think there might be some veiled commentary about the socialized medicine of our northern neighbors.