A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Saturday Double Feature – Pete’s Dragon (2016) and…

p1Yep, it’s the return of what use to be a regular feature here on the blog, the Saturday Double Feature. the idea is to pair a movie that is out in theaters now with one from the past. The reason for the pairing can vary – sometimes it will be pretty obvious, for instance if the movie in question is a remake (though I generally try to avoid those if they’re particularly well known) or it could be thematic, or perhaps an aspect of the title that I just think could be use to connect the two, or at times it’ll just be something that occurs to me as I’m thinking about the new movie. Basically anything that makes me think that the two films would make a good pair for viewing together.

Usually fir the second film I try to choose one that was released in the 80s or before, but I’m making an exception in the case of this week’s duo.

So let’s start with the new movie for this week. Pete’s Dragon is, of course a remake of the 1977 Disney semi-animate adventure/comedy film, about a boy who is friends with… well, a dragon.

Rather than go with he obvious, however, and pair it with the original version, I thought I’d go with a lesser-known film that I feel deserves more attention: The Secret of Roan Inish from 1994. Like Pete’s Dragon, Roan Inish deals with the relationship of a young child an a mythical creature, however in this case the creature is one from Irish legend known as a selkie. According to legend, selkies are seals who can shed their skins and become human on the land.

Thee Secret of Roan Inish was produced by Sarah Green an Maggie Renzi, and was directed by John Sayles. It’s based on a children’s novel called Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry written by Rosalie K. Fry.

Here’s a trailer:

Like I said above, though it breaks the pre-90s rule that I usually try to follow, I really like Roan Inish, and truly think it should have more than the cult following that it seems to now.

So, have you seen The Secret of Roan Inish? If so, what did you think about it, and what do you think of it as a pairing with Pete’s Dragon? Is there another film that you think would make a good double feature with it? Let me know in the comments below.

Anime Entryway – They Were 11 (1986)

tw111I don’t write much about anime here, simply because I don’t watch that much of it nowadays. However, back in the 90s, when it was seeing its first real American boom thanks to a home video market that was desperate for all kinds of content, I did watch quite a bit and found a lot to like about the genre.

Recently, in a conversation with a younger co-worker, the topic came up, and I got to thinking about some of the various titles that I enjoyed from back then, and one of those was They Were 11, known in Japan as Jūichinin Iru!, so when I found that it was actually available on YouTube I decided to give it a shot and see how well it held up against my reminiscences.

I suppose the easiest way to describe the plot to an American audience is to suggest thinking of it as a movie focused on a group of cadets facing an entrance exam to Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy. We get a mixed-bag group of characters from different planets/races who are put together on a spaceship to test their abilities to survive an work together as a team. However, upon arriving on the ship, instead of the expected ten team members, they fin that there are eleven on them. This, of course, sets up the first mystery: who is the unexpected 11th crew member? Since none of them knew each other before, an they were assigned seemingly at random, there is really no way to tell.

tw112To make matters worse, the team soon discoverers that the derelict ship to which they have been assigned is filled with a poisonous plant which, at a certain temperature will release poisonous spores, an after an act of sabotage throws the ship out of orbit causing it to rift nearer to the sun it is currently orbiting, the team must find a way to work together to save all of of their lives.

Of course, there is a way out. On the ship there is a red “panic button” which will sen out an S.O.S. message, calling in a recovery team to rescue them. However, pressing the button means that the entire team will fail the exam, which they cannot then take again for three years, a choice most of them are reluctant to make.

tw115The movie is a nicely plotted sci-fi mystery/action adventure. The animation is on par for the time, an while I really can’t speak for the translation of the script, the dubbing in the version I watched was very well done, with one exception. While I can understand the decision to use a strong southern American accent to emphasize the backwoods/planet on the outskirts origin of one of the characters, it is nonetheless quite jarring against the other character voices, an really the kind of thing that can draw one out of the film.

Beyond being just an adventure film, however, the movie also tackles some interesting questions about race, genre identity, group dynamics, and class issues. At the same time, it never loses sight of the fact that above all else, a movie like this is meant to be entertaining, and at times, such as as during a food fight which breaks out and serves as a tension reliever not just for the crew but for the audience as well, breaks down into almost outright slapstick.

tw114I’ll also admit that there is one aspect of the ending that may irk some viewers considering the way attitudes toward genre representation have change in the ensuing years, but for myself, I think it’s handled quite well.

Overall, I’d say if you’re a sci-fi or anime fan, They Were 11 stands up well to the test of time. Or, if you’re not familiar with the gene an ae looking for a way in, it makes a good choice, as an entryway, as it has just enough familiar elements to make it easily accessible, while still showcasing what makes a good anime movie.

Since the movie may prove difficult to find (I’m not sure that it’s had a proper disk release in years), I’ve posted the entire film in its dubbed version below and encourage you to give it a look.

Quickie Review – Haunter (2013)

hau1Every once in a while I’ll be scrolling through my queue on Netflix or Hulu and run across a movie that I don’t really remember putting on there but know there must have been a reason. Sometimes it turns out to be who is in it, sometimes it’s because it’s one that is suggested by the service itself, sometimes it’s just because the trailer caught my eye or because I’ve seen or read a review of it that made me think it might be interesting. That’s what happened last night when I ran across 2013’s Haunter.

I still can’t really say for sure what made me put it in the queue, but I’m glad that I did. The film turned out to be a breezily atmospheric haunted house movie with just enough jump scares to make it unsettling, but also enough twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing as to just what is going on. This is one of those flicks that starts out looking like it’s going to be one thing but before long turns into something completely different.

I’m not going to say that it works completely, and I’m not going to say that it would hold up under a lot of in depth scrutiny, but the ending is satisfying, as is the journey getting there. As a way to pass a couple of hours on a quiet summer night, I found it to be just what I was looking for.

The Return Of The Epic? – Ben-Hur (2016)

So a “featurette” focusing largely on the chariot race has been released to promote the upcoming Ben-Hur movie. I’ll admit I’m looking forward to this, largely because I’m curious how Hollywood is going to handle this kind of epic historical film today.

Of course, a big part of what this preview does is make me want to take a look back at some of the earlier incarnations of this film and compare them not only with the new one coming out, but with each other.

For instance, the first adaptation of the novel was released in 1907, runs 10-15 minutes (depending on the cut) and definitely centers around the climax. What makes this version especially interesting is that it was the film that established the concept that movie makers had to pay the original creators for the material they were adapting.

Then there’s the 1925 (or 1926) version which ever so slightly expands the film to a running time of 143 minutes. This still silent version was produced by MGM, directed by Fred Niblo, and stars Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman. Interestingly, though for the most part, the movie is in tinted black and white, there are some scenes (especially those featuring Christ) that were shot in two-color Technicolor, and though those color scenes were considered “lost” for a long time, they were recovered in the 80s and have since been restored to most restoration prints.

Then, of course, there is the most famous adaptation of Lew Wallace’s novel, 1959’s Charlton Heston starring version. Directed by William Wyler, the film garnered 12 Academy Award nominations and took home 11. Shot in CinemaScope, the movie had the largest budget ($15.175 million) as well as the largest sets built of any film produced at the time and reportedly employed more than 10,000 extras. With a running time of 212 minutes, it made over $146 million upon its initial release, against a budget of 15.2 million, and of course has gone on to reach a certain legendary status.

So the question facing the release of the latest version of this classic is actually, I suppose, two-fold: Can Hollywood actually make this kind of epic without resorting to multiple explosions and CGI creatures threatening everyone, and will modern American audiences actually turn out to see such a movie in the kind of numbers that will make it profitable? For my part, I’m hoping the answer to both questions is “yes”.

Throwback Thursday – More Nero Wolfe

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A while back I started writing about my favorite detective, but for various reasons I never got around to posting part two of this, something I intend to correct soon. Last week for Throwback Thursday I reposted that original post, so I thought this week I’d use this space to post my original follow-up to that, dealing with one of the novels that I had just finished reading.

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My Favorite Detective: A Novel Interlude – A Family Affair

nero208Back before Christmas I posted an article about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe introducing the character and talking about the concept of the armchair detective. In that article (which focused mostly on the radio adventures of the character) I noted that while I could probably find all of the original novels and short stories online either through Amazon or Ebay or downloading them as e-books or whatever, I’m just old school enough that I enjoy having the print editions (yep, there are some things that I just enjoy having hands-on copies of) and tracking them down individually either through going to old booksellers or getting them as gifts. Well, thanks to my mom, I received a 1st edition hardback copy of Stout’s last Wolfe book, A Family Affair.

One of the things that I noted about Stout’s Wolfe stories that I really like is that though he first introduced Wolfe and his associates and various supporting characters in 1934 in a novel entitled Fer-de-Lance, and wrote them to be contemporaneous with society then. as the years passed, though the characters never actually aged and their basic relationships didn’t change, the world around them did, and that was something that Stout acknowledged in his stories. For instance, when America entered World War II, Wolfe became an occasional consultant for the War Department. During the 50s and 60s, Wolfe noted and commented upon the civil rights movement, and some of his cases sprang from that, and so on. As a matte of fact, Stout stated to his biographer John McAleer

“Those stories have ignored time for thirty-nine years. Any reader who can’t or won’t do the same should skip them. I didn’t age the characters because I didn’t want to. That would have made it cumbersome and would seem to have centered attention on the characters rather than the stories.”

That particular aspect of the stories was never more in evidence than they are in A Family Affair which was first published in 1974 and deals heavily with Wolfe’s reaction to the Watergate scandal which was engulfing the nation at the time. As a matter of fact, a central part of the mystery has to do with if, and if so how, the events that take place might be related to that ongoing scandal.

nero201Another theme of the novel, and the part that gives it its title, has to do with just who constitutes one’s “family”. Is family merely a relationship of blood, or are there other relationships that can also be considered family? This is especially called into question when a character who has been peripherally seen before in the Wolfe stories is killed in a rather gruesome manner under Wolfe’s own roof, which is the event which sets the rest of the story in motion.

I’m not going to give much more of the plot away here, as to do so would deprive the potential reader the fun of following the twists and turns which it takes, except to say that for those who have read previous stories and have come to know and love these characters over the years, the climax does come as something of a gut-punch.

fa1A Family Affair is also one of those stories in which Wolfe breaks, as happens from time to time, some of the established rules that he has set up for himself, and which define him as unique from other characters in the genre, but there is always a good reason for that when it occurs, and that is true here.

I have to say that I don’t recommend A Family Affair as an introduction to Wolfe’s world. There are many other stories and books that would serve that purpose better. On the other hand, though I wish that Stout, who passed away in 1975, not long after the publication of the novel, had been able to write many more stories, if there does have to be a last Wolfe novel it is fitting that this is it.

And fortunately for me, since I’ve made no strict rules about the order I’m reading the stories in, simply devouring each one as I find it, there are still some new adventures out there for me to find, and that is something that makes me very happy. And anxious to head out and see if I can find any more today.

(I’ll also be back soon with the “official” part two of this series, in which I’ll write more about Wolfe himself, and my favorite television adaptation of the character.)

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Want To See At Least Two Slew of Trailers From San Diego Comic-Con? Then Hit The DMM Facebook Page

ww1Yep, it’s that time of year again – San Diego Comic-Con, when all of the studios are fighting to get new trailers and previews to an appreciative audience in order to generate some positive buzz about all of the genre-related (and not just comic-book) films and TV shows they have coming out.

This year, instead of continuously posting the new trailers here, though, I’m putting them up on the Durnmoose Movie Musings Facebook page. So if you want to  see things like the (surprisingly better than I expected) new Wonder Woman trailer or footage from the upcoming Justice League movie, or the Lego Batman movie, or Kong: Skull Island, or the new Dr. Strange trailer, or previews for the upcoming Marvel/Netflix collaborations, or Guy Ritchie’s intriguing take on King Arthur, or… well, let’s just say “a whole bunch of other stuff”, then head over there and take a look.

Also, while you’re there, go ahead and give the page a like or a share… it really is the easiest way to keep up with everything that’s going on with the Moose, and is also where I sometimes post things that I might not feel deserve a full post here. Oh, and for that matter I may as well go ahead and mention the Durnmoose twitter feed, which you can find a link to in the sidebar, and which I also use for getting the word out when there is a new post here. You can find the link to that over in the sidebar.

 

Throwback Thursday – Nero Wolfe Part One

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A while back I started writing about my favorite detective, but for various reasons I never got around to posting part two of this, something I intend to correct in the next few days, so I figured that rather than just referring readers of that part back to this I’d take the opportunity of Throwback Thursday to just go ahead and repost part one.

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My Favorite Detective (Part One) – The New Adventures Of Nero Wolfe (1950 – 1951)

nero1Though I am, like most mystery lovers, a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, there has always been one character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories who has actually fascinated me more than the famed detective himself. No, I’m not talking about his famed arch-rival Moriarty, though he is also a very intriguing figure, especially when one considers his actual “screen time” in the canon stories is so short.

No, the actual character I’m talking about is Sherlock’s “smarter brother”, Mycroft.

The main reason that I find Mycroft intriguing is that he is, at least in the Conan Doyle stories, a sedentary figure who appears to be even smarter than his more famous younger sibling, but who, as Sherlock describes him in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”

…has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points…

Mycroft, therefore, is a perfect example of what is known as the “armchair detective”. At least he is in the Holmes canon. For those of you who mostly know Mycroft from his portrayal in either the BBC’s Sherlock or CBS’s Elementary, Mycroft, probably to disguise his identity from viewers who know the canon and add their own “twist” or “surprise reveal” is portrayed as a much more active figure.

nero2Of course, Mycroft is not the first armchair detective in mystery fiction. That distinction probably goes to C. Auguste Dupin who was the creation of the man who is responsible for innovating so much of what are now considered standard detective mystery tropes, Edgar Allan Poe.

Neither of these two men, however, is ny personal favorite character in the genre of the armchair detective. No, that distinction goes to a man who unfortunately goes largely unknown to today’s audiences, even, I would say, to many of those who consider themselves fans of mysteries stories.

His name is Nero Wolfe.

Wolfe is the creation of mystery writer Rex Stout who not only created the character, but wrote 33 novels and about 40 novellas and short stories featuring the character. (The reason for the “about” there is because there are a few stories which Stout wrote for magazines or other venues and then either revised or otherwise changed and which were then printed in the new version or even, depending on the extent of the changes, as new stories.)

Wolfe first appeared in the 1934 novel Fer-de-Lance, and the last Wolfe story written by Stout was A Family Affair, published in 1975. One of the most interesting aspects of Wolfe’s adventures is that while Stout’s stories were written over a period of more than forty years, and they quite often reflected what was going on in the world around them – for example, during the years of World War Two Wolfe was quite often consulted by the War Department for aid in tracking spies, and during the 60s Wolfe’s adventures took place amidst the civil rights movement – the characters of Nero and his assistant Archie Goodwin never aged or really changed.

nero4Ah, yes, Archie Goodwin. Some people would likely say that Archie is the true protagonist of Stout’s stories, and while I won’t go that far, I will say that it is Archie’s unique voice which truly brings Wolfe to life. Goodwin acts as the narrator of Wolfe’s adventures, acting in much the same role that Dr. Watson plays in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He is the person who acts as the reader’s stand-in in the stories, though considering the sedentary nature of Wolfe – remember, he is an armchair detective – Archie is arguably more valuable to Wolfe than Watson is to Holmes. As a matter of fact, in their preface to a reprint of Stout’s book Too Many Cooks, mystery scholars Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor describe the relationship between Nero and Archie thusly:

First, Archie is not a friend but a paid employee, who acts as secretary, chauffeur, and legman to the mountainous and sedentary Wolfe. Then they differ in all important respects—age, background, physique, and education. Finally, it is impossible to say which is the more interesting and admirable of the two. They are complementary in the unheard-of ratio of 50-50. … Archie has talents without which Wolfe would be lost: his remarkable memory, trained physical power, brash American humor, attractiveness to women, and ability to execute the most difficult errand virtually without instructions. Minus Archie, Wolfe would be a feckless recluse puttering in an old house on West 35th Street, New York.

Personally, I think that Archie’s voice is the thing that makes the Wolfe stories stand out from most other detective fiction, even Stout’s own attempts at creating other detectives and characters. I’ve tried reading some of those other stories and have inevitably found them wanting, and in analyzing my reaction to them, I’ve become convinced that the reason for that is that they are missing the unique voice that Goodwin brings to Wolfe’s adventures. Archie, in his role as narrator, seems to be one of those “lightning in a bottle” creations that sets Stout’s Wolfe stories apart from his rivals.

nero3Okay, for now I’m going to stop there, before actually getting into the character of Nero Wolfe and the things that make him a truly unique character even when compared to other armchair detectives. Instead, I want to take a moment to focus on one of my favorite adaptations of Rex Stout’s stories.

As indicated by the word “New” in the title, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe was not the first series to bring the detective to radio. That distinction goes instead to the 1943-44 series The Adventures of Nero Wolfe which first aired on the on the regional New England Network before being picked up for national broadcast by ABC. Next came 1945’s The Amazing Nero Wolfe, which featured Francis X. Bushman as the titular character.

By far, however, in my mind the best characterization of Wolfe on the radio came from the aforementioned NBC series The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, which aired on the network from 1950-51 and starred Sydney Greenstreet as Nero. Yes, that Sydney Greenstreet. The man who played Kasper Gutman (otherwise known as “The Fat Man”) in The Maltese Falcon and Signor Ferrari in Casablanca along with many many other roles.

As a matter of fact, Greenstreet’s portrayal of Wolfe is so strong that when I am reading Stout’s Wolfe stories it is his voice that I hear in my head as Wolfe. Who do I hear as Archie? Ah, we’ll get to the answer to that question in the second part.

nero5There are only two problems that I have with this series, and they are easily overcome by the love that I have for Greenstreet’s Wolfe. The first is that the series had no consistent actor to play the part of Archie Goodwin. Over the course of the twenty-six episodes which make up the series, the voice of Archie was played by actors such as Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Lawrence Dobkin, Harry Bartell, Lamont Johnson, and Wally Maher. The other problem is that the series consisted of original stories rather than adaptations of Stout’s writings, though that’s actually understandable and forgivable considering the complexity of Stout’s plots. They would have been nearly impossible to shoehorn into an thirty minute radio time slot, so it’s for the best that the producers didn’t even try. Instead, the producers opted to emphasize characterization over plot, and while one could perhaps nitpick bits of that, the truth is they did a pretty good job. Again, I’d say as well as could be done in a 30 minute time slot.

The other bit of good news about this series is that out of those twenty-six episodes, twenty five are known to survive and are available to collectors as opposed to the two earlier series of which only one episode each is known to have made it intact to the current day.

So I think it’s time to quit talking about the series and give you a chance to give it a listen.

Next up: Part Two where we take a look at the character of Nero Wolfe himself, my favorite television adaptation of the character, and my favorite portrayal of Archie Goodwin.

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.