“Blaxploitation” Actor and Martial Artist Jim Kelly Reported Dead at 67

Jim kelly is "the black samurai". Sc...

Jim kelly is “the black samurai”. Screenshot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this article in from the Chicago Tribune, actor Jim Kelly passed away in his home Saturday night of cancer. The death was apparently reported to the public by his wife via his Facebook page. Mr. Kelly was probably best known to the general public for his role in the 1973 Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, but he also starred in a great number of movies in his own right, and the good folks over at The Daily Grindhouse have put together a terrific collection of trailers for those films, so rather than write what would certainly be a less-than-adequate tribute to the man, I think it’s better to just let his work speak for itself. I really suggest if you’re a fan of either the blaxspoitation or martial arts genre that you go check it out.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Kelly, you were one of the greats.

Saturday Double Feature: The Heat (2013) and…

Saturday on the blog means Saturday Double Feature, right? Remember, the basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before.. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

It’s actually a pretty quiet week in the theaters with only a couple of relatively small openings as everone gets ready for the July 4th one-two punch of The Lone Ranger and Despicable Me 2. However, one movie that did come out yesterday is the female-oriented take on the buddy-cop genre, The Heat.

Of course, there have been plenty of takes on the genre, but really, there’s only one way to go here. Ladies and gentlemen, from 1987, I bring you Mel Gibson‘s Mullet. Ummm… I mean Lethal Weapon.

I’ll admit I was initially tempted to go with In the Heat of the Night, but that really just seemed far too serious.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, along with any ideas you might have for other pairings with The Heat or for other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

This New Trailer for The Conjuring Is Certainly Trying To Conjure Up the Creepiness By Bringing In the Real Family

conjuring_ver2_xlgI’ll be honest, there are very few of today’s horror movies that really make me want to see them. I’m just not that interested in what seems to pass for “horror” these days. Jump scares and extreme physical torture that is more aimed at making people squirm in their seats rather than give them a good old fashioned fright just is not my cup of blood.

Perhaps that’s why ever since the first trailer for The Conjuring dropped I’ve been quite curious about it, especially since reports started coming in that the MPAA gave the film a R rating not for any of the usual reasons, but simply because the film was too scary for a PG13. According to the film’s producer,

“When we sent it [to MPAA], they gave us the R-rating. When we asked them why, they basically said, ‘It’s just so scary. [There are] no specific scenes or tone you could take out to get it PG-13.’”

Now in my mind, that’s actually quite a ringing endorsement. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see whether it can actually live up to the hype, but it really does look like the makers of this movie are really more interested in creating a true atmosphere of terror rather than simply aiming for the lowest common denominator and throwing as much blood and gore as they can at the screen.

Anyway, here’s a look at the latest trailer for the flick, which definitely plays up the more Amityville aspects of the film by introducing the real family the movie is supposedly based on, but still looks like it’s going not only far beyond its most obvious predecessor, and really does have an intriguing story to tell in its own right:

What do you think? Does the “true story” claim make any difference in the way you approach a film like this? If so, does it draw you in more, or does it simply make you more skeptical? And what about the rating and the reason behind it? Will that influence you any? I’m curious to know, so let me know in the comments below.

What’s Up With Those Dang Black Bars? – A History of Aspect Ratio

This may sound pretty dry and boring, but if you’ve ever been curious about why certain movies look different on your TV (especially now that “widescreen” TV’s have become so prevalent) or why older films look so much different than newer ones, one of the main reasons is what is known as “aspect ratio”. Dunno what that means or don’t know how it’s changed? Well, the good folks over at Filmmaker IQ have just the thing for you. The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio is a short feature that will provide you with simple explanations of all of these questions, and do it in a way that is quite entertaining.

This is actually only part of a course that you can find here, and I highly encourage you to check out the entire site. There’s lots of good info there for aspiring film makers, or really for anyone interested in the “hows” and “whys” of film making. Check ’em out!

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #001: An Introduction

No real long-winded introduction today. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day.

 People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and '30s CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. "Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio." National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.


People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and ’30s
CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. “Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio.” National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

These shows encompassed many different genres, including drama, adventure, comedy, science fiction, westerns, soap operas, sports… basically it was the television of its day. Before, that is, television (network television at least) became overrun mostly by unreality tv and CSI clones.

So why am I writing about old radio shows on what is ostensibly a blog about movies? Well, two reasons really. First of all, I have an affinity to these shows that dates back to my childhood when my father collected these shows on cassette tapes that he would either purchase or trade with other collectors, and secondly, many of these shows had definite connections to Hollywood. Many of them would simply adapt popular movies for radio audiences, others would feature or even star Hollywood performers.

Anyway, I said I was going to try not to be too long-winded with this introduction, so for now I’m going to stop there, and let the shows begin speaking for themselves. For this first installment, I’m simply going to give you a variety of different shows to help those unfamiliar with the whole concept get a taste of what I’m talking about. Then, in weeks to come, I’ll feature a specific show and talk more about it and its Hollywood connections, and hopefully. over time, some of you will come to enjoy these shows as much as I do.

Plus, who knows, we might even find some connections between these shows and current movies, too. (As a matter of fact, I know we will.)

For now, though, just sit back, relax, maybe close your eyes, and let the magic of radio transport you back to an earlier time…

(By the way, just a quick note… you’ll notice varying quality on some of these recordings. While many of them are taken from transcription records that would be sent to various stations for playing at the appropriate time, others were simply recorded from the actual broadcasts by listeners who had set up (most likely) reel-to-reel tape machines to capture the broadcasts, and it is from those amateur recordings that the only known copies of those shows still exist. Hopefully, however, these quality variences won’t take away too much from your enjoyment of the shows themselves.)

This last one is actually from a later period, and is a show that I actually grew up listening to. Locally it was broadcast at 9pm on our CBS affiliate, so I got to lie in bed and listen to it each weeknight before nodding off to sleep. One of the interesting things about going back and listening to these today is that many of them, this one included, also include the original commercials and news broadcasts that would round out the hour of programming, and since this one, for instance, was first broadcast in 1974, the news often included coverage of the developing scandal which would become known as Watergate. Just keep listening through the commercials at the end, and you can hear how radio was reporting the latest news coming from the Nixon White House as more facts were coming to light.

(Oh, and yes, there are some definite movie connections in this story also, as you’ll see. Or should I say, as you’ll hear?)

Well, I hope that’s given you at least a taste of what’s to come as we explore the connections between Old Time Radio and the cinema, and be sure to check back next week as we focus in more closely on one of these great shows. And if you have any particular memories of radio shows, or any favorites, or if any of these caught your attention and you want to hear more, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Fan Films – The First 12 Minutes of Backyard Blockbusters (2012) Plus a Few Favorites

So what exactly is a fan film? Well, as the clip below will show, different people will have different definitions. For me, I suppose the simplest definition is that a fan film is a movie of whatever length (though, admittedly, they are usually shorts, simply due to budget constraints) that either use previously established characters or are set in a previously established universe and are made without studio funding or most of the time, without the backing or explicit permission of the rights-holder. (Though often times those rights holders will simply turn a blind eye to the films, as long as the film makers do not try to make money off of their creation. Thus, something like Judge Minty (which I wrote about here) would be considered a fan film, because it is set in the same universe and uses characters from the comic strip Judge Dredd, but So Pretty and So Dark (which I wrote about here) wouldn’t, because rather than using previously established characters or settings, they create their own.

bb1Now, a lot of people might consider this “cheating”, or even “stealing”, and I can see where those arguments could be made. And there have certainly been times where studios or rights holders have shut down or otherwise made sure certain fan productions  The difference to me is, I suppose, that these films are, as my friends across the pond would say “exactly what it says on the tin”. They are films made by fans for fans, and they are usually made with a love and respect for the original creations that can often go beyond a lot of the “remakes” or reimaginings” that are coming out of the official studio system today. (No, I won’t bother naming names again, but we all have our favorite dogs to kick in that category).

Which brings us neatly to the documentary Backyard Blockbusters. Created by Z-Team Productions, and more specifically written and directed by John E. Hudgens, himself a fan film creator, the movie explores the worlds of these creators, what guides and motivates them, and how influential they have and can become. Especially in this new digital age, where the costs of producing one of these films becomes less prohibitive by the day, and the production quality can equal that of many much more high budget films, it seems in many ways that these films and film makers may very well be hiding the next George Lucas or Joss Whedon or… well, take your pick.

Backyard Blockbusters made its debut last year at the 2012 DragonCon, and has been making the rounds of various film festivals while looking to make a deal with a distributor so that it can be seen by more people. (They are also considering some form of self-distribution, but that appears to be on hold for now.) In the meantime,they’ve posted the first 12 minutes from the documentary online, just to give people an idea of what a fan film can be, and what the doc is going to be like.

For more information about Backyard Blockbusters, be sure to visit their website.

Also, while we’re waiting for a chance to see the full film, I thought I’d spotlight some of my own favorite fan films.

Batman: Dead End, was created by Sandy Collura, and came out at a time before the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy had people thinking about a real Dark Knight. Plus, it features Batman fighting some surprising opponents in a way that could only happen in a film like this.

As you’ll see in the Backyard Blockbusters excerpt, one of the first Star Wars fan films was Hardware Wars, a parody/homage to the original trilogy:

Another parody film (and I’ll admit that this one really does kind of straddle the line between fan film and outright parody, but I’ll give it a pass just because its so much fun) is a take-off on the 1968 George Romero classic Night of the Living Dead, although in this case, it’s not zombies that the unfortunate souls trapped in that farmhouse have to face. No, in this case it’s something much much worse:

Finally, here’s one especially for you Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit fans out there (or really for any fantasy fans out there, perhaps especially those who think Peter Jackson’s takes on them are too overblown and stretched out. Elfquest is one of those properties that has been around in various forms for decades, but has never successfully made it to the big screen. And though this particular fan film is set up as a trailer rather than an actual film (a route many take, actually) it shows the promise of the property along with showing why, should someone want to purchase the rights to make an actual movie from the concept, they might want to consult with these creators first, because they have definitely captured the magic and beauty inherent in the material. Plus, it serves as the perfect antidote for those who might think that fan films (or even studio made fantasy films) are generally too male-oriented.

As you can see, fan films can run the gamut. Some of them, admittedly, show their amateurish roots more than others, but even those, quite often, also showcase the heart that went into their making, and in the end, it’s really that love for the property that makes these little movies worth seeking out and enjoying.

Idris Elba Rallies The Troops – Brand New Trailer for Pacific Rim (2013)

One of the smartest things that the creators of Pacific Rim have done is not to try to tie it in to any previously established continuity or characters. Though it obviously wears its influences on its sleeves, since they obviously had their own story they wanted to tell, they thankfully didn’t try to use the name of a previously established  character or franchise to hide behind in order to do that, allowing the movie to stand or fall on its own. (And yes, I’m looking at you, Man of Steel and any number of other “remakes” or “reimaginings”.)

Look for it (and me) in theaters July 12th.