“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.

Top 250 Tuesdays: #137 – Three Colors: Blue (1993)

No, I’m not going to repeat this intro every time, but since this is a newish feature, and I’ve had a few new readers come on board recently, it seems appropriate to re-run it at least one more time, so here’s just a small bit of introduction before we get things underway. Top 250 Tuesdays is my attempt to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Films list. Basically, for me it’s a way of exploring what are considered some of the all-time great movies, in an attempt both to broaden the scope of my viewing and to fill in a number of gaps in the movies that I probably should have already seen, or even revisiting some old favorites in a new light A couple of notes, however, before we get started. As you’ll note at the top, this says #005. that’s actually noting that this movie is number five on the list, not that this is the fifth entry into the series. I decided to do it this way because I don’t intend to just go up (or down) through the list. Instead, I’ll be jumping around, sometimes just picking a number at random and watching that one, sometimes picking a movie based on other considerations. Also, I’m not planning for these write-ups to be reviews per se, though of course, in writing about them, I’m sure you’ll be able to get a feel for how much I liked or disliked a particular movie, nor do I intend to feed you a lot of Wikipedia or IMDB style information about the movies – obviously, you can find that type of information in any number of places. Of course, there will be times when background and context is important for getting a feel for some of these films, especially the older or less familiar ones, but generally I intend to keep that kind of thing to a minimum and just stick to my reactions or thoughts on the movie. After all, hopefully that’s what you’ve come here to read. For a longer introduction and a look at the entire list of films in the top 250, you can find that here. Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s get on with it.

Three_Colours-Blue-1993-posterBlue was actually the second of director Krzysztof Kieslowski‘s Three Colors trilogy that I watched. I actually began with the end, when, upon a visit with a friend in Chicago that happened to coincide with it’s release, she insisted that we go see Red, the actual last film in the series. Fortunately, since the films form more of a thematic trilogy than one in which the actual plot spans the three films, that one was able to stand on its own, and it very much did. Not only did it stand up well, but it stood out in a way that definitely made me want to go back and explore not only the other films of the series, but as much of the director’s other work as I could. To say that I was enraptured and captivated by what I saw on the screen that day would not be too much of an overstatement.

Kieslowski’s trilogy is built around two basic ideas. The first, of course, is that of the titles, Blue, White, and Red, those being the colors of the french flag. (Yes, for my American readers, they are also, in reverse order, the colors of the U.S. flag, but that, in this case is sheer coincidence.) The other idea is the thematic link between the three films, this time built around the three ideals of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood (or, as it is more closely and usually translated, Fraternity).

Blue, as it comes first, obviously is intended to take on the theme of liberty, but liberty from what? Clearly, this is a very personal, rather than political film, so rather than being about liberty from outside forces, the movie is centered on freedom from internal forces. Freedom from the past. Freedom from pain. Freedom from memories. Perhaps even freedom from life itself.

Blue is a film that is full of beauty…

The movie stars Juliette Binoche, who is at her most dazzlingly beautiful under the eye of Kieslowski and cinematographer Sławomir Idziak’s  camera. Binoche plays the role of Juliet, the wife of famed composer Patrice de Courcy. When her husband and young daughter are killed in a car accident on the way back from a family outing, she is left as the only survivor. Thus, she is suffering through most of the film not only from the loss of her family, but from survivor’s guilt.

None of the above, by the way, should be considered spoilers, since the wreck occurs within the opening minutes of the film.

Last week, I wrote about F.W. Murnau’s silent film Sunrise which was subtitled A Song of Two Humans. If that film was a song, then Blue is a symphony. Not only is there the literal symphony, or rather concerto, which gives the plot its driving force, and snatches of which are heard throughout the film, but the film itself is a symphony of images, of thoughts, of colors, and yes, of music. It has crescendos of both beauty and pain, and it has quieter moments of reverie and, eventually, acceptance. It is, in a word, glorious.

…but it is also one full of pain and grief.

Blue is one of those movies that is very hard to describe to someone who is unfamiliar with it, or with the director’s other works, because it truly is a film that needs to be seen. I don’t mean that it would be hard to describe the plot, because that can be done in a few sentences. Or, on the other hand I could write pages and pages about it, and still not have exhausted what could be said. No, what I really mean is that this is one of those instances where the whole really is so much more than the sum of its parts. It is a film where the story, the visuals, the music, all of which could form the basis of a really good movie, come together in a way that raises this one from the level of good to great.

And, I suppose that’s why it’s on this list, and presumably (hopefully) there will be many more like it to come.

Anyway, to put it very simply, with Blue, Kieslowski has truly composed a masterpiece.

Safety Sometimes – The Camera Trickery of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (1923)

English: Image located opposite Page 145; Capt...It’s an image indelibly inked onto any cinephile’s mind, and one of the most iconic shots in film history: Harold Lloyd dangling helplessly from the face of a clock with things getting more and more desperate as each second passes.

Of course, today this would be very simple, with all of Lloyd’s action shot against a green screen in a studio and the surrounding buildings composited in later on a computer.  However, as this short clip from the recent Criterion blu-ray release of Harold Lloyd”s iconic film Safety Last shows, since all of the film’s stunts had to be done in camera, there was a lot more planning involved to ensure not only the actor’s safety, but that the shot came off exactly the way they wanted it to. It’s a great behind the scenes look at “the way they used to make ’em”, especially for those who grew up in the digital age and have no idea what used to go into making even a short scene like this one so incredibly memorable.

And just for good measure, for those who may not have ever seen it or those who simply want to revisit it, here’s the entire scene:

Zombieday Double Feature: World War Z (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.

So the BIG MOVIE OPENING this week is World War Z, the Mark Forster “adaptation” of Max Brooks hit novel which of course looks and feels absolutely nothing like its source material. Oh, yeah, and it stars some nobody named Brad Pitt:

Hmm… what to pair that up with? Well, why not go back to the start and take a look at what is at least claimed to be the first-ever zombie movie? From 1932, it’s Bela Lugosi in White Zombie:

Of course, the whole film is available and easy to find on YouTube, but it’s also available in an incredible restored version from the Kino Classics Line. So why should you pay for something you can watch for free? Well, just compare the trailer above to this:

So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below, along with any ideas you might have for other pairings with World War Z 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!