Ray Harryhausen 1920 – 2013

Master of special effects Ray Harryhausen passed away today at age 92.

I grew up watching the fantasy and science fiction movies that he poured his heart and soul into and admired his work a great deal. There is no doubt he helped shape my love of the genres that I enjoy the most.  He was a one man special effects shop who made everything he worked on a little more magical.

R.I.P. Ray and thank you for all of the great memories and inspiration.

RH

The Best and Worst Movie and TV Cars (ATV’s and Motorcycles Too)

Writing my review of Mad Max got me thinking about movie and TV cars and that of course led me to write up a list of my favorite and least favorite fantastical road and off road vehicles of all time. So here is that list. These are ordered by the release date of the movie or TV show.

The best:

66 Batmobile

The Batmobile created by George Barris in 1965 for the super campy 1966 to 1968 TV series. Awesome car despite the fact it would probably suck to drive in the rain.

Death Race 2000 II

The Gator Car or The Monster from the 1975 cult movie Death Race 2000. Cheesy as hell but I love the look.

The Car

The big bad-ass killer car from the 1977 movie The Car. Not a terrific movie but I just love the mean look of this beast. Also built by George Barris.

Landmaster

The 10 ton + Landmaster built by Jefferies Automotive for the 1977 movie Damnation Alley. It’s big, it’s ugly, and it’s awesome.

Corvette Summer

Made for the 1978 movie Corvette Summer this is a Corvette Stingray with modified bodywork, custom paint job, and with right hand steering.  I realize this is not from one of my favorite genres but I just love this car!

1304613297_1

The beaten Pursuit Special from 1982’s Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior. I love how it looked in the original movie but the extra juice tanks on the back and the battered look just add to the character.

00001.mpls_snapshot_00.14.38_[2013.04.28_11.51.59]

The Spinner from the 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner. A very cool flying car, not quite as nice as The Jetson’s flying cars but pretty close.

89 Batmobile

The super cool Batmobile from Tim Burton’s visually amazing 1989 Batman. Looks great, too bad it could only go 35 MPH.

The worst:

Paris

The spiny VW Bug from the 1974 movie The Cars That Ate Paris. Terrible movie and silly car.

The butt ugly solar car from the 1977 Logan's Run TV series. I loved this thing when I was a kid. Now not so much.

The butt ugly solar car from the 1977 Logan’s Run TV series. I loved this thing when I was a kid, not so much now.

Galactica 1980

The goofy flying motorcycles from the horrendous TV series Galactica 1980.

Megaforce

1982’s Megaforce featured every possible variation of badly designed vehicle whether it was a dune buggy, motorcycle, etc. Nothing scares a villain like permed rejects from Dance Fever wearing gold spandex and driving fruity weapons of mass destruction.

Black Moon Rising

The prototype super car from the 1986 movie Black Moon Rising. Looks like it got ironed. The title is the best part of the movie.

The Wraith

The unimpressive car from the terrible but very entertaining 1986 move The Wraith (or Wraith The). Stupid fun movie but the car never did anything for me…

...this may have had something to do with the fact Sherilyn Fenn was in the movie and the car was pushed out of my mind.

…this may have something to do with the fact Sherilyn Fenn was in the movie and the car was pushed out of my mind for some strange reason.

BF Batmobile

The tacky, cheesy, tasteless, and utterly stupid pimped out Batmobile from the sometimes entertaining 1995 movie Batman Forever. This thing makes my stomach churn.

Nemo Car

Last but not least is Captain Nemo’s gaudy car from 2003’s The League of Somewhat Above Average Gentlemen. Not too ostentatious at all.

Movie Review – Time Bandits

1981 Handmade Films

Three and Half Star

Time Bandits

“Mom…Dad…it’s Evil, don’t touch it.” – Kevin

 

Terry Gilliam, member of Monty Python and creator of the wacky animation sequences on that show, has directed some truly inspired and totally bizarre movies over the years. Time Bandits was his third major directorial effort after co-directing the brilliant Monty Python and the Holy Grail and going solo on the not so brilliant but still entertaining Jabberwocky.

Time Bandits tells the story of a young lad in England named Kevin who gets caught up in the strange shenanigans of a group of little people that have stolen a wondrous map from The Supreme Being. This map shows the locations of doorways that allow one to travel through time and space. It seems these doorways were a leftover from when the universe was built being a rush job and all. These thieves are planning to use the map to plunder the greatest treasures throughout the ages and have decided to let Kevin tag along on their morally questionable and  not so legal adventures. Meanwhile The Supreme Being is pursuing them to get his map back and Evil himself is looking to get his hands on the map so he can escape his imprisonment in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and take over the universe with his superior knowledge of car phones and digital watches.

dvd_snapshot_00.11.34_[2013.04.13_19.50.16]

The doors are not necessarily in the best locations.

Nice and straightforward story huh? Not much about Gilliam’s movie are very straightforward and when he is on his game he makes great movies. For Time Bandits Gilliam was not quite at the top of his game but he still scores quite often throughout the movie. There are a couple of dead spots where the movie grinds to a halt but it gets going again pretty quickly. There are odd characters and concepts popping up everywhere and it’s all great fun. The cast is good and the photography, music, and special effects are not so shabby either. There are a few sequences where the lack of a bigger budget are evident but it doesn’t detract from the fun at all.

This was the first movie in Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination”. Time Bandits was followed by the absolutely extraordinary Brazil and fun if meandering The Adventures of the Baron Munchhausen. I would recommend all these movies to anyone who enjoys quirky and imaginative fantasies.

The good:

The cast is terrific from the lead characters all the way down.

The band of mighty thieves.

The band of mighty thieves.

dvd_snapshot_00.10.47_[2013.04.13_19.48.58]

dvd_snapshot_01.38.06_[2013.04.14_15.26.12]

David Warner is awesome in the role of Evil. I always enjoy his performances.

dvd_snapshot_00.27.38_[2013.04.13_20.00.22]

Michael Palin and Shelly Duvall are funny as hell as Vincent and Pansy, two lovers with the knack for being interrupted by the thieves no matter what era they’re in.

dvd_snapshot_01.44.22_[2013.04.14_15.31.15]

Ralph Richardson as the well dressed Supreme Being.

dvd_snapshot_00.11.00_[2013.04.13_19.49.14]

The Supreme Being in scary mode.

dvd_snapshot_00.38.24_[2013.04.13_20.09.21]

John Cleese as the absurdly dressed Robin Hood.

As is the case with most of Gilliam’s movies the visuals are amazing and off the wall.dvd_snapshot_01.18.32_[2013.04.13_20.35.57]dvd_snapshot_01.39.19_[2013.04.14_15.29.01]dvd_snapshot_01.38.54_[2013.04.14_15.28.41]

dvd_snapshot_01.20.39_[2013.04.13_20.37.07]

dvd_snapshot_01.34.12_[2013.04.14_15.22.16]

dvd_snapshot_01.52.09_[2013.04.14_15.35.08]

The map is cool. I liked it so much I got one to hang on the wall in my office!

The Map

Mine’s a little cleaner.

The not so good:

The movie really gets slow when the gang is having dinner with Napoleon.

dvd_snapshot_00.23.14_[2013.04.13_19.57.57]

God is this scene slow.

dvd_snapshot_01.15.25_[2013.04.13_20.34.41]

This scene is pretty dull as well.

In the pan and scan format of this movie you can see the floor of the filming stage in this scene.

In the pan and scan format of the movie you can see the floor of the filming stage in this scene.

Random thoughts and observations:

The end of this movie is totally demented and one of my favorite movie endings of all time. Here it is along with the end credits featuring a song by the late great George Harrison:

Movie Musings – If a vampire is an athiest would a cross work against it?

This question does not pertain to certain sissy pseudo-vampires who sparkle like diamonds in the sunlight and are so boring they keep going to high school over and over…real vampires don’t sparkle and only graduate once!

Seriously though, if questions about vampires can be serious, if a vampire doesn’t believe in god would or should a cross have any effect on them? Inquiring minds want to know!

Memories from the Edge – The first movie I remember seeing in the theater.

About a year ago I decided to try and write down every movie I have ever watched in a movie theater. This project came about because of a desire to find the source of some very vivid images I had floating around in my head. I knew these images were from a movie I had seen in a theater when I was very young but I wasn’t sure what the movie was or when I saw it. I am blessed (or cursed sometimes) with a very detailed photographic memory and I rarely forget things even if I want to. This can be a great ability to have and a major pain in the ass. These images have popped up regularly over the years and it was time to investigate!

I sat down and tried to remember everything I could about this movie: I remembered two young kids in a crowded outdoor area pushing through a crowd and going up a flight of stairs. I remembered a girl making a wish for a horse and having her wish granted by a magical machine. I remembered a brightly colored room, a colorful glass ball, and the kids in a rocket ship that landed in back of a house in the country.

After pulling every possible detail out of my memory I headed for the internet to try and track down the source of these images. The machine that granted wishes was the key. It turns out the movie was a Ukrainian production made in 1967 called Automat na prání or The Wishing Machine. This movie was dubbed in English and released in the US in February of 1971 when I was three years and four months old. I remember sitting in the theater watching this with my brother Joel who is two years older than I am.

I find it funny that the first movie I remember seeing was made in the Ukraine but it does make sense, the movie theater near our childhood home used to play quite a few foreign children’s movies in the seventies.

Since the first movie I remember seeing is a fantasy movie I have to wonder if that somehow led to my extreme love of the genres I am most drawn to?

I found this movie on YouTube and I was surprised how much I remembered.  Here are the images I remembered most vividly:

Stairs

Tubes

Pipes

Glass Ball

Horse

WM

Rocket

Rocket II

Movie Review – Something Wicked This Way Comes

1983 Walt Disney Productions

Three Stars

Something Wicked

“It’s a thousand years to Christmas, Mr. Holloway. ” – Mr. Dark

Based on the story by Ray Bradbury Something Wicked This Way Comes is set in the small town of Greentown, Illinois. Greentown is a quiet place where not much seems to happen, but this year is different in a bad way. As the weather turns colder and autumn sets in leaflets are strewn about the town by a mysterious figure. The leaflets proclaim the upcoming arrival of Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival. Two thirteen year old boys, Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade are intrigued by this news and eagerly look forward to the arrival. Late that night the carnival arrives by train and the boys sneak out of their homes and are witness as the carnival magically appears in seconds. After digging a little too deeply into the strange events occurring around the town the boys find themselves the target of Mr. Dark and his band of cronies. Those who inhabit the carnival it seems are beings who feed on the desires, lost hopes, and regrets of others. Will’s father, a man of deep regrets and a longing for his youth, is drawn into the battle for the town and the life of his son and friend.

In 1983 this was one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing. I had been keeping tabs on the production and when it hit the theaters I was there on opening weekend. Although I enjoyed it there is a choppy feeling to the movie that made me think a little tinkering or restructuring went on behind the scenes. It turns out some major changes had been made before the movie was finally released, changes that didn’t sit well with Ray Bradbury and other members of the production crew.

According to accounts of the production Ray Bradbury, the director Jack Clayton, and Disney all seemed to have different ideas about this movie and who the target audience should be. The original story is a little on the dark side and Clayton wanted it to be a bit more family friendly. Bradbury disagreed so Clayton wrote a new screenplay. After filming was completed the movie was re-tinkered by Disney who ordered reshoots, a new music score, and more special effects. The result is entertaining but a little awkward. It’s not too hard to tell that different people were calling the shots behind the scene at different points in the movie. As I have stated in past reviews I despise studio interference with the production of the movie. If you hire someone to do the job let them do it. Movies that have been rethought and tampered with rarely do well at the box office and this was no exception.

Despite the flaws I still find this to be a very enjoyable movie and it contains one of my favorite scenes of all time. Like many movies that were tweaked by the studio I would love to be able to see the version the director intended. The changes could have been for the better but I would still like to see the original vision.

The good:

Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Vidal Peterson, and Shawn Carson are all excellent in their respective roles as are the supporting cast.

dvd_snapshot_00.27.12_[2013.03.12_20.28.46]

dvd_snapshot_01.06.45_[2013.03.12_20.49.20]

Pam Grier looks gorgeous as the Dust Witch.

Pam Grier looks gorgeous as the Dust Witch.

This is a nice dark and atmospheric movie. Just my kind of thing.

2171474746_6

Creepy.

dvd_snapshot_00.36.01_[2013.03.12_20.33.21]

dvd_snapshot_00.53.13_[2013.03.12_20.42.16]

dvd_snapshot_01.24.18_[2013.03.12_20.56.28]

Even though I like to pick on composer James Horner for his recycling of certain themes I must admit the guy can create some good music. The music he did for this movie is probably my favorite of his scores.

This scene is one of my favorite movie moments of all time:

Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce just are amazing in this scene. Mr. Dark oozes evil and Mr. Holloway’s inner struggle to resist the ultimate temptation to be young again is very powerful. How many of us could resist being young again?

The not so good:

Some of the special effects are not that good and some are not needed at all. When the movie was being reworked Disney added in way too many unnecessary effects shots.

The tone is uneven. Feels exactly like a movie that has been retooled by a committee.

Random thoughts and observations:

Originally the carnival was formed from the smoke from the train but the special effects weren’t too convincing. I would love to see this scene anyway. This movie begs for a special edition Blu-ray with lots and lots of behind the scenes material.

The scene near the end in the house of mirrors and the scene where Will and Jim are attacked by the spiders were filmed a year after initial filming was completed. Originally they were attacked by a giant hand but the scene was apparently kind of hokey and the hand was not very convincing. Again I would love to see the lost footage.

Age

Will miraculously ages a year. The footage on the right was filmed a year after the footage on the left. Kids just grow up so fast!

The scene at the end where the carnival is destroyed by the twister was originally going to be done using computer graphics but it looked too fake. This movie was made thirteen years before computer technology made it possible to create authentic looking tornadoes in the movie Twister. I would love to see the footage they shot and compare the two.

dvd_snapshot_01.32.15_[2013.03.12_21.01.56]

A giant piece of cotton takes care of the nasty carnival. When computers fail use cotton!

In this trailer the original music score can be heard:

Movie Review – Dragonslayer

1981 Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Pictures

Four Stars

DragonslayerDuring the fantasy blitz of the early eighties there was a little movie called Dragonslayer that got lost in the mix. I saw this in the theater that year but not a whole lot of people did and it ended up losing money and vanishing into obscurity. I enjoyed the hell out of it and considered it to be one of the best fantasy movies I had seen and I still do.  Over the years its reputation has grown and it finally has received some well deserved recognition.

Set in the dark and murky um…dark ages Dragonslayer is set in a time when magic is dying and being replaced by religion, not a good swap in my opinion. A village is being tormented by Vermithrax,  a nasty dragon who is only kept controlled by regular sacrifices of virgin village girls. This begs the question of why the hell would a dragon care if you’re a virgin or not but it’s typical of human stupidity. Anyway a delegation from the village travels to see a far off sorcerer and ask for his help in vanquishing the dragon. The sorcerer Ulrich is seemingly killed while being tested for his magical prowess so his apprentice Galen takes his place and leaves on a quest to slay the dragon. In his way are the spineless King who created, and rigged, the virgin lottery to save his kingdom. Galen must also deal with the Kings intelligent and resourceful henchman Tyrian who is far more of a threat.

Dragonslayer is not the typical fantasy movie at all. There is nothing overtly flashy about the movie, it’s dark and gritty and the characters are more subdued than the usual Hollywood characterizations. The world created here has a real lived in look and feel. There are no majestic buildings just a modest castle and a run down village. Ralph Richardson is terrific as Ulrich but the rest of the cast are just as good. Peter MacNicol is really good as the not quite typical hero Galen, and Caitlin Clarke also shines as Valerian.

The real star of this movie however has to be the amazing Vermithrax herself. This creation is the best dragon to ever grace the silver screen. A totally believable being brought to life by Industrial Light and Magic back before computers took over the world of special effects and took some of the heart and soul out of the process. Vermithrax is as real as the other actors in the movie.

It’s a shame this movie got buried when first released but I’m glad it gained attention over the years. For fans of the fantasy genre I can’t recommend this enough. If you haven’t seen it then buy a copy and watch it right now! If you have seen it then go watch it again.

The good:

dvd_snapshot_00.10.01_[2013.03.03_18.48.42]

The late Ralph Richardson makes a great wizard.

dvd_snapshot_01.12.53_[2013.03.05_16.24.23]

Peter MacNicol and the late Caitlin Clarke.

dvd_snapshot_00.12.30_[2013.03.03_18.50.11]

John Hallam as Tyrian. A very interesting villain in that he genuinely seems to be believe his actions are for the good of his kingdom.

There are some really well done old fashioned optical effects in Dragonslayer.

dvd_snapshot_00.03.02_[2013.03.03_18.43.14]

dvd_snapshot_00.18.33_[2013.03.03_18.54.13]

dvd_snapshot_01.09.06_[2013.03.05_16.23.16]

Beautiful cinematography and  locations.

dvd_snapshot_00.33.47_[2013.03.03_19.05.53]

dvd_snapshot_00.27.42_[2013.03.03_19.00.15]

Beautiful marine life.

dvd_snapshot_00.28.04_[2013.03.03_19.01.42]

Best of all there is Vermithrax. Best dragon ever!

dvd_snapshot_00.56.58_[2013.03.05_16.18.12]

dvd_snapshot_01.23.44_[2013.03.05_16.30.56]

dvd_snapshot_01.35.52_[2013.03.05_16.34.25]

dvd_snapshot_01.40.01_[2013.03.05_16.38.06]   The not so good:

Religion rears its ugly head. There goes the world.

Religion rears its ugly head. There goes the world.

Random thoughts and observations:

When I saw this in the theater I had the displeasure of sitting in front of two kids who wouldn’t stop talking about similarities between this movie and the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. I finally had to ask them to shut up before I used a Level 5 Spell of Kick Ass upon them.

I remember some reviewers saying this movie was too similar to Star Wars with Galen being Luke and Ulrich being Obi-Wan. Last I checked the first Star Wars was not too original either. It’s depiction of a young man on a desert world with undiscovered powers taking on an evil empire certainly couldn’t have any similarities to Dune which was published in 1965.

The full size dragon head created for this movie has lovingly been restored by the team at Tom Spina Designs. Check out their site here: Tom Spina Designs

dvd_snapshot_00.08.35_[2013.03.03_18.48.05]

What a bunch of morons thinking she’s a boy. Funny how movie characters are so damn gullible when it comes to people disguising their gender.

dvd_snapshot_01.44.32_[2013.03.05_16.40.15]

King Prissypants takes credit for the slaying of the dragon. Typical. He can barely lift the sword.

dvd_snapshot_01.42.25_[2013.03.05_16.39.17]

What a shame. Poor dragon was only doing what dragons do.

dvd_snapshot_00.31.01_[2013.03.03_19.04.13]

“Galen is that you? Can you hear me? Burning water!” I love the character Hodge.

dvd_snapshot_01.18.53_[2013.03.05_16.28.11]

For a 1980’s Disney co-production this movie had a couple gruesome scenes.

dvd_snapshot_00.56.40_[2013.03.05_16.16.09]

It’s the Emperor himself. Ian McDiarmid plays a courageous man of god…

dvd_snapshot_00.56.41_[2013.03.05_16.17.06]

dvd_snapshot_00.56.43_[2013.03.05_16.17.37]

…who gets toasted like a marshmallow. Guess he should have worn his flame retardant robe.