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filmmaven's coffee chat

a morning discussion of film and popular culture over coffee

Month

September 2015

The Ghoul

Its all his fault. Seriously. You can blame the GHOUL.

While I definately had an infinity for television and the dawn of color and controversial sitcoms for some of my obsession, it was quirky movies and the GHOUL that really sent me over the edge. When asked for my favorite movie, I struggle with an answer. As you know from previous rants, I really REALLY hate lists. I don’t have favorites. Except in moments. Yet, that isn’t completely true.

I can always say  “Attack of the Mushroom People” (Matango, 1963)is my favorite movie. Its always on the (nonexistent) list. Along with “Pyschomania” (The Death Wheelers, 1973).

Why? WHY ? You might ask. Well….its because of the GHOUL.

Late at night I struggled so desperately to keep my eyes open. I must finish this movie. I must. But I never really made it. Was it the frog? The Cheese WHIZ? Or the films? I don’t know. But to this day I remember so well the thrill of these movies. The cheesy acting, the choppy editing to fit in all the commercials, the really bad music, all add up to preteen excitement that set me on a path of love for super bad movies.  Not just bad movies like “City of Angels” but really really bad like “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959) and “Howard the Duck” (1986).

This is my tribute to my non list of favorite films that are good for being so so awful – Thanks Ghoul and Froggy with a side note nod to Ghoulardi; we couldn’t have done it with you:

Matango (1963) – Directed by Ishiro Honda — Such wonderful creepiness, you don’t have to really understand what is going on to enjoy this almost psychedelic romp through alien? governmental experiments? adventure. Good acting through a bad script and uncertain story.

The Death Wheelers (1973) — Directed by Don Sharp — Haha…its difficult to describe this one; I’ve mentioned it before when talking about George Sanders, who is funny in this….Demented biker gang figures out how to come back from the dead. But is it a biker flick? A Voodoo picture? about sin and redemption? The danger of a 1960’s counterculture? The power of stone hedge?  ….No….probably not. Silly, choppy, over dubbed, uncertain what it wants to tell you …..Make popcorn and enjoy!

A sincere thanks to Ron Sweed for an interesting child hood and introduction to horror films.

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Happy Birthday to The Voodoo King with love; To a better world of Gods and Monsters.

Struggling this week with what to write about. The problem isn’t a lack of ideas but way too many. Especially when it comes to acknowledging my dearest Voodoo King and his love of films. About 90 percent of the time we agreed on everything. However! At a certain point, Scott stopped absorbing new films. They had to be pretty darn special for him to admit anything after 1970 was any good. Most anything after 1945 was really just an emotional attachment to films he saw in his childhood not that they were any good – over all the greatest films came from 1925 to about 1940.

For a guy who worked so closely with the start of some pretty hard hitters in the independent movie industry and making a few of his own, he had no deep appreciation for them as finished or ‘real’ films. and ..we would argue! I loved the new wave cinema and all the inspired indie films of the 70s, and especially the 80s women’s movement….. and we would argue. You might wonder how a Voodoo King would dare to argue with a Filmmaven (I K R ?), haha, but he did ..and very well! That was the zip that pulled us together, his knowledge and conversation about film ..well…such a brain – I’ve not met before or since.

That 90 percent agreement, however, covered a lot of ground;  1939 was the best year of good films, there is no way to pick between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, King Kong (1933)  is one of the best films ever made and no one beats Ray Harryhausen when it came to creating excitement, depth and mood in stop-motion animation.

With all this agreement I’m torn on how to cover what would have been Scott’s 52nd birthday (the Voodoo King passed away in 2012) by discussing a few of his favorite items — so like so oft in our conversations ..lets skip around just a bit …

Gunga Din –– (1939 –Directed by George Stevens, from a Rudyard Kipling poem) — One of several films that Scott could watch twice a year with awe and laughter, as if it were only the 20th time he’d seen it. Really a small treasure of a film. Almost too many little subplots but still a delightful romp with some serious undertones starring Sam Jaffe, Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, jr. and a new actress named Joan Fontaine. Watch for the scene giving the elephant his medicine, one of the best of the film.

Son of Frankenstein — (1939 – Directed by  Rowland V. Lee — third of the Frankenstein series) An avid Frankenstein fan as well as an admirer of Basil Rathbone, Scott loved even the most schlocky versions of the story. While this is not as good as the James Whale, Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride (1935) this film is still really good. Basil Rathbone (Wolf), Bela Lugosi (Ygor) and Boris Karloff (the Monster) are at the height of their abilities. Utilizing both the full experiences as actors and the youthful energy needed to create a film that just eases off them. While it stretches them by being physically and creatively demanding the story telling appears comfortable.

Tower of London — (1939– Directed by Rowland V. Lee) — if you know some of the real history of Richard III or know nothing about him or the times this film is still enjoyable.  Some what soap opera (how can it not be, right?) and occasionally absurd, its mostly fun, shocking and emotionally riveting. You just know all the bad stuff that will probably happen and can’t imagine a happy ending for anyone. Starring Basil Rathbone (Richard), Boris Karloff (The executioner) and Vincent Price (Duke) …right? Price is terrific, you can see good things for him based on this role.

For Scott, who loved Ray Harryhausen:

Mighty Joe Young (1949– Directed by Erenst B. Schoedsack) — Not on my personal list of favorite films but I have to concede its fascinating to watch for the effects alone. Nice to have a strong female lead and terrific cinematography by J. Roy Hunt. This is the film that catapulted Harryhausen’s Stop motion animation into the imagination of a country fresh from War and seeking new entertainment quality. Fantasy films was about to make a nice alternative to splashy rom coms.

Jason and the Argonauts– (1963, Directed by Don Chaffey) Simplistic and cheesy, a real pleasure to watch! Todd Armstrong as Jason is strong and funny and please take note of Honor Blackman as Hera. When considering the technology of the day this film is even more impressive. Considered Ray Harryhausen’s master work this film is non stop incredible – a cinematic treasure. I would highly recommend watching all the other Harryhausen films and save this one for last; you’ll want to see it at least a few times.

Happy Birthday My Love – I know you are hanging out with Ray and King Kirby – enjoy!

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Calling All Monster Kids

voodookingdesigns

The urge to sculpt started with inspiration from monster movies and the work of Ray Harryhausen, many of the Voodoo King pieces began as ideas from popular culture. Directly inspired from an addiction to television and movies.

Tiki images carved in wax ended up all over the house almost a thoughtless compulsion and we can blame Bobby and Peter Brady for the Tiki episode of the Brady Bunch but also the looming images of Skull Island from King Kong (1933). You might recognize this tiki God as a mixture of Easter Island heads, tiki totems and those days you wake up, look in the mirror and go…oh no..what did I do last night?

angryskullgimp

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Michael Pena ……Ant Man, Comedy and CRASH

SPOILER of a sort ……..If you haven’t seen ANT MAN …come back to this column after you’ve seen it …..okay?

CRASH (2004, Writer / Director Paul Haggis) — 2004 as a busy year for me ..I was trying to wrap up my teaching / Bachelor degrees in combination with a double major….and being a single parent…and working ….whew…so going to the movie theater was not a top priority. However, my Aunt, who has good taste in films, insisted this was the film to watch. Had to be seen on the big screen and please go see it NOW so we can talk about it. So I saw it with her, then again by myself and then a third time with some friends. By then I felt like I had seen all the vignettes equally and was able to emotionally absorb all of the events. So much happens. So many messages. So much sadness. So much joy. So many many incredible actors doing some of their best most poignant work. Don Cheadle gets some of the best speeches of the film, as does Chris Bridges (Ludacris). Everyone shines, from the characters you hate to the ones you love – the acting in tiny moments gives every person in the cast that few seconds to change your life. Michael Pena’s moments stand out for me as the most heart wrenching and true. I felt his emotional levels jump off the screen, when he was terrified, joyful and relieved it came together in sweeping palpable moments. So worth watching. With tissues and some Ben & Jerry’s  chubby Hubby ice cream.

Cesar Chavez (2014, Director Diego Luna) — oohhh..feel so bad that I haven’t seen this yet …I promise to add a referendum to this, its on my list ….but I wanted to mention it because I’m hoping someone will comment ….I have so much going on and I promise this one is on the top of my list!

ANT MAN (2015, Director Peyton Reed) — so what happened was ….We try to have a date night every other week, no matter what. Usually that is dinner out and some great conversation etc…this week I saw that Ant-Man was at the dollar movie ..yes,I still say that even though its really 4 dollars now. I felt bad about it. We kept saying we would go, we would make time to have a day together, see a movie etc….and here it was about 3 months since the release. .and …..so …it was a great day! Mexican food for lunch at our favorite little place, a walk in Downtown Farmington and even though it was Tuesday the farmer’s market was open and a guy playing the guitar. Then a 4 o’clock movie for 4 dollars. ha!

T I

its always delightful for me when I can interrupt everyone’s viewing by exclaiming isn’t that Evangeline Lilly? Isnt’ that Michael Douglas? oh…look its Bobby Cannavale! and Wood HARRIS! and Judy Greer, and MICHAEL PENA ! I can only say ..that Michael Pena is sweet and funny on screen. He has this look, like …oh yeah..we are gonna have fun now ….and it makes me laugh / smile / get right into the action……Ant Man reached the right levels of comedy, love story, action adventure and science fiction ….a really good blend …..even the CGI hit the right notes …..I didn’t’ get that, ugh..so much silver/blue this is CGI annoyance …..technology is starting to catch up with my expectations. None of the side kicks ( T.I., David Dastmalchian, Michael Pena) are over the top goofy or take themselves too seriously. I did feel as if a few of Michael’s scenes could have been longer, like they had moments that could have been used better….but over all …a fun movie. One of the best of the Marvel series.

An Old Show, Some New Shows and Libraries

A few things have pinged for me this long holiday weekend. The Decades channel is running a Bob Newhart Show marathon, my childhood library building has been saved from potential demolition and my youngest brother came to town with his growing family! Memories and ideas have flowed through my conversations and I’m going to bounce them off you my fellow film / tv junkies.

An Old Show:

The Bob Newhart Show ran from 1972 – 1978 with Bob, Emily, Howard, Gerry and Carol in a simple format of nothing – something Seinfeld fans will remember as a key ingredient to humorous success. Very simple gags and real life nonsense. Howard’s brother comes to town. Its really that simple. Well written with great timing.

Watching Bob and the gentleness of so many tv shows of the era brings me up full cirlce to two new shows I caught this week: Fear of the Walking Dead (AMC Sunday 9pm) and Public Morals (TNT Tuesday 10pm). My first thought is aren’t we tired and bored of Zombies and crooked cop stories? The response should be ..yes …but funny enough …no.

2 New Shows:

Fear of the Walking Dead – I’m going to go against the grain here and say that it moved too fast. I would have appreciated a few episodes hinting at events and building up anticipation. Seems my fellow ranters disagree and I’m hearing that the show moved too slow with out enough excitement. OH how spoiled we are by Rick and his minions. I’m staying on the fence over a few issues, the jumping off too fast into the down fall is one small thing I can get past, but the collection of unlikable and whiny characters is another I’m going to have to be convinced why I should care at all. The step parent / good teacher / all around nice guy is okay, and naturally I’m a huge fan of Tobais the wimpy geek, but the overbearing yet distant mom and the two bratty kids? yeah…they are characters I will hope to grow into loving to be annoyed by.

Public Morals – A complete and utter delight – but I confess; Its Ed Burns, Michael Rapport, Timothy Hutton, Ruben Santiago- Hudson and Kevin Corrigan plus the clothes and the decor much more than the story line or the premise! Geek out time! Slick, steady and full of guy moments. Girls / Dames / chicks to be used as play things and decoration which I try to look past; its the era and its a guy fueled premise….but seriously ..we could work on making some of the women real characters and not just props for the boys right? (When you watch this show, you know why guys wax all sweet on the sixties)

Libraries: 

The first library I remember is the main Detroit branch on Woodward Ave. So huge, like Scarlett O’hara’s TARA, with the huge white columned entrance and the grand steps. The spiral stairs up to the kids mezzanine. Carrying loads of books home in a cloth bag and while not really reading yet, being pulled in by pictures and adventures. 

Then later when we had moved into a neighborhood with single family homes and big green lawns I was old enough to walk to the library on my own. A small but pretty field stone building with huge slate tiles on the roof and gleaming cooper rain troughs that had turned slightly green from weathering. The musty smell of book dust and the subdued clomp of footsteps on the old wooden floors as I found a nook near one of the big windows to review my selections.

This was the library where I discovered biographies of movie stars. Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, John Wayne and Mickey Rooney. Some were the type co-authored by the movie star and some were ‘unauthorized’ all so thrilling to my pre-teen mind. I remember searching for books on being a Mormon so I could know all about Donny Osmond, and finding what it was like in England because I learned that Cary Grant was born there and Elizabeth Taylor had lived in London.

The building has been empty for a few years after the local high school stopped using it as a cultural center. There was some talk of taking it down but thankfully it has been rescued and designated a historical building. Really a beautiful place with so much to offer, I am hopeful that it can be refurbished while holding on to some of its elegance.

Winter 2010 007

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