The 2015 Pony Prize Is Announced!

As the year draws to a close, it's time to pick our Pony Prize winner! If you're unaware, the Pony Prize is the BIG annual prize awarded to one of our winners from the weekly Instagram #GuessTheMovie challenge. We'll be announcing the winner during the last episode of the year – our Christmas episode in which we discuss "Gremlins," as well as a runner up. 

But while you wait to see who wins, we figured it's time we divulged the prizes! The winner of the 2015 Pony Prize will receive:

  1. In the spirit of our first series of the year about Sir Alec Guinness, a mini Eiffel Tower purchased in the shop on the Eiffel Tower itself
  2. A Criterion Collection baggu bag because The Criterion Collection is awesome
  3. Some Mad Max: Fury Road temporary tattoos
  4. A Star Trek Spock action figure because... well, no reason really other than it's cool and to reminisce about the great actor Leonard Nimoy, who we lost this past year
  5. A package from Shout Factory, including:
    1. Escape From New York Collector's Edition Blu-ray
    2. The Editor Blu-ray
    3. Mad Max Collector's Edition Blu-ray
    4. Shout Factory coasters
    5. The Editor movie poster
    6. Army of Darkness movie poster
    7. Scream Factory magnet set
  6. Listener's Choice episode
  7. A package of hand-selected DVDs in the genre of his/her choice picked by none other than our own Film Board member Tommy Handsome
  8. A donation of $100 made in his/her name to the Film Foundation
  9. A set of original Star Wars Return of the Jedi comics provided by Film Board member Justin Jaeger
  10. Ask Martin! question answered by Martin Stephens, child actor in 'The Innocents' and 'Village of the Damned'
  11. First edition copy of The Martian by Andrew Weir, provided by Film Board member Steve Sarmento
  12. A 2015 TNR shirt
  13. A set of old super-8 film reels
  14. The Limited Edition Batcan Batman soundtrack
  15. A copy of Into Thin Air by John Krakauer, the better book about the Everest disaster
  16. A Blu-ray copy of the movie picked as the winning entry for the contest
  17. And, of course, a pony of some sort

The runner up will receive:

  1. Some Mad Max: Fury Road temporary tattoos
  2. A package from Shout Factory, including:
    1. Scream Factory magnet set
    2. A pair of movie posters for 'Tales From the Crypt Presents'

Tune in to the 'Gremlins' episode to hear who won! Merry Christmas!

Ben Lott catches up, writes with news from the frontier

The following is a message we received from listener Ben Lott. Ben is the man behind the Blott Score, and after months of silence, he wrote this week to explain his absence with statistics. We've posted Ben's letter here with permission, because he's awesome.


Well, it took me just over 14 months but I've finally done it. I have now watched, rated, reviewed, and Flickcharted every single movie you guys have covered on the Next Reel (with the exception of The Thin Man which I'll be watching in a day or so because it was not available from Netflix.) That's right, 185 movies I watched thanks to you guys. I still have a handful of movies where I'm waiting on a DVD release before I'll catch up on the Film Board movies, but I'm almost there with those too.

So what have I learned through this journey? You have excellent taste in movies and I almost always agree with at least one of you when you give your opinions. I thought it might be fun if I gave you guys some comparison stats, but if you want to see my full rankings of just Next Reel movies you can look at my Flickchart I'm using just for your films with the username = blott2013on. Also my short reviews of every movie are posted on Letterboxd with the username = Blott.

A. Top 6 movies I like much more than you =

  1. We're No Angels - Not sure why this movie was so underwhelming for you but I found it absolutely charming, well-written, and basically an instant classic I wanted to add to my annual Christmas viewing. I rank it #20 to your #172.
  2. Compulsion – I feel like you just kind of forgot how awesome this movie was as you moved on through the years of the show. Such amazing acting and a final speech that could rival Jack Nicholson’s in A Few Good Men. I’d put this film up against any of the movies in your Film Noir series. I rank it #11 to your #138.
  3. The Hudsucker Proxy – I didn’t love this movie, but it certainly gave me some good laughs. I can totally understand why this isn’t so high on your list, I just happened to get a little more enjoyment out of it. I rank it #48 to your #165.
  4. Field of Dreams – You’re killing me, Pete! I don’t care what piece of lumber Kevin Costner reminds you of, this movie is magical. I cry every time, and James Earl Jones turns in a performance that is absolutely magnificent. It’s not just nostalgia, this movie is amazing. I rank it #7 to your #117.
  5. Gattaca – I love me some original sci-fi, and this was one that worked extremely well for me, even if it wasn’t magic for you. I have a feeling this is just one you would justify by saying “we’ve reviewed a lot of great films on the show.” I rank it #30 to your #139.
  6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – I do not comprehend Andy’s objections to this film. It is comical in all the right ways that fit within the context of the movie, not in the hokey awful ways that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does it. Thanks to the amazing interplay between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery I actually love this movie more than Raiders. I rank it #3 to your #112.

B. Top 6 movies you like much more than me =

  1. The Exorcist – I’ve already made my comment on your forums about this. I hate horror, and watching this film is like slow torture for me. There is nothing I like about this movie. I rank it #185 to your #27.
  2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Three hours of nothing happening, kill me now! This one is roughly on par with Yi Yi, so I’m mystified that Pete enjoyed it. My biggest pet peeve: The one unique aspect of the film (backwards aging) literally adds nothing to the story and almost becomes a non-issue for most of the runtime. I rank it #177 to your #46.
  3. Delicatessen – I didn’t hate it, it just didn’t quite draw me into the insane world they created. I never understood the value of adding the underground society either. I rank it #137 to your #15.
  4. An American Werewolf in London – This is pretty much related to my horror movie hatred. The tone was kind of all over the place, and I just didn’t enjoy it all that much. I rank it #162 to your #58.
  5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – I don’t see how this movie holds up for you guys. It is OK but the story is dated, the movie drags at certain points, and I find Dreyfuss’ character to be completely unsympathetic. I rank it #119 to your #17.
  6. Brazil – No offense to your movie, Andy. I think I mentioned this on the forums, but on a first time viewing it was really out there and hard to follow. I think it might improve with more times watching it, just not sure it interested me enough to watch it again. I rank it #115 to your #13.

C. 4 movies we rank exactly the same =

  1. Adaptation – Hits both our charts at #87
  2. Zodiac – Hits both our charts at #39
  3. Misery – Hits both our charts at #29
  4. The Bishop’s Wife – Hits both our charts at #154

D. My top 5 favorite movies that I watched for the first time thanks to you guys =

  1. Up in the Air
  2. Jaws
  3. The Fisher King
  4. Compulsion
  5. Panic Room

E. My bottom 5 least favorite movies that I would have happily never seen if it weren’t for you guys (Just kidding)

  1. The Day of the Locust
  2. Strange Days
  3. Yi Yi
  4. Knowing
  5. Labor Day

Again, I just want to say a huge thank you to both of you for making such an enjoyable podcast, and utilizing it to expand my horizons, and I’m sure those of many other listeners out there. While I’ve tailed off recently in commenting on each episode, I might get back to that just because I love that you guys interact with me on the forums and I can voice my opinions as a newcomer to most of these films. And, hey, if you ever need another voice on one of your Film Board episodes I’m ready and willing :)

Sincerely,
  Ben Lott (Your #1 Fan)

Fury: A Tale of Hawks and Doves in World War II

I love Flickchart.com (Who doesn’t love Flickchart?) One of the fun side project hobby things I’ve been doing since I was invited to join the Gang of Thugs is reviewing old The Next Reel podcasts and viewing the subject movies when/if I haven’t seen them. I’ve been doing it because I like the show and I like movies and — especially in the case of The Film Board’s episodes — I want to be able to make an informed ranking decision when we Flickchart things at the end of our show.

You can find my own personal Flickchart of The Next Reel subjects here: www.flickchart.com/justinjaeger. The list isn’t yet comprehensive. I only add a film to this list if I've seen it and it’s been the subject of a show.

Along this line, I just this past week watched Fury and listened to the podcast about it and I so wish I could have participated. I loved the film. I Flickcharted it in a very similar place to where The Film Board ended up, but I think I liked it a lot more than the other guys did. I wish I could have been chatting with them live while I listened to their show. I tend to get kind of blindly biased when I see a new movie that I like but I think Fury might be my favorite WW2 movie. I felt like it was something really new and definitely unique.

I have weird ideas about the horse symbolism, the controversial breakfast scene, and what the film was about. These concepts are all kind of linked together in my mind.

What Fury was about for me:

Boyd 'Bible' Swan: Wait until you see it.
Norman Ellison: See what?
Boyd 'Bible' Swan: What a man can do to another man.

Fury examined the necessary evil that people become in the face of war. Fury showed us that to become the human operator of a killing machine, a person needs to dispense with the human and become the machine. Nobody wants to do this, but people do in the face of war. They dutifully perform acts that they find objectively reprehensible out of fear and anger and necessity and then tell themselves in chorus… “best job I ever had.”

In my view, the horses (throughout) represent people’s humanity, our normalcy. In the first set piece, when Brad Pitt knifes the SS and then sets the horse free, he's sending away his humanity because it has no place in the fight and then he returns to the tank where he continues to focus his team saying things like, "You're an animal. A dog. All you understand is the fist and boot." He dehumanizes them, because he knows that's what they need to do their job and get through the war. He hates doing it, but he knows it must be done. He does this to Norman throughout as well, because he knows it must be done.

When The Film Board chatted at length about the intensely jarring breakfast set piece, they talked a lot about the women and whether Emma was really falling in love with Norman or whether the women were play acting to survive the horrors of war or whether the contrast in the way they were treated by Wardaddy and Norman vs. the other three was appropriate, warranted, and "written right."

For me, the scene wasn't about the women. All of the men were violating the women, but that wasn't why the scene was set. Wardaddy was giving in to that desire for normalcy that anyone would crave in the face of what the soldiers were going through. Norman represented that to him — or at least he was the closest to it — that's why he was there. When the other three arrive, their feeling is of betrayal. Jealousy of course, but moreso betrayal. Shia LeBeouf is crying and dumbfounded because the “Bible” character is this righteous man that’s been indoctrinated to the vulgarities of war by Brad Pitt who is now hypocritically indulging in comfort after he’s literally beaten these boys into emotion-denying warriors. 

The inference is that these three have all been put through the paces by Wardaddy in the same way that we see him pushing Norman on the battlefield, and now they can't allow members of their team to deny this gospel of war that has so become their life. So Gordo tells the story of the horses. Tells the story of how their humanity lay screaming — how they all killed off their humanity together. He does this to bring the five of them back into the evil of war... then to punctuate it, writer David Ayer kills off the women with a bomb to show us that humanity is impossible for these guys. All hope is lost. It’s not meant to be war porn. It’s central to the story’s narrative, and specifically the story about this tank crew.

In the last stand at the crossroads, as the crew is being killed off and we get:

Norman Ellison: Sergeant Collier? I think I want to surrender.
Wardaddy: Please don't. They'll hurt you real bad. And kill you real bad.

Norman is so new to the war that he still has a connection to humanity, but Wardaddy is so rutted by it, he believes that no good can happen. Norman tries to hide — however poorly — and is shown pity by a German soldier. It is a return to humanity in the throes of war. The next shot we get is the white horse running by the tank to wake an unknowingly safe Norman. Humanity has returned to him and will be set free from the reins of the tank that made him temporarily a war horse.

Fury was about how messed up war is and how much it messes people up. We've seen that before. What I haven't seen before was the poetry that I took from the story (although some people will probably say I'm reading too much into that), the tank combat (which I thought was amazing and shot brilliantly), and the two sides of the warrior-transformation balancing act. Saving Private Ryan got into it a little bit, but the aggro wasn't as aggro as in Fury and most of the characters in Saving Private Ryan were reluctant warriors, not a measure of both hawk and dove, which is a story I think Fury told well.

I mean it as a compliment when I say that I felt like Fury was Young Guns in World War II. Fury is about concepts more deep and serious, but the protagonists are still righteous reluctant warriors that both kill and die in front of our eyes. Oh, and Coon Ass is totally Dirty Steve.

"DID YOU SEE THAT CHICKEN!!!!!!!?????"

Introducing the #TommyOscar

Most incredible thanks to our resident celebrity artist Joel Harris for this rendering of the soon-to-be-real #TommyOscar. It's seriously amazing. And when I say "soon-to-be-real," I mean, "as-soon-as-someone-can-make-it-a-reality-for-me." Seriously, anyone know how to take this and make real medal? Make daddy happy... 

Want to know where this comes from? Check out our Film Board ep on Avengers: Age of Ultron, or Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. That should get you all caught up.

Tommy Handsome's Rules of Cinematic Robotics

stock-photo-white-robot-hand-247792657.jpg

Hi friends!  It’s your ol’ pal Tommy Handsome!  You know, from the Internet where you get your porn! On the latest episode of The Film Board podcast (THE AVENGER PEOPLE: AGENTS OF MR. ULTRON-MAN), I briefly brought up what I like to call my Rules Of Cinematic Robotics. And I thought I might expound upon it a bit, while already getting nervous that “expound” isn’t an actual word. But, as you might know, I hawked my BACKSPACE KEY for a handful of magic beans two years ago, so I’m unable to delete anything I’ve ever written, ever. I apply the same theory to when I talk on the podcast. Backspace? More like Back-lame! Yikes… starting to miss that key.

In any case, famous sci-fi author Isaac Asimov somehow borrowed my idea before I was born, and came up with “his” Three Laws of Robotics in a 1942 short story called, “Runaround, or the Idea That Tommy Will Have Soon (Wikipedia notification pending).” Here were his three laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Hey, I totally agree. And besides having the most annoyingly-spelled name in history, Isaac did a lot of early work for me. Good on ya, Isaac! But, his Laws missed a crucial point, and as such, I must add the most important Law of my own.

A robot is a robot, so stop portraying them so stupidly in films.

Robots don’t have lungs. Robots don’t need to have mouths. Robots don’t need eye-parts where eye-parts exist in humans. They’re robots.

In TEAM AVENGING: ULTRON TIME, the big baddie Ultron blinks and his mouth moves when he talks. I hate that. He doesn’t need to do any of those things. None of those make sense in a robot that talks incessantly about the fact that humans need to adapt and evolve. Mouths are the worst.  I like talking, but I’ve burned the roof of my mouth twice this week on reheated pizza already. And it’s MONDAY. Wait, I’m getting side-tracked. 

Robots don’t need to blink or talk with their mouths. We learned that from the Transformer-tastrophy that Michael Bay has unleashed on us after seemingly being molested by an explosion as a child. In one of those movies, an old Transformer coughed and then farted a parachute. That was a wonderful sequence enjoyed by no one. Robots blinking and farting is like Robots needing Claritin ‘cause of allergies or Beano ‘cause of gas. Makes no sense. Robots don’t get eczema, so don’t show them itching.  Wait, I got side-tracked again.

Two Biggest Offenders of Tommy (& Isaac)’s Rules of Cinematic Robotics in recent years:

  1. EAGLE EYE: Hey, remember EAGLE EYE?  Of course you don’t! But it was a film that was exciting for awhile and then crapped a parachute of itself at the end. It was also a pretty big hit for Shia LaBaouf before he became a human art project. Anyway, we learn (SPOILER ALERT) that the big baddie is an AI computer who’s become self-aware. Fair enough. But, there are tons of scenes where the Bad Computer has a camera-interface that looks like an eyeball, and it trains around to look at different files in its dumb computer-file series of television sets. I’M ENRAGED. Computers don’t need eyes. And they certainly don’t need an eye-looking-thing to literally look at screens.
  2. AVATAR: Hey, remember AVATAR?  The film that we collectively made the biggest grossing movie in history, and then we tried to watch it again later on HBO and shook our heads like we all came off of the biggest nation-wide hangover and wondered what all the fuss was about? Of course you do! Toward the end, the Blue Hero and the Bad Guy In A Robot Suit faced off in a big fight. Remember? It was after Sigourney Weaver died under the Tree Of Dreams or whatever for 55 minutes. Okay, caught up? Robot McJerk is facing off against Blue Man Group. And it’s a real fight! And when Robot McGee feels like the tide is turning against him, he pulls a robot knife out of a robot knife-holster (I think there’s a better word for that) and then holds it in his robot hands.

Robots don’t need holsters. Robots don’t have pants. I’m getting angry again. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST HAVE THE KNIFE COME OUT OF HIS ROBOT HAND! YOU TOOK THE TIME TO BUILD A KNIFE HOLSTER? DO YOU GET PAID BY THE STUPID-ROBOT-PLAN BY THE HOUR? INSTEAD, JUST HAVE A SHARP ROBOT PART COME OUT OF THE OTHER ROBOT PART! HIS HANDS AREN’T BUSY DOING ANYTHING BUT ROBOT THINGS! DID YOU THINK YOU NEEDED TO KEEP THE KNIFE IN THE HOLSTER TO KEEP HIS HANDS FREE? FOR WHAT? GARDENING? HE’S A GODDAMNED WAR ROBOT! HIS HANDS SHOULD BE KNIFE-GUNS AND HIS FEET SHOULD BE BULLET-GRENADES AND HIS ROBOT BUTTHOLE SHOULD SHOOT FIRE! 

… wait … what? ... sorry …

I got carried away there. I didn’t mean to e-scream as much as I did. And, I only just now remembered the word “sheath.” I really need to get my Backspace Key replaced.

It’s just that robots are robots. And they don’t need mouth-parts to talk, and they don’t need eyelids to blink, and they don’t need pockets or fanny-packs or Prilosec for their acid-reflux.

They’re robots. Let them be robots. Isaac and I would deeply appreciate it.

THE PONY PRIZE!!!

As followers of the podcast undoubtedly know, we've been touting the #PonyPrize for well over a year now as the grand prize for our weekly Instagram #GuessTheMovie challenge. Each week, we post images from a film and anyone can try to guess what the movie is. The first person to get it right is entered to win the #PonyPrize. But what is this magical, mystical prize? And does it involve a real pony? Or a pony of any kind, for that matter? 

Wait no longer, friends! In our last episode of 2014 -- our holiday podcast about Henry Koster's 1947 holiday classic "The Bishop's Wife" -- we put all the weekly winners in a hat (well, their names, technically... we didn't have a hat quite that large) and drew the name of the person who won this grand pony prize. That name, in case you missed the episode, is hardcore #GuessTheMovie challenge player and frequent winner Cameron L. Ryan! Congratulations! 

So here is what makes up the 2014 Pony Prize:

  1. Cameron gets to pick the first Listener's Choice episode in 2015. This episode will play right after our Alec Guinness series. We're looking forward to her selection!
  2. You've seen us marketing our fantastically awesome new shirts. Well, Cameron will get one for free as a part of the prize!
  3. The Next Reel made a $100 donation in Cameron's name to The Film Foundation, a nonprofit created by Martin Scorsese dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history by providing annual support for preservation and restoration projects at the leading film archives. Learn more about this great organization at the link above.
  4. Two DVDs provided by The Film Foundation of films they've helped restore -- Jean Renoir's "The River" and Luchino Visconti's "Senso."
  5. A DVD/Soundtrack Combo Pack of "Ambush at Dark Canyon," starring Kix Brooks. (Co-Host Andy Nelson worked on this one -- see if you can spot his cameo, Cameron!)
  6. A Sloth action figure from "The Goonies." Because everyone wants one. Seriously.
  7. A General Zod action figure from "Superman II." This year's Cabbage Patch Kid. I mean it.
  8. A DVD of "Surrogate Valentine," autographed by the director and one of its stars, Film Board member Chadd Stoops!
  9. DVDs of several short films starring Chadd -- "Recollection" and "The Joker."
  10. DVDs of several short films directed by Film Board member Tommy Handsome -- "Adam & Evelyn" and "Sleeping Dogs Lie."
  11. A curated 5-DVD set personally picked by Tommy in the genre of Cameron's choice.
  12. The board game "Consensus: Movie Edition"
  13. Two "Rise of the Guardians" movie posters
  14. A piece of art by James Hance. (Haven't seen his stuff? It's seriously awesome -- check it out at www.jameshance.com.)
  15. And last but not least... AN ACTUAL PONY!!!!  Okay, it's not an actual pony. It's a plastic pony. A pretty small one, really. But there is a pony! And you're going to get it!

Congratulations to Cameron again for winning the mysterious Pony Prize this year. As for the rest of you, keep playing our weekly Instagram #GuessTheMovie challenges so that you, too, can win and be entered to win next year's #PonyPrize. It won't be the same, but it'll be just as awesome.

Or eclectic. However you want to describe it.

There's no auto-tune for a bad script

Note: The title was provided by the very talented, and mysterious Steven Smart.

Last week a fan edit of Star Wars Episodes I - III titled Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side (episode 3.1) was leaked online. The copyright gremlins have since then worked tirelessly and it has been taken down.

While this edit is claimed to have been inspired by the structure created by Topher Grace in his 85 minute cut titled Star Wars: Episode III.5: The Editor Strikes Back, the edits in this version don't redeem this second rate trilogy.

Even though it cuts nearly seven hours down to a runtime of two hours and forty-five minutes, Turn to the Dark Side can't salvage poorly written dialogue and wooden deliveries.

I have only seen the films that comprise the early trilogy once -  when each was released theatrically. I'll never forget the somber silence that filled the theater about half an hour into Episode I, when the fans that had lined up to see this opening night realized that their childhood was now tarnished.

Turn to the Dark Side does open strong. We are fully "en medias res" as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan battle Darth Maul. That's right, we've cut straight past midichlorians, pod racing, Jar Jar, and young Jake Lloyd's performance.

However, once Hayden Christensen appears, I was reminded that the Force also impedes one's ability to speak like a normal human being.

I was hoping that I would enjoy this edit of the trilogy, but many of the weaknesses remain. There are a few things that I remember about Attack of the Clones. I was hoping they would have been cut. Unfortunately we still still have Obi-wan turning down "death sticks" and a ridiculously coincidence riddled chase on speeders.

At that point I had to stop. I've already given these films 7 hours of my life. I'm not willing to give them another two that could be better spent on another film.

Perhaps I'll go have dinner with Andre.

 

Trailer Rewind - Jobs

Jobs - Pete's pick for July 12, 2013 - episode 90 Midnight Run

$2.99

Pete said: Now that the trailer has settled on me, I think I'm more excited about this movie than I I was.

Andy said: I am going to have a hard time not comparing it with Pirates of Silicon Valley.

When making a film about a figure known for innovation and forward thinking, to deliver a film that is merely adequate is nearly an insult to your subject. This film trod the middle ground in a workman-like manner to chronicle Jobs' life. Rather than embodying the Apple marketing slogan "Think Different", this films delivers mediocrity.

Anyone who has read the biography by Walter Isaacson will be familiar with the events portrayed in the film, yet feel that the energy that Steve Jobs is known for, is lacking.

$6.99

During the end credits photos of Apple employees are presented alongside stills from the film. What this revealed to me was that casting was perhaps focused on finding actors that physically resembled the people they were portraying rather than finding actors that brought something to the role. No one actor stands out in this crowd of familiar faces, which is one of the reasons why the film comes across as flat and dull.

Rather than watching Jobs, which feels like a made-for-television film, I recommend committing time to the Isaacson biography and 1999's Pirates of Silicon Valley. That film contains an outstanding performance by Noah Wylie, one that even earned praise from Jobs himself.

Noah Wyle from Pirates of Silicon Valley surprises the crowd at an Apple Event.

A Bad Moon Rising

During the hot humid days of summer when you're trying to avoid the mansquitos, you might take a trip down to the shore to cool off in the ocean. Before you leave, check the forecast to make sure a sharknado isn't in the forecast. It's a crazy world and who can you count on to protect you? Why none other than 

                                                              WOLFCOP!

Will WolfCop be this year's Sharknado? Only time will tell. And with the assumed stellar success of WolfCop, we can hopefully look forward to addition films in the WolfCop franchise.

WolfCop and a Half

WolfCop and a Half

Why WolfCop and why now?Werewolf films grew in popularity during the 1980's, and with the exception of the Underworld franchise, and a few other unsuccessful werewolf films,  we haven't  seen a successful and popular werewolf film in decades.

Teen WolfCop

Teen WolfCop

Sure, there is the Teen Wolf tv series on MTV, but we are currently experiencing a shortage of werewolf films of the quality we saw in the 80's: The Howling (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981), and Teen Wolf (1985). 

The coming release of WolfCop is a possible sign that we are moving past vampires and zombies and seeing the first of a resurgence in werewolf films.

The WolfCop of Wall Street

The WolfCop of Wall Street

 

 

You might be wondering why we're giving WolfCop so much attention.  That's a very good question. You'll have to listen to the upcoming review of An American Werewolf in London in our Films of 1981 series to see what it takes to make a classic werewolf film.

Trailer Rewind - Drew: The Man Behind The Poster

Drew: The Man Behind The Poster  
Andy's trailer pick from episode 95 - Blood Simple August 16, 2013

It wasn't until today that I knew which film I was going to review for this week's trailer rewind. When the internet exploded to reveal the cast for Star Wars: Episode VII, I knew that there was only one film that I needed to share with you.

If you stepped foot inside a movie theater anytime during the last quarter of the 20th century, you are familiar with Drew Struzan's work.

Drew: The Man Behind The Poster takes us through Struzan's career from low-paid designer of album covers, his transition to film posters, to his retirement in 2008.

$15.55

This film balances Struzan's story with excerpts from interviews with actors and directors discussing and praising Struzan's work. Its refreshing to see Spielberg, Lucas, Darabont, and del Toro talk about Struzan's work with a combination of professional respect mixed with the giddiness of a kid in a candy shop. Other treasures include discussions with Struzan himself regarding his distinctive style and insightful anecdotes about particular posters.

Unfortunately this film serves as a reminder of the rapid decline in the quality of film posters over the past decade. What was the last iconic film poster you can think of? What recent poster captured the essence of the film in such a way that you were eager to hang that poster on your wall?

If you love film, chances are you already love Struzan's work. This week take some time to sit down and allow yourself to be immersed in the art and craft of a true master.

Trailer Rewind - Kon Tiki

Kon-Tiki trailer pick from episode 71 - The Sandlot, from March 1, 2013

I remember having to read excerpts from Thor Heyerdahl’s book Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft in 9th grade. We may have even watched some or all of the documentary that used footage shot by the raft’s crew. So when I saw that a film of this amazing story had been made, I was interested in revisiting the story of Thor Heyerdahl.

One of the most refreshing aspects of this film is that it is not only a compelling true story, but that it is one of the rare instances of a film that can easily be enjoyed by all members of the family from young kids all the way up to grandparents that remember when Heyerdahl made his trip in 1947. Despite being a Norwegian film the majority of the dialogue is in English. You won’t need to worry about poor dubbing, or subtitles.

$12.21

The film begins with Heyerdahl's quest to fund his expedition to prove his theory that the inhabitants of Polynesia originated from South America, and not Asia as was commonly accepted at the time. Once Heyerdahl and his crew hit the open ocean we are there with them on a balsa wood raft facing an assortment of challenges and obstacles. The film clicks along through its 118 minute run-time faster than you expect.

Set primarily in the South Pacific, this is the perfect film to brighten up a rainy spring afternoon. Once you've finished, I also recommend watching the 1950 documentary for a full Kon-Tiki experience.

The Cinematic Universe of Adolescent Imagination

Franchises have moved beyond being a string of sequels. The term “cinematic universe” has recently come into popular usage to describe a series of films and other media that are set within a singular universe. In this universe the events in one film are related to, have an impact on, or are influenced by, events in other films.

Some have argued that all Pixar films take place within a single universe.  There's also the Tarantino UniverseThe most popular of these cinematic universes is the Marvel universe. What began with an Iron Man film expanded to include Captain America and Thor. The success of The Avengers proved that Marvel had a successful plan for bringing many of its comic book characters to film. In addition to other films, Marvel branched out into network television with Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While the series did include the character of Agent Coulson, a familiar face from the Marvel films, it wasn’t until Thor: The Dark World was released that viewers realized that the events that occurred within a film would have consequences for the television series.

With the inclusion of Marvel One Shots, short films included in the BluRay and digital releases of the feature films, and original programming being developed in partnership with Netflix,  Marvel has created the most expansive of the cinematic universes.

A Universe of Pure Imagination

But there's another "cinematic universe" that hasn't been visited in decades: the cinematic universe of adolescent imagination. This is the universe where your dad might bring home a Mogwai, you and your friends band together in a squad to fight off the monsters that are in your neighborhood, an old treasure map is hidden in your attic, your favorite video game turns out to be a training program for an intergalactic fleet, an alien hides in the storage shed in your backyard, or a quirky neighborhood inventor invents a time machine.

In the 1980’s there was a sudden explosion of movies about tweens for tweens before we had the word "tween." In many of these stories the parents are absent, or busy. I’m looking at you baby boomers. While you were so busy trying to manage your life your kids were off having adventures.

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
— The Writer, Stand By Me

Some of these films attempted to teach us important life lessons, while others were like a close friend telling us that no matter how bad things seemed to get, that there was always something better waiting for us if we could just persevere. Gremlins sought to teach us the importance of responsibility and following rules, The Last Starfighter showed us that all those hours spent playing video games could pay off, and Back to the Future assured us that our parents were once kids just like us.

The most memorable of these, such as The Goonies, Gremilns, E.T., and Back to the Future, were delivered to us courtesy of Amblin Entertainment. This was an eraa when Steven Spielberg had a golden touch and was overseeing an impressive amount of quality entertainment for kids. The enduring impact of these films is proven by the recent announcement of a sequel to The Goonies, and a remake of  Gremlins.

But what happened to the universe that Amblin built? Why has the world of imaginative possibilities been replaced by dystopian futures?

The Rise of YA literature, or How Harry Potter Changed the Game

In the 1980’s as tweens were filling theaters, book publishers were beginning to see the rise of a new type of literature between children’s books and novels written for adults. This new genre, young adult literature, came into its own in the 90’s and has been shaping teen culture since.

J.K. Rowling is responsible for more tweens picking up a book and reading than any other author of the 20th and 21st century. Her Harry Potter saga started off just like those stories of imaginative wonder we recall with great fondness from the 1980’s. From the moment Harry receives his invitation to Hogwarts we know that we are in familiar territory - the story of a boy that discovers the path to a exciting world of adventure lies just outside his front door. But somewhere along the way Harry’s adventures in the wizarding world became something else. Harry found himself in the middle of a civil war that could destroy his world. By the time readers were delving into the first chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, they found themselves in a wizarding dystopia where Death Eaters had taken control and Harry’s only mentor was gone. The world of wonder had turned into a dark, sinister world, where our hero must work in secret to undermine and destroy the corrupt and sinister forces that have taken control. From here it’s not too far of a leap for reading to step into Katniss Everdeen’s shoes in The Hunger Games. We’ve gone from asking the question of “What if?” to asking “How can this problem be solved?”

Are kids growing up too fast these days? Are they being denied a childhood? I don’t have the answers to these questions. What I do know is that there are fewer movies and books out there for my kids that show them examples of kids being kids, having fun as a group, going on fantastic adventures while learning a lesson on the way. As a result, I'm digging into the archives for some great family movies that are guaranteed to spark their imaginations.

Trailer Rewind - John Dies At The End

 John Dies at the End trailer pick from episode 54 - Bullit, from November 1, 2012

Back in late 2012, Pete and Andy hadn't yet limited themselves to one trailer pick each during a podcast episode. This was one of Andy's picks that week.

If you remember the era of late night cable movies, John Dies at the End will seem like a trip back in time to the late 80's and early 90's. Based on the novel by  David Wong, this film is the typical fringe, supernatural horror we have come to expect from director Don Coscarelli.  It's a late night midnight snack. It's not substantial, it's not for everyone, but it is enjoyable if you accept it for the empty calories.

$12.69

What makes this film enjoyable is the fact that the characters readily accept every odd thing that comes their way - shuffling meat monsters, metamorphosing moustaches, and an invasion from an alternate universe. Since there is little time spent building the world or explaining the rules, we must either accept the reality we are presented with, just as David and John do, or reject it, and as a result, the film itself. 

I've seen this movie twice, and have enjoyed it each time. The story is non-linear, there is minimal explanation of many of the events, but if you let it, it will scoop you up in its tentacles and pull you along for an enjoyable ride.

Aint That A Kick(Start) To The Head

This week we finally got the first trailer for Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff’s follow-up to 2004’s Garden State.

What was the reason for the decade span between films? According to Braff, it was a matter of creative control and financing. After the success of the Veronica Mars film kickstarter, Braff turned to his fans and kickstarter to gather the financing needed to make Wish I Was Here.

Through the kickstarter campaign Braff was able to raise over $3 million in funding for his film. Time will tell whether this becomes a viable paradigm for independent filmmakers. One reward not available to backers of Wish I Was Here was a digital download of the film. Braff may have dodged a bullet. In March, backers of the Veronica Mars movie were outraged that they were limited to obtaining their digital copy through the Ultraviolet digital locker system and Flickster. Details of the digital download debacle are here.

These backers kicked in $35 that contributed to the creation, production and theatrical release of a project they had been waiting for several years for. Not only were they able to see this project completed, released in theaters, but they received their own digital copy of the film on opening weekend. Complaining about how they received that download seems a bit, well . . . I think this is an appropriate metaphor:

When Wish I Was Here hits screens later this summer, I will be watching to see if this film encounters any bumps as it tries to elbow its way into a weekend with Hercules, Sex Tape, and Step Up: All In. I enjoyed Garden State and was not a backer of Wish I Was Here, but I am looking forward to see whether Braff has matured as a filmmaker. But even more, I will be watching for others to follow this route, and see whether KickStarter becomes a viable arena for film development.

Trailer Rewind - The Bay

As I was writing about The History of Future Folk last week, I realized that I have watched several of the films that Pete and Andy have selected as their trailer pick of the week. Many of their picks are films that are high profile, and which you most likely have seen or put in your rental queue. Some of them were smaller or more fringe films that may not have come to a theater near you or you completely forgot about it after listening to the episode.

Today I launch a new series - Trailer Rewind - in which I review some of the lesser known or recognized films from Pete and Andy's weekly trailer picks. This week I've got a pick that falls in place with their current series - found footage films.

The Bay - trailer pick from episode 54 - Bullit, from November 1, 2012.

Although The Bay is often considered a "found footage" film it is actually an assemblage of various sources of film to chronicle the events of one day - July 4, 2009. The reason that it may be categorized as found footage is that all of the footage is sourced from recordings from within the events of July 4, 2009. The result is a film that feels more like a documentary than a dramatic fictional narrative, much like found footage films.

The Bay focuses on an outbreak of a mysterious disease or infection that results in the deaths of thousands of people during the course of the day. What sets The Bay apart from other found footage films is the use of various sources, which allows for multiple story threads including a police car dashboard camera, several surveillance and webcams at the local hospital, and the main story of Donna Thompson, a communications student covering the 4th of July holiday events.

One of the flaws of the film is the failed balance of found footage horror film with the cautionary tale concerning environmental pollution. The Bay attempts to educate and scare simultaneously and is not able to strike the proper balance.

$14.96

Fans of found footage films may be interested in The Bay for its use of multiple sources of footage. It's an interesting attempt to broaden the scope of story that can be told in a found footage film.

If you’re not a fan of found footage films, you will be disappointed that the filmmakers restricted themselves in their attempts to try something new within the found footage style. Ultimately these restrictions limited what could have been an interesting environmental horror film.

The writer that Gen X forgot

On March 28, 2014 we lost a writer whose career was familiar to most members of Gen X, even if they didn't know his name - Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

1966-68 Batman (tv series)

Much has already been written regarding the cultural influence and impact of the 1960's Batman tv series. Thanks to his work, an entire generation now had a touchstone for the moment their teacher introduced the concept of onomatopoeia. My friends and I took to calling them "batman words" and frequently incorporated them into the various types of imaginative play common among 9 year-olds that occurred during the summer and on weekends during the school year. More than the typical, "bang", "pow", "pew" of different types of hand guns, or "zzzeeoooo" for a laser blaster, our vocabulary grew to find the right sounds for a LEGO Galaxy Explorer swooping in to take out an enemy base, or the appropriate assemblage of crunch, crack, and smash sounds for a karate kick breaking through a reinforced wall  (a cardboard box for the new refrigerator the neighbors bought).

Thank you, Mr. Semple, for guiding us in developing the soundtrack of our own action sequences.

Flash . . . aaahhh

Everyone knows it's corny, it's cheesy, it's got a horrible lead actor supported by major talent (Brain Blessed, Timothy Dalton, Max Von Sydow), but if you weren't there to experience this when it hit the screens as a kid, I won't be able to convince you that this was an an epic space opera.

Thank you, Mr. Semple, for combining cheese and action in a way that still entertains.

Are you paranoid enough?

As Gen X grew older we discovered that our mistrust of corporations and government had already been written about. Thanks to the advent of VCRs we could rent these two classics to fuel and reinforce our fears. 

1975 - Three Days of the Condor

1974 - Parallax View (check out TNR episode 23  - wait? epsiode 23? am I being paranoid?)

Thank you, Mr. Semple, for confirming our suspicions.

Bond once again

Despite his vow to never return to the role of James Bond, Sean Connery returned for one final Bond film, Never Say Never Again. The film has an interesting history and is one of the few Bonds produced outside of EON productions. In addition to relieving Bond fans of the tedium of another Roger Moore film,  Never Say Never Again introduced us to Kim Bassinger and adolescent boys in the early 80's were thankful.

Thank you, Mr. Semple, for giving us our own James Bond film and including a sequence with a video game that zaps you when you lose points. We all thought that was cool.

Dude, that's one big monkey

Finally, we need to recognize that before Peter Jackson dropped his epic King Kong, there was a smaller version set in the 1970's starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. There's a lot of reason to forget this version, but in the mid-70's it was the chance to remake a classic and bring it up to date with new special effects. Semple's script combines classic elements of the Kong story with mid 70's sensibilities. It was a powerful experience for this young filmgoer, and one that I kept referring back to as I watched Jackson's 2005 version.

(L to R: Rene Auberjonois, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Ed Lauter)  Faces that we would become familiar with as we were growing up in the 70's and 80's

(L to R: Rene Auberjonois, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Ed Lauter) 
Faces that we would become familiar with as we were growing up in the 70's and 80's

Thank you, Mr. Semple, for taking on such a large task.


While these films are not the ones that most readily come to mind when thinking about growing up in the 70's and 80's, they have endured and left their mark on a generation.

Mr. Semple, for your work that entertained us while we were growing up, we thank you.  Generation X

 

 

The unexpected joy of discovering The History of Future Folk

I recently watched a movie I was expecting to be underwhelmed by and then surprised that I really enjoyed it and would likely watch it again. I feel like my experience watching was more enjoyable than watching a better film that I was expecting to be good. I had forgotten how much fun discovering a surprise can be.

With so much media noise around its hard to be in the dark about a movie like I was with The History of Future Folk. Other than the fact that this was Andy's trailer pick back in May 2013, I didn't know anything about it.

On the surface, The History of Future Folk is the story of General Trius from the planet Hondo and his attempts to protect the planet he has come to love. Even though he was sent here as the initial phase of a colonization effort, he heard something they don't have on Hondo, music. An assassin, Kevin, is sent and the rest is history.

What I did not know is that this history is the backstory of the previously existing musical comedy duo Future Folk. Throughout the film we are treated to song performances by General Trius, and later Trius and Kevin, at a tiny neighborhood bar. The songs are fun, folksy, science fiction songs. You may be surprised to find yourself chuckling at the lyrics of "I Cannot Breathe In Your Atmosphere" or tapping your foot along to "Space Worms".

Since this film is based on a musical comedy duo, the one thing that surprised me was that the film, while filled with funny moments, does not become a silly film. Directors John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker present a film where everything is played straight and earnest. There are no comic caricatures in this film. I don't want to say much more for fear of ruining your ability to discover this gem.

You’ll only spend 86 minutes watching The History of Future Folk, but you’ll be glad you did.

Hondo!

Is Bradley Cooper the best student ever?

This clip has been making the rounds recently. Its seems awfully coincidental that the actor Louis CK names in his interview is the one in this clip. But I'll accept this as coincidence, and enjoy the irony.

And apparently he learned a lot from the questions he asked in the last segment in the clips below since these two starred in a film together in 2012.

Is Bradley Cooper the best student ever? A hard working actor that has worked his way into a successful career? What do you think?

Left wanting more or just left wanting

The final shot in a film is an opportunity for a filmmaker to leave you with an indelible image. Does that moment leave you wanting more? Some films end with an image that is not only memorable, but has become strongly associated with the film. For example, the final shot in Rocky, battered and embracing Adrian, is one of the most memorable images of the film. The other being Rocky with celebratory arms raised at the top of the flight of stairs. This is a case of filmmakers finding that final moment that captures the culmination of the journey that the audience has been taken on.

For films that have been awarded a Oscar for Best Picture, you might think that there is a high percentage of films that end with iconic or at least highly memorable images. I was surprised to find that this is not true. While watching this compilation of final shots I was able to identify some only because I remember the film really well, or could place it in chronological order, not because it was a powerful or memorable moment.

So many of these final moments, when taken in isolation, were nothing more than a moment from a film. Perhaps this is because, when taken out of context, the final scene isn't carrying the emotional weight of the scenes that have come before it. In other cases I think it is because the strength of the film came from the journey taken, not the strength of the final moments alone.