This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snack Bar Promo 1970

This entry is about one of those fun promos for the snack bar which anyone who's been to a drive-in is familiar with.

Although drive-in's aren't as prominent today as they were from the 1950s-1980s (my guess being that most anyone today can have a double feature in their own home with just a Blu-ray player and/or streaming), they are still around and remain great fun. I've always particularly loved the animated promos during the intermission that tell patrons to go to the snack bar. The most famous of these is Let's All Go to the Lobby, which premiered in 1957 and was made by the legendary Dave Fleischer, the man behind both the Popeye and (the 1940s) Superman cartoons. This promo, with its animated popcorn, soda and hot dogs, became so famous that it was placed in the National Film Registry in 2000.
Last night, I was at the drive-in in Amelia, OH for a double feature of Monsters University and Man of Steel.
This recent drive-in visit also prompted me to go back and review this specific promo, which I first saw not on a drive-in screen but on a VHS tape, which was a collection of trailers for classic monster films such as Dracula (1931) and Night of the Living Dead (1968). This promo concluded the show, and makes nice use of Bach's 'Tocatta' and the simple but effective use of lighting to give those feasting on pizza in this promo a ghoulish appearance.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Interview with Kirsten Vangsness

This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kirsten Vangsness, who plays Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds and is also using Kickstarter to fund her upcoming movie, the comedy noir Kill Me, Deadly. I've seen portions of it online and it look hilarious, so, if you like great comedy, I would recommend pledging some money to Kickstarter so the film can grace our cinemas.

1. Kirsten, let's talk about your passion project, Kill Me, Deadly. From the portions of it I've seen online, it looks hilarious. Do you have any favorite comedies? Any favorite film noirs?

Kirsten-You know, it's written by a bunch of my theater friends, who I've known since before Criminal Minds. We are all big fans of old movies. It's like Young Frankenstein meets Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid meets Airplane meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Doing this was so great because it was certainly a love letter to loving, but not pandering, comedy. I love Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon. What's cool about Kill Me, Deadly is that there are a lot of inside jokes. We actually have a scene with a character named Ida, who is the secretary who knows everything but no one knows she knows everything. She has the Maltese Falcon behind her in that scene.

2. What inspired you to use Kickstarter to fund the movie?

K-You know, we have been shooting for about four years and it’s half-filmed. Eighty percent of the money has come from me. It was important to me that everyone was paid the same amount. We have 11 more days of shooting and 20% more of funding to do. Our director, Darrett Sanders, is going back to teach school. I’m the only one out of the eight of us that has funds to be able to do this. This is what I love to do. It’s important that I paid for it, so my seven producer friends can contribute to it as well. The movie will be done in August. I’m almost done shooting it and I’m shooting it while doing Criminal Minds. It will be edited in September.

3. At what point did you realize that acting was your professional calling?

K-I didn’t realize that until I got Criminal Minds (laughs). If it’s your dream, you should be doing it. I started acting in high school. I was too shy, so my mom said I could take acting. This is beyond my wildest dreams that I can make my living acting.

4. You've also had work published in the Los Angeles Times magazine. What do you like to write about? Do you plan to write any books?

K-I started writing because it was hard to find acting jobs. I didn’t like any monologues in auditions, so I started to write my own things. Since then, I have written a couple of shows. I was nominated for playwright of the year for a play I wrote called Potential Space. I like writing about what to me are like questions that I have about myself and the human condition. I find quantum physics fascinating so I like to write about that, and I like things that make me laugh. I don’t know if I will write a book. I love doing other people’s work, but I am so into performing stuff I write.

5. You're involved with Theater of Note in Hollywood. How is that different from acting on the screen?

K-It’s different because of the popularity of Minds. Forty eight people watch Note and Minds is watched by millions. To have my cast members come to note and see plays there is so beautiful to me. On television, you have an intimate moment with the camera. In theater, you are making something live with people there. My brain doesn’t understand that you don’t get another take ever. I’m finally learning on TV that you can do something over if you make a mistake. I don’t believe it when people say theater actors can’t become great television actors.

6. Moving to Criminal Minds, do you have a favorite episode?

K-Goodness, usually the one we are shooting is my favorite because I love my job. I love the ritual of creating the scenes. We did a two-episode arc about Penelope, so that was a dream come true. But I love the people I work with because they are so funny. So it’s really hard to pick an episode. But this season, she went out with someone and dressed like Dr. Who, so that one was a lot of fun.

7. How would you say you're similar to Penelope?

K-We can both talk really fast. We are also energetic & we both think Shamar Moore is delicious. Both of us do not like violence & have a low threshold for it. But she’s more confident than I am & has computer skills that I don’t. We are both from outer space but from different planets.

8. Minds was recently renewed for a ninth season. What are your hopes for the show and Penelope?

K-Oh, gosh. The writers started work again last week. I was there to see what they were doing. They are really going to focus on origin stories this year & I’m really looking forward to that. I’m always so curious as to how they come up with things.

9. Many stars of hit series go on to direct one or more episodes. Do you see yourself doing that with Minds?

K-No, I don’t think that I’d be into. I don’t like telling anybody what to do. Not that our directors are like that, but they have a vision of seeing things in a really cool way & I’m not like that. I would like to write one, which would be cool.

10. Do you have any future movie or TV appearances set?

K-I’m going to start back July 8 on Minds. I don’t have anything on the burner but I have a bunch of charity things coming up that I’m excited about. I’m on the advisory board of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which is a children’s cancer charity. I’m so proud to be on that and help them. Joe Mantenga and others from Minds come with me every year when I do that.

11. You also appeared on the show's spinoff Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. Any fond memories of that show?

K-That was just so strange and wonderful. I already have a job and to get a call to play the same character on a different show was so great. The best part was to watch how different people interpreted a character I’ve played for years. It was really, really fun.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Coming Soon (1982)

"Horror movie trailers are the best: Spectacular monsters, fantastic special effects, exotic rituals are all played up to the hilt to sell tickets in the most sensational way possible."
-Jamie Lee Curtis.

I discovered this gem of a documentary on during my senior year in high school, when my love for the horror genre was really starting to grow.

Jamie Lee Curtis is the perfect hostess for this look at the monster movie history of Universal Studios, which was directed by John Landis, who had just directed An American Werewolf in London (1981) for Universal.

As Curtis rightly states, even the worst movies have some good footage to whet the appetite of an audience, which is precisely the job of a film trailer.

The focus is on the appeal of our favorite monsters, including Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Some of Universal's non-horror output is also glimpsed, including Marnie, Frenzy (1972), and even E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

The film may not go into detail about the great actors who made their mark in the genre like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but if any documentary can be described as 'fun,' it's this one.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dead Ringers (1988)

"You haven't had any experience until I've had it, too!"
-Dr. Elliot Mantle to his twin brother, Dr. Beverly Mantle.

In his review of Music of the Heart (1999), Roger Ebert wrote this about the film's director, Wes Craven:

"(Craven is) known for his horror films, and he may seem like a strange choice for this material. Not at all. He is in fact a cultured man who broke into movies doing horror and got stuck in the genre; he's been trying to fight his way free from studio typecasting for 20 years, and this movie shows that he can get Meryl Streep to Carnegie Hall just as easily as a phantom to the opera."

This quote illustrates that directors can be as susceptible to typecasting as actors. Another director who was basically stuck in people's minds as a 'horror' director was David Cronenberg.

He first gained notice with the cult films Scanners (1980) and Videodrome (1983), but it was The Dead Zone (1983) which brought him to the attention of mainstream Hollywood.

The success of that film led to him being hired for the remake of The Fly (1986), which is one of the few remakes to actually improve on its predecessor. This is because Cronenberg set out to make a tragedy which just happened to have horror/science fiction elements in it, whereas the 1958 original film, while memorable, is campy.

The great success of The Fly became, in some ways, a double-edged sword for Cronenberg. This remains arguably his most famous work and, for a time anyway, everyone seemed to be expecting him to make another horror film.

This may explain why Cronenberg's follow-up to The Fly, Dead Ringers, didn't make a similar impact with audiences. Indeed, watch the trailer and you'll hear Howard Shore's dramatic musical score for The Fly in the background, although the finished film is not what you would call a horror film.

Jeremy Irons plays twin brothers Elliot and Beverly Mantle, who are successful gynecologists (the film was inspired by the case of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, also twin brothers working in that field). The two are basically a yin-yang pair, with Elliot the confident one and Beverly the sensitive one.

Their practice often involves the brothers romancing the same woman, even though the woman in question is unaware that she is not with the same man.

This behavior is foreshadowed in the film's beginning in which the twins, as young boys (played by Jonathan and Nicholas Haley) express their interest in female anatomy.

However, the brothers' interdependency is disrupted when a new patient, actress Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), enters their clinic.

This eventually leads to Beverly tearfully admitting that he's in love with her. Claire returns the affection after her initial anger at the revelation that he and Elliot have both romanced her.

When Claire leaves to work on a new film, Beverly becomes despondent, so much so that his drug use forces him to take administrative leave. This, in turn, leads to Elliot caring for him and becoming a drug addict himself so he can operate on the same level as his brother.

This leads to Elliot agreeing to be 'separated' from his brother in a climatic scene that eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

While the film was not as successful as The Fly, everyone praised Irons for his fabulous dual performance. When he won his Oscar three years later for Reversal of Fortune (1990), Irons thanked Cronenberg in his acceptance speech. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this film and his superlative voice work as Scar in The Lion King (1994) represent Irons at his best.