Friday, May 30, 2014

The Alphabet Game: Cinephile Edition

Hello, and welcome to The Alphabet Game, where I take a look at 26 different things in one common category. This inaugural edition is all about that wonderful thing once known as the motion picture. Have fun...

A is for At the Movies - The show has been called many things at many times, from Siskel & Ebert & the Movies to just Siskel & Ebert to (after Gene Siskel's death) Roger Ebert & the Movies, and Ebert & Roeper (once Richard Roeper joined Roger in the balcony), but during my formidable years as a budding cinephile, the show was simply titled, At the Movies. I grew up, as a cinephile that is, on the criticism of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Now Gene may not have been all that into cinema (he just took the film critic job at the Chicago Tribune, because the paper had an opening) but Roger was always the greatest advocate of cinema - in all of it's forms. I was lucky enough to have conversations with Roger in the years before he died. Granted, these were merely e-mail and/or Facebook conversations, but it was still great to get the great man's insights on film and film history. It was also fun to watch Roger and Gene argue over film every week on At the Movies. May they rest in peace, which of course, means sitting on cloud nine somewhere, watching a movie - and maybe arguing over it as well.

B is for Bogie & Bacall - As a kid, when I was into space movies and monster movies and all the typical late show B-movie fare (not that I'm still not into those) I did not really know all that much about Bogie and Bacall. Sure, thanx to my uncle, and it being his all-time favourite film, I had already see The African Queen by the time I was ten, so I at least knew who the Bogie half of Bogie and Bacall were. I had probably see Casablanca by this time too, but I'm not sure. But then, in 1981, when I was fourteen, eventual one hit wonder Bertie Higgins came out with a song called Key Largo, and it was the first time I can remember hearing their names together. Just like Bogie and Bacall. This was the time I started digging deeper into cinema, and was beginning to move on to a more serious liking of film and film history. Of course I would eventually see all four films that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall did together. My favourite is The Big Sleep, but I do love them all, even the rather experimental Dark Passage, which is probably the least known of the quartet of films. To this very day, this one time Hollywood power couple, is still my all-time favourite classic movie couple. Sorry Doug and Mary.

C is for Chelsea Girls - This nearly four hour dual projected experimental film from Andy Warhol is a true must see for any self respecting cinephile. Granted, these self-respecting cinephiles need not actually like said film, but I do believe they should definitely see the damn thing. I actually am one of those self-respecting cinephiles who have both seen and liked this 1966 piece of that thing known as the cinema of endurance. I am also one of those lucky enough to see the film in it's natural form, projected on the big screen, on side-by-side 16mm projectors. It was at the Harrisburg Film Festival a few years back. At the beginning of the screening, I counted heads, and there were exactly 100 people sitting in that screening room. When I looked around 210 minutes later, there were 25 of us left in that room. So there!

D is for Drive-In - I would guess that many of today's ill-informed youth would not even know what a drive-in theatre is. Personally I grew up in one. The fam and I would head out to Haar's Drive-In at least once a month, sometimes twice, to check out the latest filmic fare. As a little one, I saw such wonders as Benji and Disney's Robin Hood and The Black Stallion. Later I would see things like The Black Hole and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The drive-in was sort of a magical place as a kid, and then as a teenager, it became a whole different kind of magical. Sure, the movies could never look as good at the drive-in as the would inside an actual cinema, and the attention needed to watch good film was not there at the drive-in, but the fun atmosphere was. A communal spot for all. A legendary thing throughout their existence from the 1932 to these waning days of modern yore. It's a shame that the upcoming generations will never know that magic. Later on in life, after my marriage to my lovely wife, Amy, the two of us would work at the aforementioned Haar's Drive-In of my childhood. Again, even just working there was kind of magical. I remember one night, while the South Park movie was playing, we went around and turned every speaker up as loud as they would go, and listened gleefully as the song "Uncle Fucker" blared across the night sky, and into the suburban neighbourhoods that surrounded the drive-in. Okay, maybe that was a different kind of magic. Oh, and if you haven't seen Peter Bogdanovich's Targets, or more specifically the ending of said film, then you should really check it out. You'll get the connection once you see it.

E is for Ed Wood - When Andre Bazin and the Cahiers du Cinema gang came up with and put forth the Auteur Theory, they mostly talked of the greats of cinema. People like Ford, and Nick Ray and Doug Sirk. They even spoke of the so-called B-directors like Wellman and Boetticher. One auteur you rarely here spoken of in such circles is Edward D. Wood, Jr., the director thought of to be the worst filmmaker in the history of cinema. But no matter how bad he was - and the guy was incredibly bad - he was indeed an auteur. He had a certain style, an author's signature if you will, no matter how sloppy that signature was written. And come on, ya gotta love watching things like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glenn or Glenda. Classic films. Classic I say! Classic!! One thing is for sure. Ed Wood loved making movies. He was passionate about making movies. So what if he wasn't all that good at it. He loved doing it, and that is what matters. So there!

F is for Flux Capacitor - So far we've talked about the love of cinema, the classic days of Hollywood, childhood drive-in memories, and the best of the worst directors. Now let's get into the more pop cultury aspect of 1980's cinema. That's right kids, it's time for a little Back to the Future lovin'. As any good eighties kid knows, the Flux Capacitor is what makes time travel possible. The Delorian is just for kitschy show. It's Doc Brown's Flux Capacitor that allowed Marty to go back to 1955. It was the Flux Capacitor that allowed Marty to head back to the old west. And it was the Flux Capacitor that let Marty fly into the futuristic year of 2015. Wait, what? You mean next year we will have hover boards!? Fan-freakin-tastic!! Can't wait.

G is for Garbo - Movie history is filled with beautiful woman galore. It is also filled with great actresses galore. Sometimes these two types actually crossover. But ya know what? They all pale in comparison to the great Greta Garbo. Born Greta Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden in 1902, the legend who came to be known as Garbo, was what one would call one of a kind. I know that term can be quite overused, and quite cliche, but in the case of Garbo, it fits to the proverbial T. Garbo was drop dead gorgeous. Garbo was as talented as they come. Garbo was a strong-willed woman who took guff from no one. Garbo was... well, she was Garbo. From her silent days in films like Temptress and Flesh and the Devil to her hey day talking roles in the 1930's, in films like Anna Karenina, Queen Christina, and Grand Hotel (Garbo Talks!) to her oh so famous burst of laughter in Ninotchka (Garbo laughs!) to her retirement from Hollywood and her infamous reclusive later life, hiding from the public and press alike ("I vant to be left alone"), Garbo was, is, and always will be the greatest of all-time. To use another cliche'd overused term that is still quite right on the mark when discussing Garbo - she is a true icon.

H is for the Hollywood Sign - Erected in 1923 as an advertisement for a housing development, this iconic work of pop art has come to symbolize the movie industry, as well as to become one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. Originally the sign read Hollywoodland, but the land was chopped down in the 1940's. But then sad times fell on the Hollywood sign. After years of neglect, it began to fall apart in the late sixties, and by the 1970's was a sad creature indeed. The H and first O were broken. The last O collapsed completely. It was a pathetic sight. But in 1978, help was on the way - in the form of Hugh Hefner. That's right, playboy Hef went on a campaign to restore the sign to it's former glory. And it worked. By the end of 1978, the Hollywood sign was brand spankin' new, and looking great. By the way, didjya know that each of the nine doners "owns" one of the letters. Gene Autry has the second L, while Andy Williams has the W. Hef put his name on the Y (there's a sex joke in there somewhere), and even Alice Cooper donated the last O, placing it in the name of Groucho Marx. So there ya go. Your history lesson on the Hollywood Sign is over. Hope ya liked it.

I is for Inigo Montoya - We all know the line, and we have all spoken it aloud, and in the voice of Mandy Patinkin's character. "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Don't deny it. You know you've said this to people before, and you know you did it in full Spanish accent. The Princess Bride (along with Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, The Wizard of Oz, The Breakfast Club, and Dazed and Confused) is one of those films where I can pretty much recite from start to finish. There are tons of great lines throughout the film (most of them by Patinkin and Wallace Shawn) but this is the most fun one. Well, perhaps aside from "Inconceivable!"

J is for Judy Judy Judy - Even though it is a common enough thing to say when seeing Judy Garland, Judy Judy Judy (usually done in full Cary Grant mode) was never actually uttered in a motion picture. Legend claims it was impersonator Larry Storch, who while doing his act in a nightclub, saw Miss Garland enter and shouted out Judy Judy Judy, again, in full Cary Grant mode. As for Judy Judy Judy herself, this is someone who just has to be mentioned when talking about the greats of Hollywood. One of the most talented and most beautiful of all Hollywood stars, Judy Garland was a fantastic actress, and probably had THE greatest voice ever heard. I mean it. THE greatest voice. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I am straight, so this isn't just some cliche'd gay icon thing going on here (though I would put both Bette Midler and Cher up there as great voices too). This is genuine cinematic adoration. From The Wizard of Oz and her team-ups with Mickey Rooney to her turns in Meet Me in St. Louis and the great MGM musicals of the period to her collaboration and marriage to Vincente Minnelli to A Star is Born, the film that should have won her her Oscar, to her days in Vegas and nightclubs around the globe. Judy Judy Judy, indeed. Her life may have been a tragedy, but her legacy lives on in beautiful Technicolor. Oh, and that voice.

K is for Kubrick - Hands down, my favourite director. Hands freakin' down! Stanley Kubrick made thirteen feature films in his forty plus year career, and only one of them, Spartacus (the one he lost control of from the studio, not so incidentally) is less than remarkable. From Fear and Desire to Killer's Kiss to The Killing to Paths of Glory, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, as well as parts of A.I. before he died and Spielberg took over. Hell, even Spartacus (it's still better than many a typical studio epic of the time). Yeah, that is one brilliant fucking oeuvre!! And, I have been lucky enough to see all but three (Paths of Glory, Strangelove, and Barry Lyndon) up on the big screen. Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut when they first came out in theatres, Clockwork (thrice, even) and The Shining in beautiful 35mm prints, and the others projected digitally on the big screen. Now just three to go...and hopefully in 35mm, baby!

L is for L.A. Noir - There is film noir, then there is L.A. noir. What's the difference, you ask? Well, for one, L.A. noir tends to take place in and around L.A.. That was kind of a stupid question. Anyhoo, this sub-genre has always been a favourite inside a favourite genre. Films like Kiss Me Deadly and Double Indemnity, or in more modern neo noir terms, Chinatown and The Long Goodbye, or even more neo, howzabout Lynch's masterpiece, Mulholland Dr.. There's just something about Los Angeles that has always fascinated me. Sure, modern day L.A. is a bit silly, but the L.A. of old, is quite intriguing. Old Hollywood, secret societies, wheat germ killers (a quick Woody Allen reference for ya), bizarre tales of the unknown, and stuff like that. Just a potpourri of interesting (and sometimes dangerous) things. And the scandals!! From Fatty Arbuckle to the Black Dahlia. From Hearst's yacht to Natalie Wood overboard. From the vampires of the Hollywood Hills to the Bling Ring of a few years ago. What, you didn't know about the vampires of L.A.? Shame on you. But, as I was saying, the history (sometimes dark) of L.A. and Hollywood has always fascinated me, and that fascination comes to vivid life in teh sub-genre of L.A. Noir.

M is for Midtown Cinema - Once upon a time (Nov. 26, 2001 to be exact) a man named Allen Brown opened up a little three screen arthouse cinema in my city of Harrisburg, Pa. Mr. Brown had already run a one screen cinema a few miles away, but was enticed into the city by our then mayor, Stephen Reed. And what a boon it became. Finally, there was a place in Harrisburg that played foreign films and small indies and documentaries and such. I was there on opening night, and even became the unofficial archivist for the place. Some great films that would otherwise never had gotten to my neck of the woods, were now playing at Midtown Cinema. Eventually, Harrisburg being the place it was, Al was forced to sell. The damn Plebeians of Central Pa!! But, the new owners kept it the same format and it went on living. About a year after that, my wife and I came aboard to run the place, and did so for nearly five years. It was a fun job, until the owner's friend decided she wanted to run the place, and the missus and I were pushed out. It ends up that the company we were working for, was not the nice gang of folks we had thought, and were actually very bad people. The stories I could tell of how we were mistreated, could fill a very fat tell-all book. Anyway, that was about a year ago, and we have not been back since. Which is a shame, because up until that time, (before I worked there and during) the place was like a home away from home. I saw most of the films that played there, and had some great times throughout the years. After hours movies on the big screen, I could watch any of my DVD's or Blurays there. It was a great blast screening films for all our regulars. Too bad it is over because of the bad policies and blatant nepotism of the owners of the cinema. I really really miss the place...and the people who came in. Even a year later, I still feel like my world was ripped out from under me. The place was so ingrained in my social life - much like the salons of yore. Still though, there were some great times (before the evil entities took ahold), and great memories to hold onto. It was a great place back in the day. I guess I will have to live with that.

N is for the New York Film Festival - Ever since I started writing on film (I've done it all my life, but 2003 is was when I began taking it seriously as a vocation) I would travel the two-and-a-half hours to NYC to see films not playing in my hometown. Yeah, even with the aforementioned Midtown Cinema, there were still a lot of films that never came to town. So I would head north to the Big Apple (sometimes by car, sometimes by train) and spend the day going from Film Forum to the IFC Center to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas to The Angelika to Cinema Village to MOMA to wherever, to catch these films. in 2004 I began attending the New York Film Festival (some pretty fucking spectacular films have played there - and I even got to see Liv Ulmann one year), and then in 2007, I managed to get press credentials to attend, and I was set. I would attend the press screenings each and every year from 2007 through 2012. I did not attend last year, nor will I this year, but hopefully come 2015, I will be back on track and ready to head back up for whatever great films they have that year.

O is for Maureen O'Hara - My second favourite Hollywood redhead. Rita Hayworth will always be number one - even if she wasn't a real ginger. Maureen O'Hara first entered my cinematic world as a kid, when I saw The Quiet Man on TV. It was on a tiny black and white TV so the true splendor of John Ford's film (as well as Miss O'Hara's flowing red mane) was not known at the time, but I still loved the film so. The Quiet Man is probably a weird movie for a kid to like so much, but then I was a rather weird kid, so... Anyway, as for Maureen O'Hara, she of course, was in many more films that I would see throughout my life (How Green Was My Valley, The Black Swan, Miracle on 34th Street, Rio Grande) but it will always be The Quiet Man that I love the most - as did O'Hara, claiming it as her all-time favourite of all the films she had made. I was lucky enough to watch the film, projected onto the big screen, via a gorgeous Bluray edition, before hours at the cinema I spoke of a few clicks back. Now seeing it up on the big screen, and in glorious colour, it was beyond amazing, as was the larger than life Maureen O'Hara.

P is for Princess Leia - So, as any red-blooded American boy my age (I was 10 when Star Wars came out, 13 for Empire and 26 when she donned the gold bikini and became Jabba's temporary slave girl) can tell you - Princess Leia was kinda the be all and end all of space babes. One of my earliest schoolboy crushes (I actually prefer her in Empire, perhaps because that was when she first hooked up with my boy, Han Solo) this gal was no one's trembling royal brat. She could kick ass with the best of 'em. Sure, she cried when Alderaan died, but really, who wouldn't. Otherwise she stood her ground and took no guff - not even from Vader. Hell, she didn't even seem to have any of the daddy issues that that little bitch Luke did. She wasn't even afraid of Chewie (the seven foot tall "walking carpet"), and the two actually would become great friends. After the films, the character got even more kick-ass as a full-fledged Jedi Knight. So there ya have it, one of my first crushes was on a kick-ass space princess in a galaxy far far away.

Q is for Quest For Fire - A French film about prehistoric man and his struggle to tame fire, with dialogue created by the guy who wrote A Clockwork Orange. What's not to love? Yeah, apparently Anthony Burgess created a language for the Neanderthals to speak. Most of the film involves grunting and the like, but what language there is, was invented by Burgess. This is actually quite a gorgeous film. It hasn't been seen by all that many people (at least I don't know many who have seen it - at least not many in this country, as it was a hit in it's home country, winning Best Picture and Best Director) and is one of those so-called forgotten films (again, at least in this country), but is definitely one you should seek out and check out. There's a nice bluray out there right now. So there. Go watch this film. Don't let it be forgotten.

R is for The Red Shoes - As anyone who knows me can attest to, The Red Shoes is my all-time favourite film. All freakin' time! Made in 1948 by the team of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, this was the sixth consecutive masterpiece by the team known as The Archers. That's right, six of 'em. And I am not one to use the term masterpiece all willy nilly, so when I say this was the duo's sixth consecutive masterpiece, I mean it, dammit!! I'm pretty sure that's a record that has only ever been matched by one Mr. Stanley Kubrick. But we already talked about that guy. Let's talk about The Red Shoes. Martin Scorsese calls it the greatest colour film ever made (second on his all-time list only to the black and white Paisan). That's gotta say something, right? But seriously, I do love this film, Scorsese-endorsed or not. I first saw it sometime in 2004. Yeah, I came late to the whole Powell/Pressburger thing. I would watch it a few more times on TV before getting the opportunity to see it on 35mm at Film Forum in New York. Now that was a great experience. When they opened the doors, me and the sold out crowd rushed into the theatre, just as they did in the opening of The Red Shoes. Great fun indeed. I later would watch the film on gorgeous bluray after hours at the cinema of which I spoke of back at the letter M, and then again in my friend's amazing home theatre. Have I mentioned that I love love love The Red Shoes? I did? Good. Let's move on.

S is for Spaghetti Western - As I spoke of the sub-genre of L.A. Noir back a bit, I again bring up the subject of a sub-genre. Growing out of the Revisionist Western of the 1950's (yeah, yet another sub-genre), the Spaghetti Western of the 1960's and 1970's was named so because they were made in Italy. The reason behind this was that it was cheaper to make them there. Simple as that. Also, because they were not being made in Hollywood, which still had parts of the old Production Code hanging around in the early sixties (but not for long), it could be more violent than Westerns were at the time. Most claim that the sub-genre began in 1958 with Raoul Walsh's The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, but that was made in Spain, so it's more of a precursor. The following year, a comedy-western called The Sheriff, was made in Italy. This probably started it all. The real start of the Spaghetti Western though (at least the first to become super successful, was in 1964, with the release of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, a remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo. It was also the film that gave Clint Eastwood his first big screen break. After this, films such as Django, Death Rides A Horse, The Great SilenceThe Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Once Upon A Time in the West, would come to define the sub-genre. And the music by Ennio Morricone!! Granted, by the time Leone made Duck, You Sucker! in 1973, the Spaghetti Western era was pretty much over. But then, thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the Spaghetti Western will never truly die.

T is for Technicolor - Some say it's antiquated, but I still stand by the fact that movies made in Technicolor are better looking movies than those made in other forms of colour technology. So there! Invented waaay back in 1916 (yeah, 1916), Technicolor has been used to make such films as The Wizard of Oz, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Singin' in the Rain, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Leave Her to Heaven, and my aforementioned favourite film of all-time, The Red Shoes. It was even used in portions of otherwise mostly black and white films from the silent era. Films like The Phantom of the Opera and The Black Pirate. So basically, what I am trying to say here is, movies made in Technicolor are just better than those not. End of story. Well, it's not really the end. I mean, this is only the letter T. We still have U through Zed to go. Yeah, that's right. I said Zed. Okay, maybe I'm getting a bit off topic. Let's just move on, shall we?

U is for Universal Horror - Horror is horror, but Universal Horror is something else. The studio became famous in the 1920's (and stayed so until the 1950's) for a slew of now classic horror films, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible ManThe Wolf Man, Son of Dracula, Son of Frankenstein, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Many of these characters would come to be the veritable face of the studio. And some even became Pez dispensers, but that's another story for a more Pez-themed post. These films also made stars out of Lon Chaney (Sr. and Jr.), Bela Lugosi, and the greatest of them all, Boris Karloff. Granted, many of these Universal Horror films were rather generic, but some of them were quite god, and quite groundbreaking. Inspired by the German Impressionism movement sweeping Europe in the 1920's, and even involving several of the most important figures in that movement (once they became ex-pats and moved to Hollywood), several of these films (most notably The Mummy and the Frankenstein films) could be seen as extensions of the German film movement. Then along came Hammer Horror and Dario Argento, and things changed.

V is for The Vamp - An offshoot of the classic Femme Fatale was the Vamp, or Vampire. An exotic and dangerous woman who was so alluring that she would lead any man to his demise. Or something like that. Anyway, the first Vamp was Theda Bara. The Cincinnati born Theodosia Goodman would be transformed by the studio into the ever-so-exotic Theda Bara. Press agents gave the story of how she was born in the Sahara, child of an Arab Sheik and a French woman. Later this was changed to a French actress and an Italia sculptor. The name is actually an anagram of Arab Death. Howzabout that!? THere would be vamps after Theda. Women such as Louise Brooks and Greta Garbo were vampish, but Theda Bara was the real thing. Well okay, she was far from the real thing, but she was the still the quintessential Hollywood vamp.

W is for Wooderson - That's right kids. David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused. Alright, alright, alright. As I stated back at letter I, Dazed and Confused is one of the films I can pretty much recite from beginning to end. Hell, the opening salvo by Aerosmith is already running through my head as I write this. Made in 1993, but set in 1976, this Richard Linklater film, this high school, coming-of-age film (after Rebel Without A Cause, my favourite high school movie) has been a pivotal part of my so-called growing up. Yeah I know, I was already 26 when the damn film came out, but still, I can always imagine myself inside the film. Set just a few years before I would have become a high school freshman (1981 as opposed to '76) I really can relate to the antics in the film. And there's also that other thing. The film is freakin' awesome!! No seriously, the film is legit great. Influenced by Godard, Kubrick, and (especially) Scorsese, Linklater has some amazing shots in the film. And the music! The scene where Pink, Mitch, and Wooderson enter the pool hall to the sounds of Dylan's Hurricane, is just pure freakin' magic. Hey, but even with all the great shots, and all the great music choices (seriously, how did the then-still struggling director afford such a soundtrack!?), and all the great characters, it is Wooderson, the creepy older guy who still hangs out with high schoolers, played by a very unknown Matthew McConaughey (it was the future Oscar winner's screen debut, after all), that made the film oh so much more. "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older and they stay the same age." Alright, alright, alright.

X is for the X-Rated Movie - Yeah kids. It's time to get down and get dirty. Alright, alright, alri...oh, never mind. Actually, the X rating did not always have the stigma it has today. Back in 1968, after the collapse of the old Production Code, or the Hays Code as it was also known, the MPAA put a ratings system into effect. The original four ratings were G, M, R, & X. The M would later change to PG (after a brief stop at GP). But the X rating was simply a rating for films that one had to be 18 to see. Early x-rated films included Midnight Cowboy (the only x-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar), A Clockwork Orange (the only other x-rated film to be nominated for Best Picture), Last Tango in Paris, and the animated film, Fritz the Cat. All adult-oriented films, but certainly nothing pornographic. But then it happened. Sometime in the 1970's (of course) the porn industry started calling their films x-rated, or ofttimes, triple X. Eventually this idea stuck, and no legitimate film (nor their studios) wanted the label of x to be anywhere near them. Damn porn industry! Anyway, in 1990, the X was replaced with an NC-17. Henry & June would be the first film to receive this fresh new rating. It was meant to stop the stigma of the X, but eventually the NC-17 would build a fresh new stigma all its own. But these days, only the truly prudish worry about such things. And moving on...

Y is for Yasujiro Ozu - Beginning in the silent cinema of Japan and going until the early 1960's, Japanese master filmmaker, Yasujiro Ozu, is considered by many to be the greatest Japanese director of all-time. I would place the guy second to Kurosawa, but that's just me. Ozu was definitely the most Japanese of the world famous Japanese directors of the day, as Kurosawa was definitely Western influenced (and Western influencing). Ozu though, was pure Japanese. Most of his films, after a more eclectic start to his career, are stories of the family unit in modern day Japan. Quiet and unassuming (as opposed to the more visceral Kurosawa) Ozu's films have a certain beauty to them that is hard to categorize, other than in the rather silly way of saying just how Japanese they are. Mainly shooting from a foot or so below where most filmmakers shoot from, this gave his films the perspective of both a child (many of his films revolved around children) and of someone sitting on the floor (an obvious take on the Japanese tradition of sitting on the floor as opposed to that silly furniture of the West. His most famous work, 1953's Tokyo Story (actually a retelling of Leo McCarey's 1937 film, Make Way For Tomorrow), is considered by many to be one of the finest films ever made. Who am I to argue with that?

Z is for Zoetrope - The Zoetrope is a pre-cinema animation device that produces the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of drawings or photos that are spun around a viewing device. When you look through the holes as it spins, it looks as if the images are actually moving. It was a quite spectacular thing back in the mid 1800's, and is considered one of the major influences that would eventually bring about that thing called cinema. The term comes from the greek words for life (zoe) and turning (tropos). This fancy machine was influenced by the Magic Lantern that preceded it by about a century, and was so influential on cinema itself, that Francis Ford Coppola, a noted cinephile, even by insider standards, named his production company Zoetrope.

So there ya have it. The inaugural edition of The Alphabet Game. It is only appropriate that I begin this series with my first love - cinema. In less than a month, The Alphabet Game will return, and with a more comic book tone to it's twenty-six entries. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Heavenly Body of the Week: Planet Michael

"Game play will focus on Jackson's dance moves and adhere to his credo of nonviolence, a departure from other online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft." - Martin Biallas, CEO of SEE Virtual Worlds

I do not know if this game (in production for several years now) will ever make it to the public, but ya just know there has got to be a Moonwalk joke in there somewhere. Anyway, Planet Michael, available for play or not, is our latest Heavenly Body of the Week here at All Things Kevyn, so enjoy the view.

That's it gang.  See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Through the Years: The 10 Best Decades of the 20th Century

Well, the 20th Century is finally over. Wait, what? That happened when? Really? fourteen years ago, huh? Oh well, better late than...anyway, now that the 20th Century is, I mean has been over for a while now, it's about time we took a look at the decades of that century, and decide which are the ten best. Okay, okay, obviously there are only ten decades per century (even this math-deficient ne'er-do-well knows that!) so a look at the ten best decades would also be a look at some of the worst decades of said century. I'm okay with that. Howzabout you? Anyway, all ten decades have their good sides and their bad sides. So none are actually totally bad, nor are any of them totally good. For every Justin Beiber or Seals and Croft, there is a Dylan or Jack White to make up for things. For every Nixon or Bush, there's a Clinton or a JFK. For every Stanley Kubrick, there is an M. Night Shaymalan to bring 'em down. Every decade is good and every decade is not so good, but right here, right now (yeah, I just quoted Jesus Jones, what's it to ya!?) we are going to countdown those aforementioned ten decades of the 20th Century, and  take a look at both the good and the bad...and perhaps the ugly as well. So without further ado (for rather obvious reasons, there are no runners-up this time around) let's start counting down.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

10. The 1980's

Yeah, I know. This is basically my coming of age decade. I was twelve when it began, and twenty-two when it ended, so yeah, I basically grew up in this decade. I became a man in this decade. Literally, I became a man in this decade. That's a not-so-veiled attempt at saying this was the decade I lost my virginity. So there. But seriously, have you ever taken a look at how the hell we dressed back then. What the fuck were we thinking!? I had pants with more zippers than any pair of pants should ever be allowed to have. And the hair!? Wow!! Sure there were some good things. MTV began, and actually played music. Imagine that. There were great video games like Space Invaders and Frogger and Q-Bert and Joust. Do you remember fucking Joust. We rode ostriches for Christ's sake!! Ostriches!! None of the crap they have now, but real, honest-to-goodness video game fun, dammit! Thanks to Chris Claremont, we got some of the best X-Men stories ever told, and comics were still barely a dollar when the decade ended. Did I mention that I lost my virginity? But then there was the bad. Let's see, oh yeah, Ronald Fucking Reagan!! Thanks to that douchebag, the cost of living went through the roof, while the common people's salaries stayed pretty much the same. We had high-flyin' brokers and coke-fuelled investors, and me me me was all the rage. So yeah, between the terrible clothes (what were we thinkin!??) and the Gipper building up the 1% (whatever happened to the trickle down part!??) the 1980's come in at number ten - even if I did lose my virginity - and mastered the Rubik's Cube.

9. The 1910's

This is the decade that gave us the War to End All Wars. Um, okay? How'd that work out for ya? Actually, according to most historians (I was a bit youngish to remember myself) World War I, or The Great War as it was called, since naming a war part I is just asking for trouble, was the worst war we've ever had. Trench warfare was all the rage. And it was also what would eventually lead to World War II, but at least that war is romanticized, which is why the 1940's are much higher on this list, but more on that later. This decade also gave us a revolution in Mama Russia, where, according to Mick Jagger, Anastasia screamed in vein. Or was that screamed in pain. What does he say there? I guess I could Google it, but I'm kinda lazy, so let's just let the mystery be. The real point here is that Communism began on that fateful October night. Okay, it was already around and bandied about in philosophical circles, but 1917 brought the deaths of the Czarist royal family, and the onset of the future Soviet Union. Now I suppose Communism, or Socialism as it were, is not necessarily a bad theory. In practice it is a whole different thing, and we see the corruption that came out of what was meant as a noble thing at the time. Then again, we had the invention of the zipper (thank you Gideon Sundback), D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin came to prominence (and they, along with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, would form United Artists), the first crossword puzzle made it's appearance, such works of literature as Dubliners, Pygmalion, Of Human Bondage, and Death in Venice were published, Duchamp unveiled his "Fountain" to the art world, Picasso and Braque created Cubism, and Tarzan swung onto action for the first time. But then we also had the Titanic tragedy, and that is enough to sink this decade for me. And by my rather gauche term of sink, I don't necessarily mean the 1912 incident so much as the 1997 James Cameron film that came from it. Ugghhh.

8. The 1990's

Right off the bat, this decade has it's good points. First off, I met and married my lovely wife near the end of said decade. Secondly, there's the rising up of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, the two best damn filmmakers working today. Then we also have eight years of Bill Clinton, the best damn President of modern times (trying his best to erase the twelve terrible years of the Reagan/Bush era), as well as the rise of the interwebs, without which you would not be reading this. So there. Unfortunately, the 1990's also gave us Britney Spears, The Spice Girls, the rise of the boy band, and a buttload of other bad music. I mean a BUTTLOAD!! Yeah, we also got Nirvana, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins, so I guess it's a wash, musically speaking, but there really was a lot of crap on the radio during the 90's. A LOT OF CRAP!! And hey, we also got Friends and Seinfeld. But then again, we also got Full House and Family Matters. Again, a wash. But let's face it, even though there were many great things happening in the 90's (The Yankees winning four championships, The Simpsons at the beginning of the decade, Family Guy at the end, Wong Kar-Fucking-Wai, the best damn filmmaker in the world) there was a lot of political bullshit happening around the world, as well as the Republican witch hunt against Bill Clinton. Bastards! And we also had Rob Liefeld drawing the most ridiculous looking superheroes over at Marvel. But then, as I started with, I met and married my lovely wife during this decade, so that keeps it going a bit higher than it would otherwise. 'nuff said, let's move on.

7. The 1900's

Marie Curie discovered radioactivity. Einstein came up with his theory of special relativity. L. Frank Baum published the first of his Oz books. Georges Milies directed A Trip to the Moon and Edwin S. Porter made The Great Train Robbery. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. Picasso produced Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which heralded the birth of modern art. Puccini's Tosca debuts in Rome. The first World Series happened. These are some pretty stellar things to all happen in a single decade. We also had the San Francisco fire of 1906, Mount Vesuvius erupting and destroying much of Naples, and about a dozen political assassinations, including the killing of President McKinley. This decade was a remarkable time - I am told. Again, I would have bit a bit young to recall myself. But this was the decade where man first flew. That's right, man fucking flew!! We also got the Victrola, the electric typewriter, and an early prototype jukebox. This was a time that the Victorian age was ending, and a new modern age was just starting to kick off it's shackles, and beginning to enjoy itself a bit. Yeah, yeah, we still had child labour in America, and women still couldn't vote - but really, are we any better today because these things changed? I kid. I kid. Don't send angry tweets. I am really just kidding. But seriously kids, this was a groundbreaking decade, even if it was still rather stone-agish. But we were growing, baby. We were growing...and rolling out the assembly line. Ha!

6. The 1970's

Now I know many people, possibly even most people around today, would put this decade near or at the bottom of such a list as this. But not me, baby. Not me!! All those other hater's reasons for loathing the 1970's are the exact same reasons I love the damn thing. Yes, I came of age in the 1980's, but my real childhood (from two to twelve) was spent on my big wheel (later replaced by a skateboard) flying through the decade of the leisure suit and disco. Just looking at my old school pictures, makes me see just how stylin' I was in my clothes choices, or actually my mother's clothes choices. From the sweater vests to the argyle and plaid, to the brightly coloured pants...oh wait, that's still how I dress to this day. So there ya go! The 70's also gave us The Godfather (and Godfather Part II), Nashville, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now, Cries and Whispers, Taxi Driver, Jaws, Star Wars, Annie Hall, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and many many more great films. In fact one could even say the 1970's were a second golden age in cinema. In fact, I did just say that. So there again!! Okay, perhaps there was a bit too much of that itchy, stifling polyester, and we did have Nixon after all, but we also had great music (Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Yes, Sabbath, Ramones, Blondie, The Clash, Patti Smith, Sex Pistols) and television (M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Charlie's Angels, and the original Saturday Night Live), as well as the creation of the "All-New" X-Men. Yeah, baby! The 1970's rock!!

5. The 1940's

Sure, there was that pesky whole world war thing, and there was Hitler, and Stalin, and all the terrible tragedies that came along with such things, but this era is strangely romanticized in our culture. From the great classic films of the time to the equally classic music, the 1940's may be the most romantic decade of the 20th Century. The 1940's gave us such great things as the microwave oven, the frisbee, the slinky, radar, and velcro. Yeah, it also gave us a terrible war, but such a romantic war. We had the Andrew Sisters and young Sinatra. We had John Ford and Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. We also had Powell/Pressburger and the 1948 release of The Red Shoes, my all-time favourite film. Yeah yeah, we had Hitler storming across Europe, but we also had Thor Hyerdahl crossing the Pacific on the Kon-Tiki. Yup, a great and romantic era in American history. Television was first making it's way into homes, and we had Citizen Kane and Casablanca on the big screen. We had Camus and Sartre. We had Arthur Miller and George Orwell. Okay, we had that evil bitch Ayn Rand too, but the good outweighed the literary grotesqueries. And really, how bad can a decade at war be (it was only the first half by the by) when you also have Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney? And hey, we got Captain America and Wonder Woman too.

4. The 1950's

The 1950's were a great era of change and prosperity. Well, at least for we white males. Otherwise, not so much. This was a decade that saw the post war generation rebuild their economy, and find all new home conveniences. We got passenger jets and a space program. Yeah, that one really worked out well. But with all this so-called prosperity (the Leave it to Beaver worldview) we also had racial inequality. But this is the decade it started getting "a little" better. We had a brave woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus, and we had nine brave children making their way to a new school. It was a great time of change, indeed, even if that change came with great struggle.  But, on a lighter note, as a die hard cinephile, this was the greatest decade in cinematic history. We had Sirk and and Wilder and Nick Ray, and Hitchcock at his peak. This was also the decade that gave us a little thing called Rock & Roll. The rise of Elvis and a brand new style of music was all the rage. We had Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. We had Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. We had James Dean and  Marilyn Monroe. We had J.D. Salinger and Allen Ginsberg. We had Sputnik and I Love Lucy. We had Wilma Rudolph and Rocky Marciano. Yeah, we had that whole Cold War thing too, but hey, how bad can a cold war be. It's the hot ones ya gotta worry about. 

3. The 1930's

You'd think a decade that was pretty much one long great depression wouldn't be as high up the list. But you'd be wrong. So so wrong. Let's look at all the good things about the 1930's. In cinema, you had the great filmic works of the pre-code age. Films such as Trouble in Paradise, Safe in Hell, and the original Scarface. Later on in the decade we had The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Stagecoach. In music we got Django Reinhardt and Robert Johnson, two of the greatest and most influential musicians ever. We also had the invention of Kodachrome, Scotch Tape, and the chocolate motherfuckin' chip cookie. The 1930's also gave us both Batman and Superman. We also had A Brave New World and As I Lay Dying. Swing and Gypsy Jazz came about, as did the Volkswagen Beetle. Let's just skip over the fact of it starting out as Nazi-mobile. We also got ourselves both the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge. Lotsa good stuff, huh? Okay, like I said we also had that whole Great Depression thing, and the start of WWII, but when you have everything from Louis Armstrong to Ub Iwerks to Judy Garland to Amelia Earhart to Babe Ruth to Jesse Owens to Greta Garbo to FDR, it turns out to be quite a fantastic decade, indeed.

2. The 1960's

So, this was the decade that gave the world me. That's gotta count for something, right? Seriously though, the 1960's have got to be the biggest decade of change since the revolutionary times of the 1910's. From the civil rights movement to the protests against the Vietnam War to the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Jack and Bobby Kennedy. In fact, pretty much everything changed. Literature was changed by the Beat Movement of the late 1950's and early 1960's. Kerouac, Ginsberg, and their kin, ruffled the waters good. In music you had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, and The Velvet Underground. And that's just scratching the surface. In cinema, you had the breaking down of the constrictive Production Code, and the birth of the New Hollywood of Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, and the rest of the Young Turks. We got Psycho and 2001. We got Bonnie and Clyde and Night of the Living Dead. We got the French New Wave and the arthouse hits of Antonioni, Fellini, and Bergman. We also had mini-skirts, bell bottoms, and all things tie-dye. We had the Summer of Love (the Summer in which I was born BTW) and such TV shows as Get Smart, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. So yeah, this is my second favourite decade. I mean, c'mon, we had Astroturf and the 8-Track, and men freakin' walking on the Moon! Yeah, baby!

1. The 1920's

And that brings us to the decade I would most want to live in. That's right kids, the Roaring Twenties. The economy was booming, Hollywood was raging, the speakeasy's were flowing, and the clubs were roaring. It was the Jazz Age! We had Hemingway and Faulkner. We had Dorothy Parker. We had the electric razor and the jukebox. We had George Gershwin and a bevvy of foxy flappers. The birth of sound cinema followed some of the greatest films in history. Films like The Gold Rush, Greed, Sunrise, and Battleship Potemkin. Did I mention the bevvy of foxy flappers. Yup, of all the women's looks of all the 20th Century, it is the bobbed hair, beaded dresses, and (let's face it) easy attitude of the flapper generation, that is the best of all the century. Just take a look at Louise Brooks for proof of that. An actress who's iconic 1920's hairstyle is similar to my own lovely wife's current hairstyle. So there! In fact I cannot think of a single bad thing from the 1920's. Okay, perhaps that is a bit of hyperbole on my part. We did have that whole stock market crash, but really, the decade was pretty much over by then, and prohibition just made drinking seem cooler and more fun. Before that we had James Joyce giving us Ulysses, Franz Kafka giving us The Trial, and even A.A. Milne giving us our first look at Winnie the Freakin' Pooh. We also saw Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium, the house that he built, come into their own. In fact 1927 and the New York Yankees gave us what is probably the greatest single baseball team of all time. Oh, and Pez was invented too. Howzabout that!? What can I say, I'm a 1920's kinda guy. Did I mention the bevvy of foxy flappers?

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Film Review: Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past

I think that the biggest complaint fanboys have about their comics being made into movies, is how much is changed from floppy book to silver screen. And yes, many things, ofttimes pretty major things, do get switched up in the book-to-screen adaptation process. Storylines change, characters are given new origins, the continuity of the comics timeline is inevitable skewed. Any self-respecting comic book fan knows full well that the original X-Men were Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, and Marvel Girl, aka the ever-dying Miss Jean Grey. Such a thing has never been the case in Marvel's movie universe, and that is just fine. Much in the same manner as the TV version of The Walking Dead not following Robert Kirkman's original comic book (yeah ladies, Daryl Dixon isn't even in the comics), the filmed versions of the Marvel Universe do not easily follow their comic book counterparts. So basically, films like The Avengers, Captain America, and The X-Men films (as well as Batman and Superman over at DC), are alternate realities, and should be seen as such. With that said, let's get on with just what makes this latest alternate reality Marvel superhero movie tick tick tick.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the most iconic stories in X-history. Spanning just two issues back in 1981 (back when there was just one X-Men comic book floating around, as opposed to the six trillion or so different X-titles on shelves today) it is the story of a dystopian future where most mutants have been either murdered or enslaved. The few remaining X-Men devise a plane wherein Rachel Summers, the future daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, uses her mental powers to send Kitty Pryde, now an aged Katherine Pryde, back into her teenage body in order to warn the X-Men of 1981 as to what their future holds. As to the aforementioned changing of comic book storylines, it is now Kitty (no longer an aged version, but being played by Ellen Page looking just like Ellen Page who does the sending back (still not sure how she is able to perform this feat though) and it is Wolverine being sent back. After all, Wolverine being Wolverine, and star Hugh Jackman being star Hugh Jackman, it only makes sense that he is the so-called focal point of this story. Rachel by the way, is nowhere to be seen, but again this makes sense since her being Scott and Jean's daughter might just confuse the lay-viewer. So anyway, in this version of the story, Wolverine is sent back by Charles Xavier and Magneto (played in a bit of old age make-up by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, reprising their roles from the original X-Men trilogy) in order to convince their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, reprising their roles from the best of the X-movies, X-Men: First Class) to do something to save their future from becoming the hell it has become.

Now although this new film does not have quite the same air of style First Class had, there are quite a few fun moments to be had. Granted, Jackman just sort of stands around, never really doing anything other than maybe collecting a fat paycheck, and the mutants of the future are sadly underused (more Colossus! More Storm! More Bishop, dammit!!), but McAvoy and Fassbender, along with Jennifer Lawrence, once again playing the blue-skinned Mystique, and Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, aka Beast, more than make up for their co-stars lack of definition. The big surprise here though, is the addition of Quicksilver. As a fanboy of my own, my biggest worry going into Bryan Singer's film, was that of Evan Peters' portrayal of Quicksilver. With the strangeness of this character being used both here (though unable to mention that the guy was once an Avenger) and in the new Avengers movie (where no one can mention he is a mutant and the son of Magneto - though there is a fun quip about that in the film) who knows who would have the better mutant speedster. Well, my apprehensions were put to rest once Peters came on the screen. Let's just say that his criminally little amount of time on the screen were some of the best moments of the whole damn film. More Quicksilver, dammit!! Yup, that's about all I have to say about that. Keeping the spoilers in check, I'll just leave it at that, and close by saying that this may not be the best superhero movie, but it sure ain't the worst. How's that for playing the middle of the road. And yes, Singer himself uses the middle of the road in the making of this film, which is probably why this picture is not as good as Matthew Vaughn's First Class, but still manages to hold up better than most. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Classic Cinema Corner: The Rollickin' Good Times of Joseph H. Lewis' Whirlwind On the Run B-Flick Masterpiece Gun Crazy

Jean-Luc Godard famously said that all you need for a good movie is a girl and a gun. For all we know, the Nouvelle Vague director was imagining Joseph H. Lewis' 1950 B-Picture, Gun Crazy, when he spoke these words. It would make more than perfect sense if he were, especially considering he and his compatriots' love of American film noir. I suppose though, that in the case of Gun Crazy, one could give top billing to the gun, not the girl. Yes, the girl, played by that smokin' blonde hot-to-trot, flash-in-the-pan Irish actress Peggy Cummins, is your quintessential femme fatale, and it was her genre-specific wiles that caused bad boy Bart (lead John Dall) to take up a life of robbing banks and running from the law, but really it is the gun, or in this case the many guns, that make both of these characters go all wobbly in the lower middle. Sam Adams of the Philadelphia City Paper wrote of the film, "The codes of the time prevented Lewis from being explicit about the extent to which their fast-blooming romance is fueled by their mutual love of weaponry, but when Cummins' six-gun dangles provocatively as she gasses up their jalopy, it's clear what really fills their collective tank." I think that pretty much says it all - but let's go on anyway.

After a prologue featuring Russ Tamblyn as a teenaged Bart, made to explain the character's unnatural and inevitably tragic attraction to guns, Bart, now played by Dall, meets up with Cummins' Annie Laurie Starr at a sideshow carnival. Cummins, dressed in the most wet dream inducing of cowgirl outfits, replete with skin tight pants and dangling gun belt, goes mano y mano with Dall's smitten young man on the stage of her shilled marksmanship show. As these two take William Tell shots at each other, their fingers fondling their revolvers, their lusting eyes glistening with obvious desire, we become acutely aware that these two people want to shoot more than just guns at each other. With innuendo somehow getting past the censors of the day (though I am sure they could have gone even further if the code had not still been in effect), this run amok romp of guns and guns and more "guns," was pure sex. Of course, when the director, in an interview in Cult Films by Danny Peary, explains his directions as thus: "I told John, 'Your cock's never been so hard,' and I told Peggy, 'You're a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don't let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting.' That's exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn't have to give them more directions." How could this not be a film that was pure (censors willing) sex?

Since its initial release, the film, which not so incidentally was scripted by the then blacklisted Dalton Trumbo whose name was eventually and rightfully re-added to the credits many years later, has become a cult favourite. It's most important influence would be upon Arthur Penn, who took what Lewis did in Gun Crazy, and ripped it to glorious pieces in his code-shattering 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde. Appropriately so, since the latter film is the story of a pair of real life bank robbers (and sexually charged gun enthusiasts) upon whom Gun Crazy was loosely based on in the first place.  Lewis' original 1950 film lent a lot to Penn's iconic sixties film. Its use of on location shooting and improvised dialogue, much of the film seemingly (and brilliantly) made up on the spot (in order to give it more of a frenzied realism, the bank robbing scene was shot without the knowledge of any of the passersby on the scene), were huge influences on Penn, and for that matter many other filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, who has made allusions to the film on more than one filmic occasion, and of course the aforementioned French New Wavers, especially Godard who used it as a template for much of his debut Breathless

Dall and Cummins would never have the kind of film career one could call breakthrough or even overly successful.  Dall, known primarily for his stage work, had back to back successes with this film and Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, where he played Farley Granger's more cool minded partner in crime.  Still though, this was more than what the curvy Cummins is known for. Gun Crazy was Cummins only truly significant film work, and she has lived in the United Kingdom in contented retirement since 1961. But the impact these two made in a film like Gun Crazy will live on forever. After all, gun crazed as a boy or not, what red-blooded American lad could successfully fend off the advances, or even want to, of someone like Peggy Cummins' Annie Laurie Starr, no matter how tragic one knows the end circumstances to inevitably be? After all, the film has an alternate title of Deadly is the Female, so none of Cummins' alluringly deadly come-hitherness should come as any surprise. I suppose, in the end, Godard was right about needing just a girl and a gun to make a movie - and Joseph H. Lewis makes one hell of a B-flick, pop art motion picture out of these two things. Oh, and a whole lot of sexual tension to boot. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Heavenly Body of the Week: Titan, Moon of Saturn

"My name is Thanos, and my name means death." - Thanos of Titan (created by Jim Starlin)

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Film Review: Gareth Edwards' Godzilla

Sure, the CGI in Gareth Edwards' Godzilla reboot is dead on spectacular, but my heart will always belong to Ishiro Honda's original 1954 classic, and that guy in the rubber suit. Of course, none of this heartfelt nostalgia for a sixty year old film (I do tend to go the classic route, after all) means I did not thrill at this brand new Godzilla - because I did. This is something like the 32nd Godzilla movie (28 by Toho, two US retreads, and a pair of honest to goodness American versions - one of whom we should probably not speak) and through all the battles with Mothra and Hedorah and Mechagodzilla and even King Kong, this latest version is probably the best one since the original. So there.

Edwards, whose only prior feature film was the wonderfully melancholy super indie 2010 film, Monsters, where he acted as writer, director, cinematographer, production designer, and special effects artist, brings a sort of early to mid career Steven Spielberg-esque quality to his new monster movie. Much in the same manner as J.J. Abrams' Super 8, another film, and filmmaker, highly influenced by Spielberg, and Spielberg's own Jurassic Park, Edwards' starts out his film with tease after tease, never actually giving us a clear shot of the titular big guy until at least an hour into the action. This lengthy anticipation serves to give the film a palpable air of tension, though sometimes the somewhat tedious, and rather obvious script can drag it down a bit (Come on guys, why does no one ever listen to the crackpot scientist? Have you never seen a sci-fi movie before?). All the time, making us wonder just when the hell is the goddamn monster going to show up. Oh boy though, when he does finally come out of hiding, we get to see why he has been named the King of the Freakin' Monsters.

So, as Edwards' slow burn edges closer and closer to the reveling of that big guy we have all been waiting for, we are all hoping the pay off is worth the wait. And let me tell ya'll - it most certainly is. The final forty minutes or so of this movie is what one would (and should) call quite spectacular of an action-packed brouhaha. The battle we get for the film's finale (and no spoilers wanted, so I won't go into much detail) is one of the best any self-respecting monster movie aficionado could hope for. Pretty much non-stop at this point, Edwards' closing battle royale is right up there where one would expect something influenced by the popcorn early days of Spielberg to be. And then there is the actual ending. Once the smoke clears and the survivors are rescued, we get the ending that we the viewers (and Godzilla himself) deserves. Oh yeah, and there are some pretty good actors hanging around too (all with varying degrees of success - sorry Kick-Ass, but you are so good in other things, so don't sweat it), but they pale in comparison to the big ass freakin' monster. Godzilla really is the star here - and he makes the most of his screen time. That's for sure.

Monday, May 19, 2014

When We Was Fab: The 10 Best Fifth Beatles

They were the Beatles. There was John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and then there was that rotating fifth member of the Fab Four. Never an official member of the band, but always there somewhere. Dozens of people have been called the Fifth Beatle throughout the years. From former band mates to managers, producers, fellow musicians, and even a wife or two, have been called the Fifth Beatle. Hell, there was even a deejay who was dubbed the Fifth Beatle, by George Harrison, but more on him a little later. Anyhoo, we should probably get on with this super-stuffed list. Wait, what? Yup, that's right folks, this list - this top ten list - actually has fifteen members. So, without further ado, let's get on with our countdown.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

Special Mention: Clarence Walker

In a 1983 episode of Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy played a character name Clarence Walker, a man who claimed to be the one true Fifth Beatle. This obvious fictionalized Fifth Beatle (and he sure ain't no Rutle, dammit!) may not get this guy onto the list proper, but it sure is enough to get him a special mention, so here he is. Now let's get on with the countdown...

10. Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, Derek Taylor

I am guessing that only the die hard Beatles fans know who these three guys are. For those non die hards in the audience, they were the band's personal assistant, road manager, and press agent, respectively. Aspinall, who went from road manager to personal assistant, was actually a school chum of Paul and George. Mal Evans, who took over as road manager when Aspinall was promoted to P.A., would eventually go onto become a record producer. He produced, among others, Badfinger, a band put together by Paul McCartney. Meanwhile, Taylor would go on to become a big wig at Apple Records. So yeah, these guys were important.

9. Jimmie Nicol

Ringo has always been a rather sickly boy. Both as a child and as an adult. He even had to leave India early during the band's rather famous visit to the sub-continent before making The White Album, all due to getting sick on the food. Poor guy. Anyway, during the band's first world tour, Ringo got sick and had to be temporarily replaced (on the European leg of the tour) as drummer. That temporary replacement was a chap named Jimmie Nicol. He's the guy on the right. Apparently the other three guys were not all that happy. As the stories go, John and Paul were pleasant enough to the guy, but George was downright mean to the poor hapless schmuck. Ringo (obviously) eventually rejoined the tour, and Nicol was sent on his way with 500 quid and a nice gold watch. Good riddance, buddy.

8. Tony Sheridan

Tony Sheridan was a relatively big name in music back in the early sixties. Relatively. He would tour Europe with rotating back-up bands. One of these band's was (of course) The Beatles. In 1962, he put out an album (released just in Germany at the time) under the name Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers. Apparently the name Beatles was too close to the German slang word for penis, so it was changed to The Beat Brothers. The album consisted of standards and classics mostly. I used to own the cassette tape - remember those? I suppose I don't have to tell you that The Beat, The Beatles, eventually outshone Mr. Sheridan, but his contribution the band's success should not be forgotten.

7. Eric Clapton

When George was laying down tracks for While My Guitar Gently Weeps, he thought his single solo guitar sounded a bit weak. So, he called in pal Eric Clapton to beef it all up. Clapton and Harrison would stay BFF's until the day George left us - even through Clapton marrying George's ex, Pattie Boyd. Ya know the song Layla? Yeah, that's about Pattie Boyd. So is Wonderful Tonight. George did attend the wedding though. I mean, what could he say? The reason Pattie left him in the first place, was because he was sleeping with Ringo's first wife, Maureen. Yeah, what a tangled web indeed. Anyhoo, Clapton would go on to become one of the few people to record with all four former Beatles on their solo projects.

6. Murray the K

As the story goes, either George or Ringo (no one is really sure which) had jokingly dubbed this New York DJ, The Fifth Beatle, most likely due to their many interviews with the guy (he was the first DJ to interview the band after they arrived in the states in February of '64). Murray would take it further by being one of the few people who actually promoted himself as such. He would call himself The Fifth Beatle in a lot of his radio promotion gigs. Not bad work, if you can get it.

5. Billy Preston

 Apart from the aforementioned Tony Sheridan, Billy Preston is the only musician to officially get billing on a Beatles Album - and since Sheridan's billing was because he was the bigger name at the time, that means Billy Preston is the only musician to be willingly given credit on a Beatles album. In case you were curious, it was on the song Get Back where it is credited as The Beatles with Billy Preston. Hell, not even Clapton got past a mention in the liner notes of The White Album, right there with the studio musicians. So take that Slowhand! Of course, Billy Preston (as far as we know) never got to sleep with Pattie Boyd, so let's just call it even, and leave it at that.

4. Stu Sutcliffe, Pete Best, Klaus Voorman

It has always been John, Paul, and George, but as any self-respecting Beatles fan knows, Ringo came along later. The original drummer for the band was Pete Best. Supposedly, John and Paul didn't like that Pete got all the girls, so dumped him for another Liverpudlian drummer by the name of Richie Starkey. That guy wore a lot of rings. Best would later go on to record albums and go on tour as Best of the Beatles. Ha! Stuart Sutcliffe was a good friend of John's, and would travel with the band, supposedly playing stand up bass. He really wasn't all that good at it, and mostly faked playing. John just liked having his bestie around. Stu would eventually quit the group to go back to art school, but later he would tragically die of a brain aneurism, stemming from getting beat up by some Teddy Boys in Hamburg in his Beatles days. Then you have Klaus Voorman.Klaus played bass guitar for the band during their Hamburg days, and stayed friends with the band throughout their career. Hell, he was even briefly thought of as a replacement for Paul, when McCartney announced he was quitting. Obviously this never happened, as the other three band mates decided to call it quits as well. Voorman would later go on to play on pretty much every solo album released by Lennon, Harrison, and Starr. Apparently, Paul still had some hard feelings.

3. Yoko Ono

Here's the spot that is going to piss some people off. Well, too fucking bad. I like Yoko. Hell, I love Yoko! So there!! That's right all you Yoko Ono haters out there. She did not break up The Beatles. They did that themselves. What Yoko Ono did do, was love John Lennon, and influence his music and his songwriting. In fact, she became the biggest influence on Lennon's work, and the band's final few albums show that influence. Granted, the other members of the band may have been bothered by this new interloper, but they all came to actually respect the woman. She and Paul are good friends now. So there!

2. George Martin

Sure, The Beatles were great songwriters, and top notch musicians, but the man who put all that together and made it sound the way it sounded on their records, was George Martin, record producer extraordinaire - and this is why he is one of the most important of all those people who have been given the moniker of The Fifth Beatle. Martin was the one who turned all those great songs into the hit records we all know and love so much to this very day. Not to mention his orchestrations and brilliance at putting such disparate types of music together. Oh, and he was an impeccable dresser as well. But now, let us move on to the number one Fifth Beatle...

1. Brian Epstein

No matter how talented The Beatles were, that talent could have very easily gone unnoticed if it were not for a certain music entrepreneur from Liverpool, England. Epstein was the man who transformed this rag tag band into the superstars we know and love. Multiple record companies passed on the band, but Epstein never gave up, and finally got them a record deal. Giving them their trademark mop tops, and the suits they wore at the beginning of their fame, Epstein is, pure and simple, the number one reason that we even know who The Beatles are today. So important was Epstein's contribution in making The Beatles, The Beatles, his death in 1967, was truly the beginning of the end for the band. There was even a 2013 graphic novel about Epstein, called appropriately enough, The Fifth Beatle. The movie version begins filming later this year. Paul, when asked to summarize the importance of Epstein, said, "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian." Ya can't argue with that.

That's it gang. Se ya 'round the web.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Heavenly Body of the Week: Melancholia

"The Earth is evil.  We don't need to grieve for it." - Justine (Kirsten Dunst) in Lars von Trier's Melancholia

That's it gang.  See ya 'round the web.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Well Deserved Break, and Things to Come...

So, after writing 35 posts in the past 41 days, I am taking a few days off. Okay, there will be the obligatory Heavenly Body of the Week in a couple days, but there will be no serious posts for at least five days, maybe even six. But not to worry faithful readers and true believers, for I will return in full freakin' force next week. You will get (spoiler alert!!) a fresh new film review or two (Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past), a brand new entry in The Great Albums Series (the late Miss Winehouse's Back to Black), another visit to the Classic Cinema Corner (Gun Crazy), the start of a brand new series titled The Alphabet Game, and lots lots lots more. There will also be a look at what Star Wars would have been if it had been something else. Wait, what? You'll get it in time. Don't worry. There will also be some fun comic book stuff, and maybe even a top ten or two. And this is just in my first week back. Well, except for the Star Wars thing. That's coming a little later. And don't forget to get your vote on in the current Beatles Album Poll. A poll that may just tie in with one of those aforementioned top tens. And, taking a longer look, there will be lots of fun new stuff coming to All Things Kevyn over the Summer, including a few surprise guest bloggers making some cameo appearances. And, before I go (for now), I would like to officially welcome aboard the new followers I got when I participated in last month's A to Z Challenge. Glad to have ya around, and hope ya stay a while. Anyhoo, that's it gang (for now). See ya 'round the web. Be back soon. Now here's a pic of the Fantastic Four on holiday. Enjoy.