June 25, 2015

RIP Patrick Macnee 1922 - 2015

Another day, another warm and familiar face lost to time: Patrick Macnee, John Steed in "The Avengers" television series, passed away today at the age of 93 .

From Variety:
Patrick Macnee, famous for his role on "The Avengers" British TV series, died Thursday of natural causes at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93. Macnee, who played John Steed in the spy-fi show, died with his family at his bedside. "Wherever he went, he left behind a trove of memories," a statement on the actor’s website read. "Patrick Macnee was a popular figure in the television industry. He was at home wherever in the world he found himself. He had a knack for making friends, and keeping them."

"A successful cover almost becomes second nature."
I'll always treasure his performance as Sir Godfrey Tibbett in the Roger Moore James Bond outing A View to a Kill. His easy chemistry with Moore made their scenes a highlight of the film as Moore and Macnee went undercover as an upper-crust British horse racing enthusiast and his loyal servant. This was his third time paired with Moore as Macnee played Dr. Watson to Moore's Sherlock Holmes in the television movie "Sherlock Holmes in New York" in 1976 and they appeared as part of the allstar cast in The Sea Wolves in 1981. Macnee also played Watson to Sir Christopher Lee's Sherlock Holmes in two 1980s tele-movies.

When I was a kid, Patrick Macnee was one of the faces and voices of modern Great Britain (just as, to me, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were the image of Britain's Victorian past) due to starring in "The Avengers," an import that landed on ABC's prime time schedule and which I saw in reruns throughout the 70s. He was all over American TV in the 70s and 80s, appearing in everything from "Columbo" to "The Virginian" to "Frasier," plus showed a flair for comedy in the feature films This is Spinal Tap and The Howling.

Rest in peace.


RIP James Horner, composer, 1953 - 2015

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the tragic death earlier this week of Academy Award winning film composer James Horner from a private plane crash. Horner scored an enormous number of huge Hollywood hits including Titanic, Braveheart, Star Trek II, Avatar, Field of Dreams, 48 Hours, and many more. Here's a sampling of some of his most noted works:

June 24, 2015

Ray Harryhausen's Best Scene?

Just caught One Million Years B.C. on TCM. It looked like a very nice new high definition transfer of the longer UK cut so I hope that bodes well for a forthcoming Blu-ray release. In thinking about it, the attack on the camp by the baby Allosaurus may be my favorite scene in all of Ray Harryhausen's work:

Ray often said that the skeleton fights in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts were his favorites.

How about you?


For HorrorGirl:

June 17, 2015

Father's Day Movie Treats in New York on 6/21

Are you a Dad? Do you know a Dad? Then check out these, uh, interesting selections playing at two noted venues in New York this coming Sunday - Father's Day - June 21:

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is hosting an all day marathon called "Bad Dads" starting at 2:00 pm. Showing are Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Stepfather (the 1987 original version), and The Devil's Advocate, which features Al Pacino's most subtle and controlled performance of his entire career.


If those don't grab you, the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens is hosting three showings on Sunday, called "Horror Father's Day," starting at 2:00 pm with Charles Laughton's  Night of the Hunter, moving on to Georges Franju's Eyes without a Face, and finally closing with Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

A perfect family film Sunday in New York. For the Manson family.

June 14, 2015

Show Report: 3-D Rarities and Hondo at the Museum of Modern Art's "3-D Summer"

June 10, 1915 saw the first public exhibition of stereoscopic motion pictures, it took place at the Astor Theatre in New York City. 100 years later, on June 13, 2015, New York City's Museum of Modern Art opened a three-week long film exhibition called "3-D Summer". As the saying goes, you've come a long way, baby.


The show: 3-D Summer at the Museum of Modern Art: a celebration of the Centennial of 3-D Motion Pictures. This series was organized by Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art. Screenings held at MoMA's Roy & Niuta Titus Theatre 2 featuring Christie Digital Projection and the Dolby 3-D system.

Arriving around 3:30 at the Museum for the 4:30 show of 3-D Rarities, there was already a decent-size crowd gathering. From running classic films for over 10 years at the Lafayette Theatre I built up a pretty good sense of how an audience is going to shape up and was not at all surprised by the anticipation these folks were feeling. I did recognize some people there who had been regulars at my shows so I knew the event was drawing people from far and wide. I met up with the 3-D Film Archives' head honcho Bob Furmanek, the Archives' Technical Director Greg Kintz, John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows (Executive Producer of 3-D Rarities), and the Archives' Associate Producer Jack Theakston. Bob also introduced me to to the Museum's Adjunct Film Curator, Dave Kehr, who I was delighted to finally meet after reading his New York Times columns for so many years. The upper lobby quickly filled and we headed downstairs to MoMA's Theatre #2, which has a capacity of just over 200 people. While I was further chatting with Bob, Dave came by and told us that the last ticket had been sold and this was now officially a sell-out. Not a bad start at all. Unlike many museum shows, which contain a lot of museum patrons and gallery visitors, this audience was composed primarily of film and 3-D fans.

(L to R) Greg Kintz, Bob Furmanek, Dave Kehr,
John McElwee, Jack Theakston
First up was the East Coast premiere of 3-D Rarities, which contains 94 minutes of rarely seen short films saved and preserved by the 3-D Film Archive. Courtesy of Bob, I had seats in a prime location - about eight rows up and just off the center of the screen. The sight lines in this theatre are good, it's got a fairly steep rake so the viewing angles are ideal. By the time the show was to begin the theatre was filled to capacity and Dave brought Bob up to the microphone to give an introduction to the program. This introduction was an essential part of the show as it put the origin and purpose of many of these shorts in the proper context. Seeing them cold with no foreknowledge wouldn't be half as much fun.

Early 3-D test footage
(courtesy 3-D Film Archive)
Starting with the earliest surviving stereoscopic film from 1922 and continuing through 1953's "Boo Moon", the sequencing is a delight. Presented in chronological order, the shorts painted a unique image of how filmmakers viewed the possibilities of stereoscopic cinema. There was a terrific reception to the early test scenes - many of which featured scores of huge off-screen effects - as well as a wild ride on Riverside Drive and a visit to Coney Island's Thunderbolt roller coaster. Always a audience favorite, "New Dimensions" (aka "Motor Rhythm") got a very strong round of applause as did "M.L. Gunzburg Presents Natural Vision 3-Dimension" - which features not only the human presence of Lloyd Nolan (cutaways of him listening intently to an ophthalmologist explain how eyesight works are a treasure) and Miss USA Shirley Tegge (with her own brand of 3-Dimension), but the antics of the original Beany & Cecil puppets as well.

Lloyd Nolan and Shirley Tegge
(courtesy 3-D Film Archive)
From there, we moved into several trailers and another audience favorite, "Stardust in Your Eyes," which features music and comedy performer Slick Slavin doing impersonations of Hollywood greats in 3-D. This is another short that always gets a great audience reaction and delighted the museum crowd. Next up was the sobering "Doom Town", a rarely-seen and rather downbeat piece about a reporter's visit to an atomic bomb test outside of Las Vegas.

Fortunately, we moved into more entertaining avenues with the
Puppetoon-style "The Adventures of Sam Space", the racy-for-its-time "I'll Sell My Shirt" vaudeville short and concluded with "Boo Moon," a stunning cartoon featuring Casper the Friendly Ghost. When it began I could hear several audience members singling along with the theme song. There's something to be said about shared memory there.

All in all, the 3-D Rarities show was a huge success.Urge your local classic cinema to contact Flicker Alley and arrange to show it as these shorts are best seen BIG. If that's not possible, the next best thing is the Blu-ray release as it contains all of the above plus nearly 60 additional minutes of material, including animations from the National Film Board of Canada plus much more. Order from Amazon and wherever Blu-rays are sold, or direct from Flicker Alley HERE.

3-D Rarities credits:
3-D Restoration – Greg Kintz
Producer – Bob Furmanek
Associate Producer – Jack Theakston
Executive Producer – John McElwee, Greenbriar Picture Shows


After a brief break, and a look at some of the Museum's current Scorsese Collects movie poster displays (gorgeous), it was time to head back for John Wayne in Hondo. Contrary to myth, Hondo had one of the widest 3-D releases of any film from the Golden Age, including a smashing three week run at New York's 3600-seat Paramount Theater. But it's rarely been revived in 3-D and last night's MoMA audience got to experience something special as this is the first time in over 60 years that Hondo has played in Manhattan in 3-D. Even though there have been any number of 3-D festivals in the area since the late 1970's, Hondo was not among the titles screened at them. The film's owners, BATJAC Productions (the John Wayne estate) gave Hondo a photo-chemical preservation in 1994 and then a new digital restoration, clean-up and alignment was completed on it in 2013. For a fully detailed look at its history, I highly recommend this article over at the 3-D Film Archive's website: The 3-D Release of HONDO

Once again, the theatre's lobby filled quickly and a long line of eager ticket-holders formed with a lot of repeat customers from the Rarities show. Dave Kehr opened the show with some brief introductory notes and then presented BATJAC's Gretchen Wayne (wife of the late Micheal Wayne and now the custodian of the Wayne estate) who further detailed the problems they faced bringing Hondo back to 3-D life.

The film itself is terrific, a very solid western with a particularly strong performance by Wayne. His scenes in the first third with Geraldine Page are a delight and shows just how good an actor he could be with the right material. The later action scenes are expertly done and the story gathers to a very satisfying conclusion. Technically, the film is superb - one of the most natural-looking of all the 3-D films from that time with an exceptional use of screen space and depth and a minimum of off-screen gimmick shots (arrows, knives, etc.). There are a number of shots in the film that are not in 3-D due to camera malfunctions while shooting on location, but the digital work they've performed keeps it from becoming a distraction.

Again, as with 3-D Rarities, the audience greeted the conclusion of the film with a sustained round of applause. Sadly, there are no plans for Hondo to get a Blu-ray 3-D release, your only chance to see it the way its makers intended will be at one of the upcoming MoMA screenings - the schedule is HERE.

June 11, 2015

RIP Sir Christopher Lee (1922 - 2015)

More information at the Telegraph

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing

A sad day to learn that one of my favorite actors has passed away, but heartening to know he led a full and long life. Sir Christopher Lee, along with his fellow Hammer colleague Peter Cushing, OBE, was one of the reasons I became a film fan and collector back in the 1970s. It was great to see him have a huge late career renaissance with appearances in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and two of the Star Wars prequels. I will miss him.

June 9, 2015

Classic 3-D Movie Events This Week in New York & California

Here's a quick update with some information about two amazing classic film events going on this weekend featuring 3-D films from the Golden Age and beyond. Be sure to click the links for the websites to get a complete listing. I know the shows at New York's Museum of Modern Art are a selling quickly, so get a ticket while you can.

HondoMuseum of Modern Art, New York City

Saturday brings us the start of Dave Kehr's curated series "3-D Summer" (running through July 4), which celebrates the 100th Anniversary of 3-D motion pictures with three superb film treasures that must been seen on the big screen. I'll be covering Saturday's East Coast Premiere of Flicker Alley & the 3-D Film Archive's 3-D Rarities and John Wayne in Hondo (its first 3-D showing in New York since 1954); Bob Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive will be introducing the Rarities show and Gretchen Wayne will present Hondo. Watch this space next week for the post. Sunday the 14th features a newly-restored presentation of the musical favorite Kiss Me Kate. There are a number of showtimes for these three films during the festival and I urge you to try and catch one or all.

3-D RaritiesAmerican Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre, Santa Monica, California
Don't feel left out, California. You've got an entire weekend of dimensional entertainment to yourselves as the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre presents "The Golden Age of 3-D" in a whirlwind four day event that begins on Thursday, June 11 with the West Coast premiere of 3-D Rarities (with an in-person appearance by Slick Slavin!) paired on a double bill with Arch Oboler's The Bubble (restored by the 3-D Film Archive). Also on tap Friday through Sunday are double bills with such classics as House of Wax, The Mad Magician, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, Kiss Me Kate, Miss Sadie Thompson, and Inferno. If I was in California, I know where I'd be this weekend.

It's time to put on your 3-D Magic Glasses and see a show,
Beany & Cecil would approve.

If you can't see one of the 3-D Rarities shows in person, order the Blu-ray from Flicker Alley HERE. It appears that Hondo will remain unavailable on a 3-D Blu-ray.

June 8, 2015

Escape from the Bird Man of Alcatraz

Yes, I know. It's a cornball wordplay headline.

I watched these two movies over the past week and they present an interesting look at heroes and anti-heroes. You can tell even just by looking at the trailers (see below). Both are really well done films with terrific performances, both present prison as a place you should never want to go, both play a little loose with the facts. And both are products of their time: Bird Man from 1962 and Escape from 1979.

What you don't want to do is read about the real Robert Stroud, the Bird Man of Alcatraz. The movie makes him a kindly, troubled soul. The real story, as it often is, is far different. This was one bad dude in real life. Escape's Frank Morris isn't presented with complete accuracy either, but the film makers don't gloss over his life of crime. For more on the real Stroud, go HERE. For more on the real Frank Morris' escape, go HERE.

June 2, 2015

Quick Reviews: The Andromeda Strain, The Frozen Dead, Used Cars, It - The Terror from Beyond Space

Four random reviews on tap today of some stuff that's been lighting up my home screen in the last several weeks.

"The Andromeda Strain": Robert Wise's film version of Michael Crichton's best-selling novel remains an engrossing science fiction tale. Told realistically and soberly with a non-star cast, Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding create an atmosphere of scientific competence undone by arrogance and human error. Even after multiple viewings the film still generates enormous suspense through to its climax. Universal released this on Blu-ray back in February as a Best Buy exclusive with very little fanfare, it will be available to other retailers beginning in July. The picture transfer is serviceable but might very well be the same older HD master that was created for the special edition DVD from 2003 but with the benefit of Blu-ray's higher resolution and color space. The mono audio is better than the DVD, showcasing Gil Melle's weird electronic score. Extras (duplicated from the special edition DVD) include a "Making of", a "Portrait of Michael Crichton" featurette, and the theatrical trailer. Recommended at the low price point, but not a particularly huge upgrade over the DVD.

I don't see the problem
"The Frozen Dead": Dana Andrews stars in Herbert J. Leder's notorious shocker about an ex-Nazi scientist who is charged with bringing key officers of the Third Reich back to life. You see, the Nazis froze them for later revival when it appeared the war was lost. Sounds like a plan to me. Filled with repulsive imagery (at least, as much as they could get away with in 1966) including severed limbs, mutilated faces, a severed talking head, brain-damaged soldiers, lurid color, and a totally straight performance by Andrews, The Frozen Dead is a must see. That is if that sort of thing appeals to you. Beautiful High Definition stream on the Warner Archive Instant channel, also available on DVD. Recommended, but don't say you weren't warned.

"It! The Terror from Beyond Space": Often cited as one of the inspirations (alongside Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires" and others) for "Alien", this film from 1958 takes only 69 minutes to tell almost the same story. But it's actually much more than just an inspiration. Within its obvious budgetary limitations it tells a straight-forward horror/science fiction story and layers on the suspense. Sure, the special effects are dated and the monster is effective only when kept in shadows, but director Edward L. Cahn (and who thought he would ever have a film on Blu-ray) and writer Jerome Bixby keep a good grip on the audience. Finally seen in its proper widescreen ratio, "It" looks a lot better now than it did on the old full frame TV prints and videos. The lone extra on this is a very poor looking trailer. The Blu-ray from Olive Films is a significant upgrade over the old MGM DVD and is Highly Recommended for fans, others approach with the caution reserved for low-budget and unpretentious science fiction.

Your next State Senator
"Used Cars": Twilight Time has released this Blu-ray of the hilarious 1980 Robert Zemeckis comedy starring Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Frank McRae, Deborah Harmon, and Gerrit Graham. Made in an era when comedies weren't forced into being politically correct, Used Cars's simplistic plot involves twin brothers, their rival used car lots, a long-estranged daughter, political shenanigans, and a scheme involving massive free - and highly illegal - television advertising. Filled with plenty of quotable moments, a bevy of lewd and crude scenes, plus a romance that is (almost) sweet, Used Cars was a cable TV staple throughout the early 1980s and is fondly remembered to this day. The Blu-ray is a stunner: wonderful 1.85 widescreen picture, solid audio (offered in both the original theatrical mono and a newly remixed 5.1 surround track) and it has a nice selection of extra features: an isolated score track, an unused score track, audio commentary with director Zemeckis, writer Bob Gale, and actor Kurt Russell, bloopers and out-takes, radio spots, trailers, and more. This Twilight Time release (available only from Screen Archives) is Highly Recommended for its fans and also lovers of non-PC comedy. You might feel a little guilty later, but you will have laughed at it while watching.