December 17, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve noted many times how World War II has been mined for cinematic purposes over the years, even to this day. It’s always seemed a shame that World War I – ‘The Great War’ – has so few big screen projects in comparison. Obviously, timing is a major reason. World War II ended in 1945, which means during our lifetime, many of those veterans have been able to record their experiences and memories. In contrast, 2018 marks the 100 year mark of the end of World War I, so the archival footage and documentation is significantly reduced – and sadly, much of it lost or destroyed over time. Because of this, we should treasure this latest from director Peter Jackson as he allows these WWI participants to come alive and tell their stories. But it’s more than historical significance … it’s truly fascinating to hear the words from those that were there.

Director Jackson is best known for his THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT trilogies, as well as his version of KING KONG (2005) … all “large scale” movies with ground-breaking CGI effects. For his latest, he gets much more personal and intimate, though the technical achievements are equally impressive. The first thing to note is that this film is not presented as a historical timeline detailing the political motivations or battle strategy of the various countries involved. Instead, we hear archival audio from dozens of soldiers who fought, and we see actual video clips and photographs – many we’ve never seen before. Mr. Jackson’s grandfather was a soldier in WWI, and the film’s focus is on the experience of the British soldiers.

Fittingly, the film begins with soldiers’ words playing over some of the faded and tattered war footage. These soldiers go unnamed as the goal is to have us understand the experience – what motivated them to enlist, and what it was like to serve on the battlefield. As we hear the words, the scale and clarity of the video transitions to full screen in vivid color … it’s breathtaking to see these figures become living, breathing, smiling young men from a century ago.

The words of these men fill us in on aspects of the war that most history books gloss over. Many of them “exaggerated” their ages so they could join their friends or relatives in the war. We learn about ‘plum and apple’ jam, stew, sipping water from gas cans, and the challenges presented when the ‘poop pole’ gets overloaded. The trenches are seen up close as mazes of mud (when not fully flooded) with cutouts for sleeping and cooking. We see proof of trench foot/gangrene due to the impossibility of proper sanitation, and we hear and see the constant threats of green gas, snipers and artillery shelling – and that’s on top of the relentless smell of death and infusion of rats.

This is about being a soldier … the ramifications of leaders deciding war is the best or only option. Director Jackson makes it personal, and a segment where the British soldiers mix with injured and captured German soldiers proves that these young men have more in common than not. They all just want to survive and go home to their loved ones.

Jackson co-produced the film with his wife Fran Walsh, and with the involvement of the Imperial War Museum and BBC. Controversy surrounds the colorization of archival footage. I would encourage anyone who feels this way to understand this is much different than bastardizing IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or CASABLANCA, where those directors purposefully lit scenes and sets based on the black and white filming process. Jackson is dealing with war footage from100 years ago, much of it by war photographers or soldiers. The purpose is to cause the people and horrific settings to come alive for those who have never connected with WWI – preserving The Great War for personal and historical purposes. It’s really something to behold.

watch the trailer:

CHRISTOPHER LEE (1922-2015) remembered

June 11, 2015

christopher lee Usually when a screen icon passes, we spend time reminiscing about the characters they played in the movies we loved. For Christopher Lee, this goes much deeper. When I first began an infatuation with movies, he was almost 20 years into his acting career. He truly has been an active part of my movie-watching for my entire life. So when I see today’s headlines labeling him as a “Movie Villain”, I cringe and think what an injustice and simplification that is. Christopher Lee has always been there – from 13 inch B&W television sets to 40 foot theatre screens – inspiring me to love movies.

This was a fascinating man … so much more than a beloved and talented actor. By the time he was 23 years old, he was decorated for his distinguished WWII service for the Royal Air Force and Special Services. He then moved into acting, and now leaves us with a remarkable 281 screen credits to his name.

Lee’s acting career was incredibly diverse, and certainly not limited to villainous roles, even if that’s how he is most frequently remembered. His screen time ranged from playing Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy in traditional monster movies (many from Hammer films), to his iconic clash with James Bond as The Man with Golden Gun (1974). He also played Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, and Rochefort in 3 – Three Musketeers films,  utilizing his expert real life fencing skills.

In 1977, Lee’s autobiography was published … “Tall, Dark and Gruesome”. He embraced his image, while working non-stop at broadening his roles. Many know him from the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, and how could we forget his hosting of “Saturday Night Live” in 1978 (musical guest, Meat Loaf)? This man embraced both horror and comedy – he was courageous enough to appear in one of the Police Academy movies!

christopher lee2 Lee experienced a career renaissance thanks in part to having a huge fan in filmmaker Tim Burton, who cast him in Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Additionally, younger film fans know him from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, two “Hobbit” films, and of course three “Star Wars” films.

Of course, it’s Mr. Lee’s voice that always announced his presence with authority. A deep, booming resonance could spark fear or respect; however, he also used that voice for singing – opera, a Broadway tunes album, and two Heavy Metal albums. He was married (yes, to the same woman) for more than 50 years. A life well lived may be the highest honor man can achieve, and it is personified in Sir Christopher Lee … much more than a villain.

Here is a taste of Metal Christmas from Christopher Lee:



TMI (2-13-12)

February 13, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

February: Director’s Month

 PETER JACKSON … his favorite movie is King Kong (1933), which he re-made in 2005, with Naomi Watts in the Fay Wray role.  Jackson has also been greatly inspired by George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978).  He always co-writes his scripts with his wife, Fran Walsh, and his big breakthrough came in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures, starring a 19 year old relative newcomer named Kate Winslet. Jackson is one of 7 filmmakers to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay for the same film (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, 2003) … he also has six other Oscar nominations. Already thought of as a cinematic genius thanks to his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson is currently at work filming his two part film based on “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien.  Expected release date for part one is December 14, 2012.


December 23, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Not that I am hoping for marital strife, but I like it when Steven Spielberg wants to get out of the house, especially when he joins forces with Peter Jackson (serving here as Producer). This year he has delivered awards contender War Horse and this crowd pleasing motion-capture animation film (also) for the whole family. If you are unfamiliar with Tintin, it is a long-running, extremely popular European comic series by Herge’, who passed away in 1983.  This is Planes, Trains and Automobiles … plus Ships, Rowboats, Motorcycles, Zip lines and just about every other form of transportation that comes to mind.

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is an investigative newspaper reporter who looks 14, but clearly isn’t. He lives on his own, travels the world and is treated as an adult by those with whom he crosses paths. There is an early scene where Tintin is sitting for a local artist and the resulting portrait is an exact replica of his simple look in the comic series. Tintin has a trusty sidekick … his genius little dog, Snowy. Together they go on adventures that Indiana Jones can only dream about! This particular story focuses on the hunt for the lost Haddock family treasure. Tintin literally stumbles into the drunken sea Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who is more concerned with his next swig of whiskey than the the fact that he has been kidnapped by the bad guy Rackham/Sakharine (Daniel Craig). This bad guy has unlocked the mystery location of all the clues to the lost treasure and needs Captain Haddock for the final step. Unfortunately for him, Tintin and Snowy get in the way and try their darndest to stop him.

 The action sequences are amongst the most exciting and thrill-packed that you will ever see. They look like “Jonny Quest” on steroids. The story is quite convoluted and complicated, and small kids will be totally lost on exactly WHY the characters do what they do. But it won’t much matter, because the visuals of each scene are captivating. There are even a couple of Interpol agents on the trail … Thompson and Thomson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, respectively).  Expect many site gags tossed in to offset the breakneck pace of the globe-trotting adventures.

 Spielberg has always done nice work when he can go after a kid’s imagination – even big kids like me. The look of this movie is pretty amazing, especially when compared to 2004’s The Polar Express. If you doubt how far technology has come, look at these two side by side.  Many of the characters here are as close to lifelike as we have seen – check out the skin and facial contours of Captain Haddock and Sackharine.  Wow.  Herge’ creation is given script work here by Steven Moffatt, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. The great John Williams provides the score. This is one you can bring the kids to and all will enjoy.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of animated family fun with loads of action OR you just want to see how far motion-capture technology has come

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: to you, Indiana Jones is the be all and end all of action heroes in the movies OR you refuse to get props to anything with French origins 

watch the trailer:


January 23, 2010

 (1-23-10) Greetings again from the darkness. With the uproar from fans of Alice Sebold’s novel, I am actually glad I have not read it yet (though I will). I found director Peter Jackson’s take to be interesting, attention-grabbing and well filmed, though at times a bit sloppy in story structure.  The fact that the actual murder and rape are not shown did not affect my ability to connect.

Certainly not a who-dunnit, the viewer instead is exposed to the many forms of grief after a family tragedy. I found myself quite angry at Rachel Weisz (the mom) for deserting her kids, though I understand the clash with Mark Wahlberg’s (the dad) approach. Not only was I angry at her as a parent, but as a viewer, her running away meant more screen time for Susan Sarandon, which is rarely a good thing.

Saoirse Ronan (excellent in Atonement) plays Susie, the victim of neighbor Stanley Tucci’s crime. Tucci is my favorite kind of movie villain … non-descript and blends right in. I find that to be the creepiest possible monster – the one that lives amongst us. Some of Jackson’s camera work with Tucci is fascinating and frightening, especially around the dollhouse. We can’t wait to see this guy burn.

Again, I consider myself lucky in that I can appreciate the film for what it is rather than comparing to a great book. Oh, and don’t miss Peter Jackson as the customer playing with the video camera in the store when Wahlberg picks up the first roll of developed film.