Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: 'The First Star Trek Movie: Bringing the Franchise to the Big Screen, 1969-1980'

Star Trek had barely been cancelled when its obsessive fans began obsessing about where the Enterprise might head next. Even as Gene Roddenberry dangled the possibility of a new live-action series, and forced fans to settle for a cartoon, there was talk of a feature film for years. Events began to snowball by the mid-seventies, and Trekkers (never call them Trekkies!) got their big screen treat when Star Trek—The Motion Picture zoomed into cinemas in 1979. Well, maybe “zoomed” is not the right verb. Perhaps “floated in slow-mo” is more appropriate for Robert Wise’s notoriously inert epic. Disappointment followed.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Review: 'An American Werewolf in London' Blu-ray

By the early eighties, the werewolf genre had essentially been dead since Lon Chaney Jr. last wore the fur. There was AIP’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf, and Paul Naschy’s low-budget wolf cycle, but not much else happening in the way of lycanthropes. The time must have been right for things that bark and scratch in 1981, though, because that year saw a small new wave of werewolf pictures.

Without a doubt, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London stands out in a pack that also included the more bluntly satirical The Howling and the self-serious Wolfen. Landis’s vengefully imaginative script, inventive direction, freewheeling sense of humor, and geeky awareness of monster movies past made for a film that almost seemed too much of a tonal hybrid to call horror, yet as funny as it often is, An American Werewolf in London is a true horror movie. It’s just an audaciously original one. And with its killer cast (David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter’s magnetic likability ramps up the emotional impact when bad things happen to them), a neat moon-centric pop soundtrack, and Rick Baker’s groundbreaking special effects (still the very best werewolf effects on film as far as I’m concerned), I contend that An American Werewolf in London is not just the best werewolf movie but also the best movie of the 1980s.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: 'Häxan' Blu-ray

Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan is the rare movie that gets to have its cake and eat it too. The film wants to be a serious exploration of the very real, very vile, historical persecution of witches—and it manages to pull that off surprisingly sympathetically, though a bit patronizingly. It also wants to be a full-blooded horror movie at a time before that term had even been coined. This is where the film really soars like a coven of broom-riders. In illustrating the ignorant superstitions Christensen sought to dispel, he makes gold coins dance about a room, releases witches into the sky on their brooms, and unleashes some startlingly grotesque creatures, the most disturbing of which is the director, himself, dolled up as a devil with incessantly wagging tongue. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Farewell, Ginger Baker

Easily one of the most influential drummers of sixties rock, Ginger Baker was also one of the wildest. Yet his seeming lack of discipline--Baker was known to take 12-minute drum solos--was grounded in a much stricter approach to his music than the more genuinely chaotic Keith Moon and his ilk. Baker took his music dead seriously despite an out-of-control personality that saw him come to blows with bandmate Jack Bruce and threaten his own documentarian Jay Bulger on camera at the outset of Beware of Mr. BakerGinger Baker was a studied jazz drummer who had the technique to back up the solos. He was also a stunningly powerful player as evidenced in his work with Cream and Blind Faith, and a surprisingly whimsical songwriter capable of whipping up such lovable Cream tunes as "Blue Condition","Pressed Rat and Warthog", and "What a Bringdown". Baker had been having serious physical issues for years, including chronic pulmonary disease and osteoarthritis, and underwent open heart surgery three years ago. Over the past few months, his health continued to degenerate, and Ginger Baker died today at the age of 80.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Review: 'Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1963 – 1966'

Although we may now mostly think of the Man of Steel as a star of comic books and movies, Supes also had a very unique life in newspaper comics sections. The strips are where Superman first tangled with Lex Luthor without Luthor’s hair getting in the way. It is where he first tricked that fifth dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptik to say his own name backward. So it was a no small thing when that life essentially came to an end 27 years after it began in January 1939.

The Library of American Comics/IDW’s latest anthology of full-color Superman strips compiles his final adventures as the star of his own series. Coincidentally perhaps, it reads like a Greatest Hits of everything that made his weekend antics such whimsical fun. Once again he travels through time. Once again our hero uses his army of robots made in his own image to get out of scrapes. He blasts into space to deal with weird intergalactic cultures, temporarily loses his powers, and heads back to Smallville one last time. There are also prominent spots for his main friends and foes so that we can wave our final farewells to Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Luthor, and Mr. Mxyzptik, who must have been particularly dear to the heart of editor Mort Weisinger considering how often he pops back into our dimension throughout Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1963 – 1966

Aside from the most fleeting of references to the contemporary conflict in Southeast Asia, The Munsters, and the Sontagian concept of camp, these strips also sit well outside the tumultuous times in which they were created. In other words, they are as timeless as their star. All of this makes for a book that feels like the definitive volume in The Library of American Comics/IDW’s lavish hardcover series of Superman newspaper strips.

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