DIRECTOR: Georges Méliès
Well, to start with, as of today, this is the oldest film that I have reviewed, having being released 119 years ago. Made six years before Méliès made his masterpiece Le Voyage Dune La Lune (1902), This is a simple tale of a haunted castle. By today’s standards this is nothing more than a visual effects showreel but back in end of the 19th century, literally at the birth of Cinema, this must have been as mystifying as it was innovative.
Using simple editing and in-camera effects, Méliès creates a vibrant show, granted it is not much more than single scene with a fixed camera but the effects which he is inventing here are quite kinetic and demonstrate the potential of the medium as well as the man himself, most of whom’s work has been lost, believed to have been melted down to release the metals in the celluloid to produce arms during the First World War.
Shocking by today’s archival standards but no more so than the BBC’s wiping of video tapes during the 1960’s/70’s in an early recycling bid! The film itself though is remarkable, mainly for its effects. And it also hold the honour of being effectively, if only for the genre rather than the tone itself, the world FIRST horror film.
It is not the least bit scary and it was never intended to be, being more a pantomime than anything else, but it is a short, by today’s standards, but long by those of 1896, attempt to introduce the potential of showmanship, visual effects and flare to the budding film industry of the time.
Not a masterpiece but interesting none the less. The film was presumed lost up until 1988, when it was rediscovered in a New Zealand Film Archive. I wonder how many more lost films will turn up over time?
You can watch the film here, all three and half minutes of it here. Enjoy!
DIRECTOR: Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès was one of cinemas earliest and greatest innovators, once you get past those who developed the most basic principles along side him. But like all great innovators, Méliès push this novel new creation further and faster than his contemporaries, creating some of the simplest on screen effects, whether it be making people appear and disappear to the what is now simple and standard screen dissolves. But this was magic back in 1902.
Even though this 1902 classic is made to standard so far removed from those of today’s film industry, as most directors did in those days, everything is clearly a stage performance with something extra. Nowadays of course, we’ve generally moved on from this style, though the traditional sitcom certainly hasn’t. The black and white version, the one in particular which I have seen was the restored edition included in the Around The World In 80 Days (1956) DVD from 2004, was great. I loved it. It was my film of the month back in November 2010 and I rated it 8/10.
*** 8th November 2010 by nEoFILM ***
This is in many ways hard to review against most films. This is a 1902 feature, with a running time of 8 mins at 25 fps, or 14 mins at the original 16 fps. It needs to be judged in the context of the time, and the impact it has had upon cinema over the past century and impact isn’t the word.
This was made at a time when films were just becoming a narrative form, and the battle had yet to truly kick off between cinema and theatre. Cinema was as new as the internet and in many ways, Youtube is a fitting comparison for its day. This is a simple story of a group of french scientists, all donning suits might I add, whom embark upon the eponymous expedition to the moon, and once there they encounter it’s hostile inhabitants and strange and fantastical surroundings.
But the story isn’t the important thing here. The effects are. This is the first real effects movie, featuring cinema’s first dissolve, and the use of cuts and inventive editing to create stop motion effects. Georges Méliès was a pioneer of the cinema of which we have now all grown up with and without his innovations, all of which seem so simple by today’s standards, we would have little to enjoy.
He blended the theatrical styles of the theatre in his set design of scenery changes with the new growing art of cinematography and special effects and in most cases with great effect, and for that alone, this film is a masterpiece of it’s time, but it’s legacy is insurmountable.
Watch this and you are watching the conception of cinema that we know and love today.
But now, this gem has turned up and thanks to Flicker Alley, the independent company responsible for the Cinerama restorations to name a few, released this original hand coloured print of Méliès masterpiece back in 2012, 110 years after it was first projected. This is what Flicker Alley is offering and what they has to say about it:-
WINNER! 2011 National Society of Film Critics – “Best Film Restoration” Award Flicker Alley is pleased to bring the original hand-painted color version of Georges Méliès’ masterpiece, A Trip to the Moon (1902 / 15 min.), to home video 110 years after its first release. This publication also features The Extraordinary Voyage (2011 / 66 min.), a fascinating documentary directed by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange about the life of Georges Méliès and the magic of film history and preservation.
A Trip to the Moon (1902) The material for A Trip to the Moon is sourced from a restored color version that had been considered lost for several decades and is presented with an original soundtrack by the French band, AIR. In 2010, three experts in worldwide film restoration – a private collection Lobster Films, and two non-profit entities, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage – launched the most complex and ambitious restoration in the history of cinema, over 12 years, using advanced digital technologies to reassemble and restore the fragments of the 13,375 frames. The restoration print premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 and made a worldwide tour of international festivals including Telluride, Pordenone, Rotterdam, and the MoMA Festival of Film Preservation. Now, one of the most technically sophisticated and expensive restorations in film history, A Trip to the Moon can thrill home video audiences in its original 1902 colors. The Extraordinary Voyage (2011) The Extraordinary Voyage chronicles the journey of A Trip to the Moon from the fantastical Méliès’ production in 1902 to the astonishing rediscovery of a nitrate print in color in 1993, to the premiere of the new restoration on the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. The story of Moon’s restoration to its original 1902 colors unfolds as Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange acquire a severely damaged color print from the Filmoteca de Catalunya in 1999 and then begin the tedious task of peeling off and unrolling the nitrate prints to be able to digitize them. It took two years to discover the images on those fragments, which were then stored on a hard drive for 8 years as the technology available at the time did not allow Lobster Films to continue the landmark restoration. The documentary includes interviews with contemporary filmmakers, including Costa Gavras, Michel Gondry, Michel Hazanavicius, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet on Méliès’ enduring significance to cinema.
A Trip to the Moon in a beautifully restored black and white edition from original 35 mm elements with two separate audio tracks of music: An orchestral score by Robert Israel with the original English narration written by Melies; and a second track produced by Russell Merritt consisting of a troupe of actors voicing the various characters as performed in the U.S. in 1903, with piano music by Frederick Hodges. There is also an interview with the group AIR on the restored soundtrack, and two lunar-related shorts by Méliès – The Eclipse and The Astronomer’s Dream.
*** This is a shame though ***
Please Note: Due to our licensing arrangement, this release has been encoded for Region A: East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Americas and their dependencies.
…And based their last comment that this DVD/Blu-ray combo is ONLY coded for region A and I presume Region 1 on DVD, I have provide the link to the Youtube copy which I have watched in order to write this review. I would have certainly considered buying a copy from Flicker Alley if it was available to me here in the U.K. but obviously it is not. Strange really considering that Méliès was FRENCH! But it can’t be helped.
In short, it is okay but I don’t love it. The black and white version covers up a multitude of sins, whilst the colour version offers little, with a surreal colour palate which only serves to emphasise the stageyness of the production. And the modern soundtrack provided by AIR is quite good but I personally prefer to get as close to the original soundtracks as possible. Whether it be a honky-tonk piano, a violin or a full orchestra, they simply didn’t have synth in 1902! Sorry.
But you cannot underestimate the importance of this film or the work of Georges Méliès, as this film alone has been the subject of numerous other films and TV shows, with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (3D) (2011) and the Tom Hanks produced HBO mini series, From The Earth To The Moon (1998). Both look at the aspiration, inspiration and tragedy of Georges Méliès and his work.
There is no doubt that this an important print and thanks to all who restored this and so many more like it but to be honest, I think that the more commonly circulated black and white prints serve the film better, though what a technical innovation for 1902. Bear in mind that audiences were still being wowed in 1939 by The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind, 27 years later. It took 27 years before Technicolor would herald in the colour era and Georges Méliès was doing this at the turn of the last century. Pure genius.
DIRECTOR: Anthony Hemingway
May Contain Spoilers!
What can I say. George Lucas, just prior to selling Lucasfilm to Disney in 2013 used the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen to contrive a bunch of Star Wars style dogfight sequences, a mirror of his dogfight inspired scenes from Star Wars in 1977. That is what I was expecting going in to this but what did I get when I finally sat down and watched it?
Worse: The Tuskegee Airman story is basically the Glory (1989), Edward Zwick’s moving classic about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all black regiment in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War, of the Second World War, so it is a true story and one of great historical importance and not a opportunity to be wasted.
So basically, Lucas should have had kept well clear and we thought that Michael Bay was out of line for his treatment of Pearl Harbor (2001). Well, Pearl Harbor (2001) is pure gold compared to this. Anthony Hemingway, known for his TV directing with shows such as The Wire, Fringe and Glee under his belt, assumed the directing duties for this but it reeks of Lucas as his cronies, with a mediocre script, equally mediocre acting from a cast which should know better and dialogue not to die for, but possibly from! Appalling isn’t the word but why have I been so generous with my rating, 4/10, you may ask?
The dogfights, CGI no doubt and the sound design is outstanding. If the rest of the film was up this level then we’re looking at 7 or 8 out of 10 but the rest of the movie drags it all down. The opening credits set the tone, well sort of, as they appear to be retro 1980’s in design but this may not even be intentional, though I will presume that it is. The ADR work is so obvious it is literally unreal and the script is something that I would expect from a 12-year-old to have knocked -up with their mum’s old typewriter, one draft and some Tip-Ex!
The Tuskegee Airmen is a relatively obscure tale and though it maybe a case of clutching at straws to find a WW2 subject which has not been done to death, Lucas does claim to have been working on this since 1988 but he says a lot of things I doubt are true to be honest, it’s here, it’s real and it should be taken seriously. Instead it is an insult, a cringeworthy one at that to the audience as a whole and I would presume especially to those who it is supposed to be honouring, it was embarrassing.
All and I mean ALL the major plot twists were telegraphed and in some cases repeatedly, and it seemed to want to dip into multiple aspects of the war, touching almost unashamed on The Great Escape (1963), Pearl Harbor (2001) and it superior, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and I suppose the aforementioned Glory (1989), even though it’s not a WW2 film.
Terrance Howard as Coronal Bullard was supposed to be inspiring along with his Major, Cuba Gooding Jr. but both were miscast, with Gooding Jr. seemingly having a laugh throughout! Not what you would expect from a tearful Oscar winner really…
So, is Red Tails worth a watch? NO. As a film I find it abhorrent and as a film I would mark this as 1/10. But, due to the visually stunning dogfight scenes, clearly the motive for the entire film, and even though they have created a Nazi Darth Vader for these scenes, it’s like the Pod Race and Darth Maul Duel’s in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), they manage to not only make a rubbish film watchable but elevate the entrainment value considerably.
Red Tails also gives the impression of being historically accurate but as I suspected whilst watching it, it is not. There were too many contrivances and coincidences as well as the heroic successes attribute the pilots just felt wrong and bias. The stats and claims made regarding the pilots records are still in dispute but either way, this is a fictional account and not to be taken as fact. And the use of the U.S. national anthem in the final act, was something which I would have expected in a 1950’s Cinerama travelogue, not a 2012 war film. The bad taste runs deep in this apple, bad to core.
In short, expect nothing from the script or the cast but everything from the action scenes and there is plenty to be getting along with. As a period drama this offers nothing but as a popcorn actioner, it just about makes it off the runway.
A fitting farewell to the “work” of George Lucas. His legacy, now alive and well with Disney can’t be any worse than this and so far, it looks to shaping up nicely…
DIRECTOR: David Strohmaier
May Contain Spoilers!
Cinerama premiered in New York on September 30th 1952 with the aptly named “This Is Cinerama”. This Is Cinerama was basically a show-reel demonstrating the new technological marvel that was the three-panel widescreen system, which along with its seven channel surround sound and curved screen, would kick-start the wide-screen revolution which would quickly spawn the many widescreen format which we enjoy today, let alone IMAX theatres.
So, as covered in this blog, 2012 saw the 60th anniversary of the process, which also saw the first home video, though be it DVD/Blu-ray releases of the Cinerama three-panel films, after the Smilebox curved screen simulator debuted with the penultimate three-panel Cinerama movie, How The West Was Won (1962) in 2008. This is Cinerama (1952), which went on to be the largest grossing film of 1952 remarkably, and the Windjammer (1958), the one and only Cinemircle production which was later adopted and re-released under the Cinerama banner, were the two titles released by Flicker Alley that year, the company who have since gone on to release the full restored collection of Cinerama travelogues from the 1950’s.
David Strohmaier is the man behind the restorations and a pioneer of the Smilebox format which allows us to watch 146 degree curved screen films in the next best way on a traditional flat screen TV. It is not perfect but it a damn sight better than normal widescreen for these movies as they are shot in way the only really works on a curved screen. To be honest, the travelogues are very dated and pretty boring by today’s standards and only really appeal to nostalgics and those fascinated by the process like myself. I have only ever seen ONE real life Cinerama presentation as I am only 36 and that was at the Media Museum in Bradford, England, not long after their screen was installed back in 1993.
In The Picture is about as good as it was ever going to be, to be honest. Strohmaier, who I admire for his work on restoring Cinerama movies, has gotten hold of a Cinerama camera, restored it and wanted to play with it. So in 2012, he and small crew, presumably consisting of his mates, decided to film a 30 minute short subject set in Los Angeles, basically following two couples around on a sight-seeing trip, in the style the second Cinerama film, Cinerama Holiday (1955) and Windjammer (1958) and casts a child actor from How The West Was Won (1962), Stanley Livingston, to star as the elder tour guide.
It is a clever little homage to Cinerama with several geeky in jokes that I must admit, I DID get which must make me a real Cinerama geek, but I was also cringing. Let’s face it, those of us that have sat through a Cinerama Travelogue spend a lot of time cringing, though at least they have the excuse of being dated or of their time, but this is trying to fit into the mold of these period movies which are hardly classics, whilst making a modern homage to the format for the 60th anniversary festival at the Cinerama Dome in L.A.
His succeeds at that and for this I will give him credit. The photography is good and at times, particularly the wide shot from the Griffith observatory is spectacular, but the poorly synced, I presume ADR, dialogue, what you might laughingly call acting and the contrived script let this project down. Though the contrived script does meet the “standards” of the 50’s travelogues, so I might let that pass.
This is nothing more that an in joke, a geeky show reel to present to like-minded friends at a convention which is fine but as anything more, it is not good. In fact it’s pretty bad and not in the I would recommend this to seen “bad”. I hope that this is not the last time that Strohmaier uses this camera though, as the visuals were good if not very good at times, but I feel that this was rushed and that with a little more thought and money, Cinerama could live again and I hope that it does. Strohmaier is the man to do it.
Points for effort but Cinerama Holiday was defiantly NOT the best choice for a model.
In The Picture is ONLY available on Flicker Alley’s Search For Paradise (Cinerama) Blu-ray/DVD set.
DIRECTOR: Luc Besson
May Contains Spoilers
When I first saw the trailer for Lucy I thought Luc Besson, fast paced sci-fi action chase movie about a young woman, Scarlet Johanson, so has been given a drug allowing her to use 100% of her brain, rather the usual 10%. It’s metacritic scores were average at about 6.4 in IMDB, for example and I wasn’t holding out too much hope.
But was I wrong. This is a surprisingly well interpreted science fiction film and granted, there is plenty of action but there is also a strong thesis being delivered by Besson on the possibilities of freeing up the brain’s and in turn, humanities potential. Morgan Freeman is discussing the human brain’s capacity and theorising of its potential throughout and even though this is either pure fiction of based on science, Freeman adds enough gravitas and Besson directs him and all the cast with enough integrity to make this all to believable.
Johanson is brilliant, delivering one of her best performances to date in my opinion, especially in the gruesome opening act, which sets out its stall from the get go as to how violent and bloody this movie is going to be. But it manages to take us from Shanghai to Paris, New York to the dawn of time and the ending is in the same sphere as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), leaving a lot open to interpretation as well as plenty to talk about as the credits role.
Short and sweet, clear and complex, this looks like a normal chase movie but ends up being much more. A real gem and an underrated one from I can see.
DIRECTOR: Joe Dante
May Contain Spoilers and Mild Language
In 2003, I wasn’t impressed with the very idea of this movie. Already established as a fan of the original shorts from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, this crazy and childish spoof was too immature for me. Lucky, in the twelve years which have passed, I have had the rod surgically removed from my arse and lighted up somewhat.
Now, well into my 30’s and quite happy to take films as I find them and judge them accordingly rather than dismissing them on the basis that they not “legitimate”, I can now see that Joe Dante, of Gremlins (1984) fame has made an almost perfect interpretation of the madcap antics of the Looney Tunes characters!
But Dante’s tastes also run in to 1950’s sci-fi as he demonstrated in the convention scene in Gremlins, but here he goes to town, even more so than in the crazy and madcap Gremlins 2: A New Batch (1990). The comedy is slick and fast with sight gags and stunt casting which will only really appeal to an older and/or more movie savvy audience as well as the timeless antics of the animated characters, led by the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
The cast is interesting too, not only because of its two leads, Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman, whilst both being more than capable, have fallen off the A-list in the decade since, but Steve Martin as the over the top Acme CEO is on top comic form and the likes of Ron Pearlman turning up in an earlier role before he would break in to the mainstream with Hellboy (2005) was great as always.
Overall, Dante has managed to capture the essence and humour of the Looney Tunes gang, whilst playing as many in jokes and spoof cards as possible in the 95 minute runtime, in a manner not dis-similar to Gremlins 2. Turn your brain off, chill out and enjoy if for what it is and you should do just that. Though I must finish by pointing that this is NO Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), but not many films are.
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon
The Marvel Universe comes together again for the second mash-up of this decade, with Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU as it known, is now a fully functioning, diverse universe with TV shows and movies working in tandem, driving, as well as hindering each other in equal measure. This is a reminder of how Star Trek dominated so many aspects of media at the same time during its peak in the 1990’s.
Marvel have pulled it off and I must admit, I didn’t think that they would manage it. I expected Avengers Assemble to fail and it didn’t, in fact it is MY personal favourite to date and its sequel is also just as good, if not a little better. They have proven that handled well, the superhero mash-up can work and it is now the turn of DC with there Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice which is due out next March, to prove whether that this it is Marvel’s genius or the shape of things to come.
But Joss Whedon’s involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has raised the franchise to new heights, paving the way for Anthony and Joe Russo, who debuted with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) to continue the Avengers with the two-part Infinity War sequels in 2017 and 2018.
Fun, brevity and action are key ingredients for the success of this franchise, with Whedon’s signature wit and three-dimensional character building as established with his hit TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, along with some nice twists interspersed with the clichés and decent turns, Avengers: Age Of Ultron is an action packed extension of the ever-growing and evolving MCU.
This film also marks the conclusion of Phase Two, with Phase Three kicking off with Captain America: Civil War which intends to take us deeper into this world and hopefully guide us towards The Avenger: infinity War, referring to the Infinity Gems which have been collected throughout the movies so far, with one now sitting squaring in The Vision’s (Paul Bettany) forehead.
The movie starts in the middle of a breakneck action sequence and this sets the tone for the whole film, with action and humour amalgamated to the max, to keep us both thrilled and amused in equal measure, but does this action packed opening also tip its hand as to where its confidence, or lack there of, truly lies? Is there enough depth to keep us interested without the zippy, fast paced action and quirky interplay?
I’m not so sure. The Marvel Universe is light compared to the brilliant Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight universe, with themes of power and physiological torment contained within both but here, it feels forced, hollow and insincere. Because when it come down to it, these are comic book films and are just that, a live action comic and a firework display, doing so brilliantly. If you want depth then these probably aren’t for you but if you want family action to share with your kids, family and friends alike, then you can’t go wrong with these.