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Majid Majidi’s films are a treasure–yet most folks have never heard of the man or his films.

Majid-Majidi 1_c67

http://www.cinemajidi.com/

Years ago, I saw a couple Iranian films that were as good as any films made anywhere.  The best thing about “Children of Heaven” and “The Color of Paradise” is the humanity of the characters.  So, while political relations between Iran and much of the West are very, very strained to say the least, the film gives you insight into the people and shows that there is goodness everywhere.  And, the issues these folks deal with (particularly in “The Color of Paradise”) are universal.

While “Children of Heaven” is Majidi’s most famous film, I think “The Color of Paradise” is his best.  In fact, I’d place it in my top 10 of ALL films–it’s that good since I have seen so many.  It’s the story of a blind boy whose father will not accept him–a problem many disabled children struggle with throughout the world.  As a father of a deaf daughter, it was particularly poignant.  I won’t tell you more of the plot–just see this film for yourself.

As a result of my loving these two films, I have sought out all of Majidi’s films and have enjoyed every one of them.  They each star normal folks and seem like a more modern version of the Italian Neo-Realist films–movies made without professional actors and filmed out in the real world.

“Baran”, “The Song of Sparrows” and “The Willow Tree” are all exceptional films by Mijidi which haven’t yet been discovered by most film snobs.  Of the three, “The Willow Tree” is the best.  It’s a strange story of a middle-aged man who is blind but is given his sight–and it actually ends up making his life much worse!  It’s a wonderful look into human nature and I appreciate how in this story, a disabled guy isn’t wonderful and noble!

My suggestion is to start with “The Color of Paradise” but have some Kleenex handy.  It packs a huge emotional punch and is perfectly appropriate for all ages.  Then by all means see his other films.  You will thank me–they are that good.

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A vist to the German Film Museum in Frankfurt.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 101

http://deutsches-filminstitut.de/filmmuseum/

I was in Paris a week ago, and unfortunately did not have time to visit their great film museum.  However, I did have some time in Frankfurt and dropped by the German Film Museum.  While unfortunately it didn’t stress German films enough and was a bit small, the place was well worth seeing.

 

The entrance opens to the gift shop and the small cafe.  The man working the counter at the cafe was very friendly and the beer selection was excellent…as was my soup.  I particularly loved these chairs next to the cafe–you can feel free to sit in them.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 094

 

The first floor (actually, to us Americans, we call it the second floor) is about the history of inventions that led to what we call movies.  Various devices such as stereoscopes, photography, Zoetropes and the early cameras of the Lumiere Brothers and pictures of Edison’s studio fill this very interesting portion.  Kids, in particular, will enjoy this section.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 098

 

The second floor is mostly movie memorabilia as well as a four-screen viewing area.  As for the memorabilia, it was great but not really a lot to see.  In particular, the great German films are not nearly as well represented as I’d hoped (apart from a script by one of Murnau’s American films, I didn’t see much)–and they should be more prominently represented.  The viewing area is nice but the little one with one screen on the first floor I preferred–mostly because I adore the early silents.  Below you see the multi-screen one on the 2nd and the single screen of a GREAT little silent (“The Japanese Acrobats”) from the 1st floor.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 143   Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 132

 

So, is this a place to rush to see?  Probably not if you aren’t in the area.  However, a trip to Frankfurt should include this–especially since it’s only a 15 minute walk from the rebuilt old town square (which includes the Cathedral, a modern art gallery, a cartoon museum and quite a few other minor sites).

Who ever heard of Charley Bowers?!

 

bowers

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKEtAtjgwTc

If you can find a copy, try watching “Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius”.  Fortunately it IS currently available from Netflix and is an absolute must for fans of silent comedy.  As the title of the DVD set implies, Bowers is pretty much forgotten today–even though his silents are among the best shorts of the era–rivaling those of Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin in quality and creativity.  Now despite placing his name beside these great comics, Bowers’ style was really nothing like any of these three men.  No, he was truly an original as he integrated stop-motion cinematography into more traditional silent comedies–and wrote, directed and starred in many of these films.  And, the results were often brilliant (such as in “There It Is!”–and there’s a link to the film above).  However, very sadly, very few of his films remain today and so you’ll just have to content yourself with the DVD set as well as this other film currently posted on YouTube.    I’d like to say more about the man, but the bottom line is that you should just see these films–they speak for themselves.  Do yourself a favor–give it a look.

Felix, the forgotten comic genius.

Felix-chaplin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XwMbEEKR44

I have always loved silent films.  Even as a child, I remember watching them whenever they came on TV.  I even remember going to an honest to goodness theater to see Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman” (1925).  No, I am NOT 100 years old–heck, I’m not quite even half that.  I just have a love for early films.  Now I could go on and on about the early comics like Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd or even Charley Bowers (that’s a new one–perhaps I’ll talk more about him in a future post).  However, this post is about a different comic genius of the age….Felix the Cat!  Now before you think I’ve lost my mind (again), hear me out first.  The Felix cartoons you grew up watching were probably NOT the ones I am talking about at all.  I grew up with the stupid Trans-Lux version made in the late 1950s.  There also were other re-inventions of Felix in the 1930s and 1970s and 80s.  No, I am talking about the ORIGINAL Felix cartoons–from about 1919 to about 1928.  Back when Felix was a silent film star.  In these films, Felix rarely was normal in any way.  In fact, the cartoons seemed a bit inspired by Salvador Dali–weirdly surreal and a very mischievous leading man!

Of all the Felix silents I have seen, so far my favorite is “Comicalamities’–a genius of a film from 1928.  In it, Felix repeatedly violates every rule for cartoon characters and the results are amazing and refreshing…yes, refreshing.  He is not some boring nice-guy (like he was in the three Van Beuren Studios Felix the Cat shorts)  but crazy, wild and a little bit of a jerk!  My advice is to click on the link above and watch “Comicalamities’ yourself.  Go ahead, I dare you.  Then feel free to let me know what you think about this forgotten comic genius.

felix

A terrible film that actually is a lot of fun to watch…and listen to.

jmiklthor

Jon Mikl Thor having a bad hair day in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare”!

 

I am a bad movie fan, but not all bad films. Some bad films are dreadfully boring and I hate them (such as “The Conqueror” or “Cracking Up”). However, a small group of film are bad but hilariously bad–so bad, so silly, so unbelievably stupid that you can’t help but like them. I love films like “The Apple” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare” because they don’t take themselves seriously–and they revel in their badness! Now this isn’t to say the film is all bad–the music, for 80s hair band tunes, is great stuff and made a wonderful soundtrack to an apocalyptically bad film.

This film is basically like taking “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th” and injecting them with great tunes–along with taking about about 98% of their budget! It’s hard to imagine, but the film was made in only seven days and cost a paltry $53,000 to produce. This budget, adjusted to inflation, makes it even cheaper to make than Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space”! The film begins with the slaughter of some family. Then, many years later, a rock band goes on a retreat in the middle of no where (Canada) to work on their music and cut their next album. However, the place is infested with demonic hand puppets who wipe out the cast one by one until their is a final climactic battle between a large-breasted guy and a giant Satan puppet that throws evil starfish at him! You really have to see it to believe how bad it is–but also how incredibly funny it is.

By all means watch the film–it’s horrible and funny. But be prepared–like so many slasher films of the day, there is LOTS of nudity. But, considering that the movie is all about Satan and his hand puppets butchering rock stars, you wouldn’t think to show this to kids or your mother! So amazingly bad AND cool at the same time, you just have to see it. And, if you can’t stand the film (because it is dumb), just listen to the songs–they really are awfully good.  And, fortunately, it IS available from Netflix!

 

thor

One thing I love about Jon Mikl Thor is that he does not take himself too seriously.  Watch the special features on the DVD–you’ll see what I mean.  Plus, he seems like he really is a pretty nice guy and keeps it all in perspective.

The internet keeps alive some of the best and most forgotten work of Jim Henson.

henson  Henson and his wife circa 1960

 

While my site is about movies, I am going to stretch it a bit here–just because I can.  Although everyone knows who Jim Henson was and loves his work, most folks don’t know about his early work.  Long before “Sesame Street” and even longer before “The Muppet Show”,  and even longer before all the Muppet movies, Henson had many projects–some dating back to when he was going to high school (if you care,  it was Northwestern High School in the DC suburbs).  Yes, as a young man, he was on TV–or at least his puppets were on TV.   Sometimes they were on TV shows like “Sam and Friends” and “Afternoon” but even more often he was seen on television commercials–most of which had very, very weird sensibilities.  My favorites among the ads were among his earliest–such as the rather sadistic Wilkens Coffee ads.  But, he also made ads for LaChoy, Potato Chips, Kern’s Bread and many, many others.

 

In addition to making ads, Henson and his employees also made some industrial films–films made for sales meetings and to bolster the employees of various companies.  Believe it or not, some of these are the best thing Henson EVER did.  Don’t believe me?  Try clicking the two links below for Wilson’s Meats.  They are INSANE.  In addition, there are a couple other links to some of his ads.  Try watching them all–you’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

Wilson’s Meats #1

Wilson’s Meats #2

A variety of Henson commercials and short projects

Wilkens Coffee

I have my first fan…..sort of….

Guillame Filion and Martin the Penguin 001

http://blog.thegrandlocus.com/2012/06/The-elements-of-style

http://blog.thegrandlocus.com/2013/03/one-shade-of-authorship-attribution#disqus_thread

A few months ago, I did a Google search on my IMDB name, planktonrules.  Wow, was I surprised.  I found that there was a website in Barcelona that was talking about me!  Strange….very strange.  Fortunately, the site was in English and I saw that a Microbiologist, Guillaume Filion, had posted a blog entry about me….or at least about my posts on IMDB!  That’s kind of weird…and I was intrigued–especially since the posts were about a statistical analysis of my entries!

 

In his first post, Guillaume compares the style of my reviews to the average review.  He found that mine differed in a few interesting ways.  In general, the more I disliked a movie, the longer the review.  That came as no surprise to me, as warning folks about a horrible film is like a civic duty to me!  Besides, a bad movie can be so bad that it is actually fun to dissect it!  He also noticed that I tended to avoid doing what most reviews did–I did not get bubbly and excited over a good film and talk about it using teen-speak (such as OMG, or using multiple exclamation points).  Finally, I tended to use the word ‘film’ much more than ‘movie’.  That last one I didn’t realize…but I sure do now when I write a review!

 

In his second post about planktonrules, which came a few months later, he tried to answer a question I had no idea was buzzing around the internet–‘Is planktonrules a single person or actually a group of people who pretend to be just one person?’.  When I thought about it, I realized that this IS a valid question.  After all, I have about 14,500 reviews on IMDB and that DOES sound impossible.  So, using statistics, he was looking for internal consistency to determine if the style varies–which he found did not.  Still, his blog did not sound 100% convinced.  So, I contacted Guillaume….and suggested we meet!  After all, I would be in Barcelona in June and wouldn’t mind meeting him.  Plus, I was really intrigued.  Why would he write about me in his blog?!

 

Above is a picture of Guillaume.  I took it at the bar in the hotel where we were staying back in June.  He does not look like a serial killer or nut…and I hope he did not think the same about me!  Overall, it was a delightful get together and I am happy to have met my one and only fan!  We chatted and I learned that Guillaume is absolutely in love with his work–he adores math, statistics and microbiology.  And, he learned that I DO have a life beyond just writing IMDB reviews!  I’ll keep you posted in case he does any more blogs about me, though I really think he’s exhausted this topic!

 

It’s not the sort of thing I usually watch, but I liked “Last Passenger” and suggest you try to see it when it debuts in August.

Last passenger

Before I talk about what I thought about this movie, I think I should mention why I watched “Last Passenger”.  While I rarely watch action films, I was approached by someone who made the film and was asked to see the film and comment on it before its release in August.  I have occasionally had a few filmmakers do this and I assume it’s one of the perks of being such a prolific reviewer here on IMDB.  I agreed to see the film but in no way was paid or given anything in order to write a positive review—I told them I’d just give my honest opinion.  Fortunately, it turned out the film was awfully good—so reviewing and seeing “Last Passenger” was a pleasure.

The film begins with a doctor (Dougray Scott) and his son (Joshua Kaynama) getting on a train in England.  They soon strike up a conversation with a very lovely young lady (Kara Tointon) and it really looks like it’s going to be a romance film.  You like the people and hope that they’ll hook up by the end of the movie.  But in a great case of misdirection, the film has other plans! Soon the doctor gets a call from the hospital—they need him as soon as possible and he’ll have to drop off the boy at his grandparents.  But it’s still a while until they get to his stop and he’s obviously tired, so the nice lady tells him to take a nap—she’ll watch the boy.  Again, here is a nice case of misdirection—the lady is NOT a serial killer or kidnapper.  Instead, the surprise comes later, after the doctor awakens.  His stop is nearing but he notices that almost all the passengers are gone and the train is NOT stopping at the stations!  Soon it becomes apparent that the train is either unmanned or some crazy person is hurtling the train towards oblivion.  And, the few passengers aboard and the people outside the train seem unable to do anything—as the train is a diesel and is racing towards the end of the line.  What’s next?  See this film for yourself.

As I mentioned above, although the story is simple, there are some nice cases of misdirection—which I really appreciated.  Additionally, although I didn’t recognize any of these actors, for relative unknowns they sure did great.  I particularly liked Scott—he was nice looking but no pretty boy and did a very nice job in the lead.  In fact, all the actors (including Iddo Goldberg, David Schofield and Lindsay Duncan)  were excellent and having ‘normal’ faces in these parts instead of big-name stars was a plus, as it made the film seem a lot more realistic.  As for the direction and cinematography, these were big pluses—and you wonder HOW they managed to make the film in such a confined set, as ALL but the final seconds of the film are aboard a train.  Finally, the music was great—and really helped create a tense mood throughout.  Overall, an exciting film that I hope gets wide distribution, as it really deserves to be seen.

last passenger2

 

Those ‘Damned’ movies….

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Back in 1960, George Sanders starred in one of the finest horror films ever—“Village of the Damned”.  I think this because it not only has a wonderful and frightening plot, but it was also made on a tiny budget.  Sure, the film is in black & white and features relatively simple sets, but it really packs a HUGE punch.  Yet, oddly, the film spawned a couple follow-up films that were pretty terrible.  The immediate sequel isn’t exactly a sequel.  It is as if they filmmakers took all the terror out of the original film and tossed it out the window!  Gone were the malevolent little demonoid children, here in “Children of the Damned”, these spawn simply want to be left alone and appreciated for their differences!  Then, decades later, Hollywood does what it usually does–makes a mindless remake that offers no improvements over the original.  “Village of the Damned” (1995) is not exactly a terrible film but it begs the question why remake a film from a classic into a mediocre movie?  Below are reviews of the three films.  I STRONGLY advise you see the first one and stop…seriously…just stop!

 

 

village1

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960)

I am giving this film a 10 based on the “bang for the buck” it provides. Despite having a small budget, few special effects and an unknown cast (aside from George Sanders), it is an engrossing and terrifying sci-fi adventure.

The movie begins with a VERY STRANGE occurrence–a small village just STOPS. All people life within the village stops–machinery, animals and people. And, when the military tries to enter the town, the soldiers just STOP as well–falling into comas. Then, just as suddenly, everyone awakens–none the worse for wear. Or so it would seem, for later, many women in this small hamlet are found to be pregnant! Once these little bundles of joy are born, the fun begins as these brilliant but disturbingly freaky kids slowly scare the crap out of everyone–especially as they walk, talk and look alike and speak as one (sort of like an evil version of Huey, Dewey and Louie)! And, it turns out, they are apparently unstoppable and up to some sort of evil (though exactly what they intend is uncertain–but it MUST be bad considering their evil proclivities)!

NOTE: Do NOT see the supposed sequel, “Children of the Damned”. It’s terrible. Instead of the kids harassing people (such as making them crash their cars into walls or blow their heads off), the kids are misunderstood and only want to live in peace!! What crap–I want murder and global domination!

Another NOTE: Do NOT see the recent remake of “Village of the Damned”. It lacks the subtlety of the original and just does NOTHING to improve an already great film.

 

 

children

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964)

Many of you out there can relate. When I was a kid, like any other kid, I adored Christmas. However, like most kids, there were times when I got presents that looked wonderful–until I opened them. Getting underwear or socks were such “presents”. Well, CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED is like a pack of underwear at Christmas. It looks great, you really anticipate it and when it arrives you are thinking “is this all that there is?!?”. That’s because the first film, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, was an amazingly good movie–one of the best of the 1960s. Yet, this eagerly anticipated sequel is a horrible, horrible film–rotten in just about every possible way. The only other original film and sequel that may be THAT different might be WILLARD (a fine film) and BEN (a sequel so saccharine that I feel nauseous just thinking about it).

So why is CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED so darn bad? Well, in the original, these “children” were alien creations with super-advanced brains and telepathic powers they used for evil. They viewed outsiders the same way we might view ants! Yet in the sequel, these children are creepy looking and gifted BUT they just want to be left alone and be given respect!!!!! What happened to all the terror?! In VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, the kids talked in a creepy monotone manner as one voice AND they used their powers to force people to drive into walls or kill themselves. Here, they just whine about wanting understanding!!! So, a sequel to a horror movie has become, instead, like a live action version of the comic strip “Wee Pals”!!! Ugghh!! Now that is scary!! The production values are okay–so I am giving it two stars. This is generous, as the plot is just horrid–an abomination and a complete waste of time.

By the way, in a blatant case of false advertising, look at the poster above.  These little creeps did NOT come to conquer the world–and the filmmakers knew it!  Shame on you for lying to the audiences like that!

 

 

village of the damned 2

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995)

The original VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) was one of the most brilliant, spooky and “best bang for the buck” movies ever made. With a tiny budget, it managed to do so much. So, why remake this wonderful classic? Other than to make a fast buck without spending much effort, I can’t see why. And, unfortunately, this does appear to be the reason why the film was made. Gone are the thrills and suspense. Instead of an eerie build-up, we have more gore and a movie that is a “dumbed down” version for people who insist on hi-tech films. In its place is a flat, pale imitation of the original. I don’t know about you, but I find that in at least 80% of the cases, the original is better.

So why does the film STILL get a 6? Well, with such a great plot it is almost impossible for the film to still be very watchable.  Plus, I will admit that the special effects were very nice.  After all, look at these little monsters!

Save your time and watch the original–it’s often on Turner Classic Movies and it’s available on DVD and video.

The Academy loved this one…I thought it was truly awful.

antonia

In 1996, “Anotonia’s Line” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  However, I just thought the film was rather depraved and nasty.  This is not because I dislike Dutch films–there are many wonderful Dutch films (such as “Black Book”, “Twin Sisters” and “Yes Sister, No Sister”).  It’s also not because the film features gay characters–there are tons in “Yes Sister, No Sister” and I adore this movie.    Read my IMDB review below to find out more:

 

I felt VERY frustrated by this movie. It had so many WONDERFUL elements but the overall package was hopelessly baffling because it appeared as if the writers had no idea WHAT type of film they wanted to make. At first, the movie seemed quirky and comical when one of the characters imagined seeing grandma getting up out of the coffin during her own funeral while the statue of Jesus comes to life. I was excited, because I like surreal movies like “Happiness of Katakuris” or “Raising Arizona”. BUT, just as quickly as these images came, the movie completely changed direction. This sort of thing happened again and again in the movie–as if the film had eight different writers who combined their stories without creating decent segues to join the stories. Comedy, philosophy (not the fun type–the “life is futile and then you die” type), sex, love, lesbianism, anti-church rhetoric, ultra-feminism, child prodigy stuff, sexual abuse, murder, etc., etc. all thrown together do not make ONE coherent film but either many separate movies or one big mess. How this film got the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture, I am uncertain, as it had too many holes and left me so unsatisfied. Perhaps it was a slow year. Or, perhaps AMPAS (the Oscar people) just have contempt for traditional morality and so they are rewarding this film for its stand against traditional values.

A final note: although these many story elements are perfectly acceptable for adult fair, this is NOT a film for kids as the subject matter is VERY mature. Also, I was deeply disturbed by the families portrayed in the film because apparently, NOTHING was private or adult in this extended home. Two examples come to mind: the one scene where EVERYONE is making love like sex-crazed weasels so loudly that the little girl yelled at them to be quiet so she could get to sleep AND the scene where this same person (now an adult) is debating whether or not to have an abortion–while each child in the family tells her their opinion! This is sick and the family demonstrates a complete lack of reasonable boundaries. I’m not suggesting adults need to be prudes, but the idea of putting kids in these situations seems abusive and disturbing. If these types of situations are thrust on kids, what’s next–showing them step-by-step photos of a prostate exam?