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

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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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Who ever heard of Charley Bowers?!

 

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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.

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

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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!

 

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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.

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!

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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!

 

 

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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.

Reassessing Shirley Temple

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I adore old films–the older the better.  However, I’ve come upon a problem with Netflix–I have seen just about every Hollywood film they have that was made before 1960.  So recently I did something I was not proud of at the time–I broke down and rented a few of the Shirley Temple films.  For years, I deliberately avoided them as I saw them as saccharine and just plain awful.  Well, imagine my surprise when I found that I actually enjoyed most of them and have even gone so far as to put ALL her films on my Netflix queue!

While I will admit that a few of the films are bad (“The Blue Bird”, as it terribly miscasts Temple), most are amazingly good–AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Twentieth Century-Fox really knew how to get the most out of these films.  Plus, Miss Temple was simply fabulous–even when you see these films today.  Not only could she sing, dance and act, but even the most jaded will find her tugging at your heart.  Now I am not a super-sentimental guy, but I found myself tearing up at a few of them.

The only serious negative is when it comes to race.  In so many of her films, it was very, very obvious that Hollywood and America had horrible notions about black people and a few of the films will make you cringe.  Stepin Fetchit, one of the most famously negative black stereotypes in film history, appeared in a few of her films.  But what is REALLY hard to take is seeing Shirley herself in black-face in “The Littlest Rebel”–a film where the slaves all seem VERY happy and actually work to help the Confederacy defeat the dreaded Yankees!!  As for her work with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, these were always great–with Temple and Robinson making a very appealing duo, as well as the only mixed race dancing team at the time!

Of all the Temple films I’ve seen so far, my favorite is definitely “Bright Eyes”.  It has so much going for it and is able to wonderfully balance Temple’s sweetness with Jane Withers’ delightfully nasty performance!  And, in addition to a terrific plot (have your kleenex nearby), it features perhaps Temple’s greatest song “The Good Ship Lollipop”.  I gave this one a 9 on IMDB and when it comes to entertainment for the entire family, you can’t do much better than this.

So, I strongly recommend you try a few of her films (but avoid “The Blue Bird”….ugh, it’s bad!) and don’t worry about how incredibly sweet and old fashioned the films are.  And, if you are embarrassed by watching them, see the films alone when the family is gone!  But do indeed see them–she was a brilliant little actress and STILL the best there ever was!

 

Oh, and if you get a chance, a few of her adult performances are very much worth seeing.  The best is probably “Since You Went Away” (one of the best wartime films you can find) and “Fort Apache” (a wonderful John Ford/John Wayne saga of the west).

 

If you care to look, this is the official Shirley Temple page.  It’s mostly for buying Temple related stuff–like DVDs and dolls.  However, Miss Temple also talks very openly about her battle with breast cancer and she was one of the first celebrities to talk openly about the disease.

http://www.shirleytemple.com/

 

A few old TV shows from my past.

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Recently, I’ve rented a few old TV series that I watched as a kid.  Some were better than I’d remembered, some a lot worse.  Let’s focus now on police/detective shows I’ve recently seen:

“Hawaii Five-O”–The original version, by the way.  Despite being on for 12 seasons, the show was excellent–at least up until the final season.  In this 12th season, the original cast (except for McGarrett) were gone and the replacements were pretty lame.  Still, it holds up very well.

“Dragnet”–Despite Joe Friday being a bit of a square, this is a solid show with some wonderful lines from Sgt. Friday.  Sure, a few shows were pretty limp but overall, well worth your time.

“Mannix”–I just started watching this.  Although I don’t yet know how the newer episodes were, I love the first season.  It’s tough, gritty and just plain cool.

“Quincy”–Not great but quite good.  I say ‘not great’ because a few of the shows were pretty silly and you wonder why they ever disagreed with the doctor, as he was always right.  Plus, like Jessica Fletcher, when he goes on vacation, you know someone is about to die!!

 

“SWAT”–Despite a few good early episodes, the show quickly lost steam and ran out of story ideas.  They only have season one on Netflix, but only about the first half of that is worth seeing.

“The Rookies”–“SWAT” was a spinoff from this show.  It’s not nearly as good as “SWAT”, and “SWAT” wasn’t good.  See the first episode–you’ll see what I mean.  It’s VERY preachy and dumb.