March 15, 2017
All Of MST3k
Here are reviews and a ranking of all 176 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Here's the #1 episode:
1. Ep. 910, The Final Sacrifice, 1990
Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Troy, to grizzled old prospector: “You knew my father?” Servo: “KNOW him? He was delicious!”
We’re finally here: The #1 episode of MST3k of all time. If you’ve actually been reading this piece from start to finish, the quality of the light outside has almost certainly changed since you begun. Perhaps you started before lunch, and the sky is now purpling with a beautiful sunset: The kind of sunset that Zap Rowsdower would stare into pensively, while thinking “I wonder if there’s beer on the sun.” Yes, that’s the name of our Canadian hero: Zap Rowsdower. The dumbest, and thereby most unforgettable name in cinema history. He teams up with a young, snarling-faced kid named Troy to take on an evil cult that wants to revive an ancient, powerful Canadian lost civilization that “ruled this one acre for a week; nobody knew.” The dynamic between the Larry Csonka-worshiping, irritating Troy, who is searching for the cause of his father’s death, and the beer-swilling drifter Rowsdower is the stuff of MST3k legend. Every minute of screen time is packed to the gills with more memorable moments than you can possibly summarize, from eye-rolling “Canadian villain Garth Vader” to grizzled old prospector Mike Pipper, whose tortured voice is a source of constant riffing. It showcases the incredibly obscure, geeky sense of humor that is at the heart of this show, such as Servo’s comparison of Pipper to Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia. I mean honestly—what show has both the knowledge and the faith in its audience to make jokes about Ethiopian history? What show on TV, before or since, has had such depth and breadth to its sense of humor, and drawn on so many different influences? What other show can make you laugh so hard, but simultaneously teach you so much, and give you a greater appreciation for cinema itself?
That’s why MST3k is the greatest TV comedy of all time. And by extension, I suppose that makes The Final Sacrifice the greatest TV comedy episode of all time. Long may it reign.
February 19, 2017
OMG! OMG! OMG!
January 10, 2017
At CES "The Kodakery" spoke with several representatives from Kodak. Most of the discussion is about their Super 8 camera, but near the end Steven Overman discussed the return of Ektachrome and tosses off the comment that they are also "investigating" what it would take to bring back Kodachrome.
Here's the part with the "iconic films" discussion:
November 21, 2016
Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission
On Thursday morning last week I attended a 9 AM meeting of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in LA City Hall. They had two things on their agenda that morning: first was to consider designating the Bob and Dolores Hope Estate in Toluca Lake as a monument; second was to go visit and tour Hotel Cecil and the Catalina Swimwear Building. It was the second thing that I came for, but the Bob Hope house issue was very interesting.
Above is the Google Earth view of the estate.
Below is what the public could see from the street.
The place is owned by the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation. First the staff made its presentation with a slide show and talk all about how ultra famous Bob Hope was. Under Los Angeles law there are two different bases that can justify declaring something a monument. One basis is the usual: great cultural, historical, architectural (etc.) significance. The second is that it was the home of a celebrity. The Bob Hope house was proposed (by a city council member) due solely to the celebrity status. Staff admits it has no cultural, historical, architectural (etc.) significance. In discussion the Commissioners said that in L.A. they obviously are not going to declare every residence of every celebrity a monument or they would consume a significant portion of the housing market. But they agreed that Bob Hope was just about the most famous person in the world.
After the staff report the Foundation got up to make their comments. They were daughter Linda Hope and a couple of other people, one of whom may have been an attorney. They told us quite a different story than staff told. Right off the bat, Linda Hope said they had the wrong address. The correct address is 10346 Moorpark Street. Staff had supplied the address as 10350 Moorpark Street. No points for staff there. Then she went on to explain that while staff had described the house as French Chateau style, only the original house was French Chateau and that Dolores Hope had almost continually added wings and additions so that now the house was some sort hodge-podge of no significance. She also disputed their description of the grounds which staff said included a "one-hole par 3 golf 'course'." Linda Hope said it was only a small decorative thing that could not really be used for golf.
Worse, she said, was that there was no way the Los Angeles public could access the house. In the '90s the Hopes had considered making it into a museum, but quickly learned that since it was in a quiet upscale residential area with narrow streets, there was no way it could be a museum open to the public. So the Hopes' final instructions were to use the estate to help fund the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation. The intention of the trustees was to sell it. The place had been sitting on the market for ages but not long ago the first decent offer was submitted. That was when the city council member asked that the Cultural Heritage Commission consider the property. The decent offer was immediately withdrawn.
Linda Hope listed all of the memorials to Bob Hope that are scattered over the Los Angeles area. She said each and every one of those was more significant to the legacy of Bob and Dolores Hope than the estate. Later, Commissioners said they were surprised by the list, not realizing there were already so many memorials; so obviously staff didn't do that research either.
A couple of residents got up to also speak against the designation, but the essence of their arguments was that Toluca Lake is a beautiful, quiet community and any kind of monument there would bring traffic, noise and lower property values. The President of the Commission interrupted both of those commenters (!) to tell them that was of absolutely no concern to this Commission.
One Commissioner suggested giving monument status to only the hedge and gate in front of the house, because those were the only things the public would ever see. I was pretty sure that was a joke, but the President went ahead and explained how impractical that would be.
Finally, a Commissioner made the motion to deny monument status and that was approved 5-0. The decision now goes to city council, since it had originated there and city council could overrule this decision.
The meeting was adjourned and we headed out on our field trip.
March 14, 2016
Made In USA
This very well made little documentary is in the style of the classic factor tour films, but it builds very slowly like Ravel's Bolero. However, there is no "key change," if you get my drift, if you know what I mean, wink wink, nudge nudge.
October 23, 2015
The Red Drum Getaway. This is great stuff.
September 24, 2015
This year at Burning Man I got to fulfill my desire to participate in a monkey chant. The monkey chant is also known as "Kecak". The monkey chant is taught Monday through Thursday at HeeBee GeeBee Healers and then on Friday they do a big monkey chant in Center Camp. I was unable to make it to the big event on Friday because that's when we host our party at Burner Buddies. The chant requires a lot of physical activity as well as mental alertness as the changes come unpredictably.
Here's a longish video of the monkey chant in Center Camp in 2014. It's not too different from practice chants done earlier in the week. I suppose they expect a lot of newbies to join the chant, so some of what you see is teaching the chant. The action begins to pick up after the 4 minute mark.
Ideally, we would have made it look like something created by Hollywood choreographers, like this scene from The Fall which is possibly the most beautiful movie ever made.
August 24, 2015
Thunderdome In Spherical Virtual Reality
This is the best video for conveying the atmosphere of Thunderdome. You can scroll around, up and down, while the video is running. And that's Thunderdome. Too bad they didn't get them chanting "Two may enter, one may leave." And while we're wishing for that, how come Tina Turner has never come to Burning Man and put in an appearance at the Thunderdome?
Obviously, a lot of stuff at Burning Man was inspired by the earlier Mad Max films, but the most recent Mad Max seemed to be inspired by Burning Man.
This is not the latest Mad Max. This was made from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
August 5, 2015
June 8, 2015
John Waters at RISD
March 19, 2015
An excerpt from the new documentary Breaking Point.
Silly Californians. I first heard of the Salton Sea in the 1960s when the highly educational The Monster That Challenged The World was broadcast on channel 9 in Kansas City. I thought "Salton Sea" was a ridiculous fictional name made up for the movie. Click here to watch the mandatory "punishing the sinners" scene that appears in every horror movie which was shot on location at the Salton Sea. Young Jody will never disrespect her mother again. One might bear in mind that this preceded Jaws by 18 years.
March 3, 2015
Stay Over At Leonardo DiCaprio's Place
The Dinah Shore house (by Donald Wexler) that was purchased by Leonardo DiCaprio can be rented starting at $4,500. Here's where you can make your reservations and learn all about the house.
The Google map view.
February 22, 2015
Kirk Cameron's Big Night
The film has achieved the remarkable distinction of a 0% critics' rating on RottenTomatoes. Even the user reviews put it at only 31% approval.
On Metacritic, the numbers are different: 18% critics' rating (which is better), but only 1.6 (out of 10, IOW 16%) from ordinary viewers. All of the 5-star reviews from viewers sound like they were written by the same person, as they call claim radical transformations of the viewer. Like this one:
ATHEISTS: when you go to see this movie, do NOT go with your preconceived notions about Christianity. I went with mine and, well....I can in all honesty...they were utterly shattered. Kirk Cameron's speech to Christian in the car is so moving, so compelling, so convicting...I was brought to my knees in a moment of cognitive dissonance in which I ultiamately renounced my atheism because of an overwhelming desire to surrender my life to Jesus. I'm serious, guys. This film changed my life. And I really can;t say that about any other films.
Amazing. All these centuries of searching for the magic cure for atheism only to discover it in a really bad American movie. Makes you wonder why there aren't any good movies that shatter atheism.
February 9, 2015
Cuba Gets Netflix
Yes, genuine, real streaming Netflix. Only $8/month, so the only challenge for a Cuban to overcome is finding eight U.S. dollars every month. Maybe this deal will serve mostly foreign diplomats and visitors to Cuba.
"[P]eople in Cuba with Internet connections and access to international payment methods will be able to subscribe to Netflix." Yeah. Just your average Cuban citizen.
January 8, 2015
"Brokeback Mountain" Shirts
These are the very shirts (and photo and closet door, for all I know) from Brokeback Mountain on display in the Autry National Center in Griffith Park. The shirts are on loan. Here's a video of the ceremony when the shirts went on display.
For those who are asking themselves "Huh? Shirts?" (and I know there are at least a couple) here are some videos to help. I'm trying to avoid "spoilers" for the benefit of those who think the enjoyment of a story is less because you've finished it.
Here is the end of the movie where we see the shirts just as they are displayed in the museum. Technically, it's not a spoiler, but if you have even just a single crumb of human empathy you can tell what happened before that scene.
If you're still all like "huh?" here's the beginning of the shirt story. Sometimes a fight is just a fight. This is not a fight.
If you still don't get it, then here's a third clip showing the convergence of the shirts. Technically not a spoiler in my book.
If you need yet more clarification, it's time for you to go see the movie. Netflix has it on disc, but not streaming. But it is available for streaming on Amazon.
December 23, 2014
"The Interview" To Be Shown In Los Angeles
November 17, 2014
Harvard Beats Yale
Maybe the title should be "Social Advice For Those Who Refuse To Watch The NFL."
If you are one of those people who can't stand watching NFL football, but have been socially ensnared into a group of friends that do that and you don't have the spine or cojones to abandon your friends, then my suggestion may be for you. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is a movie about football (and Vietnam and the Ivy League and "Doonesbury" and Meryl Streep as a college girl and even Tommy Lee Jones) but it is not about the NFL. Not at all. Maybe the NFL gets mentioned once.
It's a documentary with a lot of talking heads. But they are Harvard and Yale graduates who are the talking heads, so they know how to complete sentences and synthesize abstract comparisons and otherwise display their skill in using multiple brain cells simultaneously. Like I said, it's not about the NFL.
But in addition to the talking heads they've got good film of the game. The game where Harvard and Yale played to a 29-29 tie, that is. The Wikipedia article for the film says that the game footage "was a color kinescope of the WHDH telecast." I would guess that the kinescope was made at the time the game was broadcast, or shortly thereafter and the kinescope was recorded on Kodachrome film, because the colors are very good. The film includes instant replays and they appear to be genuine, so either WHDH used videotape or the producers of the film faked them up very well. Then there is the play-by-play dubbed over by Don Gillis, an actual sportscaster who was with Boston's WHDH (and WCVB) from 1962 to 1983 - and after that he continued to host their candlepin program through 1996. In case it needs explaining, "candlepins" is not a different New England name for bowling. It's actually a slightly different game. I never played it, so all I know is that the pins are a lot skinnier than bowling pins.
The setup is this: Harvard and Yale have their "crosstown rivalry" going in New England. It's 1968, the Tet offensive was earlier in the year, Harvard and Yale are both undefeated. The Yale quarterback Brian Dowling, incidentally, had not played in a single losing game since he was in 7th grade. This is the last game of the season. Harvard had a weak coach and a mostly inexperienced team, having lost many of its experienced players to either graduation or the war. The Harvard quarterback that actually brought them to the tie, Frank Champi, was 25 years old and had already served in Vietnam.
Everybody knows how the game turned out because it's right there in the title, but it's how they got there and people's reactions to it (then and still today!) that make the film. I hope it's not a spoiler to tell you that with 42 seconds remaining in the last quarter Yale was ahead with a score of 29-13.
What makes the film work for me is that when they show game footage, all you see is football. There's grass (grass!), two teams, the crowds on the sidelines and the crowds in the stadiums. There are no commercial signs anywhere. Nothing at all is sponsored by Coca-Cola or Marlboro or Chevrolet. There is not even an ad for Narragansett lager. There is no jumbotron. No electronic markings appear magically on the field. There is no ticker running at the bottom of the screen. The fans do not do "the wave." There are no stupid announcers. Just one knowledgable announcer. It's like, you know, watching football. All that and what seems to have been a genuine, life altering, spiritual transformation that affected both teams and still affects them now.
Some info for those who did not walk the earth with the dinosaurs: there was a time when football games could end in a tie, and in 1968 college football did have the two-point conversion after touchdown.
If your friends insist that you have to watch football with them, you can get yourself off the hook by showing them this film. They might even thank you.
Addendum: 1968 was the "good old days" for some people, and that may mean less commercialism and more sportsmanlike behavior. But the other aspects to the "good old days" are clear in this film too. Both teams are all white, as far as I can tell, and both schools were still men only. Yale went coed the next year, 1969, but Harvard didn't go coed until 1977.
November 11, 2014
Phone vs. Cinema
One would think that those who attend a screening that's part of the American Film Institute Fest would have some interest in and respect for film-watching. But not always, as one attendee pepper-sprayed another attendee after being asked several times to turn off her phone at the Chinese 6 in Hollywood this past Monday.
October 21, 2014
Returning To The Big Screen!
The Greatest Science Fiction Film Of All Time: 2001: A Space Odyssey has been digitally remastered and will open November 28 in the UK at a British Film Institute film festival. Go back and watch the original 1977 version (or whatever version of the original you can find) of Star Wars. If you were around in 1977, you will recall that its special effects blew us away. Now they look cheezily obvious. Then go watch 2001 which was made before most of you were born:
1969 1968! It still works. It still takes your breath away when it jumps to Jupiter space. And at the end you still don't know WTF was going on*. That's good cinema!
Appropriately enough, they've brought the trailer up to the standards of 2014:
HAL is still so sorry he couldn't open that podbay door.
*it's just a lengthy attempt to direct blame away from the opposable thumb and put it on some "space aliens."
September 26, 2014
Owens Valley - 1940
In the 1940 Darryl Zanuck film Brigham Young, the Owens Valley in California played the role of the Salt Lake Valley in Utah as Brigham Young first saw it and announced "This is the place." The film showed Brigham Young (played by Dean Jagger who himself was baptized a Mormon in 1972) striding across this grand view of the Valley shot from the Sierra mountains above Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, but I've edited it to remove the church leader from the scene.
The movie itself is a moderately fictionalized version of the trek from Nauvoo to Utah which received the full endorsement of the Church of Latter Day Saints. From listening to the commentary on the DVD, I learned this expensive film was considered a Really Big Thing at the time, comparable to The Grapes of Wrath, but it lost money and over the years lost its fame. I think I probably heard about it during my visit to the Lone Pine Film History Museum.
Zanuck intended the persecution of the Mormons to be seen as a metaphor for the German persecution of the Jews (this was 1940). Apparently most people understood it that way too, even though the film had to be bit light-handed in suggesting that metaphor, since it simultaneously suggested the non-Mormon Americans were in the role of the Nazis. Early in the film Brigham Young delivers a fictional speech in which he expounds on the freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment from a 1930s point of view. In the 1840s it was yet to be settled whether the Bill of Rights applied to the states as well as the federal government.
The film includes scenes of the cricket invasion and seemingly miraculous appearance of the seagulls. Those scenes were shot in Nevada during a genuine cricket invasion where seagulls really did show up to complete the verisimilitude! In the commentary on the DVD it is said that the gulls did not show up until after the official church liaison to the production prayed over the day's shooting.
The film used some other beautifully mountainous area of the west to represent Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the area that would become Omaha some day. I'm not going to bother with that. I'm sure it brought much amusement to the residents of that area during the dark days of the early 1940s.