Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Random Double Feature: The Bad and the Bogie-ful

Welcome to another edition of Random Double Features! This time out we've got a doozy for you, half of which I'm going to have to apologize for. The top half of the bill is a picture from Warner Bros. in 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart called All Through the Night. The bottom half is a picture from the seventh concentric circle of hell via Italy in 1960 and inexplicably called Atom Age Vampire.

All Through the Night is the first picture Bogart made following his star-making turn in The Maltese Falcon. As was usual for Bogart during this period, he got the lead when other actors turned the roles down. The film was originally written for newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, who backed out. Then, as with most stories like this about Bogie, George Raft was approached. He too turned it down, another role in a long line that Bogart took on to success and acclaim.

Bogart stars as "Gloves" Donohue, a man about New York that is not so subtly implied to be a gangster. Okay, it's not even implied, he's basically Arnold Rothstein. In any case, Gloves has two major peculiarities; he eats cheesecake from a particular bakery three times a day, and he can't refuse his mother (Jane Darwell) anything. When the baker of his cheesecakes turns up dead, his mother convinces him and his mob to look into the murder. Their nosing around uncovers a ring of Nazi spies operating in New York, planning to commit a major act of sabotage that only Gloves and his crew can stop. Basically, imagine the cast of Guys and Dolls going up against the bad guys of Raiders of the Lost Ark and you'll get some idea of how wonderfully bonkers the whole thing is. These aren't hard-boiled mobsters, they're played for laughs in the Damon Runyon vein, and played by some absolute top notch comedic stars like William Demerest, Phil Silvers, Frank McHugh and a young Jackie Gleason. The Nazis are similarly well-cast, with Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre and Judith Anderson doing their villainous best.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

50 Years of Who - Always The Perfect Guests

After seven years in the role, Tom Baker gave up being the Doctor, and the mantle passed to Peter Davison. Davison was only 29 when he was cast, and he had an incredibly difficult job ahead of him. He was succeeding a man who simply was the Doctor, who embodied the programme in the minds of the viewers. That's a big challenge, one that could only be met by playing the role so completely differently that comparison would be impossible. Thankfully, Davison was canny enough to do exactly that.

His Fifth Doctor was more vulnerable, more excitable and far less remote and alien. He was moody and easily frustrated. Like the Second Doctor, he was more affected by the events around him. He was like a favourite teacher, travelling on an extended school trip with a few favourite pupils. And still there was a touch of the "old man" that lurked beneath the surface of his portrayal. In this clip, he confronts an old enemy, the Cybermen, who had been absent from the series for seven years:


See you soon for more Classic Doctor Who!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

50 Years of Who - Until We Meet Again, Sarah

For years, when various polls were conducted asking fans who their favourite travelling companion of the Doctor was, the answer would come back Sarah Jane Smith. There was just something about the intrepid feminist journalist that all viewers loved. Played with incredible warmth and charm by Elisabeth Sladen, Sarah Jane made her debut in Jon Pertwee's final season as the Doctor. But it was her remarkable chemistry with Tom Baker that made her a British TV institution. So much so, in fact, that when she left the series in 1976, it was front page news. The Fourth Doctor had called her his "best friend" and there's little doubt that it was true. Enjoy her terrific farewell scene from the closing moments of 1976's The Hand of Fear:

She had returned to the series in 1983 for the 20th Anniversary The Five Doctors (as well as having a spin-off that lasted only one episode in 1981), but her return to Doctor Who in 2006 introduced a whole new generation to Sarah Jane Smith in the episode School Reunion, this time alongside David Tennant's Tenth Doctor:

The popularity of that appearance led to a new spin-off children's series called The Sarah Jane Adventures, with further cross-overs during the Tennant era and into Matt Smith's era as the Doctor. The series ran for 5 seasons until Sladen's untimely death in April of 2011 at the age of 63. The companion against which all others are measured, she is missed.

Friday, October 18, 2013

50 Years of Who - The Definite Article

Jon Pertwee had played the Doctor for five seasons by 1974, taking the series to new heights in popularity. When he left he was replaced by the relatively unknown Tom Baker, whose career at that point had stalled to where he was working on a building site when he was cast as the Doctor.

Pertwee had played the Doctor as a cool and superior man of action, his largely Earth-bound stories and his straightforward approach gave his Doctor more of a human feel than his predecessors. A genuine eccentric himself, Tom Baker's approach to the role emphasized the remote and mercurial alien side of the Doctor, melded with an off-kilter sense of humour. The result was a performance that instantly captivated audiences and helped lead the series into what many consider its golden age, both critically and popularly.

Baker would remain in the role for seven years, and for many, he would come to define the program. Before the revival of the series in 2005, and perhaps even today, when the general public thought about Doctor Who, it was Tom Baker they thought of. The clip below comes from Baker's debut story, Robot, and it shows him already creating a performance that would leave an indelible impact.

See you soon for more from the 50 years of Doctor Who!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Superman hits 75, DC Releases Nifty Short to Celebrate

75 years ago, the modern Superhero was created by two Jewish kids in Cleveland. One was even Canadian. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster called their character Superman, and the rest is most definitely history. Now DC has released this short animated video, conceived by animation genius Bruce Timm, and filmmaker and celluloid Superman guru Zack Snyder. It's a little awkward, cramming a lot of stories into 2 minutes (and I really wish they didn't end with Supes in his blandest costume) but aside from that it's pretty damn cool.

Up, Up, and Awaaaaaaay!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Random Double Feature: Man and Monkey On the Run

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving weekend everyone! Hope you're all enjoying your turkey, tofurkey or turducken, whatever blows your particular skirt. Maybe you need a nice long double feature to while away the hours while you lie on the couch, pants undone, and work off that tryptophan? Well, I've got a doozy for you today, selected by my friend Damian, whose random selection of numbers gives us Alfred Hitchcock's early classic The 39 Steps, followed by Peter Jackson's updating of a classic, King Kong.

Let's start off with The 39 Steps. Before coming to America in 1940 to make Rebecca (which won Best Picture that year), Hitch made a series of films in his native England, some of which were the equal of his later masterpieces, although much more modestly made. Hitchcock began his film career in the silent era, working as a title designer for various film studios in London before working his way up to assisting the British film director Graham Cutts and eventually directing his own films. In 1924, he was sent to Germany to the famed UFA Studios, where he observed the techniques of masters such as FW Murnau and Fritz Lang. Their stylistic approach, grounded in expressionism and subjective camera work, had a profound effect on Hitchcock's visual style.  In 1926, his first out and out thriller, The Lodger, was a substantial hit. In 1929, his film Blackmail was converted to sound, becoming considered by many the first British talkie. By the early 1930s, he was among the most successful of British filmmakers. His next film was to be an adaptation of a Canadian novel by John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Friday, October 11, 2013

50 Years of Who - The Three Doctors

In 1973, Doctor Who was celebrating its tenth anniversary. By way of celebration, it was decided to bring together all of the Doctors in one story.

Patrick Troughton agreed to return, as did William Hartnell, though producer Barry Letts, after he called and got Hartnell's agreement to appear in the story, was soon called by Hartnell's family and told that the actor was in fact gravely ill, and that full participation wouldn't be possible. It was decided to pre-film Hartnell's scenes at his home, allowing him to appear and interact with his successors. It was Hartnell's final appearance in the series, as he passed away two years later.

While The Three Doctors as a whole is not top shelf Doctor Who, it does feature many great moments, most of which involve the bickering banter between Troughton and Pertwee, who enjoyed good-naturedly ribbing each other in real life. Check out our first scene, when the Third Doctor and his companion Jo meet the Second:

I love that part with "I Am the Walrus."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

50 Years of Who - Doctor in a Strange Land

Another classic moment from Doctor Who's 50 year history, this one coming from the Third Doctor's era.

William Hartnell's First Doctor ruled the airwaves in England from 1963-1966, when Patrick Troughton took over. Troughton stayed in the role until 1969, and at that point the series was in trouble. Adventures through time and space on a shoestring budget had become all too familiar to viewers, and audiences had dropped off sharply, despite the brilliance of its leading man. Additionally Troughton's final season was plagued by behind the scenes woes leading from the punishing production schedule of making over 40 episodes per season. With the ever-changing and expensive futuristic settings to realize, slipping ratings and a concept that seemed to be getting tired, tough choices had to be made.

The show teetered on the edge of cancellation, but the production team came up with a novel idea; they would maroon the Doctor in London of the very near future, establishing him as being taken on as the scientific advisor for UNIT, an international paramilitary organization who investigated the odd and unusual. The series would now be broadcast in colour, and the length of seasons would be brought down to a reasonable 26.

Troughton moved on, and light comedian Jon Pertwee was cast as the Third Doctor. Initially it was hoped Pertwee would bring more comedy to the part, but he decided to play it totally straight, creating a Doctor that was a bold, arrogant and dapper man of action. Paired with fellow scientist Liz Shaw and working for the stalwart Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the new concept cut costs, refreshed the series and soon was bringing back the ratings.

In this classic scene from the final story of Pertwee's first season, Inferno, the Doctor finds himself transported to a parallel Earth, one where England is a fascist state and where he is confronted by sinister versions of the people from UNIT.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Gravity" Review, or The Fine Art of Making Movies For Everyone

From L to R: Clooney, Bullock, Cuaron
When I saw the first trailer for Alfonso CuarĂ³n's latest film Gravity, and it came to a shot of Sandra Bullock's astronaut spinning off into a vast empty void of space, I remember a pure jolt of absolute terror rushing through me. I know I'm not alone in this, as most of the online reaction to that shot ran along the lines of, "She's so fucked."

It's a powerful image, from a film that has more beautiful, powerful, wondrous, terrifying imagery than any film I can recall from the last five years. Cuaron's masterful command of camera movement and his grasp of the possibilities of 21st century camera techniques, visual effects and editing combine with some great performances to create that rarest of things; an intelligent well-crafted film that has something for everyone while still being innovative. It's the kind of film-making that made Hollywood famous, and the rarity of those kinds of films these days makes it even more remarkable.

Cuaron is one of the handful of film makers whose work takes what modern film making technology and technique is capable of and pushes it even further. His 2001 film Y Tu Mama Tambien was a significant calling card and Hollywood took notice. He directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which many consider to be the best of the franchise. But his 2006 film Children Of Men was the film that really catapulted him to the front line as one of the most interesting directors out there. Gravity is a labour of love for Cuaron, who also wrote the screenplay with his son Jonas, and he has spent the five years since Children of Men getting Gravity off the ground.

Monday, October 7, 2013

50 Years of Who - Our Lives Are Different To Anybody Else's

Here's another instalment of a classic Doctor Who moment in our lead up to the show's 50th anniversary on November 23rd!

This clip comes from the era of the Second Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton. While the First Doctor (William Hartnell) was irascible, irritable and implacable, Troughton played his Doctor as a cosmic hobo; a warm but brilliant wanderer with a mischievous twinkle and a penchant for playing the fool and allowing his enemies to underestimate him. Matt Smith has said that when he was cast as the Eleventh Doctor, it wasn't until watching Troughton that he really got a handle on how to play the character. A consummate character actor, Troughton's performance is most often quoted as an inspiration to his successors in the role, and his success in taking over the role undoubtedly secured the show's longevity to this day.

In this quiet scene from the 1967 classic The Tomb of the Cybermen, the Doctor comforts his new travelling companion, Victoria.

See you soon for more classic Who!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

50 Years of Who - Wanderers in the Fourth Dimension

On November 23, 2013, Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan, so, leading up to the big day, I'm going to be posting a few moments from the past half century of Doctor Who. Let's kick things off with a classic moment from the very first episode An Unearthly Child, broadcast on Nov. 23, 1963.

The show starred William Hartnell as the Doctor. In this scene, 20th century schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright have followed enigmatic student Susan Foreman home from school, concerned about her odd behaviour. They discover she appears to live in a junkyard, and they confront Susan's mysterious grandfather about her whereabouts, eventually discovering more than they bargained for.

It's a very different show from the modern version, with Hartnell playing a much more mysterious and somewhat sinister figure. From here of course, he shanghais Ian and Barbara on a journey through time and space, starting off 50 years of amazing adventures!

More classic moments to come soon!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Does "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Miss the Mark or Stay on Target?

As a huge comic book nerd, and a Marvel Zombie in particular, you can imagine that I was excitedly anticipating the debut of Marvel Studios' first television series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, even though I was excited about the show, I wanted to see at least two episodes before I weighed in.

The pilot was famously directed by nerd god Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, as well as the writer/director of Marvel's The Avengers and creative guiding light of Marvel Studios.

It was co-written by Whedon with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who are going to be the main show runners while Joss will presumably keep his hand in but not be in charge day to day.

Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (tm), the series follows Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), mysteriously resurrected after his "death" during The Avengers (or was he? This is perhaps the central mystery of the show) as he assembles an independent squad within S.H.I.E.L.D. to investigate the odd and unusual. His team consists of black ops agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), lethal agency legend Melinda May (Ming Na Wen), a pair of requisite nerd science boffins named Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and Skye (Chloe Bennet), a computer hacker and member of an anarchist group who's been recruited as a consultant.

So, yeah, that's the set up. The question is, is it any good? Well, it could be. It's close. But sadly, it's not there. The problems come down to two major areas.