The Best Movie Every Year I’ve Been Alive

Yes, I’m late on the bandwagon, but here it is. It goes back to 1981. Follow the link for the whole thing.

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Favorite Film Discoveries of 2016

Introduction

This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks wherein he lists his favorite “new-to-me” titles of the prior year. My viewings were down in 2016 overall but there were things worth noting, even things that were not brand new. Some are rather short and can be viewed in their entirety below. For those who prefer features and talkies those can be found toward the end of this post. Enjoy!

Shorts

Many of the older films I was able to see for the first time last year that left an impression on me were both silent and short. The first two are archival shorts of Native Americans.

Sioux Ghost Dance (1894)

Buffalo Dance (1894)

Many of these short silents inspired me to start on a theme commemorating film firsts. Here is the first time the Statue of Liberty was filmed.

Statue of Liberty (1898)

Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theatre (1901)

Pan-American Exposition by Night (1901)

Georges Méliès almost always makes an appearance.

The Temptation of St. Anthony (1898)

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Now, a short film by Mike Leigh. I need to see the rest of these five-minute titles.

Five-Minute Films: The Birth of the Goalie of the 2001 F.A. Cup Final (1982)

Faces of November (1964)

John F. Kennedy Jr. Saluting His Father at Funeral

I got and saw the Kennedy films set from Criterion. Two of them made enough impact to land on this list. One dealt with the aftermath of the assassination.

Karin’s Face (1984)

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Any newly seen Bergman is worth noting even if it’s shot that is a study in stills and dissolves focused on his mother’s face.

Features

City of the Dead (1960)

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As much as this film relishes the artifices of more classical horror techniques its rooting itself in historical precedent and wanting to carve a fictional enclave amidst historical happenings is highly commendable indeed. One might watch this film and consider it to be dated. However, with older films that is a conversation that is mostly moot to me. All films are created for the times in which they exist, even ones borrowing older techniques. Timelessness is an alchemistic accident that cannot be manufactured.

Primary (1960)

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Also in the Robert Drew & Associates box set from Criterion is a feature called Primary which focused mostly on Kennedy’s campaign to try and win the Wisconsin primary.

Kamikaze 1989 (1982)

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“This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.”

Antonia’s Line (1995)

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“As if this film needs more accolades it is indeed one of those Academy Award winners that quote, truly deserved it, unquote. It’s a film that’s so good that I find it nearly an affront to it to discuss the feminist merits of it in the context of a standard review. Watch it, you’ll know what I mean. It’s spectacular.”

Stephen King Properties Awaiting Adaptations: Novels

Introduction

I’m rather sure that this is the list in this series that most people have been waiting for. Stephen King’s novels be they gargantuan or modestly sized are where most know him from, and it’s where most of his noticeable unadapted works reside.

And as I planned on completing this series on his birthday; Happy Birthday, Mr. King!

Omissions

With King being so prolific, so many means of adaptation, as well as phases of production there are quite a few omissions:

  • One note about this list is that since The Dark Tower is in production, I have omitted those books from this list, clearly the idea is to start with The Gunslinger and proceed from there.
  • The Colorado Kid, Under the Dome, and 11/22/63 having been morphed into TV series are also exempt.
  • Titles currently in any stage of development are excluded namely: Rose Madder, Mister Mercedes (TV series, as well it should be), and Lisey’s Story.
  • Although it’s no guarantee there was just an announcement made that Mike Flanagan is developing an adaptation of Gerald’s Game for Netflix, so I’ll be optimistic and assume that happens, so I’ll skip on it also.
  • I include Black House in the section on The Talisman. However, with it being a sequel to the the latter I cannot imagine it going first for obvious reasons.

7. Insomnia

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Stephen King wrote, in On Writing I believe, how with all due apologies to his fans who enjoyed it, Insomnia was one of the books he didn’t consider to be very good. Aside from the occasional brilliant image, which would be useful in a film version granted, I don’t see much cause for this one to be adapted, and am not surprised it hasn’t been. However, if the old adage of a bad or mediocre book making a great movie maybe it’s a nut someone can crack when no options remain, and Hollywood is still refusing to buy an original screenplay.

6. Duma Key

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Inasmuch as it also deals with paintings that’s where I see a similarity between this and Rose Madder. Why I place Duma Key slightly higher (than Rose Madder would’ve been) in the pecking order is that merely the fact that this is a more extroverted and cohesive effort making the transition in medium easier.

 

5. From a Buick 8

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This is Stephen King’s other car-related novel but is nowhere near the fantastical end that Christine was, and perhaps that’s why it’s not been looked at as a possible film yet.  I wouldn’t mind seeing it but as you can tell, I have quite a few ahead of it.

4. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

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A few personal items here in the interest of full disclosure (non-sports fans can go down past the photo): one I am a Yankees fan, and as such the only King book I never read is Faithful his collaboration with Stewart O’Nan that chronicled the Red Sox breaking of The Curse of the Bambino. Not that I begrudge them having won in principal, and as a writer I wished my teenage self had chronicled the New York Rangers ending the curse of 1940 (something I felt in my bones would happen in the preseason), but it was the fact that it was against the Yankees, and overcoming a 3-0 deficit (a comeback I also felt coming), that I skipped it.

Once upon a time I considered The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon part of The Curse no one much talked about. Just after the book came out in April of 1999, Gordon only pitched 17 more innings in a Red Sox uniform. He had elbow issues and ultimately needed Tommy John surgery. Missed all of the 2000 and was then let go by the Sox. Coming full circle on the Curse he was on that Yankees team that lost to the Red Sox.

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Tom (Left) and Dee Gordon.

The book tells of a young girl gets separate from her parents in the woods, something may be following her and she relies on her wits and her imagined version of Red Sox star Tom Gordon to help her. The set-up is fairy visual even with all the inner monologue in the story, it doesn’t necessarily need a lot of dialogue and much of that can be externalized or turned into visuals. I’m not sure if it’s the specificity of the title (like that stopped The Shawshank Redemption from making the title more marketable by leaving Rita Hayworth by the wayside) or the fact that interest may be limited in a fictional version of a relief pitcher. It can work. Now it’d have the added bonus of being a period piece. And who knows maybe Tom’s son Dee, also a Major Leaguer, wants to give acting a shot.

4. Joyland

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Any amusement park or carnival them in Horror has a certain amount of visual potential, add a ghost and an unsolved murder into the mix and it could have even more. What it is prone to would be a touch too much cinematic cheese and/or a dampened impact by virtue of a non-traditionally unsettling setting. Still I would like to see someone take a stab at this because for every Funhouse, where the atmosphere doesn’t help it much, there is a Goosebumps or Zombieland that uses the locale expertly.

3. Doctor Sleep

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I love the idea of a film based on Doctor Sleep. However, there’s no gimmickry that would work to tie it in to The Shining in my mind. You can’t really parallel it to the Kubrick version or the mini-series in any kind of way that would work, nor do I think producing it as a tandem of new films with a new version of The Shining before it would work either.

The most I can say about making it work in a cinematic context is to have a really good casting director look at Danny Lloyd, see who may

2. The Talisman

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Though I chose this as my number two selection, I am far more baffled by The Talisman not having been adapted yet than by any other King title. It is one of my earliest reads, one of my favorite books, and one I know has passed through more than one option: none other than Steven Spielberg has this in his docket and some point.

The narrative is lovely and simple, the magic seems real, and one of King’s greatest protagonists abounds. And while it was rumored a while ago, CGI technology has clearly advanced far enough to hand the fantastical elements of this tale. I have nothing but praise for this as a possible adaptation.

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As for the sequel Black House, clearly it can’t happen before The Talisman. Not sure it will but it would be amazing if, in an ideal world, if there was a long layoff between The Talisman and this. Maybe even retaining original cast members like whomever is cast as Jack.

1. The Eyes of the Dragon

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It’s a wonder, it can get under your skin, yet is a fairy tale the likes of which you might actually read aloud to your kids. And as opposed to the runner-up it’s not a leviathan page count tale. There clearly is no good reason to my mind why this has not happened yet. With Dark Tower films would there be enough of a lull to have casting crossover as well? McConaughey as Flagg? Alright, alright, alright. Idris Elba as King Roland? Hell, yes!

King Properties Awaiting Adaptation: Short Stories

Introduction

Please note that films based on short story in any stage pre-release that are confirmed are excluded be they in postproduction, production, pre-production or announced. For a handy reference I suggest you check the IMDb. Now, ferreting out which stories have had releases with public screenings or direct-to-video release because of the existence of the Dollar Baby.

Dollar Babies are short stories that Stephen King allows to be optioned for one dollar ($1) to student and amateur filmmakers for use in the festival circuit only. It’s a great program of giving back and a hand-up to filmmakers.

I was fortunate enough to have entered into a Dollar Baby agreement with Mr. King in 2005. In my final semester I sent out a few inquiries about adaptation rights, the other one or two were cold. Upon his website adding a messaging function I messaged to see if there was any truth to the rumor that this non-exclusive non-commercial rights program existed. His assistant responded saying it did and that I need only pick a story from a given list, write a proposal and send it to the address she disclosed.

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The letter was mailed on a wing and a prayer, but once I got a fat envelope at home with a Maine return address and no sender’s name, I knew what it was and that one of the highlights of my life was about to occur. Enclosed was a contract, one that I’ve never had any problem sticking to and am baffled that so many on the internet scoff at because they “really need to see something.” For years I, my producer, and some cast and crew members withstood badgering for submission to a film festival where only Dollar Babies were screened. It’s great to have your film desired but we knew for a fact that said individual, who shall remain nameless, was not to be trusted with a copy of the film as he had been known to illegally distribute them. It was my name on a contract alongside that of my idol and if my movie got out there where it shouldn’t be I was the one who would look unprofessional.

All that aside, my film Suffer the Little Children was a long but rewarding journey, and an education. Thankfully, audio issues were cleaned up and we eventually started getting acceptances and even some prizes.

The film’s mission was complete. Mr. King has been quoted as saying he still grants professional project rights for a dollar and points on the back end, plus, certain exclusivity, which is why this a list I was rather looking forward to writing.

Selections

I included short stories and novellas into the same category.

There are a few titles I felt should be excluded entirely though for almost entirely personal reasons and I will comment on them now.

First, I believe that there will never be a good reason to adapt “Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling” from Hearts in Atlantis, despite its beauty. The reason for this is that it deal with Bobby Garfield as an adult coming home and reminiscing. The cinematic version of Bobby Garfield, Anton Yelchin, died tragically this year. As such, I feel the chances for this story to be adapted did too. The persistence of Yeltsin’s career from childhood through early adulthood made him the ideal candidate to reprise his role many years later. It’s a dream deferred sadly.

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The only other titles I’m excluding are “The Things They Left Behind” and “Graduation Afternoon” as they are 9/11-related stories. Previously I wrote of my own 9/11 story in passing in part to discuss the literal use of it on film, few instances of which I’ve seen. As effective as these stories are in text transposing them to feature length films would change the nature, spirit, and intentions of the stories too much for them to remain wholly tasteful.

As for the things I did select, I will not put them in any kind of order but instead divide them by collection.

Night Shift

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I Am the Doorway

Most of Night Shift has already made appearances on film, but usually as shorts in Dollar Baby adaptations.

I am the Doorway is a memorable, eerie tale that deserves a feature length take. Horror and space can and should co-exist and this tale would be an excellent vehicle

Skeleton Crew

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Survivor Type

Being stranded on a deserted island is not an unusual cinematic motif, but it’s not one usually employed in the horror genre, which is a unique attribute that Survivor Type would be able to bring forth.

Four Past Midnight

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The Library Policeman

While Sun Dog once upon a time was optioned by Frank Darabont and nothing ever came of it, but this has always been and always will be my favorite story in this collection. It blends together a lot of different things like real-world terrors, ghost-like apparitions and creatures using a host body. It’s also another one of King’s greater characters in Sam Peebles. Not only that but additional dovetails into this story in other works may allow for some closure to be felt.
Hearts in Atlantis

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Why We’re in Vietnam

As opposed to the Hearts in Atlantis tale that I do not believe can be adapted due to casting issues in this one, which focuses on Sully’s experiences in Vietnam as he reflects on them following a funeral could be portrayed with a new actor in the lead.

Everything’s Eventual

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Little Sisters of Eluria

It would be a little way down the line but if the Dark Tower cinematic franchise continues I’d love to see this folded in wherever possible. It may not be easy to find room for it but there are great visual opportunities within.

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This is one that Stephen King based on an old short story, which became a classic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one I’m sure could be made to work on the silver screen.

Just After Sunset

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A Very Tight Place

In his work on the horror genre Danse Macabre King said:

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. ”

This short story is the best example of this I’ve ever seen. It is perhaps the grossest short tale I ever read, and thus still excels beautifully. The claustrophobia of this tale would be a hard work-around for a film concept but it could definitely work with some creative thinking.

Full Dark, No Stars

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This is a marvelously harrowing tale that also being a novella should have sufficient content for a feature film and would make a great one. The frame is built-in the dynamics are mostly interpersonal, and thus, it excels in the horror of the known as opposed to that of the unknown.

Bazaar of Bad Dreams

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With this being King’s most recent collection it stands to reason that most of these stories have not been picked up yet. However, there are three that particularly stand out and I would not be surprised if we didn’t see them adapted soon.

Obits

This is King’s homage to the 1950s horror film I Bury the Living. With it being a modern take on the notion of controlling deaths, and with what he feels is a more effective conclusion than the film saw this would be ideal for an adaptation.

The Little Green God of Agony

This is a weird little tale that would need somewhat more than a shoestring budget to take its conclusion out of the realm of The Langoliers, but there is definitely room for expansion.

The Bad Little Kid

In a story that follows through on one of his themes of the persistence and omniscience of evil it could be a great film, as there is already plenty of material and a chilling conclusion. Also, as this story was originally only published in German, it’d be interesting to see dueling adaptations here as well, with the German version getting a little more creative leeway to make it a domestic tale via transference of location.

In the Tall Grass (Kindle Single with Joe Hill)

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This is one of King’s (and Hill’s) most hair-raising pieces of fiction that gave me a Children of the Corn vibe and left me wanting much, much more. It is highly recommended.

King Unadapted Works: Desired Remakes

Introduction



One of the most fallacious complaints in film fandom is the “we don’t need a remake of such and such.” When you look at such statements with merciless logic you realize we don’t technically need any movies. Modern man survived in excess of 1,800 years without them. Another piece of that logic is that a remake or sequel can somehow expunge the immutable. There’s an inherent inclination in humanity to embrace the current and the new, which I believe is why nostalgia exists, in part, because those old enough to remember different times want to embrace part of their experience.

Older films should be seen and studied but the societal emphasis on classicism is as archaic as classics themselves. Those with long cultural memories, longer than their time on Earth even, will always be a niche.

One way in which remakes can be of service is to update the imperfect, flawed, and terrible films of the past. This can be especially useful in adaptations, in which fans of the written work are over-sensitive or when the adaptation is truly painful. Here are the five Stephen King properties that could most benefit from a new take:

Apt Pupil

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When I wrote a post about seeing the movie before reading the book I wrote this of Apt Pupil:

This story as written is outstanding. Yes, the cast remained the same but the story delves into the psychology of the situation in ways the film scarcely attempts. You should read it.

The Nazi/kid stand-off never gets the payoff here that it does in Singer’s take on X-Men. That’s a great motif that this movie hinges on, and it is kind of flat. As is the whole aside from Ian McKellan.

Not to mention that this particular film has with it two associations that make it distracting. The first being Bryan Singer’s first on-set controversy and the second being one in hindsight as its star, Brad Benfro, would die of a heroin overdose about 10 years later.
Gramma

Mercy (2014, Universal)

When I heard that Gramma was going to be adapted into a feature length film, I wrote a whole post about it and performed a rare re-read. The cast was well in place and it had potential, but, as is too often the case when the premise was expanded and externalized things got a bit stupid towards the end, as evidenced by my review.

When taking those factors into consideration, it’s not a wonder I want there to be another go at this story, even though I find it unlikely that it’ll happen.

The Langoliers

The Langoliers (1995)

When I wrote a post about seeing the movie before reading the book I wrote this of The Langoliers:

Augmented by having seen it first in part because I love the mini-series up until the very end. It’s like King says, the story just falls into place so smoothly and that translates on to the page and the mini-series is great until one of the worst third act blunders, and effects shots ever.

It’s a lot to remake a whole mini-series for one shot but it’s literally all the movie is leading up to, and even by standards of when it was made the shot, was crap. Sure, Bronson Pinchot won’t really be replaced but the whole of the cast and the story may be upgraded by a fresh take and a shorter running time.

Christine

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I had the honor of meeting John Carpenter at Monster-Mania when he went and I took this picture with him:


His Q & A panel was humorous, insightful, inspirational, and as appears to be the case with Carpenter when speaking very forthcoming. He confirmed what I suspected in my gut when I saw Christine. He was assigned the script, not quite knowing what it was, was disappointed it was about an evil car, but he took it because it was a job and he needed work. He never really liked the movie. And neither did I, not by a long shot. There wasn’t a hint of subtlety in Keith Gordon’s Arnie and the car as accurate and gorgeous as it was didn’t work on screen as it did in the book. A book wherein I was beside myself as I found it brilliant and captivating even while feeling the premise ludicrous, and it is until you read it. All the talent in the world won’t translate that intangible to the screen if you’re not chomping at the bit to transform that tale and it never saw an adaptation like that.

Desperation

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As mentioned in my Bachman books post, I’d love to see Desperation remade only for the fact that I’d love to see it and The Regulators come out as a tandem in a similar fashion to the books. As for the version of Desperation that exists I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ron Perlman in the film, and I liked how humorous it was, though it read as more terrifying to me. The only true disservice in the writing of the screenplay is in its treatment of David Carver and his religious inclination.

Stephen King Properties Awaiting Adaptations: Bachman Books

Introduction

It recently occurred to me to consider the Stephen King works which are not yet  films and which may be most suited for adaptation. I will take this task on in separate posts.

The Running Man and Thinner already exist, so the books in this realm where Stephen once wrote under a pseudonym on rainy days would rank as follows in my estimation:

5. Rage

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Last year I acquired the original release of The Stand from 1978, that runs quite a few hundred pages shorter. With that I no longer have any literary white whales. The first one I had was Rage, and it took me a while. I didn’t acquire The Bachman Books when they were still readily available.

After much searching in the days before online shopping was easy, I just happened to see it on the shelf at my friend’s house. I freaked out. I needed to at least borrow it. He voluntarily gave it to me.

It remains the only King book I read in a day. Time and distance from being angered by feeling the need to pull it from print have given King a good perspective on the story independent of the controversy its caused. He discusses it in Guns, and I agree entirely with his take.

While I feel The Long Walk is just detached enough from reality to connect to modern audiences this one hits a little too close to home. It’s truly a wrenching, fascinating, and brilliant work. Sometimes we just can’t have nice things, or in this case nasty things that make you think.

4. Blaze

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This one  that would be a challenge in similar ways to Roadwork (below). However, with all the different interpretations of mental illness and voices in people’s head that exist in movies there are quite a few interesting ways to go about this one.

3. The Regulators

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My impression of The Regulators may have been affected by the fact that I read it long after I did Desperation, which was my introduction to Stephen King and had me hooked as a Constant Reader from there.

I think the best way to make this idea work would be to translate the concept of the book’s companionship to the screen, which would entail a remake of Desperation and have the same cast play very different parts in the dueling films. It would be fascinating to watch, especially if you had the same creative team behind-the-scenes.

2. Roadwork

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While I had to use some analytical chops to grin and bear it as I placed a title that was not my absolute favorite in a subset as number one I will start lobbying for my favorite by saying: a story a solitary man who loses it as he refuses to accept a buyout so his house can be bulldozed to make way for a freeway is not a high concept. It’s an insular one, with a lot of inner monologue and flashes. That’s what I love about it and the challenge of it is intoxicating. In my informal independent study during film school I took upwards of 30 pages of notes on how exactly I would translate this story to the screen.

It was in that note-taking, and practice attempts with a tales by Lovecraft, King, and Lumley that I formed an adaptation style that aided me in writing and directing a Dollar Baby of Suffer the Little Children I was fortunate enough to be given the permission to work on.

So, yes, there is a soft spot that elevates this one, but if you haven’t discovered it yet you should.

1. The Long Walk

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I place The Long Walk first not because it’s my favorite Bachman title, but despite its violence, it’s the one I’m most surprised that has not been adapted. It’s an indie film budget’s dream. The concept is a simple dystopian premise that’s far more likely to be palatable to today’s audiences than it would’ve been in the 1980s.
Postscript

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Kirby McCauley, King’s literary agent, posed as Richard Bachman for author pictures.

When Blaze was released in 2007 it was branded by King as a “trunk novel” meaning it was an old Bachman title he unearthed and edited for release, while still using the pen name. I hope there are more.

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When recently J.K. Rowling’s pen name of Robert Galbraith was outed it was kind of like Déjà Vu. I’ve read of how pissed Stephen was when Bachman was found out, and I empathized with Rowling as well. Though clearly the revelation that Rowling was Galbraith inevitably spiked the sales of the first book in Cormorant Strike series, and all subsequent releases – it’s clear there was a reason she felt the need to write under a pen name and now that freedom from name, fame, and expectation is gone from both of them. I admire her not giving it up and I hope Steve still knows what Richard’s up to.

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015

This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Enjoy!

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015
This list kicks off with three disparate short films by Carol Ballard that I watched on the Criterion Collection release of The Black Stallion:

The first is…

The Perils of Priscilla (1969)

The story of a cat told from its POV.

Crystallization (1974)

With amazing technique and engineering this film shows the process of crystallization bigger than life.

Seems Like Only Yesterday (1971)

A series of interviews with centenarians about the changes they’ve seen in the world.

Frankenweenie (1984)

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Seen as one of my few 61 Days of Halloween selections this one was long overdue, but well worth the wait. Not what I’d call a discovery but rather a confirmation. This is Burton at his finest and weirdest.

Our Gang Follies of 1936 (1935)

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The gags in this short, unlike some of their shorts, are varied and plentiful: there is a monkey shoeshining, cross-dressing, animal hiding in a bodice, things go wrong and it’s live, hiding in hay, running skull, gunshots at boots, and animated eyes.

It’s no wonder there was a sequel was a sequel to this short a few years later. This version is well done and allows great variety in scenes, different talents to be displayed and many jokes.

Mr. Boogedy (1986)

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This is another Disney viewing during 61 Days of Halloween that I saw thanks to TCM’s new Disney Vault special programming block. This is another mid-’80s title from Disney, this one playing on The Wonderful World of Color and at current is available digitally or thru Disney Movie Club. Richard Masur, David Faustino of Married …. with Children and Benji Gregory of ALF are the standouts.
Historien om en Gut (1919)

The movie has a simple thru-line:

After being accused of stealing the teacher’s watch, Esben escapes with a ship and gets work at a farm. He then works his way back home, to get justice.

So this is an old one and curiously is listed as a 90-minute run time but this version runs about 48 (not sure if there’s anything missing) but it seems complete. One of my pet projects may be to put more proper titles on it and upload it.

Francesco (1989)

Francesco (1989, Film Movement Classics)

Francesco is a film I had not even heard of, much less seen, and one I was glad to have a gander at. I’m also thankful this is the first full version of St. Francis’ life I took in. While any one can identify with his naturalist tendencies and love of birds, this earnest devout portrayal; a man fighting peaceably for a belief in conducting oneself he firmly believes can inspire all and I can see why he continues to have such a following.

Francesco is a wonderfully re-presented title that should delight viewers for secular and holy reasons alike.

Galloping Bungalows (1924)

Being a Mac Sennett comedy the to-be-looked-for staples are slapstick comedy and insane chases, this film most definitely has both. The runaway house trailer being chased by any number of police and fire engine is breathtaking and frequently hilarious. Much of this hilarity due to Billy Bevan whose milieu when he headline was the wild marital farce, per Wikipedia,  and this title certainly fits into that realm

Tom und Hacke (2012)

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Transplanting a story to another culture, especially a classic like Tom and Huck doesn’t always work. This German rendition does.

The Legend of Rockabye Point (1955)

The old fishing boat captain tells the story of Chilly Willy, a singing polar bear and a bulldog who quickly falls asleep when he hears a lullaby.

Did a lot of Woody Woodpecker watching in the early part of 2015, but Chilly Willy will always be my favorite in that gang and I loved this one and don’t think I’d seen it.

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975, Disney)

Not entirely dissimilar from Bedknobs and Broomsticks here you have adults that are not necessarily altruistic, but the lead Russel (Bill Bixby) does change and come to genuinely care for the kids. Meanwhile, Dusty (Susan Clark) does come to care for Bill even though she ends up with him only for the kids’ well being at first.

The Apple Dumpling Gang is a humorous enjoyable tale that looks brilliant in this Blu-ray upgrade. If you are a member of the Club and a fan of the film it is definitely recommended for the picture alone even though it offers no extras.

The Playful Pelican (1948)

Another Walt Lantz title, this one features Andy Panda and a Pelican. The creativity seemed to break out when Woody wasn’t there.

The Tin Drum (1975; Director’s Cut in 2012)

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As I mentioned here I have a long history with The Tin Drum. However, I agree with Schlöndorff’s assessment that this version is almost like another movie and superior to the version we al got to know, and many of us appreciate greatly.

I loved this film before and I love it more now with the longer cut, much in the same way the TV cut of Fanny and Alexander is better than the theatrical.

Knick Knack (1989)

I honestly cannot remember if saw this one before or not. It seemed new at the time, either way it’s really neat.

Miami Connection (1987)

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Is Miami Connection a good movie? Not at all, is it more readily embraceable as something asa bad movie I love than much of Rifftrax’s fare? Absolutely.

Alfie the Werewolf (Dolfje Weerwolfje, 2011)

Alfie the Werewolf (2011, Attraction Distribution)

Perhaps what’s most refreshing about this film, from a production value and aesthetic standpoint, is the fact despite being a 2011 domestic release in the Netherlands it does not shy away from practical effects work. Yes, CGI is use where it’s truly beneficial like making the lycan child run about, but for more settled scenes he’s in a suit and make up. It is very well-done indeed.

Alfie the Werewolf is an enjoyable film for all members of the family, and perhaps most intriguing for parents is that it is a fairly benign way to reach a compromise with your kids on viewing material. It could satisfy the desire to see a werewolf movie but would not be potentially emotionally scarring in the process.

Magicians (Het Geheim, 2010)

The Magicians (2010, Attraction Distribution)

Most family films would only be tasked with resolving the concerns of one family unit. The Magicians decides to take the task of trying to sort out two family situations. There is also the ongoing struggle Sylvie faces in her house with her father living overseas and her mother being detached leaving her mostly to the care of an Au Pair. This dual purpose is most refreshing and combine that with the unusual-though-not-unprecedented disappearing foible it keeps you engaged.

The Magicians is well-edited and paced. It tells its story briskly, in a manner lacking pretension but conversely it’s not devoid of content. The whole family can enjoy, laugh, and learn from this film.

Astro Boy (2009)

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Astro Boy has become an increasingly bigger thing for me. It started with many of the graphic novels and now I finally saw the movie and enjoyed it and felt it a very good representation of the character.

So Much for So Little (1949)

Post-War Chuck Jones, and sadly relevant now because it tells you that you should: VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN!

Brother Bear (2003)

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This is the Disney movie where you know ahead of time someone turns into a bear. It’s Native American themed which always appeals to me, and when it was out my brother really wanted to see, but it slipped through the cracks for years. Glad I finally got to see it and the better than expected straight-to-video sequel.

The Hand (1965)

I happened upon this film by chance. I had yet to see a film by Jiří Trnka. Having seen many of Švankmajer’s works I always wanted to. The clay-animation herein is quite excellent and the subject matter appropriately surreal. Enjoy!

Rubber Tires (1927)

The way in which this one is a discovery is that I finally found it. I knew that Rubber Tires existed, long before I finally caught it and read Junior Coghlan’s autobiography. This photo has been around a bit teasing its existence.

Rubber Tires

I thought it may have been lost. Then I saw it. Not as mad-capped as I would’ve liked but funny nonetheless.

Blondie Goes Latin (1941)

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Thia is a sort of representative pick. Here is how I introduced the Blondie films when I first posted a few of them on my Free Movie Friday post:

Firstly, anyone lamenting that sequels are “ruining movies” today, this is one of the easiest examples to cite proving that everything old is new again, meaning sequels are not a modern scourge. There were about 25 of these films released over a thirteen year period. Also worth noting is that long before the Harry Potter films Larry Simms grew up on film – at least in real life if not so much as Baby Dumpling.

I finally started watching a box set of these short, easy-viewing comedies this year. They are in the public domain, readily available and usually quite enjoyable even if the formula has few variables. The series may bolster this section for quite some time as the completist in me does want to get through all of them.

Of particular interest in this one is that it seems to play right into the Good Neighbor Policy.

Where the Red Fern Grows (2003)

Where the Red Fern Grows (2003, Disney)

This film was noteworthy especially for the casting of a Native American in the lead role. The character is only a few times referred to as having any native blood, this is unique as it had not happened yet. Some of my thoughts on why it’s significant below:

The reason that is, is true inclusion and universality means casting actors from all over, as rounded characters and in mixed films. Having all films be a melting pot is utopian, and I get arguments against films for targeted audience, but for the time being they are sadly a necessity. Roles in general for African Americans, Asians, Latinos, women, Native Americans, little people and other groups are limited. Roles for the aforementioned groups in a dimensional piece they play a part of are more limited still. Roles for these groups are usually reserved, in the US, for race-specific films like civil rights tales.

Therefore, when I was under the impression that Ashton was just in the film I was intrigued. However, that only lasted so long as a fractional Cherokee heritage of his mother was referenced. So it does not meet the Love Actually standard, but one thing it did is fully embrace Billy’s heritage. Another thing it does is cast an actor of Native American lineage in a film not ostensibly about his lineage as The Education of Little Tree was.

Flipper (1963)

Flipper (1963, MGM)

In one regard it acts as the origin of how Sandy and Flipper meet, how Flipper becomes his de facto despite the fact in most regards Flipper is not really held captive. In a rather forward-thinking way he’s only really penned when injured and a short while after that. Beyond that her stays fairly free-roaming and seems to seek human companionship almost more than they seek him.

Santa Claus (1898)

The oldest Santa Claus movie can’t be that bad, can it? It’s short and sweet.

 

The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972)

The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972, Film Movement Classics)

The film works sight gags in a fashion that is eternally accessible and hilarious, and does indeed make gorgeous use of visual storytelling from Parisian backdrops, to instrument-adorned apartment walls, ornate opera houses and spy offices.

Add to that the catchy, cheeky score by Vladimir Cosma, the physical virtuosity of Pierre Richard, and the clockwork precision of the script crafted by Yves Robert and Francis Veber and you have an unqualified comedic success.

That’s a wrap!

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014: Part Four (The 2000s)

This is the same idea as “Favorite Older Films First Viewed in” which I did since 2011. The idea was one I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. I have usually done the list in parts. This time I will find ways to group the films.

My first installment can be found here. The second installment can be found here, and part three here. In this installment I will focus on a segment of films I do not discount from a list like this: Post-2000 releases. Since I have an annual award anything else is usually eligible, I do usually try to keep them a bit older, but 2014 was rather different in a few regards.


Miracle in Bern (2003)

Miracle in Bern (2003, Universal)

One thing that was a bit of predestination it would seem is that prior to the 2014 World Cup I watched two German films that were football (soccer) themed. The first being a story surrounding West Germany’s unlikely win in 1954 that focuses on the scorer of the eventual clinching goal in the final against Hungary and the young boy who idolizes him and is like a good luck charm. On a footballing note one interesting factoid is that the club the boy is a fanatic of, and the goalscorer Helmut Rahn played for; Rott Weiss-Essen has since fallen by the wayside in the tiers of the German Bundesliga.

It’s a film that works a number of plots very well and has very realistic, and time-appropriate football action. It’s only available on region 2 disc but it well worth watching if you can, especially for fans of the sport.


The Wild Soccer Bunch 4 (2007)

The Wild Soccer Bunch 4 (2007, Ratpack)

In Joachim Masannek’s film adaptations of his football-themed books it seems each installment is odder than the last. While no title in this series has the balance, cast or layers that his most recent title V8 does, this film is enjoyable in its own right and likely the oddest of the lot that stands five films deep, and threatens to grow.

This one is only available on region 2 as an import and is recommended for fans of children’s film, football and the weird.

Real Injun (2009)

Reel Injun (2009, Kino Lorber)

In what was an all-too-rare experiment I watched this film on the Kino Lorber app I watched this film free, with a 60-90 second commercial break per 10 minutes. It usually only costs a dollar to by pass the commercials.

This is a fascinating, eye-opening doc that discusses the changing face of the Native Americans on film. It delves into how stereotypes developed and how they either influenced, played off or ran counter to societal perceptions through the ages. With any group examining the portrayal they have had on film is crucial and this one stands with The Celluloid Closet and Bamboozled as powerful statements on depictions of minority groups in American cinema.

The Famous Five (2012)

The Famous Five (2012, Beta Cinema)

When you dig around through international releases long enough it becomes quite interesting to discover what films, books, shows, music, etc. register abroad that may not have quite such an impact in your home culture. Such is the case of The Famous Five series.

Prior to discovering this current incarnation of these cinematic adaptations I was unfamiliar with the series and author Enid Blyton both. As it turns out both this series and her works continue to be very popular both in her abroad and in her native England. Though she died in 1968 she was one of the top 10 selling authors in the UK during the first 10 years of the 21st century. Her film adaptations to date have been all overseas. The first two were serials in 1957 and 1964 in the UK. Then in 1969 and 1970 there were two adaptations in Denmark. The current German series is the most prolific and most profitable at the box office to date.

I went into part three blind to all these facts, as well as to the cinematic backstory that accompanied these films. Therefore, I backtracked to be better able to appraise these films on their own merits, including how this particular film worked in conjunction with the other two.

The Famous Five feature a familiar formula of smart kids who get embroiled in mysterious capers by chance or insistence and save the day. The fact that there are two boys, two girls and an extra-smart dog make the best of The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Rin Tin Tin rolled into one.

The original in the new series is available on Blu-Ray in Germany with English subtitles and does offer the kinds of smart kid-based adventure film that’s too rare here.

This concludes the 2014 list. See you next year!

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014: Part Three (Assorted Features)

This is the same idea as “Favorite Older Films First Viewed in” which I did since 2011. The idea was one I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. I have usually done the list in parts. This time I will find ways to group the films.

My first installment can be found here. The second installment can be found here. In this installment I will focus on a mixed bag of films thematically and based on release date.

Officer 13 (1932)

Officer 13 (1934)

In this year’s Poverty Row April post I said I’d dedicate Sundays to sharing features. However, I missed last week so I will get two up this weekend.

When I found out that this was available from Alpha Home Video I did not find it on the Internet Archive. It has surfaced since I saw it. This film features early performances by both Mickey Rooney and Jackie Searl.

The film deals with a cop who seeks vigilante justice when the system won’t find solutions. It’s a surprisingly effective title.

To view the film go here.

Emil and the Detectives (1931)

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

A later remake of this story appeared on my list a few years back. I saw this and the 1935 version for the Billy Wilder blogathon. Here was my take on it it from there:

Emil and the Detectives (1931)

Emil und die Detektive (1931, Ufa)

My first exposure to this tale in anyway was the 1964 Walt Disney-produced version. Interestingly enough it ends up being rather a hybrid of the first two adaptations of the novel onto film. The actors are American but the story is German-set. As one would expect Disney is still Disney but much of the charm of the story still exists and it was one of my favorite film discoveries of 2012.

This tale is German and translated, but with a solid cast, very well-composed cinematography and an engaging storyline it works fairly well.

Clearly the standout the first time around was the visual-flair. The kids’ world with adults on the periphery is there, it’s adventurous and fun but a safe world. What Wilder and the team brought to the 1931 tale, that is likely also part of the fabric of the book, is that there is a naturalism to it, which when dealing with a crime and solving it means there is an inherent level of danger. With Disney some of the edge is taken off and its clubhouse-like. What is delightful to see the seeming opposites co-exist naturally.

What was written by the New York Herald seems well warranted and rings true to this day:

“The great simplicity in design and execution, the perfect naturalness and the move away from that particular sentimental hypocrisy and affectation, which often viewed as an inevitable prerequisite of cinematic oeuvre.”

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

While sticking fairly close to the source Wilder taps into and accentuates some of the universal truths of this tale and storytelling for young people that this narrative highlights. First, there is the introduction of the audience to “another world.” Though not a fantasy world in any sense, but rather just the big city we are still viewing somewhere fairly unknown to the protagonist and perhaps to us as well. The creation and depiction of the outsider is perfectly played.

Something that Michael Rosen underscored that I had never quite put my finger on is the following:

“I’ve always felt that children’s books that last the best are those which engender a sense of yearning in the child: you want to be there, you want to be them, you want to be as clever or as lucky as them. For me Emil and the Detectives has this in bucketloads.”

I would go so far as to extend that notion to any great children’s literature read at any age. For example, I first read Harry Potter in my senior year of High School, if I’m not mistaken, and as I made my way through that series I had that sense of yearning also.

Now something else Disney did was to add a more fantastical feel to the tale. Whereas what was shocking and controversial about the book, and handled so well by the original film versions, was the naturalness of the setting in which these children find themselves. It isn’t a fantasy or a far off world, but rather these kids, much like those that lived at that time, much like you or I in real city with a very real problem. Perhaps it is that singular notion that has kept the story alive even through a period where the Nazis tried to rewrite German culture and Europe and the world wasn’t as willing to dabble in anything Teutonic.

Emil and the Detectives (1929)

The trajectory of the project is one that will look familiar. It’s not that unlike a hot literary project today. It was published in 1929 was an almost instant hit. In 1930 a version hit the German stage, the adaptation by Kästner himself. The film rights were then picked up by Ufa. Although, a relative unknown at this point Wilder ended up working on versions of the film with Kästner and others. The success of People on Sunday had allowed him to become a professional screenwriter that the studio would tap for such an important project as this one.

One thing that the 1931 Emil and the Detectives excels at is visual storytelling. It is one of the earliest and most important German sound films but it is not as stagebound as many early US talkies are. There are montages, moving shots around Berlin and a wondrous impressionistic dream sequence which is breathtaking. Suspense is built by watching, following or hiding and not dependent on dialogue exchanges for too much.

Film Quarterly in 1933 astutely stated that:

“It is remarkable that the cinema all but ignores the very considerable audience of children that supports it; and it is tragic that the few films specially made for children lead one to wish that they had been ignored.”

This a lead-in to praise for this film, and in many ways, that can still be true today what’s key is that that the filmic touches are left to the apt maneuvering of the crew behind the scenes and the kids for lack of a better term just have to be themselves and seem to be selected specifically to be able to “be” their part rather than “play” it.

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

As the date on the Film Quarterly review indicates the original film version had quite a legacy. While sadly many of the young actors who took part in the film would end up dying on the front in World War II it did launch an acting career for three of its cast members Hans Richter, Martin Rickelt (then Baumann) and Inge Landgut.

Such was its continued success that it was showed on Christmas in 1937 as Wilder was in the US and Kästner was forbidden to write.

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

What the Peeper Saw (1971, VCI Entertainment)

This is one I had known of for quite some time but was unavailable on video until this last year. Thanks to VCI Entertainment’s limited run it enjoys a new day in the sun. Just knowing that Brit Eklund stars in it (star of some of the better-known gialli), and Mark Lester playing as against his Oliver! persona as possible (as seemed to be the idea behind all his choices of roles after it) are intriguing enough. Add to it the diabolical mindgames between stepmother and stepson, and the twists this tale takes and it’s highly entertaining and still rather shocking. Quite worth looking into if you’re intrigued and not dissuaded by a dysfunctional family feud.

Children of the Moon (a.k.a Mondscheinkinder) (2006)

Mondscheinkinder (2006, Piffl Medien)

This is a visually imaginative, creative film about a child isolated by a rare photosensitive condition, his dreams and his best friend who acts as sister and protector to him. It features tremendous voice-over, creative use of animation. It’s touching, entertaining and well acted.

This series will conclude on Monday.