Max Von Sydow – 1929-2020

A lot of eloquent people have already weighed in on the passing of one of cinema’s most galvanizing actors.

I will to this only add, the measure of a great actor is his ability to elevate everything he is in.

And while I saw only a smattering of the 163 films and TV shows he was involved in, of the two dozen or so things I saw him in, I always enjoyed his performance, what he brought to the audience.

And the one that comes to mind first for me, before the masterpiece that is the SEVENTH SEAL or NEEDFUL THINGS or DUNE or STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS or CONAN THE BARBARIAN or EXORCIST or THE MAGICIAN, etc… before all these, the performance of Max Von Sydow that comes to mind first, when I think of him, is his performance in an oft decried movie… the Slyvester Stallone starring and Danny Cannon directed JUDGE DREDD from 1995.

JUDGE DREDD was supposed to be a huge Box Office success, Danny Cannon coming off of critical praise for YOUNG AMERICANS, and with a star in Sylvester Stallone that was coming off three films, that while they didn’t light the world on fire, were good popcorn movies that audiences enjoyed, and managed to make back their investment; JUDGE DREDD was looked at, as a rising tide, that would lift all boats.

In reality it was a raging storm, that almost sunk all involved, a disaster at the box office, and damaged careers left and right.

That said, horrendous Ja-Ja Binks level of non-comedy relief in Rob Schneider aside, the good in this movie far outweighs the bad.

I actually really like this movie. Especially when compared to the 2012 Pete Travis directed DREDD, which a lot of people love; I can not stand that movie. I see it as an inept RAID ripoff, that is just mean-spirited and unlikeable and unenjoyable throughout. Compared to DREDD, I’ll take JUDGE DREDD any day.

And one of the main reasons is Max Von Sydow, he is the main reason. That scene where his character takes the long walk into the Cursed Earth to ‘bring the law to those who have it not’ is not just one of the finest scenes in that movie, it is one of the finest scenes in any movie. I love that one scene, that much. It is more heart and humanity and hope in that one scene than in the entirety of many more acclaimed films.

And it is great direction that makes that scene, but it is also the great gravitas that very few actors can bring to a role, or to a scene, with just their presence and face. Max Von Sydow was, and because film is forever, is that actor.

For me I will always see him as Judge Fargo, meeting his end… by showing us how to meet ours.

That’s all I wanted to share.

If I can find that scene, or part of it, I’ll link it below. But the film is worth revisiting, if for nothing more, Max Von Sydow’s long and last walk, into the Cursed Earth.

 

RIP.

 

 

Artbook of the Day : REBUS by James Jean! – One of 15 Best Artbooks of All Time?!!!

If my house, god forbid, was being evacuated, and after family, pets and other essentials, they told me “here is a box you have room to bring 15 of your artbooks” ; REBUS by James Jean, would be one of those books.

Now to clarify, I have a lot of artbooks, and if I do say so myself I only own what I consider GREAT and ESSENTIAL artbooks, so to narrow that down to 15… is difficult.

But here for your list reading pleasure, is one of those 15!

REBUS by James Jean

I actually love the design and construction of this book, more than the actual content. Don’t get me wrong, the artwork is great, very beautiful, and I like it quite a bit, but I do not love it. It is not quite my style, but the stunning construction of the book, with the red gilded pages, makes it such an art object in and of itself. It is the only James Jean book I own, and it is because of the beatiful construction and design of the book itself.

 

You can get your copy of REBUS here!

Trailer of the Day : Mark Amin’s EMPEROR (2020) and great Black History Month and All Year Long DVD and Blu-Ray Pickups!

Dayo Okeniyi in Emperor (2020)

This trailer came out of nowhere, but I loved it.

I’m not crazy about the poster tag-line, a ‘true legend’, while many true things with time become the stuff of legend, and many legends are stories that have outlived and outlasted the crumbling and burying into dust of all things, even concrete evidence, the putting together of those two words… ‘true legend’ , if not exactly an oxymoron, is just slightly inept marketing. You want to put those two together, try this… ‘in a time of imposed truths, he became in his own lifetime… a galvanizing legend’ .

Took me two seconds to come up with that, and I think it shows more thought than what their marketing department did. Call me guys if you need to fire them and get a better marketing presence, we’ll talk. 🙂 .

But that aside, a very good poster and a GREAT Trailer! If the movie lives up to it, it will be a blast.

As someone who just picked up the 2 season set of UNDERGROUND (almost sold out, so you may want to pick it up while you can, use the attached link) and who is a huge fan of the best in Pan African cinema such as SANKOFA, DARESALAM, HYENAS, GENESIS, I AM CUBA, CAMP DE THIAROYE  (also available courtesy of the attached links) this film definitely goes on my must check out list. Probably along with the WITCH:SUBVERSION one of the best trailers for the Month of February.

 

UNDERGROUND 2 season DVD

SANKOFA – arguably one of the finest, and both savage and beautiful films made, of a true Holocaust. Haile Gerima’s masterpiece. and the fact that this film is out of print, and does not have a Criterion or similar high-scale Blu-ray or DVD release, is only proof that we have a long way yet to go. Get a copy, you will thank me later.

Sankofa

 

 

Daresalam

DARESALAM – This is simply put, cinema at its finest. Get your copy, while you can.

 

I AM CUBAFor years this film was not available in the west, and then when I finally saw it, I think at a film festival, yeas ago, the camera work, in a time way before CGI, blew my mind. As a fan of David Lean, and Hitchcock and Welles and Fritz Lang, geniuses with the camera, this film was like a generational evolution. In an age before Steadicam adoption, the shots were absolutely mind blowing. When it finally was released on a quality DVD boxset, I rushed out and picked it up, and I told all of you to pick it up. For those new to this blog, back in the day, those who listened to me picked it up for $40. It is decidedly more than that, but still worth picking up, if you have the funds. A Masterpiece.

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Quick rant, feel free to bypass this. 🙂

Here’s a tip you should know. Quality  non-hollywood  films about and by people of color, especially politically provocative films, have a tendency of not staying in print. And either dry up entirely on the secondary market, or explode in price before disappearing into private collections rarely to see the light of day.

I am never in a rush to pick up KNIVES OUT or 1917 or AVENGERS ENDGAME, because that is going to be there for decades to come. But when I hear about a THE GREAT WAR or EMPEROR or a DARESALAM or a BROTHER JOHN on dvd or Blu-ray, I can not race fast enough to purchase these movies. Haile Gerima, who I had the pleasure to interview back in the day, understood the importance of retaining positive images, and words, and movies, and music. That is culture.

And when the ability to view or hear or see these sounds and images, is at the mercy and whims of multinationals… culture itself is held hostage. And the people who depend on the reflective power of culture, to help define the width and the breadth of their aspirations, are likewise diminished.

And particularly today when so many are weaned on streaming, physical media is ironically both scarcer and yet more important and arguably esteemed and sought after, than ever before.

Because those in the know, understand streaming giveth and streaming taketh away, based on the uninformed whims of the lynchmob. You want your favorite film, available to watch when you want, and in the cut of the film you remember, there is no replacement for physical media. There just is not.

Here endeth the soap-box interlude. 🙂

You can take it, or you can leave it alone. 🙂
Either way, be well.

 

 

 

Streaming VOD Movie of the 2nd Week of 2020 : MANDY Shudder Amazon Prime

 

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MANDY (2018)– Finally catching this 2018 released film courtesy of SHUDDER. And I have to say… stunning. A lurid and at times lucid nightmarish primary color tinged, cosmic fueled descent into the Maelstrom; a revenge flick that goes to damnation and beyond. Panos Cosmatos has created a singular vision of the places that wait beyond our reason, places horrid , and awe-inspiring, and unrelenting. And all we must offer up… is everything.

A stunning film by Cosmatos, fueled by a great score by (I have just found out) the late and uber talented Johann Johannsson (composer of one of the best scores of recent memory, SICARIO… he will be missed), and powered by transformative performances by all; but particularly by Nicholas Cage, who takes us into the maelstrom with him, into hearts of darkness.

Nicolas Cage has really been taking some rough roles, brutal roles recently. That will take much out of any actor, and he does it again here, but going further than anyone should have to, into places dark and demanding. And it is so great to see the legendary Bill Duke in a film, he just raises the bar of everything he is in, and does so here. Panos Cosmatos (the son of George Cosmatos who directed one of my favorite films, TOMBSTONE, also an iconic film, with revenge, pushing the wrong man too far, at its core conceit)  with only his second film, the first the equally magical realism imbued BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, has cemented himself for me, as a director to seek out, and to purchase his films when available.

And Kudos to producers Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah for helping champion these criminally underused (and in one case, seemingly blacklisted) visionaries, and working with them to get their films out to a wider audience again. MANDY is very much a gift, from a filmmaker who we have not heard from since 2010. Also very much looking forward to their collaboration with Richard Stanley.

Final thoughts on MANDY… Hypnotic and an experience, that is… compellingly watchable and re-watchable. It is a rabbit hole, and will suck you in. Highly recommended!

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When you have viewed it courtesy of streaming, ‘tried before you buy’ so to speak, and are as impressed as I am, then I suggest buying on Bluray. However I would hold out until they release a steel-book or digi-book with special features to include commentary. The Bluray on the market now lacks any commentary or really notable special features, which I think is a big misstep, to release a bare-bones disc. These days I do not buy a disc, unless it is loaded with special feature to include a commentary track.

In the age of streaming you really need to step up your game with the special features to make the Bluray worth it. Here’s hoping a full fledged disk will be released soon, this film deserves it.

 

Great Television Analyzed : Boris Karloff’s THRILLER (1960-1962)

THRILLER is a tv series hosted by the late, great Boris Karloff, that even for fans and students of cinema and television, is more rumored of than actually seen. So imagine my happy surprise to come home from a hard day of work and find the first season of this perennially hard to find show, available on the Roku Streaming Channel for free.

Very much an attempt to ride the popularity of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THRILLER ran only two seasons, starting out as a crime/thriller series before drifting into pure horror. The show never truly finding its footing or audience, but is remembered fondly by fans of classic television.

After watching the first episode “Twisted Image” I can see why. WoW! As someone watching this episode for the first time, 59 years after it was first aired, I was absolutely riveted. Everything here, works, the cinematography, the direction, the performances, the writing, the undercurrent of sex, dread and desperation… I mean we have seen variations on this theme, in the decades since, and yet this episode  still manages to own every single minute of its 48 minute run-time.

I can only imagine how powerful this episode must have seem in 1960. To a generation just coming off of shows like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER it must have felt nearly X-rated. And yet 60 years removed from that relatively simpler America, the show somehow magically still has power, and is still oddly relevant to our world now. A world of desperate people, doing desperate things, in an attempt to find someone to hold them through the night.

Directed by the esteemed Arthur Hiller, from a teleplay by James Cavanagh, from a novel by William O’Farrell, this is as good a 48 minutes of television as you will find.

And a quick aside about Arthur Hiller, while his cinematic filmography is impressive (see some of his movies below) it is filled mostly with comedies.

It is his little seen early television work that is imbued with this seedy, nightmarish intensity.

Tobruk (1967)The Out of Towners (1970)Miracle of the White Stallions (1963)Man of La Mancha (1972)

Al Pacino, Dyan Cannon, Tuesday Weld, Bob Dishy, and Alan King in Author! Author! (1982)

Liam Nielsen, long before becoming known to a younger generation as a comedic lead, cut his teeth doing serious, often mirthless roles. And this episode of THRILLER is one such role.  He is great here, as is the rest of the cast, but the real draw for me is actress Natalie Trundy, her beauty and fragile madness is the spark, that burns the whole world down.

Just a phenomenal episode. I would buy the boxset of THRILLER on Dvd/BLU-RAY  just to own this episode. It is that good. I put it right up there with the first episode of the original ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Now as I mentioned not every episode is a hit. Every great episode seems to be followed up with two mediocre ones, but the series is worth having for the great ones. Try it for free courtesy of Roku, and if as impressed as I, use the link below to get the box-set, while you can.

 

https://amzn.to/2IjIrsF

 

 

 

Thanks and Happy Holidays to You!

Thanks and Happy Holidays to the followers and supporters and visitors of this oft different blog on our pop culture and our times as seen thru an admitedly biased lens.

To paraphrase the great conversation between Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles characters in CITIZEN KANE (the product of 27yo wunderkind Orson Welles) :

Cotton: You know your problem, you want love on your own terms.

Welles: In the end those are the only terms anyone ever knows, their own.

This blog at its best is about things worth loving, on their own terms.

Thank you for a fantastic year of likes, comments, emails and suggestions, and of your own excellent content.

I am going to be shouting out all my followers (probably starting at the end of the day), from WAYLAND PROD of the excellent, and award winning podcast WE”RE ALIVE (https://www.werealive.com/) to one of the most talented people, writer, podcaster, reviewer DERRICK FERGUSON of the brilliant and must visit FERGUSON THEATER (https://derricklferguson.com) to THE GODLY CHIC of the always uplifting and rewarding GODLY CHICK DIARIES (https://gcdiaries.wordpress.com/) and every follower inbetween.

I’m going to try and space it out and do maybe 25 to an update so as to not inundate you guys, and keep my overview on their site very brief.

But I do want you guys to patronize some of the wonderful people who have patronized me over the years. Giving back and paying forward, I would like that to be how I end this two thousand and eighteenth year of a crucified lord, and begin the two thousand and nineteenth.

Happy Holidays to all of You!

 

 

 

John Krasinski’s THE QUIET PLACE : A Movie/VOD Review!

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So A QUIET PLACE has been on my radar to watch for a while, however other things took priority. However I heard a Youtube Film critic, recently say that A QUIET PLACE was his best film of 2018. Given the stiff competition of monumental film-making occurring in 2018, that seemed like a bold statement.

But I am always open to discovering a new great film. So today I watched, courtesy of Amazon Prime VOD, John Krasinski’s A QUIET PLACE.

John Krasinski came on my radar as he did with most people  in the brilliant 13 HOURS (that reminded Michael Bay critics, Michael Bay can be a great director), and this year in Amazon’s equally brilliant JACK RYAN series.

Here with his Sophomore feature film, A QUIET PLACE, Krasinski makes a solid little horror film. The silent conceit is a nice touch, and the movie plays a bit like an updated SEVEN.

The third act I feel the audience is way ahead of the characters, at least I was, so you are screaming at the characters to catch up and figure out the ultimate solution to the movie. Also somethings seemed odd… why wouldn’t you, in such a world, carry around firecrackers with you at all times to distract the menace, and carry weapons, and set traps etc (ala a bear trap and an alarm clock, as these things do not seem too particular in what they attack).

But overall a good B-movie. A solid B-. John Krasinski as well as being an actor to watch, is a filmmaker to watch.

Grade: B-.

As far as claims of A QUIET PLACE being the best movie of 2018… in a word… no.

Even allowing for film being subjective, it is not even the best b-movie film of the year (that honor goes to the excellent UPGRADE) much less the best film of the year (that would go to films like BLACK PANTHER, AVENGER INFINITY WAR etc).

But it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be worth your time, and for most of its run time it is. Recommended!

p.s.

And in case you wonder what is my bar for great films. here are some films I consider great, as in best of the year great (in their respective years) in no particular order…

THIRD MAN (Carol Reed/Orson Welles)

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

SUPERMAN

WRATH OF KHAN

MEMORIES OF MURDER

DARESALAM

CITY OF GOD

HYENA by Djibril Diop Mambety

Just about anything by Michael Mann

Just about anything in the latter half of his career by the late Tony Scott

Just about anything in the first half of his career by Ridley Scott

THE MISSION (both the Johnnie To Film and the Turkish film of the same title)

TUCKER

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

MALTESE FALCON

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN

GREED (Silent Film)

SUNRISE (Just about anything by Murnau or Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock)

The early films of M NIGHT SHYMALAN

PICKPOCKET (Robert Bresson)

And to this list you can safely put AVENGERS INFINITY WAR, BLACK PANTHER, CAPTAIN AMERICA WINTER SOLDIER, and the first AVENGERS, which all transcend being genre movies, to just be great films.