Sunday, August 17, 2014

In Loving Memory of Buck Nonnemaker

Many people that belong to our Digging Star Wars group knew Buck Nonnemaker. For those of you who don't: he was a great guy that fought cancer for years and just passed away this week. A loving father, good friend, caring co-worker, expert videographer, classic film fan - the list goes on and on of what Buck was to so many people. Simply put: Buck was one of us, only ten times nicer. Please consider donating whatever you can to The Buck Foundation - which hopes to carry on the fight against cancer. To borrow from Yoda, when it comes to your donation "size matters not." Just do what you can - if you can. Thanks....



Buck and I also belonged to a film group with our frequent guest and friend, Phil Congleton. Phil has saved some of Buck's movie reviews of classic films. Here's a sampling of Buck's writings on classic films from 1961...


The Hustler (1961)
This one was packed full of talent. Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott all gave terrific performances. Gleason as Minnesota Fats didn’t have to say much. Just the way he looked at people and moved around a pool table spoke volumes. Scott’s sleaze ball character was brilliant as I found myself despising him for his obvious love of cash and apathy of everything else. And, of course, young “blue eyes” (may he rest peacefully) was a perfect fast Eddie, hot headed, showing his youth by acting invincible. The opening scene of the 25-hour pool game moved seamlessly replete with anticipation. After that this movie slowed down tremendously. Sara and Eddie’s intentionally awkward “un” relationship took forever to not develop and drained some of the life out of the film. I did find Piper Laurie’s performance of the emotionless, on-again-off-again alcoholic strangely captivating. She gave a bit of perspective to Eddie that seemed to mature him upon her death. It’s just a shame he never got to tell her he loved her. Instead he had to tell “sleaze ball”. And yet again, love is more powerful than the fame and the fortune! – Grade: B+
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
I never knew that while I was making doo doo in my dipey a stunning and quirky Audrey Hepburn was bringing radiance to the silver screen. Holly Golightly (what a great name), seems to walk on air with a wonderful grace, even after 7 or 8 bourbons. And speaking of drinking … was there any character in this film that wasn’t a complete alcoholic. What a group of friends! What a party! George Peppard did a great job of trying to figure this crazy woman out while falling in love with her. I could have watched an entire movie of this couple wandering in and out of Tiffany’s, the library, the 5 & dime, anywhere that some spoofy conversation would perplex the poor salesperson behind the counter. And, boy, were the stereotypes flying around back in ’61. I mean, Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yushiani with big buckteeth and thick lens glasses hollering “I call da Porees!”, would not fly today. When Buddy Ebsen referred to Holly as “Lula Mae” I thought I was suddenly watching a rerun of the Beverly Hillbillies again. Was he Jed Clampett in everything he did? The final scene in the pouring rain really tugged at my heartstrings. I was so happy that she found the cat! – Grade: A
The Ladies Man (1961)
Let me guess... No one was nominated for an Academy Award in this one. Maybe it’s just me but Jerry Lewis desperately needs a Dean Martin. In the Lewis and Martin films I’ve seen Dean was always a wonderful set-up guy, smooth and straight, while Jerry could be a complete goofball to deliver the slapstick punch line. In this film, it appeared that Lewis was almost trying to be both the clumsy retard and the compassionate gentleman. Unfortunately, Herbert Herbert alone made for a very long 90 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I laughed out loud when he attempted to straighten out the thug’s favorite hat or was spoon-fed in an oversized highchair (plenty of ad libbing in those scenes). But the laughs were few and far between. I did enjoy the theatrical feel the movie had with open sets and simple choreography. And the opening chain reaction sequence on the “street” was brilliant. I wished it could have lasted a bit longer. It seemed that every new character introduced in this film was crazier than the previous, making Herbert appear to be the normal one. – Grade: C+
The Night aka La Notte (1961)
Giovanni and Lydia have the fame and the fortune, the great Italian car, plenty of alcohol, fine cigars, lovely clothing, etc., etc. Yet they lack affection for one another. This film accurately portrays the ever-so-common tale of a couple that has grown bored with one another. Both attractive people that have taken for granted a partner that can provide compassion, intimacy, and affection to the other. Giovanni is so desperate for affection he finds himself in a wild-eyed crazy lady’s room whom kisses with teeth clenched, removes her clothes immediately inviting her visitor to enter her with carelessness… And the damn fool would have done it if it weren’t for two zealous nurses who break it up and proceed to beat the woman about the head. I suppose Giovanni had done nothing wrong. From that point on this film got slow and strange, or stranger. The party, which took up most of the second half, was full of oddball characters with money that all seemed to be yearning for something they didn’t have. But Lydia, who deserves all my respect, could not fool around on her husband. She attempted to keep her composure, even soaking wet, while her frustrated husband made every attempt to get under the skirt of the daughter of a man who just offered him an insanely lucrative job. Boys will be boys! - Grade: B-
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Yet another reason Brando is a household name. His smooth, almost sedated delivery and casual approach to killing make him a likeable liar in this one. And the girls just go gaga over that smile! Nuff about Marlon, how bout that Karl Malden? Just a few years before his overacting success on the hit drama “Streets of San Francisco”, we find him once again overacting but this time while flying over prairies by horse and demonstrating his skills of dance while intoxicated. Nothin’ more fun than a drunken politician! Actually, Malden does a pretty bang up job as bad guy turned sheriff. This film is replete with wide, static shots of rolling hills and gorgeous scenery. In fact throughout the movie the camera has very little movement creating a mellow, serene mood to depict the laidback attitude of the Wild West. I found this to slow the movie a bit and a few of the scenes dragged on. But back to Brando… is he cool or what? The scene where he is explaining just why it is necessary for him to kill the sheriff is brilliant. Gonna go watch me some more old Brando flicks! - Grade: B-
Through the Glass Darkly (1961)
The first half hour of this movie I felt was filled with generally boring dialogue contained in long deliberate scenes. Although some of the camera movement was interesting, Karin’s “incurable illness” was initially peculiar and unclear. The sound of a lone cello created eerie interludes and left me wondering if I would make it through this one. However, as the film moved on I realized that this young German actress did a fine job of portraying a woman struggling with dementia and schizophrenia. And crazy she was. God is a spider trying to penetrate her? Yea. That’s certified nuts! If I’m not mistaken brother Minus was the one who did the penetrating although that was never made clear. Papa’s retelling of his attempt at suicide was powerful and Martin’s unconditional love of Karin remarkable. Considering the story was two hours long based around four characters in one location, it kept me watching and wondering. As the story developed the dialogue became poetic and engaging presenting the struggle we all have with faith and where God is in all of this. - Grade: B+
Viridiana (1961)
Just another story about a pretty girl trying to become a nun and decides to visit her uncle one last time, he dresses her up in his widow’s wedding gown, drugs her coffee and then attempts to rape her. Pretty normal so far, right? Yeah, this one was quirky to say the least and got stranger as it went. Poor Viridiana was always trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that thing tended to blow up in her face. And vagrants will be vagrants. Taking in the homeless is commendable. Leaving them alone at the estate for several hours is just plain stupid. The beggars’ parody of the Last Supper got an audible chuckle out of me. But overall this film lacked plenty, moved slowly, and had me thinking if I were surrounded by all these lunatics, I would also want to hide away in a convent the rest of my mortal life. – Grade: C
The Pier aka La Jetee (1961)
I wasn’t sure if this one was going to count since it had a date of 1963 in the opening credits. ??? I loved the idea of using stills throughout this piece except for one brief moving video where the woman blinks. Some of the stills were so close in framing that it presented tension, paralleling the anguish of the human-turned-guinea pig. This circular story had my head spinning a bit but I couldn’t look away. The whispering voices were eerie and I wanted them to stop. The relationship with the woman, which appeared to be completely in his mind, left me wondering if the witnessing of his own death, unclear how he died, was also a fabrication of the psyche. - Grade: B+
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
This film had a unique approach, an unusual, eeriness that drew me in. From the very start it had stunning camera movement winding down corridors and exploiting the architecture of this immense structure. In contrast, the people contained within the frame remained statuesque, motionless for the most part. The dialogue was poetic yet intentionally repetitious. A haunting organ provided the mood while the main characters were unnamed and had no depth to them whatsoever. A man attempting to convince an aloof woman that they had met a year prior at a similar affair was relentless. I had no way of knowing past from present, present from future, reality from fantasy as the scenes would change abruptly midway through a conversation. By the end, I was sure that this man had narrated his own ending, drawing the woman away from her husband, eyes glazed, elegantly departing with a man she had never met before. This was one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a long time. But, strange as I am, I loved it! – Grade: B+
Lola (1961)
Boy is bored and wants some excitement in his life. Boy quits job and finds a new one full of travel, intrigue, and suspense. Boy meets dancer girl and falls in love. Now boy doesn’t want to leave girl to travel with new job full of intrigue, etc. No matter. Girl doesn’t love him anyway but is in love with some guy who impregnated her with a boy and took off six years ago. He just wanted to make sure he got good and rich before he came back for them… I found this story silly and a fairly boring French chick flick. The acting was so-so and the scenes felt very deliberate in their approach. I also had a hard time figuring out what time of day it was in several of the scenes. Time to get Yvon off to school followed by meeting up for dinner at the new friends’ place. Yet the lighting and feel of the scenes felt identical as if no time had passed at all. The strangest part of the movie was the slo-mo sequence in which Frankie the sailor and young Cecile hop off of a ride, hand in hand, looking oddly like age lopsided sweethearts. Those French sure are peculiar. – Grade: C
Splender in the Grass (1961)
I know that teen love can be frustrating and confusing but these two teens went a little too quickly into crazy nut mode. C’mon get over yourselves and each other, please. I mean, two years in the rubber house! Is it possible there was something deeper to this than her boyfriend deciding he may want to be left alone a little? Now that that’s off my chest… Natalie Wood was downright adorable in 1961 and did a pretty good job as Deanie. She actually gave herself a decent new hairstyle considering she used a pair of hedge shears for the job. Beatty’s performance was fairly solid when he could slip a couple of lines in edgewise while his Dad hollered, scolded, spit, and sweat all over himself. Actually, I think Pat Hingle’s acting was the best in the bunch. It was a solid performance. Overall, the film moved a little slowly and carried a bit of redundancy to it. I enjoyed watching this one but soon realized that it only takes 30 seconds or so to conclude that being in love at 16 can be very difficult. – Grade: B-
West Side Story (1961)
I have to admit I was not looking forward to watching this one. I’m not big on musicals. But I found myself whistling “I want to live in America” the day after I watched it. This film has all kinds of music that has become standards over the years. In fact, “There’s a place for us” was sung at my own wedding. Go figure. I’ve probably mentioned this before but Natalie Wood was damn cute back in the ‘60s. She actually pulled off a pretty good Latino accent too. This street version of Romeo and Juliet was dripping with racial drama and choreography that came straight from the theatre stage. This couple was so instantly in love, you just knew somebody had to die. And how many times do you get to see street gangs clad in pastel shirts, tight pants, spinning circles in the ‘hood like ballerinas. Drained the testosterone right out of me! – Grade: C+

Rest in Peace, Buck. We miss you.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Robotech Academy ~ Kickstarted, Then Kicked to the Curb

Tonight, I sat down at the computer with my wallet in hand ready to donate to the Robotech Academy Kickstarter campaign ...only to find out that Harmony Gold cancelled the campaign a few days before the final deadline. Why? Because the funding stalled around $170K then trickled up to only $194K - several $100,000 short of it $500K goal. Here's the one of many RA Kickstarter videos:


I won't write a blog entry on why this campaign "failed" because someone already did that. And, as some of you know, I LOVE Robotech and have even written a paper on Robotech's treatment of Aliens vs. Hybrids which I presented at PASSHE in April 2012.

This blog entry was going to be a last minute plea for sci-fi fans to support the rebirth of a sprawling space opera that paved a path for Rebels and The Clone Wars (listen to our CW review #1 and #2 which mentions the Robotech/Clone Wars connections). Now, it's simply a memorial to another failed Robotech project. Nonetheless, I hope Harmony Gold figures out how to make Academy into a reality.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

BOWFINGER TOUR

For those of you that remember my Blade Runner Tour of LA, you know that I love going to various film locations. Any trip to LA provides a plethora of movie locations, so last week  I decided to do a BOWFINGER tour of the City of Angels. The tour has nothing whatsoever to do with Star Wars, but I thought it was worth sharing all the same…especially since Bowfinger (1999) is in my Top 10 favorite movies of all time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bowfinger, here’s the trailer (although this trailer really doesn’t do the film justice):



The following contains minor spoilers. You’ve been warned…

The tour begins - but where else? – at the home of Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) in Hollywood.


For exact addresses of this and other locations, check out the link at the bottom of this post. In the movie, they added columns and an archway reading “Bowfinger International Pictures.” See...


Below is a shot I took on my phone. This is roughly one of the same angles used in the film (but in the film, there was no iron gate between the house and the road).Note the Capitol Records building in the back.




From there my buddy Josh and I went to the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood which doubles as MindHead HQ in the movie. Here it is in the movie:


And here it is with Josh...


This is a really cool building all the way around with cubist architecture and gigantic sculptures – like this Mega-Chair…



From there, we went over to Westwood Village for the theatre which hosted the premiere of Bowfinger’s sci-fi film “Chubby Rain.” 



Unfortunately, they were not showing Chubby Rain. Instead, they were screening Michael Bay’s latest Transformers movie. Bummer.


From there, we went to the original location of La Dome, the real life restaurant that served up many a power lunch. It is here that Bowfinger scores a deal with Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey, Jr.).


La Dome closed shop for good in 2005 and, as far as I can tell, a few businesses have set up shop and failed in the same locale. This is my impersonation of Bowfinger’s proclamation of a “go picture!” at the one-time address of La Dome.


Next stop: the home of Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy).  In the movie, they visit this location several times: Bowfinger enters through these gates to give Kit the Chubby Rain script, they film a scene with Daisy (Heather Graham) chasing Kit’s car, etc. One scene ends with Bowfinger jumping out of the bushes and yelling “Cut!” like I’m doing here…


Perhaps the most practical location is Rae’s Restaurant in Santa Monica which is an operating diner that’s appeared in several films including Bowfinger


Here’s my good friend Scott and his daughter Emerson in the same area where Bowfinger’s crew realize that Jiff (also played by Eddie Murphy) is actually Kit’s brother. 


And that plant in the background is the same plant in the movie! Here's a still from the movie...



There’s plenty of additional locations I didn’t hit this tour – including the iconic Griffith Observatory (which I’ve been to numerous times - if you haven't been there, you should go). For most of the addresses and additional information regarding a BOWFINGER tour of LA, check out this link: http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/b/bowfinger.html#.U7m8U_ldX5w

My tour took only 2 days – thanks to my friends Josh and Scott chauffeuring me around. But, in theory, you could hit all the above locations in one day – with careful planning and minimal traffic. Either way, it only costs a tank of gas and a meal at Rae’s – well worth it, in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Son of Digging Star Wars


An aspiring, young sports writer (that just so happens to live under the same roof as me) has started his own blog on the 2014 World Cup. Please check it out and post a comment if you're so inclined. Here's the link:


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Neighbours (1952)

Despite several articles (like this one) and interviews that acknowledge the multiple influences art films like Neighbours had on George Lucas, it surprises me how little interest or patience many Star Wars fans have for art films.

In 2004, I was lucky enough for LucasFilm and AtomFilms to select my Star Wars fan film as one of 10 finalists in The Official Star Wars Fan Film Festival at San Diego Comic-Con. This was very exciting as Mr. Lucas personally screened each of the 10 finalist films himself – in order to award one the “George Lucas Selects” award. My film entitled MADE TO SUFFER was based on his earlier “arty” student films (like Herbie) and presented an experimental representation of the dual nature of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and his golden creation: one-time “binary load-lifter” programmer, C-3PO. Upon meeting some of the other Star Wars fan filmmaker finalists who made clever SW parodies or EU narratives, I was met with icy cold receptions and comments like, “Oh. You made that film.” Needless to say, I didn’t make any new friends that day.  But that didn’t matter. George Lucas saw my movie and it was played repeatedly at the LucasFilm pavilion at the convention. That was almost good enough for me. Here is my less-than-one-minute film…


Most certainly, MADE TO SUFFER is a different type of fan film. However, there truly is plenty of room for all types of inspirations and genres within Star Wars. And so, a seed was planted and would blossom six years later when I launched the Digging Star Wars blog…

Many of the Star Wars faithful heard the stories of George Lucas watching Saturday serials, reading comic books and the like as a kid. Few fans acknowledge his art film legacy. Lucas’ college film buddies, mentors, and collaborators were a crafty bunch – creating cutting edge cinema in ragtag facilities, often geared more for art houses and film festivals than the mainstream movie theater. This avant-garde bent is most prevalent in Lucas’ early short films and his first feature, THX-1138.



Lucas also ingested art films with as much enthusiasm as the beloved serials. One such film – that inspired a number of Star Wars elements and film techniques – is Neighbours (1952).

Not to be confused with the Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy released last month, “Neighbours” is crafted by Scottish-Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren and is the tale of two neighbors that fight over a single flower that pops up between their properties. While the story grows darker and darker during the course of the film, the storytelling method – using variable-speed photography and stop-frame animation – is incredibly playful. Here is the short film in its entirety…



Neighbours won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). While the film is clearly an artful narrative, the anti-war theme is the main message.



Wikipedia lists that the film has had an interesting number of American re-edits throughout history as our country’s attitude towards war changed from the 1950s to 1970s and so on.

After seeing Neighbours, several Jedi references – both technically and thematically – lept out at me. From the “fencing” to the stop-motion “flight” of the men, I saw nods to lightsaber duels and speeder bikes. Jedi, as mentioned in our Saving Private Ryan episode, is perhaps the most political film of the original trilogy when it comes to depicting warfare. In Neighbours, the continuous fighting warps the faces of the men battling each other over the flower. The tribal-like distortion of facial features is very similar to how Anakin Skywalker looks like once Luke takes Vader’s mask off. This is no coincidence. Vader is the ultimate symbol of the galactic civil war, of innocence lost, and how a man can become “more machine now than man” thanks to the evil and ruthless pursuit of power and domination.



Likewise, the pale, wrinkled face of the Emperor illustrates a man that is so bent on controlling the galaxy, it has warped and mutilated his own face…

Movie lovers often complain of film snobs that won’t see mainstream movies. In my humble opinion, movie-watching is a two-way street. If you love a “popcorn-movie” like Star Wars, you should give the films that inspired the saga – including little, bitty art films like Neighbours, a chance. And, fellow fan filmmakers, leave a little room in your heart for weird tiny experiments like Made to Suffer. Because you never know who may watch a film like “that”…maybe even George Lucas himself. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Labyrinth (1986) and Star Wars: Episode VII

When it comes to Episode VII, you never know what rumors or insight to believe or not...unless it comes from J.J. Abrams himself, that is. Check out this message from the director of the latest SW movie...




Great! Puppets, right? Well, the first thing that popped into my head was the George Lucas/Jim Henson collaboration, Labyrinth starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, and "The Junk Lady" - who seems a lot like the backpacking alien above.


Check this out this clip (and, no, I don't endorse or know what the website at the top of the clip is all about)...




Pretty cool, in my humble opinion. If Abrams is as big of a fan as he says in the first clip, expect to see more wonderful nods to great classic films within the next chapter of SW. After all, it's embedded in Star Wars to reference the past.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Message fom the 501st

My good friend C.J. Witherspoon went across enemy lines, conspired with The Empire, and brought back this incredibly awesome video from the Dark Lord of the Sith and his minions! Truly honored Garrison Carida of the 501st took the time to do this. Thanks, CJ, Chad and the whole 501st!