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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Kung Fu Vampires & Medieval Christians

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, June 18, 2019 01:25pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month I review a crazy cult vampire kung fu zombie movie and a cinematic masterpiece about a Christian painter in the Middle Ages.

The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires, Shout Factory/Scream Factory:
This was the only time that the mighty Hammer Studios teamed up with the Shaw Brothers, but they should have made a habit of it. This delirious kung fu vampire zombie film is one of the most entertaining movies either studio produced. It kind of combines what both studios did best. On the Hammer side, you have actors like Peter Cushing playing distinguished aristocrats and the studio's beautiful gothic neon technicolor cinematography. On the Shaw Brothers side of things, you have hideous monsters, surreal flourishes in the story and images, and some of the best kung fu fighting you'll ever see. When you mix them together it's like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of pure horror movie fun. The film starts with a Chinese villain traveling to Transylvania to enlist Count Dracula's help in reincarnating the legendary seven golden vampires in his homeland. Dracula instead steals his identity and travels himself to China to become the new ruler of these vampires of the far east. Meanwhile, Doctor Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing) is giving a lecture tour in China, trying to warn the country's scientists of the vampire scourge. He tells them that he has heard legends of a town terrorized by a group of seven vampires. He's pretty much laughed off the stage by everyone except for one man who knows the doctor is telling the truth. The man's name is Hsi Ching and he's from the town the seven golden vampires have recently returned to. He and his seven brothers enlist the aid of Van Helsing, and, with the help of a traveling dilettante heiress who underwrites the expedition, they all take off to defeat the monsters. What follows is a series of adventures that plays like an Indiana Jones movie infested with vampires and zombies. The film is filled with action scenes that are like a form of kung fu ballet. The vampires have a literal army of zombies and the fight scenes are non-stop.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Melies, Moles & Mantises

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, May 22, 2019 07:58pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases.

Melies Fairy Tales In Color, Blackhawk Films/Flicker Alley:
I was less than halfway through my first viewing of this when I realized it was one of my favorite things I own. Many of these films have been released many times before. I already own a couple of restored Georges Melies collections and they look good, but they don't look anything like this. To begin with, my old collections are in black & white, but this new set is in COLOR! These weren't colorized by Ted Turner, no, each and every frame of these films was hand painted. Melies was a genius who just couldn't accept the shortcomings of technology. Sure, film had just been invented and was only silent and black & white, but Melies wasn't about to let those basic facts hold him back. So he had every frame of his movies painted with gorgeous color that reminds one of the French postcards that were contemporaneous to Melies' films. The director had fantastic images he wanted to show so he developed a variety of special effects to show them. Double exposures, substitution splices, time-lapse photography... Melies developed and did whatever it took to make his visions real and the results are just as jaw dropping now as they were a hundred and twenty years ago.

The films are surreal, complex, and fantastic, they create a unique world of magic and wonder. This set is worth it just for the restored version of A Trip To The Moon alone. Melies' loose and fanciful adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel has long been considered one of the cornerstones of cinema. I've seen the film many times before but this new color version is like seeing it for the first time. The hand-painted frames make the fantastic lunar world even more stunning and psychedelic. But A Trip To The Moon is just one of thirteen films on this set, and others like The Kingdom Of The Fairies and The Impossible Voyage are equally surreal and amazing. There are scenes on this disc that you will find yourself watching over and over because the images are just so timeless and cool. The person who painted Melies' sets is one of the best painters I've ever seen. I kept freeze-framing the films just to stop and soak up the amazing details of his painted backdrops. Labyrinthine cities, dense tangled forests, haunted medieval towns -- his details were just spectacular. The hand-painted colors add another whole dimension to the films. Often they are more than just coloring and actually react to the action occurring on screen. Melies had an influence on every artist who came after him. At times, artists like Salvador Dali, Walt Disney, and Terry Gilliam just seem to be copying him. His influence on the surrealists especially is incalculable, but elements of his work exist throughout pop culture. Some of the most timeless images in film history are in this set. It belongs in every person's collection.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: It's All Black And White

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, April 30, 2019 06:24pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Recently we've been treated to an avalanche of new Blu-ray releases of classic fifties black and white movies. In this article, I'm going to focus on a couple of recent sci-fi and horror classics. In the 1950s, Hollywood turned America’s fear of atomic bombs and their fallout into drive-in movie gold. An endless stream of radioactive monsters invaded movie screens and the public ate them up with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Now, decades later, many of these drive-in classics are being remastered and released on Blu-ray. There are too many to review in one month so I’ll just focus on a couple of the best of them:

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Legacy Collection, Universal:
It looks like The Creature From The Black Lagoon has finally been fixed. This Legacy Collection actually Creature From The Black Lagooncame out in the fall of 2018, but it was one of the most screwed up Blu-ray releases in recent history. The first Creature film has been out on Blu-ray for years but everyone has anxiously been awaiting the remastered sequels. Everything else in the Legacy series had been released on Blu-ray and the Creature set was one of the last two to be put out. The first Creature film looked just fine, but the sequels were a disaster. Universal had completely screwed up the mastering on the disc to the point where the entire run eventually had to be recalled. Here at the store we've had this Legacy set on backorder for months, but we just started getting new copies in the past three weeks. These are finally the corrected discs. There's still some griping online about the quality of the sequels though. I can understand the complaints, some of the scenes still look a little soft, but I'm pretty sure the blurriness one sees here and there was in the original film elements. The majority of the scenes are crystal clear and finally in hi-def. The underwater scenes look especially immaculate and you can see details of the creature costume that were never discernible before. The Creature From The Black Lagoon has always been my favorite Universal monster movie. It's just a perfect little story that is well told. The sequels are pretty great as well even though they kind of retread the original. The gill man has one of the best designs in monster history, he's fearsome yet still slightly human. The story is a simple straight to the point narrative: a team of scientists travel to the depths of the Amazon in search of a fossilized missing link between humans and sea creatures. Instead, they find the still-living real McCoy and all hell breaks loose as they fight for their lives. The film is kind of like the ultimate distillation of man verses nature.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Art & Zombies

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, March 5, 2019 07:30pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. I figured I’d make things a little more highbrow this month, so I’m starting off with a recent Criterion Collection edition of a classic Orson Wells film:

The Magnificent Ambersons, Criterion Collection:
The Magnificent Ambersons is not a magnificent movie; it's a mediocre movie magnificently made. Orson Magnificent AmbersonsWells was such a genius that he could polish a turd even as weak as this script. As a result, we are just carried along from the beginning of the movie by one beautifully filmed and staged deep focus set piece after another. The cinematography is breathtaking and inventive and flawlessly sharp in this new Criterion Collection remaster. The only problem is that if you stop and think about the movie there isn't much "there" there. The whole thing comes off as the best filmed episode of Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous. Wells was trying to create another definitive American myth of wealth and power but unlike his masterpiece Citizen Kane, the central characters of this film are just not that interesting or likable. The main protagonist George Amberson is especially unlikeable -he's really just a spoiled brat and a jerk. Kane at least had obsessions and demons that drove him to memorable scenes of pathos and drama, George Amberson on the other hand is just kind of a dick. The film follows the ups and downs of the Amberson clan, who were the richest family in Indianapolis, Indiana at the turn of the last century. Some of the most engaging scenes are where Wells examines the changing fashions and technology of those long gone times. After describing the city, the era, and the other family members, Wells focuses his attention on spoiled brat and only child George. Unlike the people around him, George is a hedonist with no goals in life. The only career he aspires to is "yachtsman." George treats everyone around him like shit and views money as an endless resource, but times change and fortunes fall. When things start to go bad, this clan of aristocrats are particularly unprepared for it.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Two British Classics

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, February 19, 2019 07:35pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month I look at two fantastic British films.

The Horror Of Dracula, Warner Archive:
There have been some nice recent releases of Hammer horror films and this is one of the best of them. The Horror of DraculaThis was the first of many vampire movies that Hammer produced and in many ways it is a template for the horror films that came after it. The Hammer dream crew worked on this: screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, produced by Anthony Hinds, and directed by Terence Fisher. These three men were behind the very best Hammer films. But it's the movie's two central stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who really make this work. Their dynamic was at the core of Hammer's best films and anything that the two of them star in is worth watching.

When this was released in 1958, it was a huge commercial and critical success and, along with 1957's Curse Of Frankenstein, led to Hammer reinventing the classic Universal monsters in lurid modern technicolor. The plot of this sticks pretty close to Bram Stoker's original novel, but where it radically departs from the source material is in its tone. One of the most unsettling things about this movie is Terence Fisher's decision to portray vampirism as a sexualized form of addiction. The victims of Dracula are overcome with a lust where they can't wait for him to come each night and suck their blood, and the portrayals of this behavior are truly disturbing. Christopher Lee's acting is central to this vision; his Dracula can be handsome and charming or an unrelenting sexual predator whose frenzied hunger is almost animalistic. Other than possibly Bela Lugosi, I think that Christopher Lee is the best actor who has ever donned Dracula's cape. Peter Cushing is like the other half of the circle. His vulnerability and humanity are the perfect foil for Lee's undead villain. Watching the two of them playing off each other is pure pleasure. This film works on every level. Even the cinematography is marvelous with every scene soaked in rich gothic colors, which look fantastic in this hi-def remaster. If you have never watched a Hammer horror film, this is a perfect one to start with. It is one of the five best vampire movies ever made.

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