Friday, January 28, 2011

Quick update!

Quick update to anyone interested...

I have a new blog! One that contains my attempt at humorous writing about any topic that strikes my mood at any given moment: sex, current events, news, pop culture, personal matters, etc. It's entitled The Amateur Muse ( and I hope you check it out. Also, I jumped on that all too crowded and noisy bandwagon that is Twitter. Please follow me so that I can feel popular in that hollow sense you felt in high school:

And remember, if you enjoy my posts on either blog, feel free to drop me a line! Or twitter, tweet or twatter me or whatever the hell you call it!

All the best!


*Photo above courtesy of

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thank you Walter Murch: 3-D

Walter Murch, award winning film and sound editor on such films as APOCALYPSE NOW, JULIA, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, has written a letter to film critic Roger Ebert, stating the limitations and faultiness of 3-D. Here, he explains why audiences need to practice a lot of stressful brain power in order to have the illusion work, which in the opinion of myself and many other filmgoers, doesn't work at all. When I'm watching 3-D, I feel as though I'm envisioning images as though my head was chopped in two and hastily reattached, negatively altering my eyesight.

3-D is not merely a technical process but also an overhyped marketing gimmick that Hollywood keep resurrecting in times of desperation. This digital era being the most desperate, with tickets prices going up and the cinematic experience being cheapened to inferior digital projection. The last film in saw in 3-D was TRON: LEGACY, which began with a disclaimer stating that many scenes were not in 3-D. Actually, it seemed like wearing the glasses throughout most of the film wasn't necessary at all. The film has great art direction and visual effects and are not at all augmented by 3-D, which in a film that is dim and neon in it's visual design anyway, is extraneous.

To me, 3-D is all about marketing instead of innovation. Even sound is becoming part of the 3-D experience with the advent of DBox seating which, much like B movie producer William Castle's vibrating seat gimmick of the 50s, supposedly has the audience members' asses feel effects like earthquakes and cars being struck during chase sequences. This is another example that can tell you with good 2-D cinematography and great sound design, you can be immersed in the action without over the top gimmicks.

*This letter is courtesy of and After reading the letter, make sure you read the comments section on Roger Ebert's website and take part in the discussion!

Hello Roger,

I read your review of "Green Hornet" and though I haven't seen the film, I agree with your comments about 3D.

The 3D image is dark, as you mentioned (about a camera stop darker) and small. Somehow the glasses "gather in" the image -- even on a huge Imax screen -- and make it seem half the scope of the same image when looked at without the glasses.

I edited one 3D film back in the 1980's -- "Captain Eo" -- and also noticed that horizontal movement will strobe much sooner in 3D than it does in 2D. This was true then, and it is still true now. It has something to do with the amount of brain power dedicated to studying the edges of things. The more conscious we are of edges, the earlier strobing kicks in.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now "opened up" so that your lines of sight are almost -- almost -- parallel to each other.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to "get" what the space of each shot is and adjust.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.

So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?

All best wishes,

Walter Murch

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

These bikers ain't heroes: SATAN'S SADISTS (1969)

There were the bikers films of Roger Corman (THE WILD ANGELS) Anthony Lanza (THE GLORY STOMPERS) Tom Laughlin (THE BORN LOSERS) and of course, Dennis Hopper (EASY RIDER) but then there were the ones produced and directed by prolific exploitation filmmaker Al Adamson.

Adamson (1929-1995) had a large output of films in the late 1960s until the early 80s. Titles like DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES (1976) NURSE SHERRI (1978) and BLACK SAMURAI (1978) just to name a few, were all the cinematic babies of Mr. Adamson, working under the banner of producer Sam Sherman's Independent International Pictures company, a more rugged and impoverished version of Sam Arkoff's American International.

Adamson's SATAN'S SADISTS is an example of an atypical biker film from the era in which they flourished at drive ins. Most biker pics ennobled and mystified the outlaw biker. Adamson's fly-by-night, el cheapo production rebelled against the rebels by having the bikers be sociopathic bastards while the square folks were the innocent heroes. This film was released the same year as EASY RIDER and while that film is far superior, SATAN'S SADISTS eschews the mythos that American cinema created for biker culture. Although the film's ad campaign, like most exploitation cinema, makes the spurious claim of being "the most violent film of the decade!" They seemed to ignore or forget about Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH.

The savage cruelty of the bikers is established in the opening scene in which the gang kills two teens and pushes their car down a cliff. The explosion of the vehicle cues up the opening credits and the theme song (in the tune to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come": "I-WAS-BORRRRRRNNNN mean. By the time, I was two, they were calling me...calling Satan."

The leader of these grimy degenerates is none other than Russ Tamblyn (Riff from WEST SIDE STORY) Tamblyn gives a creepy and believable performance as a despicable psychopath named Anchor who does everything from commit sexual assaults to shove stew into his old lady's mouth. He is given a monologue that sums up the cynicism and frustration of the 1960s America:

I *am* a rotten bastard. I admit it. But I tell ya something. Even though I got a lot of hate inside, I got some friends who ain't got hate inside. They're filled with nothing but love. Their only crime is growing their hair long, smoking a little grass and getting high, looking at the stars at night, writing poetry in the sand. And what do you do? You bust down their doors, man. Dumb-ass cop. You bust down their doors and you bust down their heads. You put 'em behind bars. And you know something funny? They forgive you.

This moment in an otherwise silly B picture stands out and puts the volatile and troubled milieu of hippies vs. the establishment into an interesting perspective.

Anchor and his motley crew roam Southern California looking to bully people unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--such as an out of town police officer and his wife on vacation, and the staff of a roadside cafe.

The film's stalwart hero, a hitchhiking Vietnam vet is played by Gary Kent, a jack of all trades in the exploitation field--he was a stuntman, actor, writer, director, and all around bruised survivor of rough and tumble guerrila filmmaking in that time. Kent's character is an upstanding, square jawed heroic archetype who will slam a greasy biker's face into glass and shove his head into a dirty toilet to defend the honor of innocent women in peril. His dialogue even digs into the cultural zeitgeist of the time when he exclaims in anger "At least in Vietnam, I got paid to kill people!"

SATAN'S SADISTS isn't by any means a very good film. It's budgetary and technical limitations are more than apparent--in one scene you can hear the motor of the 16mm camera running, drowning out some dialogue. The performances range from the uneven to downright bad. But there are good actors in the cast who try their best. B-movie veteran Scott Brady (Film noir badboy Lawrence Tierney's brother) Tamblyn, Kent and Bud Cardos as a half breed, mohawked gang member who begins to detest Tamblyn's vile ways--far best in the performance department. Shortcomings aside, what makes it watchable are the sometimes telling moments of nasty truth and some amusing moments of action characteristic of these kinds of films: Kent's character throws a rattlesnake at a biker in self defense.

Films like these are dusty, gritty examples of a bygone era in which the anger and frustration of a nation besieged by violence, protest, drug experimentation and rebellion, seeped into even the cheapest examples of B-moviemaking.

Footnote: Gary Kent's book SHADOWS AND LIGHT: JOURNEYS WITH OUTLAWS IN REVOLUTIONARY HOLLYWOOD is available at or through his website and it is a very insightful and entertaining account of how films like these got made...and how it was miraculous no one got killed, at least most of the time!

The WTF Movie Files: POOR PRETTY EDDIE (1975)

Also known as BLACK VENGEANCE, REDNECK COUNTY and HEARTBREAK MOTEL, this 1975 southern fried, exploitation melodrama is quite a find. A bizarre, eye popping and jaw dropping northerner-in-the-wrong-part-of-the-south flick that makes DELIVERANCE look like a tourism video.

Broadway actress Leslie Uggams plays a famous singer named Liz Wetherly who decides to take a break from the stress of showbiz by getting into her Rolls Royce alone and driving south for a rest. Unfortunately her car breaks down at the wrong service station where Ted Cassedy (Lurch from The Addams Family) can take a look under the hood. The service station is also a motel/bar run by a good ol' boy/Elvis wannabe named Eddie Collins (Michael Christensen) whose wide smile and manners hide a sinister and brutal nature. Lurch can't have Liz's car fixed until the next morning, so she is forced to stay in one of the cabins (sound familiar?) Eddie, starstruck by Liz's unexpected appearance in his next of the woods, is more than happy to give her the best cabin in the place, the one with air conditioning! He tells her it's normally a $1.50 extra, but he waves it because of her celebrity.

This doesn't sit well with Bertha (Shelly Winters) the co-owner of the establishment and Eddie's delusional, drama-queen paramour, who had a vague show business past. She takes an immediate disliking to the black star who has no choice but to make herself at home in redneck central. Despite Eddie's aw-shucks, eager to please manner, he is really a twisted psychotic with a desire for Liz's mind and body and a penchant for sexual assault.

Poor Leslie Uggams goes through alot of mental and physical anguish and terror in this picture, including more than one rape--one such horrific scene has Liz being sexually compromised and the slow motion events are intercut with the locals snickering at the sight of two dogs having sex!

POOR PRETTY EDDIE plays like a cross between a 1970s rape revenge pic and a Tennessee Williams saga on LSD. What on the surface looks like a typical gritty grindhouse sleaze epic is a movie with some fairly impressive artistic ambitions and qualities. Stunningly photographed by David Worth and complimented by solid editing by Frank Mazzola and Worth, this film has a real hypnotic and startling style to it, highlighted by an inspired and transgressive script credited to B.W. Sandefir, reportedly based on the Jean Genet play THE BALCONY. The dialogue in the film is strangely comical. The cast is equally good too, with exceptional performances by everyone including supporting turns by Slim Pickens (as a horn dog sheriff) and Dub Taylor (as a potbellied degenerate who relishes' Liz's torturous ordeal.)

Within the extensive litter of exploitation cinema of the 1960s and 70s, there are certain standouts that defy the seedy expectations and elements of the genres involved. This film falls into that category as a strange, trippy but worthwhile story of delusion and human horror.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Last of 2010 Roundup

I've seen four very good films in the past week in theatres. I had to see them right away because the Oscar buzz they're being lauded with and the heavy praise my friends are giving some of these pictures makes me eager to rush out to see them so I can finally make up my own mind.


The unproven boxer with the odds against him as he sets out to take the title. Been there, done that, but director David O. Russell and actors Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo make it fly. An arresting and visually striking execution of otherwise cliched material with masterful performances and a good dose of humour to balance the gritty drama make this one of the year's best surprises.


Joel and Ethan Coen, no strangers to remakes since their update of the 1955 British comedy The Ladykillers, tackle John Wayne/Henry Hathaway territory. Theirs is a version with more grit and truth than the 1969 original, although the first version was a strong picture with a great story (The Dennis Hopper scene is a compelling and dark standout.) Here the Coens stay fairly faithful to the source material, with the intermittent turn into sequences that highlight their quirky sensibilities, especially with a deliciously black ending that strays far, far away from the cozy finale of the Duke version.

The performances of the cast prove why I believe that the Academy should create a Best Ensemble category. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper and impressive newcomer Hailee Stanfield are outstanding and believable. Bridges' portrayal of Rooster Cogburn is a dirtier, grungier, cynical version of the character. His first scene is him talking to the heroine while he does his business in an outhouse behind a saloon. Look at Tron: Legacy and True Grit and you'll see Bridges further proving that he has much versitility.


I wonder if the praise Darren Aronofsky's latest film is getting makes this film sound more serious than it probably is. In the right frame of mind, Black Swan is enjoyable as a bold, operatic piece of joyful silliness. Natalie Portman goes all out in her performance as a frigid and fearful ballerina whose quest for balletic perfection leads to mental destruction...and mistaking herself for a lesbian. Her self-pleasure scene is the most erotic thing I've seen on the big screen in a long time. And am I the only one who thinks that Barbara Hershey is underrated?


Colin Firth plays King George VI, a man whose ambition to be the king Britain needs in the wake of Hitler's rise to power, is hindered by his stammering speech. The always dependable Geoffery Rush plays the speech therapist who challenges the king to overcome his disability. The two men develop a poignant friendship in the process.

This is the kind of film the Academy relishes, an historical drama about unlikely triumph, but this movie really works and it's a simple and elegant story that's consistently entertaining, moving even and funny. Danny Cohen's great cinematography adds some welcome visual flourish. Do I need to mention that Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (as the King's loving wife) are fantastic? I guess I just did. The climax is very well handled without overdoing it.