Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New podcast episode! An interview with actor Robert Dix

Check out a new episode of my podcast in which I talk with character actor Robert Dix ( who has appeared in films such as FORBIDDEN PLANET, FORTY GUNS, AIR PATROL, REBEL ROUSERS, and he had a memorable bit part in LIVE AND LET DIE!

He began as a contract player for MGM as a young man and continued working in B-movies and television series (THE RIFLEMAN, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, GUNSMOKE) until he quit the business in the 70s.

He's written a book entitled OUT OF HOLLYWOOD which is about him and his father, legendary actor Richard Dix which you can purchase on his website.

Enjoy the show!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Terror in the film gauge: SUPER 8

The review DOES NOT contain spoilers!

The joy of filmmaking is all over SUPER 8, and the memories of such films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T. and THE GOONIES are embedded in the storytelling that Steven Spielberg (who produced this film) is famous for. Writer/director JJ Abrams (creator of LOST and director of STAR TREK and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III) is the perfect understudy for Spielberg, as he lovingly creates a world in which children live under the shadows of busy adults and discover the wonders of cinematic creation by way of the Super 8mm camera.

It's the summer of 1979 in small town Ohio and a group of enthusiastic and rambunctious kids are scrambling to make a zombie movie in time for a local festival. The leader of this group is a smart ass tyrant named Charles (Riley Griffiths) who loves playing director, shouting out orders and placing his hands in front of him to create a frame. Cary (Ryan Lee) is the special effects guru with an obsession for firecrackers. Martin (Gabriel Basso) is the nerdy and panicky "lead actor" whose scene partner is the older Alice (Elle Fanning) who to the surprise of these little guerrilla filmmakers, actually has a lot of acting talent as well as access to her father's car.

In the center of this is the film's protagonist Joe Lamb (well cast newcomer Joel Courtney) who is Charles' closest friend and special make up artist in their moviemaking endeavours. Joe is the son of the strict local deputy (Kyle Chandler) and both have suffered a recent tragedy with the death of Joe's mother who died in an accident at the local mill. She died covering the shift of the town drunk Louis (Ron Eldard) who happens to be Alice's father.

A fateful night in which the kids sneak out at midnight to film an important scene at the local train station is interrupted when a pickup truck drives onto the rails and speeds towards an oncoming freight train. This leads to a collision and all the boxcars derail, explode and fly in mid air. The kids run for their lives, leaving the super 8 camera knocked onto the ground still rolling. Something large and alive bursts out of one of the cars, leading to strange disappearances and destruction in the town. The military arrive at an oddly quick notice and only they and the driver of the truck know what's going on. When the sheriff goes missing, Joe's father assumes his role and finds himself bombarbed by angry and confused townspeople. At a noisy and angry town hall meeting, one lady confidently asserts that this is a Soviet invasion.

The film's trailers have been careful not to reveal what has escaped from the boxcar. The reveal isn't the point of the movie however. This is a film all about the joy of filmmaking and discovery and the agony and ecstasy, so to speak, of growing up. It's about the young characters' thrill of breaking the rules and running free in their own backlot that is their small town. The impressive special effects and sound editing are first rate without overwhelming the heart of the movie and it's story. The relationships and dialogue between the kids is both poignant, funny and real and has a wonderful rhythm that beautifully illustrates the dynamic of their relationship with one another. The production design meticulously captures the late 70s, from the soundtrack that features My Sharona by The Knack, Walter Cronkite reporting on TV, and the movie posters on Charles' bedroom wall (DAWN OF THE DEAD and HALLOWEEN)

Much like RANGO earlier this year, SUPER 8 is a film made by people who truly love movies and that's the soul of this picture. The science fiction takes a back seat to the characterizations and relationships while at the same time the action is pulse pounding. There is a palpable sense of danger and dread in this film and the kids' reactions to the frightening and dumbfounding happenings is chilling. They cry, they scream, they curse, even vomit at the sight of their world being torn apart. This adds real weight to the drama. These characters aren't the typically brilliant and incisive movie kids and it's a credit to the young actors that they portrayed them as believable and relatable.

The picture is mixture of two movies: a touching story about friendships and the difficulties fathers face when a mother is absent and an expertly written sci-fi mystery much in the vein of the 1950s monster movies. In a time where almost everything is about 3-D and phony razzle dazzle, SUPER 8 is a much needed reminder that even the biggest of tales can have the simplest of agendas.