Blu-Ray Review: The Wonderful Worlds Of Ray Harryhausen, Volume One: 1955-1960

Indicator continue their Blu-Ray re-releases of the great Ray Harryhausen’s work with this volume containing three of the films he made between 1955 and 1960. It includes glorious HD prints of It Came From Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, curiously skipping Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (which has previously been made available on DVD in a set with the first two titles). In my earlier review of the Sinbad Trilogy, I professed my love for Harryhausen’s stop motion creations and how they played a key part in my cinematic upbringing, so I was thrilled to be offered another set of his films to review, particularly since I’d only seen one of them previously (It Came From Beneath the Sea). My thoughts on the three films are below:

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Blu-Ray Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Director: Henry Levin
Screenplay: Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett
Based on a Novel by: Jules Verne
Starring: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David, Peter Ronson
Country: USA
Running Time: 129 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: U


Some films, like some music, work best or sometimes only work when watched in certain situations. ‘Bad’ movies for instance, are only fun when watched with a group of like minded friends and helped by the consumption of alcohol. Horror movies, with few exceptions, need to be watched at night when it’s nice and dark and you feel isolated and vulnerable. Comedies are best in a packed cinema or at home with a group of people willing to laugh along at the jokes. These are fairly obvious examples, but another genre (if you can call it that) I’d add to the list are old family-friendly adventure movies. Maybe it’s just me, but lightly enjoyable romps made back in the 40s or 50s work so much better when watched on a lazy, preferably rainy Sunday afternoon when you’ve got nothing better to do. The looser pace and dated elements don’t trouble you like they might when watched before bed on a weekday, when the troubles of the day are still on your mind and you need a bit more excitement or food for thought to keep you awake. Journey to the Center of the Earth (the 1959 version) is such a film and I watched it under near perfect circumstances. Last Saturday, my youngest daughter was a bit under the weather, my wife was at work, my dad was looking after my eldest daughter, and it was chucking it down. So I settled down on the sofa that afternoon, put out some toys for the little ‘un and took a charming journey through Jules Verne’s imagination without a care in the world (other than taking notes for this review).

The title to Journey to the Center of the Earth makes its plot pretty clear, although there are further details I can describe here, many of which were added by the screenwriters Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett to add some more contemporary excitement to the original story.

Respected professor Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook (James Mason) is given the gift of an unusual piece of volcanic rock from a student, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), to celebrate his being knighted. Finding some unusual properties to the rock, he runs some tests on it and discovers it contains a message from an Icelandic scientist named Arne Saknussemm, who went missing on a quest to reach the centre of the Earth. The rock is proof that Saknussemm had discovered something close to it, so Lindenbrook becomes obsessed with picking up where Saknussemm left off. When he treks up to Iceland to do so however, he finds himself in a race for the prize against two other scientists, the Swedish Professor Göteborg (Ivan Triesault) and Count Saknussemm (Thayer David), a descendant of the scientist who wants the glory for himself. When the Count kills off Göteborg, the Swede’s wife Carla (Arlene Dahl) joins Lindenbrook, McEwan, a giant local Icelander called Hans (Pétur Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrud, on the titular trip down a rather convenient passage to the city of Atlantis, near the Earth’s core.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Boy and the Beast

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Screenplay: Mamoru Hosoda
Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Shôta Sometani, Kôji Yakusho
Country: Japan
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 12


Mamoru Hosoda is a writer and director making a good name for himself in the anime world. After some TV work and a couple of films from TV franchises, he turned heads with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and two of his subsequent films, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, which were all critical and commercial successes (in Japan at least). His latest film, The Boy and the Beast, is no different, attracting mainly positive reviews and becoming the second highest grossing release of 2015 in Japan. Being an anime fan and having enjoyed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars quite a lot (I haven’t seen Wolf Children), it didn’t take much convincing for me to take up an offer of reviewing the film.

The Boy and the Beast sees a young boy, Ren (Aoi Miyazaki), become a runaway, living on the streets of Tokyo after his mother dies and his father (who had previously divorced his mother) doesn’t come forward to look after him. Whilst living rough, Ren bumps into Kumatetsu (Kôji Yakusho), a warrior beast who is looking for a pupil to train. Kumatetsu lives in a secret realm of the beasts, where he is in contention to become the new Lord, as the current Lord is due to leave this world and become a God. Kumatetsu is pig-headed and arrogant though, doing everything alone, and a worthy Lord must be a teacher with an heir as well as a mighty warrior.

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Blu-Ray Review: Der müde Tod (a.k.a. Destiny)

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Starring: Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen, Bernhard Goetzke, Max Adalbert
Country: Germany
Running Time: 98 min
Year: 1921
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve been slowly working my way through Fritz Lang’s filmography and I’ve yet to be disappointed by his work. He crafted some of cinema’s most thrilling, inventive and forward thinking films during his 41 years behind the camera in both Germany and the US (where he moved in the mid-30s due to his anti-Nazi beliefs). So when Eureka announced they were releasing one of the director’s early successes, Der müde Tod (translated as The Weary Death, but otherwise known as Destiny), as part of their Masters of Cinema collection, I was keen to see how it stood up against his later, more famous films.

Der müde Tod sees Death (Bernhard Goetzke) come to make his home in a small German town. As well as building a great wall with no windows or doors around his property by the graveyard, he seems to follow a young couple (Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen) who are engaged to be married. As you might suspect, he’s there to collect a soul and the young man soon disappears. The woman, distraught, seeks out Death and pleads with him to spare her fiancée. Weary of his tough job, the shadowy figure offers the woman a deal. If she can prevent the deaths of just one of three nearly spent lives he presents to her (all part of tragic romances), she can have her wish.

In dealing with three separate stories, on top of the main framing narrative, Der müde Tod works like D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, made a few years prior, telling a few similarly themed tales to make a universal message (this time about fate). Here they’re not intercut though, the ‘extra’ stories merely play out back to back in the middle of the film.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Sinbad Trilogy

Being a big Star Wars fan from a fairly young age, I used to think of that trilogy as being what turned me into the obsessive lover of film I am today. However, a few years ago when I watched Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan I realised there was a set of films I fell in love with before I discovered George Lucas’ world of lightsabers and space battles, and those were the fantasy films featuring the work of the great stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen. Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans and the Sinbad trilogy were mind-blowing to me as a young pre-teen and I made sure I watched all of them whenever they showed up on TV, which was quite often back in the late 80s and early 90s. Nostalgia can be a cruel beast though, so although I was thrilled to hear that the amazing team at Indicator were set to release Harryhausen’s Sinbad Trilogy on dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD, I was slightly worried that the films wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. There was only one way to find out, so I marathon watched the three films over three nights on a borrowed projector to get the full big screen experience.

Here’s what I thought of each film:

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Blu-Ray Review: The Thief of Bagdad

Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Lotta Woods, Douglas Fairbanks, Achmed Abdullah (uncredited), James T. O’Donohoe (uncredited)
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Sôjin Kamiyama, Anna May Wong
Producer: Douglas Fairbanks
Country: USA
Running Time: 149 min
Year: 1924
BBFC Certificate: U


Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford were thought of as the king and queen of Hollywood back in the 1920’s. As well as finding great success as two of the earliest true movie stars (Pickford in particular is often thought as one of the very first), they set up United Artists (UA) alongside Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith in a bid to have more control over film production, away from the powerful commercial studios. Through UA they were able to create the films they wanted, hiring the best collaborators available to make the finest films they could. Indeed, UA were responsible for many of the most famous films of the era and beyond. The company in fact still produces films now, although they’ve been a bit thin on the ground during the last few years and the company is now in the hands of MGM.

Anyway, I won’t delve into the complicated history of UA, but with this pivotal move, Fairbanks showed he was clearly more than just an actor. He was passionate about film and would go to great lengths to produce work which met his high standards. A lot of his work, as with a disturbingly large number of films from the silent era, has been lost or forgotten. Even his most famous films such as Robin Hood, The Black Pirate and The Mark of Zorro haven’t been given a decent upgrade to modern home video formats (in the UK at least), only showing up on ropey independent releases from companies that have capitalised on their public domain status and plonked any old print onto a disc. Possibly Fairbanks’ most critically successful film (it didn’t totally win over audiences at the time), The Thief of Bagdad has finally been given the release it deserves in the UK though, with Eureka releasing it on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of their prestigious Masters of Cinema series. I must admit, largely due to the poor distribution of his work in this country, I’ve never seen a Douglas Fairbanks film before, so I was very excited about checking this one out.

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Secret Society & Price of Success Explored in “Echelon: The Series”

EchelonTheSeries

Mark A. Krupa is best known for his work in front of the camera, notably as Bjorn in the excellent The Wild Hunt (review) and most recently as the sadistic Indian Agent in Jeff Barnaby’s outstanding Rhymes for Young Ghouls (review) but the actor is also an accomplished producer, writer and director and he’s ready to take the plunge into the world of webseries.

The concept of Echelon: The Series is fantastic. It centers on an elite agency called Echelon which operates from funding and support of angel sponsors to mentor emerging talent. The contract stipulates that when they leave the program, beneficiaries are required to fulfil a single request and that contract is strictly enforced by Strahd, also known as the “Collector” (played by Krupa).

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Mamo #316: Sharlto Copley

Mamo returns from the midsummer dregs to talk about how fans advocate for their favourite properties online; how the format and nature of television is shifting and changing in the Netflix age; and how porn and non-porn bends the rules of reality and fantasy and how that’s a good thing. None of which has anything to do with Sharlto Copley.

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo316.mp3

47 Ronin Actually Looks Pretty Badass

Yup, Keanu Reeves knows what he likes and like to do what he knows. And God bless him for it. One of our founding contributors, Marina, should be a pretty happy camper as her favorite crush not only stars in two films swirling around the art of martial, but he’s directing one of them.

Keanu Reeves leads the charge in 47 Ronin. The trailer below starts with a bit of a vibe of Miike’s 13 Assassins, but quickly amps up to a world of fantasy and nightmares.

After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and restore honor to their people. Driven from their homes and dispersed across the land, this band of Ronin must seek the help of Kai (Reeves)—a half-breed they once rejected—as they fight their way across a savage world of mythic beasts, shape-shifting witchcraft and wondrous terrors. As this exiled, enslaved outcast becomes their most deadly weapon, he will transform into the hero who inspires this band of outnumbered rebels to seize eternity.

I can’t think of a better way to spend part of my Christmas Day than in the world of Keanu Reeves. Yeah I just said that.

Teaser Trailer: Game of Thrones Season 2

Given that even the worst episode of the first season of Game of Thrones was better than most movies I saw last year, I felt compelled to post this. Having powered through all five of George R.R. Martin’s book during my recent overseas holiday (they’re awesome), it’s going to be interesting to see whether they have the money to convincingly bring to life all the battle scenes of the second book (which takes a huge step up from the first, action-wise). Assuming they pull it off though, we should be in for a pretty great year of TV.

Game of Thrones Season 2 kicks off on HBO on April 1st

DVD Review: The Wild Hunt

Director: Alexandre Franchi
Writers: Mark Antony Krupa & Alexandre Franchi
Starring: Ricky Mabe, Mark A. Krupa, Trevor Hayes, Tiio Horn
Producer: Alexandre Franchi, Karen Murphy
Country: Canada
Running Time: 97 min
Year: 2009
BBFC Certification: 15

I wanted to love The Wild Hunt, I really did, and on a whole I thought it was pretty good, but there was just something lacking that I struggled to put my finger on. I’ll try my best to sift through my feelings, both positive and negative to try and put it into words.

The Wild Hunt tells the story of two brothers, Erik (Ricky Mabe) and Bjorn (Mark A. Krupa). Their father is very sick (presumably with Alzheimer’s or similar) and Erik spends his days caring for him whilst Bjorn escapes into the fantasy world of Live Action Role Play (or LARP). When Erik’s girlfriend Lyn (Tiio Horn) starts getting into it too and leaves to join a major LARP event whilst their relationship is entering a downfall, Erik decides to gatecrash and try to win her back. Unfortunately, the LARPers don’t take kindly to outsiders barging in and disrupting the world they have created, especially Murtagh (Trevor Hayes) who has taken a shine to Lyn (or Princess Evlynia as she’s known in the LARP world). He and his followers decide to take matters into their own hands and the line between fantasy and reality begin to blur.

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