Archive | June, 2020

Ray Harryhausen Centennial

29 Jun

Monday, June 29, 2020, marks the centennial of special effects genius Ray Harryhausen. I was lucky to have seen many of his films as a child when they were new and then share them as a grown-up with my daughter and nephews. I did a tribute to him on May 11, 2013, on the occasion of his death at the age of 92 and am reposting it here as a centennial tribute. Consult the original piece here for the comments that were added then.

Ray Harryhausen died on Tuesday, May 7 at the age of 92. He had a good run, starting out by animating stop-motion models of dinosaurs, inspired by KING KONG (1933), for short color 16mm movies made in his parents’ garage while he was a teenager in the 1930s and ending with the Greek mythological epic CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981. In between, he did the “technical effects” as billed on his first feature, or “special visual effects” as they were usually billed, for some of my all-time favorite movies. I was lucky to have seen many of his movies on the big screen when they were first released, starting with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), which my father took us to see on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1959, when I was five. Even though I’d seen Disney features in theaters before then, as well as a memorable double bill of THE ROBE and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, I believe it was SINBAD that first triggered a love of the motion picture art form, particularly the more fantastic genres. The Cyclops was a truly formidable monster and done in such a vivid and exciting manner that there was something consistently compelling about him and the way he reacts to having his domain invaded by these pesky humans. I don’t know that I’ve seen another movie monster quite like him, not even in Harryhausen’s other films.

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THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDRELS: If PARASITE had been a Hong Kong movie from 1991

27 Jun

I’ve been going through my shelves and found a number of previously unseen Hong Kong movies from the 1990s on import DVDs purchased in Chinatown stores earlier this century. One of them was THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDRELS (1991), a comedy about small-time criminals trying to pull off a big-time scam and starring Stephen Chow, one of the biggest boxoffice stars in HK in the 1990s and early 2000s and best known in the U.S. for SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001) and KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004).

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Setsuko Hara Centennial

17 Jun

The great Japanese actress, Setsuko Hara, would have turned 100 today, June 17, 2020. She died five years ago at the age of 95. She’s most famous for her films for director Yasujiro Ozu, including LATE SPRING, EARLY SUMMER, TOKYO STORY, LATE AUTUMN and THE END OF SUMMER. She starred in NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH (1946), Akira Kurosawa’s first postwar film, and again for Kurosawa in THE IDIOT. She made four films for Mikio Naruse, including REPAST, SUDDEN RAIN, THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN and DAUGHTER, WIVES, MOTHER. Her last film was Toho’s all-star saga of the 47 Ronin, CHUSHINGURA (1962), and she played the wife of the protagonist, Oishi, a chamberlain secretly plotting over the course of a year to rally the ronin and avenge the death of their disgraced lord. Continue reading

Power Rangers Samurai Shiba House: A Marvel of Set Design

3 Jun

Last month I watched 20 episodes of “Power Rangers Samurai” (2011), which was filmed in Auckland, New Zealand and was based on the 2009 Japanese Super Sentai season, “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.” It’s about a group of young Samurai Rangers who’ve trained since childhood and come together at a crucial point in their young adult life to stop the onslaught of monsters seeping through “gaps” from the “netherworld” where their monstrous leader, Xandred, and his minions were consigned centuries ago by an earlier group of Samurai Rangers. It was a series I only watched sporadically when it was originally on, so I never came to appreciate the beauty of the building in which the Rangers live and train, known as Shiba House to its occupants since it’s owned, in the show, by the Shiba Samurai Clan, the Rangers’ backer.

It’s a modernist building incorporating traditional Japanese design elements and is a beautiful structure both inside and out. It looked to me to be so real and solid that I couldn’t imagine a Power Rangers budget being able to afford the expense of constructing such a set, even in New Zealand, where production costs are considerably lower than in Hollywood.

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