New DVD commentary: THE GIANT CLAW

If you’ve seen THE GIANT CLAW (dir. Fred F. Sears, 1957), you can imagine my squeals of delight when asked by Arrow Films to co-create a new commentary with the sublime Cerise Howard for their new boxset, Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman.

Producer Sam Katzman was a genius when it came to churning out cheap exploitation flicks that returned on their minuscule budgets in spades. He brashly ventured into anything he thought could turn a buck, from 1950s TV serials to films on rock ‘n’ roll and juvenile delinquency.

THE GIANT CLAW sits within his work in the Atomic Age monster movie sub-genre and delivers generously with a ‘plucked turkey’ monster so ridiculous you can’t help but love it. The other films featured in the boxset are THE WEREWOLF, CREATURE WITH THE ATOMIC BRAIN and ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU.

I only hope that Cerise and I managed to do THE GIANT CLAW justice in acknowledging the spirit in which it was made i.e. with tongue-in-cheek fun (or should that be ‘tongue-in-beak’?).

And because I can’t get enough of THE GIANT CLAW, here’s my gift to you…

My Top 10 films of 2021

Given it’s Paul Anthony Nelson’s final year anchoring Primal Screen on Triple R, I conceded to his demand/whinging for a ranked Top 10. Consequently, the following list of films has been presented in ascending order, so to capitalise on the anticipation – what will be my Number One for 2021? Well, if it’s got you on tenterhooks, let me relieve you of that tension…

10. SWAN SONG (dir. Todd Stephens)
Similar to Robert Redford in THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN, this film is steeped in love and veneration for its aging lead actor, Udo Kier, but does so, artfully, in the form of a biopic. It’s a clever means of paying tribute – after all, an actor’s brief is to pretend to be someone else – but the parallels to career and legacy are woven in such a way to ensure there won’t be a dry eye in the house. It helps to be a Kier fan.

9. CANDYMAN (dir. Nia DaCosta)
The fandom for the original CANDYMAN of 1992 runs deep with many, but I can’t say I’m one of those folks. That’s possibly one of the reasons why I’m so enamoured with Nia DaCosta’s modern rendering of this African-American urban legend, although I would argue her use of colour, geometry and, above all, horror is up there with the best of them. Props to Jordan Peele as co-screenwriter/co-producer.

8. CENSOR (dir. Prano Bailey-Bond)
In its explanation of how dark subject matter plays with the subconscious – or, more tellingly, toys with the nascent darkness in its viewers – no film says it better than CENSOR. In fact, with this film, Bailey-Bond has drawn from the stories of a past generation (i.e. the video nasties era in 1980’s Britain) to create an intelligent horror movie for a new age. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

7. PIG (dir. Michael Sarnoski)
PIG is devastating. It’s a film that avoids heart-string-plucking clichés but, nevertheless, rips at the soul. Much has been said of Nicholas Cage’s ‘campness’ in his latter career, yet his turn here as a chef-turned-truffle-hunter is by far his best role in years. It is at once gritty, conflicted, tender, callous, honest, pretentious and impossibly raw. Best viewed without knowing much more.

6. WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR (dir. Kier-La Janisse)
The magnum opus of esteemed film critic and programmer Kier-La Janisse, this 194-minute doco triumphs in both respecting its subject matter and imparting information in a useful and thoroughly entertaining manner. The subject of folk horror may be a niche one but, for anyone with even a whiff of curiousity, this film will send you through the looking-glass of discovery and fascination.

5. TICK, TICK… BOOM! (dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Musicals are inching their way back into the mainstream, thanks to such high-quality offerings in recent years as LA LA LAND and now, TICK, TICK… BOOM! Even for those not familiar with Jonathan Larson’s Broadway struggles (and his sad demise at the precipice of success with RENT), Miranda’s complex, hyper-energised, musical biopic will captivate and amaze. And Andrew Garfield is a genuine revelation.

4. POWER OF THE DOG (dir. Jane Campion)
There was a moment in POWER OF THE DOG where it appears Campion is cookie-cutting her 1993 masterstroke, THE PIANO, but then she barrels down a very different narrative trajectory to surprising, nuanced results. We witness acting with a capital ‘A’ – most notably in Benedict Cumberbatch’s smouldering, repressed nasty – but its bravery in going nowhere is almost as exciting as the set-up.

3. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (dir. Emerald Fennell)
For most of the world, PYW was released in 2020, although its official Australian date was 7th January 2021 – hence, its inclusion in this list. While the finale of this film veered perilously into ‘horror cute’, I still rank it highly for its entertaining handling of a difficult subject matter and, similar to Prano Bailey-Bond, for saying what is so tricky to intelligently articulate. It’s stayed with me, which is saying something.

2. SUMMER OF SOUL (… OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) (dir. Questlove)
There’s something evangelical about a good music doco, and SUMMER OF SOUL perfectly fits the bill. It presents rarely seen footage and eyewitness accounts of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival – a sibling of Woodstock but one buried under paranoia of race uprising. In ranking this doco high on my list, I also honour the superlative limited series 1971: THE YEAR THAT MUSIC CHANGED EVERYTHING.

1. LAMB (dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson)
My love of simply complex storytelling comes into its own here – and how! With the fingerprints of one of its producers, Béla Tarr, all over it, LAMB creates sentience in its livestock through little more than camera placement, and yet this important establishment of anthropomorphosis is what sells everything that comes after it. A folkloric tale with modern pathos, LAMB is really something else.

ABC Overnights with Trevor Chappell

In the wee hours of the morning in the mad lead-up to Christmas (02:50 on Thursday 23rd December, to be exact), I joined Trevor Chappell on ABC Overnights in Australia to discuss actors playing against or out of type. And what a hoot that proved to be!

If you’re interested in having a listening, my appearance occurs at approximately the 41-minute mark and goes for around 45 minutes, padded out with help from the callers (including one call that came from inside my house).

Clubhouse winner for film/actor mentions came from the woman who nominated Lucille Ball’s dramatic breakout role as a homeless lady in The Stone Pillow (1985).

While we’ve been sleeping…

Andrew Stephens wrote an insightful article in The Age newspaper, While we’ve been sleeping, published on 15th October 2021, which looked at pandemic lockdowns through the eyes of art in all its guises. Interestingly, the art examples cited may have reflected the somnambulistic state that lockdowns create but none was created as a direct response to the pandemic.

Note: this piece reads most explicitly and evocatively to Melburnians because, so far, we’ve experienced more days in lockdown than any other city in the world.

Andrew asked me to contribute some thoughts with regards to cinema for his While we’ve been sleeping piece and, as is usually the case, I wrote far more words than was required. So, as well as encouraging you to read his full article, I will post below the rough notes that I submitted to him; a curiosity you may wish to read in full (or not, I will not judge)…

Continue reading “While we’ve been sleeping…”

The Projection Booth’s Special Report: SECONDS

Both Jez and I have been involved in Mike White’s The Projection Booth podcast in the past (and I have an appearance slated for next year – to be announced!) so we were thrilled when he approached us to record a Special Report on our book, SECONDS.

Mike gave us the opportunity to talk through the inception of our project, the process of co-writing and the appeal of writing about a generally maligned film in an interview that inches towards an hour in duration. It’s a deep-dive interview into our deep-dive book.

We hope you like it…

Cult Movies Podcast: The Nutty Professor (1963) & Forbidden Planet (1956)

There’s nothing I love more than appearing on the Cult Movies Podcast with Anthony King. So, imagine my surprise upon the realisation that I had forgotten to promote my appearance back in April when we chatted about THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963)? I should be ashamed of myself!

Not only can you listen to Anthony and I dive into all things Jerry Lewis with that previous episode but you can now hear us go deep on a sci-fi classic, FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956), and explain why it’s one of the more influential films ever made.

Yes, it’s Robby the Robot’s film debut (right)

These are long podcasts but I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of them if you’re willing to run the marathon. We also present our three individual selections for ‘companion viewing’, as well as discussing the feature film.

Touched by an angel: Miss Salome Jens

Jez and I have been doing the media rounds for our book on SECONDS. The fruits of our labour include this piece that we wrote for the excellent publication, Diabolique Magazine, featuring an interview with the divine Miss Salome Jens that was conducted specifically for the SECONDS book.

She also talks about her noteworthy screen debut in ANGEL BABY (1961, additionally Burt Reynolds’ debut), which is quite the film, if you’re not familiar with it.

I encourage you to read on, and appreciate the mastery of an actor who has never really been appreciated for the full extent of her talents.

NIGHTMARE booklet essay

I was blessed to be asked by Indicator to write this booklet essay on the Freddie-Francis-directed NIGHTMARE (1964) for their glorious four-disc release called Hammer Volume 6: Night Shadows, also containing THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961), CAPTAIN CLEGG (1962) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

I’ve done my best to capture the artwork in the two photos below for what can only be described as a breathtaking boxset. Let’s just say, this is an edition that is sure to make an impression in any DVD collection.

Thank you to Kier-La Janisse for providing the inspiration behind this piece.

New DVD commentary: LAKE MUNGO

I’m tripping over myself with new blu-ray releases at the moment, so my tardiness in promoting Second Sight’s sigh-worthy release of LAKE MUNGO is due to nothing but giving it some room to breathe.

The featured artwork should be enough to encourage you to see this mesmeric Australian story of ghosts and grief but, if not, I encourage you to do a quick scoot around the internet and you’ll hear from others who have been wrapped in its magic.

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and I had a lot to say in our audio commentary on this release of LAKE MUNGO. But we’re not the only ones.

This limited edition boxset brings together diverse voices to talk about a feature that will only be more and more appreciated with the passing of time until it is eventually regarded as a classic.

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