Nov 11

Rankin And Bass And Snow Forts.

It seemed like in the 1960s winter snow was plentiful. Built up from driveway plowing or roof top shoveling we had heaps of the cold, white, compact snow. At times snow as high as the roof eaves. With a small spade shovel and young castle building imagination the snow fort was eventually erected with tunnels, cavern rooms and lookout points. You never know when an army bearing snowballs may show up. Spend all day and into the night on this arduous project only to be interrupted by a call from the house. “Christmas TV specials are coming on.” We would drop everything right there and run into the house to be greeted by the smell of hot chocolate and popcorn. Our mittens were covered in crusted frozen snow and we were wet. But, were we cold? Kids don’t feel cold!

So while we were bragging none stop about our new snow fort we changed into dry flannel pajamas and sat down on the floor in front of our big black and white television, hot chocolate and bowl of popcorn in hand. All excited for ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’, the best of all the Christmas TV specials to come on. Actually all the TV specials produced and directed by Rankin and Bass were awesome.

It was easy to get excited about any Christmas TV specials in those days. There was no such thing as cable TV back then. All we had for television reception was a roof top antenna which gave us four channels on a good day.

Rankin and Bass mastered stop motion animation and these clay figures were fondly noted as ‘puppetoons’. These clay doll like characters were made from plasticine clay for it is very pliable, very easy to mold and form into a reindeer, tree, Santa or an Abominable Snowmonster. A picture would be taken of a scene with these clay characters and clay back grounds. Then another picture would be taken of the same scene with the characters slightly altered. Each still photograph of these clay figurines would then be recorded onto film. Put together then played at least twelve frames per second to give you tangible animation. That is how Rankin and Bass gave us these great memorable Christmas TV specials. Sound simple? Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer is forty seven minutes. That would be approximately three thousand, eight hundred and forty pictures needed to complete this show. Each one slightly altered and what if the studio janitor hits the set while mopping or the camera accidentally gets moved? You know this project is going to take a little time.

It’s been a long time since my days of Christmas TV specials and snow forts. Not many snow forts these days, fortunately the Rankin and Bass television specials are still with us, even after forty years. Put in chronological order here are Rankin and Bass productions at their best.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – 1964

This longest running Christmas holiday special has entertained millions since 1964. Sam the Snowman narrates this story where Rudolph becomes the laughing stock of Christmastown, just because of his nose glowed red. Hermey, a wholesome looking elf from the same town felt that he never fit in with the rest of the elves. He wanted to be a dentist and not build toys. So Rudolph and Hermey ran away from Christmastown, calling themselves Misfits. In their adventurous trek they come across the Abominable Snowmonster, an island of Misfit Toys and a rescuing prospector called Yukon Cornelius. Safe back in Christmastown Rudolph finds out that Christmas is canceled due to bad weather. Suddenly Rudolph’s nose becomes a bright beacon and saves Christmas by guiding Santa’s sleigh that night.

Character voices:

Sam the Snowman – Burl Ives
Rudolph – Billie Ray Richards
Santa – Stan Francis
Hermey – Paul Soles
Yukon Cornelius – Larry D. Mann

The Little Drummer Boy – 1968

After Aaron’s family died he started to hate the world and everyone in it. To take out his frustrations he would beat on a drum. The only friends that Aaron has is a donkey called Samson, a lamb Baabaa and Joshua the camel. Joshua gets sold and while Aaron is searching for his friend, the camel, he meets up with three wise men who are on their way to Bethlehem. Aaron regains his compassion for human life, thanks to the newborn Jesus and his drum.

Character voices:

Aaron – Teddy Eccles
Story Teller – Greer Garson

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town – 1970

First of all I have to say, this one is my personal favorite of all the Rankin and Bass productions. A postal carrier narrates this lovable Christmas TV special about a grouchy Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger of Sombertown that hates toys. So, when a youthful Santa tries to deliver toys on Christmas eve to all the poor kids of Sombertown, the Mayor shut him down. In fact, the mayor outlawed toys, even if the ‘T’ word was mentioned, off to the dungeon you would go. Santa Claus became an outlaw with a bounty on his head. Running away from this town Kris Kringle and his new friend Topper the penguin run into the Winter Warlock and adventure. With help from his new found friends and a lovely school teacher, Kris prevailed and Christmas presents were delivered to all in Sombertown.

Character voices:

Postal Carrier/Narrator – Fred Astaire
Kris Kringle – Mickey Rooney
Winter Warlock – Keenan Wynn
Burgermeister – Paul Frees
School Teacher – Robie Lester

The Year Without Santa Claus – 1974

Narration was done by Mrs. Claus in this Christmas TV special about the time Santa had to take a much needed vacation due to a very bad cold, sneezing and depressed.

To save Christmas two of Santa’s elves, Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells, leave the North Pole to find people who still believe in Christmas to cure Santa. On their trip the elves get into trouble in a town called Southtown and a sticky situation with two characters, Heat Miser and his brother Snow Miser. Do not worry, Santa gets better and does Christmas.

Character voices:

Santa Claus – Mickey Rooney
Mrs. Claus – Shirley Booth
Jingle Bells – Bob McFadden
Jangle Bells – Bradley Bolke
Heat Miser – George S. Irving
Snow Miser – Dick Shawn

Yes, it has been a long time since I made a snow fort. Not as much snow as before is my excuse. But these great Rankin and Bass, Christmas TV specials still linger in our hearts and minds and cable TV.

Merry Christmas, Cinema Serge.

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Oct 13

8 Great Non-Scary Ghost Movies.

Automatically we think of ghosts as scary deformed frightening ghouls. Spirits that take our breath away at the slightest sight, touch or sound. That is why a good ghost movie scares the wits right out of us.

Throughout the years the cinema has produced many movies with a twist to our spooky friend by making this terrifying ghoul into a passive, fun loving comical spirit. For example, comedy horror movies such as ‘Casper’ the friendly ghost who is actually a kindhearted spirit of a little boy; ‘Frighteners’ with ghosts who like having a little fun; and ‘Ghost Dad’ as a loving father who comes back from the dead to help his son.

How about a good friendly ghost movie tonight to keep your wits? I have picked out eight of my personal favorites from the comedy horror genre file and put them in a chronological order.

1) Topper – 1937

This cute comedy classic has the ghosts as a happy fun couple that are now dead. The deceased Kirbys decide to do a good deed by helping Mr. Topper a stuffy executive they once knew.

Starring: Cary Grant as George Kirby, Constance Bennett as Marion Kerby, Roland Young as Cosmo Topper.

2) A Christmas Carol – 1951

Now this Charles Dickens story has been revamped on TV and the silver screen in so many different forms, even Mr. Magoo did this ghostly tale. Animation, TV sitcoms, the Muppets, everyone did ‘A Christmas Carol’

storyline and they were all very entertaining. Why not, the story is a Christmas classic bordering a great horror movie. In fact the best movie version was released October 31, 1951 (Halloween). A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Also starring: Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley.

3) Ghost Busters – 1984

A delightful comedy about four supernatural exterminators that became heroes. Lots of fun and great ghoulish effects.

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver.

4) Beetlejuice – 1988

Directed by Tim Burton, Micheal Keaton does a great job of being the most irritating ghoul in the afterworld. Beetlejuice with all his nastiness actually helps a very nice, newly deceased couple from losing their lovely home. A comedy horror, classic ghost movie.

Starring: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder.

5) Always – 1989

Steven Spielberg directed this fantasy romance movie about an aerial firefighter who dies in a crash leaving a very distraught girlfriend. The pilot comes back as a ghost and helps a rookie pilot become the best but the rookie falls in love with the dead pilots girlfriend. A very touching film.

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, John Goodman, Holly Hunter.

6) Ghost – 1990

Speaking of a touching film, this has got to be the most famous ghost movie ever. A film that has everything a movie buff would want with comedy, romance and action. A banker dies at the hands of a mugger only to come back as a spirit. The only person that can hear him is a con artist medium. This movie also has malicious revenge.

Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg.

7) Casper – 1995

A paranormal expert and his daughter move into an old mansion which is inhabited by one friendly spirit and three mischievous ghouls. A great family comedy horror film.

Starring: Bill Pullman, Christina Ricci, Cathy Moriarty, Eric Idle.

8) Frighteners – 1996

Definitely a favorite in my books. Frank Bannister can hear, see and talk to spirits in this comedy horror directed by Peter Jackson (Lord Of The Rings). Frank uses his abilities to investigate a supernatural presence from hell with help from three friendly ghosts.

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Jake Busey, John Astin.

There you have it, eight of my favorite non-scary ghost movies of all time. When I first thought about this movie project, Beetlejuice and Frighteners automatically came to mind. Lets not forget Casper the Friendly Ghost. So when your tired of getting the wits scared out of you, try a non-scary friendly ghost movie. Any of the above comedy horror movies will do the trick (or treat).

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Oct 07

Top Horror Movies.

Personally I love being scared silly and a spine tingling ghost movie works for me. Of all the top horror movies genre out there like; vampires, zombies, killer tomatoes, the eerie, transparent ghoul that is floating around the room and whispering warnings to you in the dark, ghost movies are the best!

The love for a good ghost movie came about for me at a tender young age…thanks to two cousins!

It was a crisp fall day when I, at an impressionable age of eight or nine was dropped off at my grandparent’s farm for a weekend stay.

My bratty two older cousins were staying there also. For sleeping, the three of us shared two feather mattress beds in the open basement of the old farmhouse.

That was where I experienced my first ghost story. In the silent darkness my cousins told me a spine tingling story that “actually” happened not too far away. A tale worthy of being one of the top horror movies ever. They began in detail, a story about a kid, my age, getting his head chopped in half with an ax by his crazy grandfather. The poor ghoulish kid with half a bloody head now roams the countryside.

I never slept a wink that night. In fact it was a good while before I slept at my grandparent’s farmhouse again.

Halloween is near, enough of the vampire genre! That is why this article is about the eeriest, scariest ghost movies, twelve of them! Put in chronological order from oldest to newest and worth watching in this order. Notice how the older ghost movies were remade.

1) The Uninvited (1944)

A brother and sister move into an old seaside mansion. Bought very cheaply and came with a sinister past is now haunted.

Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell.

2009 – The new ghost movie has a very different storyline. Hair standing straight scary never the less.

Starring: Emily Browning, David Strathaim, Elizabeth Banks.

2) House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Eccentric multimillionaire and his wife invite five unrelated strangers to a huge, isolated mansion. They offer 10,000 dollars to each guest if they make it through the night (12 hours). All five arrive by hearse and in the morning all five will be leaving by hearse, one-way or the other.

Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long.

The new 1999 movie has the same story line, slightly altered like one million dollars instead of 10,000 and of course better special effects.

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Chris Katten.

3) 13 Ghosts (1960) Out of all the top horror movies this ghost movie is one of the best. Uncle Zorba, an occultist, wills a huge unusual house to his needy nephew Cyrus and his family. This house came with three surprises; treasure, thirteen ghosts and special goggles to see these ghosts.

Starring: Charles Herbert, Donald Woods, Jo Morrow.

2001 version has the same story line, with creative well done effects and Cyrus is the uncle’s name.

Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, F. Murray Abraham.

4) Carnival Of Souls (1962)

A ghostly man appears through mirrors at first only to an innocent church organist. Did someone or something at the deserted carnival prompt this ghoulish image which keeps appearing to this poor girl? Even though this is a low budget movie it still merits a decent level on the fright meter.

Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger.

1998 version was much more brutal with a not so funny circus clown.

Starring: Bobbie Phillips, Shawnee Smith.

5) The Haunting (1963)

An old mansion called Hill House gives paranormal proof to Dr. Markway and his invited guests. The good story line made this a spooky movie.

Starring: Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom.

1999 movie has the same story line only its Dr. Marrow, a high standard cast and great movie magic.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor.

6) The Fog (1980)

One hundred years ago a ship carrying lepers purposely crashed drowning all on board. Now the ghoulish lepers are back for revenge and coming through the fog. John Carpenter can certainly put together a great ghost movie, not only once but twice.

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman.

2005- Very similar to the 1980 version but with better effects. Mr. Carpenter has also become more successful in the last twenty five years.

Starring: Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, Selma Blair.

7) Witchboard (1986)

College students start playing with an Ouija board that becomes evil. Meanwhile they were all thinking it was the spirit of a nice ten year old boy.

Starring: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Clare Bristol.

8) The Sixth Sense (1999)

In this subtle ghost movie, nine-year old Cole Sear can see, hear and talk to dead people right after they pass on. Dr. Crowe, a child psychologist tries to help Cole with these…hallucinations. I love movies that have a good twist ending and this is one of them. Definitely one of the top horror movies.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette.

9) The St. Francisville Experiment (1999)

In a little town in Louisianna is a known haunted house. The house is haunted by the ghosts of slaves who died enduring horrible torture.Four people are unprepared for the horrors that are about to occur.

Starring: Tim Baldini, Madison Charap, Paul Palmer.

10) What Lies Beneath (2000)

The wife of an university scientist begins to see apparitions. Her husband thinks that she is nuts until he sees the images for himself. Now, they must both uncover the truth and find out what lies beneath.

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Katharine Towne, James Remar.

11) Ghost Ship (2002)

This is a ‘better get ready to hang on to something’ ghost movie. I would consider this as one of the top horror movies. A 1962 elite passenger ship was suddenly found floating adrift by a salvage crew, forty years later. Old, rusted, deserted, full of gold and ghosts.

Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard, Isaiah Washington.

12) The Ring (2002)

A strange video tape with eerie footage that seems to kill the viewer in seven days. Seconds after the video ends, a phone call, one week later you die a horrible death. Originally a 1998 Japanese film called ‘Ringu”. I had to add this flick to the top horror movies list.

Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Jane Alexander.

You want to be frightened this Halloween season? My recommendation for a great scary ghost movie is any one of these twelve films. They are all worthy to be on the ‘top horror movies’ list.

So after the costumed kids are done ringing your doorbell and threatening you for treats, grab a pillow to hang on to, turn off all the lights and put on one of these scary movies. Great way to end Halloween.

Happy Halloween, Cinema Serge.

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Sep 02

Plucky Sidekicks.

What do Jackie Chan films, Harry Potter films, National Treasure and Sahara movie have in common? They all have their plucky sidekicks.

In the action comedy genre of movies we have the suave hero. The main star who can woo all the women with the most charm, fight the evil villains with Bruce Lee tactics. A gentleman’s gentleman who also can shoot any weapon with precise accuracy and drive, fly, operate any piece of equipment with the skill of a thirty year veteran.

Sometimes these suave characters are a little too serious. Too much action, not enough comedy and that is where the plucky sidekick comes in. This sidekick gives the proper chemistry to make the story work. He is always there just at that serious moment with his goofy one liners. Always on cue.

Compared to the hero, the lowly sidekick is not as handsome, not as smart and a little on the clumsy side but without him the flick would be just another action movie. Also, let us not forget how many times this plucky sidekick has saved the hero from a horrible death.

Going through the archives of the cinematic world I came across a few really good movies with a plucky sidekick character. Movies like this first one, taken out of the Jackie Chan films file.

Around The World In Eighty Days – 2004

London 1872, an English nobleman, inventor, genius Phileas Fogg makes a bet with the head members of an elite gentlemen’s club that he can make it around the world in eighty days. Mr. Fogg’s new assistant, by fluke, is a Chinese thief who is on the lam from the English bobbies. He stole a jade Buddha from the Bank of England, which belonged to his village in remote China. Mr. Fogg hires Lau Xing whom he called Passepartout and took him on an adventurous worldly journey with lots of humor, wit and great Jackie Chan fight scenes.

Usually Jackie Chan films have plucky sidekicks bumbling along with him. Not in this movie. His comical and Kung Foo fighting talent prevailed here as the bumbling sidekick.

Jackie Chan- real name is Chan Kong-sang. Born April 7, 1954 in Hong Kong.

Credits- Since 1960′s, in over one hundred movies. He started out as a stuntman in Bruce Lee movies. Some the other movies he made were, Snake In The Eagles Shadow, Cannonball Run, Police Story(1-4), Rush Hour(1-3), Shanghai Knights, Karate Kid(the new one).

When you think about it, long before Jackie Chan films and Harry Potter films, plucky sidekicks have been around in movies for awhile now. Abbott and Costello, Bud Abbott is much more serious than the spirited Lou Costello. The same can be said about Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. These two comedy teams have to be mentioned. On with the next movie.

National Treasure – 2004

Benjamin Gates is a historian searching for lost treasure with his ever so faithful assistant and computer expert Riley Poole. Vast treasure once protected by the Knights Templar is what Ben and Riley are seeking by solving all sorts of adventurous, historical clues.

Justin Bartha portrays the plucky sidekick and Nicolas Cage plays Ben Gates. Also starring: Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Jon Voight.

Justin Bartha born July 21, 1978 in Michigan, USA.

Credits- Hangover(1&2), Dark Horse, Holy Rollers, Rebound, Tag, Gigli, Trust The Man and New York I Love You.

Harry Potter Films – All the titles start with ‘Harry Potter And The….’

Philosopher’s Stone – 2001

Chamber Of Secrets – 2002

Prisoner Of Azkaban – 2004

Goblet Of Fire – 2005

Order Of Phoenix – 2007

Half Blood Prince – 2009

Deathly Hallows – 2010 (new) Part One

Deathly Hallows – 2011 (July 15) Part Two

Through out all the Harry Potter films, the young wizard always has his two friends. One was his faithful friend and companion, the perfect definition of a plucky sidekick, Ron Weasley. Together they encountered all sorts of mysteries, spells, creatures and evil teachers. Ron, frightened of everything, a little clumsy, but shows his true grit in any situation as best friend to Harry Potter.

Rupert Grint born August 24, 1988 in Harlow, Essex.

 

Credits- Besides the Harry Potter films, Rupert only did theater at the Top Hat Stage School.

Sahara – 2007

Master explorer Dirk Pitt and his war chum, companion, partner in crime Al Giordino look for secret cargo from a lost Confederacy warship from 1865. Dirk and Al with permission from their boss (and commandeer his speed boat anyways) go on an adventurous treasure hunt which eventually ends up in the Sahara Dessert. Lots of ‘blow things up’ action and great comedy. Steve Zahn is the plucky sidekick Al Giordino and Matthew McConaughey plays the suave hero Dirk Pitt. Also starring Penelope Cruz and William H. Macy.

Steve Zahn born November 13, 1967 in Marshal, Minnesota.

Credits- That Thing You Do, National Security, Daddy Daycare, Riding In Cars With Boys, Comanche Moon (TV mini-series), One of Phoebe’s husbands on ‘Friends’, Voice in ‘Chicken Little’.

Many more plucky sidekick movies out in the cinematic world. Some examples are: Judge Dredd(1995), Rob Schneider as Herman Ferguson; Scorpion King(2002), Grant Heslov as Arpid; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off(1986), Alan Ruck as Cameron Frye.

 

The kings of the plucky sidekick characters are Ron Weasely of the Harry Potter Films, Riley Poole from National Treasure, the Sahara movie has Al Giordino and one of the best Jackie Chan films Around The World In Eighty Days has Passepartout. I definitely recommend watching all four movies.

I am a freelance writer on subjects of interest, mostly in the cinematic world. Researched projects by delving deep into all film genres and movie productions of old and new.

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Aug 12

DreamWorks Vs Pixar.

What got me interested in looking into this subject are two fabulous 3-D computer animated flicks. The Ratatouille movie and the first Shrek movie. Of course after watching these two I had to go out and rent the entire other movies brought to us by the DreamWorks studios and Disney’s Pixar studios.

What great witty script writing and animation and with hilarious subtle adult content. The characters and sets are so realistic even with correct moving shadows. So real, it is scary. We may not need human actors in the future… like that will happen!

As we see the finished product like in the Ratatouille movie and the Shrek movie, we do not see the arduous journey from a script to a final onscreen production with voice-overs, mostly from celebrities.

How is it done? After the brilliant script the proposed characters would take form from cartoon artistry modeled in 3-D directly into the computer or props, sets, characters are sculpted by hand and than scanned 3 dimensional. The now animated characters are just a computerized shell of lines joined together with hinges “avars”, which through the computer make these still figures to move, walk, dance. Toy Story’s Woody has 100 hinges just in his face alone.

Than this shell gets covered with skin, fur, feathers, etc. and than voila! Voice-over and were done. Sounds easy, but it is not, these are just the basics on the production of DreamWorks studios and Pixar studios feature films.

Lets now separate the two great film companies and start with DreamWorks studios. Began in October of 1994 with Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katz and David Geffen, seen in most DreamWorks movie logo at the bottom as SKG. DreamWorks studios teamed up with Pacific Data Images in 1996. Their first full length film was Antz in 1998. More of their awesome movies are….

Prince of Egypt – 1998

Chicken Run – 2000 An Oscar and Wallace film

Shrek – 2001

Shrek 2 – 2004

Shark Tale – 2004

Madagascar – 2005

 

 

 

Over The Hedge – 2006

Flushed Away – 2006

Bee Movie – 2007

Madagascar 2 – 2008

Kung Fu Panda – 2008

How To Train Your Dragon – 2010

Pixar studios

Pixar studios started experimenting and put out their first short film in 1984. They put out a total of nineteen short films that you have most likely seen somewhere, like Luxo Jr. (the moving lamps).

After producing many commercial ads like the Listerine bottle swinging on vines in the jungle, Pixar studios made their first motion picture Toy Story in 1995, and continued with many more fabulous movies such as….

A Bugs Life – 1998

Toy Story 2 – 1999

Monsters, Inc. – 2001

Finding Nemo – 2003

The Incredibles – 2004

Cars – 2006

 

 

Ratatouille – 2007 The best!

Wall E – 2008

Up – 2009

Toy Story 3 – 2010

Cars 2 – Out June 24, 2011

Perhaps a kid at heart I still love animation, new computerized or old cartooning it does not matter its all good. With good imagination DreamWorks studios and Pixar studios in the next decade can take 3-D computer animation to a whole new level. 3-D with 3-D animation!

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