‘Star Wars’ and the End of Famous Monsters

STAR WARS changed the landscape of popular culture in 1977 for better and, arguably, for worse. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine founding father Forrest J Ackerman was always a huge fan of science fiction. He was the man who coined the term “Sci-Fi.” He loved STAR WARS with all of his heart and welcomed it to Famous Monsters with open arms, despite Famous Monsters being a name synonymous with horror (close observers know full well, however, that the magazine always embraced myriad films within the science-fiction and fantasy genres, from METROPOLIS and WAR OF THE WORLDS to the original FLASH GORDON and every single Ray Harryhausen project).

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But that enthusiastic FM welcome mat for STAR WARS also pretty much enabled the blockbuster and an entire accompanying space-fantasy genre to steamroll over classic horror. FM’s focus, at least where the covers were concerned,  shifted to entice kids who wanted to escape to a galaxy far, far away, not to a cobwebbed castle. Wonderful painted covers of horror icons on FM would make way for studio-distributed photograph covers featuring Darth Vader, THE BLACK HOLE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Cylons, and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN.

Many would argue that Famous Monsters would never really quite recover from that seismic shift in young fans’ appetites. Classic horror would essentially climb back into the grave and watch from the shadows as Sci-Fi and the slasher genre, kickstarted by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise, would take center stage, opening the door for competing magazines Starlog and Fangoria. Famous Monsters folded in 1983 after 25 years and 191 issues because tastes had changed. It would lay dormant for several years before returning to newsstands again.

With that history in mind, and in honor of STAR WARS DAY, I’ve assembled a bunch of fun STAR WARS-themed covers of Famous Monsters, classic and contemporary, for your viewing pleasure. In my opinion, the painted ones are still the best.

Get more fun STAR WARS-related IT CAME FROM… blog posts here and here.

Get more cool Famous Monsters posts here and here, plus more great Famous Monsters cover art here.

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The Art of Famous Monsters of Filmland

Oscar-winner Rick Baker’s painting of his AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON on the cover of Famous Monsters #284 recently earned a Rondo Hatton award for Best Magazine Cover. The atmospheric depiction of his iconic cinematic lycanthrope is in good company with a number of other stunning covers that have enticed contemporary readers to dive into Forrest J Ackerman’s classic magazine ever since it appeared on the scene in 1958.

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For most of its run (save for a stretch in the late ’70s and early ’80s when photographs became commonplace on the cover), Famous Monsters has boasted incredible gateway art of classic creatures with numerous covers envisioned and put to canvas by such talented artists as Basil Gogos, Ron Cobb, Ken Kelly, Vic Prezio and Albert Nuetzell.

Inspired by our Rondo Award win, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the current roster of artists painting for Famous Monsters and the brand-new art that came about during the time that I was editor of the magazine, from 2015 to 2016.

You’ll notice a distinct strategy at play with the bulk of the cover art that I commissioned. With the luxury of having two covers to create for each issue (sometimes more), I would choose contemporary subject matter for the newsstand version, while leaning towards more classic subject matter for the direct-mail subscriber base.

The idea was that people who were new to Famous Monsters magazine and the brand were more likely to get acquainted at the newsstand or on social media. Thus, contemporary cover subject matter — GAME OF THRONES, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, BATMAN V SUPERMAN, SUICIDE SQUAD — was designed to invite a younger film- and TV-fan demographic. Classic monsters — Bela Lugosi as DRACULA, Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS, King Kong facing off against Godzilla — would appeal more to the Monster-Kid core base of Famous Monsters fans.

Keep in mind that the majority of magazines published today do not feature commissioned artwork, but simply photographs. The original art on the covers of Famous Monsters displayed here — by virtue of the effort itself — represents a key reason why the brand remains so special to the fans, who also love to collect.

The below gallery features the cover art for all of the issues that I edited. The work represents a total of seven individual issues, with an average of two covers per issue, sometimes three. All in all, I supervised the release of 17 different covers. The stats I’ve included below the gallery include the months of release and the different artists responsible for their respective covers.

Please enjoy. There’s some really great art here.

Famous Monsters #282 (October 2015 release): Terry Wolfinger (ASH VS. EVIL DEAD Bone Throne) and Sanjulian (ASH VS. EVIL DEAD Chainsaw)

Famous Monsters #283 (December 2015 release): Terry Wolfinger (THE FORCE AWAKENS & FLASH GORDON) and Rob Prior (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK)

Famous Monsters #284 (February 2016 release): Rick Baker (AMERICAN WEREWOLF) and Simon Thorpe (BATMAN V SUPERMAN)

Famous Monsters #285 (April 2016 release): Terry Wolfinger (GAME OF THRONES) and Sanjulian (CLASH OF THE TITANS)

Famous Monsters #286 (June 2016 release): Brian Taylor (ALIENS) and Rob Prior (STAR TREK)

Famous Monsters #287 (July/August 2016 release): Paul Wee (Forry Ackerman Comic-Con Exclusive), Brian Taylor (SUICIDE SQUAD), and Bob Eggleton (Godzilla vs. King Kong)

Famous Monsters #288 (October 2016 release): Paul Wee (Forry Ackerman) and Terry Wolfinger (DRACULA) and Ken Kelly (SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN)

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Famous Monsters Wins Best Classic Magazine at Rondo Awards!

The winners of the 15th annual Rondo Hatton Awards were announced Sunday night. Famous Monsters of Filmland won Best Magazine (Classic), and also won Best Cover for Rick Baker‘s amazing, timeless rendition of his Oscar-winning American Werewolf in London! FM 284 - Werewolf

I did not win any other awards, but I was named runner-up for Writer of the Year and my “The Great American Werewolf Reunion” piece was also the Best Article runner-up, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it’s pretty exciting that my writing ranked up there for consideration given the fact that there really are so many wonderful journalists out there cranking out great horror, Sci-Fi, and fantasy copy. April Snellings earned the Writer of the Year Award, and if anyone truly deserves it, it’s her.

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Thank you all again for your support and for making the effort to vote. My work as editor of Famous Monsters was honored last year with Rondos that included Best Classic Magazine and Best Interview (with Mel Brooks for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN), and that was a real thrill to be recognized. This year’s honor is that much more bittersweet as I am no longer with Famous Monsters magazine, and the publication’s future remains a bit uncertain. The good news from the Famous Monsters camp is that the magazine, once a bi-monthly, will now be published once a year as a double issue that comes out around Halloween. I wish them well, and sure hope they can create a product of substance that still taps into the Monster Kid within us all.

The Rondo Awards, named after Rondo Hatton, an obscure B-movie villain of the 1940s, are conducted annually by the Classic Horror Film Board and honor the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation.a412da30af0f7d1b2cd65ed70a418611.jpg

Here is the full list of winners, taken from the Rondo Awards site. The Rondo Awards Ceremony will be held at WonderFest in Louisville on June 4. You can keep track of Rondo happenings at classichorrorfilmboard.com or at rondoaward.com.

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Medusa Reads Famous Monsters!

Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS reads Famous Monsters. I know this to be true from the photographic evidence provided by the fine folks at the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

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So what’s the real story behind this photo? Famous Monsters #285 featured a tribute to the 1981 Ray Harryhausen classic, highlighted by a new, exclusive interview with its star, Harry Hamlin. Hamlin discussed his involvement, from script to screen, in what would ultimately become Harryhausen’s last major Hollywood feature. Of course, Hamlin went into wonderful detail about the process of working with Harryhausen, from battling giant scorpions (swinging a sword at thin air, seeing as the creatures had to be added later) to watching the master’s meticulous approach to his stop-motion art — and then observing him sip his favorite drink after clicking each laborious frame.

The folks at the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation had an opportunity to read the issue and then told me that they were overjoyed with the coverage. They requested a few extra copies to be added to their ample archives, and we struck up a nice, cordial friendship. In return for the favor of sending copies of FM across the pond, they told me to expect to see “a surprise” on social media in the next couple days.

Well, what a surprise it was. They made a major effort to retrieve the actual, screen-used Medusa model from storage and pose her with the magazine as if she was reading about herself. As bucket-list moments go, seeing the physical creature that put me on the edge of my seat as a kid watching CLASH OF THE TITANS released from purgatory — and “reading” FM just for this special occasion — was pure geek bliss.

Thanks again to the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation for arranging this photo. What a thrill!

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Famous Monsters Fan-toshop Service

One of the nice little perks of the modern age is how fans of your magazine can manipulate images on a whim with Photoshop and share them around the Internet for everyone’s amusement.

When I released Famous Monsters #284 with a painting of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE by talented artist Simon Thorpe on the cover (trumpeting my interview with director Zack Snyder), a devoted Bat fan took it upon himself to depict the Caped Crusader reading about himself in the latest issue of FM in the Batcave. I loved it.

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Another issue, Famous Monsters #285, celebrated the 35th anniversary of CLASH OF THE TITANS with an exclusive Harry Hamlin interview about the trials and triumphs of making that classic 1981 film, and about the nuances of working with stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen. I commissioned legendary genre artist Sanjulian to paint Ray’s stunning take on Medusa for the cover, which got the attention of the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation. Soon enough, a dedicated fan swooped in and swapped out the head of Medusa in a still from TITANS with a copy of that issue. Clever, I must admit. And I enjoyed a hearty laugh over it.

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Are there any more creative Photoshop FM subversions out there making the rounds? Maybe so. Hope you enjoyed these two fun, interactive takes as much as I did!

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Basil Gogos: The Passing of a Monster Art Legend

My heart is heavy with the news that legendary painter Basil Gogos has passed on.

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Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine owes a huge debt of gratitude to Gogos. His paintings of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, King Kong, the Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and so many other creatures of classic horror helped define the genre magazine that meant so much to so many and arguably elevated the brand to iconic status back in the ‘60s.

Gogos’ dynamic renderings of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Lon Chaney, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Ingrid Pitt, Jonathan Frid, Zacherley and more were the first line of enticement to lure in Monster Kids to pick up the latest copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland. His subjects were often treated to high-contrast lighting, with striking colorings used at times to psychedelic effect, which resulted in haunting portraits of beautifully designed cinematic characters. Not only did Gogos transform his subject matter to high art, he transcended our perception of these sometimes scary, sometimes silly rubber-and-latex monsters to soulful, penetrating, misunderstood outcasts.BasilGogos.jpgAs the former Executive Editor of Famous Monsters, it was a pleasure to meet Basil and interview him for our special Forry Ackerman Centennial Tribute in 2016. I also got to work with him and his lovely partner Linda Touby, an established abstract artist herself. I was in the process of getting his paintings back on the covers of Famous Monsters with a combination of unseen previous works and potential new paintings. It was an exciting prospect that was unfortunately cut short by my having to reluctantly step away from Famous Monsters last fall. In retrospect, I wish I had been able to stay longer simply to have been able to put Basil Gogos back on an FM cover at least one more time.

 

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Basil Gogos with David Weiner at a recent Monsterpalooza event.

 

While Gogos is best known for his work for Famous Monsters, he also illustrated many a movie poster and pulp covers with non-monster material; nubile women, expressive manly men, fierce creatures, and world-war machinery lent color, story and action to such Men’s Adventure mags (covers and interiors) as Man’s Action, Man’s Conquest, Man’s Illustrated, Wildest West, Wildcat Adventures, and True Adventures. He also tackled covers for Screen Thrills IllustratedSpacemen, Creepy and Eerie magazine and a variety of paperback covers. Standout movie poster work included INFRA-MAN, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, and the Charles Bronson flick RIDER ON THE RAIN — showing the muscle-bound star “at his brutal best”!

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Gogos’ work has been commissioned for FM-influenced rockers such as Rob Zombie, Misfits, and Electric Frankenstein. It’s appeared on U.S. postage stamps. In addition to album art, action settings and classic monsters, Gogos told me that he found fulfillment in depicting the human figure, horses, and abstract colorful paintings.

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I’ve reposted my 10 Questions with Basil Gogos interview from Famous Monsters #288 below to give readers a sense of how he worked with FM founders Forrest J Ackerman and James Warren and what mattered most to him. He was a class act all the way.

Basil Gogos may be gone, but his legacy lives on. Like the many cinematic subjects he captured on canvas, his work will remain immortal.

10 QUESTIONS WITH BASIL GOGOS

Famous Monsters: Were you a fan of horror films growing up? What were some of your favorites that helped to inspire your work and imagination?
Basil Gogos: 
No, I was not a fan growing up, not as a kid, but I became a fan. My favorites were Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and THE THING.

FM. How did you come to paint for Famous Monsters magazine? Did you find them, or did they find you?
BG. 
I came to paint for Famous Monsters because Jim Warren asked me to do my first cover for FM, therefore they found me. My rep contacted me about a job and it had to be done in a psychedelic way. Not knowing what he meant, I did what I thought it meant. It turned out to be an iconic cover.

FM. What was your interaction like with Forry Ackerman and Jim Warren when it came to assignments and ideas?
BG. 
My interaction started with James Warren. He would ask for the cover, telling me which character he wanted. He would just say the character and leave the rest up to me. I would paint the cover and then give it to him. Forrest Ackerman came next. He would discuss what I did with James Warren without me, then they would get back to me with the next cover. They left the creative ideas up to me.

FM. Were there times when you were asked to fine-tune your paintings?
BG. 
I hardly ever was asked to do anything — change or touch up — to the finished cover paintings.

FM. You really captured the soul and horror of your subjects. What was your source material for these iconic paintings? Did you often get stills from Forry or the movie studios?
BG. 
I usually used black-and-white photographs that were given to me at times from Warren and Ackerman, but frequently found shots on my own from the studios. Sometimes I used more than one still, sometimes just one, but always black-and-white stills so I could use my own color. Other times I worked from sketches.

FM. Did you ever get to meet some of the famous faces that you painted?
BG. 
Unfortunately I didn’t meet many of the people I painted. Some had died before I painted them. I always wanted to meet Karloff, but never did. I did get to know both people who played the Creature; Ben Chapman and Ingrid Pitt became friends, and they are dearly missed.

FM. Is there one FM cover that you wish you could rework or redo entirely, perhaps due to a rushed deadline?
BG. 
I am happy with all my FM covers. I really never found time a constraint when I was doing them. I usually worked nights with coffee and peace and quiet.

FM. Among all the covers that you did for FM, which is your favorite and why?
BG. 
My very favorite is #56 — Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster. I was commissioned to paint him and he was very ill at the time. His death occurred when the painting was being finished, and it meant a lot to me.

FM. How did your success with FM ultimately affect your career trajectory?
BG. 
It gave me a chance to be free to express myself in my work. I worked on other magazine covers as time went on, as well as CDs and posters, but I always enjoyed doing FM covers.

FM. These days, what types of subjects give you the most fulfillment with your work?
BG. 
I have found fulfillment in painting and drawing the human figure, as well as horses and abstract colorful paintings. I always enjoy a challenge.

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Then read more Famous Monsters-related pieces, see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, movie reviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

James Cameron: ‘Aliens Still Holds Up Pretty Damn Well’

**Scroll down to the bottom of this page to hear James Cameron’s exclusive interview with David Weiner on The Famous Monsters Podcast**

Happy Alien Day! Why is it Alien Day? Because it’s April 26 — 4/26 — a perfect excuse for 20th Century Fox to create a holiday around their ALIEN franchise and to promote their new ALIEN films (including the new ALIEN: COVENANT) and products simply because, in those movies, the planet where they first discover the Alien xenomorph is designated LV-426.

0*3MKseYD_JoX9lirII’ve been a huge fan of the franchise ever since Ridley Scott first captured my imagination with his incredible production design and storytelling prowess in 1979’s ALIEN. I had (and still have) every book that came out at the time, including the official novelization by Alan Dean Foster, the Heavy Metal comic adaptation ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY, the making-of tome THE BOOK OF ALIEN packed with on-set stills and concept sketches, and the oversized MOVIE NOVEL version. I was obsessed with H.R. Giger’s bold and imaginative take on threatening extra-terrestrials with a deadly life cycle. I was half-convinced that Giger must be an alien himself if he could fabricate such an inconceivable creature. In the close-to-40-years since the original film was released, I don’t believe that anyone has been able to concoct a more original, nightmarish and frightening cinematic creation in comparison. Plenty of folks have tried and failed, however.IMG_2603

Last summer marked the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s ALIENS, which was released in 1986. As editor of Famous Monsters magazine, I maneuvered to get some time with Cameron to talk about his sequel that changed the sequel game and put him firmly in the pantheon of A-list directors to watch. I also knew that he was knee-deep in production on his AVATAR follow-up films, and was pretty confident I wouldn’t even get a response from him or his office at Lightstorm Entertainment. But given the Sci-fi nature of his body of work, from ALIENS and TERMINATOR to THE ABYSS and AVATAR, he seemed like a genuine Monster Kid who might have a soft spot in his heart for Famous Monsters. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

To my stunned surprise, my bet paid off, as it turned out that not only did Cameron know of Famous Monsters, but he was a fan who had read practically every issue as a kid and teenager. He told me that he used to hide Forrest J Ackerman’s pulpy monster-movie magazine behind his textbooks at school. “The effect Famous Monsters magazine had on me when I was ten years old through my teen years was psychological,” he explained. “It was a reality check that I wasn’t crazy, because other people loved this stuff, too. I certainly never got any support within my family or from my parents or even that much from my friends that monsters were cool. So it was my contact with a larger community of fans for horror and science fiction.”

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For our interview, Cameron not only gave me 45 minutes of his valuable time but also revealed a few critical details of the AVATAR sequels he’s been working on, affording me an opportunity to break that news (that he’s filming all sequels concurrently, and how he plans to compete with the release dates of the STAR WARS sequels) and have my story picked up worldwide. I have to admit, it’s a pretty exhilarating activity to Google yourself and find your interview quotes being reported on and making headlines in countries ranging from France and Germany to Mexico, Japan, and Australia.

For Famous Monsters of Filmland #286, the Oscar-winning filmmaker delivered a candid and in-depth recounting of the making of ALIENS and the various obstacles he encountered, from the screenwriting process and pre-production detours to production snafus in England and unexpected post-production problems and solutions.

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Here are a couple interesting nuggets from our interview:

ON CREATING A NEW ALIEN TALE FROM THE 1979 CLASSIC: “My goals were twofold, and one was not prioritized over the other. The first goal was to honor and continue what Ridley had started. And the second goal was to make it my own film. … I felt that it was important to be stylistically continuous with the first film. But in terms of the way the story is told, the elements of the story, introducing the idea of a future military, that was just a way into it that made it different, that was a distinguishing factor.”

THE VISUAL EFFECTS OF ALIENS AND TODAY’S CGI TRADE-OFF: “We developed a pretty good little palette of techniques that were relatively straightforward and inexpensive and required a lot of craftsmanship. I think there’s less hands-on craftsmanship in visual effects these days because so much can just be fixed downstream, digitally. Almost anything can be corrected or hidden or added to or enhanced with CG now. So there’s much less emphasis on what’s going in front of an actual camera lens.”

ALIENS AND THE TEST OF TIME: “I cringe a little bit when I watch TERMINATOR at some of the stuff that was really threadbare. I think [with] ALIENS we fought it to a draw based on the technology available at the time and I’m pretty proud of the film. I don’t cringe at anything in ALIENS. … Every film is a cross-section or a snapshot of the technology available at the moment that it was made and so it’s pointless to say, ‘Well, today I would have done it with this. I would have done this with CG. I would have done that differently.’ … You have to edit all that out and say, ‘OK, this film was made 30 years ago. I think that it still holds up pretty damn well.'”

WOULD CAMERON EVER RETURN TO THE FRANCHISE? “Unless somebody could come up with some spectacularly new concept. … I’ve got my own kind of alien world that I’m enslaved to now with the AVATAR films, so I can pretty much rule that out.”

I’m very proud of the resulting issue of Famous Monsters, which features a stunning original painting by talented artist Brian Taylor of Ripley and Newt face-to-face with the Alien Queen.

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A healthy portion of my ALIENS 30th-anniversary interview with James Cameron can be heard on this special edition of the Famous Monsters Podcast. It’s a good one:

 

Happy Alien Day, and stay away from LV-426!

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Thrill at These ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Lobby Cards from 1981

The arrival of THE LAST JEDI on the big screen conjures up deep emotional feelings of nostalgia in me that are hard to suppress. After I first saw the end credits of RETURN OF THE JEDI roll by in the summer of 1983, I knew in my heart that STAR WARS was done; that this wonderful chapter of cinematic joy in my life was over. After all, a beleaguered George Lucas had said at the time that he was taking a long, indefinite break from his brainchild, despite offering up the promise of potentially making nine STAR WARS movies. dlvaushuiaasvoxWe all know what happened in the interim with the prequels and various animated series and incessant merchandising, but I never truly believed over the course of the last three decades that my human heroes from The Original Trilogy — Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia — would ever return to continue their adventures.

So when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and a new trilogy of STAR WARS films was announced along with a steady stream of spinoff films, I had to pinch myself that it was all happening again with the Original Trilogy trio for THE FORCE AWAKENS. Given the overwhelming success of that entry, its follow-up, THE LAST JEDI, promises a lot more screen time with Mark Hamill as an elder Luke Skywalker — and has an obvious fan-perceived correlation to 1981’s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Darker, deeper, and potentially superior; a film that builds on top of the previous premise-establishing tale to do more world-building and to put our beloved heroes in even greater jeopardy. The tone and approach of EMPIRE has always been the benchmark comparison for the first sequels of many a Sci-Fi franchise, and though it’s essentially an apples-to-oranges comparison, THE LAST JEDI still has a lot to live up to.

In short, I’m super excited to see how this new STAR WARS movie stacks up to the rest. And in the process, I’m taking many walks down memory lane in a galaxy far, far away.

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Looking back, it’s hard to believe that a full three years went by before we got a theatrical follow-up to the first STAR WARS (which mutated into STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE, complete with an unnecessary makeover two decades later), but to this day I’m grateful that we had so much time to mine our own imaginations for the further adventures of Luke Skywalker and friends before the saga got seriously deep and then, conversely, a little too cartoonish. The wild storylines in the Marvel Comics adaptation of STAR WARS and such novels such as SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE and HAN SOLO AT STAR’S END (not to mention countless hours listening to the records and playing with the Kenner toys) helped guide us, but it was still up to a generation of fertile minds to fill in the gaps until we’d see our friends again on the frigid wastelands of the ice planet Hoth.

On May 21 in 1980 I waited in line with my pals to catch a matinee of EMPIRE. Like so many, I was absolutely blown away by everything that I saw onscreen. Blown. Away. 25182476_550633438609829_1200066666033466379_oAnd then we stayed for a second viewing to watch from the front row, solidifying the life-changing experience. That unexpected cliffhanger ending was killer, of course, and we were faced with another three-year wait to see what would happen next, kind of like our own frozen hibernation hell in carbonite. I’m glad the stretch between main STAR WARS movies is at least down to two years now, with the spinoffs proposed to be released every other year to fill in the gaps. Too much? It remains to be seen…

As I revisit my 12-year-old mindset in anticipation of THE LAST JEDI, I’ve assembled a healthy handful of almost 30 original EMPIRE STRIKES BACK lobby cards, a few in German and French thrown in for good measure, to help you stoke the fires of your own nostalgia. Enjoy!

 

 

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. CXV5XakW8AEbxcA.jpgThey were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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More Lobby Cards to ogle:

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‘The Shape of Water’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

Flick Flack Movie ReviewWHAT’S THE DEAL: Guillermo del Toro’s whimsical new period film is a love story/monster movie/cold-war thriller hybrid that follows the special relationship between a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) at a top-secret government facility and its captive, a thoughtful amphibious creature (Doug Jones) of unknown origin.

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WHY SEE IT: Guillermo del Toro is a passionate cinephile, and THE SHAPE OF WATER is a unique, reverse take on the classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST concept nicely wrapped up as a love letter to some of del Toro’s favorite film genres. Part CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, part AMELIE, SHAPE chooses a refreshing point of view to frame its tale of resolute outsiders vs. the authoritarian establishment. Sally Hawkins delivers an engaging, nuanced performance as the film’s heroine, Elisa Esposito, a member of the “unseen” support staff amid stuffy uniforms and early ’60s ideals who approaches each day with dreamy optimism despite perceived appearances. There is the sweetness of life’s simple pleasures and the harsh reality of bigotry in this world that del Toro paints for her, but Elisa never seems to skip a step despite her humdrum routine. Still, she wants more personal satisfaction. She wants love. And her curiosity regarding Doug Jones’ unnamed entity quickly transforms into subtle desire.

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A tender relationship with a fellow sensitive soul is formed, and its warmth and humor buoys this at-times tense genre casserole that can veer into dark territory. This interspecies love affair could also have rubbed audiences the wrong way (see Adrien Brody’s animalistic indulgence in 2009’s SPLICE for shock value reference), but in the capable hands of del Toro, it makes sense and also deepens this fable considerably.

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Beyond the brisk, intelligent storytelling, the detailed period production design, and the memorable soundtrack with wonderful period tune choices, what elevates THE SHAPE OF WATER is its remarkable cast. GdT has assembled top-rate performers alongside Hawkins, each the ideal embodiment of their many-shaded characters: Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and of course Doug Jones all crackle. I can’t imagine this film being better with any other ensemble.

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THE FLICK FLACK: I’m hard-pressed to find much flack with THE SHAPE OF WATER. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this cinematic escape, and highly recommend it — albeit to mature audiences, given that there is plenty of adult content baked into this fantastic tale. If I were to nitpick at all, it would be that I felt the design of the creature (Doug Jones deserves a special award for his many shining performances beneath layers of latex) was too reminiscent of Abe Sapien in del Toro’s HELLBOY movies, a mild distraction that goes away soon enough.

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NOTABLE NOTES: THE SHAPE OF WATER is a very personal film for Guillermo del Toro, who has been intensely involved with almost every aspect of the project, from co-writing, producing, and directing to guiding the marketing campaign. There is no need for him to contain his enthusiasm, yet sometimes he has a hard time not spoiling his own storylines. And when it comes to crafting a film that combines multiple genres, he’s acutely aware that there’s a segment of the audience that will feel a bit slighted. “The trickiest thing is people expecting a straight horror story will be disappointed, and people expecting a straight romantic story will be disappointed,” he told me in reference to his last film, the Gothic haunted tale CRIMSON PEAK. “But I think that … the more you speak the vernacular of the movie, the more you will enjoy it.” THE SHAPE OF WATER speaks a very specific vernacular, and the balance here should leave few wanting a different dialect.

MORE INFO: foxsearchlight.com/theshapeofwater

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‘Justice League’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

Flick Flack Movie ReviewWHAT’S THE DEAL: Super friends Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) team up to battle supernatural baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) in order to save the world, courtesy of director Zack Snyder (and a dollop of Joss Whedon) at the helm.

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WHY SEE IT: We’ve been waiting for this superhero moment for what seems like an eternity: A live-action Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and even Cyborg (with a tease of the Green Lantern corps thrown in for good measure) fighting the bad guys side by side on the big screen. Marvel’s AVENGERS got there first and showed us how it could be done, so just to see it finally happen with DC’s most influential comic-book heroes is a pretty damn cool achievement that was way overdue.

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JUSTICE LEAGUE — compared to Zack Snyder’s last two DC entries, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and MAN OF STEEL — is mercifully more generous with humorous one-liners and a lighter tone. BvS was an especially dark, somber affair, and credit for the Zoloft boost this time around likely goes to the creative injection of AVENGERS director Joss Whedon, who stepped in to punch up the script, finish the film, and reshoot a percentage of scenes after Snyder had to bow out due to a personal tragedy. Now, our heroes poke fun at each other and display self-effacing qualities (I especially enjoyed the moment in which Momoa’s mysterious Aquaman gets surprisingly open and candid, only to discover that he’s been sitting on Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth). New additions such as Miller’s semi-goofy Flash and Fisher’s complicated Cyborg get plenty of moments to strut their stuff, and a resurrected Superman even has a sunnier disposition, something sorely lacking in Cavill’s other two broody-face films. I also enjoyed Danny Elfman’s rousing score, which incorporated a taste of his original Tim Burton BATMAN theme and paid homage to John Williams’ SUPERMAN theme, adding a familiar flourish to the overall proceedings.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Now that the world’s finest superheroes have finally assembled (several years after Marvel came along and stole DC’s thunder with their shared cinematic universe), the long-awaited JUSTICE LEAGUE movie really should be amazing, but it is sadly a creative disappointment. Admittedly for me, it’s difficult to measure this film on its own merits when it lives in the shadow of the AVENGERS’ phenomenal success and feels a bit like a copycat. Similar to Disney’s JOHN CARTER box-office mishap a few years back, JUSTICE LEAGUE is an intellectual property with top-rate genre credentials that was there first (in print), but the movie adaptation came way too late, years after other artists mined its influential ideas and delivered similar, sometimes superior products.

 

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I wanted to love this movie. It has considerable, capable talent involved. Yet there’s a slapdash feel to JUSTICE LEAGUE; it comes off as rushed and half-baked. The pivotal moments in which these characters come together to fight their common enemies — the real reason we’re watching in the first place — should send a tingle down our spines, like the snippets on display in the film’s trailer; instead they are unexceptional, and too consistently devolve into a frenzied blur of CGI-overload. And this super group deserves a villain truly worthy of their union, but the all-CGI Steppenwolf (surprisingly unconvincing motion-capture work) has no distinctive personality — his every threat bromidic, his every punch lacking kinetic weight, his army of Parademons seemingly disconnected from his direct command. After experiencing JUSTICE LEAGUE I should have felt exhilaration. Instead, I just felt numb. These beloved superheroes from my childhood deserve better, and I can only hope that they get their cinematic justice one day soon.

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NOTABLE NOTES: Compared to Marvel’s AVENGERS franchise, Warner Bros. could have been first out of the gate with a JUSTICE LEAGUE film, a compelling project that was ready to go in 2007 with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD director George Miller at the helm. Now that would have been epic. But the studio pulled the plug at the last minute thanks to a combination of rewrite requests before a Writer’s Guild of America strike, complications regarding the Australian shoot location permissions, casting competition with WB’s established Batman and Superman franchises — big and small screen — and so on.

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Titled JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL, the film had incredible costumes and props by Weta Workshop and was intended to be filmed using motion-capture tech. It had some intriguing casting choices, with Armie Hammer as Batman, D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Common as Green Lantern, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter. The story focused on Batman’s creation of a robot army intended to keep the peace, only to have a deadly AI revolt on his hands. Sounds a lot like the plot of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, doesn’t it? Except this DC movie was planned for release almost a full decade before that Marvel sequel. Alas, JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL was never meant to be. And though that film project died an unfortunate death, we will still reportedly get to see much of the work that went into it, as a documentary about JL: MORTAL is in the works — similar to THE DEATH OF ‘SUPERMAN LIVES’: WHAT HAPPENED?, the film about Tim Burton’s aborted Superman film starring Nicolas Cage.

MORE INFO: http://www.justiceleaguethemovie.com

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The Incredible Alternate Possibilities of Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters’

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND made a huge impact on me when I saw it as an impressionable nine-year-old way back in November of 1977. Four decades later, on the anniversary of the Oscar winner’s November 16 theatrical debut, I can’t stop thinking about it.close_encounters_richard_dreyfuss.jpgThe film touched a nerve deep inside of me, not unlike that of Roy Neary after his personal encounter with mysterious extraterrestrials. I became obsessed. I saw it multiple times in the theater. I talked with my friends about it daily. I drew pictures and storyboards of aliens, spaceships, and flying saucers. I carved lines in my mashed potatoes at dinner. I wanted to see a U.F.O. for real. I wanted to know for a fact that We Are Not AloneDHKOaFjUwAEolXK.jpg

But since friendly invaders weren’t going out of their way to tap on my bedroom window and whisk me away to another world in 1977, I had to be satisfied with whatever merchandise I could get my hands on: The Marvel comic-book adaptation; the film’s Fotonovel; Bob Balaban’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND DIARY, repeated listens to John Williams’ brilliant soundtrack and Meco’s disco version on 45.

I soaked up all the details I could get my hands on and became somewhat of a know-it-all expert at 10 years old. Now, a lifetime later, I get to supplement all those studied factoids with Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History (written by Michael Klastorin for HarperCollins), the new behind-the-scenes companion book out just in time for the film’s 40th anniversary.

It’s full of material I’ve never seen before, including compelling concept art, amazing set photos, storyboards, script notes, trade paper clippings, memos, and correspondence. It also collects a number of narratives that paint a much broader context of what it was like to make the film compared to Bob Balaban’s singular CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND DIARY recollections published in 1978. 81KXvkBG-vL

In the new book’s foreword by Steven Spielberg, the writer/director says that the seeds of the film were planted when his father took him as a boy to watch the Perseid meteor shower. He also explains that the project remains one of his most personal: “The idea that we are not alone — the hope that we are not alone — is a theme I’ve returned to in several films since [the release of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS], some frightening, some gentle. But the optimism of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS will always remain close to my heart.” f2d7a4ebf2589a60a409f244bd255440--steven-spielberg-close-encountersSome interesting nuggets of information about the making of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and what could have been, taken from THE ULTIMATE VISUAL HISTORY:

  • The character of Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss, was originally named Norman Greenhouse.
  • Spielberg hoped to have Steve McQueen play the part of Greenhouse, but the star turned it down because he did not want to cry on camera. The director also pursued Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson. As the character evolved into an “everyman” type of character, Dreyfuss became the logical choice.
  • In the second draft of the screenplay, there is an active UFO-watcher group known as SPIWGOAH: The Society for the People Interested in What’s Going On Around Here.
  • In a deleted scene, Roy Neary tries to make sense of the shape of a Jell-O mold at a neighborhood block party (between fascination with the looming mountain shape of mashed potatoes, shaving cream, and a pillow).
  • The iconic Devil’s Tower location in Wyoming was originally a fictional location scripted as “Wamsutter Mountain” and Spielberg briefly considered using Monument Valley, but passed on it since he knew that cinematic landscape belonged to legendary director John Ford.
  • Also before the Devil’s Tower location was chosen, Spielberg initially envisioned having the Mothership land in a small town between two fast-food restaurants, but dismissed the idea after production designer Joe Alves mocked up the shot.
  • An Air Force character in an early draft of the script was named Major Benchley after JAWS author Peter Benchley.
  • In order to elicit natural, organic responses of concern and curiosity from little Cary Guffey who played Barry, Spielberg dressed two crew members as a clown and a gorilla.
  • To create the memorable “Five Notes” motif used throughout the film, John Williams wrote several hundred combinations. He found it difficult because, “Seven notes is a melody, and three notes is just for the doorbell ring … five notes is somewhere in between.”

Many people don’t take the time to consider how many ideas are first set on paper before being totally revised, eliminated, morphed, added later, or expanded in the filmmaking process. Where CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is concerned, there are some incredible, alternate possibilities to say the least.

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Spielberg and his alien friends: An interior spread from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: THE ULTIMATE VISUAL HISTORY

You can read more of my CLOSE ENCOUNTERS musings HERE along with a collection of original, vintage Lobby Cards from the film.

You can also purchase Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History and then shop to your heart’s content for other things on Amazon (like Collectible Toys) while contributing a few shekels towards the upkeep of IT CAME FROM…

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‘Thor: Ragnarok’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

Flick Flack Movie ReviewWHAT’S THE DEAL: Chris Hemsworth’s Thor swings his magic Mjolnir hammer for his third solo film outing between AVENGERS movies, this time facing off against his twisted sister Hela (a game Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, who is determined to rule the realm of Asgard. But first, he must escape the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) gladiator games on a distant planet and survive the ultimate clash with The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).r_thorragnarok_header_nowplaying_47d36193WHY SEE IT: This is the best THOR movie yet, hands down. It’s full of humor, scope, excitement, and creativity. Marvel films now deliver on what seems like an absolute obligation to integrate multiple characters from other storylines into one film, and the additions of Ruffalo’s Hulk, along with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange in the early section, are welcome ones. Ruffalo and Hemsworth display great comic chemistry together, and there are plenty of Hulk scenes in which the big green guy finally gets to stretch a bit. Get Hulk his own movie already, will ya Marvel?!? It’s also a treat to see Strange get his moment to shine with the confidence of a full-on sorcerer, fresh off his own inaugural outing/origin story.naom_59f35e6c95a78In RAGNAROK, Chris Hemsworth has finally come into his own where Thor’s physical humor is concerned. He’s having fun with the role and the swagger, and so are we. I still prefer it when the big-screen Thor is part of a team and not riding solo, however, which is why RAGNAROK works so well for me. He misses being part of the Avengers, so he tries to recruit others to accompany him on his mission to save Asgard. His team of unlikely “Revengers” — including the fallen Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who gets heroic moments while remaining his deliciously devious self; he is the god of mischief, after all), as well as the rocky alien Korg (voiced by director Taika Waititi) — is a fun, ragtag bunch. The god of thunder also gets help from afar by Heimdall (Idris Elba, who finally gets more to do than just guard a portal and give sage advice in a THOR movie), which helps to connect the action from separate worlds.thor-ragnarok-hela-cate-blanchett.jpgAs the heavy, Blanchett clearly relishes her role, chewing the scenery as Hela with her skin-tight costume and wild-antler helmet. She makes for a formidable foe, balanced by Goldblum’s quirky Grandmaster, who is that much funnier due to his fish-out-of-water stunt casting. And while THOR: RAGNAROK is lushly produced, director Waititi chooses to go for a straight-to-video, ‘80s VHS action vibe with select soundtrack moments (courtesy of Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh). It gives the film a kooky charm and tells the audience that this flick does not take itself seriously. Plus, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” could not be better placed when it’s time to watch Thor kick ass and take names in the big climax.fotoshow_138732764_07.jpgTHE FLICK FLACK: Sure, RAGNAROK is a movie that could be easily dismissed as a CGI-overload, battle-heavy no-brainer that blends with the noise of Marvel movies for those experiencing superhero-movie fatigue — and have no humor. I checked my expectations at the door and thoroughly enjoyed this movie. If there’s any flack I’d want to throw its way, it’s perhaps that many recurring characters who normally appear in a THOR film are absent — notably Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster who, when last seen, was the reason why Thor decided to stay on earth rather than rule in Asgard up on high. And the various realms and Sci-Fi setting of this movie, with nifty spaceships and laser battles aplenty, feels like the perfect opportunity to integrate the Guardians of the Galaxy. So I was a bit disappointed that Marvel chose not to place them into the story as well, not even as a tease. We all know they’ll unite for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, but it would have been nice to get an early taste. Wishful thinking on my part.thor-ragnarok-jeff-goldblum-2.jpgNOTABLE NOTES: Marvel movie honcho Kevin Feige is known for recruiting unlikely directors for his big-budget spectacles, and his gamble pays off yet again on RAGNAROK. Kiwi director Taika Waititi’s own sense of skewed humor breaks through the clutter, and his resume shows why: Prior to RAGNAROK, he directed the vamp mockumentary WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, and he also worked with funnyman Jemaine Clement on a pair of episodes of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. His capable action-comedy, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE with Sam Neill, is likely what sealed the deal for Feige’s confidence.

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MORE INFO: http://movies.disney.com/thor-ragnarok

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Giving a Damn About ‘Damnation Alley’

 

DAMNATION ALLEY is one of those movies that was much, much better in concept than in execution. Released in theaters 40 years ago in October, the super-’70s flick had a cool title, a killer poster, a score by Jerry Goldsmith, a cast that included George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, Paul Winfield, Jackie Earle Haley, and Dominique Sanda — and the ultimate post-apocalyptic survival vehicle: The Landmaster.damnation-alley-featured.jpgIt capitalized on cold-war fears that nuclear armageddon was right around the corner, and what we’d be left with would be a radioactive wasteland, plagued by bizarre weather patterns and populated by mutated insects and deadly scavengers.g34.jpgThe film also had a gimmick: Like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s limited 1978 theatrical run that was released in “Sensurround,” DAMNATION ALLEY boasted a big-screen release bathed in “Sound 360” — basically full-range stereo speakers turned up to 11 to envelop the viewer and make the seats vibrate (a technique also used for the release of DAMIEN: OMEN II).damnation-alley-lobby-card-5.jpgBased on Roger Zelazny’s book of the same name, DAMNATION ALLEY had a formidable budget of $17 million and was directed by Jack Smight, coming off such notable films as MIDWAY, AIRPORT 1975, and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. All the pieces were there. It was going to be a huge hit for 20th Century Fox.DamnationAlleyBut despite all that street cred, DAMNATION ALLEY was a dud. It’s a rambling film full of fits and starts and half-baked action. Most of the special effects that were added in post-production — real “giant” scorpions superimposed on the sand dunes after the eight-foot props couldn’t cut it; real hissing cockroaches mixed in when the rubber ones fell flat; and an overly chroma-keyed apocalyptic sky — delayed the release considerably and cheesed up the look of the film, offsetting its impressive budget. And coming out five months after Fox’s other Sci-Fi gamble-turned-sleeper-phenomenon, STAR WARS, poor DAMNATION ALLEY never had a chance.damnation-alley-vehicle1I still love the idea of DAMNATION ALLEY, and in this day and age of renewed MAD MAX mania, I think the concept is ripe for a remake. The Landmaster remains one of the coolest movie vehicles made — a rugged, armored tank-like hulk with machine guns and missiles along with amphibious capabilities. An epic, post-apocalyptic flick needs a stalwart vehicle, and an updated version of The Landmaster could get me into a darkened theater simply to see it in action. Remember the days when tricked-out vehicles were the real stars of the films and TV shows they were featured in? The Batmobile, KITT, 007’s Aston Martin or Lotus Esprit, The General Lee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Herbie the Love Bug? The time has come to bring those back.tumblr_lpob7yRcom1qzr8nao1_1280Incidentally, I used to drive by The Landmaster when it was parked behind bars at a custom auto body shop in Hollywood, CA on Cahuenga Blvd. Next to it sat a futuristic silver hovercar that resembled the one from TV’s LOGAN’S RUN. It thrilled me to think that the hugely famous (in my mind) Landmaster was just sitting there on the side of the road in plain view for everyone to see. I was privileged to get to see it every day because I was in the know. It also saddened me, because it looked like the once mighty Landmaster and its unlikely hovercraft sidekick were simply discarded, waiting for one more hurrah while the cameras rolled. Sadly, The Landmaster’s last well-known appearance was in an extended cameo on an episode of Chris Elliott’s early ’90s comedy GET A LIFE.  **Sigh.**

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‘Stranger Things 2’: The Flick Flack TV Review

Flick Flack TV ReviewWHAT’S THE DEAL: All your favorite characters from the Netflix sleeper series STRANGER THINGS are back for more supernatural adventures in the Upside Down to binge-watch — this time with a bonus ninth episode — courtesy of super ‘80s movie fanatics The Duffer Brothers.

**I keep the spoilers mild, but steer clear if you want to remain completely spoiler-free!**

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WHY SEE IT: A direct continuation of the wild, mysterious events introduced in the first season, season two of STRANGER THINGS wisely chooses to focus on the residents of Hawkins, IN and how they are coping with the normalcy of daily life while dealing with the post-traumatic stress of their life-changing events. At the same time, the story introduces a new threat — the Lovecraftian, Cthulhu-like Shadow Monster — and begins to world-build as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) tracks down her roots and connects with a fellow patient from the secret government lab in Hawkins.

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This time around, the Duffer Brothers draw inspiration from such ‘70s and ‘80s genre films as JAWS, ALIENS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, THE EXORCIST, and GREMLINS, and they expand their troupe by introducing intriguing new players to the mix (Sean Astin as groaner boyfriend Bob, Paul Reiser’s questionable Dr. Owens, Sadie Sink’s tomboy “Mad” Max, and Max’s unpredictable step-brother Billy, played by Dacre Montgomery). They also rearrange the dynamics of who spends extended screen time together with some unlikely pairings, such as Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) teaming up with Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), and Eleven sharing living space with Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour). It’s also nice to see Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) get more storyline attention to wrestle with his demons (bowl cut and all) and communicate with his mom, Joyce (an excellent Winona Ryder), directly rather than through phone calls and blinking Christmas lights.

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Other than its clever ‘80s period details, a whip-smart soundtrack, and obvious and insider nods to pop-culture inspirations, the real virtue of STRANGER THINGS is that it carves out generous moments for its characters to breathe, develop, connect, and display thoughtful dimensionality. I loved reuniting with every key character in the first episode of the new season, watching them exist in their everyday lives without disruption, finding happiness in simple pleasures like hanging out at the video arcade, getting excited about new prospects with the opposite sex, and preparing for Halloween — so much so that I was worried about everyone’s safety, armed with the knowledge that things were about to get very freaky very soon.

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THE TV FLICK FLACK: My biggest problem with the new season of STRANGER THINGS has to do with the abundance of CGI antagonists — namely the Demodogs. Taking their cue from the ALIEN Xenomorph’s evolutionary stages, the Duffer Brothers are going for an ALIENS vibe here by raising the stakes with the number of monsters beyond a solo Demogorgon, but the kinetic appreciation for me was diminished because I couldn’t get over the distraction that our heroes were simply battling pixels. I always respond much more strongly to practical effects that are more tangible onscreen for character interactions, and so that obvious CGI element of the story took my overall appreciation of the proceedings down a notch, even though I know it’s a given in this day and age.

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Also, what I loved about the second season of STRANGER THINGS is also ironically what I didn’t like about it to a certain extent. At the end of the first season, I had many questions about the cryptic world that was created and was eager for answers. But I was also secretly hoping for a whole new supernatural direction with a whole new set of stakes. That’s essentially what the Duffer Brothers deliver with the Dark Monster in a direct continuation of the storyline, which I very much appreciated. Still, I felt a bit confined to the circumstances set up in Hawkins. That’s why when Eleven ventures out to the big city to find her fellow lab-rat sister Eight (played by Linnea Berthelsen), the story takes an invigorating turn that could have benefited from another full episode. Part of me really wants this show to shake things up with a brand-new threat from a completely different source, and perhaps that’s what we’ll get come season three.

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NOTABLE NOTES: From Steven Spielberg and Stephen King to John Carpenter and other ‘80s storyteller influences, the Duffer Brothers have not been shy about listing their movie muses. For the second season of STRANGER THINGS, they turned to blockbuster sequels and, specifically, James Cameron, as their guide. Matt Duffer told EW.com, “I know movie sequels get a lot of shit, but the ones we look up to aspire to pivot and do something different. There’s TEMPLE OF DOOM, ALIENS, TERMINATOR 2. I guess a lot of this is James Cameron. But he’s brilliant. And I think one of the reasons his sequels are as successful as they are is he makes them feel very different without losing what we loved about the original. So I think we kinda looked to him and what he does and tried to capture a little bit of the magic of his work.”

MORE INFO: https://www.netflix.com/title/80057281

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Awww, Chick! Vintage ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein’ Lobby Cards

My favorite classic horror film to watch in the days leading up to Halloween is actually not a horror film at all, but a comedy: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

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The 1948 film remains a hugely popular watch among the Monster Kid crowd and horror movie aficionados, primarily because it prominently features not only Frankenstein’s Monster (played by Glenn Strange, not Boris Karloff as many mistakenly believe), but Dracula (Bela Lugosi, returning to the role that made him famous one last time) and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr. also returning for one more growl in arguably his most famous role, though he was a versatile horror star playing The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dracula too!) — and a cameo by The Invisible Man (voiced by Vincent Price).

Chick: I know there’s no such person as Dracula. You know there’s no such person as Dracula.

Wilbur: But does Dracula know it?

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ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is like a Monster Kid gateway drug to more classic monster movies of the golden age. So many people who have seen it were inspired to seek out the original, more serious film foundations of the characters featured in the flick, not to mention the many sequels and match-ups that came afterward.

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I first saw the film during a Saturday matinee at my local library, which would show movies for kids on a (somewhat) big screen with a 16mm projector back in the ’70s. Other matinee movies I remember seeing there included 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, YELLOW SUBMARINE, THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD, and a bunch of HERBIE movies. I was lucky that my parents found a place to dump me on Saturday afternoons while they did errands or what have you, as I have extremely fond memories of this experience.

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Already being a monster movie fan who consumed as many creatures as possible in books and in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine between catching them on TV, it was a rare treat to get to see a creature feature on the big screen for me. So when, to my surprise, I saw that this movie had more than just Frankenstein, I was elated. Abbott & Costello made the perfect foils for these supernatural antagonists, resulting in a potent combination of fright and funny; the comic timing of the duo is impeccable in this film, and most of the jokes and sight gags remain pretty timeless.

1948_AbbotCostello_img7.jpgI love how silly it is to watch The Wolf Man almost get his prey each and every time, but he just misses because he hesitates too long for heightened effect. I love the way all of the women in the film swoon over Costello’s Wilbur character, simply befuddling Abbott’s Chick to no end. I love it when Wilbur unwittingly sits on the Frankenstein’s Monster’s lap, and then later tries to get his attention by calling him, “Junior. Oh, Junior!” I love when Costello breaks the fourth wall after yanking a tablecloth to impersonate Dracula to remind us that everything on the table is still standing. I love every minute of this movie.

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Larry Talbot: I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but in a half-an-hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.

Wilbur: You and 20 million other guys!

Of all the ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET… monster movies — ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF, and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, which is more of a boxing comedy than a monster movie — I love ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN the most. Watching it every year is an absolute requirement for me, and I’m fortunate to have a family who feels just the way I do and is game to make a Saturday afternoon matinee of it every October.

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Enjoy these vintage, colorized lobby cards promoting the 1948 film:

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context:abbott_and_costello-frankenstein.jpg

Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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More Human Than Human: Vintage ‘Blade Runner’ Lobby Cards

It’s been a surreal couple of years as far as entertainment goes, witnessing the return of some of my favorite heroes and heroines of decades past returning for another round on the big and small screen — in TWIN PEAKS, X-FILES, STAR WARS, and now BLADE RUNNER, to name just a few.geoverit-585x3291.jpgWhoever nudged Harrison Ford a few years back and told him he was being too grumpy about Han Solo, Rick Deckard, and Indiana Jones, I give them serious thanks, because he’s clearly gone out of his way to cater to fan demands with revisits to all of these beloved characters (even though no one was pleased that he got his wish to kill off Han Solo). Still, as much as I appreciated the miracle that the creative team behind BLADE RUNNER 2049 pulled off to deliver a satisfying, visually sumptuous sequel, I find myself going back to Ridley Scott’s 1982 original with more and more appreciation (which I already had plenty of). It truly is a remarkable film. An absolute cinematic classic. tumblr_o3ljycFEqr1t3tnxbo5_1280For those not in the know: Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, the original BLADE RUNNER starred Ford as a retired Los Angeles detective in 2019 (the future!!!) tasked with tracking down a quartet of Replicants — perfect androids practically indistinguishable from humans — who are illegally on Earth seeking to meet their maker and extend their expiration date. Scott and screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who also wrote the 2049 sequel, originally conceived of their 1982 project as the first in a series of films incorporating the themes and characters featured in Dick’s groundbreaking novel, and I’m all for it given how well 2049 turned out. Here’s hoping that BLADE RUNNER 2049 recoups enough of its investment that they’ll make another one. Until then, like tears in rain, we’ll all just have to work on our unicorn origami at a noodle bar.b453c6cb45729635a85383a0f7558758--dragon-noodles-noodle-bar.jpgAnd In the meantime, here are a variety of vintage BLADE RUNNER lobby cards from 1982, in both English and Spanish, to ogle:

 

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context:

Ford-blade-runner-2Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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‘Blade Runner 2049’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

Flick Flack Movie ReviewWHAT’S THE DEAL: More than three decades after Ridley Scott’s visionary masterpiece changed the way moviegoers think about the future, the sequel to BLADE RUNNER is here with the return of Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard opposite brooding new Replicant retirer Ryan Gosling.tumblr_static_26osk19e9qck84sgcwogsw88wWHY SEE IT: Much like Ford’s improbable reprise of Han Solo in THE FORCE AWAKENS, Sci-Fi fans are in for a treat with the now-75-year-old star back as Deckard. Directed by ARRIVAL helmer Denis Villeneuve (Ridley Scott, too busy mucking up his ALIEN franchise, is executive producer this time around), the canon-faithful BLADE RUNNER 2049 exceeds expectations with a visually sumptuous, tech-savvy glimpse into our potential future 30 years from now. The biggest thing 2049 had going against it, other than it showing up decades too late, was that it would be a parody of itself. Scott’s groundbreaking 1982 film was so influential that countless numbers of movies (from THE FIFTH ELEMENT to the stunted TOTAL RECALL remake) have begged, borrowed, or outright stolen its concepts and bleak production design; a dark, gritty Los Angeles, full of rainy streets overpopulated with multi-cultural, earthbound denizens grounded below flying cars, living on fabricated resources with a daily struggle to distinguish who or what is real or manufactured. But 2049 has big ideas beyond a cash-grab effort to capitalize on its predecessor’s iconic status, tackling concepts of the human soul and the disparity between genuine and implanted memories/emotions. There’s also the central plot device of Replicant procreation, which may strain one’s sense of suspended disbelief. On the soundscape side of things, the film’s audio design is incredible, thoughtful, and bombastic, and Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch deliver a score that does Vangelis justice.631a64d3fdcbdbd24a57d2be7c3c340c.jpgTHE FLICK FLACK: The bad news? Not much. I have my nitpicks, but that’s because I’m a huge fan of the original. This long-awaited sequel is much better than it deserves to be, but primarily I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept that manufactured beings, even with the help of nanotechnology, could create life, “miracle” explanation or not. Also, those looking for an action-packed Sci-Fi flick will be disappointed. While there are moments of satisfying action, much like the original BLADE RUNNER this is a long, at times slow-moving meditation on the future. The film telegraphs its big plot twist a little too early, perhaps intentionally, and then snatches it back with a storytelling bait-and-switch ploy, to diminished effect. Plus, it’s good to know that Harrison Ford does not make his appearance until the last quarter of the film, which runs two hours and 45 minutes. Though Ryan Gosling is well cast and stands on his own with a great performance, I couldn’t keep from wondering every 20 minutes or so when Ford would actually appear. Still, I’m thankful this film got made at all and ended up much better than it had any right to be. And I really want that new Peugeot Spinner…Blade-Runner-2049-trailer-breakdown-38.jpgNOTABLE NOTES: While the initial 1982 theatrical cut of BLADE RUNNER left audiences scratching their heads as to whether or not Ford’s Rick Deckard was a Replicant himself, or simply a flawed human who fell in love with the Replicant Rachael, Ridley Scott subsequently returned to the film a total of four more times to fine-tune his cut and make his determination more obvious. In 1992, when he had just released his Director’s Cut of the film, he explained to ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, “I think what would be curious to ask about the Harrison Ford character is was he a [Nexus]-7, or was he an 8? … It’s clearly there if you watch even the first version — there’s a clue when he picks up the unicorn at the end, that little piece of origami.” But perhaps it’s not as obvious as Scott suggests, and Ford has always maintained that Deckard is not a Replicant. Who is right? With BLADE RUNNER 2049 now in theaters, that question still remains open-ended — and up for interpretation.

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Ridley Scott: “Harry, in this scene we reveal that you are a Replicant.” Harrison Ford: “We’ve been through this 100 times. Deckard is NOT a Replicant.” Ridley: “I’ll fix it in post.”

MORE INFO: bladerunnermovie.comblade-runner-2049-poster-ryan-gosling.jpeg

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Read more Flick Flack reviews, such as Stephen King’s IT, TWIN PEAKSLuc Besson’s VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS and Charlie Theron’s ATOMIC BLONDE.

Then read more of my BLADE RUNNER thoughts, my Famous Monsters-related pieces, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  see cool vintage movie lobby cards, and much more!

Sean Young on ‘Blade Runner,’ Career Bumps

With the surprise return of Sean Young’s Rachael in BLADE RUNNER 2049, I thought it was time to revisit my August 2013 ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT interview with the enthusiastic and candid actor, who was promoting her new indie horror film JUG FACE.

She was more than happy to wax nostalgic about BLADE RUNNER, DUNE, her bad luck detour from Tim Burton’s BATMAN, working with the likes of Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott, and ire over how she has been treated by Hollywood over the decades. It’s a compelling interview, if you ask me. Give it a read:

In the early ’80s, Sean Young’s big-screen career rise was meteoric, jumping from a bit role opposite Bill Murray in the army comedy Stripes to starring with Harrison Ford in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner — and then raising pulses with a steamy back-seat sex scene with Kevin Costner in a limo in No Way Out. But after a career lull in the ’90s and various off-screen antics that turned her into a tabloid target, Young is back on the big screen and ready to show that she’s here to stay in the haunting backwoods supernatural drama Jug Face.

The story of a pregnant teen (Lauren Ashley Carter) looking to escape her small town because she fears she’ll be sacrificed to a mysterious pit that kills in exchange for keeping the community safe, Jug Face casts Young as Loriss, the girl’s mother who is intent on keeping her a virgin so that her naughty behavior doesn’t upset the balance.

“I don’t ever watch any horror pictures, but I’m a fan of this picture,” the 53-year-old Young tells ETonline. “It’s almost like The Village by M. Night Shyamalan. But it’s a lot less like a horror picture in a sense than some horror pictures, because [the horror here is] implied a lot of time.” Loriss pretty much has her own catch phrase – “the pit wants what it wants” – and Young points out that although her character is definitely not the most pleasant or glamorous, “I like playing characters that nobody would suspect me to play, and I think I’m pretty versatile that way.” She adds, “I did tell [director Chad Crawford Kinkle] that I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that the makeup people made me look so old and ugly.”

While keeping busy in a number of indie films over the years, Young decided to jump-start her career in the last decade with the reality TV route, appearing onCelebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, Skating with the Stars, and even appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman to declare her willingness to work, going so far as to spoof her “crazy Catwoman” persona (she was meant to star in 1989’s Batman as Vicki Vale until a broken arm derailed her opportunity; Kim Basinger ended up with the role and Young later made headlines when she tried to crash director Tim Burton’s office to audition as Catwoman in full regalia for 1992’s Batman Returns).

“I think the Baby Boomers are still holding something against me, and I don’t think it’s fair, but that’s what it is,” confesses Young. “I just rubbed them the wrong way at the wrong time in my career, and obviously I didn’t mean to, but then again I don’t suffer fools real easy either. I guess in a sense, they might have thought the David Letterman interview was me having hubris, you know? But I think it was just me saying, ‘Hey, I want to work, you know? C’mon! Lighten up!” … And so the Generation X, I think they in a sense are a generation that’s very inclusive, whereas I think the Baby Boomers are a generation that’s very exclusive. And so people who really want to work together and are willing to make those sacrifices, I think those are people who are always going to appreciate me.”

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Looking back on her time filming Blade Runner, in which Young plays Rachael, the beautiful Replicant who does not realize she is a robot, she recalls, “I thought we were doing something pretty unusual. I wasn’t really anything more than a newcomer at that time, so I had a lot of learning I was doing, so I didn’t know necessarily how unusual what we were doing was, but I did know it was a big deal because just the sets alone were like, ‘Holy cow!’ … It’s not likely you’ll ever see a movie of that scale again, unless you have somebody who just wants to spend their money on making movies and not worrying about the money, and that’s pretty much nobody. All the people that might have that kind of money, I don’t think they’re interested in the art of it, you know?”

seanyoung2.jpgYoung’s co-star Ford was returning to the sci-fi genre after Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark made him an international superstar. Asked whether he had his guard up or was very approachable while making the movie, she reminisces, “Harry’s like a guy’s guy. I think he has his guard up when it suits him, and at that time anyway he would be one of the guys with the drivers. … Harry was a big, tall, strong-guy manly man, and when he didn’t like something you knew it, and if he did like it you knew that as well. He had a great sense of humor, and he’d been in the business for quite a long time by then. He started in his twenties and he was 42 when we made [Blade Runner]. He’s a professional, he knows his stuff.”

She adds, “I never had the opportunity to become warm and fuzzy with Harry on the movie — I do remember when I first met him, I went into his trailer and there was an IV that had a little bag hanging down from it that Steven Spielberg had sent over as a joke.”

Of course, director Ridley Scott has announced that he’s now working on a new Blade Runner movie, and Young says, “I’d love to do that, and I’ve left several messages at his office, but I don’t know – everybody’s got their opinion.”

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She adds of Scott’s controversial return to Alien territory with Prometheus, “I am going to say this on the record: Why in the hell does Ridley Scott have Charlize Theron in that part instead of me? … It’s like she was bored out of her mind, you can see it, and it’s like oh my god! That would have been really good for me, right? It would have been a nod to people who like Blade Runner, it would have been like, ‘See, I’m using Sean again,’ right? Nah.”

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Moving on to David Lynch’s 1984 adaption Dune, in which Young played the Fremen love interest Chani opposite Kyle MachLachlan, Patrick Stewart and Sting, Young recalls that the deserts and Mexico City location were definitely a challenge: “It’s poor, it’s dirty and it’s rough, but it was a very unique experience, and we all stayed in the Zona Rosa Hotel there and it was just fantastic, and I think we were there for four months,” she says. “There were challenging aspects of course, like that Stillsuit — we would die in that thing — it was in the summer. Especially if you played a Fremen, every time they rolled the camera they would get a fan and throw dirt in your face. You would get home at night and it would take you an hour just to clean out your nose and ears. … It was very gross work. But what was great was that we would go out to eat after taking hours to clean up — we were all so exhausted that we would go out to eat and drink, you know, and that’s pretty much what everyone would do for four months. It was great. … My little YouTube [home movies] give you a feeling of what we were really doing.”

Reflecting on the various films on her resume, Young singles out the 1989 American remake of the French film Cousins, co-starring Ted Danson, William Petersen and Isabella Rossellini, as her personal favorite.

“It was very heart-warming picture, and I think the reason that it’s my favorite is because everybody had the best time making that movie in Vancouver,” she says. “Because I started at an early age when I was 18 or 19, what’s meaningful to me on a picture is … how well we honor each other. I really like it when actors treat each other well and with respect, and when directors treat me well. … In show business the highs are high and the lows are low, and I think that it’s been like that since the very beginning. … You can also apply that to life too — when you’re treated well it works and you enjoy going to work, and when you’re not, it’s not as fun. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science.”

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Time to Revisit ‘The Exorcist’

As the autumn leaves turn to a crisp, crunchy brown and the wind chill kicks up to swirl those leaves in mesmerizing circles, my mind turns to Mike Oldfield’s haunting score for THE EXORCIST from his enduring TUBULAR BELLS album. October is always a non-stop spooky movie marathon month for me, and William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST sits atop a demonic pedestal as a staple viewing requirement.

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Linda Blair as Regan in THE EXORCIST

 

That annual viewing requirement is a rite of passage for me, as THE EXORCIST ranks as pretty much the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Ever since I first watched it on TV as a kid, peeking through the holes in my grandmother’s knitted Afghan blanket (thrown over my head whenever the possessed Regan would appear), I’ve felt the need to return to it. Again and again. To gradually wear it down. To fight it. To desensitize myself to it. To make it not real.

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Geena Davis as the adult Regan in FOX’s THE EXORCIST

 

This fall I’m also watching the second season of FOX TV’s loose adaptation of THE EXORCIST, which has kept my interest despite some questionable storyline avenues. The return of the demon Pazuzu and the fact that Geena Davis’ character turned out to be an adult Regan who had hidden her identity made the first season worthwhile, and I’m interested to see where the storyline will go next.

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And when I have the time, I dive into a few chapters of the late William Peter Blatty’s original novel, which is always a surefire way to make my neck hairs stand on end during a late-night read. Those who know me, read my posts, or flip through the “FM Picks” sections of my Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine run as executive editor know that I’m a huge fan of Folio Society and their handsome illustrated editions of classic novels. This season, they’ve released a brand-new, cloth-bound version of Blatty’s THE EXORCIST featuring 13 haunting new photographic illustrations by horror and fantasy artist Jeremy Caniglia, who has created book covers for the likes of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub and Michael Moorcock.

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Jeremy Caniglia’s creepy illustrations in Folio Society’s edition of THE EXORCIST

 

Blatty’s 40th anniversary edition from Folio is the author’s updated draft that includes a brand-new character in a fresh, six-page scene that “many readers will find the most hauntingly chilling in the book,” he wrote in 2011, along with “touches of new dialogue as well as changes to make the ending more obvious.” It’s worth another dance if you read the original book years ago and never consumed Blatty’s updated 40th-anniversary pass before he himself passed away in January at 89 years old.

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EXORCIST author William Peter Blatty on the infamous Georgetown “EXORCIST Steps”

 

As for the movie phenomenon we all know and love, Friedkin’s frightening and controversial 1973 film remains the horror standard that all other possession films are compared to. For those unfamiliar with the story, Linda Blair plays young Regan McNeil, the daughter of an actress (Ellen Burstyn) in Washington D.C. whose strange behavior soon reveals itself to be a full-fledged demonic possession. Father Karris (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) are recruited to perform an exorcism on the girl, resulting in a lot of foul language, a lot of mind games, a lot of levitations, and a lot of pea-soup puke.compelled.jpg“I know that the actual case that Blatty based his novel on was real,” Friedkin told me when I last interviewed him. “The 1949 case in Silver Spring, MD, where the exorcism was done at Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis, all of those events happened. I read the diaries of the doctors and nurses who were involved, and the patients who were in other rooms when this was going on, and the priests. I know that something happened there that was beyond the understanding of psychiatry or internal medicine, so I made that film accordingly. … It was a boy, not a 13-year-old girl [like in the movie]. I know a great deal about this 14-year-old boy — I know his name, I know where he is now. I’ve never revealed it. The church keeps very close tabs on him to this day, and as far as any of us know, he has no recollection of what happened to him when he was 14. … I spoke to the relatives of the boy, especially to his aunt, and they gave me some details that weren’t in Blatty’s novel, which I put in the film.”

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Director William Friedkin with Linda Blair on the EXORCIST set

 

So, give the Folio Society’s cool new edition of THE EXORCIST a read, or pop in the movie this month to feed your demonic possession cravings. The extended director’s cut of THE EXORCIST that came out in 2000 and restored that spooky “spider-walk” scene is the version to watch in my opinion.maxresdefault.jpgThe 40th anniversary EXORCIST Blu-ray (which contains both the theatrical and extended director’s cut of the film) also contains lots of great supplemental material, including the featurettes “Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist,” in which Blatty reads excerpts from his novel and reminisces about the remote-cabin atmosphere in which he wrote the scary tale, and “Talk of the Devil,” in which a Jesuit professor talks about former student Blatty’s unlikely success with EXORCIST and his thoughts on the real deal.

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Linda Blair meets her dummy double on the EXORCIST set

 

Do you believe demonic possession is real? Share your thoughts with me!

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Stephen King’s ‘IT’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Stephen King‘s epic 1986 novel finally gets the big-screen treatment with a brand-new Pennywise the Clown terrorizing the children of Derry, Maine.

WHY SEE IT: Fans of King’s IT have no doubt watched the two-part 1990 miniseries version of the story that features a now-iconic turn by Tim Curry as Pennywise. While in my mind it would be an impossible feat to one-up Curry, the new version of Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, has the advantage of an R-rated cinematic landscape and modern-day effects to unleash his full potential and scare the living shit out of you. And he does. In spades. While I was not initially a fan of his makeup and costume, I was more than thrilled by what MAMA director Andy Muschietti delivered in terms of haunted-house thrills and chills. This is a dark, creepy film with amazing production design and effects that takes its time to craft a proper feeling of dread for the film’s well-cast kids (Sophia Lillis is a standout as Beverly Marsh), who display good chemistry and inhabit the late ’80s for the most part as if they were in the ’50s. And those eyes. Watch those Pennywise eyes closely in this film…

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THE FLICK FLACK: Those who know King’s story are aware that it is told in two different time periods — the childhood and adulthood, 27 years later, of the “Losers Club.” While I admire the fact that the filmmakers chose to focus only on the childhood portion and formation of The Losers Club to tell a clean story (setting up a most definitely anticipated sequel), I feel that the story here loses a considerable amount of its impact by removing the adult elements of nostalgia, reunion, facing childhood fears, and the complications of age on longstanding friendships. My other issue with the film, while not considerable, is the turned-to-11 sound design. There were a few too many cheap jump scares that relied on a loud sound-effects sting to deliver audience frights. A more sparse audio at times would have served the film better where the scares are concerned; the “what if” is better served when the soundscape is not beating you over the head with “what is.”

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NOTABLE NOTES: The frilly clown costume that Pennywise sports was inspired by a variety of previous eras — the Renaissance, Medieval, Elizabethan, Victorian — to imply his immortality and the number of past time periods that he’s (or It’s) made the rounds in. Meanwhile, in Lilitz, PA, a prankster has been tying red balloons to sewer grates and the police have become quite annoyed with the incessant calls by locals who are wigged out by the possibility that a devious clown may be lurking about. Good times.

georgie.pngMORE INFO: www.warnerbros.com/it

 

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Seth MacFarlane Interview: ‘The Orville’ Walks Line Between Comedy and Drama

Jack-of-all-trades FAMILY GUY creator and actor Seth MacFarlane finally gets to indulge his love of STAR TREK and Sci-Fi tropes with his very own TREK-inspired series, THE ORVILLE, debuting Sunday night on FOX.

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While the network is playing up MacFarlane’s patented one-liners and bathroom humor in their marketing material, the ORVILLE show creator told me that his one-hour show has more drama than you are being led to believe, and the trick is capturing that tonal balance between light and heavy — which may be a first for a Sci-Fi show of this kind.

“The thing I like that makes me feel good about the show — take the STAR TREK element aside — tonally, it’s hard for me to compare to anything else that’s been on the air,” MacFarlane explained to me at Comic-Con. “I don’t think a science-fiction show of this type that walks this line has been attempted before. Shows like M*A*S*H have walked that line between comedy and drama beautifully. If we can have that kind of balance that would be a major victory for us. But it’s hard. I think we’ve come pretty damn close, but it’s up to the audience to decide.”

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Chatting up THE ORVILLE with Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki. Don’t ask why Seth’s coffee says “Alex.” It was news to him too…

THE ORVILLE is not a parody of STAR TREK, but if there’s more than a passing resemblance to STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, its ships, aliens, and its all-encompassing Federation of Planets, it’s not unintentional. MacFarlane has long had a deep worship of all things TREK and even recruited veteran TNG producer Brannon Braga to be an executive producer for the show.

“There’s a lot of fun stuff; there’s a lot of really cool species, we’ve got really awesome-looking ships,” explained MacFarlane. “But at the core of it, it is about these people. You never want to get into the quandary where you have amazing-looking visuals and there’s nothing at the core.”

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Set 400 years in the future, THE ORVILLE finds MacFarlane as a Planetary Union officer named Ed Mercer who lands his dream assignment to command his own starship called, you guessed it, The U.S.S. Orville. But his enthusiasm is quickly doused when he’s forced to work with his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who has been assigned to be his First Officer. As they travel through the stars with an eccentric crew of humans and aliens, comedy and drama ensues.

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Seemingly drawing inspiration from the likes of GALAXY QUEST and QUARK, it looks like THE ORVILLE may just find that delicate balance MacFarlane’s looking for if the audience does indeed give it a chance to breathe. MacFarlane sure is enthusiastic enough about the concept and clearly excited to play in the Sci-Fi sandbox.

“I went into this with such a deep love for this genre, it’s not hard for me to act like a guy who’s really excited to be on the bridge of a starship,” he says with a laugh. “It’s too much fun.”

THE ORVILLE airs Sunday nights at 8/7c on FOX.

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‘Twin Peaks’: The Flick Flack TV Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: That damn fine coffee you like is back 25 years later, as promised, and David Lynch spiked it with acid.

WHY SEE IT: Described as the “pure heroin version of David Lynch” by Showtime president David Nevins back in January, the world finally got to see the against-all-odds third season of TWIN PEAKS this summer, all 18 episodes of it, and it was a glorious fever dream of pure genius, experimental phantasm, narrative frustration — and a test of your own sanity. For all its naked flaws — and there were many — week in and week out TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN delivered the most audacious, unpredictable, challenging, and mind-blowing television I have ever seen in my life. Yes, it was that insane — and then some.

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THE TV FLICK FLACK: While you may have hoped that this third season of TWIN PEAKS would resemble the show that aired on ABC back in 1990-1991, anyone who really knows David Lynch and his oeuvre should have expected it to be an absolute mind fuck. Tonally, it’s a lot more of a companion piece to Lynch’s big-screen 1992 prequel TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. And this time around, for every random, fleeting moment you get that toes the line of the kind of comedic quirk that the show pioneered two decades ago, you get an angry, disturbing, gritty, thought-provoking Lynchian gumbo of Dadaist terror and wonder, often divided by groan-inducing pacing that dares you to either commit 100% or exit with dismissive disappointment. Like Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne whines three-quarters of the way through THE RETURN, “I want to stay and I want to go. I want to do both,” arguably at least half of the people who saw season three all the way through felt the same way of this demanding television journey.

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My frustrations were directed at the many wasted opportunities Lynch and co-creator/co-writer Mark Frost had to develop new, intertwined storylines with their original characters given the fact that practically every actor came back to be part of the show. But for every bravura moment that involved Dale Cooper’s (a game Kyle MacLachlan) deadly doppelganger or the epic atomic birth of evil, there was a half-baked bucket of chum; I really wanted to see how the whole puzzle would fit together, but I’d marvel at all the time wasted with the available talent in the room, swirling in a narrative eddy with little to do.

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Rather than break these frustrations down moment by moment, suffice it to say that when all was said and done after 18 episodes, I was left wanting more — in a good but mixed-feeling way — and I was not disappointed that I invested my time and energy in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN. However, I now lie awake at night wondering what could have been, wishing more questions were answered, and ultimately hankering for someone to make a three-hour “alternate cut” of the series as a single film that’s more in line with the tone of the ABC series.

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NOTABLE NOTES:  In revisiting the world of TWIN PEAKS and fabricating a whole new season 25 years later for his beloved characters, Lynch sought to capture the emotional tonality of the various storylines in order for his ideas to translate to the screen. The filmmaker told Variety back in May, “An idea holds everything, really, if you analyze it. It comes in a burst. An idea comes in, and if you stop and think about it, it has sound, it has image, it has a mood, and it even has an indication of wardrobe, and knowing a character, or the way they speak, the words they say. A whole bunch of things can come in an instant. … You pick up on the way they want to be. That’s what I always say, it’s like fish. You don’t make the fish, you catch the fish. It’s like, that idea existed before you caught it, so in some strange way, we human beings, we don’t really do anything. We just translate ideas. The ideas come along and you just translate them.”

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MORE INFO: www.sho.com/twin-peaks

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The Story Behind That Epic ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ Fan Film

Lots of kids are inspired to make their own version of a movie when they’re on a high walking out of a blockbuster on a hot summer day. But Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala and took their obsession much, much further after seeing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in 1981. The pair set out to remake the Steven Spielberg classic shot-for-shot — the entire thing — and it took years and years to complete. While making the bargain-basement film almost destroyed their friendship, the impressive project reached cult status and even caught the attention of Mr. Spielberg himself.

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Chris and Eric’s story made it to bookshelves with RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE, written with Alan Eisenstock, and I got the opportunity to speak with the pair about their epic filmmaking adventure when I was at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. “It’s really something to meet your boyhood hero and find that you’ve chosen your heroes well, ” Eric told me about their meeting with Spielberg, describing the Hollywood legend as “warm and paternal” and detailing how they spent 45 minutes talking about “life and movies” with him before he treated them to some never-before-seen Raiders outtakes. “It was a real pinch-me moment.”

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The pair of former school kids from Mississippi first bonded on a school bus over the Marvel Super Special comic book adaptation of RAIDERS 800e0fba961ed55e9e3d8449795df615back in the early ’80s, and immediately began plotting how to meticulously relive the film on camera. “It was really born out of a role-playing fantasy, that I just wanted to play Indiana Jones,” said Chris, who took on the role of Indiana Jones. “It was always our goal from the very beginning to do the entire film.”

Eric took on the directing chores and played bad guy Belloq, while eccentric friend Jayson Lamb was enlisted to run the camera and work on the homemade special effects — some straight out of THE ANARCHIST’S COOKBOOK. Armed with a clunky, problematic Betamax video camera (and later a VHS camera), the film’s script from Walden Books, an illicit sound recording made in a movie theater, 602 individually drawn storyboards (“It took me the entire summer [to make them],” said Eric), wardrobe and props requested as gifts from their parents, specifically Indy’s signature whip and fedora (“Birthdays and Christmases became prop- and costume-acquiring opportunities,” said Eric) — and of course an unlimited imagination — the determined filmmakers coerced curious friends like a modern-day Tom and Huck to help realize their production.

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“Chris was the outgoing, gregarious guy; I was the skinny, geeky kid — total opposites on the surface,” said Eric. “He had the charisma to draw people in. I was sort of the disciplinarian to keep folks there. That was sort of the yin-yang of the friendship. … These differences made it work, but it was also a source of conflict.”

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The exhaustive project made them the best of friends and the worst of enemies, with conflict, parental intrusion, and elemental issues threatening to shut down the production over and over. Battling lens-fogging issues and camera breakdowns due to the Mississippi humidity, the boys set out each summer to lovingly recreate every special moment of RAIDERS, from the giant rolling boulder (made of fiberglass) to the fiery bar fight in Nepal (after almost burning down their basement, “We sort of learned to keep our parents in the dark,” said Eric), to Indy’s incredible truck fight with the Nazis (achieved by towing an engine-less truck that they found abandoned in the mud) and the face-melting grand finale (with swirling ghost effects achieved with the help of a water tank and the high-tech help of the local TV station’s editing equipment).

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“We didn’t really have a budget; we built stuff, found stuff, dug through our parents’ closets and Goodwill, Salvation Army, people throwing things away,” explained Chris, who estimated that the project cost them approximately $5,000 when all was said and done. “Lots of donated time, lots of donated energy, lots of people pitching in.”

Watch the trailer for the documentary about the making of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION: https://youtu.be/C4UYBhDVm9k

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION finally found its way to Spielberg courtesy of filmmaker Eli Roth (who got ahold of ragged copy from a friend) and, after watching it not once but twice, the legendary director sent both Chris and Eric personalized letters, calling their labor of love “hugely imaginative” and “very loving and detailed.” He said of their film, “To this day … still the best piece of flattery George [Lucas] and I have ever received.” Chris says that Spielberg told them that their film even “inspired” him, and added of their personal encounter with him, “He was warm and gracious and he’s continued to be supportive, year after year, of our movie.”

Now dads with their own families, Chris and Eric reunited to form their own production company called Rolling Boulder Films, naturally, writing scripts, optioning projects and producing films. And they finally got to film that one key scene that was missing from their production: The Flying Wing fist fight. VICE documented the duo’s final return to their lifelong project to film that spectacular scene, and you can watch the highlights HERE: https://youtu.be/3gV6QMj0fvQ

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‘Dave Made a Maze’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: A creative underachiever’s procrastination project in his living room turns out to be Tardis-like labyrinth where booby traps, comedy, and danger lurk around every corner for the friends who try to rescue him. Oh yeah, and there’s a bloodthirsty Minotaur.

WHY SEE IT: An interesting and creative premise for a film that is clearly a labor of love — kind of an indie comedy take on CUBE and LABYRINTH, with a touch of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and Terry Gilliam insanity thrown in for good measure — DAVE MADE A MAZE is an amusing diversion for fans of budget filmmaking who can appreciate a smirk-inducing comedy with a light touch of horror and fantasy.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Is DAVE MADE A MAZE a-MAZE-ing? The jury is still out, but I sure found it to be a fun watch. Though the opening minutes of the film gloss over the characters’ likely real-world responses to the supernatural oddity that is Dave’s Maze, I played along and was soon rewarded with a nice mixture of believable reactions and suspensions of disbelief. Overall, I was struck by the surprisingly thoughtful production design of this film and the filmmakers’ efforts to entertain with the use of puppetry, stop-motion animation, and other clever in-camera tricks.

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The Maze, a living entity, is of course a convoluted reflection of Dave’s (Nick Thune) mindset and the creative process, and it’s a fun deep dive. There are nice little movie references sprinkled about. It’s fun to see the little personalities of the various inanimate objects that come to life. The film plays with spacial visual relationships for the benefit of the viewer. And the ensemble cast (including Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Adam Busch, and Scott Krinsky) delivers engaging, grounded performances. I also loved the conceit of having a documentary filmmaker (James Urbaniak) trying to direct everyone’s reactions as they explored the maze and bumbled through booby traps. Still, I wish the film’s sense of humor was a little more fine-tuned and as thought-out as The Maze itself.

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NOTABLE NOTES: The result of a significant amount of dumpster diving to be sure, director Bill Watterson’s feature debut employed more than 30,000 square feet of cardboard — all scrapped and donated —to fabricate over 20 unique sets for the film. Inspired by ‘80s adventure films like THE GOONIES and LEGEND and the big-screen work of Jim Henson and Ray Harryhausen, the film has won a number of festival awards, including the Slamdance Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.

MORE INFO: davemadeamaze.com

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Better Than Goofy Golf: Vintage ‘Close Encounters’ Lobby Cards

“They can fly rings around the moon, but were years ahead of ’em on the highway…”

November 16 marks the 40th anniversary of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and I’m getting very excited that Steven Spielberg’s Sci-Fi masterpiece will once again get the attention it deserves.

Beginning September 1, the film will get a one-week release in theaters nationwide, using a remastered Director’s Cut in 4K for U.S. and Canadian theaters. The film will also screen at the Venice Film Festival in the “Venezia Classici” section. Watch the trailer for the 4K anniversary screening here:

By no means a small and forgotten film, one still can’t ignore the fact that Spielberg’s meditation on our first contact with beings from another world has gotten a lot less attention and conversation in the last decade or so. It’s simply not on the younger generation’s radar, the most obvious reason being that CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is not a franchise. There have not been any sequels, prequels, remakes, or spinoffs. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS remains undiluted** and I am grateful for it. It is one of my all-time favorites.

Tim-Jordan-Close-Encounters-of-The-Third-Kind-Poster-2015**Undiluted for the most part. The film’s SPECIAL EDITION release in 1980 added seven minutes of bonus footage that included a look inside the Alien Mother Ship, while trimming and deleting other scenes. Spielberg had always wanted to deliver a more polished film despite pressure from Columbia Pictures to deliver six months early, and got the chance to make a director’s cut after the film became a huge hit — with the caveat that he show the inside of the Mother Ship as a marketing hook. Still, he ultimately regretted showing the interior.

Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind-Special-Edition.jpgI always loved the bonus footage of seeing the landlocked S.S. Cotopaxi boat discovery in the Gobi desert, but I personally think the original cut of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS remains superior by leaving the ending to your imagination. Spielberg returned to the film one more time to cut it again as the COLLECTOR’S EDITION, and in that one he kept elements of the 1980 SPECIAL EDITION, but wisely excised the climactic Mother Ship interior coda.

In anticipation of the return of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on the big screen, here are some cool vintage Lobby Cards from both the original release and THE SPECIAL EDITION:

 

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by CloseEncounters_108PyxurzHollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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Will We Ever Get That ‘Goonies’ Sequel?

"Hey, you guys!" Will we ever get that much-talked about, long-awaited sequel to THE GOONIES? Does anyone still care?

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There has been much buzz over the years about a sequel to (or a reboot of) the beloved 1985 adventure that turned "Chunk" and "Sloth" into household heroes. A couple years ago, GOONIES director Richard Donner hinted that there was real momentum on the project after three decades of waiting around, and several of the original cast members, including Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Sean Astin, have at one time or another expressed an interest in returning.

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I spoke with Astin not too long ago about the possibility of another go-around with the legendary pirate One-Eyed Willy, and he told me earnestly, yet with a bit of tongue in cheek, "It is a mortal lock – I would bet my children on it – that there will be a sequel. It may not be in my lifetime, but there will be a sequel because the public wants it so much and Steven [Spielberg], who's really the decision maker, wants it really badly."

Astin, Brolin, and Feldman were among the child stars searching for the legendary treasure of One-Eyed Willie in order to save their families' homes from foreclosure in the film written by Christopher Columbus, based on a story by Spielberg. Martha Plimpton, Kerri Green, Jeff Cohen, and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM'sShort Round Ke Huy Quan rounded out the kiddie cast for the summer movie release.

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"Whether they want the sequel to be about the Goonies' kids, whether we're too old for it, it doesn't matter," continued Astin. "What matters is that [Spielberg and Donner] get to try and capture the magic again, because they love it and the public wants it. The fact that they haven't done it yet, I think, is a testament to them, because they haven't found the magic yet."

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Subsequent to that statement, Feldman declared in an interview with MovieWeb that he didn't think the film would be happening simply based on Donner's age. Donner has been the true driving force behind a new GOONIES movie happening at all, but the veteran director of THE OMEN, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, the LETHAL WEAPON franchise, and so many other fan favorites is no spring chicken. He's a spry 87 years old, and making a major motion picture at that age as a director may be too much of a burden at this stage in the game. He may just not be interested in taking it on in that capacity. Producing, however, is another matter that may be more manageable. And according to a Brolin, Spielberg does have a sequel script already written, sitting in a secret drawer somewhere.

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But Warner Bros. has made no official announcements, and while there is much hope and optimism among fans and the stars/filmmakers alike for another GOONIES movie, it just doesn't seem to be happening.

In a recent Reddit AMA, Plimpton let fans down gently by declaring, "I really wouldn't expect it. It's been teased for decades and I don't think it's going to happen. At least, as far as I know. I think Dick Donner, who is a brilliantly funny man, likes to torture us all with the prospect. I believe it's his revenge for having been tortured by all of us for six months in 1984."

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An interesting side note: I spoke with legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan recently at a show of his Amblin work at Creature Features in Burbank, CA, and he brought to my attention that he was commissioned to do seven variations of his infamous GOONIES poster at the request of Steven Spielberg — each featuring one of the kid stars of the movie at the top — so they could each get their moment in the spotlight on the newspaper advertisements. Now that's a pretty cool thing to do!

(thanks to Posterwire for the variant art layout).

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A Conversation with SHAG: The Influence of ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Planet of the Apes’ & More on His Pop-Culture Painting

EXCLUSIVE: For the uninitiated, “Shag World” is a world like no other. A colorful, pop-art party landscape populated by swingers, bohemians, hedonists, and mirthful, mythical creatures, it’s hard not to be swept away by the fun everyone seems to be having within the frame, if not envious of their endless 24/7 reverie.

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My introduction to the art of Shag, aka Josh Agle (take the SH in JoSH and the AG in AGle and you get SHAG. Clever, eh?), goes back to the early 2000s along with my nascent days of Polynesian pop appreciation. After diving into “Tiki culture” and drinking in as much of the traditional and kitschy Pacific Island “getaway” lifestyle, art, books, and merchandise that I could get my hands on (as well as numerous tropical cocktails along the way), I couldn’t help but get seduced by Shag’s colorful characters, carefree creatures, exotic settings, and subtle pop-culture references that seemed to be everywhere once I had opened my eyes to his work.

f33e6067275058c1caabae49fd4fccb4Beyond the numerous Tiki, nightclub, Bondian, Blake Edwards and ‘50s influences, I noticed that Shag had a sincere appreciation for Sci-Fi, fantasy, and horror icons. Amid skeletons playing bongos, four-armed burlesque dancers seducing fez-wearing gents, and mythical creatures like a Cyclops watching TV or Medusa applying makeup in his settings are appearances by Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and even Dr. Zaius of PLANET OF THE APES simply lounging in a den, enjoying a well-deserved drink — or passed-out drunk.

886e43a1643b6aba2a895f0ef506aa18.jpgShag’s cartoonish style is a perfect marriage with these fan favorites of the pop-culture stratosphere, and it’s no surprise that he has taken on more and more commissions to put licensed characters in Shag World for various companies and studios. Over the years, he has tackled THE PINK PANTHER, BATMAN, H.R. PUFNSTUF, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, the UNIVERSAL MONSTERS, and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, as well as iconic rockers such as The Beatles and Ramones and legendary media figures such as Andy Warhol and Bettie Page.

San Diego Comic-Con 2017 Exclusive SMOKE, VELVET and SAM II Screen Prints by SHAG.jpgI caught up with Shag at his first-ever San Diego Comic-Con appearance this July, where he displayed rare prints (including his fun BATMAN ’66 painting), a giant H.R. Pufnstuf photo backdrop, cool themed merchandise, and a trio of Comic-Con exclusives: Limited-edition silk-screened prints of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Warhol. 

Our conversation focused on his film and television pop-culture influences, how he tackles licensed character work, what subject matter he surprisingly refuses to paint, and what’s next for him in 2018. Read on…

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DAVID WEINER: You’ve made a name for yourself with a certain, colorful look and feel in your paintings which often veer into pure fantasy territory in terms of content. Tell me about your inspirations.

SHAG: Low pop culture, as people would think of it — at least people in the fine-art world — that was the stuff that definitely influenced me. But I was trying to somehow figure out how to present it in such a way that it could be hung in an art gallery. So I was trying to strike this balance between making a piece of art that people looked at and thought, ‘Well that looks like it could be in a gallery,’ but also something that touched on the really kitschy pop-culture things that influenced me growing up, starting from Saturday morning cartoons to the first grown-up movie my parents took me to, which was a double feature of THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the James Bond movies. And that was kind of my first window into what grown-ups do, you know? Martini, shaken not stirred, the super villains, and things like that made a total impression on me.

shag4.jpgGrowing up mostly in the late ‘60s to ‘70s it was PLANET OF THE APES, going back to the days when the only place you could see it was on TV and it would be shown once a year, so you had to make sure you were on top of the TV Guide to see what movies were being shown that week because you might not have another chance to see that movie for another year, another five years. And I remember when they announced on ABC that they were going to be showing PLANET OF THE APES, I remembered as an 8-year-old or 10-year-old marking it on my calendar — not that I had a calendar! But things like that — MAD MONSTER PARTY — those were things that you organized your life around so you could see them.

And then years later when I'm painting my own stuff, I wanted to bring those really influential things from my childhood into the art — especially PLANET OF THE APES. That was probably the first real, overt pop-culture thing that made its way into my heart really early on.

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DW: Did you catch any APES movies in the theater, like ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, or CONQUEST, or any of those?

SHAG: I was too young, even for BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. I don't remember even being aware that they were in theaters. I knew what they were. The weird thing is kids bring to school magazines and pictures of the movies that are out there — like I remember a kid when I was in fifth grade, he had this book about 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and I remember we would look at this book and it had pictures with the spaceships and the spacesuits. I loved that book and I had no idea what the movie was or what it was about, you know? But the spaceships were kind of like my entry into that.

And then when I was 14 or 15 I was riding the school bus and the school bus driver would just play Top 40 kind of radio, and this radio commercial came on and you heard these spaceship sounds, and then this voice-over said, ‘Don’t worry, that's just a Star Destroyer!’ And they talk about these spaceships, and they say, ‘STAR WARS, coming to your galaxy!’ And I remember thinking, ‘STAR WARS, what a stupid movie title! 1c9493e49bdfc157964f340e60ef6ef2.jpgThat’s like calling a movie CAR CHASE or MILITARY BATTLE, you know? I was like, ‘That’s a really dumb name!’ Then a couple weeks later I was at the movies. I even remember the movie that my friends and I were seeing — it was JABBERWOCKY — and they had a preview for STAR WARS, and I remember seeing that preview and thinking, ‘That is going to be the best movie ever made.’ Like, ‘What is that guy in black?!? What are those white soldiers?!? I don't know, but it looks so cool!’ So the day STAR WARS was released my friends and I stood in line for the very first matinee showing, got in to see it the very first day it was released, and I was like, ‘I was right! That is the best movie I've ever seen in my life.’ So that was like another huge kind of pop culture thing in my life. But STAR WARS didn't really make it into my art until later. [However] I painted a Darth Vader action figure on a table in a painting once…

DW: I know the one, and it is pretty much the epitome of my childhood, with these ‘70s kids playing in their living room. One is playing with a TIE fighter, one with a remote-control R2-D2. One of the kids has a KISS T-shirt on while their mom watches. I really connected with that painting. I was 9 when STAR WARS came out, and that was my childhood.

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SHAG: Yeah, that’s the first overt STAR WARS one I did. You were young enough where you got the toys. I was, like, 14 so I didn't buy the toys, regretfully. But I loved everything else about it, you know? My younger brothers and sisters had the toys. Remember when the movie first came out you went to like Toys R Us to buy an action figure and you bought an empty card with a thing that said, ‘We’ll send it to you in the mail’?

DW: The Kenner Early Bird Kit! I remember it well. So when you finally did take on STAR WARS for Disney, did you seek it out? Did they ask you? How did that come about?

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SHAG: A gallery in Alhambra called Nucleus contacted me and they said, ‘We’re doing this STAR WARS-themed show, would you be interested in doing a piece?’ And I was like, ‘I love STAR WARS; I've never painted it, but I wanted to do a piece that was kind of still in Shag World. That’s how that painting you were talking about, the kids playing with the toys, came about; the mom sitting there lying on the couch, she’s more like the stereotypical Shag woman, drinking her martini or whatever, watching her kids play. I didn't want to actually paint a scene from the movie or anything. I wanted to keep it in Shag World. And then a couple years after that someone at Disney asked me if I would ever think about doing STAR WARS. Disney bought Lucasfilm, and I was like, ‘Eh, maybe,’ and then they said, ‘Well Howard Roffman, who's the head of merchandising in Lucasfilm, really wants you to do something.’

DW: And this was after you established a relationship with Disney with the Enchanted Tiki Room 40th anniversary and so forth?

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SHAG: Yeah, I’ve been working with Disney for 12 or 13 years, basically doing Disneyland-themed art. I wouldn’t even paint Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. They came to me a few times and asked me, and I said that it's just not my thing. There are a lot of great artists that paint those characters and I don't want to paint them — I want to paint my childhood, which was going to Disneyland. So they're like, ‘Okay, he'll stick to the attractions, Haunted Mansion, whatever.'”

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DW: Did you have discussions about the STAR WARS content? How did you choose the setting and characters?

SHAG: I thought, ‘How could I get as many characters into this piece?’ And one of the women I work with at Disney said, ‘I’d love to see a Cantina scene,’ and I said to myself, ‘Duh, I paint bar scenes! Why didn’t I think of that?”

DW: It was staring you right in the face the whole time.

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SHAG: Yeah! So I did a comp of the piece and they sent it up to Lucasfilm. They had a couple little notes. In my piece, Greedo was sitting in the foreground at a table. He wasn't in the back room talking to Han Solo because I set the piece as Luke and the robots just walk into the Cantina and Obi-Wan’s making his deal, you know? Han doesn’t meet with Greedo until after that. And they’re like, ‘We don’t care! People want you to crowd [as many recognizable moments] as you can into the piece.’ So I put the little scene with Greedo and Han in the background.

DW: You’re too much of a purist with the timeline.

SHAG: I know (laughs).

DW: The first licensed work that I remember you doing for a studio was the PINK PANTHER 40th anniversary box set, which I loved. Was that your first foray into working with studios, or was there other stuff before that? 

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SHAG: Yeah, that was my first studio thing. I think that was released in 2004, but I'd been working on it through 2003. I love the PINK PANTHER stuff — just the style and the fact that [the Pink Panther character himself] didn't talk, because my paintings don’t talk. I've been approached by a lot of animation people and studios and producers who want to animate my stuff, and for the most part, I'm not interested in that because once you give a character a voice and personality, he gets stuck forever. And I kind of want people to project a little bit of themselves into the paintings.

DW: Does that play into SHAG WITH A TWIST, the musical based on your paintings and characters?

SHAG: Yeah, in SHAG WITH A TWIST, which was that dance musical murder mystery, one of my restrictions was the characters couldn't talk, kind of fitting into that whole Pink Panther thing — the whole, 'I don't want to give him a voice.'"

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DW: Let’s talk about your recent BATMAN '66 work.

SHAG: Mattel approached me about three years ago to do a BATMAN box set sort of thing as a Comic-Con exclusive they were going to sell in 2014. They wanted me to design this environment in this TV box in Shag style. So that was the first licensed superhero thing I've ever done. And then the next year Huckleberry Toys asked me if I wanted to do a bigger, more comprehensive Batman print because they had they had a DC license, and that was their Comic-Con exclusive in 2015.

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And then they did the same thing for H.R. Pufnstuf last year in 2016. That was a Huckleberry exclusive as well. I didn’t want that one to be set in Pufnstuf world. If you look closely, they’re on a set and you can see Sid and Marty Krofft there filming the scene, so it’s back a little bit in the real world — not that Shag World is the real world (laughs).

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DW: What would you like to do for your next license? Do you see anything out in particular, or do you just decide when people come to you?

SHAG: I just paint, and people approach me if they have a license or something and if it’s something I’m interested in. Like I work with a company called Dark Hall Mansion on a few license things. I did a box set of Universal Monsters. Monsters like Frankenstein or Dracula have played a part in my art since the beginning, but never like, ‘You can draw Frankenstein so it looks like Boris Karloff because we have this license.’ So that was something I really wanted to do.

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DW: They all fit very well in Shag World, listening to records or sitting around having a martini at the bar. Because it makes perfect sense that, at the end of the day, that’s what the Creature From the Black Lagoon would do!

SHAG: And I love a lot of current stuff — I’d love to do a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY piece, which doesn’t seem like it would fit in Shag World at all, but I would figure out a way to do it! It’s definitely colorful, it’s hedonistic, and Shag World is very hedonistic as well, so I’m sure I could work that out.

DW: Can you give me a hint about what you’re working on next?

SHAG: We’re actually going to be doing some official PLANET OF THE APES stuff for next year’s Comic-Con because it’s going to be the 50th anniversary of the original movie.

DW: That’s great! I’m very excited to see that. And just throwing it out there for purely selfish reasons, would you consider doing something with the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? That’s coming up on its 40th anniversary.

SHAG: Aaaaah! Yeah, I watched the original one as a kid.

DW: You’ve got the Cylons and the Ovions, and you also have those alien torch singers with the two mouths and four eyes that could fit right in with Shag World. Food for thought.

SHAG: I wouldn’t rule that one out. There’s certain things I’ve said I would never do. Like I’ll never do STAR TREK, even though I loved it as a kid. My mom was a huge, huge fan, and she would watch it every day in syndication in the early ‘70s and I totally got hooked into it. But it was such a huge [thing for me]. It’s hard to explain. Like I won’t paint Elvis, I won’t paint Marilyn Monroe, and I won’t paint STAR TREK for some reason.

DW: It’s too close for you. I would venture to think that in your own way, you don’t want to ruin it for yourself.

SHAG: Yeah, that’s very possible!

DW: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk. I’m anxious to see what comes next. Your work inspires!

SHAG: My pleasure!

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For more info on SHAG:www.shag.com

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‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Filmmaker Luc Besson returns to THE FIFTH ELEMENT territory with a visually stunning Sci-Fi adventure (based on the long-running French graphic-novel series VALERIAN AND LAURELINE) that tracks a 28th-century pair of lovers/special agents who must discover the secret behind a looming menace before it’s too late.

WHY SEE IT: If you loved the fun tone and inventive production design of Luc Besson’s 1997 fan-favorite THE FIFTH ELEMENT, it’s a treat to see the veteran director return to this genre sandbox with a fresh imagination and more CGI tools at his disposal. And if ever there was an excuse to see a movie on the big screen in 3D solely for the visual splendor of it all, this is pretty much it.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Alas, despite its fruitful inventiveness and vibrant color palette, VALERIAN suffers from George Lucas STAR WARS Prequel green-screen malaise; the substantive requirement of real people interacting with tangible creatures against real backgrounds to tell a convincing tale gets lost in the knowledge that we, as an audience, are watching actors who are clearly grounded on a soundstage and nowhere near the exotic locales being depicted in the final product. There are plenty of real-world props, backdrops, and set dressings in the film to play with, but they’re lost in the poly-blend of pixels and purity. Adding insult to injury, the leads of the film — Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline — sadly show little chemistry between each other, and their delivery of Besson’s stunted dialogue is surprisingly lackluster and uninspired. It really detracts from the overall experience, even if you want to check your brain at the door to witness this prime example of CGI overload.

NOTABLE NOTES: Luc Besson first entered my cinematic radar with the indie post-apocalyptic film LE DERNIER COMBAT and then secured my fandom early on with his amazing pair of underworld assassin films, LA FEMME NIKITA and LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL. VALERIAN first came to his attention as a possible film by way of the comic’s illustrator, Jean-Claude Mezieres, who was working on Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT. But the technology to pull off such a visually stunning film was still years away, and it wasn’t until Besson saw James Cameron’s AVATAR that he realized anything was possible on film, with imagination the only limit.

MORE INFO: www.valerianmovie.com

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‘Atomic Blonde’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Charlize Theron burns up the screen in JOHN WICK mode as a British super spy in this action-packed, East Berlin-set Cold War thriller.

WHY SEE IT: After commandeering MAD MAX: FURY ROAD into practically her own starring vehicle, Charlize clearly learned that action fans will buy her as an action heroine and are hungry for more. She’s tough as nails in ATOMIC BLONDE — reminiscent of Geena Davis’ turn in THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT — and there’s never a moment in the movie when you don’t believe she can capably destroy every man in the room. James McAvoy also delivers a frothy performance full of zest and zingers.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Other than the somewhat predictable outcome, there’s an approximation feel to the proceedings; stylistically and action-wise we’ve seen it all before, at times done better. But the thumping, nicely curated ’80s New Wave soundtrack helps mightily to redeem the tone and pacing. I’m a bit disappointed that Blondie’s ATOMIC (from a decade earlier) didn’t close out the film, though.

NOTABLE NOTES: The film is directed by former stuntman and JOHN WICK helmer (uncredited, though) David Leitch, so if some of the close-quarter action, killer staircase choreography, and head-shot CGI splatter looks familiar, now you know why. DEADPOOL 2 is Leitch’s next project.

MORE INFO: www.atomicblonde.com

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