Review – Christopher Witherspoon’s RAGE

Rage  follows a near middle aged businessman named Dennis Twist, who somehow pisses off a mysterious motorcyclist. (I know the character is referred to as  a biker, but a dude with a dark helmet on a crotch rocket isn’t what I consider worthy of the term “biker”.) This motorcyclist stalks and taunts the businessman, with the intensity and violent nature of his “taunts” quickly beginning to escalate to insane proportions.

The film was written & directed by Christopher Witherspoon. It stars Rick Crawford as Dennis Twist, Audrey Walker as Crystal Twist and Witherspoon as “biker”.

I love indie genre films. Nothing makes me happier than watching a film that someone poured his, or her, blood, sweat, tears and entire heart into. What I don’t like is ever having to say anything negative about these sort of films. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. After all, if I lie, I couldn’t live with myself. I never want to shit all over someone else’s dreams, but I also have to protect my integrity.

Sadly, I did not love Rage. I didn’t hate it, and it has it’s strong points, but it also has many weak areas. I don’t like to brutally dissect a film but in order to be fair to the filmmaker, and explain what I didn’t like, and why, I’m about to do so.

Some of my concerns with this film have to do with some major plot holes,  including the unbelievability of the reason for the motorcyclist’s actions. I simply cannot buy that someone would go to such extremes over something so pointless. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail, but I cannot see anyone reacting like  to such an extreme. Also, during some sequences, the picture becomes very fuzzy. This happens during dream sequences and during some attacks scenes. Fuzziness for dream sequences is ok to an extent, but the fuzziness overwhelms the scene at times here, and as for it happening during the attacks, there is no reason for it. It really took me out of the moment. Another issue is the lack of action by characters when a loved one is in peril. I know if someone were attacking my wife, or any other family member or friend, I would not simply sit there and watch as it takes place. I’d fight, even if it was all in vain, to help my loved one. I believe that when writing a screenplay or book it’s important to stop and think how you would react were you in the position of the characters. If you wouldn’t sit by as someone was bring hurt, then neither should your characters. Even a man with no courage will stand up to protect someone he loves. Common sense goes a long way when writing. I honestly would have rather seen that no reason or motive for the motorcyclist’s actions was given than the one here. Sometimes mystery, no real answers, goes further than an explanation.

If you watch RAGE without analyzing what you’re seeing very much, you will likely find some enjoyment in it, until the ending, which is poorly thought out. In the end, we learn why this motorcyclist has gone to such extremes, and committed such heinous crimes, which is where, even if the film is viewed without much thought, things go bad. The ends simply do not justify the means.

I mentioned that the film has a few strong points so it’d only be fair for me to touch upon those now. For the first two acts, Rage is an edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller, even though there are some plot holes and bizarre choices made throughout. The 3rd act is where it all goes to hell, and not in  a good way. The poor ending, as well as the aforementioned unrealistic reactions of the characters, kills what could have been a good film. The imposing look of the antagonist is wonderful. An average person whose face is forever hidden underneath a helmet is a scary sight. It’s impossible to know what someone is thinking, or if you can perhaps rationalize with them, if you can never see their eyes. Also, I liked the basic premise of the film, if only the reason for what we see had been a more logical one, and if only more care had been put into the development of the characters, and their personalities, I firmly believe that Rage could have been one of the best genre films of 2011. As is, it’s not. Rage had a lot of potential. However, because it makes some bad choices for why things take place and how it’s players react to their situations, it just doesn’t ever really live up to that potential.

You may be saying to yourself, “Did this guy like the movie or not? He seems to have split personalities here in this review!”, and if so, you may be right, but only because the film too has two separate personalities. The first two acts it has a concise and suspenseful personality and in the final act it became a personality with ADHD, jumping all over the map. That final act ADHD does pop up, here and there throughout the first two acts, but it’s better hidden and dealt with at that point than it is in the final act.

If this review does not come across as well written or professional, I’ll offer an apology right now. As I mentioned, I really do not like writing anything but positive reviews for indie films, since I know how much work, money and heart is put into the making of a small film like this. To Mr. Witherspoon and the rest of the folks behind Rage, I say congrats on your film. I know you worked your asses off to make this, and with a few changes it could have been fantastic. I look forward to your future ventures because I am certain that you have learned a lot in making this film, and will put that knowledge, as well as the critiques of this film both good and bad, to work as you make your next film.

Don’t take my word for it though. I always encourage people to see a film before making any judgments. I am only one man. Just because I had issues with the film does not mean you will. Check our RAGE and form your own opinion.

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The FeeJee Mermaid: Queen of the Gaffs

Let’s begin with an explanation of what a gaff is. A “gaff” is a trick or gimmick, especially one used in a swindle or to rig a game. In this instance, a gaff is a fake creature that is passed off as being genuine.

When you think of a gaff, what comes to mind first?

The one gaff that is more well known by most people than any other is none other than the legendary Feejee Mermaid!

Now, you may be asking, “What the hell is a Feejee Mermaid?”, so allow me to explain….

The Feejee Mermaid, also known as the Fiji Mermaid, is a gaff that is made up from the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn to the back half of a fish. It is then covered in papier-mâché, painted and reworked to appear to be an authentic creature. It was a common feature of sideshows, presented as the mummified body of a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish, a variation of traditional mermaid stories.

P.T. Barnum is often credited as the originator of the Feejee Mermaid, which is untrue. Barnum certainly made the mermaid well known, however he was not the first to ever create such an “exhibit”.

The first man to ever exhibit a Feejee Mermaid was a man named Samuel Barret Eades. Eades, an American sea captain, was “introduced” to the mermaid by a merchant in the Dutch West Indies territory and it was purported to have be caught off the coast of Japan. The merchant’s price for the mermaid was so high that Eades actually sold his ship to raise the money in order to make the purchase.

Sadly, Eades’ plans to profit off of his new acquisition were interrupted by Murphy’s Law. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Murphy’s Law states that “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. And things certainly did go wrong for Captain Eades. To begin, after booking passage back to England, the mermaid was confiscated by customs. After having his star attraction returned to him, he placed ads in multiple local papers claiming that his mermaid was “the most important discovery ever made”. The ads garnered a great deal of attention, including that of the man who purchased the boat from Eades. The buyer felt that he was deceived about the boat’s condition by the captain, and therefor once he located Eades, he sued him in an attempt to get his money back. Eades, who put everything he had into the mermaid and ads, was broke by this time, so he had no way to return the man’s money. The ads also drew the attention of experts who revealed that Eades’ prize possession was in fact a fake. The experts exposed the mermaid for what it was; the upper portion was that of an orangutan while it’s lower body was taken from a salmon. Despite the revelation that this mermaid was not real, it is said that the taxidermy work was perfectly done, without any noticeable flaws nor seams. Eades did now allow the truth to stand in his way as he continued to show the creature, standing by his claim that it was real. The public was not convinced….nor was it very interested. Captain Eades’ mermaid exhibit ran from 1823 to 1825 before finally closing for good. Eades then spent the rest of his life trying to pay of his tremendous debt and legal fees.

Years later, 1842 to be precise, P.T. Barnum began his chapter in the history of the Feejee Mermaid. In that year, a man from England contacted the curator of the Boston Museum, Moses Kimball, telling him about a curiously bizarre item that he inherited from his father. Kimball met with the man, and once he saw the specimen, he purchased it for a very small amount of money, and immediately contacted his friend P.T. Barnum. It was the very same mermaid that Captain Samuel Eades had thrown his entire life away for.

Barnum leased the mermaid from Kimball and the gears in his mind began to work in overdrive.

Renaming it the Feejee Mermaid (It had previously been known simply as the Eades Mermaid), Barnum concocted an “origins” story for the mermaid, which involved the creature having been captured in the Fiji Islands. (The reason for the spelling of the creature’s name, Feejee instead of Fiji, is unknown but some speculate that it all began with a simple misspelling in a single newspaper’s story about Barnum’s “discovery”) Barnum, always one step ahead of everyone else, orchestrated a now famous publicity stunt. He visited each and every newspaper in the area, presenting each with a woodcut of a beautiful, and very bare-breasted mermaid, telling each paper that the image was exclusive. He also assured them that it depicted his actual mermaid. Each paper, believing that they had an exclusive story, ran the image and article on the same day. This stunt insured that all of New York was enticed by the news of Barnum’s huge discovery….a discovery so legit that every paper in the city made mention of it.

The hype surrounding the “discovery” created a huge crowd on the day the exhibit finally opened. The mermaid was accompanied by Dr. J. Griffin. Dr. Griffin was a naturalist and member of the British Lyceum of Natural History. Dr. Griffin proclaimed the mermaid to be authentic. Little did the crowd know that, in reality, Dr. Griffin was actually a man named Levi Lyman, who was hired by Barnum to portray Griffin. There was no such thing as the British Lyceum of Natural History. As a matter of fact, Lyman was not even English.

After opening to a huge crowd, interest in the mermaid soon began to wane, leading Barnum to replace it with other attractions. Over the next twenty years, the mermaid split its time between Barnum’s museum in New York and Kimball’s museum in Boston. It also toured both the American south as well a London, but both tours proved to be very unsuccessful.

Today, the location of the original Eades/Barnum Feejee Mermaid is unknown. The last known location was in Kimball’s museum, in 1859. Many believe that the mermaid was destroyed when Barnum’s museum burned down in 1865….or when Kimball’s did the same in 1880. There are several sideshows, as well as a number of private collectors, who claim to have the original mermaid. Those include, most notably, Canada’s Carnival Diablo’s World of Wonders Freakshow and Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Whether either of the mermaids in question are the actual mermaid owned by Captain Eades, and then Moses Kimball & P.T. Barnum has never been confirmed, and likely never will be.

Today, there are countless Feejee Mermaids on display at sideshows, roadside attractions and other museums and exhibits worldwide….

Below is a sampling of Feejee Mermaids. Some of them are genuine gaffs while others are props. With materials used to create movie-quality props becoming cheaper and more easily obtained today than ever before in history, realistic prop mermaids are becoming prominent and replacing “authentic” Feejee mermaids.

Sadly, with Photoshop and the aforementioned movie-quality props, traditional “authentic” FeeJee Mermaids are becoming a lost art form.

The further away from the past that we get, hopefully we’ll one day decide to embrace our roots as a people and rediscover sideshows, roadside attractions and other physical exhibits rather than simply sit at home and look at photos of what once was. As cool as photoshop may be, it’ll never be able to replace the joy of actually seeing gaffs, oddities and freaks of nature with your own eyes.

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Best of the bunch; The top films of 2011

It’s that time of the year again. Again? Ok. So this time last year D’Ment’D Cinema was but merely a glimmer in my eye but nevertheless with only a few weeks left in 2011, it’s time for my list of the 25 best movies of 2011!

You’ll notice that the majority of the films to make my list are horror or sci-fi films.No surprises there, eh? It’s not that I dislike other genres, but rather it’s simply because the films of most other genres usually fail to impress me. Usually. There are a few other genres represented on my list below, most notably a family film made my list. Shocked? Yeah, me too.

Without any further ado, I give you my list of the top 25 28 films of 2011, listed in reverse order….

#28 – Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Perhaps not the most original film of the year, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was still a very compelling one. The performance of performance-capture actor-extraordinaire Andy Serkis really help to solidify this as one of 2011’s best. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is an origin story but it’s also a cautionary tale dealing with man’s constant obsession with genetic experiments and the altering of DNA. Basically it’s a warning about the dangers of man playing God.

# 27 – Stake Land

I have to admit to being a little partial when it comes to Stake Land since it was filmed not too far from my home here in eastern Pennsylvania, but it’s story, as well as some wonderful FX and good acting is what makes Stake Land one of the year’s finest. Part vampire film, part virus/outbreak film, Stake Land took two popular horror sub-genres and successfully combined them into one well made film.

# 26 – Super 8

With Super 8, producer Steven Spielberg and director J.J. Abrams resurrected the true summer blockbuster, something that had been lost by the mindless drones in Hollywood decades ago. With Super 8 comes hope. Hope that Hollywood isn’t completely devoid of good ideas and talented filmmakers. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to welcome in another “golden age” of Hollywood treasures, as I’m not nearly THAT gullible! I now have a little hope, where I hadn’t any left anymore, but I won’t believe that Super 8 is anything more than a fluke, until I see it.But just as these sort of films are supposed to do, with Super 8, I’ve been left with hope and wonder. I hope that more great films will come from Hollywood, but I wonder if there’s even a remote chance of that actually happening!

# 25 – The Giant Rubber Monster Movie

How does a low budget independent short, made for a mere $200 (that’s right TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS!) beat out Super 8, a blockbuster with a 50 million dollar budget? Simple. Have a lot of heart and show a true love, and respect, for the giant monster movies that many of us grew up with. That’s how. Filmmaker Thomas Berdinski wasn’t trying to make a serious monster film such as The Host or even Cloverfield. He simply set out to pay homage to the Japanese giant rubber monster movies that kids of the 70s, such as myself, grew up loving. Shows and movies such as Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, Spectreman, The Space Giants and Godzilla are the obvious inspiration for this film. There’s a lot of love for, and maybe a little poking fun at, these type of films present in Thomas Berdinski’s The Giant Rubber Monster Movie.

# 24 – The Puppet Monster Massacre

Another micro-dollar indie film that has bested many mega-budgeted Hollywood studio films is Dustin Wayde Mills’ The Puppet Monster Massacre. I’ve been a big fan of Peter Jackson’s Meet The Feebles since I first saw it back around 1990 and I always assumed it’d remain the quintessential horror puppet movie. That was before I saw The Puppet Monster Massacre. Somehow Dustin Mills has surpassed the master of puppet horror with this film. It’s funnier than Feebles, and for me, the story is more interesting here. It’s a story that is timeless in the horror genre: the big old spooky mansion owned by a creepy and mysterious old man with a sinister agenda. For me, these sort of stories ARE what horror is all about.

# 23 – Hobo With A Shotgun

Over the past few years there’s been a major resurgence of grindhouse films. Robert Rodiguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double feature titled, quite appropriately Grindhouse, renewed our love for the genre that had it’s heyday in the 60s and 70s. Following the success of Grindhouse, Rodriguez released a feature length version of his faux trailer for a film titled Machete, and not too long after that, Jason Eisener, who also had a faux trailer featured in Grindhouse, took that short trailer and turned it into a feature film titled Hobo With A Shotgun. The film stars Rutger Hauer as a bum on a mission….a mission to clean up a very corrupt, and out of control, city. Machete was a disappointment for me. It was more of a bullshit political film, with a screwed up slant on illegal immigration, rather than the true crazed grindhouse homage that it should have been. Hobo With A Shotgun is exactly what I expected Machete to be—a balls-out, over-the-top gorefest chock full of bad puns, loads of blood and gore, some of the most inventive death scenes ever, and more fun than a bag full of rabid sewer rats opened up inside of a Tijuana strip club!

# 22 – Rubber

A self-aware killer tire with telekinetic powers. Sound like a stretch of the imagination? Sure it does. But it really worked. And worked well. A friend mentioned to me that someone had said, of Rubber, that it’s “as if David Lynch remade Jaws using a tire in the place of the shark”. Being that Lynch, in my estimation, is the King of No Reason, I can certainly see why someone would make such an analogy.

# 21 – Bereavement

Bereavement is Stevan Mena’s follow-up to his 2004 film Malevolence in which he explores exactly what happened to create a monster such as his Malevolence killer Martin Bristol. We see Martin as he’s been kidnapped by a madman and forced to witness acts of atrocity that no human being should be made to witness, let alone a young boy. It’s no wonder this guy became a psychopath. Mena’s one of my favorite modern filmmakers and with 2007’s Brutal Massacre: A Comedy, a comedic look at the ups and mostly downs of making a horror movie (this was inspired by/based on Mena’s actual experiences while making Malevolence) he proved that he’s definitely not a one-trick pony.

# 20 – Auschwitz

Uwe Boll’s docu-drama about everyday life at Nazi Germany’s most notorious death camp isn’t something that just anyone should see. It contains scenes that’d likely be considered too disturbing, too extreme for the general movie-going public. The first and third acts show Boll as he interviews German high school students asking them about the history of their country. Some of their answers are very disturbing but it’s the film’s middle act that’s sure to have a major impact on it’s viewers. This is where the drama part of this docu-drama comes in as we see daily life at Auschwitz, which includes gassing men, women and children of all ages, babies being executed at point-blank range and discussions about the next day’s “shipment”. If this film doesn’t move you, you’re not human.

# 19 – Lewis

Lewis is the second of two short films to make my list this year. It’s Anthony G. Sumner’s tale about a young girl and her imaginary friend. Or maybe the friend isn’t so imaginary after all? There aren’t a whole lot of occult films that are deserving of being mentioned in the same sentence with legendary occult-inspired films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man, but Lewis truly is worthy.

# 18 – Attack The Block

Attack The Block is actually one of my favorite films of this year but there’s a reason why it’s not higher up on this list. When a film is top heavy with “hero” characters that you really don’t give a damn about, and well, you’re actually rooting for them to be eaten, it doesn’t say too much for the film’s writing. Don’t get me wrong, Attack The Block is a blast to watch, but it’s quite flawed at the same time.

# 17 – Booley

Potent Media (Then Potent Pictures) really knocked it out of the park with their first feature film, Booley. The acting of stars Tom Detrik, Christopher Mann and Carmela Hayslett, along with a great script about a man who’s gone off the deep end, and some fantastic direction from Christian Jude Grillo, Booley is certainly deserving of a spot here in the top 20. As much as I really dig Booley, I’m even more excited about Potent’s second feature, Deer Crossing, premiering in January of 2012.

# 16 – Kodie

Fairy takes steeped in horror have always been favorites of mine, since I was a kid. Director, and co-star, Abel Berry along with producers Andrew Rose and Jennifer Stone have created a modern horror fairy tale worthy of it’s predecessors. Made for a mere $4000, Kodie has the look and feel of a large budgeted movie, proving that it takes love, heart and know-how to make a great horror movie….not tons of cash.

# 15 – Jersey Justice

Breaking into the top 15 is John Charles Hunt’s revenge thriller Jersey Justice. Mr.Hunt has proven here, in his first feature film as a director, that he not only “gets” the revenge genre, but that he has the balls to push it to it’s limits, combining the necessary humor and violence that all great revenge flicks balance well. In Jersey Justice, Mr. Hunt balances all of the necessary elements of a great revenge film perfectly!

# 14 – Chillerama

What do you get when you take the minds of Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan, four of today’s best young filmmakers who each possess a love for the horror genre? You get Chillerama. Each filmmaker’s segment of the film is a memorable one, but I must admit to being partial to that of Mr. Green, whose “The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein” was the cream of the crop here. That’s not to say that the other segments, including Rifkin’s “Wadzilla”, Sullivan’s “I Was A Teenage Werebear” and Lynch’s “Zom-B-Movie” aren’t all a lot of fun to watch, because each has it’s own little bit of charm that makes Chillerama one of this year’s best.

# 13 – Red State

When I started thinking about creating this list, I was certain that Kevin Smith’s Red State would make it easily into the top 10, maybe even the top 5. Surprisingly it landed here at number 13 simply because 2011 truly was a great year for movies. You just needed to know where to look. This was Smith’s first foray into a genre that wasn’t laced with dick and fart jokes and with it he’s proven that he’s capable of so much more. I hope he changes his made with all of this retirement from directing talk he’s been doing as of late.

# 12 – The Super

Writer/directors Evan Makrogiannis, Brian Weaver, and producer Alex Lugones’ The Super really should have been so much higher up on this list but with a year as strong as 2011 ended up becoming, it’s settled here in the number 12 spot. The film, about a psycho building superintendent, is so much more than the basic synopsis may imply. It’s hard to label this film with one title as it’s so much more. Sure, there’s plenty of gore, lots of violence, some gross out scenes, and there’s even quite a bit of humor, but there are so many layers to the film that it’s not easy to easily explain away as a horror comedy, dark comedy or even horror with comedic elements. Including elements such as revenge, betrayal, murder, love, comedy and tragedy, The Super has a rather Shakespearean feel to it.

# 11 – Paul

When I first read about Paul, I really wasn’t expecting much. I’m a huge fan of alien movies, but for some reason I didn’t expect that this one would deliver. After all, a comedy about earthlings who meet an extraterrestrial is nothing new, yet writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with Superbad director Greg Mottola, really managed to come up with one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long, long time.

# 10 – Wound

As I wrote in the title to my review for the film, David Blyth’s Wound is a visceral journey into the demented mind of a woman in peril and it’s also one of this year’s top 10 films. Part Cronenberg, part Lynch and undeniable ALL Blyth, Wound is both beautiful and grotesque at the same time but the goal here wasn’t to marvel the audience nor was it to disgust them. Blyth’s goal was to expose the fact that often the carnage that takes place on inside of the minds of many of our family members, our friends, our neighbors, perhaps even ourselves, is far worse, far more damaging, than anything that can be done to our physical selves.

# 9 – The Woman

Lucky McKee’s film, based on a story by McKee and Jack Ketchum, was perhaps the year’s most controversial one, but most of the controversy was unwarranted. To be honest, after seeing many far more violent and brutal films, I didn’t find The Woman to be all that shocking nor disturbing. I did find it to be one of 2011’s best though. Sure, there’s some nasty brutality contained within, but this story isn’t about that. The Woman is about the power, “intestinal” strength and will to survive possessed by the human female.

# 8 – The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)

Another one of this year’s (undeserving) controversial films was Tom Six’s “sequel” to his cult hit The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Thanks to the UK’s film board, this one had a hell of a nasty reputation long before anyone had even seen it. Anyone other than those on the rating board that is. The UK board refused to allow the film to be released there, making the desire of fans of the first film to see this one reach a fevered pitch. As it turns out, The Human Centipede 2 is more of a dark comedy than it is another torture-porn flick. Sure, there’s a shitload of torture in the film, but the humor overrides the brutality. Although it may sicken average movie fans, horror fans surely must have also seen the amount of humor that Six threw into this one. Right?

# 7 – Troll Hunter

Since I’m a huge fan of found footage films, even I found it a bit surprising that not many films of the subgenre made my list this year. Although there weren’t many good found footage movies released in 2011, the two that made my list more than made up for the lack of worthwhile FF films. The Norwegian found footage fantasy film Troll Hunter is not only one of this year’s best movies, but it’s one of the best the genre has ever had to offer. Despite the use of CGI, Troll Hunter still had that docu feel too it and the CGI trolls weren’t nearly as silly looking as most of Hollywood’s CG created monsters. This may have been 2011’s most enjoyable genre picture.

# 6 – [REC] 2

In it’s native Spain, [REC] 2 wouldn’t have been eligible for a best of 2011 list, since it was released there earlier, but here in the states it’s eligible and there was no way it wasn’t making my top 10. The [REC] series is one of the smartest, most well made franchises out there and as great as the first film was, this sequel took things to the extreme. I look forward to [REC] 3 : Genesis and [REC] 4 : Apocalipsis, which will be making the trip to the US within the next few years.

# 5 – YellowBrickRoad

Can a film that takes place out in the middle of the woods be considered claustrophobic? The answer is yes, and YellowBrickRoad pulls it off brilliantly. Not only is the plight of YBR’s characters a relatable one, after all, we’ve all gotten lost at some point in our lives, but it also transcends reality taking those characters to places that the human mind may not be capable of returning from. YellowBrickRoad likely will not find an audience with the masses but for those into films that are just that much deeper than the rest, it’s sure to find it’s rightful place in the annuls of great horror films.

# 4 – The Muppets

I know what you’re thinking. One of these things is not like the others. Right? Well there was no way in hell that I could make a list of the year’s best movies without including the triumphant theatrical return of the brainchildren of the late, great Jim Henson! Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller wrote one of the most amazing scripts of the year, allowing for everyone’s favorite puppets this side of The Puppet Monster Massacre to play the music, light the lights and bring back The Muppet Show to prime time TV….even if it was only on TV in the world in which the film takes place. As a 70s baby, and an 80s kid, I found The Muppets to be the most entertaining film of 2011, even if it wasn’t the best film of the year.

# 3 – 13 Assassins

I’ve never been all that into martial arts movies but when I saw the trailer for Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, I was sold! It’s the first time I’d ever sat eagerly awaiting the start of a movie from this genre. As a kid, my Uncle Kenny was really into kung-fu and karate movies so I was exposed to them on a regular basis, but they just didn’t do too much for me. Until now. Miike’s film is a true cinematic masterpiece. That’s a term thrown around far too often but it’s fitting in this case. The film’s final battle is indeed a magnificent one! It comprises about half of the entire film’s runtime, approximately one full hour, and is non-stop action. It also happens to be one of the most awe-inspiring battle scenes ever filmed. The choreography is phenomenal, and I couldn’t help but think, after all was said and done, that it had to be one of the most difficult scenes to film, bar none, of Miike’s long and storied career.13 Assassins is, in my estimation, the first perfect film in over 2 decades and should be seen by anyone who has a love and appreciation for the cinematic arts.

# 2 – The Last Circus

Released as “Balada triste de trompeta” in Spain, Álex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus is the year’s most visually stunning film. It’s reminiscent of the work of cinematic greats such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Guillermo del Toro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Tim Burton but it’s definitely not a cheap imitation of the films of those filmmakers. The film begins to build momentum about midway through and by the film’s climax, it’s a wonder for the eyes to behold. It’s both hideous and beautiful, at the very same time.

After first seeing The Last Circus back in June, I was certain that it’d be the best film of the year. I couldn’t see any other movie coming along to dethrone it. I was wrong….

# 1 – Drive

Drive took me totally by surprise. I’d seen the trailer run during it’s TV spots many times and was uninterested completely. It looked like the same old car chase movie that Hollywood’s been making for years. After reading a review written by my friend Chris Conduit (of The Conduit Speaks) I decided that perhaps the film deserved my attention. I immediately headed off to the theater to see what all the fuss was about. Holy shit! That was my reaction to this film. Drive is as much a brilliant work of art as it is a phenomenal movie. There aren’t many near perfect movies floating around out there, and there are even fewer that you’d call absolutely perfect. Drive is about as close to perfect as any film has come in many a decade and it truly deserves to be ranked as the number one film of 2011.

This list wasn’t an easy one for me to come up with. I struggled with some of my choices, moving quite a few around even as I prepared to write this. Out of well over 150 new movies that I saw in 2011, these are the best of the bunch. It’s possible that there are a few great films that I left off here, but keep in mind that I’ve not seen everything that came out this year. If only there were enough time….

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The UNMASKED Series: Star Wars

Welcome to The Unmasked Series, an all new feature here on D’Ment’D Cinema. In each installment of this series, we’ll take a look at some of the greatest masked characters cinema (and televsion) history. Each edition will have a different theme, from horror monsters to slashers, from Star Wars to Star Trek and beyond.

In this, the first installment of The Unmasked Series, we’ll be examining some of the masked marvels of George Lucas’ Star Wars!

4-LOM, the droid bounty hunter first seen in Empire Strikes Back was originally misidentified by Kenner, the toy company that produced the Star Wars line of action figures and accessories. Kenner accidentally swapped names with 4-LOM, the droid bounty hunter, and the beige bounty hunter known as Zuckuss. The name 4-LOM was actually the creation of Kenner. Lucasfilm gave Kenner the honor of naming the character. Their choice, 4-LOM, which stands for “4 (the) Love Of Money”, a nod to the cash cow that was Star Wars merchandising.

Chris Parsons, the actor hired as a stand-in for characters such as C-3PO, was tapped to wear the 4-LOM costume in the fan favorite “bounty hunter scene” in ESB.

Admiral Ackbar has taken on another life thanks to his most memorable line in Return Of The Jedi. “It’s a trap” has been parodied on such TV shows as Family Guy and Robot Chicken. A simply internet image search will turn up countless results of images of Ackbar with the phrase emblazoned upon them.

Actor, puppeteer and special FX artist Tim Rose, who maned the proverbial strings for many of the denizens of Jabba The Hutt’s palace in Return Of The Jedi including the original version of Sy Snootles as well as that annoying little Kowakian monkey-lizard Salacious Crumb, was the man behind the Admiral Ackbar mask.

Barada, one of Jabba The Hutt’s many guards, met his demise when Jabba made the mistake of trying to execute Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca by forcing them into the awaiting jaws of the almight Sarlaac, which had been “planted” out in the Dune Sea where it was used by the intergalactic gangster as a means to rid himself of his foes.

Stuntman Dickey Beer was the man who brought Barada to life. Beer played a number of other roles in the Return Of The Jedi. We’ll touch on one of the other roles he played shortly. Beer was credited as “Dirk Yohan Beer” in the film.

Bib Fortuna, a Twi’lek, was Jabba The Hutt’s right hand man, doing anything that his master commanded. Although Bib served Jabba for a long time, he truly hated the Hutt and actually tried, unsuccessfully, to have his master killed on a number of occasions.

Scottish actor Michael Carter played Jabba The Hutt’s majordomo, Bib Fortuna. He was cast as “Bib Fortuna” in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi after casting director Mary Selway saw him appearing in the play “The Streets of London” in 1981.

Boba Fett, arguably the most notorious bounty hunter in the galaxy has garnered a massive following but he’s also split Star Wars fans right down the middle. While many fans do in fact view Fett as the most bad ass bounty hunter ever, others see him as little more than a clever tracker who, when push came to shove, failed miserably during the battle with Skywalker, Solo, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian as the heroes fought to escape a long, painful and certain death inside the belly of the Sarlaac.

English actor Jeremy Bulloch portrayed Boba Fett in both Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi but he was not the only actor to play Fett. As a matter of fact, he did not play the notorious bounty hunter in one of ROTJ’s most well known scenes….

During the battle above the Sarlaac, it was NOT Jeremy Bulloch in the Boba Fett get up….

That honor belonged to stuntman Dickey Beer, who as we’ve already discussed here, played Barada in the same scene. Although he is only credited with playing Barada, Dicky actually played 7 characters in Return Of The Jedi including the aforementioned Barada and Boba Fett as well as a stormtrooper, biker scout and Weequay among others.

Another bounty hunter in Empire Strikes Back’s gathering of the bounty hunters scene was fan favorite Bossk. Bossk, whose name means “Devours His Prey” in Dosh, was a Trandoshan bounty hunter and the pilot of the Hound’s Tooth. He also held the title of monarch of the Qotile system. He was not particularly fond of Chewbacca and his Human partner Han Solo. He would face them several times, and would be one of the six bounty hunters Darth Vader hired to track down and capture the Millennium Falcon.

Actor Alan Harris, who like Chris Parsons was also a stand-in for Anthony Daniels/C-3PO, was chosen to don the outfit of the lizard-like bounty hunter Bossk in Empire Strikes Back. Harris also worked on A New Hope and Return Of The Jedi as well as Nightbreed and Hellraiser, where he once again served as a stand-in.

Darth Vader. Dark Lord of the Sith. Formerly known as Anakin Skywalker. Vader was a bad ass before being a bad ass was cool. Although his look may have changed slightly between A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, a few things never changed; Vader never relented in his search for the rebels until his death, actor James Earl Jones provided his voice in all three of the original films, and the same actor donned the suit, cape and mask in all three films…

Actor and Bristol, UK native David Prowse portrayed Vader in all three OT films. Prior to A New Hope, Prowse was a regular star in many popular cinematic and television productions including Casino Royale (1967), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Doctor Who (1972), Benny Hill (1974), Hammer’s Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), Space 1999 (1977) and Jabberwocky (1977).

The Gamorrean Guards, those pig-like heavies that protected Jabba The Hutt and his palace sure moved slow, but that’s only because they didn’t have to move fast. Well, that and they weren’t exactly built for speed. They were built for brawn and power. And they knew how to throw their weight around, which allowed for them to easily dominate and control their foes.

One of the numerous actors to slip into the rather heavy and bulky Gamorrean Guard outfits was Les Conrad. Mr. Conrad played a number of different characters including the Gamorrean Guard as well as a rebel soldier on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back and a Stormtrooper.

Gardinan was a Kubaz spy working for the Empire. In A New Hope, Garindan can be seen snitching on the whereabouts of the droids to the Imperial Stormtroopers vid a comlink. He was considered the greatest spy in all of Mos Eisley. Garindan’s information was priceless, and his skills went to the highest bidder, whether it be to Jabba the Hutt (who was wary of Garindan finding out too much about Jabba’s business transactions) or to the Imperials.

English stuntwoman Sadie Eden was a regular stunt performer for the James Bond films before she was cast to portray a duo of roles in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. One of the two roles she played was that of Garindan, the spy who ratted out the heroes as they attempted to flee from Mos Eisley Spaceport.

The Rodian bounty hunter known as Greedo was the son of son of Greedo the Elder. Greedo grew up on Tatooine with his childhood friend Anakin Skywalker. (A young Greedo can be seen in Episode I: The Phantom Menace) Greedo was working for Jabba The Hutt on the fateful day when he finally located the wanted Han Solo in Chalmun’s Cantina as seen in A New Hope. Poor Greedo never saw it coming when he was killed by Han Solo. Greedo NEVER GOT A SHOT OFF before being shot and killed by Solo.

Greedo was played by two performers, while his voice was provided by yet another actor. Maria de Aragon played Greedo in a number of close-in pickup shots in A New Hope.

Birmingham, UK native Paul Blake portrayed Greedo in the majority of the scenes in A New Hope. Voice actor Larry Ward provided the voice for Greedo as well as the voice of Jabba The Hutt in Return Of The Jedi.

Logray was the head shaman for the Ewok tribe who lived in Bright Tree Village. He was tall for an Ewok, with tan-striped fur. Logray often wore a headdress decorated with feathers, beads, and a large churi bird skull. He carried a staff decorated with the spinal bones of a defeated enemy.

Logray the Ewok shaman was played by veteran actor Mike Edmonds, who had previously appeared in Empire Strikes Back and who would also serve as the puppeteer inside of Jabba The Hutt. Edmonds controlled Jabba’s tail.

One of the lesser known Mos Eisley residents was Mosep Binneed. Lesser known because Kenner/Hasbro has never made an action figure of him. Mosep Binneed was a Nimbanel accountant who served Jabba The Hutt. Like most of his species, Binneed entered a bureaucratic profession and worked for the Hutts, eventually ending up on Tatooine during the early Galactic Civil War. Operating out of Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine in the Outer Rim, Binneed managed the finances of crime lord Jabba the Hutt to the best of his efforts, along with a number of other accountants, many of whom were also Nimbanese.

Mosep Binneed was played by actress Annette Jones.

Nien Nunb was a Sullustan smuggler. He grew up in the caves of his homeworld, Sullust, with his sister, Aril Nunb. Later, he worked for the SoroSuub Corporation as a smuggler. During one of his smuggling flights, he befriended Lando Calrissian—an individual Nunb would have great deals with in later years. It was with Calrissian that he would copilot the Millennium Falcon during the Battle of Endor. He went on to become the administrator of the Kessel spice mines, and sporadically worked with the New Republic and its successor, the Galactic Alliance.

Nien Nunb was portrayed by English actor and stuntman Richard Bonehill. Bonehill played several different roles in Empire Stikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, some with his face exposed, such as a rebel soldier in ESB, while others, like Nunb, left his face hidden under a cumbersome mask.

Ree Yees was a Gran from Kinyen. He suffered from a recessive genetic mutation, uncommon among Gran, which caused his hands to be deformed. Ree-Yees enjoyed visiting other planets via Star Tours, and often brought his custom three eyed camera to take pictures, despite flash photography not being allowed.
Ree-Yees was convicted of murder on Kinyen, and was in hiding on Tatooine as a member of Jabba Desilijic Tiure’s court. He was an alcoholic, and was often seen associating with Tessek. Ree-Yees was assigned the task of taking care of Jabba’s Frog-Dog pet Bubo.

The distrustful Jabba had a short-range bomb implanted in him. When Jabba said a certain phrase, the bomb would explode, killing Ree-Yees and any one next to him. This bomb could be used to kill an assassin, or if Ree-Yees himself was planning to kill Jabba (as he was).

Ree Yees was another character played by the aforementioned Richard Bonehill. Other characters played by Mr. Bonehill include a Mon Calamari officer, a stormtrooper and a snowtrooper. Away from the silver screen, Bonehill is also a champion fencer.

Reegesk was a Ranat scavenger and experienced thief from Aralia, known as a fair trader. He regularly traded with Jawas such as Het Nkik. Reegesk was not picky, and was willing to steal anything, even trash. His tribe needed power for their bootleg vaporator unit, so he went into Mos Eisley to look for a power source. He attempted to trade a sand people battle idol to Nkik in Chalmun’s Cantina, during which he quietly stole the power source of Nkik’s Blastech DL-44 for use with his tribe’s vaporator, leading to the death of Nkik, not knowing his gun had no power during a shootout with stormtroopers.

Reegesk was played by stuntwoman Sadie Eden, who also played Garindan in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

The Saurin were a Trandoshan subspecies who hailed from the planet Durkteel, in the Kastolar sector of the Kashyyyk Region. Reptilian like the mainline Trandoshans of Trandosha, the Saurin shared knobby, scaly skin; broad, flat noses; wide, gaping mouths; and sharp, jagged teeth with their cousins. In contrast, however, the Saurin had five-fingered hands instead of the Trandoshans’ three digits (plus opposable thumb). A Saurin can be seen in the Cantina in A New Hope as well as in Return Of The Jedi.

English actor Laurie Goode was born in Windsor not long after WW2. His parents came from Hackney, East London, but moved out of the area during the Blitz; having been made homeless twice. Laurie played the Saurin seem in the Cantina in A New Hope. Rumor also has it that Laurie played a few other random roles in the film, possibly including a rebel soldier and a stormtrooper.

Tessek was a Quarren male from the water planet of Mon Calamari. He once had ties with Republic politics, but when the Galactic Empire invaded his home planet, he fled and became a member of Jabba Desilijic Tiure’s court. While serving as the Hutt’s accountant, Tessek planned to kill his master by planting a bomb on his sail barge. Tessek managed to survive the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon after escaping on a speeder bike—however, when he returned to Jabba’s Palace, his brain was forcibly removed from his body by the B’omarr Monks.

Irish-born mime artist and actor Gerald Home played Tessek in Return Of The Jedi. Home, who was born in Belfast but later moved to Australia (at age 16), also played one of Admiral Ackbar’s Mon Calamari soldiers in the film. Gerald also worked as a puppeteer in 1986’s Little Shop Of Horrors remake.

The cloud city of Bespin, as seen in Empire Strikes Back, was home to a large number of Ugnaughts. The Ugnaughts were porcine, or pig-like, humanoids with slightly upturned noses from the planet Gentes. Compared to baseline humans, their height would be considered short or dwarfed. Ugnaughts were industrious and loyal workers and also had a rich oral tradition. They were quite hardy, able to withstand long periods of discomfort, and lived to around two hundred years of age.

Mike Edmonds, who, as we’ve already discussed, played Logray the Ewok shaman and who controlled the tail puppetry of Jabba The Hutt, was also tapped to play one of the Ugnaughts who worked for Lando Calrissian in the cloud city of Bespin.

J’Quille was a Whiphid hunter in Jabba Desilijic Tiure’s court. He was a former lover of Lady Valarian and secretly worked as a spy for her in Jabba’s presence. He was heavily prone to paranoia. He was also known be a great fighter because of his hunting skills.

Mime artist and musician Tim Dry, who studied Mime and Physical Theatre with Desmond Jones for four years, and also worked with Lindsay Kemp (Kemp was tutor to David Bowie and Kate Bush), played J’Quille the Whiphid in Return Of The Jedi. In 1980, a few years prior to his working for Lucasfilm in ROTJ, Tim formed a rock/mime/burlesque/music troupe named Shock. Tim also appeared in Xtro and In Dreams.

Saelt-Marae, who is also known as Yak Face thanks to Kenner’s action figure line, was a long-lived Yarkora confidence trickster and information broker who lived for several centuries during the waning days of the Old Republic and the reign of Emperor Palpatine. Marae kept details surrounding himself secret, so little was known about his early life. Later in life he went to work for Jabba The Hutt, outwardly posing as a harmless merchant while really acting as an informant for Jabba. He ingratiated himself with the Hutt’s various employees, gaining their trust and learning of any plots against Jabba. For his part, Marae was handsomely paid. When Jabba was killed at the Great Pit of Carkoon in 4 ABY, Saelt-Marae stole many of his secret financial records and disappeared.

Mime artist and puppeteer Sean Crawford portrayed Saelt-Marae, aka Yak Face, in Return Of The Jedi. Crawford was also half of robotic mime & music duo Tik and Tok, along with fellow Return Of The Jedi co-star Tim Dr. They began performing together with SHOCK: a rock/mime/burlesque/music troupe in the early 1980’s with Barbie Wilde, Robert Pereno, LA Richards and Carole Caplin. Just like his band mate Dry, Crawford also appeared in the cult horror/sci-fi film Xtro.

Zuckuss was a Gand bounty hunter known for his uncanny ability to find his charge. Referred to as “The Uncanny One” by his fellow hunters, Zuckuss was renowned for his ability to discover hidden quarry. His tracking skills derived both from his training as a findsman and from his innate Force-sensitivity, which allowed him to sense individuals at range and decipher the motives of his prey.

Actress Cathy Monroe (Sometimes spelled Monro) played a number of different roles in Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back including protocol droid E-3PO and the famed Gand bounty hunter Zuckuss.

That brings this, the inaugural edition of The UNMASKED Series to a close but check back soon for the next installment in the series. Future editions include Horror Slashers, Horror Monsters, Star Trek, pro wrestling and much more.

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