MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVD: The Blob; Hitchcock; Rise of the Guardians


THE BLOB (Two Stars)

U.S.: Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., 1958 (Criterion Collection)

Never let it be said that the Criterion Collection — usually a cognoscenti art film haven — doesn’t have a sense of humor. Take their new release, The Blob….Please.

What’s it all about? One dark night in Downington, Pennsylvania (actually the real-life Valley Forge) , a glob of  what seems to be either a red plastic trash bag, an unusually large  cranberry salad  or  a sentient mound of leathery red Jello (a dessert with a mind of its own and a taste for human beings) lands via a meteor in a field, interrupting a necking session between teenager Steve Andrews (played by the 28-year-old Steve McQueen) and his dull girlfriend, the high school superintendent’s  daughter Jane (Aneta Corsaut). The curious youngsters find the blob just as it fastens onto its first victim: a howling old man (Olin Howlin) with a cute little dog.

The little dog survives, for the moment. But soon the Blob is running, or slithering, amok, and ingesting  (Spoiler Alert) a nurse, a doctor, and the screaming fans at the local movie theatre, which is showing a Bela Lugosi horror picture (End of Spoiler). Meanwhile Steve and Jane try in vain, to warn the town’s mostly unreceptive adults, including various stubborn cops and authority figures, who believe it’s all a teenage prank.

The Blob, which was a surprise low-budget hit in 1958, and has become a sort of goofball classic, is a bad movie that’s a lot of fun to watch. The special effects — that rampaging deadly gelatin, and a painted backdrop impersonating an old dark house — are delightfully shoddy. The acting (except for McQueen) is TV soap opera-level, and the script, although better than usual for this type of movie, never saw a cliché it didn’t like. You’ll probably enjoy it anyway.

Director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. (who can be heard here on one of the commentary tracks), was a veteran helmer of hundreds of religious and educational films,  and a worker with evangelist Billy Graham, and he knows his way around a camera (and a cliché). He also gives the movie a certain morally serious tone that (as Kim Newman notes in his Criterion booklet essay) makes the picture a tad more humanly convincing and more frightening. You’d expect the hipster McQueen to send all this up, but instead he plays Steve the Blob-Chaser totally straight and with admirable conviction.

And then there’s the legendary title song, “The Blob” —  a bouncy little classic sung by The  Five Blobs (one hit wonders who were actually one singer, Bernie Nee, on multiple tracks). The music is by Burt Bacharach (master title song composer of “Alfie,“ “What’s New, Pussycat?“ and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) and the words are by Mack David (older brother of Bacharach’s usual ’50s-’60s lyricist, Hal). They warn us  (endlessly, it seems), to “Beware of the Blob!  It creeps! And Leaps! And glides and slides across the floor! Right through the door! And all around the wall! A splotch! A glotch! Be careful of the blob!“ Be forewarned: Once you hear this infernally catchy Bacharach song, you’ll probably never forget it.  Cole Porter and Inoshiro Honda, eat your hearts out.

Extras: Commentaries by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr, producer Jack H. Harris, historian  and actor Robert Fields; “Blobsbilla,” a Blob gallery by Wes Schank; Blob Trailer; Booklet with essay by Blobophile Kim Newman.


HITCHCOCK (Three Stars)
U.S.: Sacha Gervasi, 2012

Back in 1960, about 40 minutes into Alfred Hitchcock’s new movie Psycho, co- star Janet Leigh flushed the toilet, took off her towel and stepped into the shower in Room Number One of the Bates Motel — and the movies changed forever. With its nudity, its slashing murders, and that other  other weirdo star role — nervous, stammering motel-keeper and dutiful son Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) — Psycho ushered in all the sleazy nightmare and B-movie scariness, taboo and macabre that had been hidden away in the ‘50s in drive-ins and second-run houses, embellishing them with an A-Movie cast and a master’s technique . Psycho changed how movies were made, but also how they were passed by industry watchdogs, how they were marketed and released, and even how audiences watched them. (Wily director Hitch took a cue from the  ad campaign for the French shocker Diabolique, which asked  viewers not to reveal the end, and got the theaters to forbid audiences even to enter Psycho midway through.)

And it changed what we could expect from our highest-profile movies — which, in 1960, despite the greater liberalism and candor of movies like  The Apartment and Elmer Gantry, was definitely not the spectacle of a big star like Ms. Leigh in a bathroom, doffing her clothes and stepping into a bathtub face the shower head spray and the sudden intruder and the plunging knife and  composer Bernard Herrmann’s unforgettable score: those shrieking violins that sounded like cries of horror or birds of prey.

The movies changed after Psycho and So did Hitchcock himself–as  we see in the compelling but not always satisfying new movie Hitchcock. directed by Sacha Gervasi and starring Anthony Hopkins as The Master of Suspense and Helen Mirren as his long-time wife and most important collaborator, Alma Reville Hitchcock. Based on the story behind the making and release of Psycho — as recounted in Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” — it’s one of the most detailed dramatic reconstructions of the making of a movie ever, and a truly bizarre, yet informative tribute to a great filmmaker, and the record of what happened when he crossed over the line, making both a masterpiece and a pop culture shocker.

Gervasi’s movie takes us from the commercial and critical failure of Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo (now considered a classic, maybe even the classic), through the 1959 comeback triumph of North by Northwest, and then through the difficult planning, preparation, frequent interference, sometimes troubled shooting and final release of what quickly became the biggest hit of Hitchcock‘s entire career.

The cast of characters includes not just Hitch and Alma and right hand woman Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette), but the cast of Psycho, played by Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh), James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins), and Jessica Biel (Vera Miles),  Ralph Macchio as screenwriter  Joseph Stefano, Wallace Langham as titles wizard and shower murder storyboard artist Saul Bass, and Paul Schackman as the indispensable (but eventually dispensed with) composer Bernard Hermann,  Even the ‘60s. head picture slasher Geoffrey Shurlock, is here, played by Kurtwood Smith. And so is Ed Gein, (played by Michael Wincott), the real-life grave robber and serial killer who inspired Robert Bloch’s original novel.


The movie is a tribute to Hitchcock and his art; in some ways it treats the creation of Psycho partky in the reverent way Carol Reed and Charlton Heston treated Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in The Agony and the Ecstasy. But it’s a kinf of deconstruction of Hitchcock (and Psycho) as well, following the example of tell-all books like Rebello‘s and like Donald Spoto’s “The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock“ and even of the last revision of “Hitchcock/Truffaut“” Francois Truffaut‘s classic interview/celebration with/of one of his favorite directors. In that last anguished hurrah, Truffaut described what he calls the bad luck of Hitchcock’s later post-Psycho career, including his tortured Pygmalion relationship with Tippi Hedren, the star of The Birds and Marnie. And finally, Gervasi and McLaughlin’s (Black Swan) movie is a very affectionate tribute to the woman behind Hitch from the ‘20s on: his wife Alma (as staunchly played by Mirren) — who here becomes the heroine of his story, even as he himself wavers between hero and anti-hero,  exploiter and artist.

The Alfred Hitchcock we see in Gervasi’s Hitchcock, is not always the gentlemanly, deadpan, witty host of the popular 1950s TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents — where Hitch would introduce the shows (some of which he directed), make rude remarks about the commercials, and tell dark little jokes in bright little sketches. Nor is he the more sober, solemn interviewee of his later years. The familiar mannerisms are there — the measured East End London accent, the deadpan countenance and owlish stare, the sense of sharing with the audience ome macabre joke or wicked little secret. But we also see the more vulnerable, beleaguered Hitch, the one who needed Alma so much. These two performances — Hopkins as Hitch, Mirren as Alma — are the best reasons to see Hitchcock.

Hitchcock was directed by Sacha Gervasi, who won several awards for his funny and compassionate rock documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Gervasi’s direction is clean and clear and knowing, and compassionate, but perhaps not funny enough, not scary enough either. He’s a good director, but he’s no Hitchcock. Then again, nobody is.



RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Terry Ramsey, 2012

Movies just get curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might say, after striking another exclusive deal with The March Hare and Tim Burton.

In the new DreamWorks animated lollapalooza, Rise of the Guardians (one of the more peculiar new super-hero action movies), the rock-‘em-sock’em team The Guardians — the heroic defenders of childhood myths originally assembled for the “Guardians of Children” book series by author William Joyce and consisting of Jack Frost, Sandy (short for the Sandman), Tooth (short for Tooth Fairy), Bunny (short for the Easter Bunny), and Santa Claus (who has a Russian accent and calls himself “North”) — band together to fight against the nefarious Pitch (short, I guess, for Pitch Black). Pitch is a Boogey Man, a sort of WalMart version of Voldemort, who commands a herd of galloping nightmares, and aims to bring back bad dreams to all the world’s children. (Why doesn’t he just buy a movie studio?)

The star of the group is Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine after Leo DiCaprio “ankled“). He‘s an energetic but somewhat neurotic kid, who’s upset that  he doesn’t have his own special Jack Frost Day, and he also suffers from the after-effects of a traumatic incident that took place some centuries past in The Land of Flashback. The rest of the childhood fantasy crew try to enlist Jack and supply support and therapy and funny voices.

Pitch is funny-voiced, or sneered, by Jude Law, and the Guardians are played (well) by Pine, by Alec Baldwin (as North, who seems to be a prep for Baldwin taking on old Akim Tamiroff or Oscar Homolka roles), Hugh Jackman (who adds Easter Bunnies to Wolverines in his gallery), Isla Fisher as the toothsome Tooth, and the late Marcel Marceau, who is said to have dubbed the wordless role of the Sandman. (Just kidding) There are some human kids too, frolicking merrily in the snow, with whom Jack tries to bond (the kids, not the snow), led by cute little animated frolicker Jamie Bennett (voiced by Dakota Goyo).

All in all, they’re a pretty colorful bunch, but for the first half or so of the movie, despite a rousing Alexandre Desplat score behind them, the movie tended (except for Baldwin) to bore me stiff. It failed to connect with me, or I failed to connect with them. Perhaps it’s a matter of temperament. Rise of the Guardians, directed by Peter Ramsey (in his theatrical feature debut), boasts some beautiful visualization. But, for a while, the show was too frenetic and violent, especially for the kind of gentle, empathetic feelings and ideas for which screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole), is aiming.

Many contemporary cartoon features are  hyper-active, and  capturing the hyper-active audience may be crucial to modern demographic thinking and  marketing plans. But, good and occasionally dazzling as the technique and visuals are here, I still prefer animated films that let you see and savor the pictures and characters, like most of Pixar and classic Disney.

There‘s stuff to savor here, including glacially pretty near North Pole backgrounds , adorable little tooth-things and Easter Egg battalions, and lots of swooping aerial shots, full of swooping aerial sights and sounds, including, by Santa‘s beard, a sleigh with reindeer. But the movie seems too intent for too long a while on blasting us out of our seats, in a manner better suited to something that miaght be called Die Hard Naughty or Nice.

I finally settled in to Rise of the Guardians, and enjoyed part of the last part,


though I don’t believe in Santa Clause, or 3D…


…and I saw it at home, with a screener, and without 3D glasses. which means, I guess, that kids — particularly hyper-active kids — may disagree with me. By the way, just to allay possible confusion, the late Marcel Marceau had nothing to do with this movie, nor does he endorse any of the philosophies espoused in it, with a Russian accent, by Alec Baldwin. Nor does he believe in Alec Baldwin, though he did believe in Santa Claus at one time, or in Pere Noel, or at least in their elves. All of whom have 3D glasses.


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One Response to “Wilmington on DVD: The Blob; Hitchcock; Rise of the Guardians”

  1. Rich D says:

    “a painted backdrop impersonating an old dark house” If you’re referring to the shot of Doc Hallin’s house, that is an actual location. It’s located just a few blocks away from the theater location which is still in operation today.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon