Category Archives: universal

Traffic in Souls

Traffic in Souls ~ This 1913 silent was also known as While New York Sleeps: A Photodrama of Today. Written and produced by George Loane Tucker (best known for his later film, The Miracle Man), it was also called in Hollywood circles ‘Tucker’s folly,’ as he tried for years to get the film made.

Traffic in Souls is about the slave trade in the early 20th century, something that tragically still goes on today. Tucker sought to develop a drama that would simultaneously entertain and inform audiences of this horrid crime. Rumor had it at the time it was based on a government report, but this wasn’t true, although that didn’t keep folks from seeing the picture. Hype worked the same way a century ago as it does today.

I finally got to see this flick on TCM’s terrific “Silent Sunday Nights.” It is a tale of two upstanding Swedish immigrant women, played by Jane Gail and Ethel Grandin, one of whom is swept away by deceptive men into prostitution and worse. Matt Moore is also very good here, and it might be why his career stretched beyond this film.

It’s one of the first feature films from Universal, one of their first hits, and did what Tucker intended, alerted audiences to the horrors of human trafficking at the time. Great scenes of New York of the time, and worth a look for silent film lovers.

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Random Tater Pic of the Day #58

Cobra Woman

Cobra Woman ~ My friend Dan turned me on to Maria Montez and Jon Hall. I was aware of and knew about them but their films are not all that easy to find. Imagine my surprise recently when cruising HBO Go on my iPhone one late night looking for something to cure my insomnia when I came across Cobra Woman. On HBO of all places! Insomnia hell, I settled in for the long haul.

The first thing that hit me just in the opening credits was just how brilliant and striking the Technicolor was. Very bright, very crisp. The other thing that surprised me was that both Miso and Get Glue, the two apps I use to post on social media what I’m watching, had no recollection of the flick. This truly was a forgotten movie.

Sabu, who was Mowgli in the original Jungle Book the year before, gets third billing in this 1944 cult classic from Universal after Montez and Hall. Lon Chaney Jr. is also in there as well. The exotic Montez plays dual roles as kidnapped bride and her evil sister, high priestess of Cobra Island, Hall is the heroic groom, and Sabu the plucky sidekick.

Cobra Woman is pretty typical fare for Universal horror of the time had it been in black and white, but the lush and lavish Technicolor raises the bar on this one. The set design and the costumes more than make up for the clichéd story and adequate acting. Well, less than adequate acting for Montez, but her dazzling beauty helps to erase that.

Adventure, horror, romance, musical, and spectacle – why don’t they make movies like this any more? If you get a chance to see it, don’t miss Cobra Woman.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The good news is that it opens in spring of 2010, the bad news is that it’s at Universal…

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StormStruck

Last year we made the mistake of visiting Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. Their Twister ride was a disappointing walk-through with some sorta educational, mostly exploitation footage of tornadoes, followed by them putting a fan on you and getting you wet while watching some amateur special effects fake a tornado on a soundstage. What a waste of time.

On my most recent trip to Walt Disney World’s Epcot we went to a small hidden corner of Innoventions for something called StormStruck. It was about a quarter the size, maybe even less, of Twister and literally blew it away.

Now it’s sponsored by several window and roofing companies as well as The Weather Channel, so at times it does seem like an infomercial but for the most part it’s all excitement. You’re wearing 3-D glasses on a deck overlooking a virtual reality neighborhood as a terrible storm approaches, and when it does, it feels real. Great stuff! Don’t miss this hidden gem.

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Disney Does It Better


I recently had a chance to visit Universal Studios in Orlando. It was my first time there after visiting Disney World almost a dozen times in the last two decades. I gotta say, I was unimpressed. Universal tries hard, but in most cases not nearly hard enough. It’s all in the attitude.

The rides are fun, but have to stand on their own because the staff just doesn’t support them. Disney characters stay in character and aid to the ‘enchantment.’ I saw a Cyberdyne employee at the Terminator 2 ride chatting with guests about the weather and agreeing with them about how the park’s hours suck. Would an evil corporate employee of an evil mega-corporation about to eradicate mankind really do that?

I personally engaged Doctor Emmett Brown from Back to the Future in a conversation about Kanye West’s new single and how upset he was about the closing of the Adventurers Club, and how he wished he could have “gotten that gig.” Way to break character, Doc. Doc Brown, it should be noted, now that his ride has vanished from Universal, had been exiled to a nuclear-powered tricycle in the vicinity of Mel’s Drive-In from American Graffiti. The fifties, get it? Yep, that’s about the extent of Universal’s originality.

Have you ever tried to get the guides at Disney’s Haunted Mansion to break character? Ain’t gonna happen. You’d have better luck trying to make guards at Buckingham Palace crack a smile. Disney definitely does it better.

NBC’s Kath and Kim – A Sneak Peek

One of the things that differentiates Universal Studios in Orlando from Walt Disney World is the extraordinary number of folks wanting “just a moment” of one’s time to take a survey, watch a timeshare demonstration or just generally waste one’s time. Sometimes, just sometimes, these things are worth it.

I was grabbed on this most recent trip to Universal to watch a new television program and give my opinion on it. Heh, heh, they don’t know me very well. I had to assure them that I did not work for the media – you know, television, movies, newspapers, etc. I took note that they did not mention any form of online media, especially blogging. Like I said, they don’t know me very well.

It was the kind of thing where, just like on “The Simpsons,” you push a green button when you like what you’re seeing and a red button when you don’t like it. There was also a ‘tune out button’ to push when you reach the point where you would normally change the channel as if you’d had enough or became too bored. The program I watched was the yet-to-be-aired second episode of “Kath and Kim,” the new Molly Shannon sitcom vehicle on NBC. I hit that ‘tune out button’ before the title sequence (which I might add, at only a few seconds was one of the few things about the shows I liked).

Surprisingly this is an American version of one of Australia’s most popular sitcoms. Now, either Australian television viewers have shockingly lower IQs than Americans, or NBC butchered this adaptation. Judging from the few Aussies I know, I would have to go for the second option. Way to go, NBC, now when are you bringing back “Manimal” and “Supertrain?”

The three leads – Shannon, Selma Blair (who is shockingly bad), and John Michael Higgins (do not watch him jog…) – are at best uninteresting and at worst annoying and nerve-grating. I hated this. Shannon has a daughter and is about to marry again. The whole episode virtually revolves around two premises. One is the constant repetitive joke that Shannon’s character is old, and every bad joke and cliché you can think of is thrown into the mix, and none of it is funny. The second plot (and I shudder to even use the word in this circumstance) involves the concept of misunderstanding, a simple-minded one that is as old as sitcom television itself. Woman sees man with other woman and assumes the worst. Come on, this was ancient when “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners” did it.

There are elements that are fun, but the problem is they are only background details. I liked some of the hip hop music inserted in places and the drag queens at the end were interesting characters – why not make the show about them? I hated her character, but there was no denying the charisma and presence of the unnamed actress who played Angel. She showed promise. Where’s her sitcom? Unfortunately she was barely in the thing, and the rest of the show was unfixable in my opinion.

I guess I picked the wrong day to do this survey. The next one was on the new “Knight Rider” which was being thoroughly hyped by the survey folks and had changes noted that, to me at least, did not sound promising. Val Kilmer as KITT? I had heard that a previous survey was about “My Own Worst Enemy,” Christian Slater’s take on the Jekyll/Hyde concept had received high marks. I would have liked to have seen that. As for “Kath and Kim,” avoid it at all costs when it premieres October 9th.