Pompeii: The Movie

Pompeii was an interesting movie. I can see why the critics trashed it; the acting was not spectacular and there was way too much overblown drama and not much more than a sappy, derivative plot. That said: I lived in Naples for around 18 months, right under the shadow of Vesuvio. I spent many hours wandering the byways of both Pompeii and Herculaneum, trying to imagine what life was like there, and what the catastrophe must have been like. Seeing those ash-cast sculptures that used to be real, live people in the museum is terribly haunting; the CG representation of the eruption and its (possible) effects on the city was chilling in the extreme, because however it looked, it would have been terrifying.

Pompeii - December 1970 - 14

 Ash cast of a victim.

Pompeii - December 1970 - 10

 Pompeii – Temple plaza

Jun 1971 - Herculanium - Vesuvius.jpg

 Herculaneum and Vesuvius in the background. Herculaneum was buried more deeply and by hotter ash than Pompeii, hence has a different feel about it. Much has been learned since I was there in the 70s – at the time, it was thought that Herculaneum was buried by hot mud flows rather than ashfall, but this appears not to be the case.

Pompeii - Snow 1

A very rare day of snow in a Pompeiian courtyard. 1970


The ruins of Pompeii with suburbs of modern-day Naples between it and Vesuvius. It is to be noted that if the mountain ever decides to get its rocks off again, the result could be more catastrophic than the eruption of 79 AD.

In the plus column: Jared Harris, with whom I fell in love as David Robert Jones and Moriarty; he’s always a pleasure to watch. I thought the development of the relationship between Milo and Atticus was one of the more satisfying parts of the film; I’d give it 4 stars out of 10 overall.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Frozen: The masterpiece, the controversies.


Well, after a long wait for Frozen to come to the local budget theater, we finally saw it last night. Heartwarming, uplifting, technically brilliant, visually appealing, musically stunning, I left the movie house with tears in my eyes and a song in my heart. Huge props to everyone who had a hand in the creation of this masterpiece – the Oscar was imminently deserved, and although the wait was painful, but now the itch has been scratched. As soon as it is available on DVD, it will take an honored place in my collection.

Unfortunately, there are some folks who are not at all pleased with the effort. Some think the Sámi culture was minimized and disrespected:


Supposedly the Sámi are “people of color,” and the representation of Kristoff on the right would have been more accurate, but just hop over to Google and search images for the Sámi people, and you’ll see for yourself that they’re a mixed bunch. Click through for a great article about the supposed “whitewash.” As for not including people of color, have a gander at this ballroom scene:


… and those are just the ones I could see at first glance.

I first was introduced to the Sámi when I visited the Norwegian Folklore Museum in Oslo. Up until that time they had not been on my radar – there are so many cultures in the world it’s hard to become acquainted with all of them.



Thanks to Globerider’s blog for the photo.

But they are a proud people with a distinct culture, language, and history, and I was pleased that the opening sequence of Frozen was an example of Joikthe traditional a capella chanting of the Sami people. Wikipedia notes that “Frode Fjellheim is a widely known joiker, known from Transjoik (earlier called Jazz Joik Ensemble). Fjellheim contributed the opening song to Disney’s holiday blockbuster Frozen, the yoik Eatnamen Vuelie (“Song of the Earth”).” If that’s not going right to the source, I don’t know what is.

Last are those who saw ulterior motives and messages in the film. I’m sorry to say that one of these is a member of my own community of faith. Having now seen the film myself, I can go on record as saying that I saw not a hint of “core message” dealing with the LGBT community, bestiality, or satanism. People with too much time on their hands can find virtually anything they look for anywhere, and reveal more about themselves than they do about the subject they are complaining about.

Nobody likes everything. Viggo Mortensen said “If you’re trying to please everyone, then you’re not going to make anything that is honestly yours, I don’t think, in the long run.” The adaptation of “The Snow Queen” that has now become “Frozen” is a unique product of its creators who gave their all to tell a beautiful story, and from where I sit the film is destined to take a high place of honor in the Disney repertoire.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Net is a Myth


In a recent blog post about the feud between Peter Jackson and the Tolkien estate, it was stated,

Like many quarrels in Hollywood, the Tolkien/Warner Bros. spat can be narrowed down to an argument about money. Part of the author’s estate’s contract with the film studio said that a percentage of the profits from any adaptation of Tolkien’s work would go back to them, and it became a bit of a controversy following the release of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. The three movies made a reported $2.9 billion at the global box office, but when those box office totals were combined with project’s expenses, the studio claimed that the movie didn’t make a profit – thus reportedly shortchanging the Tolkien estate. In an interview with Le Monde back in 2012, Tolkien Estate lawyer Cathleen Blackburn recounted, “These hugely popular films apparently did not make any profit! We were receiving statements saying that the producers did not owe the Tolkien Estate a dime.”

This isn’t an entirely rare thing in Hollywood. In 2010, a net profit statement for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (another Warner Bros. film) was leaked and reported that despite the movie’s $934 million box office take, the studio actually lost $167 million when the final calculations were made.

A very revelatory post by The Furious D Show elaborates on the kind of jiggery-pokery that Hollywood studios engage in to avoid having to pay actors and other involved parties, and offers a few well-considered suggestions.

“A major summer blockbuster can, through the magic of ‘colourful accounting’ lose a fortune because the studio’s corporate parent lost money on cattle futures in Argentina. What survives this whittling, or to be more exact, hacking, is called the ‘net profit.’ Except there is never a net profit. The net is a myth. It’s a fantasy. It’s the corporate equivalent of bigfoot. Traces have been reported, but no one has ever actually caught one.”


Stop playing games with the money. Make a plan so that if the film really does make a profit on its own merits, that those profits are divided equitably among all involved. Trust me, playing with the books costs more money than it saves, ask Enron.

Pay actors what they’re worth. I’m not saying that you pay them scraps, but pay them a salary based on their real box-office appeal, not just the number of times Mary Hart drops their name or how many magazine covers they get. It has to be based on bums on seats, and if they are box-office gold, they’re profit more from a intelligently run profit sharing system and won’t demand the immense up front money.

Simplify the business plan. You see when studios offer a mission statement, they always talk about ‘paradigms’ and ‘maximizations’ and other pointless buzzwords that have nothing to do with making movies. The real business plan of a studio is to tell stories and sell stories. Remember that and you can’t go wrong.

For any rational human to believe that the Lord of the Rings, or any Harry Potter movie, actually lost money is to ask one to believe in the tooth fairy. Hollywood and their legions of accountants and attorneys would do well to go back to school for some remedial work in corporate ethics. But I’m not holding my breath.

The Old Wolf has spoken.



A Random Selection of Well-Loved Movies

On my Facebook wall appeared a question thrown out serendipitously:

“What movie could you watch over and over again?”


Had this been reddit, the post probably would have hit the front page. People chimed in from everywhere, and I decided to compile a list. What I discovered was that many of the ones mentioned were also on my best-beloved list (marked with a star) and that now I have an entire raft of ones I need to see, so I can judge for myself.

  • 16 Candles
  • A Christmas Story
  • A Walk to Remember
  • Anne of Green Gables Star
  • Back to the Future Star
  • Breakfast Club
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I prefer the original with Gene Wilder) Star
  • Christine
  • Christmas Vacation
  • Clueless
  • Connie and Carla
  • Dances with Wolves StarStar
  • Dirty Dancing Star
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • Driving Miss Daisy Star
  • Elf
  • Emma
  • Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Facing the Giants
  • Finding Nemo
  • Flash Gordon
  • Footloose
  • Freaky Friday (remake)
  • GardenState
  • Godfather I and II Star
  • Grease Star
  • Groundhog Day StarStar
  • Harry Potter (any) StarStar
  • It’s a Wonderful Life Star
  • Ladyhawke
  • Last Holiday Star (You and I, we know the secret to life. It’s butter.)
  • Little Women Star
  • Lonesome Dove
  • Love Actually
  • Madagascar 2
  • Miracle on 34th Street (remake)
  • Moonstruck
  • Mrs. Doubtfire Star
  • Poison Ivy
  • Practical Magic Star
  • Pretty Woman
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Princess Bride StarStarStar (One does not tamper with perfection.)
  • Return To Me Star
  • Sabrina Star (both versions)
  • Secretariat Star
  • Sense and Sensibility StarStar
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Sound of Music Star
  • Star Wars Star (Yes, I even like the prequels. Sosumi.)
  • Stardust Star (That’s alright, Cap’n, we always knew you was a whoopsie.)
  • Steel Magnolias
  • Sweet HomeAlabama
  • Terror from the year 5000 (SciFi B-flick with a good message. Cheesy but a favorite.)
  • The Help Star
  • The Man from SnowyRiver
  • The Notebook Star
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The Wedding Planner
  • To Sir with Love Star
  • Tombstone
  • Trains, Planes and Automobiles
  • What Happens in Vegas
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • While You Were Sleeping Star
  • White Christmas Star
  • Wizard of Oz Star

And a collection of others from my own favorites (certainly not complete, but for no good reason):

  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Avatar
  • Bicentennial Man
  • Brave
  • Braveheart
  • Brewster’s Millions
  • Capricorn One
  • Children of Men
  • Dark Knight series
  • Enemy Mine
  • Equilibrium
  • Face Off
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Fantasia
  • Fantasia 2000
  • First Wives Club
  • For Richer or Poorer (Now, let’s go scrub the kitchen floor! Ooh, can we??)
  • Frequency (Wife reminded me about this one!)
  • Galaxy Quest (Oh, that’s not right!)
  • Gattaca
  • Ghost Dad (It’s Edith, and it’s a boy’s name!)
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Guarding Tess (Nic Cage’s greatest film, if you ask me)
  • Heart and Souls (Make a difference before the bus comes for you.)
  • Heaven can Wait (either version)
  • Hidalgo (Omar Sharif was awesome)
  • High Road to China (I love Tom Selleck)
  • Indiana Jones (even “nuking the fridge”)
  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • La Dame Folle de Chaillot / The Madwoman of Chaillot
  • La Strada (a Fellini masterpiece) StarStarStar
  • Lawrence of Arabia (breathtaking!)
  • Les 400 Coups (Truffaut: Dark and poignant) StarStarStar
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Lilies of the Field
  • Lord of the Rings StarStarStar
  • Michael Collins
  • Miss Congeniality 1
  • Mr. Baseball
  • Murder by Death (Alec Guinness vs. Nancy Walker – priceless!)
  • Newsies
  • Out of Africa
  • Patch Adams
  • Pay it Forward
  • Pete’s Dragon (because Maine)
  • Pinocchio (Disney’s 2D masterpiece)
  • Quigley Down Under
  • Ratatouille
  • Robin Hood (Costner)
  • Saving Grace (Tom Conti, 1986) StarStarStar
  • Schindler’s List
  • Secret of Roan Inish
  • Silver Streak
  • Sneakers
  • Soylent Green
  • Star Trek (Any and all, even No. 5.)
  • Stargate
  • Tangled
  • The 5th Element
  • The 6th Sense (even if I know the ending)
  • The Associate
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (Original version, of course)
  • The Frisco Kid
  • The Good Earth (Paul Muni)
  • The Green Mile Star
  • The Irishman (Scorsese’s latest triumph. On a par with “The Godfather”
  • The Kid
  • The Last Samurai
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance
  • The Man in the Iron Mask
  • The Mask of Zorro
  • The Patriot
  • The Peaceful Warrior
  • The Pianist
  • The Ultimate Gift
  • Tootsie
  • Toy Story (all)
  • War Games
  • Young Frankenstein
  • You’ve Got Mail

Old-fashioned horror: Mr. Sardonicus

When I was around 8, and living in New York City, my mother – a single mom pursuing an acting career – arranged to have a nanny come over from England to take care of me. Mavis was with us for 4 years, after which she went off to seek her own fortune, married a fine Italian gentleman, and raised a fine American family. She was a lovely lady, and we stayed in touch for 50 years until she passed in 2016.

On one occasion I recall she came back from one of her days off and gave me this card as a souvenir:

Mr. Sardonicus card

The hand was coated in glow-in-the-dark ink, and I thought it was awesome. For what it’s worth, I wish I had been able to keep it, but it got lost somewhere in the passage of time.

Mavis had gone to see “Mr. Sardonicus,” a horror film by William Castle, one of the more flamboyant showmen of the 50’s and 60’s. Castle promoted his films with clever and (for the times) novel gimmicks, of which the “Sardonicus Punishment Poll” was one; for the film “Zotz!” (1962), each patron was given a “Magic” (gold colored, plastic, glow-in-the-dark) coin.

So here I had this great gimmick card, and from the description brought home by Mavis, the film was far too terrifying for a young child. She was probably right – a couple of years earlier I had seen two other horror films and survived, but they gave me nightmares for years. But up until last weekend, I had never seen the film.

I finally got a chance to watch it, and it’s a good thing I hadn’t seen it as a child. For an adult in the 21st century, it was pretty cheesy, but well-done; even though Rotten Tomatoes only gives it a 38% rating, I suspect the numbers would have been higher if it were rated from a 60’s perspective. I’ve seen worse B-grade movies by far.

The movie is based on Ray Russell’s novel Sardonicus.


Guy Rolfe stars as Mr. Sardonicus, a wicked and wealthy count (once a poor peasant who won a fortune in a lottery) whose face was frozen into a hideous grin from the shock of seeing his father’s rotting corpse. Sardonicus hires Sir Robert Cargrave (played by Ronald Lewis), a brilliant doctor who has had great success with muscle massage techniques, to help him. Complicating the matter is the fact that Sardonicus’ wife Maude is Robert Cargrave’s old love. Cargrave travels to Sardonicus’ castle and is met by the dedicated servant Krull, who has a badly-scarred eye. During the course of the visit, Sardonicus explains what happened to him, and threatens to torture his wife (the way he had earlier tortured Krull) if Cargrave will not help him. Cargrave agrees, but even when a highly-radical treatment is a success, Sardonicus is not freed from his torment; in fact, William Castle appears and asks the audience to hold up their glow-in-the-dark cards to indicate mercy or punishment. Regardless of the vote, it appears that the audience has voted for punishment, and the movie ends with Sardonicus facing additional horrors for his evil, horrors administered in part by Krull, who takes the opportunity for a little revenge of his own.


By today’s standards, that sweet face would be considered a cheap effort at horror, but in the 60’s, it was sufficient to send moviegoers into a swoon. But viewed through the lens of historical perspective, this movie was a worthy effort, even if it was quickly slapped together by a man who many considered to be the P.T. Barnum of film-making in his day. I’m glad I finally got to see it, and lay my curiosity about that card to rest.

Nowadays I’m more careful to keep odd bits of memorabilia filed away – I remember when we first rode the Indiana Jones attraction at Disneyland, they were passing out these cards so we could transliterate the Mara inscriptions throughout the ride:


Some day this might be worth a few bucks on eBay, but it will have to be my grandchildren who find out.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

100 top foreign films

This list appeared on a recent poll over at Reddit. Just one sampling, naturally, but I liked the results and thought I’d share them over here.

  1. El laberinto del fauno – Pan’s Labyrinth  2006
  2. Oldeuboi – Oldboy  2003
  3. Cidade de Deus – City of God  2002
  4. Shichinin no samurai – Seven Samurai  1954
  5. Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain – Amélie  2001
  6. Låt den rätte komma in – Let The Right One In  2008
  7. Das Leben der Anderen – The Lives of Others  2006
  8. Det sjunde inseglet – The Seventh Seal  1957
  9. Rashômon – Rashomon  1950
  10. M  1931
  11. Batoru Rowaiaru – Battle Royale 2000
  12. 8½ 1963
  13. Das Boot – The Boat 1981
  14. Lola Rennt – Run Lola Run
  15. Der Untergang – Downfall 2004
  16. Ladri di biciclette – Bicycle Thieves 1948
  17. La Haine 1995
  18. Yôjinbô – Yojimbo 1961
  19. Stalker 1979
  20. La vita è bella – Life is Beautiful 1997
  21. Ran (1985)
  22. Fa yeung nin wa – In the Mood for Love 2000
  23. Kung fu – Kung Fu Hustle 2004
  24. Persona 1966
  25. Wo hu cang long – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2000
  26. Solyaris – Solaris 1972
  27. À bout de souffle – Breathless 1960
  28. Yip Man – Ip Man 2008
  29. La battaglia di Algeri – The Battle of Algiers 1966
  30. Smultronstället – Wild Strawberries 1957
  31. Y Tu Mamá También 2001
  32. Fanny och Alexander – Fanny and Alexander 1982
  33. Les quatre cents coups – The 400 Blows 1959
  34. Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes – Aguirre: The Wrath of God 1972
  35. La Dolce Vita 1960
  36. Ikiru 1952
  37. Bronenosets Potyomkin – Battleship Potemkin 1925
  38. Serbuan maut – The Raid: Redemption 2011
  39. Jodaeiye Nader az Simin – A Separation 2011
  40. Chungking Express 1994
  41. Vals Im Bashir – Waltz with Bashir 2008
  42. Mou gaan dou – Infernal Affairs 2002
  43. Amores Perros 2000
  44. Trois couleurs: Rouge – Three Colors: Red 1994
  45. [Rec] 2007
  46. Män som hatar kvinnor – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 2009
  47. Delicatessen 1991
  48. The Intouchables 2011
  49. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  50. Tôkyô Monogatari – Tokyo Story 1953
  51. Amour 2012
  52. Yīngxióng – Hero 2002
  53. Un prophète – A Prophet 2009
  54. Trois couleurs: Bleu – Three Colors: Blue 1993
  55. Andrey Rublyov – Andrei Rublev 1966
  56. Good Bye Lenin! 2003
  57. La Règle du Jeu – The Rules of the Game 1939
  58. Persépolis – 2007
  59. Ong-bak 2003
  60. Akmareul boatda – I Saw The Devil 2010
  61. Pierrot le Fou 1965
  62. El Orfanato – The Orphanage 2007
  63. Lat sau san taam – Hard Boiled 1992
  64. Trois couleurs: Blanc – Three Colors: White 1994
  65. Das weiße Band – The White Ribbon 2009
  66. Le Samouraï – The Samurai (1967)
  67. Der Himmel über Berlin – Wings of Desire 1987
  68. Irréversible – Irreversible 2002
  69. Caché – Hidden 2005
  70. Salinui Chueok – Memories of Murder 2003
  71. La cité des enfants perdus – City of Lost Children 1995
  72. La Strada 1954
  73. Le scaphandre et le papillon – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
  74. Idi i smotri – Come and See 1985
  75. Los cronocrímenes – Timecrimes 2007
  76. El secreto de sus ojos – The Secret In Their Eyes 2010
  77. Hiroshima mon amour 1959
  78. Les Diaboliques – Diabolique 1955
  79. Tengoku to jigoku – High and Low 1963
  80. Le Salaire de la peur – The Wages of Fear 1953
  81. Goemul – The Host 2006
  82. harakiri – 1962
  83. Festen – The Celebration 1998
  84. Kumonosu-jô – Throne of Blood 1957
  85. La Grande Illusion – Grand Illusion 1937
  86. Jungfrukällan – The Virgin Spring 1960
  87. L’Armees des ombres – Army of Shadows 1969
  88. Jo-eun nom nappeun nom isanghan nom – The Good, The Bad, The Weird 2008
  89. Kakushi-toride no san-akunin – The Hidden Fortress 1958
  90. Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora É Outro – Elite Squad 2 -The Enemy Within 2010
  91. Fitzcarraldo (1982)
  92. Jui kuen II – Legend of Drunken Master 1994
  93. Diarios de motocicleta – The Motorcycle Diaries 2004
  94. 2046 (2004)
  95. Belle de Jour 1967
  96. Tsubaki Sanjûrô – Sanjuro 1962
  97. Roma, città aperta – Rome, Open City 1945
  98. Boksuneun Naui Geot – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance 2002
  99. Zerkalo – The Mirror 1975
  100. Dekalog – The Decalogue 1989

I’ve seen a number of these, but most of them look fascinating. I’ll be keeping my eye out.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Delightful behind-the-scenes shots.

Frankenstein (1931)


Boris Karloff takes tea.

The Princess Bride (1987)


Now remember, this is for posterity…

The Phantom Menace (1999)


Darth Maul practices his macho moves.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)


Hugo Weaving is beside himself. (Sorry, wrong movie)

The Revenge of the Sith (2005)


Hayden Christensen as a crispy critter. Notice the blue-screen mask for his stump.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)


Harrison Ford, prior to getting nuked in the fridge.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011)


Ralph Fiennes with CG markings for his snake-nose and other features.

Like these? Click through for 93 more!

Oh, and one bonus:

Man with a Cloak (1951)

Light Test


A lighting technician checks exposure on Barbara Stanwyck and Joe DeSantis.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Easter Eggs of the Third Kind

In the Udvar-Hazy extension of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, sits the model UFO that was used in filming “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

close encounters mothership

This is what it looked like in the film.

Close Encounters Model

And here is the model. This is one of my pictures – an official shot can be seen at the Smithsonian’s website.

The model was made by Columbia Pictures Corp. in 1977 from wood, plastic and metal; its dimensions are 63″ x 38″ and it weighs 400 lbs. It is a beauty to behold in its own right, but it gets even more fun when you start to pay closer attention.

The builders had a lot of fun putting this thing together; looking closely at the model, one can find tiny hidden smaller models which are not seen when the Mother Ship appears in the film. These models were added by the construction crew as internal “jokes.” They include a Volkswagen bus, a submarine, a tie fighter, the R2-D2 android, a U.S. mailbox, an aircraft, and a small cemetery plot.

I wasn’t able to get shots of all of the Easter eggs, but here are the ones I could get clean pictures of:

Close Encounters Model 2


Close Encounters Model 3


Close Encounters Model 4


Close Encounters Model 5

Tie Fighter


VW Bus sandwiched in the gap. (This picture by Vincegamer over at the Cool Mini or Not forum)

Only R2-D2 was visible in the film itself:


Little things like this make a film even more fun than it already is.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Sal Mineo in a Barrel


May 20, 1958: Actor Sal Mineo says fans stole his clothes and wallet while he was working out at a health club, but after being quoted as saying that he would rather wear a barrel than have a fan accused of stealing, he did just that. Officer Bill Grell is on the right. See more of the story at the LA Times.

Dino (Sal Mineo) faces off with his father, Mr. Minetta (Joe DeSantis – coincidentally my father) in the 1957 film Dino.

Things look grim for Mr. Minetta!

The Old Wolf has spoken.