Actors on Acting – Face to Face

Since 2014, the trade publication Variety has produced a series of television specials appearing on PBS SoCal called Variety Studio: Actors on Actors. Each program has actors talking to actors about their work and experiences with no moderator or audience, just the actors. The 11th and current season, which I stumbled across recently while searching for more roundtable discussions, has a pair of actors conversing in each episode of 30 to 50 minutes. I haven’t watched all of them in their entirety yet, but based on what I have seen, they’re excellent. I find it fascinating to hear these conversations, which feel unrehearsed and spontaneous. Of course, they are actors, but I want to believe.

Here are ten conversations. Each actor has had at least one feature film released in 2019. Many of the actors and/or the films have already received awards, and have been nominated in various categories in the upcoming Academy Awards presentation. These films are either still playing in theaters or available for streaming. And away we go!

Each film listed was released in 2019.

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Brad Pitt (Ad Astra, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)

Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems)

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Chris Evans (Avengers: Endgame, Knives Out)

Scarlette Johansson (Avengers: Endgame, Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story)

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Kristen Stewart (Charlie’s Angels, Seberg)

Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy)

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Alfre Woodard (Clemency)

Cynthia Enrivo (Harriet)

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Eddie Murphy (Dolomite Is My Name)

Antonio Banderas (The Laundromat, Pain and Glory)

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Robert Pattinson (The King, The Lighthouse)

Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)

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Taron Egerton (Rocketman)

Awkwafina (The Farewell)

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Tom Hanks (Toy Story 4, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

Renée Zellweger (Judy)

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Florence Pugh (Little Women, Midsommer, Fighting with My Family)

Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart)

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Adam Driver (Marriage Story, The Report, The Dead Don’t Die, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Charlize Theron (Bombshell, Longshot)

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Okay, I think that’s enough for now. See you next time. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Feature films, Fiction, Film | 5 Comments

Directors Roundtable 2020: Scorsese, Gerwig, Baumbach, and more – This is great!

Yesterday I started watching a new Directors Roundtable presented by The Hollywood Reporter. I had the idea of including it as a supplemental item to my roundup of feature films for 2019, but the more I watched it, the more I got hooked and realized I didn’t want to wait to put it out there. It’s a really great discussion of films and filmmaking between six directors who have new films in release that have been getting a lot of attention. Their ages range from 36 (Greta Gerwig & Lulu Wang) to 77 (Martin Scorsese). Age doesn’t seem to make any significant difference in how they express themselves, which is open and articulate. These are all very smart people. It’s stimulating and exciting to hear them talk. Of course, Scorsese has had a lot more time to create a large body of work, starting in 1963 with short films at NYU. As such, he has elder statesman (or statesperson) status in this group. His presence here really raises the bar, since he’s arguably the greatest living American filmmaker working today.

This roundtable is moderated by Stephen Galloway of The Hollywood Reporter. Roundtables in recent years have focused on actors, screenwriters, cinematographers, and so forth.  They are available on YouTube.

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Here are the directors who participated this year, along with some of the films they’ve made, to provide context, if needed.

Fernando Meirelles

City of God (2002)

The Constant Gardner (2005)

The Two Popes (2019)

Todd Phillips

Old School (2003)

The Hangover Trilogy (2009 – 2013)

Joker (2019)

Lulu Wang

The Farewell (2019)

Noah Baumbach

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Frances Ha (2012)

Mistress America (2015)

Marriage Story (2019)

Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird (2017)

Little Women (2019)

 Martin Scorsese

Mean Streets (1973)

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Raging Bull (1980)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Goodfellas (1990)

Casino (1995)

The Departed (2006)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Irishman (2019)

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Finally, here’s the video itself. It runs 65 minutes. I wish it was longer.

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Stay tuned for my recaps of last year’s feature films, documentaries, and television. — Ted Hicks

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Happy New Year 2020- Part 2

Here’s some stuff I didn’t have when I put yesterday’s post together. I could save it until next New Year’s, but if the presidential election goes sideways, I might be in the hills with the Resistance. But more likely I’d be cowering in the tub, all cognitive functions fried, so why take a chance?

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Like I said before, HAPPY NEW YEAR! — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Art, Books, Documentaries, Feature films, Fiction, Film, Film posters, Streaming, TV & Cable | 4 Comments

Happy New Year + Things to Come

Usually I’ll do a Happy New Year post by just putting up a bunch of random stuff like this…

or this…

But this year I thought that instead I’d list some of the films I’m looking forward to in 2020. I have hopes for all of these, but you never know. Though in the case of three of them, I do, since I’ve already seen them.

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The Rhythm Section (Reed Moreno, director)  Looks like a revenge story, nothing new there, but the trailer got my interest, plus I like Blake Lively and Jude Law. The Rhythm Section opens on January 31.

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Emma (Autumn de Wilde, director)  The title character is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who has a rather other-worldly look. I remember her well from a very interesting and nasty little film titled Thoroughbreds (2017). Plus I’ll see anything with Bill Nighy in it. Emma opens on February 21.

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Underwater (William Eubank, director)  From the trailer this looks to be yet another horror thriller with “gotcha!” jolts. At least, that’s how the trailer sells it. Alien underwater. The attraction for me is Kristin Stewart, who gets more interesting with every film. French actor Vincent Cassel is also in it. Familiar set-up, but it’s all in the telling. Underwater opens on January 10.

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The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell, director & writer)  Elizabeth Moss is the draw for me here. I doubt there’s much left of H.G. Wells, but we’ll see.

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Les Misérables (Ladj Ly, director & co-writer)  Looks very tough. This film has already received many nominations and awards in numerous international film festivals. It opens here on January 10.

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, director & writer)  I saw this during a limited run earlier this month. It’s extraordinary, a film by women about women that feels quite different. Men are present more by their absence than anything else. It opens on February 14, which will make for a very interesting Valentine’s Day.

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Wendy (Behn Zeitlin, director & co-writer)  Anyone who saw Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) will know to expect something different in what appears to be a radical re-imagining of Peter Pan. Wendy opens on February 28.

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Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello, director & writer)  I saw this at the New York Film Festival a few months ago and knew it was special. This is not the kind of zombie movie we’ve come to expect since Night of the Living Dead changed the game in 1968. This feels more like the real deal. Switching back and forth between Haiti in 1962 and an elite girls’ school in present-day France, Zombi Child is a deeply unsettling film. It opens on here on January 24.

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The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, director & writer)  I also saw this at the New York Film Festival and loved it, as I had this director’s earlier film, Police, Adjective (2009). Both films are concerned with language and modes of communication and they’re both terrific. The Whistlers is also noir to the hilt. As A.O. Scott wrote in his New York Times review, “If the Coen Brothers were Romanian, they might have made The Whistlers.” Indeed. It opens on February 28.

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No Time to Die (Cary Joji Fukunaga, director)  I mean, come on, it’s JAMES BOND! Sam Mendes did a great job with the two previous Bonds, especially Skyfall. I wish he’d directed this one, but I liked what Fukunaga did with True Detective on HBO, so I’m hopeful.

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Wonder Woman 1984 (Patty Jenkins, director & co-writer)  I liked the first one that Jenkins made in 2017. Gal Gadot was stupendous in the title role, and I have high expectations (always risky) for this sequel, which opens on June 5. Chris Pine, another actor I like a lot, is also back, though his character appeared to have died a glorious sacrificial death in the first film. I guess you’re never really dead in these films. Okay with me.

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Tenet (Christopher Nolan, director & writer)  Nolan is one of those directors, such as Michael Mann and David Fincher, whose films seem to have actual, physical weight. You can feel it. Very few details about Tenet have been revealed, but from the trailer it seems that some aspect of time travel may be involved. Dunkirk is a hard act to follow, but I’m sure Nolan is up to it. Tenet opens on July 17.

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That ends the previews portion of the program. All that’s left is to wish everyone HAPPY NEW YEAR! See you next decade. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Feature films, Film | 3 Comments

“Shooting the Mafia” – Supplemental

KIM LONGINOTTO – Director

(From press notes provided by Cohen Media Group, the film’s distributor)

Kim Longinotto is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker, well known for
making films about female outsiders and rebels. Among her 20 films, she has followed a teenager struggling to become a wrestling star in
Gaea Girls (2000), looked at runaway girls in Iran in Runaway (2001), challenged the tradition of female genital mutilation in Kenya in The Day I Will Never Forget (2002), introduced Cameroon female judges in Sisters in Law (2005) and brave South African child advocates in Rough Aunties (2008), shown women standing up to rapists in India in Pink Saris (2010), and told the story of an Indian Muslim woman who smuggled poetry out to the world while locked up by her family in Salma (2013). Longinotto’s most recent film, Dreamcatcher (2015), looks at the life and work of an ex-prostitute who rescues Chicago girls from the street.

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DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

(From the press notes)

Letizia Battaglia is a gifted photographer and an irreverent woman. In SHOOTING THE MAFIA, we explore the story of this remarkable Sicilian, who has defied male authority, her society’s culture and the all-pervasive Mafia, her entire life.

Letizia not only challenged and infuriated the Mafia by bravely photographing their crimes, but was also outspoken at a time and in a place where this was unheard of.

We were determined to make a film that could do her justice. Working with our wonderful editor, Ollie Huddleston, we have woven together archive, classic Italian films, Letizia’s home movies, on-the-spot TV news, and our own filmed footage to take the audience on a journey through the life of this passionate woman.

Letizia’s photographs are astonishingly graphic but they also, strangely, have a kind of heart- stopping beauty. You can sense the resolve of the person behind the lens, a kind of clear-eyed reckoning of unpunished crimes. She is standing up to the bullies and showing great courage to reveal their cowardice.

She is my hero for doing that. – Kim Longinotto

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Luciano Liggio was a big shot in the Sicilian Mafia. Guess which one he is in the photo below, taken by Letizia Battaglia (Hint: He’s the guy in a shiny suit and dark glasses, sucking on a cigar. Not too obvious.)

Letizia talks about Liggio in the following clip.

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LETIZIA BATTAGLIA

(From the press notes)

Letizia Battaglia was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1935. Married at 16, she took up journalism after her divorce in 1971, while raising three daughters. She picked up a camera when she found that she could better sell her articles if they were accompanied by images and slowly discovered a passion for photography. In 1974, after a period in Milan during which she met her longtime partner, photojournalist Franco Zecchin, she returned to Palermo to work for the left-wing L’Ora newspaper until it folded in 1990.

Battaglia (the name means “battle” in Italian) took close to 600,000 images as she covered the territory for the paper. Over the years she documented the ferocious internal war of the Mafia, and its assault on civil society. Battaglia sometimes found herself at the scene of four or five different murders in a single day. Battaglia produced many of the iconic images that have come to represent Sicily and the Mafia throughout the world. She photographed the dead so often that she was like a roving morgue. “Suddenly,” she once said, “I had an archive of blood.” Her photographs were described by the New York Times as “by turns gruesome, haunting, tragic and, often, achingly poetic.”

Battaglia also became involved in women’s and environmental issues and the rights of prisoners. For several years she stopped taking pictures and officially entered the world of politics. From 1985 to 1997 she held a seat on the Palermo city council for the Green Party. She was instrumental in saving and reviving the historic center of Palermo. She founded a publishing house, Edizioni della Battaglia, and still publishes a monthly journal for women, Mezzocielo.

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In my previous post on this film, I neglected to mention the excellent music score by Ray Harman, as well as the inspired use of two versions of the classic song, “Volare.”

Also, in addition to opening on Friday, November 22 at the Quad Cinema in New York, Shooting the Mafia is also opening the same day in Santa Monica, CA.

On Friday, November 29 it opens in San Francisco at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema; in Washington, DC at the West End Cinema;  and in Phoenix, AZ at the Harkins Shea 14.

Big thanks to Susan Norget at Susan Norget Film Promotions for this updated release information, and especially for the screener link that enabled me to see Shooting the Mafia again, which provided an abundance of detail I would not have otherwise have had, and hopefully made this a better piece.

That’s all for now. See you at the movies. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Art, Books, Documentaries, Feature films, Film, Film posters, History, Home Video, photography, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

“Shooting the Mafia” – An Archive of Blood

“I was saved by photography. I was a young, intelligent, desperate woman. My encounter with photography allowed me to express my thoughts, my rebellion, my social and political commitment.” — Letizia Battaglia

This astonishing documentary, directed by Kim Longinotto, is focused on the remarkable career and life of Letizia Battaglia, an Italian photographer and photojournalist best known for her coverage of the Mafia in her native Palermo, Sicily during the blood-soaked 1970s and 1980s. Letizia narrates the film throughout in voice-over and on-camera interviews, telling her story openly and directly. She doesn’t pull any punches. Archival footage and clips from classic Italian movies are used to support and comment on what she tells us. This film is more of a portrait of Letizia Battaglia than it is about the Sicilian Mafia, though that’s the most sensational aspect of her story.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this piece are hers from the film.

Letizia was born in 1935 in Palermo. She describes a key event from her childhood. As a young girl, when she left the house on her own for the first time, a man exposed himself to her and masturbated. She ran home in shock. She wasn’t allowed out any more. “They stopped me from living, from growing. I was stunted. My father forced me to stay at home. He took away my freedom. All my dreams were shattered like a china cup on the floor. Why do such small things make us suffer all our lives. That awful man in the shadows. To have a father who controlled your whole life. I couldn’t go on the balcony in case a man saw me. All fathers at that time were obsessed. They were scared of other men who’d take their daughter away.”

Ironically enough, she met her future husband on the street. He was rich and eight years older than Letizia, who was sixteen. They married and had three daughters, but she was not happy. Like her father, her husband was controlling. She wanted to go to school, but he wouldn’t let her. She had greater ambitions. “I didn’t want to be just a mother.” They divorced in 1971.

Letizia began taking photographs at age 40. She got a job with L’Ora, a left-wing newspaper in Palermo. She was the first female photographer in Italy to work for a daily paper. “Little by little, I realized I preferred taking photos to writing. I didn’t want to be a journalist. With photography, I could tell my own story. I could feel it rather than understand it… I loved the way I could express myself with a camera rather than writing. I slowly fell in love with it… I loved being a photographer, showing what I’d seen, what I felt inside.”

“At first, I didn’t think about the Mafia. I thought I’d photograph children, women, streets…anything but the Mafia. Three days after I started, I witnessed my first murder. This was a story that lasted 19 years at the newspaper in Palermo.”

“At times, there were 5 murders a day. Once there were 7, all in the same place. We’d never known a slaughter like it. It was civil war in Palermo. In one year, they killed about 1,000 people. Every day I thought they might shoot me. I got used to it, accepted it. They smashed my cameras. I was spat at. I got death threats over the phone. I got anonymous letters. It was good to be a bit crazy. It gave me courage. I am brave, I see that now.”

When Letizia Battaglia says she is brave, this is a statement of fact, rather than ego.

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“There were times when fear took over. I don’t want to think about pain. My photos of the Mafia, of the dead. I wanted to burn them…I dreamed of burning my negatives, but I have no right. I want to take away the beauty that others see in them. I want to destroy them… I look at my photos, it’s just blood, blood, blood.”

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“Kids dream of being important. Perhaps being a killer is a game, but it’s how they hope to be powerful. The killer is a symbol for them.”

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I made a note when I saw it that the film is like a thriller. It becomes most like one when the Mafia starts killing judges. At first, it was Mafia killing Mafia. Later, they killed men from the establishment. “First, they killed Judge Scaglione. Then it was one after another. It was too much.” Another judge was murdered near her newspaper office. We meet Judge Giovanni Falcone, who brought hundreds of Mafia members to court. A huge Mafia trial in Palermo in 1987 had 474 defendants who observed the proceedings from cages in the back and sides of the courtroom. This footage is something to see.

Letizia refers to  Falcone as a modern hero.“We kept telling him, ‘They’ll kill you.’ He’d say, ‘Don’t worry. If I die, others will take my place.’”

Falcone, his wife, and a number of his bodyguards were killed in a highway bombing on May 23, 1992. Two months after Falcone’s death, his close friend and colleague Judge Paolo Borsellino was killed on July 19.

Paolo Borsellino (left) & Giovanni Falcone (right)

Letizia says of Falcone’s death, “I couldn’t take any photographs. I didn’t want to tell any more stories in blood. I loved Falcone so much. He was one of the really good people. I couldn’t photograph him dead. Now I think, ‘Why not?’” And then, to the off-camera film director: “Why are you making me think about this? I don’t want to. I realize now I’ve never been at peace. It’s always been like this. My life has always been a struggle.”

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Letizia Battaglia comes across as a definite piece of work, a truly individual character, a force of nature. She’s pursued her life with passion and enthusiasm, and a strong sense of justice. Someone says in the film, as we see Letizia being warmly greeted by people on the street, “Letizia is a legend. A flash of red hair, bobbing up and own at rallies. She’d always cause a stir.”

“It’s nice when your work is appreciated, but success tires me out. I prefer love. Recently I’ve met someone… I was 38 when he was born.” She’s referring to Roberto Timperi, a photographer. They’re together now. A previous long-term relationship was with another photographer, Franco Zecchini, who was 22 when he met Letizia in 1974 when she was 40.

Letizia with Franco Zecchin

Letizia with Roberto Timperi

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“I don’t feel guilty. I know my behavior hasn’t pleased my children, my lovers, my friends, but I’m not guilty of anything. I was committed to my work. I did my best. People who disapproved can fuck off.” (Like I said, she doesn’t pull any punches.)

“In my mind, I feel more powerful than ever. Stronger and more powerful. I think it’s beautiful being this old. I don’t miss anything. My mind’s sharp. I’m not afraid of the end. I’m so strong. I’m not afraid of the end.” She gives a small laugh and smiles at the camera, chin resting on her folded hands.

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After describing Shooting the Mafia to my wife Nancy, she said it sounded like a film that would only be made by a woman. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but she’s right. I can’t overstate my enthusiasm for this film. I hope that comes through in this piece. — Ted Hicks

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Suddenly, I had an archive of blood.” — Letizia Battaglia

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Shooting the Mafia opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday, November 22.

Posted in Art, Books, Documentaries, Film, Film posters, History, Non-Fiction, photography, TV & Cable | 2 Comments

The Family Frankenstein – Etc.

Here are a few more Frankenstein-related items to close out this series. I couldn’t resist. The first of these is a brief interview with Boris Karloff from 1963 regarding his role as the Monster in the original Frankenstein (1931). I had intended to include this in “The Family Frankenstein — Supplemental,” but didn’t realize I hadn’t until several hours after posting it yesterday. At that time I added it to the post, but am re-posting it here for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s only about three and a half minutes long, but very interesting.

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Son of Frankenstein (1939) was originally planned to be filmed in color. Here is a color test that was shot with Karloff to see how it would look. Watch Karloff stick out his tongue  at the camera near the end. They obviously decided to go with black and white. A good choice.

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Christopher Lee speaking about Boris Karloff in 1991.

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Jack Pierce, who did the makeup for many of the classic Universal monsters, designed the Frankenstein Monster with input from director James Whale. The Monster’s face is one of the most recognizable in the world. Here are shots of Pierce and Karloff in the midst of many lengthy makeup sessions. These remind me of a weird barber shop.

 

 

 

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In 1983, Marvel Comics published an edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with 47 full-page illustrations by Bernie Wrightson. A new edition was released by Dark Horse Comics in 2008. Anyone who has seen Wrightson’s work in comics knows how amazing it can be. Here is an example from Frankenstein. Stand back.

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This is an intelligent overview  — with excellent clips — of the entire Universal Frankenstein series.

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I’ll close with this. It’s very nicely done. HAPPY HALLOWEEN! — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Comics, Documentaries, Feature films, Fiction, Film, Film posters, History, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment