Friday, October 29, 2010

Scene & Song: An American Werewolf in London and Bad Moon Rising


Looking back at things as I'm wont to do (my daughter and I inherited my mother's nostalgia gene, so I have an excuse), I noted it is almost two years ago today that I published my very first Halloween-dedicated blog post. Hard to believe I've been writing this blog for that long. Among the films noted within the piece, I celebrated one of my all-time favorite werewolf films:
"The 1981 An American Werewolf in London is first on the list. At only 97 minutes, director John Landis created one of the best werewolf films, ever. Effectively moody, and with great bits of American and British humor thrown about, it still holds up well in story, even after a good many years. The one thing about this particular horror genre, that goes back to the original, The Werewolf, is its tragic, sad nature. And, Landis, though remembered for a lot of excesses in his films, recognized this fact when he brought this to the screen. If you saw this in the theater (as I once did), many were more than a little stunned by its final outcome (especially since it's so easy to care for those plucky Yanks). The other wonderful thing about this film is its great soundtrack. Using many of the older, moon-themed songs, this really connected with the pop culture in a way seldom done before. If you've seen this movie, you know what I write about when you recall the use of CCR's Bad Moon Rising as the pre-cursor to Rick Baker's now famous transformation sequence of actor David Naughton. The year 1981 had another solid entertaining werewolf movie, The Howling. But, it is this one that I remember more dearly."
The rest of this post has been updated and moved to my current blog, found here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stephen, Carrie, and Sissy

Having become hooked on horror and Stephen King back in the 70s after reading The Shining, Night Shift and Salem's Lot, I sought out his books every chance I got back then. Plus, when I saw what the auteur Brian De Palma did with the film adaptation of King's first published novel, I had to locate a copy of it from the local library. Carrie was actually the author's fourth novel, but the first one published (in 1974). And, it dealt with a subject that continues to haunt our headlines and landscape.

Critic-Filmmaker-Factotum Bryce Wilson (of the Things That Don't Suck blog), recently wrote a wonderful and insightful review of the 1976 feature film (as part of his grand 31 Days of Horror series this year) and nailed that age-old can of worms with this passage:
"It’s a story that I think, has the best chance out of King’s canon to be damn near eternal. Because as long as there are high schools there are going to know what that furnace of rage that can grow in your belly can feel like. And those who imagine what it would be like if they just let it explode (Or implode. Am I the only one to notice that the only difference between the rash of teen suicides that swept the country recently and the rash of school shootings that happened about twelve years ago is that this time the kids are turning their guns on themselves rather then others? I don’t know what this generational shift means. Or if it can even be termed as a generational shift. I just know that either way it saddens and disturbs the hell out of me.)"
The novel's synopsis (from Stephen King's own website): "The story of misfit high-school girl, Carrie White, who gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers. Repressed by a domineering, ultra-religious mother and tormented by her peers at school, her efforts to fit in lead to a dramatic confrontation during the senior prom." It's easy to say that the novel has remained timely even as the decades continue to tick by (which epitomizes the book's sad subject's strength). For all of its power on the insidious and damaging nature of bullying, I hadn't revisited the novel after that initial read. Sorrow for the subject and its story only explain so much, though. The plain fact is that I've seen De Palma's film numerous of times in the years since I first took the feature and novel in. Why is that? Well, I'd suggest reading Bryce's review of the film for the primary evidence.

For the longest time, I've been of the mind that this was that rare case where the film was better than the source text. I give credit to the skill of writer Lawrence Cohen in adapting King's novel to the screen -- a feat that shouldn't be minimized since a number of the author's book conversions to motion picture pale (to put it mildly). Plus, Brian De Palma's cinematic treatment of the material can't be exaggerated or negated. Finally, Sissy Spacek's performance as Carrie White was the stuff dreams (or nightmare's) are made of. Her Best Actress nomination was not only well deserved, but as IMDB mentioned in their listing of the actress, was "notable in that performances in horror films are rarely recognized by the academy." Ain't it the truth.

I'd heard that publisher Simon & Schuster had released Carrie in audiobook form two years ago this month (as part of the good amount of King's work released to audio this decade). Not only that, it had as its narrator that same Sissy Spacek. And with Bryce's encouragement (who listened to the audio last Halloween), I had to take a second crack at that novel. In the end, my thoughts would come close to mirroring Bryce's own opinion:
"Take it from me. It's phenomenal. So fascinating to listen to her reinterpret the character."
Initially, I wondered if Ms. Spacek, so tremendous in the film as the sympathetic Carrieta, could deliver on the vocal demands of the various characters represented in the novel. I needn't of worried. She accomplished this with ease. Plus, she managed to expand on that singular character in a way that was even more heart-rending (which I truthfully didn't think was possible). Finally, who would have thought she'd also bring a stirring reinterpretation of Carrie's fundamentalist mother, Margaret White (with no disrespect to Piper Laurie's bravura characterization of her in the film). With that in mind, I now think she would have been the better and more inspired choice for that ferocious maternal character in the 2002 TV movie remake (Lords knows that film needed something more). Spacek's audio performance with King's powerful story proved to be a fantastic and one-of-a-kind combination.

Nonetheless, did it make me to reverse my thoughts on the Carrie novel vs. Carrie the film? Simply, no. The same narrative problems still exist in the book (and author King himself does not rate this work as one of his best). My main issue remains the motif of breaking up the story with various news and official or scientific reports (all attempting to explicate and decipher the final horrific events in self-important tones). It didn't work for me back then, nor now. IMO, it was too much of a good thing. Besides, too often it interrupted the momentum King had building throughout the story. Certainly, Sissy Spacek's narration made the literary device more tolerable this time (as well as spurring my desire to get back to those characters). But it was not enough to elevate the material above that of De Palma's visually audacious and streamlined film. His and Cohen's treatment smartly eliminated that ploy. Still, was I glad to revisit this novel 30+ years later for this Halloween season? Answer: Oh, hell yes!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Meme of 15 (Directors)

John Carpenter
As my friend J.D. (over at RADIATOR HEAVEN) recently wrote about a particular meme that has arisen in the ether:
"This 15 Directors meme originally started on Facebook and has now found a life of its own in the blogosphere."
J.D. put together one pretty fantastic list in his 15 Directors Meme post of today. As usual, this blogger never fails to inspire. So, I'll be partaking (natch). We share some directors in our own lists, including the one headlining this post. No surprise in that this blogger had an extraordinarily successful John Carpenter Week blogathon of his own a short while back.

Here then are the simple rules for anyone who'd like to join in:
  • List off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you.
  • Don't take too long to think about it.
The rest of my list that came pretty quickly into my head (and in no particular order):
Tim Burton
Alfred Hitchcock

Brian De Palma
Anthony Mann

Akira Kurosawa
Sergio Leone

Michael Mann
Ridley Scott

Clint Eastwood
Steven Spielberg

Quentin Tarantino
Howard Hawks

William Wyler
Christopher Nolan








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Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Forgotten Song: Riders on the Storm by The Doors

Two things drove me to write this. The first started the idea fermenting in my sub-conscious (something my wife thinks happens way too often and too much below the surface for her comfort). The second simply inspired it to emerge via my fingers on the keyboard. I'll start with the latter since it deserves the shout-out. My good friend (and the only person I know) from one of those tiny northeastern states published a wonderful music post recently. SFF (from the Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic blog) wrote eloquently about the 80's group Cutting Crew and their important Broadcast album from 1986. It's a recommended read. While his primary focus remains all things science fiction, I really enjoy his insights and ruminations on music.

The rest of this post has been updated and moved over to my current blog, found here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Princess Bride Film (and Disc) Review

Though my blogging friend Rachel (from Scientist Gone Wordy) and I have done a small number of what I've termed 'parallel posts' (separate reviews of a specific book and its accompanying film adaptation -- not to be confused with this 'parallel' post) this year, they've been solely from the science-fiction category. That'll change with this one, however. I'll review the 1987 film, The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner. My northern California colleague will set her hand (and mind) to William Goldman's source 1973 fantasy adventure novel of the same name. Coincidentally, I happened to pick up the Blu-ray Disc version of the film just before Rachel suggested it as parallel material. You see... great minds do think alike ;-). Her book review can be found here:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

A brief synopsis of the film: the motion picture opens to a school-age kid, the coughing bedridden variety, playing a vintage video game while he's home sick. All of this to the worry of his mother, and to the lament of his loving grandfather, who's shown up to read a chosen tale to his cherished grandson. The book is entitled The Princess Bride, and tells the classic and adventurous love story of Buttercup and her steadfast beau from childhood, Westley. How true love prevails, through some fantastic perils and danger, is the main story-line of the film.

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film are revealed in this review]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Birthday To A Beautiful Boy

Today my oldest turned 15. For me, nothing is more divinely sobering than that sentence. Since I'm prohibited (by she-who-must-be-obeyed) from posting any likeness of said beautiful boy (no matter his age, he'll forever be that to his old man) on the internet, I'll celebrate it with this:



Since John Lennon would also have turned 70 today, I couldn't think of anything more appropriate.
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Works of Art - John Carpenter Film Posters

During my friend J.D.'s extraordinary John Carpenter Week @ RADIATOR HEAVEN, there have been remarkable contributions by a number of gifted writers and bloggers from all around for this event. Included among their outstanding words, opinions, and insights that have examined the work of this singular director, contributors have amassed some beautiful and often striking stills and screenshots that span Carpenter's filmography. Though studios and producers have a lot of say in selecting the artwork for distribution and publicity, John Carpenter's films have received some stunning graphics to help promote his work through the decades. Here, then, are some of my favorites among the various poster artwork developed (by talented graphic designers) for the man's films.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Celebrating the Escape Artist - John Carpenter

Note: this is my contribution to movie blogger (and good friend) J.D.'s John Carpenter Week @ RADIATOR HEAVEN. If you are a John Carpenter fan, or simply an admirer of cinema, don't miss the great content J.D. will have on hand this week.


Last month, the good folks at American Cinematheque Los Angeles paid tribute to one of my absolute favorite directors with a three-day celebration of his films. Obviously, they must have known about the upcoming John Carpenter Week my good friend J.D. was landing this week over at his brilliant movie blog, RADIATOR HEAVEN.  Here's how that viewer supported, non-profit moving picture organization describes this director:
"For the past four decades, director John Carpenter has created some of the most consistently entertaining and brilliantly crafted films in American cinema, from his savage urban western ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, through his chiller HALLOWEEN and his adrenaline-fueled action epic ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Carpenter’s films have shown an amazing consistency, creating wickedly modern twists on traditional genres (THE THING) without losing playfulness or individuality. As his career has progressed, Carpenter has shown the range of a classical studio director, helming not only action and horror films but love stories (STARMAN) and even a philosophical comedy (MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN). Yet for all his old-school craftsmanship, Carpenter is first and foremost a maverick with a fiercely independent sensibility and a willingness to confront contemporary America's most troubling social and political issues. In addition to his work as a director, Carpenter has written the screenplays and composed the soundtrack music for almost all of his movies."
The September 17-19th weekend celebration (American Cinematheque's second such observance for the director; the first occurred in 2008) included a rich and wide collection of Carpenter films at their renovated flagship location, The Egyptian Theatre. That Saturday bill of Big Trouble in Little China and They Live surely entertained the faithful, and the director's seminal pair of The Thing and Halloween must have closed out Sunday's showing in high style. As much as I wanted to attend each session of the tribute, family obligations would allow only one night at this. That meant only one option for me. I was going to Friday's Escape From New York and Escape From L.A. double feature because J.C. himself was going to be there for the discussion. Here are the highlights from that special evening.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Personal Review - The Visitor

Blogger's Note: this post originally appeared at Will's Secure Immaturity blog as part of his most excellent DS9 Week, a tribute to the greatness that is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you haven't gotten a chance to check out the series, please do so. Whether you are into Sci-Fi or Star Trek (or not), it is well worth the time.



Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Episode Title: The Visitor
Episode #: 74
Season: Four
Star Date: 49011.4
Original Airdate: October 9, 1995
Written by: Michael Taylor
Directed by: David Livingston

It may sound cryptic, but this one will be hard. Please bear with me. Having been someone who started watching Star Trek (the original series) as a kid, a lot of my memories got tied up with what I've seen on TV. Especially those that intrigued my imagination. When they disturb upon other memories, though, they begin to make an impression on my psyche. Moving from one series to another (whether it's sci-fi related or not) caused not so much disconnects, but cross circuits in my remembrances. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end in May 1994, Paramount had its replacement already in play. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was introduced on January 3, 1993, and was one of the last things conceived before (ST originator) Gene Roddenberry's death.

A spin-off of ST:TNG, DS9 was centered around a space station (a leftover of the former Cardassian Occupation) rather than another Federation starship galavanting its way around the galaxy. Having a wormhole nearby, through which a new and unknown section of the galaxy (the Gamma Quadrant) came within reach, there were plenty of story opportunities for science fiction exploration. Both the personal and the political varieties (including opportunities for commenting on current conflicts) opened up right along with the new series (byway of its new blank slate).

What I found fascinating with this new series (back then in the 90's), besides the ensemble nature of how it used its cast, was that the command chair was now manned by a father. This was a first for the head in a Star Trek series. In this case, he was someone who not only had to lead and attempt to solve the issues of close-quarter politics, religion, and the clashing of multiple cultures (along with their hatreds and schisms) on a frontier outpost, but serve as a guide and lone parent to his son on his journey to adulthood. The backstory was both the father and the son lost the wife/mother unit to The Borg at The Battle of Wolf 359. This dynamic made Benjamin Sisko (and his son, Jake) quite memorable. And one episode in particular really brought that home. When I wrote my earlier, personal blogpost which reviewed the Remember Me episode on Star Trek: TNG, my sub-conscious knew that I'd have to approach the flip-side of that parental memory in exploring another episode in the Star Trek anthology. Secure Immaturity's DS9 Week made me face up to this latency. This was a good thing. In some ways, though, it is just as painful.

This post has been moved and updated to my current blog, which can be found here.