31 December 2006

My Top DVDs Of 2006: Television Pt. 1

The Best Moments Of The Amazing Kreskin
(VCE Inc., 3 discs)

This three-disc set compiles nearly nine hours of the World’s Foremost Mentalist’s years on Canadian television from 1971 to 1977, which began as The Amazing World Of Kreskin (from 1975-77, it was retitled The New Kreskin Show) and was produced at Ottawa, Ontario’s CJOH Studios (where Bill Luxton, of Uncle Willy And Floyd infamy, served as Kreskin’s Ed McMahon-slash-Jim Fowler, steering the largely college-age audience members through their polyester-clad paces). Kreskin pretty much commanded the first season on his own, bounding into the audience rows Donahue-style to decipher Social Insurance Numbers, "mind-read" their playing card selections (always a fresh deck!), and lead draftees into experiments in table tilting and Jack Bergerac’s old arm-twirling shtick from The Hypnotic Eye. His first wave of guests was limited to such otherworldly oddballs as prolific paranormal phenom Sybil Leek (she pleads tolerance for modern druids and tells of meeting H.G. Wells and Lawrence Of Arabia as a child) and former-wife-of-Lex-Barker turned psychic/astrological columnist Arlene Dahl.

The program became such a hit that by its next season, it was second to Hockey Night In Canada as the most watched homegrown series. The star power, such as it can be defined under these terms, grew comparatively to include such tax-shelter-era staples as Robert Vaughan (warming up for Ed Hunt’s Starship Invasions perhaps?), Patrick MacNee (in Toronto shooting The New Avengers with Joanna Lumley, enthusing over Langella’s stage turn as Dracula), Loretta Switt, Nipsey Russell, The King Of Kensington (and then-CanCon icon) himself Al Waxman (Americans will know him from Cagney And Lacey and William Fruet’s Death Bite), William Shatner (who would appear four times during a career low point that would have him doing spots for the Canadian grocery chain “Loblaws” while Roddenberry prepped umpteen versions of his Star Trek revival), and even Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who was the co-founder of Project: Bluebook and an advisor on Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (in which he can be glimpsed in a cameo).

Considering the age of the episodes and the fact that the series was entirely stage bound and recorded live, the overall video/audio quality of the set is more than adequate—the image is soft (the transfers are reportedly direct from the original masters) but the programs seem complete despite the odd reference to an event from an episode not included in the compilation (for reasons unknown). Kreskin (born George Joseph Kresge, Jr., but whose legal name is “The Amazing Kreskin, btw) comes off witty and eminently likeable with a gangly, disarming rapport with his audience and C-list celebrity guests that was no doubt essential to his apparent “abilities”—in the same era that could make Sonny Bono a star it’s not too much of a leap to conceive that this bespectacled beanpole could enchant a nation week-in, week-out. What’s interesting (and admirable, considering his seemingly inexhaustible supply of true believers) is that he vocally dismisses any notion of his illusions as the result of some supernatural power, and repeatedly reminds the viewers that his apparent “gifts” are nothing more than a refined aptitude for slight-of-hand and deduction based upon information from the participants that is willing, if unconsciously, offered. At the time, he was offering $50,000 (Canadian?) to anyone who could prove he utilized “plants” in his audience (Luxton would choose Kreskin’s participants by chucking golf balls over his shoulder into the seats)—presumably, the offer still stands today.

If three discs—which include engaging and lucid commentary from the still-at-it Kreskin himself--aren’t enough, the collection comes with a mini-reproduction of the vintage Milton-Bradley board game “Kreskin’s ESP”, which was originally released in 1967 (before headlining his own series, he was a popular fixture on Steve Allen, Mike Douglas, and The Tonight Show) and was a huge bestseller (I was tempted to fork out nearly a hundred smackeroos for it at a memorabilia show until my significant-other talked me out of it). The gem that comes with the game’s “mystery” pendulum had to be manufactured in India and delayed the set’s release for months—note that this pressing is limited to 3000 copies and will eventually be replaced by a 2-disc set sans game repro.

21 December 2006

No Matter What, It'll Be Better Than "Freejack"...

Well blow me down!--here's the first shot of Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow's poopdeck pappy in the third and reportedly final chapter in the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" saga--arguably the worst kept "surprise" since Spock's death in "Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan". The studio has been ordering sites to take down the still, so now's my chance to see just how off the radar I really am!

Richards appears suitably leathery and pickled here in what I believe to be his first "acting" role since 1967, when he played the Marquess Of Queensbury at the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde in The Rolling Stones' little-seen music video (before they were called music videos) "We Love You".
All I know is, it makes for a powerful argument against releasing first run films in the Imax format ...

15 December 2006

Wonder Where They'll Insert The Joel Siegel Blurb?

Geez Louise--can you believe that this is the teaser poster for Eli Roth's in-production "Hostel 2"? Yes, apparently, this is legit--I wonder if there'll be a lenticular variant? I'm looking forward to seeing this one up at theatres soon--an alternative to all those Photoshop'd heads would be welcome no matter what the image (how come no one's hiring Drew Struzan?)--although some dim-witted patrons might mistake it for the Taco Bell menu. This is definitely the most delightfully disgusting poster since the one for Tobe Hooper's "The Funhouse" (which I had on my bedroom wall for most of my teenage years)...and the crimson hues would go well with the terra cotta red in my living room...

13 December 2006

Farewell, Peter Boyle (1935-2006)

Peter Boyle, one of our greatest character actors (who first aspired to become a Christian monk!), passed away last night in New York. He'll be forever known to generations of sitcom viewers as the erzatz father of Ray Romano, but film buffs will remember him for his dramatic work in John Avildsen's "Joe" (you could buy an LP in the early 70s which contained Boyle's uber-conservative rants set to music), Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" (he was The Wizard, after all), and let's show a bit of love for Peter Hyam's underappreciated Introvision-era "High Noon" in space: "Outland" (where Boyle was the heavy opposite Connery's interplanetary marshall).

In comedies, he was never less than hilarious: remember his turn as the showtunes' loving guru in "Honeymoon In Vegas"? Or as Carl Lazlo opposite Bill Murray's Hunter S. Thomson in "Where The Buffalo Roam"? Count me as one of the few who caught the one-time airing of the TV pilot "Poochinski"--a "Turner And Hooch" rip-off in which Boyle's cop dies in the line of duty and comes back in the form of a puppet pit bull terrier, opposite George Newbern.

But this--this (the photo above)--is how I will remember him...his crowning achievement less than a decade into his acting career....man, Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" still kills me every time....

07 December 2006

"The Abandoned" Reviewed At Movieforum Blog

Those of you who've seen Nacho Cerda's grisly--but artful--featurettes "Aftermath" and "Genesis" have been anticipating (and some, dreading) his first feature film for some time now--the good news is that it's finally done and due to hit theatres sometime next year. "The Abandoned" may lack the gore of his previous shorts but it makes up for it in dread and intensity, plus, one of the most unnerving and punishing soundtracks I've ever endured. Read my TIFF 2006 review here.

06 December 2006

The Dohler Factor: 1946-2006

Seems like all I do lately is write about another person who's died...but here's someone you've probably never heard of who definitely merits a mention to anyone who grew up making movies in high school at a time when the format wars were between Super 8 and the Polaroid "Instant Movie".

Baltimore filmmaker/publisher/author Don Dohler passed away on December 2 from cancer. While he shared some supporting players with fellow Marylander John Waters (chief among them, the one and only George Stover), Dohler never made it out of the direct-to-video schlock bin, where he seemed to happily toil for most of his career, working with local friends and family in his hometown. In 1976, 30-year old Dohler had a shotgun held at his head during a restaurant robbery--a life-altering experience that inspired him to devote himself to realizing his life-long dream to making movies.

Amazingly, his first feature, 1978's "The Alien Factor", made it to the cover of Forrest J. Ackerman's "Famous Monsters Of Filmland", and while it was quite terrible by any reasonable person's definition, he managed to sell it to Ted Turner's then-new superstation for a profit (riding the s.f. boom launched by "Star Wars") and it became in immediate late-night staple (I'm pretty sure I stayed up to watch it on the CBS Late Movie, which always played the coolest stuff).

I've spent the better part of my adult life ripping Dohler's astonishingly amateurish and ineptly-acted films to shreds for some admitted easy laughs ("you think "Plan 9" was a bad movie? You ain't seen this thing called "Night Beast"!), and perhaps I'm just being sentimental now that he's passed, but I've got to admit that Dohler was something of an inspiring figure to me when I was a high-school Super 8 filmmaker. During an era before AfterEffects, mini-DV, and YouTube, backyard filmmaking was damned hard and expensive work--no matter how grand your vision, you were always fighting the limitations of the technology. Getting an indoor image without blasting the location with floodlights was nearly impossible. There was no "undo" button when you applied your splicing cement incorrectly onto the magnetic soundstripe. A hair in the gate meant you spent another $25 for 3 minutes of film (providing you shot at the cheapy-speed of 18 fps). Hell, you couldn't even show your films to anyone without trucking over a projector and a screen. Some of you know what I'm talking about...

Dohler was a kindred spirit who self-published a magazine (later sold to Starlog Press) entitled "Cinemagic", which for its too-brief run was the Bible for us Spielberg-wannabees. Each issue was packed cover-to-cover with fun and enormously informative how-to's on creating Rick Baker-style latex makeups, constructing stop-motion armatures ala Harryhausen, as well as effective illusions from forced-perspective miniatures, backwound double-exposures, and most importantly to aspiring sleaze merchants like myself, the ideal mixture for stage blood (red food dye and corn syrup, as I recall). Best of all, you could send in a photo, synopsis, and crew list of your film and they'd print it, just like in "Variety"!

My own "Deliverence with zombies" gorefest--"Blood Hunt"--got a mention (but the photo of my friend Colin in rotting ghoul makeup didn't get printed or was lost when someone opened the envelope). Thanks to Dohler, we all felt like real filmmakers! Who care that our movies weren't any damn good? They were fun to make--and that's exactly the way Dohler's so-called "professional" films (straining the definition until you can hear the tendons snapping) should be regarded. In the right mood, some of that spirit could spill over into a reasonably satisfying viewing experience.

After 1985's "The Galaxy Invader", Dohler stopped making films to focus on his day job, editing newspapers and publishing books on low-budget FX. He returned in 2001 with "The Alien Factor 2" (shot as "Alien Rampage"), a sequel in name only (retitled by Fred Olen Ray for DVD release on his Retromedia label). His "Timewarp Films" company, formed in 2000, produced several micro-budgeted thrillers over the years, the latest being "Vampire Sisters".

Here's a fun audio interview with Dohler from Ourmedia.

01 December 2006

Shirley Walker: 1945-2006

More sad news: Film composer Shirely Walker has passed away from a brain aneurism too soon at the age 0f 61. A rare female artist in a field largely dominated by men, Walker spent most of her adult life as a professional pianist (she played synthesizer on the "Apocalypse Now" score, and collaborated with Carmine Coppola on "The Black Stallion") and composer for industrials, commercial jingles, and B-films, before moving into full-time Hollywood work as a conductor for Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer.

Amazingly, when John Carpenter chose Walker to compose the music for his "Memoirs Of An Invisible Man", it marked the first time in Hollywood history that a woman was to write the score for a major feature film.

The bulk of Walker's work was for science fiction, fantasy, and horror projects: she paid her dues on direct-to-video programmers like 'The Dungeonmaster" and "Ghoulies', with Bernard Rose's "Chicago Joe And The Showgirl" as a detour into "respectability" and her first collaboration with Zimmer. Soon, the offers became more high-profile: the "Final Destination" films, Carpenter's "Escape From LA", the "Willard" remake, "Space: Above And Beyond".

For many superhero buffs, her career legacy will be her themes and background cues for "Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm", "Batman: The Animated Series", and "Superman: The Animated Series, in addition to the short-lived "The Flash" live action series--filling the considerable shoes of Danny Elfman and John Williams with passion and artistry. She was set to score the upcoming animated adaption of Darwin Cooke's "DC: New Frontier".

Betweening her own scoring gigs, Walker continued to act as a conductor on other films, includng "True Lies", "Striking Distance", and "A League Of Their Own".

Given the stigma against genre films, Walker's body of work has never been given the recognition and serious study afforded to the other icons of the field, but in time--having found the right mainstream project--I'm sure she would've eventually rose to the esteemed echelon of Elfman, Williams, Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith, Howard Shore, and the late Basil Poledouris, to name but a few.

The upcoming remake of Bob Clark's "Black Christmas" will be her last screen credit.

29 November 2006

The King And "They"...

I'm having a particularly crap day, so I'm in one of those "why is that some people are living lives so much better than mine?" moods. Not that life isn't good--all organs working, no detectable signs of Alzheimers, steady pay, work a five minute walk away with some creativity involved, techno-toys to play with, a wonderful S.I. (significant other) and two adorable felines at home. Plus, enough disposable income to be able to drop $72 at lunch at the Silver Snail comics shop.

But what must it be like to have created one of the most successful and acclaimed television shows in recent history? And on top of it, get to hang out with none other than someone who I consider a God-Amongst-Men: Bangor, Maine's own Stephen King.

"Lost" creators J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindeloff, and Carlton Cuse were hooked up by Entertainment Weekly to meet their idol (whose works, they acknowledge, influences their scripts) who in turn reveals himself to be a huge fan of the show (and before you fire off angry letters to ABC, rest assured that the show isn't on hiatus until Feb. 2007 so they can go hang out with celebs. This interview was conducted in early August).

A few surprises: Bangor residents are fiercely protective of King's privacy and have given out deliberately-wrong directions to tourists, King can travel in public amongst the locals and not be horded, and despite his considerable wealth, he still plays lotto scratch tickets! The day gets capped off with a communal screening of Neil Marshall's superb horror film "The Descent" at the local multiplex.

Live vicariously through these precocious youngsters here at EW's website--it's a great (and necessary) compliment to the print version.

I Am...Out Of Gas?

"I Am Legend" is finally being made--a friend of mine in NYC watched the crew shooting a few weeks ago, and if that isn't proof enough, two advance one-sheet concepts have turned up online. Assuming these aren't fan made fakes, my initial response is...underwhelmed. I'm all for the "soft sell" approach on this one--there's nary a bloodsucker in sight--as Matheson's original tale was one of first-person paranoia and existential malaise against the inevitability of a new world order, although most will remember it for its vampires and action. Will Smith is a fine enough actor, but I can't say I'm 100% crazy about his being cast as Robert Neville (I'm still stinging over the sloppy, schizo "I, Robot"). I'm even less happy about the action being relocated to Manhattan--the tale seemed uniquely wired to LA's sun-baked exteriors and sprawling, mobius-loop highways.

On the plus side, the director is Francis Lawrence, whose loosey-goosey "Hellblazer" adaptation "Constantine" was pretty good, I thought. And you can't beat Matheson's concept, which was ill-served by "The Last Man On Earth" and "The Omega Man". And the New York location will isolate the action to the island, which as we all know worked wonders for John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" (maybe they should toughen Smith up with an eyepatch).

You can check out the poster designs here. Is it just me, or does Smith look like he's pissed and waiting for CAA to arrive?

27 November 2006

Happy Birthday Joe Dante

I can't quite remember when I first became aware of Joe Dante's presence upon the scene--probably about the same time I was discovering that there was a scene. Likely, it was sometime between catching his name in the credits of "Rock and Roll High School" (which he briefly took over when credited director Allan Arkush became ill) and reading about the then-revolutionary new werewolf film "The Howling" in the pages of Fangoria, back when it came with a poster in the middle and stuff you read about in Terror Teletype actually got made. Oh yeah, and then there was my favorite TV show--"Police Squad", unfairly canceled after six episodes, but not before Dante got to helm two.

After months of watching the lobby of Pembroke's nicotine-marinated Centre Theatre for the one-sheet and lobby cards to announce its impending arrival, I eventually caught "The Howling" on a memorable double-bill with Frank LaLoggia's "Fear No Evil" immediately after a shift at my lousy after-school job (that night, I was in charge of clearing the mini-mall parking lot to make room for the Carlsberg Beer show horses--too long a story for right now…). Of course, "The Howling" was nothing like I'd expected and yet everything I hoped it would be at the same time. Movies were like that when you were a teenage film freak in an age before double-dip DVDs, Bit Torrent, and downloadable screenplay PDFs: you went in with the one you've made in your head, you left with the one they gave you. "Good enough" was often...good enough ("could I reproduce this scene in Super 8?" was my barometer of quality). But this was a revelation: a giddy romp through horror movie absurdity that was neither mocking of its founding fathers nor condescending to its audience, chock full of gore and nudity and yet sensitive towards its heroine Dee Wallace Stone's deeply-felt violation, and able to devote screen time ala Altman to even the most minor characters (who can forget John Carradine's tragic Earl, whose mere minutes onscreen tells you everything you need to know about the lonely existence of the lycanthrope? Hell, even director Jonathon Kaplan gets one of the film's funniest lines while pumping gas in a seconds-long cameo).

Of course, its selling point was a dandy: nothing less than the flat-out funkiest monster effects since Ridley Scott's "Alien", courtesy of an all-of-19 Rob Bottin working with some fake fur, some condoms, some hosing, and John Hora's lighting. Above all, it was post-modern before I even knew what the term meant, before I'd briefly lost my way in the Room 101 of Humanities 101 and surrendered my Ackermonster-jhoned alliterations to the heady wangdoodle of Susan Sontag, Mast & Cohen, John Berger, and Northrop Frye (and if I'm not careful, I'll subject you to a relapse here). If only Slim Pickens had read their audiobooks...

Starting with Gary Bradner's largely forgettable paperback, Dante (with writers Terence H. Winkless and a certain John Sayles) tossed the back cover blurb into the Quisinart and concocted up a pop-culture puree that made you feel like you were the only person in the theatre who got it (what would later be termed a meta-film before the advent of Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, whose collaboration "From Dusk Til Dawn" owes several life debts to Dante's early work). It was the first film I was aware of that took place in a movie universe (I hadn't seen "Hollywood Boulevard" or "Piranha" yet), the emulsion grain of its foreground and background crawling with more in-jokes than a Mad Magazine margin, with characters sporting Hammer director namesakes, the smallest walk-on a loaded homage (Dick Miller's supernatural shop owner, Kenneth Tobey's New York flatfoot, Roger Corman looking for change in the phone booth--too much!), a prescient media-indicting coda...le whew...all this plus witty cartoon quotes and enough loup-y puns (of this quality, and far better) to hold up to countless repeat viewings. And believe me, it does--I've owned this thing in every home video format known to man and will likely upgrade to the victor of some as-yet-unforeseen-format war.

BTW: hands-down, the original Image laserdisc ('ported to the DVD--buy it!) offers the most fun audio commentary track recorded ever.

That same year, John Landis' "An American Werewolf In London" would be greeted as an instant horror masterpiece, a revolution in visual effects, and an audacious mix of humour and horror the likes of which hadn't been seen in the mainstream. A fine enough film, sure, but Dante was there first. It's just that his clap-for-the-wolfman didn't get a write-up in Life Magazine, thanks to a major studio distributor, and wore its disreputable heritage like a badge of pride.

An art school major and aspiring cartoonist, Joseph Dante Jr. began his career as a reviewer for the legendary "Castle Of Frankenstein" fan magazine (many of which were later reprinted as "Fleapit Flashbacks" for Tim Lucas' essential "Video Watchdog") and Film Bulletin before editing trailers for Roger Corman's legendary New World Pictures (oh, how I wanted to work there!) and parlaying his enthusiasm and resourcefulness (not to mention willingness to work for next to no money) into a directing career. His official debut (with Allan Arkush) was the hilarious backstage spoof "Hollywood Boulevard", was sold as a softcore skin flick but was in fact both a love letter to the magic of movies and an atomic wedgie to its phony veneer of glamour, seamlessly constructed around stock footage in Corman's library.

He followed it up solo with "Piranha", an intended "Jaws" rip-off that so impressed Spielberg he became Dante's defacto, and far less meddlesome mentor (just ask Tobe Hooper). Amazingly, whereas far more lauded filmmakers like Francis Coppola blame the system for their having to make swill like "Jack", Dante never lost his soul to Hollywood--if anything, his films arguably got weirder once the budgets went up, and consequently seemed weirder because they were made in Hollywood (got that?). His defining segment of the otherwise ill-fated "Twilight Zone: The Movie" was a baroque mindf*ck in the tail end of the summer movie season, ditto his anti-Amblin' "Gremlins" with its celebration of snot and slime and mayhem, and its totally bonkers sequel "Gremlins 2", which still ranks as the loopiest studio-produced mashup since Feldman's "Casino Royale" .

"Explorers", "Innerspace", a segment for "Amazon Women On The Moon", "The Burbs" (Brother Theodore in a mainstream movie!), "Small Soldiers" (any Mego collector can relate), "Looney Tunes: Back In Action" (c'mon, how cool is "Area 52"?)--not all of them home-runs necessarily, but there's not one amongst the bunch that fails to offer at least a twinge of subversion or bad-boy revelry. Like 'em or not, they're his and his alone, stamped not so much with a distinctive visual palette or editing style but with a sensibility--the same way you can tell a Jones from a Freleng or a McKimson from a Clampbett. I would say that Dante's very much like their leading man Bugs Bunny (whom I suspect he would regard as an idol--after all, they share a Jersey accent)--he suffers a lot of fools, is content to take the long way around, stands up to the biggest bully, and always always wins.

He proved that last year with "Homecoming", last year's "Masters Of Horror" installment that pulled no punches in its outrage over the Iraq War (but let's not forget it was brilliantly written by Sam Hamm). Although he'd directed "The Second Civil War" and indulged in more character-driven material with the "Matinee", Dante was suddenly welcomed at the grown-up table--but he'd probably say all he was doing was following in the noble tradition of Jack Arnold, Don Siegel, James Whale, and what-took-ya-so-long? Until now, Dante has never received a serious critical overview, probably because his films have long defied easy categorization (but semiotics majors would have a ball). But rather than follow many of his New World alumni into the bland, middlebrow fare that often passes for "serious", he's back with another "MOH" episode, "The Screwfly Solution", set to air early next year.

Can Joe Dante really be turning 60 years of age this week? Well there's living proof that--to quote esteemed philosopher George Burns--doing what you love keeps you young (hell, just watching his films has done wonders for me). These "tributes" can come off sounding like eulogies, and there are few other filmmakers who have embodied what is so joyous, intoxicating, and life-affirming about the committment to obsessive movie fandom as he. Happy birthday, Joe!

(and make sure you check out the Joe Dante Blog-A-Thon, hosted by Tim Lucas' Video Watchblog, here).

Lindsay Lo'Am What She Am

Well, Robert Altman's dead and Lindsay Lohan says her "Prairie Home Companion" director was like a father--"Poopdeck Pappy", one assumes, to her "Swee'pea"?--given her unique spelling/pronunskiation of the term "adequate" in her rambling, Joyceian "official" eulogy to the late filmmaker published in this week's "People" magazine of all things (which last I looked was run by people for the kind of people who would probably think the "Nashville" icon was the guy who ran Scott's Chicken Villa). Could she really be that stupid or infinkile (you'd think she'd have a spell check on that Crackberry...)?

All I can think of is that we've been had...(more times than she's been in the Viper Room). Like Sasha Baron Cohen and Andy Kaufman before him, while no one's been paying attention LL's refashioned herself post-"Mean Girls" as a deconstructionist prankster and one day will respond to all of her bad press with a cultural indictment the likes of which hasn't been seen since Allan Bloom's "Closing Of The American Mind".

The alternative is just too depressing to consider...

26 November 2006

Repost: "Pan's Labyrinth" Reviewed at Movieforum

Guillermo del Toro's astonishing new film "Pan's Labyrinth" is about a month away from its long-waited roll out during "Oscar" season--amazingly, this rich and enriching dark fantasy is Mexico's official entry to the foreign-language race at this year's Academy Awards. Long-time fans of his Spanish-language fables will already be planning their day in line. If you've only dug his big-budget Hollywood actioners like "Hellboy" and "Blade 2"--you'll like this one, too.

If you haven't already done so, check out my review here.

23 November 2006

John Carpenter's "Pro-Life" Airs This Weekend

Season two of "Masters Of Horror" has been off to a shaky start--the four episodes aired so far have ranged from the merely "okay" (Landis' segment was solid enough, and I can live with Hooper's--faint praise, I admit...) to the downright atrocious (what the hell was that Mick Garris/Ernest Dickerson vampire thing all about?). Could the producers be playing it safe the second time out, after the Takashi Miike controversy last season?

Maybe not: this weekend, the series gets a chance to score a home run with the long-waited followup to "Cigarette Burns" from John Carpenter, whose tale ""Pro-Life" will take on the abortion issue. It concerns a young woman (Caitlin Wachs) who ends up in a women's health clinic after surviving a car accident. Something strange is growing inside her, but her anti-abortion father (Ron Perlman) and her brothers won't allow the birth to be stopped and try to break in. It all builds to a classic-Carpenter standoff ala "Assault On Precinct 13", "The Fog", and "Prince Of Darkness".

As with last year's series stand-out "Cigarette Burns", Carpenter's followup was written by Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan. And Cody Carpenter--yes, the director's son--once again contributes the score.

In Canada, "Master Of Horror" runs on the Scream channel, Saturday at 11 pm ET.

Next weekend marks the premiere of Dario Argento's "Pelts", headlining Meatloaf (Aday) as a fur trader and some supernatural raccoon hide. Sounds iffy, sure, but it's based on a story by F. Paul Wilson ("The Keep"), costars the great John Saxon, and c'mon--Argento's directing (his bit from last year "Jenifer", was also a highlight), so it'll probably be a winner.

We can always hope that Asia shows up to duet on "Paradise By The Dashboard Light"...

City Of The Walking Dead

This year's inaugural "Toronto After Dark" Film Festival seems to have been the hoped-for success, which means next Halloween will probably offer another (whether or not it'll be at The Bloor Cinema has yet TBD). It's about bloody time something stuck in this town!

I remember when there was an annual "B-Movie Festival" at the cinema for several years in a row (Clive Barker debuted "Hellraiser" there to Canadian audiences), and in 1998. the same venue hosted the (one and only) Toronto "Fant-Asia" fest as a counterpart to its Montreal originator. Amazingly, neither event was considered "profitable" and GTA genre fans have had to do without a gathering ritual for too long.

Thankfully, Rue Morgue and the After Dark folks have a more realistic definition of "success", and sponsors like The Drive-Inn Channel, Space, and Anchor Bay are getting in on the fun to keep the costs manageable. Cthulu-knows there's no shortage of hardcore fan support in this city, and those horror geeks have some mighty deep pockets.

Check out the cool photo gallery of the first annual Toronto "Zombie Walk" here.

22 November 2006

Brian Atene v. 43: For Real!

Hey, look who finally showed up!

After weeks of ridicule (good-natured, on my part) Brian Atene has surfaced as promised--the real Brian Atene this time, and not the corpulent Big Daddy Roth lookalike from the parodies. Brian's aged pretty well I would say, having traded in his Tom Cruise 'do for a George Clooney Caesar cut. Atene-at-43 appears to be addressing us from his personal computer, which is situated in a room that looks like it's got a view of the lava lamp universe of "Barbarella". Check it out here.

The former Julliard freshman who once compared himself to "a young Alec Guinness" appears to have grown into a middle-aged Charlie Callas, evidenced by the spastic histrionics and facial contortions that make up the bulk of his official YouTube response, in which he mocks the audio track of his now-famous early-80s submission reel to Stanley Kubrick. Atene claims that the audition piece leaked was not the one actually sent--there is another (presumably better) version, which he doesn't bother to reveal (either way, he didn't get the gig).

He goes onto parody his drama teacher (painful), indulge in a hammy Professor Moriarity bit from the Sherlock Holmes series (excruciating), impersonate James Gregory as "General Ursus"from "Beneath The Planet Of The Apes" (bewildering) and, yes, indulge us in another Michael Curtiz reference (had to fast-forward through it) but does manage to get to the raison-d'etre behind his emergence: a sweet plug for the Christopher Reeve Foundation and the "Go Forward" dog-tags it sells to raise money to continue the Definitive Superman's fight for stem cell research (he also proudly displays his copy of a Reeve-signed "Superman: The Movie" soundtrack LP). Atene says he'll show up on semi-regular intervals to indulge in more over-acting if viewers will take up the challenge.

Understandably mum on the state of his current career and whereabouts, I gotta say that Atene may only be a slightly better stand-up comedian than Michael Richards (ouch!) but he's shown himself to be a good sport and a class act. So, in honour of the event, here's where you can check out The Christopher Reeve Foundation and what it's all about. Take a bow, Mr. Atene--but please, no more impersonations.

21 November 2006

The Kramer Reality Tour

Well, somehow, I managed to miss all of yesterday's hysteria over Michael Richards' excruciating, racially-incendiary meltdown onstage at "The Laugh Resort", and only realized what had happened when I turned on "The Late Show With David Letterman" as part of my nightly ritual and came upon Dave (and guest Jerry Seinfeld) in what could be the show's first ever "Larry King" style satellite interview--with the hipster doofus of the hour.

I share none of this revelry in knocking over celebrities--as someone who has long aspired to a career in "show business" and has eeked out an existence in the Toronto trenches with merely adequate (but wholly satisfying) success, I harbour an utmost respect for anyone who can make it through the rejection and the ridicule and the non-payment to a position where their name and image mean something to an audience and thus commands an entirely deserved large heap of cash (remember, folks, consumption of art and entertainment is a voluntary process), no matter how short-lived that success may be. I was old enough to catch Richards on the SNL rip-off "Fridays", and thought he was hilarious in one of my favorite comedies while in high school: Gary Marshall's "Young Doctors In Love"--he's been around for a good long time and has paid his dues. And of course, he was consistently brilliant during the nine seasons of the "Seinfeld" series--so it was painful to watch the YouTube stream of his outburst and realize that, yes, it really was that bad.

As a long-time fan of "Seinfeld" from episode one (Lidia and I were at Jerry's Toronto show at the DuMaurier Dance Theatre when he made the announcement that the sitcom had been picked up for its first full season), I detected a darkness about Richards that I would have rather not perceived--if anything, the man may now have a future as a thug on "The Sopranos" now that his comedy career--if you believe the outcry for his total abolishment from the mirth factory--is pretty much over.

In my heart, I suppose I want to believe Richards' own explanation that this was nothing more than a bit-gone-bad--no, make that thermonuclear apesh*t--in which a less-than-experienced standup comedian thought he'd get the upper hand on some hecklers by pushing the encounter into outrageousness and just kept falling deeper and deeper into his own feeble construct, to the point where his frustration at his inability to elicit the desired reaction collided with his bad-boy impulse to go- where-no-white-man-should and produced a pile of molten slag ill-timed to be photographed by a camera phone.

Is Richards' career over? He never really had one as a stand-up act--I've seen his Montreal Comedy Fest shtick on reruns and it was pretty bad, so no loss there. Ditto his failed detective sitcom, which was deservedly axed. Maybe he should take some of that darkness and re-fashion himself as a character actor--after all, we're expected to believe that what we saw on stage was just a character...

15 November 2006

VHS Officially Dead

Quick: what was your first VHS movie purchase? Mine was either a used rental copy of John Carpenter's "Halloween", which I believe was a Media Home Video release in glorious mono, or a used rental copy of "The Road Warrior" in a large green shell case from Warner Home Video, which at the time had a strange label entitled "For Rental Only"(odd, considering a pre-recorded movie cost about $40-50 at the time).

As a kid, I'd collected Super-8 digests, then moved on to RCA's short-lived CED disc--the stylus based video disc that no one remembers--which sold for about $30 per title in Canada. They skipped, they had to be flipped at the one-hour mark, and they could only be found in specialty electronics shops, but they allowed a film geek to own his/her favorite titles in something longer than 8 minute, silent chunks.

JVC came along with something called the Vertical Helical Scan format, and even though laser experienced a brief resurgence amongst movie snobs in the 90s, remained the dominant format until the invention of the DVD, despite being the inferior tape format--a "fact" the Beta-snob losers will never let us forget. When my folks finally scored a VCR (about the size of a portable generator, top loading, with huge knobs on the front)--a whole new avenue of geek indulgence opened up. I spent years compiling "theme" triple bills by dubbing movies at the horrid, and money-saving, EP mode, and like most video addicts, I spent more time recording films than actually watching them (as foretold in an eerily prescient mid-70s "Mad's Dave Berg Looks At People" strip). Hands down, Canadian Tire's "Embassy Gold" was the single worst tape brand ever unleashed on a penny-pinching public...

But according to Variety: "It's pretty much over."

So sez a Buena Vista Home Entertainment rep. Retailers have officially pulled the plug, not wanting to devote any more store space to the now-archaic format, which had been expected to endure at least until the end of Q1 next year. VHS will join Betamax, Divx, the CED, the laserdisc, the minidisc and the Super-8 digest in the home video mass grave.

Can't say I'm sorry to see it go, but you gotta admit: VHS changed the way we watch films and extended their life span beyond network TV edit-jobs and the late show. Neglected titles had a chance for rediscovery after unsuccessful theatrical runs, and franchises like the "Terminator" and "Highlander" series owe their success to the smaller screen. It never caught on as an alternative market, though--too many bad films and "Ghoulies" sequels gave the label "direct-to-video' the stench of death.

Reminisce about your favorite "tracking knob" memories and read all about it here.

14 November 2006

Stinkin' Apes: Damned, Dirty, and RED!

Stumbled on this gem today and just about fell out of my chair: as if we needed any more proof that Joseph Stalin was a stark-raving loon, recently unearthed documents in Moscow have revealed that the moustachioed dictator once ordered the creation of an army of half-man, half-monkey warriors! From news.scotsman.com:
In the mid-20s, Iyla Ivanov, Russian's then-top animal breeding scientist, was enlisted by Stalin to rebuild the Red Army with a, quote, "living war machine". Ivanov had established the world's first centre for the insemination of race horses, so in 1926, he was sent to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct an experiment to impregnate chimps with human sperm. A centre was established in Stalin's birthpace, Georgia, to raise the apes. Well, big surprise, the experiment was a total failure. Ivanov reversed the process--monkey fluids into human "volunteers"--with no success.
Disgraced, Ivanov was sent to jail for five years, later commuted to five years' exile in--wait for--Kazakstan! (high five!)
Stalin wouldn't give up. He tried to persuade a Cuban heiress to lend some of her pet monkeys to the experiment. So much for his dream of "a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of the food they eat."
Guess that's why the Russkies sent up a dog in Sputnik 2, while the Yanks sent up Gordo, a squirrel monkey, on the Jupiter AM-13.
Wonder if he liked the food?

10 November 2006

RIP Jack Palance

Jack Palance, the great character actor who enjoyed a career resurgence in the late 80s and early 90s with Tim Burton's "Batman" and Billy Crystal's "City Slickers' (for which he won an Academy Award for "Best Supporting Actor"), died today in Montecito, CA at the age of 85 (although according to his family, his age was actually 87).

A heavyweight boxer (born "Vladimir Palaniuk") before turning to acting (and on this Remembrance Day, let's not forget his Purple Heart and Victory Medal), Palance was cast as villains for most of his career, due to his beady eyes, craggy features, and hushed, halted delivery (years before Walken, Palance perfected the art of "unusual punctuation") . His most famous heavy was Jack Wilson in "Shane", of course. Despite a long career, Palance hated most of his roles: "Most of the stuff I do is garbage", he once scoffed, and most directors "shouldn't be directing traffic". Painting and poetry provided him with more satisfying creative outlets.

I remember him best as the title role in Dan Curtis' live television adaptation of "Dracula" (written by Richard Matheson) in the early 70s, and as Omus in the dreadful Canadian tax shelter clunker "The Shape Of Things To Come", in which he presides over a moon-based army of killer robots. He was also a lot of fun in Jack Sholder's "Alone In The Dark", in which he was the leader of a trio of escaped psychos (along with Martin Landau and Erland van Lith) who terrified Donald Pleasance.

Hard to believe he's not gonna be around...

"Borat": What's Real, What's Not

Wondering what was real in "Borat", and what was staged? Like, how some people could be so clueless as to willfully spout racist, misogynistic, homophobic bilge with a camera crew in plain sight? As to how a nation as supposedly "wired" as the USA could contain so many people who've never heard of "The Ali G Show"? As to how Sasha Baron Cohen survived that rodeo without being carved up like Kazak roast beast? Salon's published a fun piece that take you through the key moments and gives you the behind-the-scenes skinny.

-Bobby Rowe, the pro-gay-hanging rodeo organizer? Real.
-The Alabama high society types? Duped, but with no ill will.
-The antique shop owner? Cohen really did destroy $500 in relics.
-The WAPT affiliate TV station? The woman who booked Borat's appearance has since been fired (!)
-The Jewish owners of the bed & breakfast? Suspicious--but cool with the joke.
-The stupid-ass frat boys? Incredibly, they're suing 20th Century Fox. Poor babies.
-Pamela Anderson? Hmmmm....
Don't be a player-hater, pussycat--check it out here. (and check out his MySpace page if you want to see what brother Bilo looks like!)

09 November 2006

RIP Basil Poledouris

It seems like every other week I'm having to post news of the passing of another underappreciated artist. This week, we lost one of the great film composers, Basil Poledouris. Poledouris might not have achieved household name status ala John Williams, and his career wasn't as long as that of John Barry or Jerry Goldsmith, but in 20 years, he left an indelible impression on how the movies should sound.

Originally intending to become a concert pianist, Poledouris was bored by the formality of classical training and while at university, inspired by legendary film composer Miklos Rosza, investigated the no-rules field of motion picturing scoring. He was definitely in the right place (the University Of Southern California )at the right time (the 1970s with fellow students George Lucas, Randal Kleiser, and John Milius). Wisely, his classmates remembered his talent as their own careers took off.

Chance are you've hummed along to his rousing fanfare from Milius' "Conan The Barbarian"--not the sword & sorcery classic it should have been, but the credit sequence, in which Poledouris' theme empowers the forging of Conan's sword, is as unforgettable an opening as any realized. Poledouris also scored classmate Kleiser's "The Blue Lagoon", as well as many more features for Milius. He also worked with Sam Raimi (For The Love Of The Game), John Waters (Cecil B. Demented), John McTiernan (The Hunt For Red October), and Simon Wincer (Free Willy). You might also remember his muscular themes for Paul Verhoeven's woefully misunderstood "Starship Troopers".

He also won an Emmy for his score for the miniseries "Lonesome Dove", and acclaim for the Opening Ceremonies theme for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

His family has posted a memorial page for him on his official site here.

06 November 2006

Once Again: Why You Should Be Watching "The Wire"

I'm not the biggest fan of "best of" lists ("worst" lists are more fun), nor do I feel the pundits' need to label something "the greatest" this or that of the year/all time/in the history of man, etc. But if that's what it takes to draw attention to something that's woefully underappreciated, then let the hyperbole fly!

David Simon's "The Wire" has somehow endured four seasons on HBO, thanks to critical kudos but more importantly, to an audience willing to pay for its often unrelenting bleakness and complex, some-would-say convoluted, fractured narratives--a small audience, perhaps, but the right one. But don't let the raw language and explicit drug use put you off a unique drama that's humane, blackly funny, and perversely optimistic amidst the grue and the gumshoes of modern Baltimore.

Slate's Jacob Weisberg pleads his case as to why "The Wire" is "the greatest thing ever broadcast on American television" here, and damn if he doesn't nail why you should be watching. With BitTorrent and boxed sets, you've got no excuse (hint: you can catch up with the current season four if you watch season 3 in its entirety--only 12 episodes--but if you enter this season's installments cold, you may be completely baffled!).

02 November 2006

Full Metal Jackass

Well, no doubt most of you are familiar with this poor bastard, who's now either regretting his 20-year old self's immortalized hubris or reveling in the attention since this camcorder'd nugget showed up on YouTube.

Back in the early 80s, when the late Stanley Kubrick was planning his Vietnam drama "Full Metal Jacket" as his followup to his horror hit "The Shining" (it would take seven years to produce), he placed an ad in Variety for an open casting call, in which young men in their 20s were invited to submit an audition tape for consideration for roles in the film (Vincent D'Onfrio was one of the "discoveries").

Brian Atene was one of them, and while no one really knows what happened to the other tapes, his survived time and tide has spawned something of a mashup sensation--making him this year's 20-something version of "the Star Wars kid".

Although on the tape he's pompous and a dreadful actor (his "cutting" from "The Outsiders" is like liquid agony injected into the frontal lobe), I'll give the guy some slack because at the time of this recording he's twenty, when you're allowed parade around campus with an inflated ego and delusions of grandeur. You think Kubrick would've hired a wallflower? Have you seen the clip of him berating Shelly Duvall on the Overlook set?

Here's Brian's original submission...

Parodies have already started to surface, with more on the way you can bet. The best features "Brian", today, at aged 43 and still the consumate hambone (as of this writing, the real Atene has yet to surface. Hey, if William Hung can have a career...). Check it out here.

You know, I think Stanley should've hired Atene to replace Harvey Keitel in "Eyes Wide Shut". Pollack's line readings were worse...

High Five!

"Borat"s finally out today--perhaps you've heard of it? While Fox's roll out is modest (cowards), this truly hilarious spectacle will likely blow away its competition this weekend--sorry Brad and Cate. I definitely plan to see it again, just as Cohen is coming dangerously close to overexposing the character before the film's even released (he/Borat will apparently say "no" to no appearance request).

Check out my review from TIFF 2006 here in case you need convincing, but why would you...?

31 October 2006

Nigel Kneale: 1922-2006

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of my favorite writers: Nigel Kneale, who died Sunday at the age of 84 after a long and distinguished career in British film, television, and literature.

Kneale was hardly a household name in North America, but in the UK he was (and is) quite revered as a literary genius and pioneer, whose best work was largely realized in the once-unprestigious realm of television science fiction. And most of it done live. His best known creation, Professor Bernard Quatermass (of the London Rocket Group), was the main character of a quartet of television serials penned by Kneale for the BBC, three of which were remade into feature films for Hammer Studios (the best of them, IMHO, was 1968's "Quatermass And The Pit", aka "Five Million Years To Earth", directed by Roy Ward Baker). Reginald Tate, Brian Donlevy, Andrew Keir, and Sir John Mills each played the character in respective features and teleplays, ending with the appropriately titled "The Quatermass Conclusion" miniseries in 1979. In 2005, the BBC restaged his first serial "The Quatermass Experiment" as a live presentation with Jason Flemyng starring as a younger Quatermass. It was very well done and it's a pity it's never been aired beyond England (hello, BitTorrent...).

Kneale's teleplays were major "water cooler" events in their day--legend has it that "The Quatermass Experiment" was such a sensation that the streets and pubs were empty for the entirety of its six week run. While most of his work was original, he also adapted Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty Four" in 1954 into its first dramatic incarnation, resulting in parliamentary debates over its (then) shocking imagery. His 1968 teleplay "The Year of the Sex Olympics" foresaw the glut of sleazy reality television that we're subjected to today.

Hollywood briefly courted Kneale, who wrote a remake of "The Creature From The Black Lagoon" for John Landis (never produced), and the original draft of what would become "Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch" for producer John Carpenter. Although the shooting script was credited to director Tommy Lee Wallace and Kneale distanced himself from the project, the final film does contain traces of his unique black humour and recurring theme of the supernatural colliding with the technological. Carpenter acknowledged Kneale's influence on his writing by using the pen name "Martin Quatermass" as his screen credit for "Prince Of Darkness", his underseen 1987 shocker that drew the bulk of its themes and imagery from "Pit".

Kneale's works were my introduction to science fiction as a device for something other than mere escapism and gee-whiz spectacle. In many ways, he anticipated the humanist and satiric voice of the British "New Wave" science fiction movement that would launch the careers of Michael Moorcock and Brian Aldiss (and the North American works of Harlan Ellison, Norm Spinrad, and others of the "Dangerous Visions" set). Kneale's scientists were rare heroes instead of megalomaniacal freaks who prided intellect and reason over might, governments and the military were usually ineffectual, corrupt, and downright dangerous, his alien "menaces" often revealed to be misunderstood or marginalized instead of simply malignant BEMs. Above all, his serials were damned good yarns, impeccably structured and chock full of trippy ideas and damning critiques of the issues of the day.

You can read all about this great man and his amazing body of work here.

24 October 2006

Kubrick To Field:" Stay Away From That Ermey Guy!"

Lee Ermey's comments to Radar Online about "Eyes Wide Shut"--which I'd reported on a few weeks back--have ticked off Todd Field. The colourful soldier-turned-actor, currently onscreen in the prequel to the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", stated that the late Stanley Kubrick--with whom he'd worked on "Full Metal Jacket", had confessed to him that he felt "Eyes Wide Shut" (what would be his last film in 1999) was "a piece of sh*t" and that he was "disgusted" with it.

Field is a director of considerable critical acclaim best known for the Oscar-nominated "In The Bedroom" (or, as I refer to it, the art-house "Death Wish"), and his current film, "Little Children" is getting huge notices for daring to chronicle the devastating ordeal of a man forced to choose a life between the sheets with either Kate Winslet or Jennifer Connelly.

He's also an actor, and he played Cruise's friend in EWS, the pianist who tips him off to the mysterioso robed hedonists."Stanley was absolutely thrilled with the film", countered Field to slashfilm.com. "He was still working on the film when he died. And he probably died because he finally relaxed. It was one of the happiest weekends of his life, right before he died, after he had shown the first cut to Terry (Semel), Tom (Cruise), and Nicole (Kidman)..."

Field regarded Kubrick as a mentor and a close friend, and claims that Kubrick told him to stay away from Ermey! Sez Field: "I thought about R. Lee Ermey for "In the Bedroom"...all I can say is Stanley was adamant that I shouldn't work with him for all kinds of reasons that I won't get into..."

Perhaps he was afraid that Field's shoot would interrupt their late night phone calls? Read all about it here and decide for yourself.

17 October 2006

Bil Maher: The Best Medicine

"...we have an entire economy built on asking young people what they want, making the cheapest, sleaziest form of it they'll accept, and selling it to them until they choke on it and die."

Damn, I wish we got "Real Life" here in Canada. Bill Maher remains one of our supreme satirists, who keeps getting more relevant (and angrier) which each ridiculous White House Press Conference since Dennis Miller officially gave up and became a Bush apologist.

Thankfully, I don' t always have to BitTorrent the latest episode to keep up--today's "Salon" has published a hilarious--and all too truthful--rant by Maher in which he asserts that the biggest threats to America's children aren't the chat room creeps--they're military recruiters and Big Pharma!

You'll laugh...you'll cry... here.

04 October 2006

R. Lee Ermey Talks The Straight @#**!! On Kubrick

R. Lee Ermey is best known for his role (more or less as himself) in Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam black comedy "Full Metal Jacket", but he's gone on to become a fine character actor of considerable charm and even subtlety (he's heartbreaking in Tim Robbins' "Dead Man Walking). But we love him best when he's belligerent and blue--and now that he's out promoting the who-cares prequel to the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake (okay, I'll probably see it), he's still got a colourful tale or two to tell.

Apparently, he and the late, great Stanley Kubrick remained close friends, and more than 12 years after their lone collaboration, exchanged candid, marathon, late-night ("yeah, well, it's three o-f*cking-clock in the morning here, Stanley!") phone calls. Sez Ermey:

"He called me about two weeks before he died...we had a long conversation about "Eyes Wide Shut" (of which I'm a major fan--RJL). He told me it was a piece of sh*t and that he was disgusted with it and that the critics were going to have him for lunch. He said Cruise and Kidman had their way with him—exactly the words he used."

He's far less kind to David ("Seven") Fincher and the "Communist media" (how does this guy work in liberal Hollywood?)

Here's the whole interview with Radar Online. And check out the hilarious intro to his official site here.

New Reviews: Herzog's "Rescue Dawn" (and more)

Yep, I've been busy (the day job, family stuff, a new plasma TV), but new TIFF 2006 reviews are slooowly going up at Movieforum's blog. Check out my takes on the Canadian zombie comedy "Fido" with Billy Connelly, the French omnibus "Paris je t'aime", and Werner Herzog's escape-from-Vietnam thriller "Rescue Dawn", starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn which could be his first big North American commercial success.

28 September 2006

"Pan" The Oscars

Guillermo Del Toro's brilliant fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth" won't up on these shores until the end of the year, but that'll be just soon enough for it to qualify to compete in the "Best Foreign Language" category for next year's Academy Awards, for which Mexico is submitting the film as its official entry into the race. With "Return Of The King" having swept the ceremony a few years back, perhaps the middlebrow old cranks who vote for these things are slowly coming around on their opinion of the genre, which for too long has been dismissed as juvenile FX fodder. Del Toro's new film--nothing less than a career legacy work--is a deeply personal and heartfelt work mixing Lewis Carroll with the grim realities of Franco's Fascist Spain. Plus--if I can appeal to your juvenile senses here (and god bless 'em)--it's got the coolest monsters since, well, Del Toro's "Hellboy" adaptation. Don't miss it.

19 September 2006

Happy Birthday, Adam West!

Adam West turns 78 today, and say what you want about the campy William Dozier series and the alleged "damage" it did to the legend of the Dark Knight, for most of us of a "certain age", West was Batman until Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil came along to set us all straight. I had the chance to meet him once in the 80s when I was a film student, and then again in the late 90s as a fledging "pro" on the TV series "Goosebumps", where he wore the outfit I helped design for his character "The Galloping Gazelle" (the episode was superhero-themed "Attack Of The Mutant", for which I also created the comic book art). I last saw West in a brief role in Mario Van Peebles' "How To Get The Man's Foot Outta Your Ass" aka "Badassss", and hope he never retires.

TIFF 2006 Review: "The Host"

I've posted a new review up at Movieforum--this one for the superb South Korean monster movie "The Host", which is a big hit in its native country and deserves to be an international blockbuster. The creature--essentially a giant mutant tadpole--is one of the finest CG creations you'll ever see and ranks with Weta's "King Kong" and "Gollum" and ILM's "Jurassic Park" reptiles (in fact, ex-ILMers and Weta contributed to the FX). Read the review here, and don't miss this unique take on a tired genre should you get the chance.

17 September 2006

TIFF 2006 Reviews: "End Of The Line"

TIFF 2006 has come to an end, and I'm exhausted. But, while the 25+ films I caught are still fresh in my head, I'd better get at the reviews. The first one--for the Montreal-shot horror film "End Of The Line"--is up now at the Movieforum blog, which you can access here (be sure to scroll on down to the bottom!).

02 September 2006

From Piper's Pit: The Real John Nada!

That's me and Lidia at at this past weekend's annual Fan Expo, which has grown (well, seemingly...) exponentially in scale each passing year. Unfortunately, the venue--Building 2 of the Metro Convention Centre--has not expanded to accomodate the crowds, or the growing roster of guests, and this year's was the worst organized event yet. Insane lineups and a lack of oxygen aside, there was a lot going on to keep an aging fanboy suitably bedazzled--"Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola, Marvel scribe Brian Michael Bendis, Carrie Fisher, Karen Black, and presumably, no shortage of suckers who'll pay 300 bucks to have their photo taken with William Shatner and/or Leonard Nimoy.

For a mere $20, we got our photo taken with the one and only John Nada--Rowdy Roddy Piper (in actuality, Roderick Toombs from Winnipeg, Manitoba), and got him to sign some memorabilia. I told him about this here "Nadaland" site and Roddy, ever the smooth pro, swore he was "honoured" (and I almost believe him)! We chatted about Norstar B-pictures we each had worked on (Roddy starred in "Jungleground" and "No Contest 2", both shot in Toronto) and Roddy talked about how he improvised the "I'm all outta bubblegum" line on the set of "They Live" only minutes before Carpenter called for lunch (and I almost believe this wasn't the 10,000th time he's told this story). It was a thrill to meet one helluva nice guy who obviously digs his fans. Check out Roddy's official site here.

FanExpo 2006: Hellboy-Zapoppin'

"Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola was one of the main attractions (for me) at this year's FanExpo combo sci-fi/comics/horror/anime/gaming convention held at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre. I first discovered Mignola's unique drawing style in the early 90s comic adaptations of Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" film and in Epic's limited series based on Fritz Lieber's "Fahred And The Gray Mouser" swashbucklers--and I've been copying him ever since . These days Mignola writes more than he draws, which is a great loss to comics fans but since he hand-picks such great illustrators as Guy Davis and Richard Corben to substitute for him, we really can't be too sorry.

During a Q&A Mignola fielded the predicted questions on the Hellboy movie sequel, solo, since his announced co-host (director) Guillermo Del Toro had to cancel his appearance due to a scheduling conflict with the Venice Film Festival. Basically, it is coming, with Universal on board after Revolution Studios bailed. Its current title is "The Golden Army", and the story isn't based on any particular published "Hellboy" comic, but rather an original concept by Mignola and Del Toro that will incorporate more of the pan-cultural folklore aspects that Mignola felt were downplayed in the first film. So expect a returning Ron Perlman to battle Malaysian ghosts and European baddies in their combined efforts to reclaim magic's reign over the mortal world. I liked his comparison of his supernatural baddies to displaced Native Americans, deciding to reclaim their land as their own, and that when writing, he always strives to identify with his antagonists' point-of-view and never truly sees them as evil.

Mignola said that there is an ending planned for his Hellboy saga, and that in future stories the "working stiff" aspect of the character will be downplayed and that Hellboy will undergo a change due to his recent death and increasing fatigue with his role as supernatural savior now that years have passed. He admitted that he didn't care for the romantic subplot in Del Toro's adaptation as prefers to see the male/female relationships in his comics as more "brother/sister" than anything romantic--as will be depicted in an upcoming story with a young, 80s-era Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien.

He also mentioned that at one time, Nicholas Cage was pegged to play "Hellboy", but then again, he's been attached to just about every comic book project imaginable at one time or another.

Mignola acknowledged that a "Hellboy" video game is in development (platform unannounced)--one that will be modeled more on the film's design and universe, but will feature "flashback" levels that will incorporate unique folklore elements.

The "Hellboy" cartoon will debut soon, as will a new series of spin-off novels in which he's allowed the authors free reign. Mignola himself has co-written and illustrated a novel, entitled "Baltimore", which is about vampires and which he describes as "very Roman Catholic". It's due next year.

Mignola stressed that for all the movie, animation, game, and prose spin-offs, he regards only his own "Hellboy" comics from Dark Horse as "definitive". An official Hellboy Encyclopedia was due to be published by now, but since he keeps adding material to it, its publication date can't be predicted.

His favorite story of his own? A recent collaboration with daughter Kate in Dark Horse's "Happy Endings" anthology, entitled "The Magician And The Snake", which she told to him on a ride home from school (and has since won an Eisner award).

30 August 2006

RIP Pa Kent (Glenn Ford)

Damn--another great one gone. Glenn Ford, the respected character actor who embodied stoic American decency during his long career (in fact, he was a Canadian, born in Quebec in 1916), was found dead today at his Beverly Hills home at the age of 90. Foul play is not suspected--Ford's health problems were well-known ever since he suffered his first in a series of strokes in the 1990s. He was too ill to attend his birthday bash this past May 1st, and had to appear via a taped message.

Ford acted in approx. 85 features in all genres, from the western ("The Desperados") to the drama (the original movie version of "The Courtship Of Eddie's Father") to even the execrable 80s slasher flick (the Canuck-shot "Happy Birthday To Me"), but is perhaps best known for the Rita Hayworth classic comedy "Gilda" (his breakthrough role into leading-man status), the once-controversial "Rock Around The Clock", and Fritz Lang's essential noir "The Big Heat".

For me, Ford embodies the definitive Jonathan Kent, with his brief screen time in Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie" accounting for some of the film's most resonant and unforgettable moments--if you can watch him deliver "you are here for a reason" speech to teenaged Clark (Jeff East) with his unforced homespun gravitas and not get a lump in your throat, then you've got a heart made of black kryptonite. Here's a nice fan site devoted to Ford's life and career (and what's the delay on that Order Of Canada?)...

RIP Joseph Stefano

Sad news that one of the genre's greats has passed away: screenwriter (and songwriter!) Joseph Stefano died last Friday at the age of 84. Now considering that this is the man who brilliantly adapted a nasty little paperback novel into a certain chiller called "Psycho" and who also produced the innovative anthology series "The Outer Limits", I would've expected at least a mention in the major news outlets (as of today, the IMDB still lists him as living). I'm certainly not going to underplay Hitchcock's involvement in the conception of his esteemed (and once loathed) 1960 horror classic, but it was writer Stefano who altered Robert Bloch's structure to focus the first act on Marion ("Mary" in the novel) Crane, extend her shower murder into an excruciatingly brutal slashing (a swift decapitation in Bloch's book), refashion Norman Bates as an amiable nerd (he's an overweight, sweaty creep as created by Bloch), and bravely stage the denouement in the form of Simon Oakland's lengthy academic treatise on sexual schizophrenia.

Stefano revisited the Bates character in writing Mick Garris' underrated TV movie "Psycho IV: The Beginning", which featured Henry Thomas a young Norman and Olivia Hussey as "Mother" in a flashback drama that is surprisingly moving and far less cheesy than you'd expect (certainly, it was an improvement over Anthony Perkins' dismal "Psycho 3", but then what wouldn't be?). In honour of Stefano's legacy, you might want to track this one down. He shares his thoughts on "Psycho" in a 1990 interview here.

22 August 2006

Happy Birthday Maggie (One Year Old!)

One year ago today (at approx. 11 pm), Lidia and I were returning from my (belated) fancy birthday dinner at Lee's when we happened upon our neighbours searching our yard for their cat's misplaced litter of kittens. We joined in and found them just three doors down, under a tarp: three shivering mini-felines in total--one orange, one gray, and the other a tortie like her mother, who was quite vocal despite the fact that she couldn't open her eyes or hold up her head. We'd just lost Molly, our beloved tortoiseshell cat of 11 years, and her sister Minnie was clearly lonely without her, so we relented to the cosmic signs and asked humbly if the rowdy furball could be ours. A few weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, "Maggie" joined our household and has been keeping us on edge and constant alert ever since. So Happy 1st Birthday "Madame"--not like every day isn't your birthday in this house!

08 August 2006

"Brick" Auteur Blossoms..."Blooms"...

If you haven't seen Rian Johnson's brilliant debut "Brick" (one of the year's best films IMHO, if not the best so far...), it's out this week on DVD, so now you have no excuse for denying yourself the pleasure of one of the most original and gripping murder mysteries since season one of "Twin Peaks". Don't be put off by what seems like its gimmicky conceit--"hard boiled" dialogue ala Chandler and Hammett spoken by teens at a modern California high school--what could have been a "Bugsy Malone" for the Larry Clark set is a mournful and surprisingly moving drama that embraces--rather than mocks--the conventions of detective fiction without ever deteriorating into camp.

Johnson is now prepping "The Brothers Bloom", and while there have been few details made available, its official website is already up (here). Johnson told Cinematical: ""It's about these two guys who grow up in and out of foster homes as kids and they learn to survive by becoming con men." And despite the fact that the illustrations show period garb, Johnson says it's a modern day piece.

Otherwise, details are minimal and cryptic--some sketchy storyboards, a quote from Jung, and an excerpt of the song "Paper Moon". What can I say? I'm already there...

03 August 2006

"I Shall Not Walk So That A Child May Live!"

My friend in PA introduced me to Adult Swim's utterly demented "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" series a few years ago (pre-official DVD releases, he'd send me episodes on VHS and VideoCD because no one in Canada was running them) and I became hooked on the cheap-ass, Dadaist misadventures of Master Shake, Frylock, Meatwad, Carl et al. While few people I know have even heard of the series--let alone seen it--obviously, it's got enough of a following to have spawned an alleged feature film, which I've been reading about for eons now. My PA friend insists it's all a meta-ruse from William Street Animation, but according to a bit from AICN today, it's not. "Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie" has had a few test screenings and it sounds like they've done the impossible--to sustain the insane, anything-goes spirit of the 11 minute shorts for 90 minutes. The Mooninites, MC Pee Pants, Abe Lincoln--all that and a vocal cameo from Bruce Campbell! Read the review here. And is it too late to get this thing booked for The Toronto Film Fest?

02 August 2006

When You're Broke From All Those DVD Reissues, You Gotta Make Your Own Toys

Yes, that's Han Solo encased in carbonite--and he's made of Lego! TechEBlog has posted "The Top Ten Strangest Lego Creations", but IMHO, most of them are pretty cool, from an iPod case to a harpsicord to a (working?) knitting machine.

I never really got past making a dog from the stuff myself (two pieces)--and if I had this much free time to concoct something so epic I'd probably devote that concentration and mechanical prowess to building irrigation systems for starving villages or something. Who knows, maybe this is just a warmup to the next big thing, after all, our last Great Hope--"Ginger"-- turned out to be nothing but a scooter...

01 August 2006

If He's Really Sorry, He'll Grow Back His "Lethal Weapon" Mullet...

Mel, Mel, Mel....

The last time you got picked up for DUI, it was right here in Toronto in 1984, when you were shooting Gillian Armstrong's "Mrs. Soffel" with Diane Keaton (I know, a U.S. film shot in Canada by an Australian...) I remember catching a CityPulse bit showing your oh-so-photogenic self being marched down the steps of the city's historic Old Court House to an adoring throng of (mostly female) cineastes. You probably made some young traffic cop's day, being the then-"Mad Max" pulled over for a traffic infraction (not to glamorize drunk-driving in any way)...

Well, it's 20+ years later, and the whole world knows you got picked up in LA last weekend on the same charge but today, you're no longer The Road Warrior and star of cool Peter Weir films. Nope, sadly, Mad Mel's pulled back the curtain and shown himself to be just another irresponsible, belligerent drunk who could have a promising career as a director if he wasn't such an obvious unhinged lunatic livin' La Vida Apocalypto.

So as a long-time fan who championed you from "Gallipoli" and your first hookup with George Miller and even "Attack Force Z" for chrissakes and praised you in "The Bounty" and thought "Payback" was one of your best films and who has forgiven you time and time again for sorry-ass crap like "Bird On A Wire" and "Lethal Weapon 4", let me say "thanks"--thanks for making me feel like a complete idiot now in front of some of my workmates, with whom I sparred majorly when your "Passion Of The Christ" was being labeled an anti-Semitic screed. I defended it on terms of possible accuracy--if not historic, then at least human and thus dramatic (without opening that whole can of grief, my basic position was that there were likely a great many who relished Christ's torture and eventual death, and yes, some of them were possibly Jewish) and that I felt that much of the venom being spat was reactionary and fueled by the same knee-jerk hysteria that called for the destruction of Scorcese's "The Last Temptation Of Christ" more than a decade earlier. Maybe it was just the booze talkin', but your well-documented rant has clued me in that maybe some of your critics had a point...

But, alas, it's not the Jews, nor Dionysis on the vine, nor a corrupt LAPD to blame for your problems. It's the whole damned "world gone mad" by your own sorry "official" explanation (which can be read right here). "Life fades" and "the vision dims" after a few vodka gimlets, right mate?

In the meantime, I hope Parker and Stone are immersed in their Flash animations slapping together that much-needed followup to "Passion Of The Jew"...you got off easy in that one.

30 July 2006

Royal Cinema Saved

Toronto film buffs were dealt a harsh blow last month when three of the city's oldest and most beloved vintage repertory theatres were shut down: The Kingsway, The Revue, and The Royal.

I live near the Royal Cinema (just a few blocks' walk from Little Italy, but close enough) and while I never got out to it nearly as much as I'd like, I think it's a great place for its nostalgic facade (dig the marquee), elegant art deco interior (with reclining seats), and eclectic range of films. The Royal is a typical rep house in that it operates primarily as a second-run venue, but it's also hosted cool speciality programmes like "B Movie Thursdays", which afforded me the chance to see the likes of "The Evil Dead", "Flash Gordon" (1980), "Shivers", and "Dark Star" on the big screen. As well, the venue has hosted the Toronto runs of such offbeat Asian offerings as "Sympathy For Mister Vengeance", "Dead Or Alive", and "Uzumaki".

Good news, then, with the announcement that the recently-closed Royal has been saved from conversion to a big box store by the owners of "Theatre D Digital" on Mt. Pleasant Ave, who converted the vintage Regent Cinema into a combination post-production facility and public theatre and plan to do the same here, possibly as early as September.

29 July 2006


Happy Birthday, Molly (you would have been twelve today).

19 July 2006

"Help Me Make The Music Of The (Dark) Knight..."

Believe it or not, the concept of "Batman: The Musical" was not a Jonathan Crane-induced hallucination. I'd heard rumour of it over the years, but then again, I also once read that Garth Drabinsky's Livent planned to mount "Raising Arizona" on the Toronto stage.

Jim Steinman--rawwwwk n' roll's would-be Wagner behind the successful Meatloaf collaborations, the "Streets Of Fire" soundtrack, and--kreegah!--latter-day Celine Dion warbling, was to compose the song score, with David Ives writing the book. In 1998, Warners officially announced that none other than Tim Burton would direct the stage incarnation of the franchise he'd successfully (and how!) reinvented for a generation nearly a decade earlier. Unfortunately, Steinman's vampire-themed musical (with former "Phantom" Michael Crawford, perhaps biding his time for "Condorman: The Musical"?) proved to be a flop and the studio's momentum for "Batman" dwindled.

Jim Steinman, however, managed to record what came to be known as "The Batman Demos" at the historic (and now gone) The Hit Factory in New York, with vocals from Rob Evan as Batman, Karine Hannah as Catwoman, Elaine Caswell, and Steinman himself. According to a fan-site, Warner's theatrical wing is considering resurrecting the property (no doubt thanks to the success of "Batman Begins") so who knows? I hear there's a stage free in Toronto, now that "Lord Of The Rings" has folded. Take your time, fellas--remember that "Superman" musical from the mid-70s?

In the meantime, you can listen to Steinman's "The Joker's Song", here.

"Beowulf And Grendel" Now On DVD In Canada

Indulge me in some shameless self-promotion: Sturla Gunnersson's "Beowulf And Grendel" was released on DVD in Canada today, from Warner Home Video. The single disc edition features a nice transfer that preserves Jan Keisser's lush cinematography and the requisite director's commentary (with Sturla joined by screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins). Extras include deleted scenes, a costume design gallery, on-set stills, and most importantly, and a too-brief sampling of storyboard art from yours truly.

Regrettably, the gallery features only two scenes--Scenes 1 and 15--which were already posted on the official site with the former never truly completed to my satisfaction (like the Icelandic weather, the scene's specifics changed often). I drew an insane amount of boards for this project, and the best of them didn't end up on the disc. You can check out Grendel's berserker rampage through Heorot on my still-under-construction online portfolio here.

And of course, if you're so inclined, you can order a copy of the DVD here.

Don't Miss "The Vader Sessions"

"Star Wars" fan spoofs have gone beyond merely "viral"--the sheer volume of them has arguably spawned an Internet pandemic. While I support the efforts of these youngsters, the sad fact is that most of these shorts aren't half as fun to watch as I'm sure they were to make--I hope that some of these crazy kids got ILM intern gigs for their troubles and obvious passion.

But this one is that rare killer-diller: the riotous "The Vader Sessions", which works in audio clips from some of James Earl Jones' other films (mostly "The Great White Hope", "Coming To America", and "Field Of Dreams") into "Vader" footage from the 1977 original. The whole thing manages to work--impressively ("most impressively"..) as a compressed "A New Hope" for the attention-span impaired.

But can someone explain to me what's up with all the Billy Joel tunes?

29 June 2006

An Animated Life...

...and how! Stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen--arguably the special effects industry's only true auteur (other than, say, Georges Melies?)--celebrates his 86th birthday today. Ray's still going strong despite having not worked on a film since 1981's "Clash Of The Titans"--a new book ("The Art Of Ray Harryhausen"), a new DVD compilation of early shorts (including the newly-finished "Tortoise And The Hare"), audio commentary on the long overdue special edition DVD of the original 1933 "King Kong", and a recently-announced teamup with Mindfire Entertainment to produce merchandise from his amazing filmography, as well as oversee some new films based upon some of his unrealized fantasy projects (maybe he'll get his aborted "Beowulf" off the ground, too?). Happy birthday, Ray--and thanks!