27 April 2006

And A Man From Cleveland Shall Unite Them...

I first met Harvey Pekar way back in late September 1988 at Toronto's "This Ain't The Rosedale Library" for a party/signing to promote Ron Mann's superb documentary "Comic Book Confidential" (where' s the expanded DVD?). Last night, nearly two decades later (!), I had the chance to meet him again at U Of T's Innis Town Hall, where he was part of an evening devoted to comics sponsored by The Beguiling and Pages.

After presentations by Mark Madden (the wildly inventive "99 Ways To Tell A Story", and Jessica Abel (the autobiographical "La Perdita), the man of the evening schlumped onstage and laconically mused on the art and business of comics, fame, and his new "American Splendor" book, "Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story".

I admit I've always had a problem with the "indie" comic movement, in that for all of its crusade to have comics legitimized in the eyes of the public (we're supposed to call them "graphic novels", a term that Pekar himself laughs off), its core philosophy hinges on an intolerance that's no different from that of the very people it tries so hard to convince. Both camps maintain that comics are essentially the stuff of juvenile superhero fantasies, simplistic plots, and lowbrow genres (sci-fi, horror)--and that only in the absence of these conventions, ie: "real life" explorations and mundane autobiographies, can the medium earn any artistic or literary value.

Of course, that's rubbish--superhero books have long proven themselves to be just as emotionally involving, thought-provoking, and creatively experimental as any other type of fiction--there's the impulse to dismiss this material by defining it by its worst possible examples. A great deal of "indie" comics are as cloying as all those precious camcorder'd "Sundance" darlings and monotonous "alternative" bands who stay out of the mainstream not because of any daring vision, but because their stuff is 100% self-indulgent and artistically amateurish sh*t.

While I find "realism" overrated and limiting, I feel Pekar's work rises above that of many of his imitators, thanks to varying illustration styles and the author's own spare but archly funny and bittersweet observations and confessions.

26 April 2006

Will Is Legend

Here we go again: According to today's Variety, "I Am Legend", Richard Matheson's classic horror novella, is set to once again rise from its development tomb early next year, with Will Smith all-but-signed to play Robert Neville, mankind's methodical savior against a global vampire virus.

The tale has been adapted onscreen twice before: once as 1964's moody "L' Ultimo uomo della terra", or, "The Last Man On Earth" with Vincent Price in the lead ("Dr. Morgan"), and more notoriously as 1971's campy "The Omega Man", in which Charlton Heston battled Anthony Zerbe's groovy albinos and took a memorable pause to weep at footage from "Woodstock". Unofficially, "IAL" has served as the (acknowledged) inspiration for George A. Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead" and just about anything else involving vampires/zombies/ghouls in the modern world (surely, Danny Boyle must at least have known about it...).

Written in 1954, "Legend" is set in the then-future world of 1976, in which the human race has been eradicated by a blood pandemic that turned nearly everyone into blooddrinkers. Nearly everyone--save for survivor Neville, who races against the sunset daily to find a cure and secure his home/fortress from attack. Matheson offers clever pseudo-scientific and psychological explanations for the conventions of vampire lore, and in the character of former next door neighbour "Cortman", the tale can be taken as a macabre satire on the hive-mind of suburbia, ala Rod Serling (Matheson wrote many of "The Twilight Zone"s best episodes). Neville discovers that there are other survivors, some who have discovered a way to keep the disease at bay...

"Legend" came very close to getting made in 1997 with director Ridley Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger set to star, but was shelved for budgetary reasons. "Constantine"s Francis Lawrence, "The X Files"' Rob Bowman, and "Armageddon"s Michael Bay"I Am Legend" have all been attached at various times. This one, apparently, is the charm, with shooting scheduled for 2007 in New York--which is odd, considering the original story is set in Los Angeles.

Read all about the great Richard Matheson and the original novella here. The check out this portfolio of Sylvain Despretz's unused storyboard art for the Scott version...

22 April 2006

O'Bannon--Where Art Thou?

Found--apparently, after being MIA for seemingly an eternity from the film scene, at least since the last flood of Philip K. Dick adaptations. The creator of the original "Alien", former creative partner of John Carpenter ("Dark Star", of course) and once-prolific sci-fi scribe ("Blue Thunder", "Dead And Buried", "Lifeforce", "Total Recall", "Screamers") has been battling some medical problems over the past few years, but is about to rebound with a project he'll not only pen but also direct. O'Bannon, you'll remember, made his directorial debut with the 1985 punk/zombie classic "Return Of The Living Dead", and followed it up with the moody modernization of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Strange Case Of Charles Dexter Ward" ("The Resurrected") which was unceremoniously dumped to video and largely forgotten. Nearly 15 years later, he'll reportedly helm "They Bite", which is a property John Carpenter discussed in an interview waaaay back in a 1980 Cinefantastique interview:

"After Dark Star we were going to do They Bite. (the story concept involved the discovery, alive and menacing, of a heretofore unknown species of prehistoric insect which mimicked biologically whatever it ate, and it ate just about everything). I was going to direct it, and Dan would do the same thing--Production Design...he took over the project..."

--and Carpenter and O'Bannon dissolved their partnership after a personal falling-out.

Obviously, much of the concept was incorporated into O'Bannon's "Alien" script, so who knows how much he's rethought the property over the decades? According to this week's Variety, O'Bannon, former Paramount exec Brian Witten, and Rob Gallagher are "in talks" (whatever that means these days) and the story is being kept very hush hush with production to start later this year.

21 April 2006

"I Would Do Anything For Dario--But I Won't Do THAT..."

Season Two of Anchor Bay's "Masters Of Horror" anthology is now in production, with confirmation that returning John Landis has just wrapped the debut episode, "Family" (starring George Wendt), in Vancouver. Seven filmmakers from the first season are coming back: John Carpenter (with another Swan/McSweeny script "Pro Life"), Joe Dante (Sam Hamm's writing it), Stuart Gordon (Poe's "The Black Cat", previously adapted by Argento in "Two Evil Eyes"), and Tobe Hooper (who really took a beating for last season's Richard Matheson adaptation, which I thought was at least flawed-but-interesting). And you can all breathe a sigh of relief over confirmation that series creator Mick Garris will direct another episode (oh well...). Dario Argento's entry will air second: it's entitled "Pelts", and headlines Marvin Lee Aday, aka "Meat Loaf".

DOP-turned-director Ernest R. Dickerson will helm his first installment for the series--dunno if Snoop Dogg's "Bones" qualifies him as a master of the genre, necessarily, but I thought his "Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight" was pretty good. Brad (Session 9) Anderson and Tom (Fright Night) Holland have been added to the roster--leaving three spots yet to be filled. Hopefully, the Showtime folks will have the guts to air all 13 installments this time around.

Follow the news at Fangoria.com.

J. Lo And The Blockheads

If I were the usual cine-pundit, I'd preface this entry with some glib remark about "the dearth of creativity in Hollywood", lament the end of the 1970s, and urge you all to check out the nearest Elem Klimov retrospective. I won't (since I'm actually excited about "Silent Hill" this weeekend and most of the summer movie schedule) but hopefully most of you will understand how depressed I am that production on the long-rumoured "Dallas" movie is a "go". The trades announced today who will shoot J.R. (sorry): "Bend It Like Beckham"s Gurinder Chadha will direct John Travolta (as J.R.) and J. Lo. (as Sue Ellen) in this 20th Century Fox production (this, if anything, explains why they haven't become "21st Century Fox") that will erupt into theatres in 2007 accompanied by the olfactory assault of oils natural (black gold) and man-made (nacho cheese, olestra). Presumably, this is a dramatic adaptation, and not a lampoon ala "Starsky And Hutch", which is too bad, since I suppose if they were to cast someone like David Cross as "Bobby", Robert Forster as "Jock", Isla Fisher as "Lucy" and hire Mitch Hurwtiz as screenwriter I might be persuaded to check it out.

Now, is it just me showing my age here, or can there be a sizeable portion of the still-theatregoing demographic that actually thinks this is a good idea, when "Watchman" repeatedly stalls, Brian DePalma has to go to France for financing, and the recent screen efforts of Travolta and Lopez have grossed have failed to gross collectively even a fraction of "Ice Age 2"s opening afternoon? Confession: I never watched a single episode of the nighttime soap during its epic run, so most of the nostalgia for its characters and catch-phrases is lost on me--save for the "SNL" parody that got the late Charles Rocket fired.

Chanda is reportedly attached to the "I Dream of Jeannie" feature as well--guess she's got a thing for Larry Hagman...

18 April 2006

He's Reserving Spots 8-10 For Uwe Boll...

Christophe Gans, who gave us the terrific Euro-genre-bender "Brotherhood Of The Wolf" a few years back, debuts his newest film "Silent Hill" this weekend. Yes, it's yet another video game adaptation, but the advance imagery (moody!) and trailer (Alice Krige!) for this Ontario-shot spookfest look mighty inviting. Gans knows a thing or two about the genre in which he works, too, given his L.A. Times list of the top seven (?) modern horror films . He's cool enough to recognize the underrated genius of John Carpenter's "Prince Of Darkness"--I think like "Silent Hill" already!

Read his complete list and comments here.

17 April 2006

For A Hundred Smackeroos, They Could've Thrown In A Lock Of Miller's Hair...

DC Comics will reissue Frank Miller's groundbreaking "The Dark Knight Returns" this summer in another pricey hardcover slipcase volume ala "Absolute Watchman" and the upcoming "Kingdom Come" deluxe edition. "Absolute Dark Knight" will come paired with its somewhat underwhelming sequel "DK2", which looks better and better all the time when compared to Miller's much-ballyhooed "All Star Batman And Robin" series, in which Miller (obviously busy with "Sin City 2" and visits to the "300" set) has given us four largely plotless issues that at least provide Jim Lee fans numerous opportunities to ogle Vicky Vale in clingy outfits (but Jim, what's with all those button-noses?--sooo Michael Turner...). The 512-page tome will also include new-and-vintage sketches, and new commentary, cover and slipcase art by Miller. It hits stores on Aug. 30 and retails for $99.99 U.S.

11 April 2006

It Was All Downhill After Hal Needham Stopped Directing...

It used to be that film snobs and PBS totebaggers used to bemoan the (alleged) horrible state of current cinema by pointing to 1939 as the Last Great Year for movies--admittedly, an impressive annum that gave us "Gone With The Wind", "It's A Wonderful Life", and "The Wizard Of Oz", although no one seems to remember that same year offered up less-fondly-regarded sequels to "Andy Hardy", "Blondie", "Bulldog Drummond", "Charlie Chan", "The Cisco Kid", "Frankenstein", "Mr. Moto", "Sherlock Holmes, "Tarzan", "The Thin Man", and "Topper" (more sequels than we'll see for the entire release schedule of 2006). Then Peter Biskind had to go write this (otherwise comprehensive and highly readable) account of Vietnam-era filmmaking called "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls", and suddenly, everyone was lamenting the end of the 1970s as the last great Golden Age of American filmmaking, before, as lore would have it, Spielberg and Lucas came along to ruin it all for a once-discriminating moviegoing public that just couldn't get enough of "Brewster McCloud",or "A Woman Under The Influence", and "The Conformist". Well, I've always regarded this as lazy thinking and a huge load--movies today are no better or worse than they've ever been and nostalgia is selective at best, and intolerant of the present at its worst. Finally, someone else seems to agree with me, so maybe I'll stop being ostracized in conversations. Consider John Hartl's debunking of the myth in "The Golden Age Of Movies? Never Happened" at MSNBC.

Happy 7th Birthday Minnie!

I don't like to get too personal in these pages--especially after seeing "Misery"--but I can't help to take a bit of space to wish a happy 7th birthday today to "Minnie" (full name, "Miniature", on account of her tiny size when we got her at eight weeks), our beautiful diluted-tortie-tabby who has endured a very tough year in having to cope with the loss of her big sister Molly, a road trip to the Ottawa Valley she didn't care for, and the arrival of Maggie, who as I write this is making her life a non-stop ordeal of four-pawed pugilistics. The cozy grey-and-cream furball will enjoy a day of sunbeams, pampering, and the threat of assault from her pint-sized sister. Catch Minnie in one of her more playful and serene moments in the video at the bottom of this page, or here.

And At 74, Still A Better Actor And Painter Than Tony Curtis...

Cheeta, co-star of a dozen classic ''Tarzan'' movies (starting with 1932's "Tarzan The Ape Man", produced in the 30s and 40s, turned 74 this week! Incredibly, this simian hyphenate has outlived "Tarzan" costars Johhny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, Bruce Bennett, and Buster Crabbe (considering most chimps don't live past the age of 40), and "Doctor Doolittle" himself, Rex Harrison.

His keeper at CHEETA (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes) said "he had a good time. The party went real good". But the old boy's diabetic, so his cake was sugar-free. The graying, 150 pound chimp still has all of his original teeth, too, and is likely to keep them at this rate. Reps from a Spanish film festival also showed up for Sunday's party in Palm Springs to present Cheeta with his first, long-overdue award: an International Comedy Film Festival of Peniscola prize.

Cheeta has been recognized by the Guinness Book Of World Records as the world's oldest chimp, and keeps busy painting ''ape-stract'' pieces that are sold to raise money for the nonprofit sanctuary. Check out his homepage here.

10 April 2006

My Blue Cineplex

Obviously, "they"'re not so different from us after all: you'd think that being a powerful Hollywood big shot would afford a person some comfort and isolation from the indignities the rest of us peons have to suffer, especially those of us who feel the perverse urge to catch a first-run movie in an actual theatre (can't you just smell the olestra? Feel the back of your seat being kicked? See the glow of a Razr phone...?). Well, heavy-hitter Nora Ephron feels our pain, and has posted her tale of woe to the New York Times. Bad framing, no sync sound, clueless staff, in-absentee management--sounds like a Toronto Saturday night!

09 April 2006

MIA On DVD: "Slithis", Tommy Smothers...

The Cinematical Seven have posted a fun article on a rare handful of significant (well, that's a matter of opinion...) 80s horror films that have somehow evaded DVD release--which is amazing when you consider that a mere six+ years into the format the studios are already double-and-triple dipping on catalogue titles until the Blu-Ray/HD Wars have been waged, and won. Among the titles: some truly essential stuff like Stuart Gordon's gonzo Lovecraft pastiche "From Beyond" and Lewis Teague's "Alligator" (written by John Sayles and featuring a great performance by Robert Forster), as well as amusing programmers like "Student Bodies" and Paramount's SNL/SCTV vet-heavy B-pic/clip show "It Came From Hollywood" (I remember John Candy clad in angora in an ode to "Glen Or Glenda") and Greydon Clark's "Predator"-lite opus "Without Warning". Topping the list is Fred Dekker's delightful space-slugs-n-zombies howl "Night Of The Creeps"--"Slither"s poppa, basically--and his charming followup "The Monster Squad", still one of the best kidflicks ever, IMHO.

To this list I would add Stephen Traxler's 1978 shocker-wannabe "Slithis", aka "Spawn Of The Slithis" (which I saw as a youngster on a double bill with, I think, "The Clones Of Bruce Lee), and Alfred Sole's slasher spoof (yes, another one, but one of the first!) "Pandemonium", aka "Thursday The 12th". "Slithis" was your basic Pollution Is Eeeevil allegory in which radioactive sludge (actually, an “infinitesimal” amount according to the onscreen science dude) dumped into the ocean gives birth to a hulking rubber doofus that terrorizes Venice Beach, CA. "Pandemonium", from the director of "Alice, Sweet Alice" and "Tanya's Island", was a Canadian tax shelter product that featured bit roles for Judge Reinhold and Phil Hartman and a major turn for Tommy Smothers, who portrayed a dedicated RCMP officer investigating a series of coed murders at It Had To Be University (admit it, that's funny), along with partners Paul Reubens and Bob, his horse.

While no classic, it was certainly better than National Lampoon's "Class Reunion", which come to think of it, probably deserves to be on the list, too, if for no other reason than it offers a rare lead role for one Blackie Dammit (as the killer), who in real life is the father of "Red Hot Chili Peppers" frontman Anthony Kiedias (as well as the president of his fan club).

06 April 2006

Yesh! They're Coming!

One of the great gems of the syndicated comic strip realm is Patrick McDonnell's delightful "Mutts", now in its 10th year of publication. The daily adventures of playful pets Mooch (a cat) and Earl (a dog), their four-legged pals, and two-legged companions ("Ozzies") tickle the funny bone and warm the heart without every resorting to easy saccharine sentiment (says O'Donnell: "Animals have a unique love of life, and they’re very much about living in the here and now. That’s something you don’t always see in people"). O'Donnell's very well-versed in the fine arts and pop culture, too, evidenced by his always clever (and sometimes maddeningly obscure) splash panels in his Sunday strips (everything from Captain Beefheart to Basquiat!). In an age where seemingly everything is merchandised to the ridiculous extreme, O'Donnell has managed to keep"Mutts" pretty much to himself, allowing for the limited release of exclusive merchandise through his official site (although there is/was a magazine and entire store devoted to the strip in Japan, and apparently, they don't export). This summer, Dark Horse is releasing a series of four figurines embodying the strip's key characters in living 3D plastic: headliners Mooch and Earl, obviously, as well as the heartbreaking Guard Dog and always melancholy Jules aka "Shtinky Puddin'". While you wait, you can play with the cool Quicktime turnaround movies here...

03 April 2006

Happy 80th To Roger Corman!

Tim Lucas of the always-essential "Video Watchdog" has urged fans to gather for a "Blog-A-Thon" to mark a most major event: the legendary Roger Corman celebrates the big 8-0 this very day, and I can't imagine a happier octogenarian.

I had the pleasure of meeting the man--a lifelong idol of mine (and to many)--back in 2003 for a Q&A and screening of "Man With The X-Ray Eyes" sponsored by The Canadian Film Centre, and he was as gracious and good-humoured as I expected him to be (critics and their "schlockmeister" labels aside, I don't think a bad word has ever been written about him). Although moving a lot slower than I'd seen him in many documentaries and DVD supplements, he signed my copy of his autobiography and my vintage "Bucket Of Blood" half-sheet (already signed by Dick Miller). Whatever cynicism I had about the film industry vanished (well, at least then) when I watched him reminisce with the glee of a giddy teenager, even though I'm sure he'd heard every question asked at least several hundred times before. Clearly, after 50 years as a producer, guru, and accomplished auteur in his own right, he still loves what he does. And movie fans everywhere cherish his legacy.

Corman was supposed to direct the final installment of "Masters Of Horror" but had to bow out at the last minute for health reasons (he was replaced by John McNaughton). Let's hope he's feeling a bit more chipper for Season Two. In the meantime, you can check out much of his filmography on those little miracle platters. May I suggest starting with the perfectly-modulated, macabre pageantry of "Masque Of The Red Death", the aforementioned "Man With The X-Ray Eyes", the tense and Tarantinoesque "Rock All Night", the impossibly groovy "The Trip", the tragically underappreciated "The Intruder" (Shatner in overdrive, sure, but an impassioned performance nonetheless)?...ah, hell, just get 'em all and see what "indie" filmmaking was like before boutique divisions and emo soundtracks...

(more to come on Corman later...)

Definitely NOT Men...

Mark Mothersbough, once the leader of essential 80s band "Devo" (who, amazingly, were formed waaay back in 1972), has been slumming in kiddie television while the rest of us await the inevitable big-ticket reunion (I've got the official Devo action figure right here next to my PC--how's that for loyalty?). Imagine my shock and horror when I received news of "Devo 2.0" and found the 21st century incarnation to be a Disneyfied, New Wave version of that other 80s phenom, The Mini-Pops! This is just soooo wrong--tell me, MM, that it's another of your too-clever post-modernist stunts...

Check out the revolting spectacle here, if you dare.