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.