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...?