31 March 2006
France's "Cache"--aka "Hidden"--has shaped up to be the foreign film du jour, and not surprisingly, it's been smothered with the usual critical merde. If the cognoscenti fall for one thing, it's snail-paced Euro-ambiguity, and there are plenty of PBS-totebag-types standing on the sidelines ready to compliment Mr. Haneke on his new clothes. Now, some of you will dismiss my assessment as the result of too many comic books and B-horror movies (given most of this site's content), but I don't think I'm asking too much if I expect a director to give me an actual ending in return for two hours of my life. Especially since that for most of its running time, "Cache" is an absolutely riveting dramatic thriller, with performances, direction, and nuances of plot as good as anything else I've seen onscreen all year. Pity that Haneke succumbed to the urge to cop out with a ham-fisted allegory about Algerian injustices, and leave the rest of us hanging and pondering the sins we committed when we were six.
But I'm not the only one who feels this way: check out David Poland's dissenting view at The Hot Button (he's got the good sense to defend Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut", too).
23 March 2006
Alfred Bester's "The Stars, My Destination" is regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time--and it's definitely on my top ten list of absolute favorite books, along with his other beloved classic, "The Demolished Man". Bester (1913-1987) did it all: writing for pulps (Astounding, Galaxy), DC Comics (Superman, Green Lantern--Bester is believed to have created GL's oath), radio ("The Shadow", "Charlie Chan"), and eventually, travel (he edited "Holiday" magazine for nearly two decades). He never worked in film, but was on the short list to write the 1978 "Superman" movie until Puzo got the gig.
"Stars" was inspired by a true account of a shipwrecked WW II sailor who drifted in the Pacific for days because passing ships thought his raft was a lure to bring them within range of the enemy . Bester created Gulliver Foyle, a simple and often hateful man driven by rage against those who abandoned him after he becomes stranded in space and left behind by another spacecraft, "The Volga". Foyle makes it to an asteroid populated by the offspring of the marooned crews, who tattoo a Maori-style mask onto his face (with the word "N♂mad" across his forehead). In a series of exciting adventures across several worlds, Foyle closes in on his target, the Volga's captain, and reinvents himself under several personas, before the whole thing comes to a surreal, spiritual climax that prefigures "2001". It's also the book that gave us "jaunting"--teleportation that would eventually become a genre staple. The novel contains echoes of "The Count Of Monte Cristo" and Joseph Campbell's "monomyth". It's amazing to consider that a story so prophetic, profound, and experimental was first published in a pulp mag in 1956, and has taken so long to shake off the undying stigma of genre fiction.
John Carpenter had planned a film version back in the 80s, and even had Lorenzo Semple Jr. pen a draft. Over the years, the property has passed through the hands of Walter Hill, Paul W.S. Anderson, Stephen Sommers, and now, as reported this week, Universal Pictures and Lorenzo Di Bonaventura are set to take a swing. It'll be a challenging adaptation--Foyle's not the most likeable of characters, the scope is massive, and the ending "outre" to say the least. As for casting--Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, and Jason Statham are obvious choices, but I think it'd be cool if they went with someone more like Javier Bardem or Temuera Morrison.
In the meantime, I'd love to be able to get a copy of the 1991 BBC Radio adaptation, and wish someone would reprint Howard Chaykin's two-part graphic novel from the early 80s.
14 March 2006
Music legend Isaac Hayes is reported today to have quit Comedy Central's "South Park", where he has voiced "Chef" since its premiere in 1997. The reason? Hayes can no longer stomach its take on religion, which, to say the least, pulls no punches or bodily fluids.
In a statement yesterday, 63-year old Hayes said he feels "a line has been crossed"...there is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins. Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honoured. As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."
He's also a devout Scientologist, and obviously had no problem with the show's lampooning of Christianity that began right Matt Stone and Trey Parker's homemade short/pilot "Spirit Of Christmas" (in which JC battles Santa Claus), or Islam (the post-9/11 "Osama Bin Farty Pants"). But it looks like last November's Tom Cruise parody "Trapped In The Closet", with its L. Ron Hubbard digs and "expose" of the religion's more outre beliefs (Operating Thetans), was more than he could tolerate.
Stone responded: "This is 100 per cent having to do with his faith of Scientology. . . He has no problem - and he's cashed plenty of cheques - with our show making fun of Christians." He added that neither he nor Parker "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin."
As for Hayes' next role, who knows? Perhaps as Forest Whittaker's brother in that long-awaited "Battlefield Earth" sequel?
13 March 2006
"Video Watchdog" is the finest film journal being written today (and it comes from Cincinatti, no less)--pity that it's so damned hard to find. This monthly independent compendium of reviews, retrospectives, and interviews is the work of the seemingly indefatigable Tim and Donna Lucas, with occassional contributions from film director Joe Dante, comics artist Steve Bissette, and horror writers Kim Newman and Ramsey Campbell. Tim's name you may recognize from his articles for the UK's "Sight & Sound" and many-a-DVD/laserdisc commentary or liner notes (among them, "Danger: Diabolik"). Somehow, Tim's able to free up a few minutes a day for a blog which is always entertaining and informative. But this past Sunday, he posted something that struck a nerve with me, and I'm sure, countless other ravenous film buffs and collectors.
In "DV De Profundis", Tim questions the whole notion of collecting: ""What am I buying all this for?" he wonders after loading up on a discount DVD web auction. "I'm already well over my head as regards things to watch, even in things that need to be watched...so why do I spend so much money on titles that I know will be put into bankers' boxes to sit around unwatched for an indefinite period?" (and to that I'll add: "If ever?")
"...as I surveyed the damages, I noted that maybe half of what I ordered I already own in some form or other: VHS pre-record, off-air recording, laserdisc..." (I confess, I've owned "Planet Of The Apes", "Star Wars", John Carpenter's "The Thing", "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind","Dawn Of The Dead", "Manhunter", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and "The Blues Brothers" in just about every home video format known to man, including some on Super-8 digests).
Tim gets a little touchy-feely Freudian in his analysis of why we collect: "When I was six or seven years old, my mother married a man who, a week or two into their short-lived marriage, sold every toy and comic book I owned in a yard sale and used the money to get drunk...I suspect that all of us who are compulsive DVD collectors are working through feelings we grew up with..."
For me, he nails it here: "...having them is a way of ensuring that these titles will be available when we, or someone close to us, needs to see them again. But considering that, say, CITIZEN KANE is now frequently shown on TCM and other stations completely uncut and commercial-free...why do so many of us need to own it?...the only valid answer to this question is that, someday, at some ungodly late hour of the night or early hour of the morning, we might feel the need to see CITIZEN KANE right now." (not terribly unreasonable: I've been hosting my own mini-"The Prisoner" marathon every night at 11 for a week now, even though the A& E boxed set has been sitting on my shelf the better part of three years)
Lucas admits: "...as I continue along this strange path of acquisitiveness in life, I do sometimes think of what's in my attic, still in shrink-wrap, and calculate how many trips to Europe, how many adventures, I might have had instead...I've seen CITIZEN KANE at least 20 times.I've never been to Europe".
Well, I've been to Europe, Asia, Australia, the U.S. and Central America, so I guess I can be pardoned for having recently purchased David Lynch's "Dune" for the fourth time on home video. And no, I haven't watched it yet.
You can read Lucas' sermon in its entirety here.
08 March 2006
Jim Capobianco is story artist for Pixar who has been working on his own "hand-drawn" short film in his spare time. He began the project--"Leonardo"--back in 1999 and hopes to complete it sometime this year. The fella's no slacker obviously, given Pixar's recent track record.
"Here's the thing I realized", writes Capobianco, "that what ever you can do on your project each day is valuable. May it be five minutes or five hours. 5 drawings or 5 feet of film. You are 5 minutes, 5 drawings closer to your goal. The important thing is that you do it. Even if you have to eventually throw out those drawings, you had to do them to get to the next five".
Well, if that doesn't humble a hombre. For years I've been avoiding finishing screenplays and getting that "official" online portfolio up and running, but easily finding plenty of time for "Mercenaries" on the PS2 and "Justice League Unlimited" bit torrents. Right now, I feel like the world's biggest fanboy/loser.
Check out his blog here.
Now, time to reread those old notes, and hope I can finally complete that "Ace Of Diamonds" mission...
Either Hollywood's been scouring my bookshelf, or I'm one plugged-in sumgum. So why am I slumming in TV? As Chuck Klosterman would put it: "ANYWAY"--I'm about 2/3 of the way through Stephen King's "Cell" when today comes news that Dimension Films has hired Eli ("Hostel", "Cabin Fever" ) Roth to helm the inevitable big screen adaptation. No cast or release details have been announced, and I'm not necessarily holding my breath--how long have we been waiting for that long-announced "The Talisman" feature, and is Frank Darabont still promising "The Mist"?
The general consensus on "Cell" is that it's King's return to his late 70s/early 80s roots after forays in miniseries writing, sports essays, pop culture reviews, and above all, "serious fiction" (remember his battered-woman saga that began with "Gerald's Game"?) that have won him acclaim from The New Yorker crowd. Read: full-out, unapologetic apocalyptic grue. With his patented superb characters, dialogue, and regional colour, of course.
I'm really liking "Cell" so far--it's one hell of an adrenaline-surged page turner, witty and unnerving, and is most definitely an impassioned homage to the cinema of George A. Romero (the book is dedicated to the Pittsburgh zombie-meister) given "Raggedy Man"s obvious nod to "Big Daddy" from "Land Of The Dead", and The Headmaster's well-timed philosophizing over the true nature of Man (I can just hear Ken Foree speaking the lines...). It's also short, too, so little will have to be shorn for a two-hour running time.
In the meantime, King fans can always make due with the promising "Dark Tower" series coming from Dark Horse Comics (illustrated by Jae Lee), and Mick Garris' "Desperation" miniseries this spring, but really, does anyone really care about a "Desperation" miniseries...especially after all this time?
More exciting news from the comics-to-celluloid front: Heavy-hitters Paramount and MTV Films have optioned Charles Burns' "Black Hole" for the big screen, and have enlisted fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman and former-Tarantino partner Roger Avary to take the first pass at the adaptation. Alexandre Aja, whose debut "Haute Tension" won him mucho acclaim (and much derision over its rug-pull of an ending) and whose remake of Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes" looks very promising indeed, will direct after he completes his next feature, "The Waiting" (presumably not based on the Tom Petty song...).
Indie vet Burns, whose stark, oily inking style and misshapen figures mash-up the innocent with the macabre, took nearly a decade to complete "Black Hole", which was collected in hardcover late last year by Fantagraphics. One of the most gruesome, nightmarish, and incredibly sad comics I've ever read, the serial chronicles how "the bug"--a horrible, sexually transmitted disease-- disrupts the lives of a group of Seattle teens during the 1970s who are already coping with the usual perils and traumas of impending adulthood. Grotesque and unflinching, yes, but it's nothing less than a masterwork--of storytelling and comics art--and definitely merits your attention.
Here's a decent interview with Burns from The Comics Journal...
06 March 2006
Got this from Garth Franklin's always-informative "Dark Horizons" site, which, despite being hosted from Australia and in an entirely different time zone (it's tomorrow there already), regularly manages to scoop the more esteemed North American sites (Spawn Of Father Geek, are you listening?). DH blurts that the New York Post has announced the news "Arrested Development" fans have been waiting for since Michael and George Michael sailed off on the C-Word: the good folks at Showtime have not only picked up Mitchell Hurwitz's unjustly canceled (and completely brilliant) series, but has ordered a full season of 26 episodes! Let's hope Season 4 doesn't reveal the whole thing to have been a fantasy from Annyong's snow globe!
Still licking my wounds over last night's "Crash" upset at the 78th Annual Academy Awards--"crash" being an appropriate description for my Pia-Zadora-worthy performance in this year's Oscar office pool. After a mere 15 out of 23 categories correct (62.5% for all the John Nashes out there reading this between hallucinations), I'm officially renouncing "Entertainment Weekly" as my tip-off source for the more obscure categories. Have these guys ever called "Best Live Action short" or "Best Animated short" correctly? Really, has anyone? Even the cine-blogs and "insider" chat boards I scoured had "The Death Of Kevin Carter" and "Nine" positioned as (respective) champs.
Granted, a few gaffes were no fault but my own: failing to predict that "Brokeback Mountain"s Albertan vistas would woo the Cinematography mavens, and a big "duh!" that "King Kong"s astonishing sound FX would fail to score it a statue in both audio categories (I figured the usual prejudice against genre films would leave the big monkey empty fisted save for Visual Effects). In the end, it's really nothing more than a shell game, so in a stab to reclaim my title as Resident Cinematic Know-It-All (somewhat disturbing, though, that many at The Cathode Ray Mission today were positively beaming over my loss), I hereby challenge this year's office pool winner to a round of NTN Showbiz trivia--"Scene It" is way too easy...
So, now that it's finally over, here's my late, redundant, and entirely single-minded list for The Best Of 2006:
BEST PICTURE (STUFF THAT DAZZLED, ENGROSSED, MOVED, OR ENTERTAINED ME SPECTACULARLY...):
Good Night And Good Luck
Wallace And Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit
Land Of The Dead
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
RUNNERS UP (MEANING IT MUST'VE BEEN A GOOD MOVIE YEAR...):
A History Of Violence
The Corpse Bride
The Constant Gardener
The War Of The Worlds
BETTER THAN YOU'VE HEARD (DIDN'T DRINK THE CRITICS' KOOL-AID...):
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith
WORST PICTURE (THOSE WASTES OF TIME LAZY, DULL, OR DOWNRIGHT :
Hide And Seek
The Amityville Horror
The Adventures Of Shark Boy And Lava Girl
02 March 2006
Conspicuously MIA from this year's Oscar noms was Roman Polanski's adaptation of Dickens' "Oliver Twist", and eerily timed with this weekend's awards ceremony, is sad news of the death of everyone's favorite "Artful Dodger"--and Oscar nominee for the role--Jack Wild, who passed away yesterday from oral cancer at the age of 53.
"Oliver" won Best Picture in 1968, and Wild provided what for many is the classic film's standout performance. But for me, he was and always-shall-be "Jimmy" on Sid And Marty Kroft's uber-bizarre childrens' series/Technicolour mescaline trip "H.R. Pufnstuf", in which he and his talking flute "Freddy" teamed up with a talking dragon (and several obvious "McDonaldland" inspirations) to repeatedly thwart the dastardly plans of Witchy-Poo. Wild reprised his role in a feature film version that costarred Mama Cass, released during the series' run to cash in on its considerable popularity.
Born in northern England in 1952, Wild was discovered by a talent scout while playing soccer, and was cast in the London stage production of "Oliver!" as pickpocket the Artful Dodger. Given his association with musical roles ("Pufnstuf" featured many songs, and he released three solo albums during the 70s), it's all the more sad that since 2000, Wild was largely unable to speak, due to chemotherapy treatments and the ravages of cancer. Wild blamed his illness on years of heavy drinking and smoking, and admitted that his "lifestyle had made me a walking time bomb."
A pretty decent fansite offers photos and audio clips here.
01 March 2006
"Masters Of Horror" has come and gone--well, almost, as the series will reach its official conclusion when Anchor Bay releases Miike's rejected (and thus unaired) installment "Imprint" this fall--so now, we can prepare for "Masters Of Science Fiction".
But expect far less controversial material, as the ABC network has picked up the anthology series produced by IDT Entertainment, which promises to feature adaptations of some of the most revered authors of the genre--science fiction, "sci-fi", scientifiction, "speculative fiction", whatever the hell they wanna call it these days.
Negotiations are currently underway to include works from Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and my personal fave, Harlan Ellison for an initial season total of six one-hour episodes, to air in prime time. Sez IDT COO John Hyde: "ABC is the perfect venue for these interpretations of science fiction's seminal literary voices." Really? ABC?
Screenwriter Michael ("The Player", "The Rapture") Tolkin has signed to adapt and direct one episode, as yet unnamed. Discussions are underway to feature such works as Ellison's "The Discarded", "The Last Question" by Asimov, and for Bradbury himself to adapt his own "Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed". Production begins this May in Vancouver. Maybe I'll pony up for that Rogers PVR after all...