18 December 2007

"Trailers From Hell": Sheer Heaven!

Bored with YouTube's endless parade of other people's kids, pets, and painfully unfunny "ambush" videos? Wouldn't it be more fun to listen to "Shawn Of The Dead" director Edgar Wright defend the British cannibal flick "Raw Meat"? Well, for that, you've got to go to Trailers From Hell, the brainchild of Joe Dante's multi-media companyMetaluna Productions, in collaboration with The Nickels Group and Elizabeth Stanley Pictures.

Other notable "gurus" include directors like John Landis, Alison Anders, Allan Arkush, Larry Cohen, Mick Garris, and Jack Hill, and screenwriter Sam Hamm.

The best part of it all is that in most cases, the trailers are better than the films they're ballyhoo'ing. Case in point: this month's trailer is "I Was A Teenage Werewolf", hosted by none other than makeup maestro Rick Baker!

©2007 Robert J. Lewis

12 December 2007

iTunes Makes Canadians Pay For Stuff They Won't Even Watch For Free...

Television shows can finally be downloaded in Canada via iTunes, but the most of what's available is CanCon-approved fare only. Hoo-ray.

"Corner Gas", "Little Mosque On The Prairie", "The Rick Mercer Report," "Dragons' Den" "Degrassi: The Next Generation" and "Robson Arms" are some of the initial titles. Although CTV fare like "The Hills", "South Park", and "The Sarah Silverman show" come from south-of-the-border.

If iTunes really wants to get me excited about downloading Canadian content, they'll add "SCTV", "The Forest Rangers", "The Starlost", "Strange Paradise", and of course, "Rocket Robin Hood" to the library.

I assume that the selection will eventually expand to films. Just think--Michael Snow's "Wavelength"! Available in your shirt pocket! Whenever you need some perspective during a long streetcar ride!

Check out the story here at Canoe.

03 December 2007

Chimp Beats Humans At Test, Shares In Loincloths Skyrocket...

Japanese researchers (who else?) recently devised a short-term memory competition between young chimpanzees and college students and, overall, the apes won. Goodbye Statue Of Liberty...It's only a matter of time before our closest genetic relatives take over civilization with meat cleavers, as documented in J. Lee Thompson's Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Yep, a five-year old year chimp has a better memory than a human--at least compared to these these co-ed clods--in a test that involved recalling the order of Arabic numbers. If General Urko organizes his gorilla army before next year's 2008 elections, perhaps Dubya can save face and send 'em to Iraq...

The beginning of the end can be read here at Canoe.

Batman And "Razumihin"?

Thanks to DC's "Elseworlds" one-shots, we've had Batman in Victorian England ("Gotham By Gaslight"), Batman in the Civil War ("The Blue, The Grey, And The Bat"), "Batman: Dark Knight Of The Round Table" (guess), Batman in the ghetto (Stan Lee's unfortunate "urban" reinterpretation, which was basically Boyz N' The Hood with "Manbat"), Batman in Cold War Russia ("Superman: Red Son"), plus Batman vs. the Phantom Of The Opera, Nosferatu, OSS agents, Edgar Allen Poe, the French Revolution, Al Capone, The Templar Knights--so what's left?

How about The Dark Knight starring in classics of literature? Back in 2000, Drawn And Quarterly proposed Dostoyevsky Comics, the first (and presumably, only) issue devoted to Fyodor D's Crime and Punishment--an appropriate subject for The Caped Crusader. It's definitely the most unique take since the Josef von Sternberg film version which starred Peter Lorre and compressed and updated the tale to The Great Depression.

Hilarious stuff by R. Sikoryak.--check it out here.

25 November 2007

Cool "Batman" Animated Short

Here's a nifty homemade short film that depicts The Dark Knight in a new (monochromatic) light: the talented Isaak Fernandez Rodriguez, a professional animator based in Barcelona, spent three years making this first chapter in what I hope will be an ongoing series. Check out this utterly unique take on the Caped Crusader here at Animwatch (thanks Lidia!).

21 November 2007

Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da (Web) Gunk?

Can this be for real? Spider-Man: The Musical--yes, a real live stage musical--is apparently well into preproduction with no less a talent than Julie Taymor calling the shots! With music by Bono and The Edge (need I mention they're from a little band called U2?)! How the hell did this happen? I blame Legally Blonde-The Musical--then again, I blame it for most things that are wrong in this world...

The ever-reliable Cinematical's got the story here.

Taymor, of course, earned her rep as something of a stage visionary (The Lion King is perhaps her best known achievement) before turning to film with Frida and her wild adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. She's so into it she'd like to cast the two leads from her current Beatles movie musical Across The Universe: ersatz McCartney Jim Sturges as Peter Parker (he'll have to work on the New Yawk accent) and Evan Rachel Wood as Mary Jane (but to me, she looks more like Gwen Stacey).

According to an interview in The Daily Mail, Taymor promises her take will be more "faithful" to the comics, and plans to include "trapeze artists, giant puppets, and incredible costumes into the show." Perhaps Wood's boyfriend Marilyn Manson can be convinced to play Morbius, The Living Vampire?

No word on what Stan Lee thinks of all this, but come curtain time on its premiere night, you can be he'll be on the red carpet taking credit for it all. And I'm sure that Steve Ditko's private box will be waiting, but my guess is that it'll remain vacant while he remains immersed in some new edition of The Fountainhead.

Tread softly, talented people--this won't be the first time a superhero icon has taken flight on the American stage: justly forgotten is 1966's Broadway flop It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman, which told the story of a certain blue and red clad Kryptonian through song, verse, and and a little soft-shoe (interesting that the book was written by Robert Benton and David Newmon, who would later cowrite the excellent "Superman: The Movie").

BTW, betcha didn't that "Batman" nearly made it to the musical stage during the height of the character's 90s movie/TV popularity, with Jim Steinman having completed and recording some songs before the plug was pulled (you can check out "The Joker's Song" here).

Here's a little clip from the Supes musical, etc. to serve as a warning of what could happen if it all goes down in a flaming wreck when Spider-Man: The Musical debuts either in London's West End or on Broadway next year.

Julie, don't "let it be"...
©2007 Robert J. Lewis

19 November 2007

TIFF 2007 Review: "Redacted"

Brian DePalma's controversial Iraq drama Redacted is now in limited release, and ruffling feathers on the right and the left wherever it goes. In case you missed it, here's my review from this past year's Toronto International Film Festival.

17 November 2007

Hate Toronto? Have I Got A Game For You!

The talented students of the Game Design program at Toronto's George Brown College have created a promising new videogame which pits you--as "George Freeman"--against the extraterrestrial menace "The Combine" on the mean streets of The Big Smoke! Yes, the environments you'll navigate in this Half Life 2 mod are based upon actual downtown Toronto locations, so you'll be fighting for your (virtual) life by Massey Hall, The Eaton Centre, on the Dundas TTC platform, in the remains of St. Michael's hospital, uptown to Mel Lastman Square, and if you complete all the levels, you'll unlock the underground PATH system. Too much fun! Check out some sample screenshots here.

My kudos go to the game's primary designers Ezra Arellano, Adrian Rosca, Troy Manalo, Roozbeh Madanipour and Kyle Cislak--talented youngsters who I hope can sell this baby to Hollywood for a huge chunk of change (there's little chance Canada would ever produce a film like this, so why not aim big?). I just hope Uwe Boll keeps his dirty mitts off of it!
"City 7: Toronto Conflict" is available as a free download here, with more levels promised to follow.

10 November 2007

Celebrating Animation Great Bob Clampett

Today Lidia and I attended a special afternoon tribute to animation legend Bob Clampett, who along with Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Robert McKimson, Virgil Ross, Frank Tashlin, and Friz Freleng, created the timeless adventures of Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Sylvester, Tweety, Speedy and the rest of the Looney Tunes universe. He also created the beloved animated TV series "Beanie And Cecil".

Clampett's daughter Ruth (centre) presented a visual biography of her father's fascinating (and enviable!) life (he passed away in 1984), and presented some new collectible pieces from the Clampett Studios Collection. Ruth manages the Warner Bros. Gallery Of Animation Art, which in addition to Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies art includes DC Comics, Hanna-Barbera, and Harry Potter.

The pieces are now on display at The Animation Connection at Yonge/Eglinton and are well worth checking out. An entire disc of the new Looney Tunes DVD collection (vol. 5) has been devoted to Clampett's works, which includes the first-ever appearance of Tweety (which Clampett based on his own baby photo!).

06 November 2007

A "Second" Earth? Cripes--We're Not Done Ruining The First One Yet!

Here's proof that the romance of the Space Age is officially over--the public and media indifference that greeted the discovery of another planet in another solar system!

The planet is approx. 45 times the mass of Earth and has an orbital cycle of 260 days. It joins the four others orbiting the star "55 Cancri", in the "Cancer" constellation.

The best news is that it occupies what is called a star's "Goldilocks' or "habitable" zone--not too hot, not too cold--where liquid water and mild temperatures could exist. But scientists are more interested in its moon, which could be more habitable to Earth-like life.

But don't go firing up the jet pack just yet--it's 41 light years away, or (scribbling calculations on my chalkboard...) 240,906,832,298,136 miles, and the scientists at San Francisco State U figure its conditions are probably more like those of Saturn, which, as we all know, is where the giant worms live, as documented in the film "Beetlejuice".

Read all the detail here courtesy of Canoe.

01 November 2007

King On Clapton

Having been the critical community's favorite whipping boy for most of his career, Stephen King is intimately familiar with the art of reviewing, as fans of his non-fiction chronicles "Danse Macabre" on "On Writing" know well. Taking a break from his column for Entertainment Weekly, King has written a review of Eric Clapton's autobiography for the New York Times. Check it out here.

TAD 2007: "The Tripper" Reviewed

My review of David Arquette's directorial debut "The Tripper" is up at Movieforum. One of the big tickets at this year's Toronto After Dark Film Festival, it's the heartwarming tale of hippies vs. a psycho in a Ronald Reagan mask that aspires to transcend the "slasher" genre and for the most part, succeeds. Read all about it here.

27 October 2007

Troma's "Poultrygeist" Reviewed At Movieforum

My review of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival's Toronto-premiere of Lloyd Kaufman's "Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead" is up at Movieforum. It's the usual Troma insanity, but this time with a lot more wit and panache than usual, plus, it's a musical! Check out my thoughts here.

Carpenter Talks Horror At EW

It's Halloween, so what better time to interview the man synonymous with the season? Entertainment Weekly offers a brief but surprising interview with veteran filmmaker John Carpenter here.

23 October 2007

Hey Doris Lessing...

Shut up (why? Read this). Take yer Nobel Prize and go away (and I didn't like "The Summer Before The Dark" either!).

22 October 2007

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2007: "An Audience Of One"

My latest TAD review: "An Audience Of One", a jaw-dropping documentary about a Pentecostal priest who--on orders from The Almighty--decides to make a big-budget, science-fiction version of the story of Joseph...with no money. Check it out here:

21 October 2007

TAD 2007: "In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale"

Dr. Uwe Boll, quite possibly the world's most hated director right now, debuted his latest video game adaptation at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival last night, and it's actually not bad! Read my review of the Tolkein-lite "In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" here.

20 October 2007

Toronto After Dark 2007: "Mulberry Street"

My review of Jim Mickle's "Mulberry Street", which debuted at last night's Toronto After Dark Film Festival, is now posted at my MovieForum site. I thought it was one of the most powerful horror debuts I've seen in years, and believe-you-me, I've seen waaaay too much of this stuff. This no-budget, New York-set shocker packs a more immediate, dramatic punch than most, and is well worth checking out if you have the stomach for an outbreak of a rat-spread zombie virus.

Check out my review here.

13 October 2007

Close-Up Blog-A-Thon: "Planet Of The Apes"

In honour of The House Next Door's Close-Up Blog-A-Thon, here's the close-up that shook my world at a very young age: the first appearance of a gorilla on horseback in Franklin J. Schaffner's original Planet Of The Apes (1968).

Up until this moment we're well-primed for something major: after listening to Charlton Heston's space age misanthrope George Taylor dismiss the human race to this flight recorder, badger his surviving fellow astronauts as they navigate a curiously habitable alien world, and make friendly with what Ash would call some "primitive screw heads" (excluding the stunning Nova, of course), a strange, forboding noise from the brush initiates mass panic. Suddenly, a relaxing skinny dip gives way to swishing blades, then mighty horses, then marching figures, which bring gun fire, hunting nets and then--

This guy!

Even though the premise is right there in the damned title, the simian soldier's entrance is still a stunner of a moment, rivaling even this film's notorious ending, IMHO. After literal dozens of viewings I still get that frisson of horror and enchantment when that a-rooooogah! horn blares from amidst Jerry Goldsmith's nerve-wracking percussion and the camera zooms in on this first reveal of John Chamber's astonishingly expressive makeup illusions--ushering in a too-brief wave of adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror cinema (along with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Roger Vadim's Barbarella, and George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead that same year) and securing my hopeless geekdom for life.

Close-Up Blog-A-Thon: #3

The chilling final close-up of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho--or is it Mrs. Bates from now on...?

Close-Up Blog-A-Thon: #2

Who can forget the unforgettable introduction of Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"?

It's the "Close Up Blog-A-Thon": #1

The House Next Door--simply one of the best hubs of opinion and criticism for current and classic film and television--is hosting "The Eyes Have It: Close-up Blog-A-Thon", which will run from Oct. 12-21.

THND's Matt Soller Seitz was inspired by Norma Desmond's lament, "We had faces then" from Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard:

"Entranced as I am by Ms. Desmond's fervor, I must respectfully disagree: yes, they had faces then, but we have faces now. And some of them are extraordinary. Therefore, I'm calling for a Close-Up Blog-a-thon to run Oct. 12-21. Your piece could be as simple as a series of frame grabs with captions, or a short analysis of a single close-up in a particular movie or television episode, past or current. Or it could be an essay about a certain performer's mastery of (or failure to master) the close-up. Or it could fixate on a director or cinematographer who is especially adept at pushing in to capture emotion."

Regrettably, I'm too busy to free up any time to write any form of a coherent, impassioned piece on my favorite screen closeup--the day job, the night course, and the upcoming Toronto After Dark Film Festival occupy whatever time I don't spend sleeping these days--so instead, I'll post a few of my favorites until the closing date. If you want to get involved, check out Seitz's details here.

Here's my first entry: Ben (Duane Jones) appears out of the darkness and chaos to save Barbara (Judith O'Dea) in George A. Romero's original 1968 classic Night Of The Living Dead.

12 October 2007

Harlan Ellison vs. "Jesse James"

Some stuff you just can't make up, even if you've written an Oscar-nominated screenplay for David Cronenberg.

Screenwriter Josh Olson, who adapted John Wagner's graphic novel A History Of Violence into the acclaimed 2005 film version, spins an amazing yarn for LA Weekly: at first glance, yet another warning fable about the perils of Internet relationships. But this one's a true L.A. noir, which manages to involve science-fiction icon Harlan Ellison, Hurricane Katrina, and schlock-rocker Dan Fogelberg, of all people.

What's most amazing is that it's true--although when you're done reading, Olson's tale of woe will have you questioning the term. Check out his amazing account here.
(thanks to David Hudson's Green Cine Daily)

11 October 2007

Ebert Reveals Himself As True "Pinhead" To Clive Barker...

Video games have been around for about three-and-a-half decades now (if you count The Magnavox Odyssey, which became commercially available in 1972), long enough to become more or less defined solely as an insidious social menace—right up there (or is it down?) with comic books and Elvis’ shaking hips.

But while fanatics like Jack Thompson (and Hilary Clinton, who really should know better and save her energy to save her desperate party) are campaigning to make sure no American child shall drive the virtual streets of Liberty City without a seatbelt, or plasma-blast a Covenant soldier without feeling remorse for their own intolerance of other cultures, and our soccer fields, hockey arenas, and baseball diamonds are reportedly barren as kids take up their Wii sticks in their trans-fat encrusted fingers (well, everywhere but Toronto, where there are reportedly still waiting lists to get into amateur sports leagues), yet another attack is raging, this one from the PBS tote bag circuit: can video games be considered art?

The only rational answer is “yes”, of course, because anything created by an artist or team of artists can be defined as such (ask Dali and his limp clocks, ask Herriman and his Krazy Kat, ask Duchamp and his monogrammed urinal). Behold the production design of “Gears Of War” (Goya meets Giger), marvel at the nuanced, multi-narrative threads of “GTA: San Andreas” that seem random but build to a satisfying conclusion. “God Of War 2” is a kick-ass way to learn some remarkably dense Greek mythology while slugging it out in some of the most painterly and immersive simulated environments ever realized. But what we’re really talking “High Ahhht” here. To which I will quote Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way: “Here come da pain!”

Amazingly, the most heated debate over the subject is currently raging between author/artist/filmmaker Clive Barker (yes, the Hellraiser guy), and critic Roger “Thumbs Up” Ebert of all people. The supremely-talented Barker (I admit it, I’ve been a fan since 1985’s ‘The Damnation Game” and have had the pleasure of meeting him in person several times) has been developing some interactive game properties of his own creation ("Jericho" is due for the Xbox 360 and PS3 later this month), and took exception to Ebert’s published remarks that video games aren’t-and-never-will-be “art”.

And just what qualifies Ebert to evaluate the aesthetic credibility of the results of all those little ones and zeroes? By his own admission: absolutely nothing.

For a man who expounds the joys of a medium that was once (and in some circles, still is) considered a lesser art form, he’s extremely short-sighted. When Barker accused Ebert’s woefully uniformed view as “prejudiced”, Ebert wore it like a badge of pride:

The word “prejudiced” often translates as “disagrees with me.” I might suggest that gamers have a prejudiced view of their medium, and particularly what it can be. Games may not be Shakespeare quite yet, but I have the prejudice that they never will be, and some gamers are prejudiced that they will.

I never considered anyone who argues in favour of the merits of expanding one’s tolerances (which Barker is trying to do) as prejudiced, but I’ll remember that, Rog, when you suggest I waste any more hours of my life on the dated, New Wave stunts of Jean-Luc Godard, whose validity as an artist today is purely due to the nostalgic longings of people who never got over their first screening of The Conformist (which was a Bertolluci film, of course). When Barker praises the range of experiences and the potential for interactivity that (so far) only the videogame can provide--

We should be stretching the imaginations of our players and ourselves. Let’s invent a world where the player gets to go through every emotional journey available. That is art. Offering that to people is art.

--Ebert grips his vintage leather-bound Dickens volumes and sniffs:

If you can go through “every emotional journey available,” doesn’t that devalue each and every one of them? Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices. If next time, I have Romeo and Juliet go through the story naked and standing on their hands, would that be way cool, or what?

Ah, so Ebert hath decreed that Art should lead the viewer/reader/listener to only a single conclusion. Hmm—I’m pretty sure that once upon a time, it was firmly held by the intelligentsia of the time that art could never be anything but representational, and concerned only with religious iconography. But what do I know? He even closes with a tiresome Pauline Kael quote, which you can read here, because I can’t be bothered recounting it. It was parodied, once, on SCTV, during the Dr. Tongue remake of Midnight Cowboy.

Barker shot back (perhaps a bit inelegantly) calling Ebert “a pompous, arrogant old man” (I think Clive was too kind). But one has to admire his progressive vision and glee in partaking in a genuinely unique and innovative creative enterprise, something Ebert would know little about.

I think Ebert is one of the better film reviewers working today—he seems to enjoy a greater variety of movies than most of his insulated brethren and they don’t hand out Pulitzer Prizes for nothing—but this is the same man who once dismissed Night Of The Living Dead (to his credit, he later recanted) and did much damage to the reputation of the already-maligned horror genre when he and the late Gene Siskel turned their weekly series (PBS, of course) in early 1980s in a hysterical (and one-sided) anti-slasher rally (going so far as to urge moviegoers to boycott Paramount releases because they distributed the Friday The 13th series).

I don’t really care if sticks-in-the-mud like Ebert dig video games or not (admittedly, I’m only a casual player, but I would definitely define the best of them as art, just as I would with painting, film, music, theatre), but I’m just more than a little tired of these cranky aging Boomers who worship at the altar of Altman and who think that artistic progress stopped when the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 1980.

Ebert would do well to keep on partying like it’s 1974 and leave the rest of us--obsessive, yes, juvenile, perhaps—alone to partake in the invention of a bonafide new art form, which is likely only in its birthing stages. He should remember people once saw The Jazz Singer as just a “talkie”—a passing fad. I’d like to think we ain’t heard, or seen, or experienced, nothin’ yet.

©2007 Robert J. Lewis

02 October 2007

"Deadwood" Dismantled

It looks like we can forget about those Deadwood movies--according to recent reports, The Gem and The Bella Union are coming down.

The complex and unromanticized Western serial was cancelled by HBO due to low ratings and creator David Milch's desire to pursue another series: the metaphysical surfer ensemble John From Cincinatti. But we were assured Deadwood would to return in the form of two feature length films (to air on HBO) that would wrap it all up.

This past June, while promoting Live Free Or Die Hard, Timothy (Seth Bullock) Olyphant told Coming Soon: "don't hold your breath...the fact that show existed at all for as long as it did (three seasons, all available on DVD) was a miracle of sorts."

And last week Ian (Al Sweargen) McShane told Cinematical: ""I just got a call on Friday from ... a dear friend of mine, who told me that they're packing up the ranch. They're dismantling the ranch and taking the stuff out. That ship is gonna sail. Bonsoir, Deadwood."

Today, the site follows up with responses from other cast members: Jim (Ellsworth) echoed McShane's news, and W. Earl (Dan Dority) Brown confirmed that HBO's lease for the sets is up, but he wants back his "hat, knife, and gunbelt."

With John From Cincinatti having gotten the pink slip from HBO, I'd hoped Milch would return to the Black Hills at least one more time to wrap up the Hearst plot and give fans a proper ending as planned.

But to paraphrase Al Swearengen: Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God--or clueless network executives--laugh...

27 September 2007

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2007: Lineup Announced

The second annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival returns to The Bloor Cinema just in time for the festival of Samhain, offering an amazing 50 new horror and fantasy films--seven of them Canadian premieres--over 7 fun n' fear-filled nights.

Adam Lopez and his team (of which I am now a latecoming member) have toiled through the nights, dawns, and days of the dead to bring you the following lineup:

Scheduled Features:

Friday, October 19:

Mulberry Street (Premiere Gala)

Saturday, October 20:

Aachi & Ssipak
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Blood Car (Canadian Premiere)

Sunday, October 21:

Audience of One (Canadian Premiere)
Automaton Transfusion
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

Monday, October 22:

The Rebel (Canadian Premiere)
The Tripper

Tuesday, October 23:

Wolfhound
Alone (Canadian Premiere)

Wednesday, October 24:

Simon Says (Canadian Premiere)
Nightmare Detective

Thursday, October 25:

Murder Party (Closing Night Gala)

Short Films:

TAD offers three programmes showcasing the finest in short-form horror from Canada and around the world:

Cutting Edge Horror (Sat, Oct. 20, 1.45pm)

The best new horror shorts from around the world. Highlights include It Came From The West, a puppet zombie western!

Cutting Edge Fantasy (Sun, Oct. 21, 1.30pm)

The best new international sci-fi and fantasy shorts from around the world.

Cutting Edge Canada (screening before features throughout the fest)

Outstanding new Canadian horror and fantasy shorts, with several of the filmmakers in attendance.

(The complete lineup of titles will be announced shortly).

Zombie Walk!?

And of course, don't forget the second annual Official Toronto Zombie Walk! Last year's "Million Maimed March" was attended by over 500 fans in full zombie regalia. This year, the event lasts even longer with the afternoon walk, a break for food and drink (or to track down human prey), and an evening of two premiere zombie films (here's a fan's Flicker portfolio of last year's walk).

So while you're at it, why not buy tickets and passes here, where the complete TAD 2007 schedule is now online.

I've heard great things about the opening night film Mulberry Street, which (along with the upcoming The Signal) could mark the emergence of a new era of brave and distinctive horror voices the likes we haven't seen since the advent of Carpenter, Cronenberg, Hooper, and Romero (if not, well, what the hell--it's probably pretty entertaining...).

Keep checking this site throughout the event for daily news and reviews.

21 September 2007

Der Kingster is 60!

Stephen King--bestselling author, journalist, screenwriter, actor, one-time director, philanthropist and all-around cool guy is 60 today. Check out his latest column for Entertainment Weekly here, where he talks about his sojourn to the Australian Outback and lived an entire month without access to popular culture...

18 September 2007

Brett Somers Gone To The Big 'Blank' In The Sky...

Brett Somers, a regular on "Match Game" during its classic 1973-1979 run and frequent verbal sparing partner of the late, great Charles Nelson Reilly, passed away yesterday at her home in Westport, Connecticut at the age of 83.

She was born Audrey Johnston in New Brunswick, and grew up in Portland, Maine. At age 17 she settled in Greenwich Village and changed her named to "Brett" after the lead female character in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." Somers was her mother's maiden name.

She was married for a time to actor Jack Klugman, who was responsible for getting her onto the game show. Klugman suggested she be brought on when he appeared during the show's first broadcasts and she soon became a regular part of the panel.

I'm not the biggest fan of panel game shows but I try not to miss Match Game reruns on The Game Show Network--I've always enjoyed Gene Rayburn's exasperated, insulting tone towards the (dim) contestants and the antics of the classic panel--lead by Somers and Nelson Reilly (who died this past May), of course--especially during the "afternoon" tapings when the witty tongues would be well-lubricated with alcohol.

Here's her obit from CNN.

17 September 2007

Alex Ross Does "Heroes"

Here's a look at Alex Ross' cover art for the upcoming "Heroes" hardcover from DC Comics, which will collect all of the online comics that were published concurrently with last season's episodes (still available here on the official site), as well as some new stuff. The inevitable Absolute Edition is being planned, too, I'm sure. Jim Lee is reportedly contributing an alternate cover, or somesuchthing (not like he's working terribly hard on Frank Miller's "All-Star Batman And Robin", or anything...).

And we are assured by the show's producers that even though prophetic artist Isaac is dead, Tim Sale's art will still be featured this coming season.

I just hope that Global HD actually plays "Heroes" in true high-def this year, considering the money I'm forking out for these digital channels...

16 September 2007

Rogers Cable: Converting Viewers To Bit Torrent Is Job One...

So I'm enjoying tonight's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" an hour later than its original broadcast and suddenly, it's like I'm watching"The Sopranos" conclusion without the Journey song. Larry utters a line, then there's the PVR menu asking me if I want to save or delete.

What gives? This hasn't happened in a while--if Rogers sets up the schedule, why can't their hardware chase the programming block? I had this problem with Heroes on HD Global this past season and had to set up a manual event as a workaround, but what a pain in the *ss for something for which I'm paying good money for convenience and reliability.
(I called Rogers but the somnabulistic drone I got on the other end couldn't answer my question...)
You didn't hear it from me folks, but there's a thing called BitTorrent from which you can not only get all of your HBO shows complete and the HD format (unlike Rogers, which isn't broadcasting "Curb" in HD after all but is still charging subscribers for it) but their also 100% free.
Listen up, Canadian cable barons. It's not that people don't want to pay for entertainment--it's just that we expect quality and consistency for our hard-earned cash. Spread it around.

06 September 2007

Happy Birthday, Werner Herzog!

The unclassifiable German filmmaker (who resides in LA) turns 65 today--but may he entertain no plans of retiring! In addition to being one of our greatest living filmmakers in both the fiction and non-fiction realms, Herzog gets my vote as the ultimate bad ass:

During a BBC interview to promote his acclaimed documentary "Grizzly Man”, a loud pop was heard and Herzog calmly observed "someone is shooting at us". That someone was a crazed fan with a sniper rifle, who struck the filmmaker in the leg. Herzog dismissed the bullet as "insignificant" and with his wound festering, finished the interview.

One month earlier, he rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash in Laurel Canyon...

So for all you non-cineastes reading this, let me put it another way: "Chuck Norris" lives because Werner Herzog lets him…
I'll be catching his new documentary "Encounters At The Edge Of The World" at this year's TIFF---review to come.

03 September 2007

Woo-Hoo! It's The First Lineup Of The Film Fest!

Oh, what a wonderful way to spend the last day of a long weekend: baking in the sun for several hours to pick up whatever TIFF tickets you were awarded if you didn't get completely screwed by Friday's lottery draw.

While I attend the event as a member of the media, I always get a few tickets to public screenings so I can see some movies with friends and my Significant Other.And truth is, I don't mind it at all (the lining up part--the lottery is the subject of another posting...)--we got to chat with fellow enthusiastic film buffs about our previous TIFF experiences, our favourite titles of the year so far (although I always get the feeling that I'm the only cinema freak in GTA who goes to Hollywood blockbusters and enjoys them....), books we've read, the things we hate the most about the Fest (the lottery, 'natch), and of course, what we're looking forward to the most at this year's extravaganza (seems everyone's game for The Coens' No Country For Old Men and Brian DePalma's Redacted).

Because we were lucky to get all of our choices (nothing less than a modern miracle, considering we were box 48 of 75, with the lottery starting with box 66!), we didn't have to move to the second, considerably more disgruntled line to hurriedly select alternate screening choices. With so many fewer screens downtown, the seats are sure to fill up quickly. So best of luck to those poor devotees still in line--remember, folks, they're only movies, and most will come out to theatres or at least DVD anyway...

Individual tickets--those remaining, anyway--will go on sale Wednesday, Sept. 5 at the Manulife Centre Box Office (Bay and Bloor) and online at the official site at 7 am (remember, VISA is the only card accepted by the festival).
Complete details and schedules here.

30 August 2007

What If Ratner Directed "The Road"?

What if Brett Ratner ended up directing the film version of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"? The clever folks at McSweeney's have put together the director's notes for such a horrifying prospect, but with hilarious results:

Possibilities to play the father/son duo: Brad Pitt and Maddox Jolie-Pitt. If so, have them ride around on ATVs instead of walking. Walking is boring.

Father needs "buddy." See if Jackie Chan is available. If not, maybe Andy Dick?

In book, we don't find out how the world ended. Must show in movie version. Possible scenarios:

Aliens
Robots
Alien robots
Girls in bikinis accidentally blow up nuclear power station by hitting self-destruct button with their big, round butts
Or boobs
If we go with robots as destroyers of Earth, robots should still be chasing the people. Also, maybe change name from The Road to The Robots.

If we decide to rewrite as comedy, see if Sandler is available for May production start. When the father and son discover the boat, boat should be loaded with machine guns and hand grenades.

In book, they say "carrying the fire" and it's some kind of abstract thing about carrying the spirit of humanity around in a time of hopelessness.

What if "fire" is a secret weapon that will restore atmosphere and kill the robots? Or it turns out at the end that boy can shoot fire out of eyes and mouth? He's like a messiah guy, but a fire-shooting-eyes messiah guy.

Read the whole thing here.

"The Mist" Trailer Now Online

It's hard to choose a favorite Stephen King tale, but die-hard fans are almost unanimous in their vote for his best short story, and that would be "The Mist", originally published in the 1980 horror anthology "Dark Forces", and reprinted (and being slightly rewritten) as part of the 1985 anthology "Skeleton Crew".

Some of the tightest, taughtest 133 pages ever penned in the horror genre, it tells the simple tale of a group of regular folks who get stuck in a supermarket in Bridgton, Maine, where a thunderstorm has brought a thick shroud of mist over the entire town. Within the mist lurk some very nasty and hungry monsters--all forms of Lovecraftian insects, crustaceans, arachnids, a pterodactyl (!), and combinations thereof. Its source is never discovered, but some suggest a rift between dimensions caused by something called "The Arrowhead Project" at a nearby military base.

Essentially one long real time tale of survival, the yarn ends on a "Birds"-styled note of ambiguity as a few of the survivors--lead by narrator David Drayton, a freelance artist--make their way from the supermarket to an uncertain future.

Frank Darabont, who wrote and directed the superb Stephen King adaptations "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile" (and began his career with his student short, an adaptation of King's "The Woman In The Room"), ventures outside of prison territory with this one, and the results look promising, based upon the just-released trailer.

The strong cast features Thomas Jane as Drayton, Marcia Gay Harden as the religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody, Andre Braugher as skeptical lawyer Brent Norton, and Toby Jones as Weeks, the store manager . And not only did Darabont have the good taste to hire the brilliant horror comics artist Berni ("Swamp Thing" "The Spectre", the "Creepshow" adaptation) Wrightston to design the creatures, but he commissioned Drew Struzan, arguably the finest movie poster artist of all time, to create the one-sheet poster.

The film comes out November 21, 2007 from Dimension Films. Here's the thrilling first trailer.

28 August 2007

(Review) "Demons 2": 20th Anniversary Screening

Lamberto Bava's lively 1985 breakthrough shocker Demons remains a fan favorite and probably the defining work of his uneven but efficient filmography. After an eerie setup in which various Berlin transit riders accept an invitation to the Metropol theatre from a strange figure in a metal mask, the film stumbles into a series of poorly-dubbed, 80s-metal-scored gore set pieces, but climaxing in a thrilling, apocalyptic ending that makes its soft second act worth plodding through. If you believe Roger Corman’s credo that if the first and the third acts are solid, then “what you do in the middle doesn’t matter”, then by generous accounts Demons is a success.

Demons 2, produced less than a year later, offers a near-identical concept, except here, the transmission device is a television signal and the location a high-rise apartment building. It more than satisfies Joe Bob Briggs’ patented rule that a sequel should be the exact same movie all over again, and should appeal to afficionados of The Twonky and Jerry Manders' "Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television".

In the first Demons' film with the film (keeping up?) the titular nogoodnicks entered our world—and human bodies—via the sharp prongs of a cursed mask that was unearthed in Nostradamus' tomb. In Demons 2, the fwtf features another group of clueless teens who have entered a quarantined disaster area where presumably the invasion was contained and eradicated. They happen upon a demon’s ashen remains where blood from one of their wounds triggers its resurrection. The creature then comes towards the screen, and out of it, entering its first victim’s body.

Several parallel plots—such as they are—collide throughout the ten floors of the apartment building “The Tower”: in one suite, there’s a birthday party in full swing for Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) and her senior classmates, who, without the distractions of the Internet, iPods, and Second Life, must entertain themselves by robot-dancing to some 80s alternative hits on the boom box while swilling down booze in paper cups, careful not to spill any on their feathered ‘dos and shoulder pads.

Sally’s a shrill one, and while her dialogue from screenwriters Bava, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrinni, and Dardano Sachetti is less than Hughesian (“My hair stinks! This dress stinks. This whole thing is disgusting! These sleeves on this go back and forth--what am I gonna do?”), the actress has an endearing presence reminiscent of her American teen scream queen counterpart of the time, Jill Schoelen. As the first to be possessed, Sally quickly mutates into a fanged, milky-eyed harpy who spreads the demon virus throughout the complex ala Cronenberg’s Shivers/Frissons/They Came From Within.

In neighbouring apartments, bookish George (David Edwin Knight) is concerned for the safety of his expectant wife Hannah (Nancy Brilli), a family with two young children (one of them a prepubescent Asia Argento) try to escape, a latch-key kid and his dog become possessed, and some truly dedicated fitness addicts, who under the tutelage of a returning Bobby Rhodes (who memorably played a pimp in the first Demons) enact a Howard Hawksian standoff in the underground parking garage.

First beastie to exit through Sally’s cathode ray tube makes for an impressive effect (more or less replicated in Ringu), albeit once based heavily on Rick Baker’s pioneering work on Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which was likely an unacknowledged influence here.

Lots of gloppy monsters follow, more akin to zombies really, all pustules and razor teeth and bloodshot orbs, anticipating “the infected” of the later biohazard-themed 28 Days Later than anything genuinely supernatural (there’s no internal story logic to these nasties, where they come from, what they want, what they do--other than to cause a lot of icky havoc—is left for the theatre of the mind…). Serious horror buffs will strain to find a metaphor in the television angle—perhaps Bava aspires to cheekily paraphrase McLuhan in that here, the medium is the massacre? (a reach, I admit...).

The momentum is dulled, somewhat, by the third-act emergence of a gawd-awful rubber puppet--of the John Carl Beuchler variety ala Ghoulies and laughably unconvincing even by 80s standards (and we all bought into “Yoda”, ET, and the Gelflings, didn’t we?).

Those of us of a certain age (read: those of us who first consumed Douglas Coupland and tingled: "that's me!") will enjoy the soundtrack: alt-rock staples The Smiths, The Cult, The Dead Can Dance, Art Of Noise, Gene Loves Jezebel, Peter Murphy underscore the KY jelly and karo syrup free-for-all that occupies much of what passes for plot in Act Two. It all oozes and splats to the requisite “the end?” coda that, to no one’s surprise, segued to a Demons 3 and a Demons 4.

Following the screening, presented by Rue Morgue Magazine and London, Ontario’s Vagrancy Films, the jazzed audience was treated to a Q&A with “Sally” herself, actress Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, who currently resides in New York (her home town, actually), and was in the GTA for Rue Morgue magazine's annual Festival Of Fear blow-out at the FanExpo convention.

The 36-year old actress, not looking a day older than she appears in the film, was clearly moved by the enthusiastic reception, and admitted she still feels a kinship with her character, who she says “makes her sad”.

Demons 2, like its preceding chapter, was shot in Munich. She recalled that the makeup took hours to apply, and that her contact lenses were quite painful—obviously, FX technology has come a long way. Bava, who cameos in the film as her father, didn’t give her a lot of direction, and hired her without an audition, based upon her other film work.

Cataldi-Tassoni went on to become something of a Italian scream queen, appearing in Dario Argento’s Opera, Phantom Of The Opera remake (as a child, she grew up in the opera scene, performing in “La Boheme” at the age of three!), as well as Andreas Marfori’s “Il Bosco/Horror Clutch, and Bava’s recent Ghost Son. When asked to compare the directing styles of Bava and Argento, she demurred “quantum physics…completely different universes…” and left it at that.

Extending warm regards from Lamberto Bava and FX supervisor Sergio Stivaletti, Cataldi-Tassondi was off to the Gladstone Hotel to perform numbers from her debut music CD “Limbo Balloon” accompanied by Maurizio Guarini of the prog-rock band (and frequent Argento collaborators) Goblin.

Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni will next be seen in Dario Argento’s Mother Of Tears, the long-awaited sequel to Suspiria and Inferno, debuting in just a little more than a week at The 32nd Annual Toronto International Film Festival.

© Robert J. Lewis 2007

Breaking (Fox) News: If We Bust Hypocritical Republicans, The Terrorists Have Won!

Senator Larry Craig has turned to quoting Charo in "Airport 75", who said famously: "you miscon-screw me!"

I'm not a terribly political person--I pingpong between Liberal and Libertarian dogma depending on how it suits me--but with film news light (soon to pick up with TIFF 2007) I'm having a pretty good laugh over the Craig saga, and with Stewart off this week, perhaps some of you will find me a reasonable D+ subsitute.

Idaho Republican and moral high horse phoney Larry "I am not gay, and I never have been" Craig echoed Charo's sentiments when the coppers picked him up for soliciting...er..."favours" of the George Michaelian variety, in a men's room in Minnesota last June. Apparently, he only tapped the foot of the guy in the adjoining stall because he--and forgive me for the disgusting imagery--he has a wide stance when sitting upon the porcelain throne. He also maintained that the reason he repeatedly reached under the stall wall was to "pick up a piece of paper", even though the arresting officer said there was no such thing on on the floor and Craig didn't pick anything up.

Republicans are outraged of course--at the Democrats (with their stained dresses and their green bins and their Indigo Girls CDs) and anyone who dares to even question Craig's character (his sexual orientation is irrelevant--it's that he's a bald-faced liar and hypocrite that should have him packing his banker's box, pronto). After all, moral crusades are their job--Craig voted for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, against a bill allowing gay men and women to serve in the military, and against extending civil rights to gays in the workplace--but the GOPs collective capacity for denial, esp. in light of the Gonsalez, Libby, the continuing Iraq boondoggle, is astonishing by any sane person's definition,

So today, "Fair And Balanced" Fox News was this doozy from anchor Megyn Kelly: "The senator and the sex sting: Something happened inside this airport bathroom in Minnesota, but did it constitute a crime? That's coming up. But our top story this half hour is that new report we told you about earlier, saying that al-Qaida has an active plot to attack the West."

Cue that YouTube gopher!

More on this farce from Tim Grieve at Salon here.

Campbell Says "No" to "Ho Tep" Sequel

Damn! Sounds like there won't be a sequel to "Bubba Ho Tep" after all.

Bruce Campbell recently told Fangoria Radio the project "is dead to me. It sleeps with the fishes. Don Coscarelli is a very passionate filmmaker. We got to a few points that we couldn't reconcile. I want to keep our friendship, so we parted ways. So, I'm not part of that project."

Nor is he involved with any official "Evil Dead" sequel, or remake...

Last spring, I met Joe R. Lansdale at The World Horror Convention and he told me the project, entitled "Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of the She-Vampires", was ready to roll "whenever Bruce is ready" (Lansdale, of course, penned the original short story and cowrote the screenplay adaptation with Coscarelli). And actor Paul Giamatti has said in interviews he was on board to play Colonel Tom Parker if the filmmakers were interested (and they were).

Coscarelli, who right now must be seriously debating yet another "Phantasm" sequel to pay the bills, has said that he's considering recasting the Elvis role, but realizes it''ll be "a challenge" to win over the fanbase for this film, which might be small, but fiercely loyal. Please, anyone but Jonathon Rhys Meyers!

I'm going to try to control my tears tomorrow night when I catch "Evil Dead: The Musical"...

You can read the bad news here, courtesy of Cinematical.

24 August 2007

"Demons 2": 20th Anniversary Screening Tonight

The distinguished folks at Rue Morgue magazine, Vagrancy Films, and The Toronto After Dark Film Festival (returning this October) are sponsoring a rare 35mm print screening of Lamberto Bava's "Demoni 2", aka "Demons 2", written by Bava and Dario Argento (who will be in town this weekend for The Festival Of Fear, and at this year's Toronto International Film Festival to premiere "Mother Of Tears"). The screening's tonight at 9:30 PM at The Royal Cinema on College Street, so if you're just reading this now, and live in Toronto, you've still got time to get there!

Costar Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni will be in attendance--perhaps Argento will show up as well?

Review and report to come.

23 August 2007

Happy 2nd Birthday Maggie!

Two years ago today, returning home from my birthday dinner at swanky Lee's, Lidia and I came upon our neighbours who were searching the tiny lawns in front of our townhouse. We were friendly with their two tortoiseshell cats, Daisy and Star, both of whom were preggers within weeks of them becoming regular daily visitors. Daisy had given birth a few weeks earlier, and on this very day, her daughter Star delivered. And apparently, couldn't find her litter!

I suggested Daisy would know best and that we should let her lead the way, and after she sniffed and prodded about the hedges, pointed us to the front porch of the unit two doors down. There, we found three palm-sized newborns: one ginger-hued, one a smokey grey, and the third, a beautiful tortoiseshell like her mother (and equally vocal too!).

We'd just lost our beloved tortie Molly, who developed a rare cancer at the age of 10, and while neither of us much believed in "cosmic" signs, who were we to question the universe? We put in our dibs on the tortie, I grabbed a box and a blanket for the kittens, and on Thanksgiving Day, we christened the six-week old handful "Maggie" and she joined our merry band--instantly making her older sister Minnie's life a daily ordeal.

She's two today, and while she's grown a little longer and is exhibiting some signs of her grandmother Daisy's contemplative nature (sadly, Daisy was killed by a car last month), she's just as bratty and spring-loaded as ever. So here's Maggie in a rare quiet moment (actually, she was in the middle of trying to tear my office curtains down), when I can actually capture a photo that didn't show her as a brown motion blur.

Happy birthday, dreamboat!

31 July 2007

"De Düva" (The Dove): So Long, Ingmar...

Everyone knows I'm a movie buff, but I must admit I was never much of a disciple of those European auteurs who were (and are) the darlings of boomer film critics who refuse to admit that anything good was made after the 60s and 70s.

The late Ingmar Bergman certainly deserves his canonization as an influential and thoughtful filmmaker, but truth is, his leisurely-paced exercises in monochromatic Euro-angst have left me--for the most part--cold, unmoved, and hopelessly bored (although I will admit that my tastes have "matured" somewhat over the years and I've warmed up to "The Seventh Seal" and "The Virgin Spring", if only because the former was parodied in "Bill And Ted" and the latter provided the basis for Wes Craven's "Last House On The Left"). Plus, every other damned poseur in my first year film class seemed to think they were the only person who knew who Sven Nykvist was.

Go ahead and blame the influence of too many horror movies and comic books on shaping my sensibility (it's not that I don't like existentialism, it's just that I prefer mine with a healthy dose of gunplay and reanimated corpses), or, as I do, blame SCTV's brilliant parody "Whispers Of The Wolf" on Count Floyd's "Monster Chiller Horror Theatre", which ruined Bergman's "Persona" and "Hour Of The Wolf" for me (c'mon, I'm not alone) for life.

So rather than revised my personal history and refashion myself as a mournful Bergman latecomer, I'd like to pay tribute by reminding readers of the existence of another great parody, one done with a great deal of affection, entitled "De Düva" (The Dove), which was produced in 1968 and nominated for an Academy Award. It stars the much-missed Madelaine Kahn in what the IMBD lists as her first professional role, and was directed by George Coe, who later joined the original launch of "Saturday Night Live" and today is a character actor who's appeared on everything from "King Of Queens" to "Bones" to "Gilmore Girls" to "Smallville".

You can check out the brilliant short here (and see the Grim Reaper play badminton) at Bergmanorama.com (requires Windows Media Player).

And a nod to Slate for the tip...

Dario Argento Returns For "Midnight Madness"

Great news today for fans of one of the horror genre's true visionaries: Dario Argento, the Italian master of trippy, gore-soaked fantasias, will premiere his long-awaited"Mother Of Tears" (La Terza Madre) as part of the Midnight Madness program at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival.

This is the conclusion of his "Three Mothers" trilogy that began in 1977 with "Suspiria" and was left hanging after the botched release of 1980's thematic followup "Inferno". In "Mother", archaeology student Sarah (portrayed by Asia Argento--yes, his daughter) releases the demonic forces of a powerful witch which erupt into a wave of suicide and crime in advance of her resurrection.
The film also stars European genre vet Udo Kier (Andy Warhol's "Frankenstein", and recently, in Rob Zombie's faux "Grindhouse" trailer "Werewolf Women Of The S.S.") and Daria Nicolodi, Dario's ex-wife (and Asia's mother), who appeared in his earlier films and in Asia's directorial debut "Scarlett Diva".
In the early years of the Midnight Madness program Argento was a staple: his "Opera", "Trauma", and "The Stendhal Syndrome" screened at the original Bloor Cinema venue, and the thrillers he produced for Michel Soavi ("The Church", "The Sect") debuted there, too. For years, Argento's films were butchered by American distributors and spottily released under crappy titles and lousy ad campaigns.
In recent years, Argento has kept a low profile, but has worked steadily--last year's TV movie "Do You Like Hitchcock?" was a return to his giallo roots, as was the Michael Mann-esque police procedural "The Card Player". He also found time to venture to Canadian shores to shoot two episodes in Vancouver for Mick Garris' "Masters Of Horror" series: "Jenifer" and "Pelts".
Argento will also be a guest at Rue Morgue's "Festival Of Fear" this coming August.
It'll mark a reunion between Argento and fellow guest George A. Romero, who together produced the original "Dawn Of The Dead" and co-directed the underrated Edgar Allan Poe tribute "Two Evil Eyes". Romero has a film in the Midnight Madness program this year, too: "Diary Of The Dead", the official fourth installment in his zombie saga that began with 1968's "Night Of The Living Dead".
Argento's films aren't always perfect--narrative "logic" isn't a concern and he seems to delight in deliberately polarizing and frustrating the audience--but each is always gorgeously designed and a feast for the senses, and ala works of Hitchcock or DePalma, manage to feature at least one extended set piece that's a marvel of timing and intensity.
Here's a list of the entire "Midnight Madness" lineup. Argento, plus Romero, plus Stuart Gordon, plus Takashi Miike? September can't come quick enough...

30 July 2007

A Colortini For Tom (Tom Snyder 1936-2007)

Sad news for longtime late-night TV followers: Tom Snyder, the veteran TV host/interviewer who will likely be immortalized by Dan Aykroyd's "Saturday Night Live" parody, died yesterday of leukemia at the age of 71. His fractured, rambling, and off-the-cuff demeanour infuriated many and charmed others--count me in the latter camp. Snyder was fascinating to watch no matter who was on the show--an hour with him was one part fireside chat, one part curmudgeonly rant, and one-part celebrity shill session (the latter part often the least important of the evening).

I was just old enough to catch Snyder for the first time on the tail end of his "Tomorrow" run on NBC (before he was cancelled to make way for "Late Night With David Letterman"). He'd occassionally throw to Rona Barrett for some Hollywood dish, but mostly, it was all Tom for the hour. Chainsmoking against a dark set, dressed like a high school math teacher, and sporting a flappy comb-over that he was able to maintain for decades, Snyder could be counted on to digress into some marathon account of his "Mother Snyder"s various situations, his favourite LA steakhouse, or the fact that he couldn't get "The Great Escape" on home video, and to laugh heartily at his own frequently perplexing jokes and non sequitors.

Mind you, he could serious and insightful when the mood, or the subject, suited him (he began his career as a journalist in Philadelphia). Witness his still-historic confrontation/interview with Charles Manson, conducted from Manson's cell at over two evenings in 1981 (Manson would profess a desire to become a "welder" upon his release from prison).

Music and movie junkies in an era pre-MTV, pre-Entertainment Tonight, and pre-internet could regularly find the likes of John Lydon, John Lennon, Steven Spielberg, Roger Corman, and Harlan Ellison joining Snyder on his spartan set. "U2" made their U.S. debut on his show. In fact, for many punk/New Wave devotees, Snyder's program--other than Canada's essential "The New Music"--was the only North American broadcast forum that paid any attention to the burgeoning scene at all (Wendy O. Williams' appearance was perfectly parodied on SCTV's "Fishin' Musician").

(Snyder will appear in the upcoming Harlan Ellison documentary "Dreams With Sharp Teeth", currently in production).

So in the words of Mr. Snyder, tonight let's "fire up a colortini, sit back, relax and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air..." and check out these great clips:

Conan O'Brien hosts a terrific overview of Snyder's NBC years (featuring Lydon, Hitchcock, Ali, Bono, Manson). Click here.

Snyder clashes with Lydon circa PIL here.

"The Clash" and Snyder get along here.

Iggy Pop in top form with Snyder here.

Snyder talks with the some of the original "Star Trek" cast and Harlan Ellison rails against Roddenberry and everyone here (Snyder is utterly baffled by the concept of a "Star Trek" convention, and check out James "Scotty" Doohan's funky duds!)

Man, do I miss this show...

29 July 2007

24 July 2007

Rare Carpenter Film Finally On DVD

Before he directed the horror classic "Halloween", John Carpenter wrote and directed a little-seen TV movie for NBC with the hysterical title "Someone's Watching Me!" (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title). A then-modern day riff on "Rear Window" that also anticipated Ira Levin's "Sliver", the thriller (written and shot as "High Rise") starred Lauren Hutton as a tv director stalked by a psychotic admirer. Lauren's coworker, a rare openly gay character in the late 70s, was played by Adrienne Barbeau, whom Carpenter married (they did two more films together before divorcing in the mid-80s). Carpenter-regular Charles Cyphers ("Assault On Precinct 13", "Halloween", "The Fog") also had a role.

For a TV movie with all of the limitations of commercial breaks and prime-time censorship, "SWM"showcased Carpenter's suspense skills in top form, even without the benefit of the widescreen frame and his own distinctive musical score.

I spent years tracking this thing down on too many convention tables, ultimately scoring a dub thanks to a fellow Carpenter fan on a Compuserve movie forum. To my delight, it held up really well, even if there are few unintentional laughs, chiefly the presence of Len Lesser, aka "Seinfeld"s Uncle Leo, in a key role.

Well, latecomers to the Carpenter camp have it easy: DVD Drive-In has announced that on September 25, "Someone's Watching Me!" will receive its first official home video release in any medium (but in this case, thankfully, the standard DVD format) as part of its "Twisted Terror Collection". No word yet on whether or not the director will contribute a commentary track (he usually does...).

Milton Subotsky's Amicus anthology "From Beyond The Grave", Oliver Stone's "The Hand" (his second feature film, starring Michael Caine, forever ruined by the SCTV sketch "My Bloody Hand"), Wes Craven's "Deadly Friend" with Kirsty Swanson (one of his worst films, IMHO), Manny Coto's "Dr. Giggles" starring Larry Drake, and Sean S. Cunningham's underrated psycho thriller "Eyes Of A Stranger", starring the unlikely combination of "The Love Boat"s Lauren Tewes and Rip Torn, round out the series. You can buy 'em individually or as a boxed set (I'll opt for buying them one at a time--"Deadly Friend" and "Dr. Giggles" aren't worth revisiting, let alone owning).

I was originally commissioned to review "Someone's Watching Me!" for Troma-regular Trent Haaga's "Tapehead" cult movie site some time back. You can read my comments here when I reposed the piece as part of this year's John Carpenter Blog-A-Thon...

10 July 2007

"Kill Da Wab-bit!..."

Remember that "Seinfeld" episode when Elaine says to Jerry: "It's so sad--all your knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons"? I'm reasonably sure I yelled back at the screen: "so what the hell's wrong with that?...(big head)".

The Chuck Jones classic "What's Opera Doc?", turned 50 years old on July 6th, and for many of us of a certain age, it's pretty much the sum total of what we know about Der Ring des Nibelungen by some German dude named Wagner.

Steve Watt, curator of Toronto's "Animation Connection" gallery (and, he points out, owner of an actual animation cel from the short) writes in The Toronto Star:

It is the antithesis of the routine cartoon. In place of snappy one-liners we see Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny singing their parts with complete sincerity and commitment. The backgrounds are beautifully textured paintings. The score is powerful and moving. Bugs cuts a striking figure in a metallic brassiere before Madonna was even born. It's audacious and decadent and beautiful and bold and everything the vast majority of cartoons would never dare to be.

He makes a solid argument that it could be "the greatest cartoon ever...a piece of such grandeur will never be repeated".

Jones had told Watt that because they (the legendary "Termite Terrace" team of Warner Bros. animators) made cartoons to "humour themselves", and that the studio executives didn't care what they did as long as "they stayed on time and on budget". Instead of kicking back and cracking out formulaic shorts, they devoted their considerable talents into such iconoclastic and ground-breaking experiments as "Opera", "One Froggy Evening", "Duck Amuck", "The Rabbit Of Seville" to name but a few...

Watt's appreciation can be read in its entirety here at The Toronto Star.

And here's a very thorough scene-by-scene analysis at Barbara Thomas' Thomasville Central.

But why settle for egghead analysis when you can watch those seven perfect minutes here on YouTube?

05 July 2007

And You Thought Roeper Was A Dick...

It's always fashionable to trash contemporary American cinema--these days, all it takes to seem high brow is to tsk tsk at the mere mention of "Dude, Where's My Car?" (which is now soooo 2000...)--but only the seasoned elitist prig knows that in order to truly earn his/her PBS tote bag one must proclaim that American movies were-and-are inferior from their very inception.

Yessir, to a particularly odious breed of swaggering a-hole, Maya Deren and Brett Ratner are cut from pretty much the same (cheese) cloth...

The insufferable jack-ass pictured here is one Ronald Bergan, a film instructor, author, and reviewer (and I would offer, possibly a virgin, impotent, and suffering from IBS, so sources tell me) who must've broken a snaggled-tooth on a popcorn kernel from his "Surf's Up" Happy Meal this week in order to pen this doozie the Britain's Guardian Unlimited:

"By the highest standards of cinema, American films fall short. There are no living American directors who can compete in innovation and depth with the likes of Theo Angelopoulos, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard(the list goes on)...It has always been thus, but to a far lesser extent. The only American-born film directors that truly belong in the Film Pantheon are John Ford, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles..."

Ah, but what about the golden age of the Hollywood studio system, the discriminating and well-versed cineastes/TCM subscribers amongst you have countered? The era in which such acknowledged visionaries such as Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk, Billy Wilder and of course, Alfred Hitchcock, produced their greatest critically-lauded and audience-friendly works?

Sorry, but Bergan's got that covered, too: those artists--he proclaims with laughable authority (presumably having been with them as they stepped off the boat at Ellis Island)--"brought what they had learnt in Europe with them to America".

And true to form, the article is illustrated by a still from the Jim Carrey vehicle "Dumb And Dumber", another dated and woefully obvious reference that's about as representative of American cinema as "Carry On Up The Khyber" is of the U.K. film industry(Lesson number 1 in being a fatuous armchair intellectual: always define your object of scorn by its worst possible example)...

Bergan never informs us at to what those "highest artistic standards" actually are, then again, I'm exactly the kind of sci-fi loving, sequel-going, comic-book-reading moron the Evil Empire caters to and am thus too hopelessly infantile to figure it out. And as a part-time, semi-professional reviewer, I've been known to give positive notices to Eli Roth and Rob Zombie thrillers and would rather cough up a lung before sitting through five minutes of any Godard wank-fest, so it's likely I'll never be invited into the Pundit's Inner Circle unless I trade in my Ray Harryhausen boxed set for the annotated works of Marguerite Duras.

If I seem to be taking all of this a bit too personally, it's because Bergan's tirade distills four years of the kind of blithe, anti-Hollywood, artsy-fartsy dogma crap I was force-fed daily by most of my instructors while studying Fine Arts and Film at York University in the 1980s. In short, for me, it's the equivalent of a 'Nam flashback. You've seen "The Deer Hunter"? Try watching "Battleship Potemkin" frame-by-frame with a hand-coloured Russian flag throughout the 80-minute black & white film and you'll plead for the sweet relief a round of Russian Roulette could bring!

Honestly, I thought we'd moved past this easy anti-populist nonsense: we survived breakdancing movies and "Missing In Action" sequels and other lamentable trends that were supposed to have already killed off film as an art form and here in the 21st century, Spielberg and "Blade Runner" now show up on the AFI list, animated cartoons are no longer considered purely kiddie fare, and films about caped superheroes have elicited stronger critical kudos than the last four Meryl Streep weepies. Hell, the Hobbits even cleaned up at the Oscars, beating the usual "important" disease-of-the-week melodrama...

No doubt tomorrow, there will be those out there quoting liberally from Bergan's article, hoping to impress...well, someone. Just in time to dismiss the new Robin Williams wedding comedy and the expanded opening of "Transformers". Kindred spirits, thankfully, seem to be in short reply, judging from the readers' responses that follow the essay. "Pointless, snobby", "you were being ironic, weren't you?", "banal observations", "xenophobic intellectualism", are some of the kinder remarks...

As for Bergan's influence on my movie-going habits--I don't think I've ever looked more forward to a glorified toy commercial featuring giant robots so much in my life...

©Robert J. Lewis 2007