27 June 2007

Olyphant On "Deadwood": "Don't Hold Your Breath"

One of television's great losses was the cancellation of David Milch's "Deadwood", the gloriously profane and deeply humane Shakespearean western that managed to survive three seasons due to a loyal viewership that didn't grow fast enough for the HBO Pinkertons.

Milch promised two "Deadwood" films that would wrap up the plot threads and conclude the saga as he intended, but in his current interviews for his new series "John From Cincinnati" (currently airing Sundays on TMN), he's hardly mentioned the project. And Timothy Olyphant, who portrayed Etobicoke, Ontario-born sheriff Seth Bullock on the show, delivered this grim soliloquy to Coming Soon:

"I have no idea. There's been ongoing talk about those things for a long, long time. I, for better or for worse, have the perspective of 'don't hold your breath.' My feeling is that the fact that show existed at all for as long as it did was a miracle of sorts."

I'll resist the urge to indulge in a little Al-Swearengen patented profanity and instead, take Bullock's high road and gently weep into my spittoon. "Deadwood" reruns currently air on Canada's History Television and all three seasons are available on rather pricey DVD box sets from HBO.

And Coming Soon: "The Tao Of Joe Hallenback"

"Yippee Ki Yay Mo--" you've probaby seen it on the side of a bus advertising the PG-13 rated fourth installment of the "Die Hard" series (due tomorrow), but you know what it means: it's what Eric Lichtenfield of "Slate" calls "the greatest one liner in movie history".
"Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker is one of the many one-liners that have graced the action film", he writes, "a body of work not known for its strong verbal tradition. Indeed, the delivery of the one-liner ranks among the most cherished rites of this ritualistic genre" (the line was penned by screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, who based his screenplay on the novel "Nothing Lasts Forever", originally a vehicle for Frank Sinatra!).

Or, as Bruce Willis explains to his protege Damon Wayans in Tony Scott's "The Last Boy Scout" (a film I'd place on a near-equal pedestal along with McTiernan's original "Die Hard"): "This is the nineties. You don't just go around punching people. You have to say something cool first..."
Who says film semiotics can't be fun? Read Lichtenfield's ode to the poetry of the four-letter word here.

21 June 2007

The Bastard Son Of A Thousand Mediocrities

In the strangest lawsuit since Jim Belushi sued the original Catwoman, the creator of Freddy Kreuger is facing the ultimate nightmare: Pauly Shore. Director Wes Craven is suing Pauly Shore over "water leakage", which apparently has run onto his property from Shore's abode and caused structural damage.

Craven claims a landslide occurred on his property last December after the washed-up, one-time "Encino Man" star installed a pool and a spa, landscaping onto his neighbouring property. His lawsuit alleges negligence and nuisance. All Shore's publicist has said is that his client disputes Craven's allegations.

The director of the "Scream" series, the original "Hills Have Eyes", and "Last House On The Left" has said that his self-penned thrillers have been borne from his own personal phobias and experiences. So expect his next shocker to address the perils of sharing a property line with an overcaffeinated, reptillian layabout with poor fashion sense who drains all humour from the world.

Hell Hath No "Fury" Like Sam Jackson...

Oh, now this is cool. Samuel L. Jackson will reportedly play Nick Fury in the upcoming "Iron Man" movie.

Marvel mavens will connect with this rumor immediately, as Jackson's likeness was used (with permission) for the revamped Fury character in Mark Millar and Brian Hitch's superb "The Ultimates" series, which just recently completed its second thirteen-issue run (Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira will be taking over). Here are some typically breathtaking pages for the uninitiated, and you know who you are.

Nicholas Joseph "Nick" Fury was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963's "Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos", a WW2 series that was basically Marvel's "Sgt. Rock". He appeared later, as "Bond"mania was enchanting the world, in the then-"modern day" "Fantastic Four" as the leader of the high-tech espionage agency SHIELD (Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate, originally Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division) to battle Cold War villains and assorted nogoodnicks from the Marvel universe. Fury sported a distinctive eye patch, cigar, and was caucasian in his initial incarnation. Comics continuity is always a little wonky--even today, some Marvel titles portray him in his original style.

(Few will remember that David Hasselhoff first portrayed Fury in the little-seen 1998 TV pilot "Nick Fury, Agent Of Shield", which was adapted by David Goyer, who obviously went on to better comics adaptations.)

Read all about it here at Cinematical.

19 June 2007

The Future Of Film Is In The Palm Of Your Hand...

I love movies, but I hate going to the movies.

I don't care what they cost. People bitch about this all the time on the phone-in shows when they want to rail against Hollywood, but let's take a closer look: the average ticket price in Canada for a first-run feature is approx. $7.50, but admittedly it's closer to $10 in the Toronto area, and up to $11.95 in the tonier areas, where I tend to frequent, being the bonhomie cineaste that I am.

Even though I own a plasma TV and home-theatre system, subscribe to HD cable, and have collected hundreds of DVDs, I still wanna see the new releases in the size and venue as the director intended.

But really, how many things in this world can you do for 10 bills? You can't go to a museum--the Ontario Science Centre is something like $25 bucks for a single adult admission, and that joint is awash in government plaques and corporate logos. Sports? Forget it--$40 gets you nosebleeds with a non-obstructed view if you're lucky, with occassional spurts of game play between the exhaustive commercial shilling. You can't even see a no-name band or an avant-garde play for less than $15-20. Hell, a fast food meal is nearly 10 bucks. But Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg or James Cameron spend 100 million smackeroos on state-of-the-art spectacle and you can enjoy that for slightly more than the cost of a watered-down drink.

In the old days, big-ticket Hollywood epics usually came with "premium"--that's "increased"--pricing. You wanted to see "The Robe" in Cinerama? It'd cost you more than a double bill of "Man With The X-Ray Eyes" and "Girls' Town" with Mamie Van Doren. Today, whether or not the movie was a backyard camcorder special or the latest from Pixar, the price is the same. Listen to me naysayers: compared to most other entertainment forms, movies are a bargain.

But if people en masse don't like the prices, why do they go? And more so, why do they go on the same nights I do and make my life miserable? I'd even pay $20 to see a movie--well, some movies--if it would keep the jerks out.

These days, the theatre chains, for all of their lamenting about their ever-decreasing profits, take your money and don't do a damn thing to ensure an enjoyable experience. They won't go digital, so we're stuck with emulsion scratches, bad framing, and dim bulbs (those in the projection equipment, and working behind the counter). Commercials were supposed to keep the costs down, but the theatre nearest me has had a price increase per year and I'm seeing more and more ads, to the point where, including trailers, I've had to sit for 20-30 minutes of promos before the feature begins (don't get me wrong, I love previews--bring 'em on!). I couldn't care less about the snack bar--charge all you want, you thieves, I always smuggle in my own can of lukewarm Diet Coke.

The real problem--universally acknowledged across the land--are idiot audiences, and as for policing them--dream on. Spineless employees would rather hand out a roll of free passes and a token apology than tell some clown to put his cell phone away. I've had to leave my seat to complain ad nauseum about noisy patrons and people who sneak in 20 minutes into the flick and no one's ever done a damn thing. Ever--and I average two films a week. In a way, I get it: some kid making minimum wage isn't going to bound into the theatre like Dudley Do-Right and risk getting his ass blown off...and sadly, the big intimidating usher with the police-issue flashlight (a regular fixture at my hometown's two theatres) is as archaic an icon as the whistling full-service gas station attendant.

Since theatre managers are so hopelessly dense and are thus ensuring that their industry will go the way of the dinosaurs, leave it up to the lab coat-and-pocket-protector set to invent yet more technology to save us from ourselves: The U.S.'s Regal theatre chains have pioneered this contraption, the "Regal Guest Response", a hand-held device (that looks like something created by Ghostbusters' Dr. Venkman) that patrons can use to alert the management about problems with the film's projection, an act of camcorder piracy in action, or its most likely purpose, audience disturbances.

Thirteen U.S. locations have been testing the invention with select audience members, and this week the chain has announced it will be distributing devices to more than one hundred more theatres. No stats have been provided, Regal says customer etiquette has improved in the locations using the devices. Sounds good to me.

This, then, is the apparently the future. And if these things ever show up at the Queensway Cineplex or the ScotiaBank Cinema here in Toronto, watch out 'cause I'm gonna be swinging one of these babies like a baseball bat. Perhaps we buffs north-of-the-border can convince the brainiacs at RIM to work up a Canadian prototype that'll add William Castle's "Percepto"--hell, I'll be the first to invest.

15 June 2007

King, For A Night...(Updated)

Last night's gala for Stephen King was certainly a rewarding and long-overdue evening for fans, a good many who, like me, feel vindicated now that King is at long last being recognized as a serious artist. It's about damned time.

CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos introduced the evening's special guests (while David Cronenberg--who adapted King's "The Dead Zone" to the screen in 1983--was present, he remained anonymous). First up was Margaret Atwood, no stranger to fantasy-themed fiction herself ("Oryx And Crake", "A Handmaid's Tale") who spoke affectionately about the wide-ranging appeal and longevity of King's tales, and credited him for turning on her two teenage sons, and millions of males around the world (presumably we read less...okay...), into readers. She then spoke more academically on one of her favorite subjects--recurring mythological imagery and themes in fiction--and lauded King on incorporating "Sibyl of Cumae" into 1995’s “Rose Madder”.

Clive Barker followed, looking a little worse for wear since the last time I saw him, his once impassioned voice now a painful croak. He spoke of the concept of parallel universes, a timeworn sci-fi theme, and of how in one, tonight, at this very location, his allotted chair is empty. No one knows who he is. His first collection of short stories--"The Books Of Blood"--were published in the early 80s in the UK, and were greeted, in both universes, with the expected oh-so-British indifference. He writes a few more years, eventually, takes a job as a teacher in his hometown of Liverpool, and spends his remaining years thinking about stories and maybe, one day, putting something down again. A possible fate, had King not embraced his early works and proclaimed him, publicly, "the future of horror". There would have been no "Damnation Game", no "Weaveworld", no "Hellraiser" films (c'mon, the first one, while flawed, is excellent).

“A few words from Stephen and lives are changed forever…mine was.”

Barker closed with a simple, heartfelt "thank you", and a warm embrace from his mentor.

Chuck Klosterman owes something to King as well: he was one of the first to champion Klosterman's "Fargo Rock City", a biographical account of growing up a stoned, 80s-Metal obsessed journalist who somehow became one of today's wittiest authorities on pop culture. Klosterman sat opposite King (their first meeting) and kept things light, riffing on the man of the evening from the get-go: "If you had to, could you write a book in a night? If we had a typewriter here right now, could you do something by midnight?"

King, ever cheeky about his success, summed up his philosophy with "I just like to make sh*t up".

He talked of the burden of celebrity, of being a public figure where when you think people are stalking you, they generally are. Although sometimes, he happens upon someone who doesn't have a clue as to his rep, such as his encounter with a rich dude with a flat outside of a Florida movie theater. King and his family were off to a screening, when a well-dressed man offered him 10 bucks to change his tire. King complied: "It's the only honest money I've ever made!" he laughed. And when the fellow asked if he could work faster, King thought "Great, another f*ckin' editor!"

On a more serious note, when asked of what he thought was the universal appeal of his stories and the secret of his longevity (few authors have 30+ year careers), King replied "It's the voice, I think--it's a voice they wanna hear." He made an analogy to the music of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, who were distinctive (although King's mother, upon hearing Dylan for the first time, thought he sounded like "a pig caught in a barbed-wire fence") musicians who polarized critics and listeners alike.

Klosterman wondered: "Why do humans crave scary stimulation? This is not something you see in the animal kingdom." "Denial", King offered, denial of death and tragedy, and yet at the same time, a means of being prepared for something we subconsciously know is inevitable.

King's favorite works of his own? "'Lisey's Story'. 'I like 'Cell'. 'Misery'--that's a good one." Although he is fine with the idea that for his readership, ' The Stand' will likely endure as his legacy work. He confessed he found tributes such as these a little odd, "like going to your own funeral", he quipped.

Klosterman pushed him on his love of the hard rock band AC/DC (who scored his lone directorial effort, the loopy "Maximum Overdrive"). King cited their "purity". Their music says: "We're gonna clear out your head". In his books, King "wants you to burn dinner. Not think about work or your bills". He views writing as "an aggressive act" and each time aspires to eliciting a purely emotional response, to make the reader feel something. He feels to much "literature" is too self-consciously intellectual, and fails to provide that connection with the reader. Ditto 'story'. Narrative is too often at the bottom of the list of literary concerns, he laments. As he once wrote in the intro to a short story collection: it is the tale, not he who tells it.
And he's more or less recanted his well-publicized 2002 "retirement" plans. At the time, he wasn't doing well from the accident and addicted to painkillers, but that too, has passed.

Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Canadian Booksellers Association President Steve Budnarchuk, King (the first American author to receive the honour) suggested that his home state of Maine would become Canada's 11th province in a perfect world. It'd offer a new "southern destination" for cold Canadians ("and you guys know cold"). And there'd be fewer people to whom he'd have to explain: "Look, I didn't vote for him, okay?"

King praised Canadian authors such as Margaret Atwood, Alistair McLeod, and Yann Martel, but reserved his most impassioned sentiments for Robertson Davies ("You don't need to take any creative writing courses. Just go to a bookstore and buy "The Deptford Trilogy"), his delight in being able to stand on soil that served as part of Davies' locations, and of the late author's signature "long, white beard."

He said that the next day, he planned to go shopping for Canadian books he can't get back home (according to his publisher, Susan Moldow of Scribner, the first thing King did when he landed in Toronto was scout local bookstores).

The event was recorded for television, but no broadcast dates or details were provided. Keep checking this spot for details. King’s latest, the lost “Richard Bachman” manuscript “Blaze”, comes out Tuesday. Here's a photo of King accepting the award, courtesy of Canoe and AP.
Updated June 14, 2007:
George Stroumboulopoulos' interview with King on his CBC show "The Hour" can be viewed here.

14 June 2007

"No Country For Old Men" Trailer Debuts: The Coens Meet McCarthy....

While it didn't win at Cannes, the Coen brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country For Old Men" is one of the most highly anticipated film releases of 2007. It won't come out until November, unfortunately, but today, Variety has released the trailer. I tore through the book in a mere two sittings--it was one of the most perfect novels I've ever read and the film couldn't have been better cast or had more ideal filmmakers at the helm. A taste of what's to come can be found here.

07 June 2007

...And 20 More...

In honour of tomorrow night's Stephen King gala (sorry folks, but Booked! confirmed today there'll be no signings), here's a few items that have made me a long-time fan of the Maine man (a few things Malene missed)...

1) Larry Underwood’s long, dark solo walk through Lincoln Tunnel in "The Stand".

2) "Danse Macabre": still the definite analysis/celebration of the enduring appeal of the horror genre, which 25 years later cries out for an update.

3) For the too-often unsung humanity of his work, which his critics tend to miss, evidenced in the depiction of even his minor characters, like the young victim of a dog attack in “The Green Mile”: “Yes, sir”, the boy said shyly—the boy who would be beaten mercilessly on the play-yard by laughing, jeering bullies for all of his miserable years of education, the boy who would never be asked to play Spin The Bottle or Post Office and would probably never sleep with a woman not bought and paid for once he was grown to a manhood’s times and needs, the boy who would always stand outside the warm and lighted circle of his peers, the boy who would look at himself in the mirror for the next fifty or sixty or seventy years of his life and think ugly, ugly, ugly…” (from Pt. 3: “Coffey’s Hands”)

4) For keeping the novella—not too long, not too short-- thriving as a literary form (and generally, his best work).

5) “The Mist”: a regular Joe goes out for groceries and gets trapped in a supermarket surrounded by a malevolent fog housing carnivorous beasties. Sounds pretty frickin’ stupid, I know, but it’s a classic nail biter and arguably King’s greatest short story (at least, his most popular), one that inspired one of the first text-based video games I ever played and at long last is now being filmed by Frank Darabont, who adapted “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” to the screen (from “Skeleton Crew”).

6) For dropping a truckload of watermelons on future bimbo footnote Marla Maples, scored by Angus Young's wailing guitar in his only directorial effort, the totally goofy "Maximum Overdrive".

7) For introducing me to the concept of the “incunabulist”, and for conceiving a perverse and truly moving (against my usual cynical, unsentimental nature) romance in “Lisey’s Story”, a tale of the possible life his wife Tabitha King could have lived had King been killed in that hit-and-run accident in 1999.

8) The fact that Bangor,Maine residents are so protective of their famous son that they deliberately give wrong directions to tourists looking to find his house.

9) "Survivor Type", which answers the universal question: how much can a man eat of himself in order to survive on an island without food? “I’m a monster now—a freak. Nothing left below the groin. Just a freak. A head attached to a torso dragging itself along the sand by the elbows. A crab.” (from “Skeleton Crew”)

10)Because unlike the literary darlings who spend ten years writing a book and hanging out at too many New York cocktail parties, King gets up every day and writes, and strangely, some people have a problem with that. They should probably spend less time at literary cocktail parties.

11) “Longer than you think, Dad! I saw! I saw! Long jaunt! Longer than you think!” The creep-me-out ending of “The Jaunt”, in which the narrator’s 12 year old son skips the knock-out gas and witnesses his teleportation through space, arriving at the other side as “a white-haired thing” that “screamed and clawed at the eyes that had seen the unseeable forever and ever…” (from “Skeleton Crew”)

12) “It”: one of his most personal novels, and a better “The Big Chill” than “The Big Chill”, which would’ve been improved greatly if Kasdan had added a killer clown and a wicked alien instead of Jeff Goldblum and Mary Kay Place.

13) That in his early years he preferred to sell his short stories to low-rent and lower-paying "men's magazines" because smut editors didn’t change a word of what their authors wrote.

14) For not telling us whether Alfie Zimmer chooses to either kill himself or write his book in “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away”, one of King’s finest short stories (“Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales”).

15) For making it cool--literary snobs be damned (and they are...)--to use rock lyrics as commentary.

16) That he could write a novel as great as "Carrie" in long hand during breaks at his job at a laundry service, when I've got a private office and a state-of-the-art PC and I can never finish the first chapter.

17) And that upon selling “Carrie” for his first taste of real money, the first thing he did was buy his wife a portable hair dryer.

18) He's got the best Stanley Kubrick stories…

19) He wrote one page of an issue of Marvel’s “X-Men” for charity, and had Berni Wrightson draw it.

20) And of course, for his continuing use of italics, his signature that I have shamelessly stolen for my own far less distinguished works…

Top 50 Reasons To Love Stephen King

Tomorrow night's Booked!/Luminato Stephen King gala (sold out) has inspired the Toronto Star's pop culture writer Malene Arpe to compose her "Top 50 Reasons To Love Stephen King". Here are few:

4) After injuries sustained in a 1999 hit-and-run, created the Haven Foundation, helping freelance artists who can't pay for medical bills. All proceeds from Blaze, out Tuesday, go to the foundation.

14) "Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work."

18) Citing the great Richard Matheson (I am Legend) as a strong influence.

45) He causes self-congratulatory snobs like literary critic Harold Bloom to froth at the mouth and expose themselves for the obnoxious elitists that they are.

Read the entire list here at The Star's arts/entertainment page. In the meantime, this is so much fun I'm going to compile a list of my own...

06 June 2007

Peter Simpson: A Pioneer In Canadian Cinema

Peter R. Simpson, one of Canada's most successful and outspoken media and film moguls, passed away yesterday at the age of 64 after a battle with lung cancer.

Simpson first made his mark in advertising, when he gambled on the once-controversial concept of the "stand-alone" media management company by forming Media Buying Services (MBS) in 1969. Simpson's model was eventually adopted around the globe, leading to the creation of such powerful agencies as OMD and Starcom MediaVest Group. After a modest launch, MDS gained stature with major players like Playtex, Dominion Stores and K-Tel. Simpson would eventually sell off his international offices in the early 1980s and devote himself full-time to film production and distribution.

In 1971, Simpson formed "Simcom"--later Norstar Filmed Entertainment--and during the "tax shelter" boom of the 1970s, produced some of Canada’s most financially successful and (thus) critically-reviled attempts at commercial (read: “American”-styled) moviemaking. Over his career, he produced more than 40 feature films, miniseries, and documentaries, and distributed many independent and foreign films in addition to his own, eventually earning him a Genie (the Canuck “Oscar”) from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television in 2004 for his "special contribution" to national cinema.

When director Paul Lynch brought Simpson a painting of a heart with a knife through it, they launched the successful "Prom Night" series, for which Simpson would co-direct the third installment, "Prom Night 3: The Last Kiss", with Ron Oliver. 80s-horror completists will fondly recall Simpson's other genre efforts, ranging in quality from the John Vernon/Samantha Eggar spam-in-a-cabin camp howler "Curtains" to Vic Arin's claustrophobic suspense drama "Cold Comfort" --think a winter-set prairie "Misery"--with Maury Chaykin and Paul Gross.

In 2001, Simpson became the target of much public protest when he announced plans to finance a feature film based on the Stephen Williams bestseller "Invisible Darkness", a chronicle of the southern Ontario Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka murders, with Jason Priestly rumoured to play Bernardo. That film never got made, but Simpson did defiantly represent Joel Bender's "Karla", which was produced by Quantum Entertainment and starred "That 70s Show"s Laura Prepon as Homolka.

I was employed by Norstar Entertainment on several productions early in my career, when Simpson’s operation was the closest thing to Roger Corman's New World Pictures a fledging filmmaker like me had access to, at least in the Toronto area. Inspired by Dante, Arkush, Demme et al, and determined to cut my teeth on low-budget genre films, I submitted a few storyboard samples and screenplays to Simpson shortly after graduation and to my amazement I got an offer right away to draw the boards for "Prom Night 4". That particular assignment didn't work out--mostly because of my immediate dislike for its director--but within a week, I found myself sketching a psychotic, axe-wielding David Keith for Ron Oliver's Niagara Falls-noir "Liar's Edge". It wouldn't be the first Shannon Tweed vehicle I worked on, either...

Simpson rarely visited the sets but I had a chance to speak with him here and there at Norstar's Bellair Street offices. I remember him an amiable chap who treated a then-novice like me as a professional, especially when he was trying to talk me into accepting a reduced fee, which was usually the case (I think I made less than $10 an hour during a frenzied weekend marathon of drawing for “Cold Sweat”, with Ben Cross, SCTV’s Dave Thomas, and yes, Shannon Tweed). If I have one regret, it's that in these moments I didn't sell myself to him harder--after all, this was the one man who could've bankrolled one of my scripts and given me my shot at directing, but at the time I was too meek and modest--typically "Canadian"--to fashion myself as anything more than a movie-mad kid who could draw really well, really fast. Years later, I'm on that Grail quest, and sadly there are very few of Simpson’s kind left on the Canadian film scene who encourage young talent and are willing to give a newcomer a break.

Simpson's son, Brock, is a Toronto-based actor, writer, director (he's the only performer to appear in all four "Prom Night" films, too).

Here's an interview with Simpson from a few years back, courtesy of the 80s-oriented horror site The Terror Trap.