Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Country For The Undead, or Thoughts on Planet Terror

The first half of the double feature/grindhouse experiment/collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Planet Terror (2007) by writer director Robert Rodriguez follows a zombie outbreak in a small Texas town over one night.  Although this movie was shown first, there’s a Jungle Julia reference on the radio that prove that these events actually happened after Death Proof (2007), in case you pay attention to such trivial details, and I know you do.
There are multiple story lines to increase dramatic tension amongst the dark humor and darker special effects, but they distill down to two couples; Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray, part-time tow truck operator and full time Mexican action hero with a mysterious past and Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling, go-go dancer and aspiring stand-up comedian, along with Josh Brolin doing a variation of Llewellyn Moss as the homicidal Dr. William Block and Marley Shelton as Dr. Dakota Block, also estranged daughter of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw from Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and From Dusk till Dawn (1996), as portrayed once more by Michael Parks.
And these are particularly, uniquely gross zombies with throbbing pustules that spew infected goo all over their victims, in addition to the traditional biting and eating.  The military, as always, is responsible for the bio-horror, and the green fog that shrouds the night is straight out The Return of The Living Dead (1985).  You can hear the Tarantino script tune up, what with everyone smoking red apple cigarettes, and there’s a surprising amount of severed limb and castration jokes, culminating in Cherry Darling’s infamous machine gun peg leg. 
With similar over-saturated colors and scratchy film grain as Death Proof, it has the same look, but also includes quiet sentimental moments amidst the bloody mayhem that actually work and have resonance.  Fortunately before it gets too maudlin the reel goes missing, because you know, grindhouse.
There are cameos galore with Michael Biehn, who gets a lifetime pass after playing Kyle Reese as Sherriff Haig, Naveen Andrews, Sayid from Lost, as Abby, a testicle collecting rogue scientist and also Jeff Fahey, Frank from Lost, as JT, the barbecue obsessed gas station owner.  Bruce Willis, who is such a big star people forget that he was Butch in Pulp Fiction (1994) appears Lt. Muldoon, along with Quentin himself as a renegade soldier/movie aficionado/rapist aptly billed as Rapist# 1.  He compares Cherry Darling to Ava Gardner and y'know, he's kinda right.
Rose McGowan’s machine gun leg is some of the best uses of modern CGI, while the more traditional effects were created by Walking Dead producer Gregory Nicotero, who incidentally made his big screen acting debut in Day of the Dead (1985) where he was also an assistant to Tom Savini, who loses a finger in this movie.  Dakota’s hand paralysis is a nice nod to Franco Nero's Django (1966 all these fellas have seen the same movies) while Quentin (or Robert, but let’s face it, probably Quentin) snuck in a real trailer amongst all the fake trailers with Women in Cages (1971, with Pam Grier, who follows me on Twitter). 

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fin de Siècle Magic Leads to The Greatest Trick of All, or Thoughts on The Illusionist

Magic, like juggling, mime and tap dancing, is an ancient theatrical art form that often struggles to find relevance and an audience in an ocean of modern entertainment options.  The Illusionist (2006), attempts to bridge that gap by telling a story about a magician without actually focusing on the magic, but rather using it as a plot device to tell an edgy fairy tale set in 1889 Vienna.  Edward Norton is Eisenheim, the titular Illusionist who takes Vienna by storm and attracts the attention of both Paul Giamatti from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001) as Chief Inspector Uhl and Jessica Biehl as the Duchess Sophie von Teschen. 
Most of the charm of The Illusionist lies in the movie’s setting; Fin de Siècle Vienna at the height of the city’s intellectual and artistic renaissance, but much like Berlin in the 1920’s there’s war on the horizon and that adds a darker theme that can’t be avoided.  The movie is a gorgeous portrait of old Vienna, filmed in coffee houses and theaters lit by gaslight that adds an atmospheric sepia tone to the entire film and perfectly complimented by a dreamy orchestral soundtrack by Phillip Glass.
Edward Norton’s confident professionalism as Eisenheim the Illusionist is counterbalanced Paul Giamatti”s Inspector Uhl, a magic enthusiast and amateur magician who ultimately arrests him for charlatanism, while Jessica Biel has a quiet radiance in an underrated performance as the Duchess Sophie.  After so much complaining about Englishmen playing Americans (looking at you, Andrew Lincoln) it’s nice to see a movie with three Americans playing Europeans.  But every fairy tale needs an evil prince, who is aptly portrayed by Englishman Rufus Sewell as the Crown Prince Leopold.  Everyone knows the Brits make the best villains.
Skillfully directed by Neil Burger of Limitless (2011) and Divergent (2014), the movie has a Caligari-ish vibe, almost a modern German expressionist feel that permeates the art direction, costumes and scenery design.  Watch out for Eddie Marsan, who you know as Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes (2009), Terry from Ray Donovan (2013) and Mr. Norrell in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2015) as Josef Fischer, Eisenheim’s impresario and Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Kick-Ass (2010) as young Eisenheim.
The Illusionist suffered from the misfortune of being released the same year as The Prestige (2006), with the inevitable comparisons; two big budget period dramas about magicians.  But magic as an entertainment genre is problematic because modern audiences don’t like being tricked, they resent it.  Which is ironic because movies are inherently magical; every special effect uses some element of a magic trick, they’re simply not presented as magic.
The magic tricks in The Illusionist are easy to dismiss as CGI effects, and even the sleight of hand can’t be trusted with quick editing and multiple takes.  The movie offers no explanation for Eisenham’s illusions, especially the greatest trick of all, attracting Jessica Biehl with magic.  It kinda works; don’t ever forget that David Copperfield was married to supermodel Claudia Schiffer in the 90s.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Monday, November 28, 2016

An Austrian Franz of the Dead, or Thoughts on Attack of The Lederhosen Zombies

Attack of The Lederhosen Zombies (2016) or Angriff der Lederhosenzombies, starts out with a moody techno Ennio Morricone inspired soundtrack to get you in the mood for The Thing (1982) but rapidly morphs into something closer to Shawn of the Dead (2004), but with yodeling.  Ably directed by Dominik Hartl, there’s a new formula for making artificial snow that spews a toxic green gas straight out of the Re-Animator (1985) at a ski resort, and an extreme snowboard team of attractive young Austrians gets trapped on the mountain.  Guess what happens next.
While not technically zombies, the infected have that familiar bitey rage virus; slow moving mutants with a compulsion to eat people.  It’s a lighthearted film (well as lighthearted as a flesh eating zombie movie can be), and I can't help but assume this is a response to The Walking Dead and how Austrians would react to the zombie apocalypse.  With the best use of the Blue Danube (by Austrian composer Johann Strauss) since Kubrick’s 2001 (1968) and featuring zombie snowboard stunts (those edges are sharp), the movie is full of self-referential characters who have seen the same films we have and know exactly what they're dealing with.  It’s nice to see people in a zombie film identify zombies by name and know what to do.  The movie has old school Lucio Fulci zombies in snow suits with appropriate levels of snow gore.  Ski poles make great improvised weapons, and how many zombie movies these days make time for a traditional Viennese waltz?
My knowledge of Austrian films is sadly deficient and doesn’t extend much farther than The Hands of Orlac (1924, with Conrad Veidt, you know, Viktor Laszlo from Casablanca).  My knowledge of Austrian music is even more deficient, starting with Mozart and ending with Falco.  A Viennese blend of Ski Patrol (1990), Cabin Fever (2002) , and Dead Snow (2009), with a dash of that trapped on a chair-lift movie Frozen (2010, not the Elsa one), Angriff der Lederhosenzombies may have a dubious 50% on Rotten Tomatoes but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the movie. 

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Accidentally Summoning Demons Between Paddlings, or Thoughts on Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

Part 80's teen sex comedy and supernatural slasher movie, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) starts as out as an Animal House (1978) parody that rapidly descends into a careful what you wish for episode of the Twilight Zone, but with zombies.  The sorority babes are members of the Tri-Delts, and their initiation involves monk’s robes, copious spankings, whipped cream and breaking into a haunted bowling alley and stealing a trophy.
The bowling alley’s not technically haunted; the nerdy teens and a couple sorority pledges accidentally release an evil stop motion gargoyle/imp who grants wishes, but you know very well that those wishes have a catch.  On the way breaking in they meet 80’s Scream Queen Linnea Quigley who you know as Trash from The Return of the Living Dead (1985) as a new wave teen burglar named Spider.
The rest of the sorority babes turn into homicidal zombie witch hags who kill the teens in new and interesting ways including ice machines, severed head bowling and the always popular death by  snu-snu.  Unapologetically voyeuristic (it was the 80s), the movie fits in nicely with Troll 2 (1990), Nightof the Demons (1988), and Revenge of the Nerds (1984). 
Be certain to watch out for veteran character actor bathroom George “Buck” Flower from such cinematic highlights as Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (1975), Escape From New York (1981) and They Live (1988), as the janitor who spends most of the movie trapped in the bathroom.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Friday, November 25, 2016

Curvy Hellcats on a Rampage, or Thoughts on Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

From legendary B-movie director Russ Meyer, or maybe I should say DD-movies (my apologies), Faster Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill! (1965) was originally a low budget drive-in exploitation film that has now been rebranded as a sex-positive feminist action flick.  The premise has a certain simplistic genius; three go-go dancers and part-time street racers, murder a rival driver, kidnap his girlfriend and terrorize a crippled farmer and his two adult sons.
With a jazzy, beat poet mid-century soundtrack and snappy dialogue, from a hardboiled screenplay full of innuendo and impossible one-liners, it’s a cautionary tale of cat fights, hot pants, and rally stripes for fans of women's wrestling and salt flat drag racing.  Tura Satana stars in her career-defining role as Varla, the leader of the girl gang and karate expert with Bettie page bangs and dominatrix riding boots, driving a 1964 Porsche 356 C Coupé.  Haji, born (Barbarella Canon, which seems like a cooler stage name) portrays Rosie, the brunette with the 1959 MGA 1600 Roadster.  The blonde driving the 1958 Triumph TR3 A is Lori Williams as Billie, and together they are the Three Furies who burn across the lawless California desert. 
Susan Bernard portrays Linda, the kidnapped teen, who went on to become the first Jewish Playboy centerfold (Miss December, 1966), who cruised around with her boyfriend Tommy in their 1963 MGB.  It’s a car movie first and foremost, and a post WWII commentary on the evolving roles of women with a sly lesbian subtext folded in amidst all the karate chops and go-go dancing.
All the males in the movie are portrayed as weak and impotent, goofy gas station attendants, lecherous old men in wheelchairs or gentle giant muscle bound mutes.  They’re powerless against their feminine charms, wrestling prowess and driving skills.  Russ Meyer keeps the camera low and films them like Amazon goddesses, the audience sees these women from below, larger than life. 
Japanese-American Tura Satana made her big-screen debut in Irma la Douce (1963), with appearances in Our Man Flint (1966), The Astro-Zombies (1968) and The Doll Squad (1973).  She revisited the role as a voice actor in Rob Zombie’s The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009). 
Ironically, the risqué burlesque outfits look would modest on a beach today.  For an exploitative box office disaster when released, the film currently has a very respectable rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Also the primary inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007), Faster Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill! is not that much different than the Fast and the Furious franchise, except in those movies you get to stare at Vin Diesel’s chest. 

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Needs More Johnny Depp, or Thoughts on Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes

The most memorable aspect of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001) is Rick Baker’s makeup, and the fact that there are actual human actors underneath all that latex and yak hair.  Similar to the 1968 original in many respects, the audience is transported to an alternate universe (literally an alternate universe in this case) where primates have developed into the dominant species and humans are their lesser-evolved cousins.
Mark Wahlberg portrays new character Leo Davidson as the movie spins off in an entirely new direction.  He works on a generic space station where he trains chimps in Lancelot Link-style space suits to fly drones, instead of say, actual drones.  Against orders, he follows his favorite chimp Pericles into an electromagnetic storm, encounters a wormhole and crash-lands on the ape planet. So far, so good.
Helen Bonham Carter, the future (and now ex) Mrs. Tim Burton takes over Kim Novak's role as Ari, the chimp scientist and human sympathizer with Tim Roth as General Pink (I mean Thade), the human hating gorilla.  Michael Clarke Duncan is Colonel Atar along with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as General Krull.  And look out for, or rather listen, because he is unrecognizable under his orangutan makeup for Paul Giamatti from Sideways (2004), The Illusionist (2006), American Splendor (2003) and Dr. Satan in The Haunted World of El Superbeasto  (2009) as Limbo, the sarcastic slave trader.
On the human side we have Kris Kristofferson, fresh off Blade (1998), but you may have forgotten his appearance as Mace Montana in Big Top Pee-Wee  (1988) playing Karubi, and Canadian supermodel Estella Warren as Daena.  The humans can speak in this remake; a critical miscalculation that I assume was added to distance this movie from the 1968 version.  Charlton Heston also has an unrecognizable and uncredited cameo as Zaius, General Thade’s father, along with Linda Harrison, who you remember as Nova from 1968, as one of the captured humans.
The movie has to be compared to 1968, a film that has since entered the popular consciousness.  The original Planet of the Apes can be viewed as a (kinda racist, if you think about it) civil rights metaphor, and Tim Burton does his best to continue the Chimps vs. Gorillas power struggle, but the larger issues addressed in the original quickly fall away.  Another disadvantage in remaking a movie where everyone knows the twist ending is that there’s no way to top it.  Ironically the new ending is closer to Pierre Boulle’s original 1963 novel but makes less sense in relation to the overall plot.
Mark Wahlberg has a certain physical presence but he’s no Ben-Hur.  Charlton Heston had a self-righteous arrogance as elitist movie star that he brought to every role; Mark Wahlberg has a cocky Boston working class persona that doesn’t work in a space opera.  Additionally, from a Tim Burton perspective, he’s too heroic and mainstream, he’s not a quirky outsider like a certain actor whose name rhymes with Donnie Jepp, or Lukas Haas in Mars Attacks! (1998) Michael Keaton in Batman (1989), or even Asa Butterfield in Miss Peregrine's Home for PeculiarChildren (2016).
And Tim Burton is not good with traditional sci-if, though Frankenweenie (2012), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and especially Mars Attacks! (1998) can be considered as sci-fi.  But Mars Attacks! is mid-century retro and those other movies are closer to steampunk.  Tim Burton’s vision of the future in Planet of the Apes is one we've seen already in a dozen movies, without referencing anything sentimental or visionary like 2001 (1968) or Alien (1979).  Though I will admit that the chimp spaceships from a contemporary perspective look like giant flying earbuds, much like the iconic design of the Star Trek communicators, so I’ll give him that.
The movie is far more comfortable at ape city where Tim can indulge in his affection for quirky architecture and grounds the audience in a more fully realized environment, and the costume design by Colleen Atwood is consistently great, and reminiscent of Oscar winner Eiko Ishioka’s work in Coppolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).  The genius of this franchise lies in the title, this is a planet of the apes, and the audience knows exactly what they’re in for.  But it’s 15 minutes before the big reveal, that's almost 10% of screen time is spent on needless exposition and setup which has already been done for you before you even decide to watch this.
However Planet of the Apes is also notable for Tim Burton’s discovery of a money-making formula, diluting his considerable vision and talents for a more popular appeal and commercial success.  Like I said at the start of this review, the movie is worth watching for the monkey makeup, the only aspect where this version is vastly superior to the 1968 original.  And as for Mark Wahlberg?  He doesn’t even have blue eyes…

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

He’s Called Pinhead, Not Outer Spacehead, or Thoughts on Hellraiser 4: Bloodline

It’s never a good idea to take your horror franchise and put it on a spaceship, but that doesn’t movie producers from doing it, and it won’t stop me from watching the inevitable train wreck.  Hollywood has a history of blasting their comedy teams into space with movies like Abbot and Costello Go to Mars (1955) and The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962), and 30 years later they got the bright idea to try it again with Pinhead in Hellraiser 4: Bloodline (1996).
The film opens on a remote space station with the Lament Configuration puzzle box being opened by remote with a terminator exoskeleton-robot.  This is my first and biggest complaint, I’m certain the Lament Configuration needs to be opened by human hands, flesh and blood are essential.  The whole point of the Lament Configuration is that it senses desire, and calls the Cenobites; The Order of the Gash, angels to some, demons to others and outer-dimensional BDSM proponents of black vinyl and chains.  But it’s actually a fake out story told in retrospect that starts in 18th Century France and follows the origin of the Box, so if you’ve ever wanted to know and aren’t interested in reading the Clive Barker source material, this is the movie for you. 
Canadian actor Bruce Ramsay stars as toymaker Philippe Lemarchand in 18th Century France, architect John Merchant in the ‘90s and mad scientist Paul Merchant in 22nd Century Space in three connecting stories about the family who has been fighting Pinhead through the centuries because of their bloodline, get it?  Philippe Lemarchand is the finest toymaker in France who was commissioned to make the box for some Satanic French libertines.  In 1996 New York, architect John Merchant designs a building that functions as a giant Lament Configuration and in the future Paul Merchant designs a spaceship that coincidentally, transforms into a giant puzzle box, in space.
Hellraiser: Bloodline introduces a new Cenobite, Angelique, as portrayed by Valentina Vargas, who you may remember as The Girl from The Name of the Rose (1986) and Bonita in Luc Besson’s Le Grand Bleu (1988).  Doug Bradley returns in his most famous role, but Pinhead doesn’t really need an elaborate origin story and the more you explain, the less scary he becomes. 
Hellraiser: Bloodline also has the dubious honor of being the first and to date only film I’ve seen directed by Alan Smithee, who you may or may not know is a pseudonym used by the Director’s Guild of America when the director disowns a project.  The actual director was Kevin Yager, a special effects artist and designer of the Chucky Doll from Child’s Play (1988), in addition to Freddy Kreuger’s makeup and the Crypt Keeper from HBO’s Tales From the Crypt (1989).   With higher production values than say, Leprechaun 4: In Space (also 1996, it was a good year for this kind of crossover) and some state of the art 90’s CGI (and by state of the art, I mean laughably primitive), the movie will appeal only to die-hard fans of the Cenobites.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Legend of The Headless Tipping Point, or Thoughts on Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

Tim Burton’s last great movie, Sleepy Hollow (1999), a stylish supernatural horror straight out of a 70’s Hammer Film production had the holy trinity of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman, though I suppose you could add Disney to that mix and make it a quartet.   Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, it’s arguably the most successful adaptation of a cartoon, largely because nobody remembers the 1949 Disney original animated film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad.
Johnny Depp, in a career-defining role that would lead directly to Jack Sparrow, portrays Ichabod Crane, updated from gentle country schoolteacher to gentle New York constable but also visionary detective employing the new science of deduction.  It’s a quirky yet confident performance full of nervous tics that has a certain level of maturity missing in his later works.  The same can be said for Tim Burton’s direction in this film.
And what a film, Tim Burton’s vision of a gothic 1799 New York full of powdered wigs and pirate shirts and his atmospheric Sleepy Hollow village is perfectly composed.  The cinematography is all cold blues and grays, punched up with subtle digital fog, an excellent use of a new technology without being overt and showing off.  There’s also a surprising amount of gore for Disney and a Tim Burton film, Sleepy Hollow doesn’t shy away from the decapitations.  Though to be fair, it is a movie about Ichabod Crane’s investigation of a series of murders by a headless horseman, whose favorite method of murder involves lopping off heads with a sword.
Christina Ricci, no stranger to the genre with her roles in Casper (1995), The Addams Family (1991), and as an adult in AfterLife (2009), The Gathering (2003) and Cursed (2005), portrays Katrina Van Tassell, the daughter of Baltus Van Tassel and the literal belle of the ball.
The movie is enhanced by the fantastic casting decisions, ranging from Michael Gambon, Dumbledore from that movie about wizards and schools, as Baltus Van Tassel to Casper Van Dien, who you might remember as Rico from Starship Troopers, as Brom Van Brunt.   Martin Landau appears as Peter Van Garrett, (there’s lots of Vans in this movie, like the song says, even old New York, was once New Amsterdam).
There’s also a Christopher Lee cameo as the stern Burgomaster who sends Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow, and Lisa Marie appears as Lady Crane, Ichabod’s mother. Miranda Richardson, who will always be Queenie from Blackadder to me portrays the Lady Van Tassel while Jeffrey Jones, Charles Deetz from Beetlejuice (1988) appears as the Reverend Steenwyck.
Senator Palpatine also makes an appearance, with Ian McDiarmid as Thomas Lang while Richard Griffiths, Uncle Vernon from that show about wizard platforms and the film Withnail and I (1987) plays Magistrate Philipse.  The Hessian mercenary was portrayed by Christopher Walken, who you’ve probably forgotten was Max Schreck in Batman Returns (1992) while Ray Park did the sword fighting for the character, which rounds up all the Star Wars references.
The perfect, seamless production design won Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction and long time collaborator and costume designer Colleen Atwood crafted Ichabod’s steampunk-y detective goggles, the look that launched a thousand cosplays.  Colleen Atwood has continued to work with Tim Burton, up to and including his most recent movie, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016).
1999 was a seminal year for movies, seeing the release of titles that would change the cinematic landscape including The Matrix, American Beauty, Fight Club, The Blair Witch Project, Star Wars: Episode 1, The Sixth Sense and Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut.  I still maintain that this was Johnny Depp’s and Tim Burton’s last great movie; Planet of the Apes would arrive in 2001 along with Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003.  Both movies would bring popular and commercial success, and send the two down a rosy, indulgent path leading to self-parody and repetitive irrelevance.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Monday, November 21, 2016

Jason Fights Some Space Marines And Future Rave Teens, or Thoughts On Jason X

If you've ever watched a random episode of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape or Battlestar Galactica and thought what this show needs is more un-killable serial killers and slasher violence, then Jason X (2001) is the movie for you.  There’s a tacit assumption on the audience’s part that people are better in the future, somehow different, or at the very least smarter, so it's inherently disconcerting and irritating to see 90s teens in space.  I think that’s the problem everyone had with young Wesley Crusher.  And make no mistake, although this movie was released in 2001 the costumes, art direction and especially CGI is very late ‘90s.
Jason Voorhees has come a long way since his first appearance rising out of Crystal Lake in a dream sequence in Friday the 13th (1980, with Kevin Bacon), and now finds himself at the Crystal Lake Research Facility, where much like Woody Allen in Sleeper (1973) he gets frozen in time so the franchise can conveniently reboot as a sci-fi horror movie.  Cryogenics are the ultimate pause button and make sense to an audience in the same crazy way that time travel makes sense.  It’s easy to suspend disbelief and once we’re on board so Jason get onto the business of murdering teens in space.
Stuntman and horror icon Kane Hodder returns to his most famous role, though ironically he came to the franchise relatively late in 1988 with Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.  There’s also a glorious cameo from David Cronenberg as Dr. Wimmer, a bureaucrat at the Crystal Lake Research Facility who is quickly impaled by some rebar.  From director James Isaac of Skinwalkers (2006), watch out for Peter Mensah Onemaus from Spartacus (Doctore!) as Sergeant Brodski, one of those space marines, Lexa Doig from Andromeda and currently Talia al Ghul on Arrow as Rowan LaFontaine and Lisa Ryder, Beka Valentine from Andromeda as KM-14, a sexy robot (of course there’s a sexy robot).
I’ve always considered Jason Voorhees to be a meaner, more violent Michael Meyers, however the really ironic twist is that Jason X actually works; it succeeds as a sci-fi horror comedy.  The supernatural element thrown out in the first five minutes with quick exposition when DavidCronenberg explains Jason’s “almost instantaneous healing ability”, and with that gone the audience and the movie can commit to the sci-fi premise and move forward.  With high production values (although that 90’s CGI is one step above traditional animation) and more space marines (there's always space marines) the movie is a surprising mashup of Aliens (1986), Starship Troopers (1997) and the Friday the 13th series.  One thing you can always rely on, no matter what time period he finds himself in, Jason will always have a violent reaction to teen sexy-time, and sometimes that’s all we need in a movie.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

That Time When Karen Black and Oliver Reed Rented an Evil Summer House, or Thoughts on Burnt Offerings

Not exactly a haunted house movie but something in between, Burnt Offerings (1976) is a 70’s mash-up of possession, reincarnation, body-swaps and features a sentient house with personality and malice, almost a living thing that feeds on fear and pain that 70’s superstars Karen Black and Oliver Reed move into.  If that sounds like a win to you, you’re right; it’s a tremendously thrilling movie.
From the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco, Director Dan Curtis from Trilogy of Terror (1975) cast Karen Black as Marian Rolf, along with Oliver Reed as her husband Ben.  Together with their young son Davey and Bette Davis as their Aunt Elizabeth they rent a creepy mansion full of dusty antiques mysterious framed photos of unexplained strangers.  There’s an empty pool and of course, an overgrown graveyard behind the house, and also a strange old lady living on the top floor that only Karen Black can talk to (and probably see).
Karen Black and Oliver Reed are perfectly matched as a believable couple.  It's interesting that there’s no explanation given for Oliver’s signature British accent; a modern movie would have insisted that he use an American one.  Oliver Reed also has a beefy, physical masculinity that somehow seems more real and authentic than our current crop of chiseled abs and camera-ready faces.  The house is evil, and his transformation from loving father to abusive monster is a testament to his acting skills and consummate professionalism.
Bette Davis is also no stranger to the horror genre with classics like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and the Southern Gothic Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).  She makes the most of a small role, and her natural star-power dominates every scene she’s in.
With Burgess Merideth, the original Penguin from Batman ’66 as their landlord, Burnt Offerings is a thematic inspiration for Skeleton Key (2005) and The Shining (1980), with a dash of The Amityville Horror (1979).  Filmed at the Dunsmuir House in Oakland, CA, the movie has a nice twist that clever viewers may see coming but that doesn't diminish the final effect of dread and what abject horror.  Like all great movies, multiple viewings will be required to fully appreciate the subtle terrors.
Additionally, watching Oliver Reed as the actor and not his character, openly flirt and shamelessly charm a 68-year-old Bette Davis is alternately awkward and endearing, and to give him credit, I don’t think I would have been able to maintain any kind of professionalism if I met Bette Davis at any age.  He even gives her a scandalous swat on her backside that was caught on camera and inexplicably made it into the final cut of the film.  Sexist by contemporary standards, but it was the ‘70s, he was Oliver Reed, and it was actions like these that made him a legend.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Friday, November 18, 2016

Backwoods Ghosts and Instagram Likes, or Thoughts on American Horror Story Season 6: Roanoke

American Horror Story's signature ultra-violence, pansexual ghost diddling and histrionic acting (preferably while covered in blood) returns in Season 6 with a reality show/non-fiction format concerning the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the unlucky couple who move into the haunted house where said colony dwells, and the production company and actors filming the recreation.  Almost as if the like the two newlyweds on the haunted house tour at the start of Asylum, was expanded into a 10 episode series, Season 6 almost immediately descends into a meta-referential echo chamber, a hall of mirrors that touches on every modern horror movie in addition to every other season of American Horror Story and also a dash of American Crime Story.
It’s raining teeth in the first half of the season, with two sets of actors playing the same roles in an Inception (2010) level flashback film within a film.  The documentary format is problematic; interviews and reenactments are tricky because they imply survival, which removes immediate threat from the narrative.  The ghost story is wrapped in a reality show, with cell phone videos, found footage, police body cams and black and white security cameras peppering the narrative in a modern and an inherently frustrating format.
Sarah Paulson has become one of the pillars of the show, acting with an initial frailty that always reveals a hidden strength under extreme pressure/murder.  Lady Gaga returns in an important but relatively minor role as a forest witch goddess and it turns out, the First Supreme.  Kathy Bates you should know by now is happiest doing her obscure weirdo regional accents.  All the regulars return playing new characters or variations of previous ones, including Evan Peters as Edward Phillip Mott, an ancestor of Dandy Mott from Freak Show .  Evan Peters also portrays Rory Monahan, the actor playing Edward Phillip Mott, you see what I mean about that hall or mirrors.
Instead of taking a cast of players including Lily Rabe, Angela Basset, and Denis O’Hare and giving them new characters and storylines each season, in Season 6: Roanoke the actors are re-shuffled mid-season, in a twist that the audience will either find ironic and clever or desperate and heavy-handed.  The second half of the season which starts in Episode 6, amps up the tension by adding a Big Brother/Found Footage element to the show, manufacturing a sense of immediacy and reality.  Additionally there’s a new shock and awe or kitchen sink style of horror, adding more cleavers, a new set of the same ghosts, immolations, and cannibalism to the mix.
YouTube videos and Instagram references blend seamlessly with interviews from Lana Banana, the Asylum true crime writer Lana Winters.  Jessica Lange is not missed but there’s plenty of room for her in the expansive script while relative newcomer Adina Porter (Sally Freeman in Murder House) ascends to center stage as Lee Harris, the one-eared alcoholic, ex-cop, single mother of My Roanoke Nightmare.  She’s an unsympathetic character, and in fact I can't think of a single likable character in this entire season.  That may be the fault of the narrative style.
Incidentally, the final scenes of the last episode drop the found footage pretense and returns to traditional storytelling, but it’s so subtle that the audience doesn't notice.  All of these pseudo-reality ghost hunter shows earnestly attempt to prove that ghosts are real, and Season 6 exploits that primordial desire in an attempt to maintain relevance and bring in new viewers.  But the season suffers from the same frustrating, inherent problem with The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007, oh boy do I hate Micah), this isn't how amateurs would react in these situations.  All of us would put down the camera, help the person you’re filming, fight or run.  It’s filmed as “reality” but this is not how people would actually react, but for the purposes of narrative and storytelling the camera is always on, filming, a silent observer.
One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of a serial TV show is the formula, the comforting routine that the viewers come to expect and in many cases love.  The reboots keep the series fresh and prevents stagnation and the risk of becoming a repetitive misery-fest like, say, The Walking Dead.  Season 6 shakes off audience complacency with the new reality show format but where’s the theme song and artfully disturbing opening credits?  That’s one of my favorite parts of the show.  This was my least favorite season, though I said that about the aliens in Season 2, so maybe it will grow on me over time.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Now That Everybody Loves Comic Book Movies, Let’s Watch The Rocketeer

The Future, as envisioned in the ‘50s, was supposed to have jet packs and flying cars and The Rocketeer (1991) exists in an alternative 1938 Los Angeles where we were actually heading in that direction.  From the 1982 graphic novel series by Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer features Billy Campbell, who you may remember as The Outrageous Okona from Star Trek the Next Generation, as Cliff Secord, dashing All-American stunt pilot/flyboy by day and Nazi spy fighting jet pack wearing crime fighter by night. 
Alan Arkin, who made such an impression as the evil bad guy terrorizing Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967) returns in a kinder, gentler role as the paternal mechanic (superheroes always need a father figure) who designs the iconic helmet for Cliff.  In a nice touch, the jet pack itself was designed by Howard Hughes as portrayed by Terry O’Quinn, who would go on to play John Locke from Lost.  Jennifer Connelly, who made her big screen debut as a child actor in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984) also stars as Jenny Blake, Hollywood ingénue and Cliff’s sweetheart (it’s 1938), and Timothy Dalton is featured as Neville Sinclair, Errol Flynn-inspired matinee idol and secret Nazi spy, swashing his buckles in the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Ennis House.
The Rocketeer is a Disney movie, which means at its heart it will be sentimental and nostalgic but the viewer can also expect those signature impressively high production values as they create an all-inclusive world with vintage cars, airplanes, costumes and interior designs.  This also includes a stellar supporting cast for the snappy hard-boiled 30’s dialogue, including veteran character actor Ed Lauter, with an IMDb page with over 200 credits as Special Agent Fitch, William Sanderson, JF Sebastian in Blade Runner (1982) and Sherriff Dearborne in True Blood as one of the airplane cronies hanging out at Hollywood landmark Bull Dog Café, Jon Polito from Highlander (1986), The Big Lebowski (1988), Miller’s Crossing (1990) and The Crow (1994) as Otis Bigelow, and Paul Sorvino as Eddie Valentine, a gangster.  Max Grodénchik, Rom from Star Trek DS-9 is featured as Wilmer, a small time hood who steals the jet pack, hides it in Cliff’s plane and sets the plot in motion, while Tiny Ron, Maihar’du from DS9 stars as Lothar, giant bodyguard to Neville Sinclair.
Director Joe Johnston, who got his start as an effects artist on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), before going on to direct Jumanji (1995), The Wolfman (2010) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).  If you want to see a sentimental portrait of Hollywood in the ‘30’s with jet packs and Nazi sword fights (and who wouldn’t), this is the movie for you.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).