Saturday, December 23, 2006

Really Big Finish

Doctor Who Season Two (or Season 28, depending on your anal-retentiveness) has been a string of entertaining highs and lows, in terms of both quality and intensity. It’s been a season of returns, renewals and reinventions. We’ve met Cybermen, a werewolf, clockwork robots, Queen Victoria, Madame du Pompadour, and at the edge of the universe, maybe even Satan himself. We visited a current parallel Earth and also a New Earth in the year 5,000,000,23. There were trips to 1953, 1879, 2012, and the 51st century -- a time that led to a tour of 18th century France. Sarah Jane Smith came back to us and Mickey Smith said goodbye. K-9 was blown up and put back together. Jackie Tyler died, but Pete Tyler lived. Throughout the adventures, there were only three constants: the Doctor, his TARDIS and Rose Tyler – at the end of the two-parter “Army of Ghosts” & “Doomsday”, we bid a gut-wrenching farewell to one of them.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here to prepare for battle at The House Next Door.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fingers on Lips!

A suburban neighborhood. A different time. A major televised event. Missing residents. An abusive father. Alien abduction. “The Idiot’s Lantern”? Nope. But Doctor Who’s latest, “Fear Her”, has so many elements in common with that episode, it’s impossible not to draw a comparison.

Now I bagged on “The Idiot’s Lantern” something hardcore, and “Fear Her” has probably just as many flaws...yet there’s something about its itch that I don’t quite know how to scratch. While it’s hardly a season high point, its charms have slowly grown on me over time and multiple viewings.

To discover how much of a Doctor Who nerd I really am, click here and read the rest of this recap at The House Next Door.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Sexy, Surreal Slice & Dice of Nip/Tuck

Tonight FX delivers the Season Four finale of its highest rated series, Nip/Tuck. Based on the 14 episodes presented thus far, this season's subtitle should be “The Apology”, because after the disaster that was Season Three, that’s what was owed to long-term fans -- and it’s largely what producer/writer Ryan Murphy and his band of twisted lunatics delivered.

Nip/Tuck's charter mission—a commentary about the evils (and occasional benefits) of cosmetic surgery—has been all but abandoned at this point. There's still at least one patient/surgery per episode, but most of them are played for laughs or shock value (and sometimes both) and rarely leave lasting impressions. After three seasons of exploring themes that were tidily summed up by the oft-repeated catchphrase of the Carver ("Beauty is a curse on the world"), maybe there isn't much left to say? The show has often been accused of promoting sexist themes, which is a tad shortsighted, as it primarily holds up a mirror to what's beneath the surface, that which cannot be fixed through botox injections and boob jobs: Nip/Tuck is really about people making atrocious life decisions (surgery being only the tip of that iceberg). On the rare occasion someone on Nip/Tuck makes a good decision, you can bet the positive fallout won't last long, as they'll soon enough make another bad one, dragging the character back to their moral drawing board. It's impossible for anyone on this series to be content for any length of time, and the day someone finds true happiness, it'll be time to close up shop.

To read the rest of my latest dissection, make an appointment at The House Next Door.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Child Helps Promote Little Children


This must be one of the most inventive bits of marketing I've ever seen:

Little Children is a flick I've been dying to see for what's now seeming like an eternity, and it's anyone's guess at this point what exactly New Line's doing with it. It opened in October and played on 30 or so screens to decent business, but the studio thus far hasn't expanded it. There's been some talk of a wide release around the New Year, which ultimately would probably be a good time to do it, as it isn't exactly holiday fare. But for those of us who were expecting to see it a couple months ago, it's been a frustrating, tedious wait.

Hey New Line! Why don't you market this film to the people who tune in to Desperate Housewives every week? If you could get just a twentieth of that show's audience to head out to the theatre to see it, you'd have a nice, indie hit on your hands.

Here's a map of the cities/theatres it's still playing in (type your Zip Code in for specifics). If you can, go see this movie. Do it for me, because it isn't playing in San Antonio or even Austin.

UPDATE! Jackie Earle Haley wins Best Supporting Actor from the New York Film Critics Circle for his work in Little Children! Click here to read the story. Way to go, Jackie - it's about time, my friend!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mr. Blue Sky

Dear Russell T. Davies,

What the hell do you think you're doing to Doctor Who?

Read the rest of my love letter to Mr. Davies by clicking here and visiting The House Next Door.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

David Tennant named "Best Doctor"

Um, yeah...what the title says. To read the finer points of the matter, click here.

Now granted, this poll was conducted by Doctor Who Magazine, which is hardly an accurate cross-section of the viewing public. In fact, I swear I recall a similar poll conducted by DWM in the past where Sylvester McCoy, during his tenure, nabbed the #1 spot. (The article claims Tom Baker has always ranked #1.) To wit: the current Doctor likely has a better chance of scoring big than one from the past. UPDATED! A-ha!! The old memory ain't so foggy after all -- the story above has been updated since I linked to it to reflect McCoy's 1990 win. I rule!!

Yet the fact that Chris Eccleston comes in at #3, with only 11% of the vote compared to Tennant's 28%, is high praise for Tennant indeed. It's nice to see that you can't keep a good Doc down with Tom Baker trailing less than 2% behind Tennant. So over half the people polled chose either Tennant or Baker as their fave.

In other Who-related news, this year's Christmas special, "The Runaway Bride", will screen on BBC1 on Christmas Day at 7 PM and a week later on New Year's Day, Who's second spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, premieres on BBC1 at 4:50 PM. Apparently this one's the opposite of Torchwood, and will very much be geared toward kids (it seems even moreso than its parent series.)

Lastly, the official BBC Doctor Who website counts down the days 'til "Bride" by offering up some new goodie each day. Hammer around on the honeycomb looking graphic - at the time of writing they're up to #5, which is a snazzy set of downloadable "Runaway Bride"-themed Christmas cards.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Beast Feast

As “The Impossible Planet” drew to a close and “The Satan Pit” begins, two deaths occur: A pair of redshirts take it for the team. I had to watch “The Impossible Planet” several times before locating them prior to their passing -- a man and a woman; security drones working for Mr. Jefferson (Danny Webb), and they do appear in numerous scenes, subtly registering existence. The funniest moment occurs early on in “Planet”, when the Doctor and Rose are first brought before the rest of the crew. Look closely to the far right of the screen -- Mr. Jefferson clearly ushers them out of the room before they can even be introduced. This two-parter sports a claustrophobic, tight-knit cast, and the pair’s existence isn’t even verbally acknowledged. They have no dialogue, no names and aren’t featured in either episode’s credits. Mind you, this is less of a criticism than an observation of the peculiar; such obvious worm dirt rarely features on Doctor Who.

Perhaps the redshirts are indicative of an even larger issue, and that being the numerous homages paid to other sci-fi & horror within the story. “The Satan Pit” unveils an intense action sequence so ripped from Cameron’s Aliens, it doesn’t even try to cover it up. Instead it proclaims, “That was one of the greats, and now we’re going to offer up our humble stab at it”. Aside from one glitch in the process, it works marvelously, too.

Read the rest of this article by clicking here and feasting at The House Next Door.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Avenging The Avengers

In the midst of all the Bond-age going around, it seemed like a good time to mount a defense for a true underdog: the oft-maligned and unjustly scorned 1998 film version of The Avengers. Make no mistake, The Avengers is not a great movie, but it’s far from the train wreck it was painted upon release -- and since it’s never shaken that stench, nor stirred up a massive cult following, the Morgue aims to set matters straight.

I’m a huge fan of The Avengers TV series – well, let me rephrase that…I’m a huge fan of the Diana Rigg / Emma Peel-era[1]. If anyone might’ve been a harsh critic of this redux it was going to be me, but upon seeing the film’s trailer, it became a must-see movie. The style, the vibe, the look – everything about that 2 minutes smacked of slavish faithfulness to the series. There was no other popcorn flick I was looking forward to that summer as much as this one. So you can imagine how my heart and hopes sank when the buzz started mounting. Word from across the pond following the British premiere was dire; Warner Bros. opted to not screen it for U.S. critics, so reviews were scarce upon its U.S. opening.

Regardless, I went to an early screening on opening day and was weirdly entertained by what I viewed. It wasn’t the masterpiece of which I’d dreamed -- nor was it the steaming pile I’d been hearing about. Were people seeing the same film as me? A quote I distinctly recall reading after the Brit premiere: “I don’t know what that was, but it certainly wasn’t The Avengers”. Um, yes it was…and there’s no way it could ever be mistaken for anything other than The Avengers. Of the many who were so quick to trash the movie, I wondered who’d even seen an episode in at least 20 years. Maybe that person meant, “It wasn’t Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg”. If so, fair enough - it’s not, nor could it have been unless the movie was set in a nursing home for retired secret agents...bringing me to the film’s problematic conundrums, which I’ll address before moving on to my likes.

Screenwriter Don MacPherson undoubtedly wrote the script with Macnee and Rigg’s characterizations of John Steed and Emma Peel at the forefront of the concept. And really, how else would one write such clearly defined, iconic characters? Remove stars Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, and it isn’t a huge stretch to picture Macnee and Rigg playing the parts. It’d be blasphemous to write them any other way and still call the movie The Avengers.

Let’s get Mrs. Peel out of the way first. No actress could’ve done justice to Rigg’s definitive performance. Rigg as Peel is like James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon. Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock. Bob Denver as Gilligan. I’m hardly an Uma devotee and despite my pre-release enthusiasm (ahem…that sounds filthy), never harbored illusions that she’d live up to Rigg. She is probably miscast, but what actress wouldn’t have been? All that said, she’s surprisingly watchable and most importantly, wears leather like a second skin and catsuits with confidence. Her British accent is consistent, even if a tad flat. She plays Peel with a light, flirty coolness, paying homage to Rigg’s legacy without xeroxing the past. For every complaint one might have about Thurman’s take, there are kudos to be given – to be sure, this was an odd job.

Fiennes is a bit more complicated. He’s far more even than Thurman, but his biggest problem is in choosing to make the role his own, rather than play it with the carefree demeanor Macnee infused into Steed, as it appears to be written. Fiennes instead wants his Steed to be serious, never minding that the material doesn’t really call for it. He plays Steed as Bond minus the sex and violence – the equation totaling an emasculated secret agent of sorts. Forgive Fiennes this transgression -- had he invoked Macnee, he likely would’ve come across as a dandified homosexual. For once the famous Seinfeld quote can be corrupted: “And everything would have been wrong with that”. Macnee straddled the fence in this area due to the naïveté of ‘60s TV audiences and the ongoing conviction of his performance…but whittle the Steed basics down to a 100-page script, and you might as well cast Rupert Everett (which, now that I think about it, would have rocked).

So at this point you might wonder what exactly it is that I like about this movie (even I’m having a tough time getting there). Outside of its conceptual devotion to the original, I like The Avengers for the sheer scale of its out-of-time-and-place imagination (which again, is what the series was always about). The plot revolves around the megalomaniacal Sir August de Wynter’s (played to the robust hilt by Sean Connery) plan to control the weather and sell it to world leaders. Audacious! Clima-terrorism!! Control the weather and you control the world!!! Few screen villains concoct such ideal schemes. Blowing up the world is a hell of a lot less fun than making it snow in San Antonio. It’s nearly impossible to tell where Connery’s heart is throughout the proceedings. Is he phoning it in? Is he hamming it up? Does it even matter? When the granddaddy of all super spies channels Goldfinger, Largo and Blofeld into one deliciously camp creation, it’s best not to ponder the how’s and why’s. Accept that this is unique film history, whether you like it or not.

The film exists in an idealized ‘60s pop limbo where normal rules of spy fare simply don’t apply. Nor does it look anything like our reality. It exists in one place only -- the hyperreal world of John Steed and Emma Peel, which is a wholly distinctive universe. It's a world where deadly, remote-controlled mechanical bees attack our heroes. Where villains gather together dressed in rainbow-coloured teddy bear costumes. Where Eddie Izzard plays a mute henchman and Shaun Ryder is one of his lackeys. It feels like a greatest hits package of the TV series. Scene after set piece echoes many an Avengers episode of days gone by – it’s difficult to believe any true fan wouldn’t find themselves intoxicated by the attention paid to detail.

Borderline amazing is the film working at all. Early test screenings led to hasty, massive recutting. I’ve read that the original cut ran anywhere from 115 minutes to 2 and half hours – its final running time is a measly 89 minutes; imagine if literally more than a third of the film is missing! Despite the cuts, and perhaps due to the film’s somewhat compartmentalized structure and fairly simple plot, it miraculously moves along with an amiable stride. Aside from a few minor continuity glitches, one wouldn’t guess it was such a rape victim. And yet I cannot help but think of what might have been, what director Jeremiah S. Chechick and MacPherson envisioned.

Bits of the excised material can be glimpsed in the trailer (the only real “extra” on the DVD); IMDB also provides a list of numerous cut scenes. It’s a travesty that the stink still surrounding The Avengers is likely the only thing keeping a Director’s Cut DVD from happening. IMDB users rate (at the time of writing) the film a paltry 3.3/10. In comparison, IMDB users currently rate A View to a Kill (which coincidentally co-stars Patrick Macnee) a whopping 6/10. I’d put Moore’s swansong up against The Avengers and challenge anyone to prove Bond's superiority. Same for Moonraker. Heck, I’d even put it up against The World Is Not Enough, which came out a year after The Avengers, and is as bloated a misfire as anything the Moore era produced (which is not to bag on Moore's Bond, who is, strangely enough, my favorite).

When it comes right down to it, The Avengers should probably never have been turned into a film. The whimsical, flirtatious, non-cynical nature of the concept is rooted in a time and place that bears no resemblance to today. Surely there’re a surplus of Avengers fans that abhor the piece, but they’re missing out on the filmmakers' affectionate attempt to do right by the show’s spirit, rather than modernize it into something rooted in the present. Do that and you end up with movies like The Saint or the Mission: Implausible flicks. Maybe these are better films than The Avengers, but do they embody the spirit of their source material? I can picture such an Avengers film and it would be anything but The Avengers.

Lest anyone believe I've got beefs with Bond, that's not the case. Here are my Top Five Favorite Bond Theme Tunes:

1. "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon
2. "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and Wings
3. "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow
4. "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton
5. "Licence to Kill" by Gladys Knight

[1] I’ve seen bits and pieces of the Honor Blackman/Cathy Gale era, but the videotape quality is pretty rough and they lack that Avengers feel. Seen most of the Linda Thorson/Tara King period, but it's too camp even for my tastes. Never seen even a single episode of The New Avengers. So why the indulgent qualifiers? Maybe I’m no more of an Avengers authority than the Doctor Who viewer that’s only ever seen Tom Baker.

Friday, November 17, 2006

We Must Feed

Consider the notion that three types of viewers partake in the new series of Doctor Who:

1) Classic series viewers who prefer safe, dramatic territory that doesn’t rock the nostalgia boat.
2) Classic series viewers who enjoy seeing Who’s boundaries pushed in as many different directions as possible.
3) Viewers who never watched the classic series and are only familiar with this version.

“The Impossible Planet” and its second half, “The Satan Pit”, satiates all three types with writer Matt Jones’ engaging concoction of science fiction, horror, religion, myth, chaos, H. P. Lovecraft, Alien, and several doses of classic Who itself. Yet the story feels anything but recycled--ideal fodder even for the uninitiated. Never seen Doctor Who? Tonight would be an excellent opportunity to dip your toe in the pool.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here to worship at The House Next Door.


The AP is reporting numerous incidents of violence surrounding today's release of Sony's PlayStation 3 - and in Connecticut, no less. This is the sort of thing I'd expect in Texas, New York or California...but Connecticut? (The previous statement assumes I'd expect to hear about it all, which I actually would not.)

Isn't this the kind of thing we normally associate with drug addiction and dealing? Is that what's going on here? Are these acts committed out of a need for the money to be gained from selling the machines, or are these people who genuinely must own this technology at any cost?

If it's the former, then I guess I can wrap my brain around these atrocities, although there are still some major issues that need to be addressed concerning the release of this type of technology.

But if it's the latter, then there's something far more wrong with a certain sector of the country than I'd previously suspected. Of the two scenarios I proposed, the first one leapt to mind after a bit of thought. My gut reaction to reading this was that the desire for these machines was so intense, that people would kill to own one. I've seen the way my kid and his friends hypnotically react to their video games, and while I sincerely hope they'd never go as far as what's being reported, it wasn't a stretch for me to imagine that certain types could and would.

I believe the late, great Timothy Leary was the first to suppose that computers and related technology would be the drugs of the future. At the time, it seemed odd coming from Mr. LSD himself, but it's looking more and more like he may well have been onto something. And regardless of which of the two scenarios I proposed (could well be both as there were already several incidents) is correct, this technology is as dangerous as crystal meth, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol all wrapped into one shiny, boxlike corporate package.

Worst of all, there's no regulation going on here. Anybody with $400 can get one if they'd waited in line for days on end. But the supply is low and the demand is high. If they don't have $400 or the supply has run out, then is this where we end up?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Barry Does Bacharach (...& Many More!)

Earlier this year when Barry Manilow released "The Greatest Songs of the Fifties" and it became his first #1 album since 1977's "Live", I was more than a tad disheartened. I wanted such an event to be centered around an album of Barry originals, not a bunch of covers. A case of having shit in one hand and wishin' in the other? Possibly. Only I didn't have that, because I didn't buy the "Fifties" disc. Why? I only liked maybe two of the songs he chose for the album. Hence the "shit" joke; there's very little music from that decade I care for (maybe if it had been an album full of Jerry Lee Lewis covers...which, quite frankly, would be tres cool...or a total disaster...ahem...).

Moving on. I've got no beef with Barry doing cover tunes as a means to an audience - heck, I did the same thing with Barry's songs when I wrote my play "New York City Rhythms" - so it'd be hypocritical for me to condemn this strategy.

Last week the Barrister released the followup "The Greatest Songs of the Sixties", which from a track listing standpoint was the flip side of the last album per my tastes. There is in fact only one tune on here I never cared for (You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'); the rest is all stuff I really, really dig - and Manilow does way right by the material. This time around he didn't come out of the gate at #1 - but instead #2 (beaten only by the soundtrack for the TV series Hannah Montana...go figure)! Still, props to my man for scoring big two times in a row.

He covers three Burt Bacharach tunes - Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, This Guy's In Love With You, & What the World Needs Now is Love. The latter two are outstanding versions; Raindrops seems just slightly lacking, although I can't quite put my finger on what's missing. It might just be because B. J. Thomas' version is just so friggin' definitive, and then Ben Folds Five's live cover redefined it, and there probably isn't a lot of room in my head for a third version.

I remember when he announced the album some months back, he jokingly said something along the lines of "Don't expect a bunch of Beatles songs - this is me after all". Well he did see fit to include one Lennon/McCartney tune, And I Love Her, which is just as syrupy sweet as it oughtta be.

But the real Coup for Ruediger here is Barry singing Blue Velvet. Now here's the song that my favorite movie of all time is named after, and indeed the song is so inextricably tied to David Lynch's masterpiece at this point, it seems clear to me that Barry has as sick a sense of humor as I've always suspected. It may not quite top Bobby Vinton's version, but it is superior to Isabella's take.

Thank you Mr. M! I'd ponder whether or not you're going to do "The Greatest Songs of the Seventies", but you already have - back in the '70s when you released all those great albums.

And if you ever read this, hopefully you are amused by...

Frank Booth: "Baby wants to fuck! Baby wants to fuck Blue Velvet!"

(Special thanks to my dearest JJ for giving me the CD for my birthday!)

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Faceless Ones (Not a Sequel)

“The Idiot’s Lantern” is the halfway point of the second season of Doctor Who, and as such there’s a transitional feel to the proceedings. With Mickey out of the picture, the Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) are left traveling on their own once again, and they seem to have moved past some of their earlier-in-the-season push and pull antics. Appearing more connected due to recent events, team spirit has returned to the TARDIS and Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show is their target destination. Of course it goes without saying the Doctor’s unable to get them to New York and instead they end up in 1953 London, the day before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. (Just once I’d like to see him miss and end up in Mozambique -- anywhere but the British Isles.)

Meanwhile, something sinister brews at Magpie’s Electricals -- the woman on Mr. Magpie’s (Ron Cook) TV is talking to him. How is his shop’s overnight success connected to the missing faces of the many who’ve spent just a tad too much time in front of their new tellys? And how do the Connolly’s, the family down the street, tie into everything? And why is nobody allowed to visit dear old Gran, who’s been locked away upstairs?

To read the rest of this article, click here and tune in to The House Next Door.

Friday, November 03, 2006

In the Steel of the Night

The cliffhanger was a staple component of classic Doctor Who, and many a fan has bemoaned the new series’ self-contained storylines eroding this old standby. Two-parters seek to bring that thrill back to the forefront a few times each season, and “Rise of the Cybermen” ended on a wonderfully tense hanging from the cliff: Our heroes surrounded by Cybermen, and the Doctor shouting, “We surrender!!!” -- only to be greeted by a chorus of “Deletes!!!” from the steely automatons.

“The Age of Steel” picks up right where we left off, and the Doctor whips out the precious TARDIS power cell and miraculously obliterates the oncoming force. Something of a letdown, eh? I thought it was anyway, but then I remembered the countless weak cliffhanger resolutions from the original series, which gave some perspective. With Doctor Who, the cliffhanger must be properly executed; the strength of its resolution should be secondary. (Perhaps this applies to cliffhangers in general?)

Read the rest of this article by steeling away over to The House Next Door.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

To The Devil...A Daughter

Last week’s review of The Devil Rides Out led me to a first-time viewing of the only other Hammer film based on a work by author Dennis WheatleyTo The Devil…A Daughter. Released in 1976, the film also holds the distinction of being the last Hammer horror film ever made.

Starring Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, Denholm Elliott, Honor Blackman and a very young Nastassja Kinski, this is very much of an adult piece, whereas The Devil Rides Out has a vaguely more “general audiences” feel to it…ahem, allow me to cut through the bullshit pretension here: Nastassja Kinski at the tender young age of 16 displays full frontal nudity.

Need I write anything more? Um, I need. This is not a great movie, but it is a surprisingly watchable one. The plot is somewhat engaging, even if at times incoherent.

John Verney (Richard Widmark) is an acclaimed occult novelist living in London. One afternoon at a book signing he’s approached by Denholm Elliott’s frazzled and desperate Henry Beddows. Beddows weaves a story and pleads for Verney’s help, telling him that if nothing else, he’ll get a great book out of it. Where this proposition succeeds is in it being laid out from afar; the viewer never hears the conversation – we witness it from Honor Blackman and Anthony Valentine’s perspective across the room. Why do I call this move a success? I cannot imagine any novelist taking Beddows’ words even remotely seriously; because we never hear precisely what he says, this problematic plot point is more easily glossed over.

We later find out the proposition involved Beddows’ daughter, Catherine, a nun arriving at the airport from Germany. It’s Verney’s job to essentially abduct her away from the man she’s with – which he does and ends up taking her back to his flat for safekeeping. Before long Christopher Lee’s Satan-worshipping Father Michael Rayner is pissed. Like Mocata (from The Devil Rides Out) before him, this is not a man with whom to trifle. Catherine belongs to him, and indeed has been groomed from birth for a very specific purpose…

The film’s final 15 or so minutes are as botched as one can imagine – the height of its absurdity involving this ludicrous blood-covered Satan-baby -- achieved via a hand puppet!! -- that crawls around Kinski’s vaginal area (leaving the viewer pondering whose hand is in the puppet). I kid you not…and it must be seen to be believed. Further, Lee’s character is taken out by Widmark throwing a flint stone at his head – and that’s it…he literally vanishes in a puff of black magic at that point.

I’m not going to bother writing much more about the plot as it would come across as unintelligible babbling...which doesn’t mean I’m not recommending the film; I am and I’m not. To The Devil...A Daughter is a pretty fascinating slice of Hammer film history, being the not-so-big finish that it is. Apparently Wheatley, who was a huge fan of The Devil Rides Out adaptation, was thoroughly disgusted and disgraced by the film and even went so far as to recant his generous offer that Hammer be allowed to adapt any of his books they saw fit (not that it really mattered since they went belly-up after this one and Wheatley died shortly after). On the other hand, the film made millions in Europe, only Hammer didn’t see a penny of it due to complicated distribution deals. It’s not like any Hammer film I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t possess the somewhat hammy vibe of their 50’s and 60’s output; this is a film made post-The Exorcist, and clearly Hammer was attempting to appeal to that audience with this more serious adult fare. (It often feels and looks a lot like The Omen.)

Perhaps even more worth a look than the movie itself is a 24-minute documentary on the DVD entitled To The Devil…The Death of Hammer, which includes very frank comments and thoughts from Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Anthony Valentine, director Peter Sykes and many, many more. There are some great stories from just about everyone detailing Widmark’s on-set prima donna antics, in which he went around calling the production team “Mickey Mouse” and proclaiming “This isn’t how we do it in Hollywood!!!” He even tried to walk numerous times. None of this comes across in the film, however, as he delivers a pretty decent performance all things considered. Lee goes on to speak of the film’s nonsensical final act, although he felt it was good stuff up until that point (which for the most part, I wouldn’t argue). Apparently Klaus Kinski himself was approached for the part of Verney, but when asked if he was insurable per the areas of drug use, reliability and the like replied, “Anything over 10 ten days I can’t guarantee.” Good lord…the times they have a changed.

The doc, with a 2002 production date, ends with Christopher Lee speaking of his current plans to remake The Devil Rides Out – four years down the road, I wonder if he still has such plans as I coincidentally theorized the remake in The Devil Rides Out talkback.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Rise and Shiny

“Rise of the Cybermen” marks the return of the titular foes that occupy the #2 spot (after the Daleks) on the Doctor’s list of most oft-encountered enemies. This two-parter is a more than worthy effort, and part of its success is its setting on a parallel Earth--the steely beastie boys get a clean slate over which to rampage, while their previously established history remains intact. Due to their origins, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cybermen: Humans from the edge of our solar system who gradually replace their body parts with synthetics as a means of survival. This new story takes the concept to even darker levels by mixing it up with our over-reliance on technology and willingness to, without thinking, grab the latest cool gizmo and incorporate it into our daily lives, no matter what the eventual cost. This is a hard-hitting idea and frankly scares the piss out of me (not only in this story, but in real life, too).

Read the rest of this recap by bashing through the windows of The House Next Door.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"What I Believe"

"What I Believe"

by Steve Martin

I believe in rainbows and puppy dogs and fairy tales.

And I believe in the family - Mom and Dad and Grandma…and Uncle Tom, who waves his penis.

And I believe 8 of the 10 Commandments.

And I believe in going to church every Sunday, unless there's a game on.

And I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, wholesome and natural things…that money can buy.

And I believe it's derogatory to refer to a woman's breasts as "boobs", "jugs", "winnebagos" or "golden bozos"…and that you should only refer to them as "hooters".

And I believe you should put a woman on a pedestal…high enough so you can look up her dress.

And I believe in equality, equality for everyone…no matter how stupid they are, or how much better I am than they are.

And, people say I'm crazy for believing this, but I believe that robots are stealing my luggage.

And I believe I made a mistake when I bought a 30-story 1-bedroom apartment.

And I believe the Battle of the Network Stars should be fought with guns.

And I believe that Ronald Reagan can make this country what it once was - an arctic region covered with ice.

And, lastly, I believe that of all the evils on this earth, there is nothing worse than the music you're listening to right now. That's what I believe.

The Rued Morgue would like to thank Mr. Martin for his insightful commentary and we welcome him back at any time to share his stimulating thoughts and ideas.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Devil Rides Out

Some time ago I wrote about my intense love for films dealing with collusion – covens, cults, sects and the devious like. I love this stuff because it plays on one of my core fears – the idea that everyone really is out to get me (although what they’d do with me once they had me is perhaps a bigger mystery). One of the films I briefly mentioned in that piece was The Devil Rides Out, a late ‘60s Hammer production starring Christopher Lee and the late Charles Gray (known to most as the Criminologist [a.k.a. “No-Neck”] from The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Spinning the DVD with the fam after not having watched it in a few years reminded me of exactly how much fun this piece is and how it’s ideal fare for this time of the year. Don’t get me wrong – this is no Wicker Man by any stretch…but if you’ve already seen The Wicker Man a half a dozen times, you should give this a shot.

Lee plays Duc de Richleau, and it must be one of only a handful of times in his long career he’s playing a good guy – this fact alone demands a viewing. De Richleau and his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) are supposed to have a reunion with their other friend, Simon (Patrick Mower) – only Simon has shirked the festivities in favor of attending a meeting with an “astronomical” society. They trace him to a rich-looking estate where they intrude upon the small gathering. It doesn’t take long for De Richleau to figure out they’re a group of occultists and Simon – along with a young girl named Tanith (Nike Arrighi) - are to be their next initiates. At the head of the pack is Mocata (Charles Gray), who considers his occult practices a science and has a direct pipeline to the Devil.

Charles was such a Grayt one-note actor; whoever writes the book “The Stunning Versatility of Charles Gray” won’t get past the first chapter or so without hitting a serious wall of writer’s block. He played his characters with the same cadence and more or less the same look – I don’t know if the guy ever even aged. Regardless, he was always a noticeable movie presence, and the sinister Mocata must surely have been one of his most impressive roles.

The movie is more or less a series of bizarre, hallucinatory set-ups and payoffs, as De Richleau and Rex attempt to save Simon and Tanith from Mocata’s wicked plans. One of the most memorable occurs about halfway through the film, at one of those wacky clothed-orgy type of affairs (which borderline reminds me of Hanks & Aykroyd crashing a similar party in Dragnet) wherein Mocata summons the Devil himself in the form of the Goat of Mendes – an evil, almost serene looking goat-headed creature sitting cross-legged atop a mount overlooking the revelers. He's summoned by Mocata by means of - what else? - sacrificing a goat. (Hardcore fans of The Prisoner should keep an eye out for Peter Swanwick in an uncredited, silent role as one of the occultists.)

Another sequence - with some vaguely racist undertones - involves the appearance of an unnamed deity, played by a, ahem, "gentleman of color". It's a weirdly sinister bit of madness that holds up today only if you put aside the fact the guy's supposed to be devilish mostly because he's black. (In all fairness, the actor's given some creepy-looking contact lenses that add to the chills.)

The third act is where things go either ludicrously loopy or intimately intense depending on your interest in this sort of fare. Drawn into De Richleau’s circle of strength are his niece Marie (Sarah Lawson), her husband, the token disbeliever Richard (Paul Eddington, another Prisoner alumni; he played Cobb in "Arrival"), and their pre-teen daughter Peggy (Rosalyn Landor). If the movie sounds overcrowded, it’s not, and that’s one of its strengths – everyone has a logical part to play and none of the characters ever seem shoehorned into the goings-on. The finale will either have you throwing your hands up in the air or quietly contemplating everything you’ve viewed as time is literally rewound in the final minutes. Pretty much the entire third act is erased from the storyline - but oddly not from the characters' memories. Whether or not one views this as a cheat will depend entirely on your willingness to surrender yourself to the material.

I keep mentioning The Prisoner, and The Devil Rides Out has a very similar color palette to that show (they're both stamped with 1967 release dates), or perhaps even more so a Diana Rigg-era color Avengers episode. It moves along briskly with a 95-minute running time. Director Terence Fisher was one of the staple Hammer directors, and this was one of his last films, although you wouldn’t know he was nearing the end of a long career by watching the piece - there's a tight, fresh feel to the proceedings. Richard Matheson adapted the screenplay from the Dennis Wheatley novel of the same name. Apparently it was Lee’s enthusiasm that led to the film being made in the first place, as he was a fan of Wheatley’s novels. He’d hoped that it would lead to a series of films based on Wheatley’s other De Richleau tales, but alas this was to be the sole adaptation of the character’s antics.

Which is a shame, as De Richleau’s motivations and knowledge of the dark arts are ambiguously presented; there’s a section of the film where he takes leave from everyone else (at a very crucial moment, too) and where he goes or what he does is anyone’s guess. It’s never explained why he knows all that he does or how he’s able to combat Mocata so effectively. The character may have been one of Lee’s few good guys, but how good he was remains debatable (at least based on what's presented in the film). I know very little about Wheatley’s novels, but I have to wonder what it might be like to see Lee return to the character at this stage in his life and career (which given the time periods the many novels cover, wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question) – and if not Lee, maybe somebody else? There are a wealth of stories to pull from here and it’d be interesting to see a new series of films created based on this material. I’d love to see Johnny Depp, for instance, have a go at this character.

I've got the gorgeous standalone DVD (pictured) of the film which sports a spotless, colorful transfer, but is now unfortunately out of print. The existing available DVD version is a Hammer double-feature disc and also features Christopher Lee in Rasputin: The Mad Monk, a movie I've shamefully never seen. I assume the transfer is similar in quality. This is an ideal party movie, and if you're looking to get a few friends together this Halloween and want a cool mixture of laughs and frights, you'll be hard-pressed to find fare as effective as The Devil Rides Out. Now go forth and worship, my Morgue-tastic brethren...

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Clockwork Fairy Tale

“The Girl in the Fireplace” may be the crowning achievement of Doctor Who's second season. I'm often overly critical of these new episodes, but this is one that fires on all cylinders and shows why the new series is ultimately more than just flashy effects, clever one-liners, and sometimes tedious chase scenes.

Writer Steven Moffat provided Season One with the Hugo Award-winning two-parter “The Empty Child”, and he returns with this bit of stand-alone glory. Moffat understands Doctor Who in a broader context; he’s able to blend sci-fi, horror, romance, humor, and humanity so that they effortlessly complement--rather than needlessly complicate--one another. This is talent no other current Who TV writer, not even showrunner Russell T Davies, possesses to this degree.

Read the rest of this recap by short-range teleporting yourself over to The House Next Door.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hump Day Bitch Session

Far be it from me to use this blog to do something selfish, like, oh, I don’t know – bitch about stuff. But fuck it. That’s what I feel like doing right now. I figure if I just sit down and start typing every single little thing that means nothing, but seems to mean something, maybe none of it will mean anything. Which is as it should be…

My beard itches.

It’s Halloween soon and I still don’t have a costume put together. Is it asking too goddamn much of myself to just call Gibson’s and find out if they’ve got a V for Vendetta mask in stock? Apparently so.

My cat is pissing me off. No reason. He’s just running around doing nothing more than being a fucking cat, which is bad enough at the moment.

Someone bought the house next door – not Matt’s blog, but literally, the house next door. And they’re doing “improvements”. Starting early in the morning. Fuck them and their hammering.

Friends who pick fights through e-mail and only through e-mail. Got a problem with me? That’s what phones are for. Don’t play your passive-aggressive bullshit games through e-mail. It’s just childish (much like this entry). On second thought – keep up the e-mail games. That’s why Satan invented the “delete forever” button.

I am surrounded by seemingly endless piles of DVDs and CDs. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Now I just see stacks of expensive looking coasters. Who has time to watch and listen to all this shit?

My beard still itches.

There’s either too much drugs and alcohol or not enough. Never, ever has there been “just the right amount”.

Nip/Tuck just fucking annoyed me last night. Is it too much to ask for just one simple----goddamn cat just walked under my chair!!!!!!!!! Arghhhhh!!!!

Cigarette smoke is irritating my nose this afternoon.

Why do the weather forecasters keep talking about cold fronts when they never happen!?!? It hasn’t been cold at all, you fuckers. Stop lying. 60 degrees is not cold.

Does anybody even read my blog? If not, I can understand why and I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t read my blog either. For weeks now I’ve been wanting to write a simple review of “The Notorious Bettie Page”, but haven’t done it.

My screenplay needs more work. If I get another invite to participate in some kind of filmmaking event that involves dozens of other collaborators I will scream. I am a control freak. You do not want to work with me – trust me on this.

I’ve not spent nearly enough time this month watching horror movies. It’s the one month of the year to really get into that sort of thing, and I keep failing at it.

The workers at the house next door are driving me nuts.

Cat just went under my feet again and almost knocked over some DVDs. I yelled “Goddamnit!” at him. More sneezing. Beard itching. Now my shoulders itch for some reason.

I am not as good-looking as I used to be, but at least my coffee tastes good. Get that cat outta here!!!! Somebody feed him a Tribble.

Will I ever watch all three Lord of the Rings movies again? I need a cigarette. The cat has been moved to his “area”. Temporary peace.

But my beard still itches and people pretty much get under my skin.

I’ve got a good shot at going to a very exclusive movie-watching event in December, but can’t work up the guts to say “aye” or “nay”. Make a fucking decision, Ross. Just make a fucking decision – for once in your life.

People are dying and so am I. Or am I? What’s the opposite of dying? Living? Am I living? I must be. The workers next door saw to that when they woke me up a few hours ago. I should work out but I’m too lazy.

Desperate Housewives is better this season thanks to Kyle MacLachlan. This fact depresses me in and of itself, but the house is still a mess. The cat just meowed. He wants back in. Yeah right.

Game shows with stupid people winning millions piss me off. I’ll never be on a game show. This must be a good thing, right?

It would be so cool to just disappear into one of the Magritte paintings I’ve got hanging above my computer, but that kind of stuff only happens in Terry Gilliam movies, which must be why I watch them.

There’s nothing left to bitch about – and all the stuff I just bitched about wasn’t worth bitching about anyway. I do not feel better, in fact I feel worse. The next time someone tells you you just need to “get it out”, show them this entry. Show them that getting it out doesn’t do a damn bit of good.

I guess I’ll call Gibson’s and find out about that mask. I guess I’ll go take a shower so my beard stops itching. I'd like to go pee in front of the workers next door and make a spectacle of myself. I guess I’ll post this entry so readers can realize they are not alone and that the world is annoying to others as well.

Fuck. Jeanne just let the cat back in.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sarah Smiles

If ever there was any debate about the new series of Doctor Who being an extension of the classic series, tonight’s installment, “School Reunion,” puts an end to it. It proudly waves its geek flag, whilst near-miraculously delivering something special for the uninitiated as well. For a certain type of fan, it's the episode for which we’ve been patiently waiting – and kudos to the producers for planning this so early in the season.

Mickey Smith (to the Doctor): The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man's worst nightmare!

Read the rest of this article by clicking here and visiting The House Next Door.

And then come back and check out my Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane photo tribute:

The Morgue gratefully acknowledges the website Shillpages, without whose existence this tribute wouldn't have happened.

Walheim's Hands on a Hard Body

Ross’ recent Morgue entry blindsided me. I am well aware that I’ve romanticized the “Hands on a Hard Body” contest, as captured in S.R. Bindler’s perfectly edited masterpiece of the same name. Nevertheless, the knowledge of this tragedy has now forced me to re-evaluate the virtues of my possibly naïve interpretation of that movie. Fact is, I wish I had stayed ignorant of this tragic factoid [Sorry, Don! - RR] because it’s tainted the sacredness that has endowed my understanding of my all time favorite documentary and true life Texas fable. Certainly, the news puts a potential end to my wish to one day take a well-timed excursion out to East Texas and stand in jealous awe at the random, motley group of quintessential Texans two-days-deep in an exhaustive battle of wills. (Here’s hoping I’ve still got some time before someone screws-up the “Lights of Marfa”).

I was recently reminded that it was this very movie that was the impetus for Ross and I forging a relationship with our other movie-freak friend, Kevin Cacy. I had off-handedly mentioned to Kevin (who, at the time, worked at the same Laserdisc rental store where Ross had once worked) that I had heard wonderful word of mouth about this little documentary that was currently playing in Austin at the Dobie. I was taken aback, when two days later Kevin said he took me up on my suggestion and drove up to check out the flick. His enthusiasm for what he had seen was infectious. Ross and I drove up later that weekend and were treated to something…special.

In all the years I’ve known these two, there has NEVER been a movie, before or since, that compelled us, to this extent, to “spread the word” [Not even Ravenswan! - RR]; to get any and everyone we knew to take a chance on this true-life “human drama” (a little in-joke for those that have seen the movie). We were obsessed with it for the simple reason that it kept rewarding us with new insights on each subsequent viewing. This story was, in its own right, fascinating – however it was made doubly so by the virtues of editing. It played with the audiences pre-conceived biases and assumptions that they (me) inevitably made when seeing these contestants for the first time; the filmmakers knew, in advance, how we would assume who would, well, maybe not win, but surely bow-out first.

(The following contains spoilers relevant to the documentary. Highlight and read at your own risk!)

I'll never forget what Ross said to me (in jest, but with a hint of good-natured provocation) after the end credits began:

"Hey Don, what does it say about your “God” that he let the woman who was constantly praying to him throughout the contest come in 2nd place?"

I remember I had a quick response for him precisely because what I found so wonderful about the film was an interpretation that was completely opposite to the implication behind his question, namely, that it was precisely this woman's unyielding faith that so obviously had given her the strength to go as far in the contest as she had. This roughly 200-220 pound obese, middle-aged woman is, at the beginning of the contest, surrounded by mostly young, strong twenty-somethings, and you think, "Surely this woman will be one of the first if not THE first person to bow out." But no - she makes it down to the last two and she had the strength to keep going, but became so moved by her prayers that she accidentally lifted her hand off the vehicle in religious ecstasy. In the words of the wise old man that won the event (the oldest person in the contest by the way) "At that point she cared more about God than she did about winning the car and that's the only reason I won."

To think that, years later, a contestant became so vulnerable by the physical, emotional and mental stress that this contest so obviously administers, that he was driven to such an extreme only minutes after conceding defeat makes me wonder if the type of people that this contest has now come to attract is a fundamentally different kind of participant, with different expectations.

Ross astutely pointed out in his piece that these participants in the documentary were nothing like today’s "reality" contestants. They had no idea they were to be part of a “cult classic” that to date is still the longest playing movie in Austin, Texas history. All they were interested in was winning the car... a car that would economically affect them in ways that this privileged, upper middle class Texan will likely never fully appreciate.

I'm wondering if the very success of that film - a film that has meant so much to “Texans” like Ross, Kevin and me on so many levels - changed the way people henceforth approached and perceived the contest? Infected it even, so that it morphed from something akin to a spiritual right of passage...something that a number of the contestants claimed changed them in a profound and positive way forever, to just another lame attempt for the obligatory "15 minutes of fame"?

At the end of the day, I'm not sure if I agree with Ross that Altman should mention or include this tragedy in his adaptation, at least if he wants to be faithful to the particular story that the documentary made famous. I have the utmost faith in Altman as a storyteller, and even though he’s tackled real people before in his films (Popeye being one of the best), that particular contest that the documentary captured is one of the most beautiful, positive and inspiring stories I have ever seen on the big screen. To infect it with an anecdote that had nothing whatsoever to do with the events in question, seems somehow dishonest - hell, even irreverent.

But to misquote Steve Balderson, "That's just, like, my opinion, man."

This guest column was written by Don Walheim in response to Altman's Hands on a Hard Body. It began life in the comments section of that entry, but was deemed "better" than that...which is a sterling endorsement for the value of posting in the comments sections.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Torchwood Trailer

Here's a nice little teaser trailer for the upcoming Doctor Who spinoff, Torchwoood, starring John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper (you might recall her face from the Season One Who episode, "The Unquiet Dead", where she played Gwyneth).

The series will air on BBC Three (although a premiere date has yet to be announced) and is intended for a more mature age group than its parent series - an angle that's clearly played up in the trailer.

What strikes me as most noteworthy is how much it appears to be structured like Doctor Who - Jack fills in for the wiser, more experienced Doctor, and Gwen a seeming innocent caught up in the madness of dealing with aliens. There's probably stuff Davies has wanted to do with Who, that he's simply been unable to due to it being a family series. Perhaps he's devised Torchwood as a means of going down those roads?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Altman's Hands on a Hard Body

The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson on Friday wrote that Robert Altman's next movie is to be an adaptation of 1997's S. R. Bindler opus documentary Hands on a Hard Body.

From the article:

..."Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary"... recounted a Texas endurance contest that offered a new Nissan Hardbody truck as the prize. The last person left standing with a hand on the truck got to take it home. Altman has wanted to direct the project for years and now says it will be his next film. He compares it to Sydney Pollack's 1969 film "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" which centered on a marathon dance contest...Altman has begun talking to such actors as Billy Bob Thornton and Hilary Swank, though cast availability when the film is ready to shoot will be a factor.

When I read this news, my jaw hit the floor and I giggled and mused for about five minutes straight. Then I decided to write a Morgue item. Then I did a websearch and then - due to my findings - what was to be a fairly straightforward entry, took an unexpected left turn at Albuquerque. Read on...

When Hands on a Hard Body (the subtitle "The Documentary" is new by the way - must have something to do with the upcoming adaptation) came out back in '97, it was one of those flicks that my movie buds and I instantly glommed on to. It defined a certain segment of Texas living, and along with John Sayles' Lone Star, was just one of those flicks that as a Texan, you had to see and love. I'm sure that I've viewed it more times than any other documentary (save possibly for Crumb) and I'm always surprised when I discover people who have not only not seen, but never even heard of it. The DVD has been out of print for several years (and goes for $$ on eBay) and it seems to have attained total cult film status. If you've not seen the film, my guess would be to avoid it until Altman comes out with his version.

I'm sure Altman will unveil a compelling fictitious take (the source material being unscripted gold), but I'll be stunned if he makes a film even half as dramatic, funny, poignant and riveting as the original - although, by all means Bob...more power to you, man. He's on the right track by comparing it to They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - I've been making the same comparison for years.

The documentary was a total crapshoot for Bindler, as he had no way of knowing which contestants would hang in the longest and who would eventually win the truck. He no doubt knew he'd capture some great drama, but he could not possibly have foreseen the ideal fable that would result from simply pointing a camera at 24 people who must keep their hands on the truck.

I love the idea of Hilary Swank as she's a ringer for contestant Kelli Mangrum. Not sure who Billy Bob would play, but if you're going to tell this story, there can be no better actor to add to the cast. Contestant Benny Perkins is the only one of the 24 who was a previous winner (he'd won in '92) and he is in many ways the heart, soul and humor of the film. His one-liners (few of which are intended to be as hilarious as they sound) are a big part of what keep the film moving forward. When speaking of who will win the contest, he proclaims with a Texan drawl, "It's like this movie I saw once - Highlander. 'There can only be one'". Altman must nab the right guy to play Benny - maybe Woody Harrelson?

Seeing the film as many times as I have, the contestants have over the years become true movie characters in my mind, and it's as if I keep expecting the actors who played them to pop up in other movies - which of course never happens. These were not people like so many of today's reality TV "stars". They were not looking for fame or for their 15 minutes or hoping it might lead to a guest shot on a sitcom. They were 24 Texans trying to win a Hardbody pickup truck, likely feeling as if they were being interviewed for nothing more important than the Longview evening news, rather than having a precient awareness of the cult figures they'd someday become. Anytime I watch the film, I wonder where they are, if they still live in Longview, and what they're doing today. Which is the precise sentiment that led me to do a Google search...

Turns out that in 2005, in the middle of last year's contest, Ricky Vega - one of the 24 - walked away from the truck and headed for the K-Mart across the street (the store frequently pops into view when watching the doc), broke into the closed store, grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun and fired it into his right temple. Needless to say, the contest was shut down and everyone sent home. Patterson Nissan didn't hold a Hands on a Hard Body contest this year and the future of the event remains up in the air.

Reading this news floored and saddened me. I'm left pondering how this will affect Altman's film. One would think the tragedy might keep Altman from even attempting it, despite it occurring years after the events seen in the documentary...and yet I don't see how this film can be made without mentioning it in at least postscript fashion. However, it's clearly at odds with the original story's ultimate message - the resilient nature of the human spirit and our ability to survive when the odds are against us. If Altman has indeed been wanting to make this for years, perhaps Vega's suicide made it an even more imperative mission for the director? And if so, then what might this story mean filtered through the present? What does he have planned!?!?

Whatever Altman unleashes, I suspect this will be a film not to be missed.

Check out Don Walheim's response to this piece in Walheim's Hands on a Hard Body.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Two Jacks

To honor Jack Nicholson's apparently hammy--I mean "meaty"-- showing in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, That Little Round-Headed Boy has collected the Ten Greatest Lines of Jack Dialogue.

In the same item, he of all things Block-Headed is also asking readers to chime in with their Five Favorite Jack Flicks - something I pointed out was an eternally askable question for which most anyone should have an answer.

But I was inspired by Chuck's request and would now like to know...

What is the Worst Performance in the Jackster's Long Career and Why?

Do not misunderstand. I love me some Jack, but let's not delude ourselves here - his is a career that's been as wrong as often as it's been right. And it's not like I'm some snob - I put his Daryll Van Horne from The Witches of Eastwick in my Top Five Best, ahead of stuff like Reds and Terms of Endearment.

My choice?

Batman. I'll easily give the honor to his Jack Napier/Joker - the role in which he was most clearly miscast - which is rather amusing given that back in the day most everyone was busy shitting their britches over Mr. Mom's casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman (a choice that ended up being far more inspired and sound than anyone would have predicted).

But Jack is just plain wrong as the Joker - a character who should not only be roughly close in age to Bruce Wayne, but physically should also be tall and lanky. Oh...and menacing. Did Tim forget that a villian should perhaps be somewhat intimidating? Instead of the Joker basics, we're given a short, fat old guy who would've looked far more at home in Barnum & Bailey's center ring than blackmailing Gotham City. The franchise never stood a chance with this Joker as the villianous template and it's only surprising that it took three more movies to reach the low point of Arnold's Mr. Freeze. Jack's Joker owed far more to Cesar Romero than Bob Kane.

Victoria's Secret

One of the great conceits of tonight's Dr. Who episode “Tooth and Claw” (8 p.m. and 1 a.m. Eastern, Sci Fi Channel) is the Doctor’s attempt to take Rose to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads in 1979. Had I a time machine, there would be countless sights to behold, but near the top of the list would be mythic, classic concerts I was too young to attend. It’s refreshing, after years of vicarious TARDIS travel, to see the device used in a manner which I’d likely exploit. (The Doctor half-jokes, “What else is the TARDIS for?”)

Read the rest of this article by howling at the moon over at The House Next Door.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Want Some Candy?

The Rued Morgue’s quest for perfect pop record recommendations continues with the band Vinyl Candy and their debut album Pacific Ocean Park – a recording that’s over two years old, but brand new to me.

Sometimes you find a CD that’s uncomplicated, simple pop goodness - - music that just makes you feel good to be alive. Pacific Ocean Park ("P.O.P.") is one of those CDs. The album has no agenda outside of rockin' and groovin' your little world and aiding you in forgetting the ugliness outside your front door (of course I speak of that overgrown lawn so desperately in need of a mow).

I asked some of my more music-savvy friends and nobody seems to have heard of them, which is why it behooved me to sit down and craft a quick entry. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why these tunes didn’t get radio play right and left of the dial. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this music was recorded smack in the summer of 1976. They’ve got that distinct Southern Cali vibe that gets inside your head and refuses to go away unless you hit PLAY one more time – then rinse and repeat.

Enough gushing. If I’m guilty of anything here at the Morgue, it’s overselling.

Check out these vids for two of their hit singles – Tranz Am and Heather.

Update! Vinyl Candy's newest album, Land, was released in July of 2009.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Science Fiction Double Feature

"The Christmas Invasion" & "New Earth" by Russell T Davies

Doctor Who must be the only show that can dish up slaughtering Santas and killer Christmas trees in such a manner that you don’t instinctively reach for the remote, but instead surrender to its kitschy convictions: It tacks a silent “f” onto “universe”...

Read the rest of this double-sized recap by clicking here and heading over to The House Next Door.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There's No Place Like Home

Welcome back to Part Two of my interview with writer/director Steve Balderson. To read Part One, click here.

RR: Something you said to me in your very first e-mail: In Firecracker, David is Jimmy's father. That’s big, Steve. Now I'm no Firecracker authority (although I may be getting there), but I never got this upon viewing the film, and when I read that, it blindsided me. I asked my friend Don, with whom I saw the film, and it also escaped him. If this was your intention, I'm not sure it comes through – and yet it puts a huge spin on the film's events.

SB: It's less important whether or not a viewer consciously thinks "Oh, David is Jimmy's father" than it is he leaves the film with an unsettling feeling about the triangle of Jimmy, David and Eleanor. Viewers who watch closely will sense the fear and sexual tension that exists between David and Eleanor and will wonder if Jimmy is a result of that, given his age and the health of Mr. White. I didn't want the average viewer to be hit over the head with a hammer with respect to this tension and the possibility of David being responsible for Jimmy's paternity. That which is alluded to is far more powerful than that which is simply stated.

So many of our visual stories bash people in the head with statements and it's making people brainless. Televised sports are one of the biggest troublemakers. Studio films geared towards a younger audience are the second. From a very young age we learn to watch something and not think. While we're watching sports, announcers are shouting at us to tell us what we're seeing. As if that weren't enough, after we've seen it and been told what we saw, we're shown the exact same thing again, but this time in slow motion. The announcers once again tell us what we're watching and sometimes repeat this process two or three times.

Firecracker is filled with hidden meaning, symbolism and poetry. It's one of those stories that you can find something new in any time you watch it. I've had people tell me that they didn't start fitting it together until the third time they saw it. One person said it's like an opera, or classical piece of music - with each listen a person will hear new notes, new instruments, and gather new meaning. I'm very proud that the film confronts people having to think for themselves.

RR: Mike Patton offered to do the score for Firecracker, but you turned him down. Why? Patton has such a following, that in addition to his performance in the movie, it seems that having an accomplished musician doing the score would've been a huge coup, both from an artistic and a financial standpoint.

SB: This wasn’t Evita. To say that it would be a coup artistically is incorrect. Mike’s musical aesthetic was not what I was looking for. I appreciate what he’s doing and I’m a huge fan of his personally, but I don’t like listening to his music. Ironic, eh? He did send me a Cole Porter cover he did so I could include it on the soundtrack. If we ever release one, maybe I’ll include it. But in the film, it didn’t work. I needed to have what I ended up using. His participation musically would not have changed the outcome financially.

RR: Firecracker allegedly had a $2 million budget. You tell me now that since the film has been sold, you'd like people to know that the budget was actually a little over $300,000. I understand the logic at work there, but how were you able to make this film for so little? How can you pay talent like Karen Black, Mike Patton, Susan Traylor and indeed the vast size of your entire cast and crew over an 8-week period for that kind of money? And why inflate the budget to $2 mill? Why not $1 mill?

SB: Yes, it’s always a good idea to tell your buyer your product cost more than it actually did. Many people we spoke to in the industry said our movie looks like it cost $4M. I suppose had we shot it anyplace else, and had we hired all of the work done instead of doing it ourselves, it might have cost that much. But Kansas is a right-to-work state, we did a lot of our own labor for free, all the cast was paid scale and took deferred pay, the crew were made up mostly of interns, and all the props, cars, homes, etc., were donated. We paid key personnel a little something, but compared to industry people, it’s miniscule. Have you seen the making-of documentary? Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere shows how we did it for the most part. One of the gypsy wagon trailers only cost $158. I went scouring the junkyards for free materials and built them myself. I’ll send you a budget/expense report for Firecracker, which you are free to publish (click here and here).

Obviously we had above the line expenses. Such costs as actor travel, cast compensation, cast living expenses and such were a part of the film’s overall costs. However, we did everything we could to reduce these expenses and keep them low. From deferred compensation for actors and producers to a donated copy machine to make scripts, we squeezed as much as possible on above the line costs. All “above the line” expenses equaled $20,699. I have this figure combined because some actors received more than others and some none at all.

RR: You grew up in a small town. You live in a small town. You make your movies in a small town. Both films you’ve made are set in small towns. Do you have any interest in exploring big city life in your work? Most artists can’t wait to get out of the small towns they grow up in.

SB: Most artists can’t wait to escape themselves, regardless of where they’re living. When I learned to respect myself, I realized that the message of The Wizard of Oz is a truth: if you can’t find it in your own back yard you aren’t going to find it anywhere at all.

I’m interested in exploring realities and ideas that mean something to me no matter where they happen. Being where I am is always more interesting to me than being someplace I’m not. I do not desire to be not where I am. Basically, I understand that the grass is greener when I’m standing on it. Last fall when I spent some time in Europe, I experienced some pretty amazing things. Naturally I got my notebook out and decided to develop a movie to capture those feelings. I’ll shoot that in Europe. I’ve also recently been approached by a production studio in Germany who wants me to direct a surrealist film in Munich. I think it’d be a great experience and opportunity. I’m also kicking around some projects to do here in the USA, and of course, here in Wamego.

RR: How do the other residents perceive you and what you do in Wamego? What’s the general consensus of the movie by the rest of the town?

SB: Before Firecracker came out I had a private screening for many of the local people. Many of the people who were there on the alley when they dug up the body were still alive. Several of the supporting characters depicted were based on real people who were still alive. So I had them all to see it. I was nervous they would say, “oh I never did that,” or, “that isn’t what happened,” but they were stunned, emotional and loved it. I think they weren’t prepared for it to be as dark as it was, but they all knew the story just as well as any of us who made it—after all, they lived it.

RR: Is Larry the Cable Guy big in Wamego? Do they still play reruns of Mama’s Family on the local affiliate station? (Note to readers: Having myself grown up in a town smaller than Wamego, these are perfectly valid questions.)

SB: I feel like this question is meant to assassinate my character. I don’t watch television unless it’s the evening news or something educational, like History channel or PBS. So I’m not sure what reruns play. In addition to indoor plumbing, you can get Tivo in Wamego, too, so you’re able to watch what you want.

To explain why I live in Wamego, Kansas, let me tell you the story of one of the local businesses. Half a century ago, the blacksmith started up a construction equipment business and their steel supplier was in Kansas City. One day the steel supplier said to him, “You know, if you guys are ever going to be successful, you have to move to Kansas City”. His response was that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, and, “we’ll show them!” Well, 40 years later when the company was sold to Caterpillar and became a subsidiary of a Fortune Top 50 Industrial Corporation, it was the largest designer, producer and seller of specialized mining attachments in the world. Today, fifteen years after CAT’s purchase, it is still headquartered in Wamego, Kansas.

RR: You seem to have an unusually supportive family, especially for a small town guy with a big vision. How much of your success do you owe to them?

SB: All of it! I was raised with these values and this outlook on life. I was taught to listen to myself instead of my neighbors, churches, governments or others. I was taught to be me and I was encouraged to trust my own instincts. Sure, there are always moments when someone’s childhood was shitty or their teen years filled with angst. But it was more interesting to be around my family and learn about my history. I come back to not having that grass is greener syndrome. Susan Traylor had the same kind of family growing up as I did. She always said her friends would beg her to go out and whatever and she’s say, “but it’s more exciting to stay at home.” And, I understand what she means!

My father has a remarkably bright sense of business and management but he has also been interested in the arts. There was a time a few years ago when he was president of the Kansas Arts Commission. When it came time for me to find investors, he knew the people to approach, and taught me how to build a business plan, find investors, and accomplish my goals. Without his help it would’ve taken me much longer. He knew how I could approach the woman in Topeka who ended up investing in Firecracker. Without that knowledge, I might not have found the financing I needed.

RR: It’s rare to hear a younger filmmaker talk about film with such disinterest. You seem to even dismiss the great films of the ‘70s - a decade that almost any film buff or critic will say produced some of the very best and most important films ever created. Don’t you think it would be at all beneficial to have your finger somewhat more on the pulse of what other filmmakers are doing and or to at least experience films that are considered the standards by which all should be measured?

SB: Mike Patton and I have discussed how people seem to miss this, but, when you are a heart surgeon and you spend all day in surgery, the last thing you want to do is come home and watch E.R.

I don’t dismiss what Cassavetes did, or the others. I think what they did was great! But the raw realism he’s known for is not what I’m going for. If they don’t speak to me, they don’t speak to me. Inspirations for Firecracker were found in art, religion and fantasy. I would rather be inspired by a Magritte painting so much so that I build an entire cinematic sequence about a kid seeing the back of his head in a mirror.

I don’t have to watch their movies in order to understand what I see and what I’m doing. Of course I’ve seen some movies made in the '70s. I appreciate any movie ever made but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Sure, I can appreciate any movie, but to say they are the standard by which all others should be measured is false. There is no such thing.

My self-assurance often comes off like arrogance, but when people take a moment to really listen, they understand it’s simply self-assurance. I don’t need to apologize for it.

RR: OK, Steve…I forgot about the “other” elephant in the room: I really, really disliked your movie and wrote a scathing – even borderline cruel – online review. I’ve even gone so far as to say that I do not even see what other people see in your movie (although clearly many see quite a bit). And I like weird movies, Steve. From a conceptual standpoint, Firecracker should be the kind of film that I sleep with a DVD copy of under my pillow at night. Aside from me being a possible dullard, do you have any theories as to why I do not “get” your movie? Is it at all important to you that anyone “get” and/or like your movie? If Firecracker hadn’t gotten raves from people like Ebert and mags like Film Threat, would you ever put up with a guy like me?

SB: I don’t like enabling a “what if” frame of mind. The facts remain what they are. If you define Ebert’s praise as validation what you are really saying is that you would need Ebert’s validation as the gauge for a success or failure. But, I define my own validation based on the fact I listened to myself and no one else (I was my own critic). Ross, you have the right to see whatever you want – never let anyone take that away from you.

I don’t make movies to please people. I make movies to be true to myself. So while I love that you dislike my movie, the idea of constructive criticism, like I mentioned earlier, doesn’t exist. I respect that you have an opinion especially if it’s true to who you are, but it doesn’t make a difference to me what your opinion is of my work directly. Your strong reaction to my work is wonderful, regardless!

I am not ashamed of my work and I'm never going to feel ashamed. I do not regret my work, nor do I regret anything I've done; nor do I feel that I should be blamed. I'm never going to deserve any kind of blame for continuing the art and culture of our time. I feel very confident in who I am personally and what my vision of any given subject is professionally. I know what my capabilities are. So I try and just focus on that. I can’t really control what goes on in other people, or how their perspectives contrast based on their own experiences or prejudices. I can just do the best job I can. There’s nothing I can do about how you see the world, art, other people or yourself.

RR: You are bold and courageous, Steve; I honestly believe most filmmakers would have told me to fuck off – or even worse, ignore me altogether. What are we doing here and why are you giving me the time of day?

SB: If everyone understood the laws of individual perception, there would be no conflict. You and I can have a conversation, for instance. PETA would understand that the geese at a foie gras farm do not see the world the way they do, and they could stand next to the farmers without having to get him to “see it their way.” Pro-Life people hiding outside the abortion clinic waiting to murder the doctors would go home because they would understand their views weren’t the right way and only way. I can go on and on.

I wanted to talk to you because it’s important that people really understand that every single person on this planet has their own individual viewpoint. It’s also important for artists to understand that no matter what you do there will always be people who hate you and hate what you’re doing, as well as people who love you and love what you’re doing. That is truth. Sometimes it’s fun to stir things up to get people thinking.

Perhaps most filmmakers would tell you to fuck off or cry their eyes out because they are insecure about their own viewpoints. Perhaps they are living in a two-dimensional view of the world. Will they begin to grasp the idea of individual perception? Or will they still exist in a world where they try to please everyone, where they define their perspectives based on what other people tell them to see, and use whatever measures necessary to insist that their view is the only one out there? We’ll see.


“Your attitudes toward filmmaking are so far fucking out there that they deserve wider exposure.” – Ross to Steve in an e-mail dated Sept. 11th, 2006

There were probably a dozen different reasons I took Steve up on his interview offer, but chief among them was the above quote. You need look no further than the talkback for Part One of the interview to see that Balderson’s words can really piss people off. Most filmmakers are diplomatic in print or on a DVD commentary track; they may enlighten or bore, but they almost never make the blood boil.

Up until tonight, my intention was to write a third and final piece called "How I Learned to Stop Bombing 'Firecracker' and Love Steve Balderson". It would've been full of all sorts of philmic philosophizing and was intended to be about what I got out of this process...but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed pointless. I asked some questions, Steve answered them. The only thing that should be important is what the reader got out of it.

I still don't like Firecracker, and the Lynch accusations aside, I pretty much stand by my original thoughts. But after Steve dropped the nuclear bomb of its true cost, I've got a lot more respect for its visual aspects. For $300,000, it's a convincing looker of a period piece. And the talent he was able to get to rally behind his vision for next to nothing is most impressive. He's a true independent spirit successfully working outside the Hollywood system and he should continue avoiding that path. He's got a such a strong sense of what he wants, I'm not sure Hollywood would ever let him through the door anyway.

I do not consider myself a critic, even if others do. I live with a professional TV critic, and daily see the difference. I'm just a screenwriter with a blog and a desire to type opinions when I've got the time. Frankly, it's flattering that my words hit Steve hard enough to contact me in the first place. What's disturbing though, is it took an overwhelmingly negative review of someone's work to get a someone to contact me, as I don't particularly care to write negative criticism (which speaks of Firecracker's possible power). It's usually easier to pull something apart than it is to point out what's holding it together.

As entertaining as this has been, I'll be overjoyed the day I'm contacted by someone whose work I gushed about requests an interview. And if that person is Steve Balderson, I'll be even happier.

For some great thoughts on criticism, check out this recent piece from Jim Emerson's Scanners.

Thanks to Steve for hunting me down and offering the interview and to Don Walheim for dragging me to Austin to see Firecracker last November.