Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Great And Crazy Movies...

A new (?) cable-ish network called EPIX is throwing up a bunch of really lousy 70's/80's horror and sci-fi that pretty much is like sitting in my living room circa that era and going through my VHS tape collection.  Just randomly grabbing things, I found LADY FRANKENSTEIN (poor Joseph Cotten stars, "from Citizen Kane to THIS?!"), the Traci Lords version of Roger Corman's NOT OF THIS EARTH, Umberto Lenzi's grotesque zombie epic NIGHTMARE CITY (in subtitled Italian!), and perhaps the most grotesque, WILLIAM SHATNER'S GONZO BALLET, a dance film based on William Shatner's musical collaboration with Ben Folds.

The Shatner piece is recent, but the other stuff appears to be taken directly from the original fuzzy VHS copies. This is not some archival effort ala Blue Underground's Criterion-like restorations, but down and dirty and the exactly the way I remember them.  Since the channel comes in over whatever crazy cable package I'm getting, I'm not sure what I'm paying for this stuff, but it's worth it!

OLDBOY: A bit more recent (as in "last year"), I finally caught up to Spike Lee's remake of OLDBOY.  The original version is an insane, completely perverse masterpiece.  The remake is more or less faithful (must less toward the end), but for some reason, despite some amazing talent, it just doesn't come together.  Josh Brolin plays the title character, a bore who finds himself locked in a hotel room-ish prison for 20 years, with no idea why he's there or who's holding him.  He gets to watch plenty of TV during his incarceration and learns he's been framed for his wife's murder.  20 years in, he's suddenly released and goes on a mission of vengeance.  Somehow 20 years in stir has given him the chance to develop some keen martial arts skills, which he definitely needs as he takes hammers and fists to an assortment of folks who don't want to give a guy a break.  Eventually he discovers the magnitude of the mad plot that led to his incarceration, a plot that required some impossible to predict alliances to succeed.  I can't quite put my finger on why this doesn't work better than it does... it's not bad, it just doesn't have the crazy sizzle of the original.  And that's too bad because I would LOVE for more gritty, crime-ridden movies from Hollywood...  

William Friedkin's SORCERER is finally out in a fully restored, approved by Friedkin blu-ray that looks AMAZING. The previous DVD was a pan and scan nightmare, but this edition has gorgeous color and is probably as good or better than the first 35mm prints.  Released at the same time as STAR WARS and with an unfortunate title that promises some supernatural element that doesn't exist, this was considered a big disappointment back in the day -- but it is one of the best 70's movie out there, easily in my top ten of the time.  A remake of the French film WAGES OF FEAR, this is a sparse, gritty crime/adventure drama with some of the most harrowing trucking sequences ever filmed. (I know what you're thinking, how can a "truck sequence" be harrowing? Watch this movie and see!) Anyhow, five stars, thumbs up, highest recommendation, etc.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Fateful Return...

It's been awhile since I posted, partially out of ennui, being busy, being sick, and partially out of "can't think of anything to say."  Sort of a conundrum for a guy who writes for a living, but hey, that's fiction.  I suppose I could fill this up with imaginary tales ("After knocking the knife out of Don Rumsfeld's hand, it was just the two of us, mano a mano...") but no, I save that "brilliance" for paying customers.

I guess there's a reason why there aren't a lot of movies about the act of writing.  Most of it is sitting and thinking and typing and rewriting and sitting some more.  Interspersed with downloading the latest Springsteen show from his official site and taking time out for watching Chris Hayes and shaking my fist at the world.  Not exactly scintillating drama. I suppose I could extrapolate on the writing experience, but process-wise, I tend to operate on a very intuitive basis. I would not be good at teaching this nonsense, because my main advice would be "write interesting stuff and keep writing enough of it to fill X number of pages." I'd feel bad charging $200 for that. (Not THAT bad, but bad.)

I've been taking some trips down memory lane recently as we clean out my parents house to prepare it for sale.  My Mother kept EVERYTHING, including piles of old homework, stories, artwork, etc. As I flip through stacks of my old art pieces, I am vividly reminded why I switched to writer, but it's fun to look back at what my 13 year old brain was creating.  We also found some early rejection slips and other ephemera that only has meaning to yours truly.  And still make me STEAMING MAD.

Anyhow, I'll try to be back with work updates and reviews as the mood strikes.  Meanwhile, happy Easter!





Monday, February 24, 2014

Mr. Springsteen And His Shows

Yes, I know it's been over a month since my last post.  What can I say, I've been busy on various fronts and that focus comes at a price.  Besides, when you download a new official Springsteen show every couple of days, there goes the weekend, baby!

So, as I write this, there have been 11 official releases from Springsteen South Africa/Australian tour.  Out of those, Springsteen has elected not to put up one of the nights (2/16/14), at least not yet. The theory from fans is that Springsteen admitted on stage that he was a little buzzed that evening, and the show, one of the longest in awhile, was not exactly up to his standards.  Of course, this just makes that night a holy grail among fans, many of whom enjoy the idea of sloppy as much as perfection.  I have no doubt that some enterprising taper will eventually throw that night into the morass known as "the internet", but I do hope B.S. reconsiders and puts out an official version.

Meanwhile, anyone even vaguely interested in this nonsense should check out at least one of the shows. It's hard for me to pick a favorite, since the set lists vary drastically night by night, so your best bet is to peruse the set-lists and make your choice off that.  Born in the USA fan?  One night he does the entire album.  Darkness On The Edge Of Town devotee?  Same deal.  Sound quality is more or less equal (tho some nights feature a LOT of crowd) so that really isn't an issue.  Here's the official website...

http://www.store2.livenation.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/Store.woa/wa/artist?sourceCode=FANWEB&categoryName=Live+Downloads&artistName=Bruce+Springsteen

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stuff I Like!

Ahh, Amazon, how you fulfill me... here are a few of the latest and greatest goodies to pass over the MV transom...

ROCKPILE: Live At The Rockpalast: An imported CD/DVD of an early 1980 show by the late, great Rockpile.  Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams owed my rock and roll world back in the day, and this concert is pretty much the boys at their best.  Think a dab of rockabilly combined with a dollop of 60's rock, amp it all up to 11 and there's Rockpile.  The band broke up WAY too soon, though the principles went on to storied solo careers.  But there are always archival releases like this to remind us of past glories...

DAVE EDMUNDS "Alive": Speaking of storied careers, this is the first new Edmunds material in years.  Unfortunately there are only five new tracks combined with some goodies from previous releases, but the old stuff is only old if you've heard it before, and most of the songs are from Edmunds' more obscure releases.  The new stuff shows he hasn't lost a step, and here's hoping for a full-on new CD soon...

STOP YELLIN': Ben Pivar And The Horror, Mystery and Action Adventure Films of His Universal B-Unit.  Well, the book's subtitle kind of says it all.  Pivar produced dozens of movies in the 30's and 40's, but is perhaps most remembered for his contributions to the Mummy series and "The Brute Man", one of the more disturbing movies to emerge from the 40's.  Not because of the subject matter, per se (standard serial killer stuff), but because the star was Rondo Hatton, a sadly deformed man who evidently piqued Universal's interest after he appeared in a Sherlock Holmes movie.  This 500+ page tome absolutely tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Ben Pivar, and since you probably didn't want to know anything, some might call all that overkill. Me, I found it a fascinating slice of life from the trenches of 40's filmmaking with some Barton Fink overtones.

SPRINGSTEEN Live: Well, he's finally doing it.  Evidently every show from Springsteen's upcoming tour is going to be released 48 hours post-concert to an eager Bruce-loving world.  That's the good news.  The slightly less advantageous news is that the concerts are being distributed (at first anyway) through a system where you have to buy a 2GB memory stick either at the concert or from Springsteen's site for $40, which will them allow you to download Mp3 medium-resolution concerts from the internet.  Want more concerts, you gotta buy more memory sticks. Want higher resolution flac files, forget it (for now).  Look, I'm not gonna bite the hand that's finally giving fans what they've been clamoring after for decades, but here's hoping a non-memory stick, high quality downloadable version is hot on the heels of this initial effort!

ADDITIONAL INFO HOT OFF THE PRESSES!  Turns out Springsteen is also offering Mp3s and flac files from his website for $9.99 and $14.99 respectively.  FANTASTIC.  Now I wish I hadn't jumped in and bought a wristband already (*sob*). 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tranquility The Series!

So my long gestating television project was finally announced last week in the various trades by my friends at Bell Canada.  Here's how the Hollywood Reporter put it:

Other police dramas being hot-housed by... (Bell Canada)... include Sonar Entertainment teaming up with Double Nickel Entertainment and Mark Verheiden (Battlestar Galactica) on Tranquility, a sci-fi series about a troubled ex-cop with a new gig on a moon colony.

The wonderful thing about a blog is the ability to "augment" this release with a tad more detail.  First of all, from the world of "sometimes you just have to persevere," I've been fussing with Tranquility off and on since 2005.  It began when the two principles involved with Double Nickle, former DC publisher Jenette Kahn and her partner Adam Richman, approached me with an idea from writer/editor/director Stewart Schill.  We developed a pitch for a series that year, but the world was not ready for Tranquility... yet...

But the project stuck with me, and as time passed it felt like there was more of an appetite for science fiction in the television world.  Aside from the change in the market, I had hatched some new story thoughts that expanded the original Tranquility world beyond the initial pitch.  Jenette and Adam and Stewart liked the fussing and so it was time for "take two."  And this time the folks at Sonar Entertainment and Bell Canada came on board.  I hesitate to get into too many more details about the show itself, but suffice to say there is more going on than your standard "troubled ex-cop" tropes.  I mean, it's on the moon, for cryin' out loud.  There will be mystery and heart and action and surprises galore...

And I will continue to report as developments ensue!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homefront?

The title doesn't make much sense in context, but regardless, Homefront the movie is a solid action movie written by Sylvester Stallone (!), directed by Gary Fleder and starring Jason Stathem and James Franco.

Stathem plays "Broker", an undercover DEA agent who takes down a bunch of biker/meth dealers and winds up on the surviving biker's hit list. For reasons not really explained (though Broker's wife died off-camera a some point), Broker quits the force, packs up his 12 year old daughter and buys a ramshackle house in rural Louisiana.  Evidently the DEA has an amazing pension plan because Broker no longer has to work and spends most of his time puttering around doing home-repairs and charming his daughter's grade school teacher.

But.  There's ALWAYS a but.  When daughter Maddy gets in a schoolyard fracas with a bully, daddy Stathem is confronted by the bully's annoyed parents and employs his DEA/ninja skills to settle things.  Except slamming a guy to the ground and choking him in front of his wife and son doesn't have the placating effect he hoped.  Turns out the wife's brother is "Gator" Bodine (James Franco), yet another meth dealer with a cadre of goons, and he doesn't take kindly to this newbie roughing up his relatives.  He's probably sore because people make fun of his name.  Anyhow, a series of tit-for-tat confrontations escalate until... well, I won't get into spoilers, but there's a lot of beatin' up and shootin'.

That sounds pretty routine, but there are a couple of things going for Homefront.  First, it's very well directed by Gary Fleder, who eschews CGI stuntwork for more grounded fisticuffs.  Cars don't magically fly over other cars and bodies actually obey the laws of physics.  It's also very well acted by Stathem, Franco and Winona Ryder as a meth head (!).  And finally, the story actually leaves room for characters to evolve in slightly unexpected ways.  In real life, sometimes it actually IS possible to apologize and put things behind you without a half dozen suicidal machine-gun toting dudes coming after you.  At least I hope so (sorry I flipped you off, guy who cut me off in traffic!).

But again, I don't get the title. I've read that this was originally going to be a Rambo sequel, and a story about a soldier from overseas coming home to fight local bad guys, well, then Homefront makes sense.  U.S. based DEA agent retiring to U.S. based meth region and getting into fights, not so much.  Oh well.  Too bad there's an old Burt Reynolds movie called "Gator" because that's a great title...  


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Nebraska Is A State of Mind...

...and "Nebraska" is also a really good movie from director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson.  Yes, it's WGA "screener season" again, my chance to catch up on some great movies from the comfort of the couch. Yes, back cover of screener DVD box, I understand that movies are meant to be seen on the big screen... now leave me alone!  Get off my lawn!

Which is sort of the tenor of Nebraska... Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an elderly, verging-on-Alzheimers fellow who becomes convinced he's won a million dollar Publisher's Cleaning House-type sweepstakes.  But he needs to get from his home in Billings Montana to the sweepstakes office in Lincoln Nebraska to collect it.  Woody's wife and adult kids know it's a scam, but finally his son David (Will Forte) takes pity and humors Woody by giving him a lift.

It's a pretty classic set-up for some father/son road-trip bonding, but Woody makes Wilson the volleyball look like a chatterbox. So that doesn't exactly work out.  Then a pit stop in Woody's hometown leads to encounters with family and old friends who actually believe the million dollar story, leading to new adventures in greed and avarice.

Nebraska the movie is less about big laughs (though there are a couple) and more about those knowing smiles of recognition. Awkward family encounters, pointed silences, secrets unwittingly (or maliciously) revealed... twist those moments one way and they're tragic, twist them just a little the other and you have this movie.  Writer Bob Nelson has an ear for awkward dialogue and a great comic sense of timing.  There's a bit involving an air compressor (!) that is pretty darn funny.  And believe me, people have tried to make air compressors funny before!

You need to settle in for this one, let the moody black and white photography draw you in, but once you're there, Dern is amazing as Woody and June Squibb as his long suffering (but hardly passive) wife Kate is great, too. Good stuff!