Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Warning!! Spoilers Galore!!
There was a point where I just knew. It was on the way to Skull Island when the young rascal of a former stowaway Jimmy, and now crew member of The Venture, is reading a copy of “Heart of Darkness” he purloined from the New York Public Library, and asks the stoic first mate, Mr. Hayes, why Marlow continues up river when he knows no good can come of it. Mr. Hayes responds with a series of postulations on inner motivations, the dichotomy of humanity and coming face to face with our inner monsters, which leads young Jimmy ask “ This isn’t an adventure story, is it Mr. Hayes?”
“No, Jimmy” Hayes replies “It isn’t.”
At that point I knew we were in trouble.
So I saw a press screening of PETER JACKSON’S King Kong on Monday, and make no mistake about it, It’s Peter Jackson’s Kong complete with all his talents and his excesses. It was an odd experience on a number of counts, not excluding the film itself. For one thing they wanted an older age range than normal. They wanted people 25-59. Usually they’re trying for the younger demographic ( I’d been turned away from free screenings in the past because I was older than the required target audience, and this was in my 30's). I can only assume that they were looking for people who were familiar with (or had at least seen) the ‘33 original. Well if that’s the case they got their man. The only thing I asked for, and thankfully got, for my birthday was The King Kong Collection Box Set( about which, more later). I know the original Kong forwards backwards and sideways. I’m familiar with the background, the process, and the struggles to make it. Hell, Fay Wray and I are from the same hometown. It brings to mind the old “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it” warning.
The other thing was the level of security. I’ve been to Airports Post 911 that didn’t have as much. We were told in no uncertain terms, no cel phones, no cameras, no electronics of any kind. We had to pass through metal detectors. I had a feeling they were going to ask me to take off my shoes but mercifully, for the rest of the audience, they didn’t. They needn’t have worried . The 2 gallon Tubs O’ Coke they were handing out before the movie ensured that no pirate would be able to sit through the entire thing without taking a potty break. That’s because the movie’s 3 hours long.
Yes. That’s right. 3 hours long.
The original comes in at about 100 minutes, depending on which cut you’re watching so the Peter Jackson version comes in at nearly twice that. And what takes up all that time? More. Lots of More.
More Backstory: We learn Ann Darrow is part of a Comic Acrobatic Slapstick Vaudeville team with her father(for some reason they both dress in drag), when the theatre she’s playing at is unceremoniously closed. Her father decides to quit the biz and go back home, leaving Ann in New York at the height of the depression. She aspires to be a legitimate actress. She longs to be in the new play by that darling of the Federal Theatre Program Jack Driscoll...She is on the verge of becoming a stripper when she’s offered a long ocean voyage. Naomi Watts does some nice work in the part. She’s very likable as Ann and screams real good.
The character of Jack Driscoll has had the most drastic overhaul in the Jackson version. In the ‘33 film he‘s the rough, tough first mate of the Venture. Here he’s the sensitive Clifford Odets type, who is dragged off on this little boat ride very much against his will. The part has obviously been tailored to Adrien Brody who would have looked ridiculous trying to play the role as originally conceived. As the revised Jack Driscoll, he’s quite good..
Which brings us to Jack Black as Carl Denham. When his face first appears on screen he’s doing that trademark eye thing he does, and the audience starts giggling before he says a word. It’s a bad start because Carl Denham has to be the driving force behind the movie or it doesn’t work. Black can’t seem to decide whether he’s going to play it straight or for laughs and so neither way works. I just think it’s a crucial role and totally miscast.
Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) is definitely more interesting this time around. He runs the Venture with an Iron Hand, and dabbles in poaching on the side. And good looking too. At first I thought they were setting him up as a rival love interest for Ann, but I was mistaken. Just as well. Things are complicated enough as it is.
More Characters: This time Carl has brought along a leading man named Bruce Baxter(Kyle Chandler), and the character is pretty much as one dimensional as the name suggests. He has a couple of good moments but is essentially a comic relief ham. There is one scene where he admits to Driscoll that he is not a hero, that real heroes aren’t handsome. (Thing is the person he describes doesn’t look anything like Driscoll either. In fact it kinda sounds like a description of Peter Jackson...)
Colin Hanks is fine as Denham’s long suffering assistant director Preston, who appears to have the conscience that Denham was born without.
And there’s the previously mentioned literary crew members, Jimmy and Mr. Hayes. Theirs is a subplot that never really develops, only serves to slow down the film, and comes to an abrupt end when one of them is thrown with great force against a rock wall by the titular character.
Which brings us to Kong. I have nothing bad to say about Kong. He is a brilliantly realized special effect, that manages, like the original, to evoke sympathy. He is a bad ass 24 foot tall, battle scarred silverback gorilla. King Kong is probably the most believable character in the film, which is a great thing but also part of the problem.
More Everything: Peter Jackson has long said that the original King Kong was his inspiration to become a film maker, and I’m pretty sure he’s sincere. The thing is that in choosing to remake it , he also has to deal with its long shadow. Jackson’s solution seems to be that if we just add more stuff that’ll make it work. It’s like some bizarre competition at certain points. The natives of Skull Island are much nastier. The original has a rampaging Brontosaurus, so Jackson has a stampeding herd being chased by Allosaurs (or Raptors maybe...the scene is right out of Jurassic Park so it could be either). Instead of one T Rex , Kong now fights 3. A single Pterodactyl is replaced by a ravening hoard of flesh eating Bats. A lot of the action sequences are spectacular, but a lot of them are also confusing and the perpetual camera movement is enough to make you seasick at times.
There are even points in the film where Jackson seems to be outright mocking the original Kong. There’s a scene on the boat where Denham is filming Ann and Baxter doing a scene. The acting is stilted and phony but the dialogue is from the ‘33 script. Later during Kong’s New York Debut, they do a re-creation of the tribal dance from the first movie along with Max Steiner’s original score, only it’s played for absurdity. One could argue that these are homages or tributes to Kong ‘33, but they’re done with such a smugness that I found it hard to take them that way.
Speaking of the score, there’s way too freaking much of it. At times the music is overwhelming and, at other times seems inappropriate.
Please don’t misunderstand me. There were a lot of things I really liked about Peter Jackson’s King Kong. There are also some things I thought were really wrongheaded. Like altering the dynamic of Kong and Ann’s relationship to the point where it becomes a primate version of Stockholm Syndrome. This leads to perhaps the stupidest scene in the movie. In the midst of Kong’s New York rampage, after picking up and tossing away various blondes, he finally finds Ann. They don’t actually run into each other’s arms (they couldn’t) but they sure look like they want to. And then they go on what can best be described as a winter frolic in Central Park, until the Army goes and breaks things up.
And while we’re on the subject of dumb things, they go through a great deal of trouble to painstakingly recreate 1930's New York, and the cars, the signage, the costumes are all dead on. So why couldn’t anyone take a clipper to Jack Black’s sideburns, and give he and Brody.period haircuts? Just curious.
The bitch of it is that I really wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did. That’s what so disappointing about the whole thing. At least it isn’t as bad as the 1976 version, not that the bar was real high there. But can we make a deal here? Can we all agree that we should never ever remake King Kong again? I think they did it fine the first time.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
November 29th is my Birthday. I share this birthday with (among millions of others no doubt) John Harvard (whom Harvard College is named after) Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) Busby Berkeley (director of 42nd Street and many other elaborate musicals) C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia Books among many others), Merle Travis (songwriter 16 Tons, Smoke, Smoke, Smoke), Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time, Canadian), Minnie Minoso (White Sox Outfielder),Vin Scully (voice of the Dodgers) Jacques Chirac (President of France), Diane Ladd (Actress), John Mayall (Blues Player), Chuck Mangione (Horny Guy), Denny Doherty (Mamas & Papas, Canadian), Felix Cavaliere (Young Rascals), Suzy Chaffee aka Suzy Chapstick (Skier), Gary Shandling (comedian and Larry Sanders), Howie Mandel(Comedian and Canadian),Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull), Kim Delaney(NYPD Blue)Andrew McCarthy (Brat Packer), Don Cheadle (Actor and New Rat Packer) Jonathan Knight (New Kid on the Block) Joel Coen (Favorite Director).
I get to be 46 this year. I say “get” because I never thought I’d make it to this age. When I was a teenager I figured that I would never make 30. When I was 25 the figure changed to 35. Close to 35 it became 40 briefly, then 45. I promised myself setting these arbitrary dates if I made it past 45. Having said that I will probably drop dead as I’m writing this.
I think Tom Stoppard said something about the moment when we realized we don’t go on forever, that we will eventually cease to exist, and wonders when that was. I know exactly where and when it was. I came to this realization for no apparent reason on my 8th birthday. It just hit me out of nowhere. I was sitting there in a neighbour’s apartment having cake, and there it was “You are going to die someday”. Scared the crap out of me I can tell you. Even the memory of it creeps me out.
And the moment coloured everything that came after. Add to it hypochondria, and anxiety disorders, and there are times when life isn’t a lot of fun sometimes. But I’ve made it so far *knock wood*.
Besides, I got the “King Kong” box set. All’s right with the World.
And it’s my Birthday...
Saturday, November 26, 2005
So the Carol and I saw David Mamet’s “Romance” at the Ahmanson Theatre, for her birthday (she’s 12 for about the 4th time, give or take a time or half), and we were thoroughly enjoying it right up until the very last line of the play, which was such a dud that it came pretty near to negating what had come before. But it was educational, because it served to remind me of a couple of things. It reminded me how delicate and transitory theatre is. It also reminded me that live theatre is, by its very nature, a perverse exercise.
Understand that I’m not talking about content here. What goes on, on the stage, is neither here nor there. It’s all been done. There’s nothing to shock anymore. Human sacrifice, buggery, eating cucumber sandwiches, there’s nothing new under the sun. The Greeks did it all before. When I talk about the inherent perversity of theatre, I’m talking about the relationship between the audience and the performers.
The dirty little secret of Live Theatre Audiences is that they go to a performance hoping that something will screw up. They’re wishing that tonight a disaster of epic proportions will manifest before their waiting eyes. That tonight will be the night that it will be “ To be...or...or”.
That tonight a piece of scenery will drop on Annie’s head (preferably during one of the ad nausea reprises of “Tomorrow”...The sun won’t be coming out for you, kiddo). That tonight Blanche DuBois will actually stab Stanley with the broken bottle.
That last one is more likely to happen than you might suspect. It has long been my contention that any woman (or man for that matter) that desperately, desperately wants to play Blanche DuBois should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to. Why, you may ask? Because inevitably they are too close to the part to ever do it justice. I would suggest that casting a woman slowly but inevitably losing her grip on reality to play a woman slowly but inevitably losing her grip on reality is a dicey proposition at best. At the least it involves absolutely impeccable timing. John Gielgud pointed out that Vivien Leigh was far to close to a Tennessee Williams character to ever actually be playing one, but there you go. That’s the exception. To put it another way, you wouldn’t want a real sociopathic cannibal psychologist playing Hannibal Lecter, would you? Well, maybe you would. Which brings me back to my point...I think...
Most audiences are sitting there subconsciously hoping that something will go wrong, if for nothing else than to make their experience unique. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think most people are actively willing a calamity, but the hope is there buried in the back of their minds. It’s part of the thrill of a live performance. It’s the equivalent of watching a tight rope walker and surreptitiously blowing to alter the air currents just enough so that...you know.
Remember “The Carol Burnett Show”? What was the best part of it? Not the sketches or the songs. It was watching Harvey Korman start corpsing (the theatrical term for cracking up on stage) whenever Tim Conway did something that wasn’t in the script. That’s a mistake. Professionals hate it when it happens. Why did we at home get to see this? They were on tape. They could have done a retake. So why did they leave them in? Because audiences loved it. It got so they were disappointed when it didn’t happen.
Still think audiences aren’t perverse? Okay, here’s a slightly different example. In 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival Bob Dylan succeeded in pissing off the folk purists by showing up with an electric guitar and a rock band. People booed. There were cries of sacrilege. Ultra-Pacifist Pete Seeger threatened to cut the microphone cord with an axe. It was a major controversy in the folk community, and became legend in the music world. Dylan then went on to record 2 albums in the new style. His fans were well aware of the change in style, and the controversy. So what happens? He goes on tour, and people buy tickets and show up just to boo. Get it? They know what he’s doing. They know what he’s going to play. They know they don’t like it. But they show up anyway, just to screw up the performances. They’re going to specifically try to provoke an incident. Now this would mean nothing if it were an isolated incident, but it happened not only on the American dates, but all the European ones as well. Now that’s what I call audience participation.(BTW all this is well documented in Martin Scorsese’s excellent “Bob Dylan: No Direction Home”)
And here’s the kicker. The performers feel exactly the same way. There isn’t an actor I know (and I know a bunch, including myself) whose mantra is not “ Please God, don’t let me fuck up”, thus initiating the self-fulfilling prophecy. And so you have a strange variation on the old school Double Dog dare that goes something like this:
Audience: I bet you’re going to fall on your ass tonight.
Actor: Oh yeah? Well, I bet I will too!! So there! Nyah!
So why do we do it? Why do we continue this version of the "(Sado)Masochism Tango?" I haven't got the slightest clue. Having been involved in theatre for over 40 years you might think that I would know something about it. But this would be a mistaken assumption. I know absolutely nothing about theatre. But I have my suspicions.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Miscellaneous Drivel: The Sequel
It occured to me that I did an injustice to 2 of the films I mentioned in the last blogs. It's always easy to go on about something that's bad, because the bad and what causes it is usually obvious. What makes something good tends to be more intangible...and besides in the end, it's all subjective anyway. I mean hell, I listen to the Monkees more than the Beatles...*waits for the lightning bolt* At any rate, I'm gonna try to give these movies their due...Like they need my help...
I was never a fan of Truman Capote, probably because my first exposure to him was he had become a casualty of his own success(Hell, for the longest time I didn't even know he was a writer, I only knew of him as the flamboyant, vitriolic troll who showed up on Merv Griffin occasionally. When I did read him, it was confusing. He was good but it seemed that his major work was long gone, and that he was coasting...and as it turned out, I wasn't far from wrong)
"Capote" is not your standard bio pic, rather it picks up the trend of just concentrating on a specific period in the subject's life.("Good Night, and Good Luck" does the same, as does the forthcoming "Walk the Line" ) which to me makes far more sense than trying to cram an entire life into 2 to 3 hours. In this case we're concentrating on the period during which he created his most notorious work "In Cold Blood".
Given his history, a botched robbery which resulted in the wholesale slaughter of a Kansas Farm family might seem an odd choice for the author of "Breakfast at Tiffany's", and indeed most of his friends thought so. Here's the thing. An artist never knows what's going to spark creativity. It can be a word, a musical phrase or, in this case, a buried item in the Times. As an artist, you never know what will speak to you. When asked why this particular story, Capote basically said "Why not?"
It's very hard to make an interesting movie about writers, because what they do isn't all that exciting. They sit in a room with a machine or a pad and pencil, and type or scribble as the case may be. The process isn't that interesting, it's the results that matter. There are exceptions( Adaptation, Throw Mama from the Train,All the President's Men)and Capote is , happily, one of them. You follow our hero(?)as he and his friend Harper Lee (just prior to the publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird") investigate the brutal murder of the Clutter family. We see his manipulation of the principals involved in the name of research. The way he invades the psyche of Perry Smith, one of the killers. His frustration because he can't finish the book unless and until...
It's also a warts and all portrait of a complex, manipulative, ambitious, self promoter who will do practically anything (and I mean anything) in the service of his art. The only criticism I have of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Truman Capote is that he's too tall, but I suppose he can't help that(I had a fleeting thought that they could do what they did with the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings,you know, forced perspective and all, but the producers chose not to go that way. Just as well). Once you get past the height thing his performance is flawless. In fact all of the performances in this film are exceptional. Catherine Keener does a complete 180 from anything you've ever seen her in. Her portrayal of Harper Lee is a brilliant counterpoint to Hoffman's Capote.
So why does it work when so many biopics don't? Because the sum of its parts ( and they're pretty great parts. I haven't even talked about the excellence of the direction, screenplay, and particularly the cinematography) adds up to a great cohesive whole. So see Capote, even if you didn't like the man. At the least you'll get some insight into why.
"Good Night and Good Luck"
I find the McCarthy Era fascinating. I think it's amazing that a man waving a piece of paper that nobody ever saw could have such a stranglehold on an entire country. But then that's how it's always done, isn't it? Keep the message simple and scary.
"The Jews are keeping you poor, because they control all the money!"
"I have a list of over 200 names of members of the Communist Party in control of the Government"
"Saddam Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction and they're aimed at your house!"
Edward R. Murrow is a journalistic Icon. He represents an integrity that is sadly lacking in today's media with a few exceptions (too few). He also had something that is also lacking in what passes for journalism today, a lot of control over the stories he told, and a minimum of interference by the corporate ownership. Further, he had little or no fear of biting the hand that fed him, and it ended up costing him.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" concentrates on the 5 episodes of Murrow's pioneering news program See It Now, where he took on the Junior Senator from Wisconsin. This was huge, and you can't really compare it to anything in modern times. The Washington Post vs. The Nixon Administration comes close, but even that doesn't quite get it. Why? Murrow had Television. McCarthy had it too, but didn't know how to use it as well. Murrow had something else that McCarthy didn't have. The trust of the American people and the truth...not to mention a pretty much captive audience. Remember...Only 3 Networks.
It is a brilliant movie, and Clooney juggles the 4 jobs of writing, directing, acting, and producing like a master, and it's only his second film . The claustrophobia is palpable as is the all too justified paranoia that runs throughout the movie. "The fear is in this room..." Damn right it is. And Clooney is smart enough to exploit the parallels to today's situation for all they're worth ( Why make it otherwise?)
David Strathairn is another great actor that's been waiting in the wings for a breakout role (like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote)and he nails it (also like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote). He embodies Murrow to such a degree that, despite the fact his voice is slightly higher pitched, if you close your eyes, you think you're listening to Murrow. But don't close your eyes, because it's a truly amazing performance.
The framing device of the movie is a speech Murrow made to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, which has rightly become legend. In it he accurately predicts the future of Televison generally and news in particular. It made him (along with Paddy Chayevsky with "Network", and Budd Schulberg in " A Face in the Crowd) one of the soothsayers of the future of the media. Only I doubt he's cheerfully saying "I told you so". He's probably shaking his head and butting out another cigarette.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Long Time No...Ah Skip it
Since I last blogged, I went back to Canada for a badly needed reality check, and it left me with a longing to move back as soon as possible. It's not just the health care thing, of course. It's the beer...and my family...and my friends ...and the fact that I used to have a life. Little things, you know? A whole mess o'movies have done come and gone in my absence, and since I've been told by a couple of impartial people that they like it when I write about movies, I'll tell you what I saw and what I thought, and try to keep it brief. I said try.
If Batman Begins and Spiderman 2 are lessons in how to make a Comic Book movie, Fantastic Four is a lesson on how to royally screw one up. In fact it could serve as a textbook, right next to the screenplay for The Hulk.
There's a difference between the Marvel and DC approach to adapting their characters to the big or small screen. The DC approach is the Basics are sacred. Krypton will always blow up and the infant Kal El will be sent to Earth in a Rocket his father Jor El built before that happens. Bruce Wayne's parents will always be murdered before his eyes...The Motivation remains the same.
There are, of course, variations within those parameters...The Kents don't appear in the Comic Books until years after the origin story from 1938...The Radio show ignores them altogether by having Superman stepping out of the Rocketship fully grown, and in costume (" Hmmm Clark Kent...That sounds like a good human name.." or words to that effect). Alfred didn't show up until after Robin...But the basics are always there. The gospel according to DC Comics. Trust me. In "Superman Returns" which comes out in Summer of 2006 all else may change(I doubt it, but it's possible), but Krypton will have exploded etc. etc... That's how DC does things...
Over at Marvel they seem to have a slightly different philosophy, and that is "You bought the rights, you can do whatever you want to do with them"
There are exceptions. The X Men and Spiderman movies stick to the Basics and are great examples of the genre when it works...The Hulk did not and was consequently a big green Turkey. Daredevil straddled the fence and was consequently so so. Which brings us to Fantastic Four...
Yeah, the schtick with Cosmic Rays is still there. They do the transformation thing all well and good. Where the movie starts to go wrong is its approach to the characters. Reed Richards is supposed to be the one of the most brilliant scientists on the planet, yet here, he doesn't say anything that a 4th Grader watching the Discovery Channel couldn't understand. Johnny Storm is fine...The Thing is played for a tad too much pathos but he's there. As for Jessica Alba as Sue Storm *sigh*... There lots of talented and actually blonde actresses out there, so why did they feel the need to hire Jessica Alba and dye her hair? She can't really act...She pouts nice, but that's not really acting in the traditional sense( although some have been getting away with it for years...See the complete works of Renee Zellwegger)
But where they really screw up is the handling of arguably Marvel's best villain, Dr. Victor Von Doom. First off they try to turn him into a cross between Donald Trump and Gene Hackman's version of Lex Luthor. They try to humanize him...Yes, I said it. They tried to humanize him...HIS NAME IS VICTOR VON DOOM FER CHRISSAKES!!! How human is he gonna be? Secondly they try to tie his origin into that of the FF...The stupidity of that I won't even bother to go into, except to say it's a direct steal from Tim Burton's Batman...In Fact this movie swipes a lot of things from Comic Book book movies that work, only to botch them.
BTW It might surprise some people that this is in fact the second Fantastic Four...The first one was deemed unreleasable...Would that that were the case here...
The only reason I saw this movie at all is because while I was up in Toronto, my mom won tickets to a preview...10 Minutes into it I turned to my Dad and said " I bet there's a dead kid in the water tower"...I was right. If you saw The Ring you saw this one. And what the hell have they done to Jennifer Connelly? There oughta be a law...
WAR OF THE WORLDS
Ya know that old Dick Van Dyke show where they have a running gag "You SLEPT through the GUNS OF NAVARONE??!!"? Well, I slept through the WAR OF THE WORLDS...AND IT WAS LOUDER!!!
MR. and MRS. SMITH
Okay I'll admit to having seen Fantastic Four...but a masochist I'm not.
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
Ever watch a National Geographic Special...Well, that's exactly what this is, no more, no less. Except with Penguins and Morgan Freeman...well his voice anyways.
In which we discover that the writer of this blog was dead wrong when he prejudged this movie after last year's Oscar as being probably just another lousy Biopic (I may have to eat my words on "Walk the Line" too). The only criticism I have of this movie is that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is too tall for the part. Other than that It's the most inrelligent and well executed movie I've seen since "Sideways" which makes it darn near perfect in my book...except for the height thing.
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK
A close runner up to Capote. In my next life I want to be George Clooney. Don't we all?
More soon... I promise...
Monday, June 20, 2005
As I may have mentioned previously, I am an Old Movie Junkie. Love ‘em. I’m especially fond of serials from the 30's, 40's, and early 50's, and have collected a bunch of them over time. They’re cheaply done, badly written and great fun to watch. They were also a great influence on some of the most successful film-makers of all time, chief among them one George Lucas...
Apart from American Graffiti, the well George Lucas most often returned to for his inspiration are the Saturday afternoon chapter plays. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. My book “ The Great Heroes League” came from that same well. In fact pretty much anytime Lucas has strayed from the Serial source, it’s been a disaster (Howard the Duck, Willow). And while there are some things that were great to bring along from the serials, like action, pacing, and stunts, there are some things that were better left behind...Which brings us to Episodes 1, 2, and 3...
What should have been left behind from the serials in the Prequel Trilogy were bad writing, wooden acting, one dimensional characters and gaping plot holes. All 3 movies have these faults in Spades.
I hear the gasps of fellow geeks everywhere, as one of their own breaks ranks. Sorry guys, but there it is. Rosebud is a sleigh, the Emperor is wearing your mom’s panties under the robe and George Lucas can’t write for beans. He has a gift for imagination(or borrowing from enough different sources so that at least it looks original, from Kurosawa to Flash Gordon), for outline, but he can’t write dialogue to save his life. And twas ever thus...American Graffiti he co-wrote with Gloria Katz, so it doesn’t count. The original Star Wars (or episode 4, if you insist) has some very bad dialogue(oddly enough among the myriad changes he’s made to the first 3 movies fixing the writing on Episode 4 wasn’t one of them). The Cast complained about the dialogue long and loud. Supposedly Harrison Ford said something to the effect of “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it!”.
You will note that what has been generally acknowledged as the best movie in the series, “The Empire Strikes Back”(Another nod to the serials are the cheesy chapter titles). You will also note that it was neither written nor directed by George Lucas. And suddenly the characters are fleshed out, the dialogue is sharp, the acting leaps up a few notches and we start to care for these people, because they finally are people. Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett, 2 of the best screen writers in movie history, are the ones chiefly responsible for the change, also Irvin Kershner, the director.
“Return of the Jedi”(or Episode 6, like I care) isn’t as good. Why? Leigh Brackett died in between, and guess who stepped in to take her place. That’s right . George. And so we have the Ewoks...And the smiling waving Jedi trinity at the end...Yeesh...Larry Kasdan could only do so much...
And we finally get to 1,2, and 3...George Lucas as solo writer and director for the first time since Star Wars (or a New Hope or Episode 4...Aahh get a life!). The Saga is about, among other things, The Fall of the Republic, The Fall of the Jedi, and Anakin Skywalker becoming the Emperor’s Chief Enforcer, Darth Vader...but wait...All that happens in Episode 3...What are the other 2 stories about...Some would argue backstory. I say padding. He promised a trilogy( Hell, when he was really ambitious it was supposed to be 9 movies) and he had to deliver. Unfortunately he only had enough material for 1 maybe 2...) So what do we get...Episode one introduces a bunch of new characters who die, or ( mercifully in the case of Jar Jar Binks) are rarely seen again. His choice for Anakin Skywalker is annoying and apparently difficult ( check out the Making of feature on the DVD) and yet he’s built the movie around him. The new great villain that fanboys went out of their way to get the makeup down perfectly on, ends up getting killed at the end. And the relationship being set up between Padme Amadalla and an 8 year old Anakin Skywalker is disturbing, because of the fact that you know what has to happen in the next 2 movies if you were paying attention during the first 3...this will be a recurring theme. The movie is mired in trade negotiations, racial stereotyping, and celestial political bafflegab. The dialogue is gibberish (Harrison Ford’s words were never truer). The same holds Episode 2 (Attack of the Yawns)in which Hayden Christensen steps into the role of Anakin Skywalker, 10 years older, but not a lot brighter. More action figures are introduced and dispatched with. Nothing much about this movie makes a hell of a lot of sense if you stop to think about it. The only saving grace of it is the duel between the amazing Christopher Lee and the now fully CGI Yoda. Anakin and Padme are secretly married, which is basically the only purpose this movie has in the great scheme of things.
“Revenge of the Sith” (What they’re getting revenge for is never really spelled out) is the movie where all of the aforementioned elements are brought together to link this 3 film albatross link to the first 3. Like I said, if you were paying attention at all during the first 3, you know what has to happen...And it does...No surprises...Nada...And that’s what the fans seem to want God love ‘em...Christensen is still hopelessly out of his element as Anakin , and as a result, the transition from Skywalker to Vader doesn’t work....The Skywalker Twins are born...Their’s a wholesale slaughter of the Jedi which they deserve( Hey , they should have seen it coming....They’re supposed to be able to do that, ya know). The only one who emerges out of this whole mess is the indistructible Ewan MacGregor who is the only thing worth watching in all three movies. But as a whole Episodes 1, 2, and 3 (even though it’s superior to the other 2, it had to be) are a colossal waste of time. I could be cynical and say they were a cash grab by a film-maker who’s run out of ideas. But I think it’s more a case of a guy not admitting to his own limitations. You could postulate what Lawrence Kasdan, or David Koepp etc.would have done with the scripts. You can fantasize what Spielberg(who was apparently asked) or Singer would have done with the direction and casting. But it ultimately is what it is, and it does what it does. And what I think it does, ultimately, is detract from the original trilogy which stood on its own.
May the Schwartz be with you...
“The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”Movie was Douglas Adams last gift to we, the unworthy earth types lucky enough to have shared( and happily destroying, without his permission) the planet with him. I’m not going to go into a lot of details here, but all the dread most Adams fans felt when we found out Disney was were making the movie, were pretty much unfounded. It’s good, It’s funny and if you cam find it, see it.
In 1978, Superman: the Movie came out. Upon its success a whole spate of Comic Book were announced were suddenly greenlit, including a new Batman movie. And I thought “Finally”.
You have to understand, I am a total geek when it comes to Batman. When I was a little kid my dad took me to see a revival of the original Batman Serial(1943) at a small theatre in Toronto. And I was hooked. Then the TV show debuted, and I didn’t know it was supposed to be funny, more to the point, I didn’t care. It was Batman, and that was enough. I bought the comics. I bought the records (hearing the real origin story for the first time, and the first Joker story scared the crap out of me), I bought the toys...I briefly switched allegiances to the Green Hornet...well, Kato really...but my heart belonged to Batman.
So the show gets cancelled and I’m left with the comics, but the comics started to change.
And Batman started to change. He became nastier, more of the vigilante he started out to be(the 1939 Batman of the comics thought nothing of shooting people who got in his way). This was when Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams decided to reclaim Batman from the TV series, and brought a more realistic approach to the stories. The Joker went from merry prankster to full blown psychopath. Robin pretty much disappeared. And they created the only other Batman villain, to come close to the Joker in intensity, Ra’s Al Ghul. The stories were well written, and the art was spectacular. Other artists have drawn Batman (Marshall Rogers being my 2nd favorite) but none have come close. Neal Adams (and I say, despite the fact that he snubbed me at Comic Con a couple of years when I tried to talk to him). That era was brilliant, and was in large part responsible for the comic book renaissance. And Batman was still my book...with occasional nods to X Men (John Byrne) and Spiderman (Ross Andru).
So here we are back in 1978, and I’m figuring “Cool, they’re finally going to make a serious Batman movie! Can’t wait!”. Well, it turned out I was gonna have to. There were rumors. Robert Towne had written a noirish script set in the 30's, putting The Batman in context, which became as legendary as his Tarzan script which was eventually ruined into “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan”(He was so pissed at what they’d done to the script that he put his dogs name on it, and was subsequently shocked when his dog was nominated for best adapted screenplay). Unfortunately, nobody wanted to make it as a period piece, so that one fell apart. It took 11 years for Tim Burton’s vision of Batman to start filming...
By this time the comics had started changing again. With the emergence of the small presses and independents, the Majors were forced to experiment to maintain sales. Enter Frank Miller. Miller had been doing amazing things at Marvel with Daredevil. He created The Dark Knight Returns, a seminal work that redefined comics in general and Batman in particular. It touched everything that came after. The book is set in a dark, depressing world (hinted to be the 1980s) where criminals run amok, and Batman's home of Gotham City is being terrorized by a gang of murderers called The Mutants. Bruce Wayne (Batman) is 55 years old, and gave up the role of Batman ten years before the story begins. Finally, he reaches a point in his life where he cannot sit back and watch the world be overrun by thieves and murderers.He dons the mantle of the Caped Crusader one last time and embarks on a final battle to purge Gotham of crime. The Dark Knight Returns deals in large part with Wayne's uncompromising obsession with his dual identity. In this bleak world, Batman's obssessions and demons finally, completely submerge the (at least slightly) sane Bruce Wayne, and Batman is finally given free rein to wage his war without inhibition. Miller also uses the story to satirize the way the modern media works. In their coverage of the Caped Crusader’s return, all the experts are trundled out to analyze the significance. There are debates as to the pros and cons of vigilantism. Reports on how pop culture is effected. Hell, the Joker even appears on a talk show (that looks suspiciously like David Letterman) and proceeds to kill the entire audience. The Dark Knight Returns was a phenomenon. It proved that comics could be literate, and deserved to be taken seriously as an art form
With all this as a background, movie talk started again. There was talk of making “Dark Night Returns” into a movie and Clint Eastwood was to star. Ultimately the project landed in Tim Burton’s lap, who immediately pissed off most comic geeks (seriously, there were petitions...I’m not kidding) by casting Michael Keaton. “Beetlejuice can’t be Batman!! Are you crazy??? He has no chin...Batman has to have a chin!!”
Oddly enough a friend and I had a chance to stop the Burton Batman movie in its tracks...We were driving to my apartment in Toronto and as we came around the corner a figure in jeans and a white t-shirt darted in front of us, so much so my friend Shawn had to squeal the brakes. The guy waves his hand and I notice that it’s Michael Keaton. He was there filming “The Dream Team”. He finishes crossing the street, and we move along, and I said “Gee, we could have saved the fanboys a lot of grief.” I had to explain to Shawn who is semi normal and not into the minutiae of the comics/movie industry. Sometimes I envy him.
But I didn’t have a problem with Michael Keaton as Batman. For one thing he looks like he enjoys inflicting pain which I think is an important aspect of Batman’s character. Secondly he arrived at the same conclusion that everyone save George Clooney has come to (Myself included when I read “Dark Knight Returns” to my dyslexic brother), that Batman sounds like Clint Eastwood. So I didn’t have a problem with his Batman...I had a problem with his Bruce Wayne. See when you play Batman, you’re actually playing 3 people...You’re playing Bruce Wayne, an obsessive who saw his parents murdered in front of him...You’re playing the Millionaire Playboy he fronts to the public...And you’re playing playing Batman, a vengeful vigilante whose raison d’etre is fear and punishment.
I liked the Tim Burton movie. It had a lot of great things in it. It had a lot of things I didn’t like. But Nicholson was great. I liked Keaton. Robert Wuhl irritated me, and I wasn’t crazy about Kim Basinger. It wasn’t what it could have been, but it would do. And (heresy alert) I actually preferred Batman Returns...For one thing they finally got the costume right, and for another...Michelle Pfeiffer.
But there was still something missing.
I won’t even talk about the 2 abominations Joel Schumacher put on screen. Suffice to say that for all the other Batman movies I was there, opening day, first show. For “Batman and Robin” I waited for it to come out on video...and even then I waited ‘til I had a free rental.
And so we arrive at “Batman Begins”
Quite simply, this is the movie I’ve been waiting for since 1978.
It answers all the questions we’ve wondered about all these years. Like, as Nicholson asks “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”. How did he learn the fighting arts? Who made the costume? How do they cover the purchases? Why the Bat? Where did he get the car? What happened between the time of his parents death and the emergence of Batman? This is the core of the movie.
Initially I had reservations over Christian Bale, but I happily admit to being totally wrong. His performance is simply brilliant. He plays all of the levels of the character and then some. His Bruce Wayne is complex, yet he knows how to turn on the shallow when he needs to. His Batman is everything you expect and, at times, actually scary.
The supporting cast with the exception of Katie Holmes, is great too. Michael Caine makes you pretty much forget everyone else who has ever played the role, and the relationship actually makes sense for the first time. Morgan Freeman plays a Morgan Freeman character the way only Morgan Freeman can. Liam Neeson goes over to the dark side, for his character is the complete opposite of the one he played in “Phantom Menace”. Cillian Murphy is suitably creepy as The Scarecrow. And Garl Oldman gives one of his most subdued performances as Sergeant then Lieutenant Gordon, and is totally believable and likable. Again, for the first time, the relationship makes sense(It owes a lot to Frank Miller’s Batman Year One). And Gotham is appropriately dark but not completely gothic, which gives you a sense that it just might be worth saving.
This is not to say the film is perfect. It ain’t. The fight sequences are confusingly edited. The pacing in the beginning is on the slow side. Katie Holmes, as previously mentioned But the pluses so outweigh the minuses, that I feel ungrateful kvetching about them. Compared to previous Batman movies, this is Citizen Kane...
I hope I don’t have to wait 27 years for another one.
Monday, April 25, 2005
...but if I did it would be “Nothing Happened Today” by the Boomtown Rats
Being something of a Comic Book Geek I am ashamed to admit that I have never read Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels. My bad...Never got around to it. Sorry. I am familiar with his work on the Batman “Dark Night” series for DC and the Daredevil/Elecktra stories and those were enough to tell me that he is a visionary in the field. He has a signature style of story telling that has sparked many and far lesser imitators. He knows the medium better that anyone save the late great Will Eisner.
There’s a reason the movie is called “Frank Miller’s Sin City”. It looks like Miller’s art. Minimal. Stark. Explicit...It sounds like Miller’s writing. The dialogue is noirish ... sarcastic ...snappy.
So why do I have mixed emotions about this movie?
It’s a visually stunning film. The B&W with selected colour highlights is very effective and strengthens the graphic feel of the film. The CGI Backgrounds are gritty and bring you into this world that these characters inhabit. Imagine L.A. at half the space and twice the density.
It’s got some great actors. Bruce Willis is better here than he’s been in years.
Like it or not, Mickey Rourke is back and he’s great. Clive Owen shows why they were considering him for the next James Bond (which he was smart enough not to take...Who really wants that elephant on their back?). There’s great support from the likes of Josh Hartnett, Powers Boothe, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Benicio Del Toro and particularly Nick Stahl as Yellow Bastard (if all you know him from is Carnivale and Terminator 3, catch this one. I think he’s the real deal).
The women don’t come off as well, however. With the exception of Rosario Dawson and her gang of Killer Whores, the women are flat. Mostly one dimensional eye candy (including Rosario Dawson and her killer whores....I just like typing Rosario Dawson and her Killer Whores).In fact that particular sequence, the one that includes Clive Owen and Rosario Dawson and her Killer Whores, is the best in the film. It’s “guest directed” by Quentin Tarantino, and has a lighter feel than the rest of the film.
I guess my real problem with Sin City was that I found some of it felt repetitious...The heroes are too much alike. They speak with a similar voice. I suspect the reason I feel that way is the Chandleresque voice over gimmick they all use. And none of them is as funny as Philip Marlowe.
As for the violence...Deal with it. Besides, most of the blood spilled in the movie is actually paint or ink anyway.
More things wrong with Daytime TV (since you asked):
Career College Commercials. Next to ads for drugs with more side effects than relief, Career College ads are the most heinous thing on TV. One suspects that one of the offered courses is “How to make Cheap Ads for TV” and these commercials are the result. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished that when the smug little bitch in scrubs leans into her friend’s car and smirks “Sure beats flipping burgers!”, that the friend would step on the gas and drag the little twerp about 7 or 8 blocks...They’re all bad but Bryman’s are the worst...Closely followed by the ITT Technical School ads where people read bad copy, about their improved “quality of life”and how they’re “really quite happy”...NOBODY TALKS LIKE THIS!!!. Also is anyone actually still watching Springer and the Maury “Who’s Yo Baby’s Daddy?” Show?
I won't even bring up the SCAN Commercials...Okay I will...The Scan commercials consist of the most boring man in the world trying to pitch a too good to be true health care plan to a room full of seniors, and then to bolster his argument calls up a Doctor to speak. The Doctor speaks in the same dull monotone and looks a lot like him, so I suspect they're siblings. These commercials are the cure for any sleep disorder you may be experiencing. I have an alternative campaign for them. Buy the plan or we'll send this guy to your house...
I say we need another court show at 9:00...unless of course someone has a job out there I could do?
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Every year I swear I'm never going to watch the Oscars again and every year I come back like the dribbling movie geek I am...This year was no exception.
When the nominations come out, I dutifully go to AMC Burbank or Universal to see what have been deemed the Best Pictures of the year. I go to all of them because I don't think it's fair to comment on something you haven't seen. These are only my opinions, and my taste..so please no fisticuffs...
First off all of these movies are so different in scale , scope and subject matter how do you say what's best? I guess you have to decide for yourself if the move accomplished its goal or at least came close.
I didn't think "Million Dollar Baby" was all that great a movie. Don't get me wrong, It was good...I gasped along with everyone else at the "big turn", but in the end I thought it gimmicky and manipulative.Morgan Freeman was Morgan Freeman, essentially the same as he was in Shawshank and Unforgiven. Hilary Swank (which still sounds like a porn stars name if you ask me, and you didn't)was very good and certainly deserved her award..As for Clint, I’ve often thought he was a better director than an actor. In MDB his direction is good, his acting isn’t. Think of a better looking, taller Burgess Meredith in Rocky and you have Eastwood’s characterization. So, no, I didn’t think "Million Dollar Baby " was the best picture of the year.
The Aviator is a BIG movie...Everything about it screams epic. But when it works, its not concentrating on the big issues. It's when it focuses in in Hughes trying to cope with increasing effects of OCD that it gets under your skin. And DiCaprio surprisingly (to me anyway...I thought he was dead wrong for the part) pulls it off...His strongest moments are near the end. There are som questionable casting choices. Gwen Stefani has 3 lines as Jean Harlow and blows them all. Kate Beckinsale is a lovely woman, but hardly even close to Ava Gardner. Cate Blanchett's Hepburn is credible, but I kept getting the feeling I was watching an extended impression rather than a performance...Martin Short could have done it...Okay, maybe not. Look, Martin Scorsese is a great director, and has forgotten more about film history than than most cinema professors will ever know. But "The Aviator" was a mixed bag. When it worked it was totally engrossing and when it didn't, I found myself asking "What's Data doing in this?".
If someone understands why "Finding Neverland" was nominated will they please let me know, cause I sure couldn't figure it out. Last year Johnny Depp(who I actually like in the right part)did his impersonation of Dudley Moore as Arthur doing Keith Richards and gets nominated for best actor for a movies based on a Disneyland Ride. This year he's doing Mike Myers as Shrek doing Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire and he gets yet another nomination. James Barrie meets a widow with children who inspire him to write Peter Pan. That J.M. Barrie may well have been a pedophile is dismissed lest the audience think about it too much. The rest is predictable as soon as Kate Winslet coughs.(And yes I know it’s supposed to be a true story, but there are ways of making things not so freaking obvious) From there it gets all treacly and weepy and enough to give you type 2 diabetes.
There’s a trend in Movie Bio Pics and it bugs the hell out of me. First you find the perfect person to play the subject. And then you stop worrying about things like...oh...the script...the actual events in the person’s life...the direction...Little things like that. There are dozens of examples...Donald O’ Connor who while he didn’t especially look like Buster Keaton could handle the physical demands. The Producers even went so far as to hire Keaton as a technical advisor, then proceeded to rewrite his life story in front of him... Gary Busey as Buddy Holly. Great Perfomance, Awful Movie. Robert Downey Jr.was born to play Charles Chaplin but Richard Attenborough, having previously botched another perfect casting with Gandhi (I know it won Best Picture but I dare you to go and watch it again)botched it again with “Chaplin”. Jim Carrey loses himself to Andy Kaufman and the movies loses itself in a cliche biopic format about a man who was the ultimate anti-cliche. Charlize Theron transforms herself into Aileen Wuornos for Monster and she’s incredible but the movie is knowingly inaccurate and badly written and nothing else in it matches her performance(See Nick Broomfield’s 2 Documentaries instead, or for comparison ). Which brings us to “Ray”...Jamie Foxx simply is Ray Charles. He looks, walks, moves, sounds like him(he could have done his own singing[ Hell, he could have done his own playing] , but they opted to have him lip sync). Still he sneaks a couple of his own vocals in during the early scenes, and you can’t tell the difference. It’s much like Val Kilmer ( Another Example of the Trend) who does a lot of his own singing during the live sequences in The Doors, where they cut from Morrison to Kilmer and it’s hard to tell where one vocal ends and the other begins. When show business biopics really work they look at what led to the subjects fame. The Work and what was behind it. “Ray” does have a lot of that in it which puts it a notch above most in this genre. But then we get into this seemingly endless repetition of “ Ray, you’re a heroin addict, you better quit...No I can quit when I want to and I don’t want to...Ray really you’re a HEROIN ADDICT...You need to QUIT!!...No I’m fine, I can handle it...RAY!! Please quit HEROIN!!!”...to the point where by the time he actually does QUIT HEROIN, it’s anticlimactic, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be the climax. The other mixed message you get is that he apparently did most of his best work while he was on Heroin, because apparently the years after his addiction weren’t deemed worthy enough to be covered in the movie, and all the music we remember Ray Charles for was done pre-kicking...And the trend shows no sign of abating. Soon we’ll have Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line (along with Reese Witherspoon as June Carter)and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote coming soon to the new separate Best Actor in a lousy Biopic category next year.
I think the best pictures are the ones that work on all levels and, for me anyway, only 2 movies fell into that category this year: "Sideways" and "The Incredibles". And they never stood a chance in hell.
"The Incredibles" was doomed for being animated and a comedy. The Academy has managed to ensure that no animated movie will ever win Best Picture by introducing the “Best Animated Feature”(which it easily won). Comedies rarely win Best Picture. Comedies are the late Rodney Dangerfield of the film. They are perceived as lightweight, which is dumb because they’re much harder to get right.
"Sideways" gets it right. It’s Smart and funny. The characters are complex, not black and white. They’re real. You know these people, or people like them. It’s a brilliantly written and directed. The Actors are perfectly cast and (in another sign of the Academy disrespect for Comedy)Paul Giamatti’s performance being ignored (he wasn’t even nominated) was one of the more outrageous snubs in Oscar history (and there have been some doozies). As far as I’m concerned "Sideways" was the Best Picture...The Academy got it wrong.
But what do I care? I’m never watching the damn show again...
See you next February...
Monday, February 07, 2005
Yes I Know it's been almost a year...Shut up...And onward...
I saw my first movie when I was 5. Most 5 year olds get taken to stuff meant for kids but that will inevitably scar them for life. Think of anything animated by Disney and you’ll see what I mean. Nasty horrible stuff. I escaped that fate. The first movie I ever saw was “Dracula, Prince of Darkness”.
I have a theory as to why I came away unscathed from this experience, and it goes like this: If you go to a Disney Cartoon, the Old Features anyway, you’re expecting light hearted kiddy fare, harmless, benign. They’re Fairy Tales, for the crying out loud. So when The Queen transforms into the Ugly Old Hag, or Bambi’s Mom takes a bullet, or Satan shows up on Bald Mountain, you aren’t expecting it and it’s doubly traumatic. When you walk into a horror film, you know bad things are going to happen and you’re on guard. You expect that when the virgin is left alone she’s going to be Vampire chow. You know Jack the Ripper will be jumping out of the darkened doorway to eviscerate the prostitute, and you’re damn sure that the monster you just killed isn’t really dead.
My dad, Larry, was babysitting me, and wanting to see the movie, the solution was obvious. Besides I was a pretty hip kid for 5. I was already into the Beatles, after all. I preferred old Popeyes to the newer ones. I was already reading. Besides, my presence wasn’t going to stop Larry from seeing that movie. My presence never stopped Larry from doing anything, which is how, at one time, I wound up at the Greenwood Racetrack at the age of four surrounded by drunks a year earlier, picking winners with an eerie accuracy, until someone actually bet on one of my selections. He didn’t talk to me on the way home.
I remember “Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, not only because I’ve seen it 10 or so times since then, but because they were having a glow in the dark fang promotion. I would have liked to have seen a picture taken from the screen’s POV. Rows of shadowy people with phosphorescent fangs, and eyes bugged out. I suspect that it would look like something from a George Romero movie though, as opposed to a Hammer Horror.
When I said I came away from the movie unscathed I didn’t mean to imply that I came away unaffected. I think my perspective may have been a tad warped by the experience. For instance, I was convinced that Dracula was the hero. After all, his name was in the title, and he was the most commanding presence on the screen. He wore a cape, so that automatically linked him to Superman in my mind. So I was confused when he sunk into the ice at the end. Living in Toronto, we dealt with snow and ice all the time. To me, ice was no big deal. This, of course, was before I began to self-educate in the minutiae of Vampire folklore and found out the thing about their aversion to running water.
Not long after that, and under similar circumstances, I was introduced to the Frankenstein Monster. This particular version was another Hammer technicolor bloodbath, “The Evil of Frankenstein”. Not the best interpretation of the creature, by a long shot. For one thing he is literally a blockhead. I don’t mean that he’s stupid (although, Lord knows, he’s not bright), I mean it literally looks like somebody strapped a cement block to his forehead. Apparently Hammer had recently acquired the rights from Universal to use their Frankenstein make up, but the evidence would tend to suggest that the Hammer make up artist never saw the Universal films and was simply going by the description “He’s got this square head, see...”
“The Evil of Frankenstein” was responsible for another one of my more vivid childhood memories. My Uncle Ronny was staying with us for a short while, having been kicked out by my grandfather. Ronny was about 6 years older than me, which would put him at about 13 at the time (It said something about my grandfather as well, since I also ended up with an Aunt that was 2 years younger). My mother decided she was going out and it would be okay to leave me with him, it being a Saturday night after all. NBC always ran a feature film back then and this particular night it happened to be the aforementioned Hammer Frankenstein Opus. I had already seen it via Larry, who had since headed for parts unknown (at least to me). But a monster movie trumped all else for me at the time, so I insisted that Ronny and I were going to watch it. Everything was fine as far as I was concerned, but I noticed Uncle Ronny growing increasingly anxious during the run of the film. Despite this, it ended without incident, but then at around 2 in the morning I awoke to the melodious sound of Uncle Ronny shrieking in Terror from the top bunk, that Frankenstein was going to get him. My mother came in trying to calm him, but it wasn’t happening. Ronny worked himself up into such a frenzy that he gave himself a nosebleed. I watched all this for a while with a sort of detached fascination, but finally I ended up saying to my Mom “I can’t handle this,” and went off to sleep in her bed. When he had finally quieted and Mom returned, I askedmy Mother if Uncle Ronny was Crazy.
“Yes...Yes he is”, she replied. The next day Uncle Ronny was unceremoniously shipped back to my grandfather’s. I don’t remember him ever coming back or, in fact, ever seeing him again. As it turned out he was crazy, but that’s another story...literally. Anyway we were talking about Frankenstein, weren’t we? At least I was.
Despite his appearance I loved the Frankenstein Monster, and it’s a love that’s lasted longer than any of my relationships. All kids love him, because they understand him. He is one of them. He has no concept of right and wrong, and when he tries to test his limits, he starts getting punished. Such is the child’s lot. So in the Frankenstein Monster they see a kindred spirit, at least I did. It wasn’t till a couple of years later that I managed to see the “Original” Man Child Monster in the person of Boris Karloff in James Whale’s “Frankenstein”, where he’s presented to you fully realized. He reaches for the light as any infant might do, and is confused when it is taken away. He has trouble walking, like any toddler, which is what he is, let’s face it. A Big Lumbering Ugly Toddler. When he kills the little girl, it’s not out of malice or psychosis (an Abby Normal Brain). He kills her accidentally because he doesn’t understand the game.
Chuck Jones, the great animation director, once said, “Bugs Bunny is who I wish I was...Daffy Duck is who I am”.Translated into Monster terms, I would argue, Dracula is who we wish to be, and Frankenstein’s Monster is who we really are.
Dracula is the power we all secretly desire. He is suave, elegant, and sexy, but most of all he is in control. In any given situation it is he who dominates, to the point where the only way his enemies can kill him is to sneak up on him when he’s asleep. Then there’s the sex thing. Dracula can have any woman he wants. And he’s insatiable. The one thing that carries over from the novel to virtually all of the movie translations is the moral that Sex is Bad, and Good Sex will Kill You. Every geek’s dream and many women’s fantasy. Dracula bites , and sucks and this is apparently a very good thing.
One of the benefits of being a “latch key kid”(and there were some despite what psychologists may say. There were negatives to be sure, but nobody ever discusses the positives) was that on Friday nights when My Mom was working afternoon shift. I could watch whatever I wanted on our 20-inch Black and White console..(Consoles need to make a comeback They were cool).I had no idea anything except movies were in color until the early 70's.
Friday Nights stick out because it had my favorite shows on. The Green Hornet, Time Tunnel, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Then there was a lull. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I was not an Original Series Star Trek Fan(Gasp! Sacrilege.) I thought it was dull and dumb.(Calm down!) I learned to appreciate it when I got older , but at the time I hated it. So I would read or draw or mime to Beatle or Monkee records for an hour until the WKBW Buffalo Eyewitness News which always began with “It’s Eleven O’ Clock.. Do you know where your children are?”.The first time I heard it, it scared the crap out of me. Subsequently I would raise my hand and yell “Here!!”.
After the news on Channel 7, I’d turn all the lights out and watch “Fright Night Fright Theatre” hosted by Adam Keefe who apparently did a circuit of stations doing wraparounds and interstitials for the show. Unfortunately the service on my memory is not good enough to remember what his character name was, but it was in the John Zacherle’s “Roland” mold.
So, while my Dad may have introduced me to the genre, my real education started with “Friday Night Frights”. That’s where I met my best friends. The Universal Monsters. Karloff’s Frankenstein...Lugosi as Dracula...Lon Chaney ( I didn’t know he was a Junior yet) as the Wolf Man, Claude Rains As The Invisible Man...Various People as The Mummy (it seemed to change with every movie)and The Creature from the Black Lagoon( Different Various People). In addition I made the acquaintance of King Kong, Mr. Sardonicus, The She Creature, The Puppet People, The Triffids and a Brain that wouldn’t die...among others.
I had a problem with the Wolf Man for a long time, and, to a degree, I still do. Larry Talbot’s incessant whining would annoy me. “Why me? It’s not fair!! I want to be dead,” and on and on and on... But then I figured a couple of things out, and it started to make sense in a dime store psychology kind of way. Larry goes through this...change...every month. It involves blood flow, and crankiness. It could be argued that Larry Talbot is having his period...or, from a different perspective, considering the body changes, the indiscriminate hair growth and complexion problems...Larry Talbot is going through Puberty...EVERY MONTH!!. Viewed in either of those two contexts, I don’t know about you but I’d be whining...Still You have to wonder about Larry Talbot. I’m of the opinion that he’s either passive aggressive, or extremely lazy. As previously mentioned, he spends a lot of time complaining that he doesn’t deserve his fate and that he wants to end his existence. Fine...but he’s always trying to get somebody else to do it for him! You want to say to him, “ Look, Larry, you’re only The Wolf Man 3 nights a month (6 days in a Blue Moon) but that leaves 30 days and 27 nights (24 in a Blue Moon) when you’re not the Wolf Man. Surely with all that time you could smelt some silver into a bullet, find a gun and put an end to your own suffering. What’s the problem?” But he does nothing pro-active. He does nothing but bitch and moan. I’m sure the other Monsters avoid him at parties, and who can blame them? The Wolf Man is a Wuss.
And while I’m doing the psychoanalysis thing lets take a look at Old Rag and Bones himself, The Mummy. The Mummy is all about repressed sexuality. Whether he’s Im Ho Tep, or Kharis he is still the same old horny pile of dust rags. Getting mummified alive is his punishment for wanting to get it on with the Princess Ananka, who inconveniently dies before he can pop her (she is a Vestal Virgin, after all) and, presumably, his cherry and then trying to bring her back to life in order complete the mutual deflowering. So they pull out his tongue, wrap him in bandages, and bury him alive....And even THAT doesn’t stop him. A couple of thousand years go by and, once having been resurrected, he’s after it again. Kharis is a shambling stiffy. (Tanna leaves must have some kind of Viagra like effect). The closest he comes to getting any is in the “The Mummy’s Ghost”, and just when he’s got the girl in his arms she starts decomposing. I’m not sure that would have stopped him, but they end up sinking into a swamp trying to avoid capture before we can find out.
For my money the most perverse of the Original Universal Monsters is the Invisible Man, no contest. Firstly he’s the ultimate voyeur. Ask yourself. “I’m a brilliant scientist and I can do whatever I want. What shall I do? I know I’ll make my self invisible. That’ll help mankind. Sure”. Baloney wit a capital Oscar Mayer. He does it because he likes to watch. He doesn’t give a red rat’s ass about your privacy. He hangs around , listening, watching, waiting and doing Lord knows..What’s was that you just put your hand in? Ewwww... Secondly, He’s NAKED! Everything he does when he can’t be seen is done in the nude. This is the thing that make the Invisible Man movies so inherently kinky. There’s this guy running around doing these horrible things with his dingle dangling. I find myself thinking things like “Gee, That car seat must be cold.”and “I wouldn’t be walking through the brush with all those low hanging branches” and “ Boy, those stones must hurt his feet”. Maybe that’s why he seems to be totally uninterested in sex. He’d rather rule the world. Brings a whole new interpretation to “The Emperor has no clothes” though, don’t it?
Although he does the standard schtick of kidnaping women, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is not about sex. In my opinion ( by the way, all of this is my opinion and probably has no basis in your reality or anybody else’s for that matter) The keyword in the title is Black. The Gill Man represents the plight of the African American in the United States(so does King Kong, but that’s another story, literally) ...Think about it. There he is swimming around in his own little world, not a care...and then a bunch of White People come barging in, literally. Okay, there are a couple of South Americans, but they’re not calling the shots. And do they think that studying the Creature in his Natural habitat would be a good idea? Uh uh, they want to catch him and take him back to Sea World and make him an attraction...and in the 2nd Movie (They think they’ve killed him in the first) the manage to pull it off. So there he is in chains, far from home, working for no money...I won’t go into the controversy of his going after white women as opposed to She-Creatures (whom we never see, but who, logically, must be around) And in the 3rd movie they pull a Michael Jackson on him by attempting to make him a “ Land Creature” through Plastic Surgery!! Huh? Huh?? Get it?...Okay, maybe this ones a bit of a stretch, but you see where I’m going, don’t you?... You don’t?
See, everybody tries to rationalize their obsessions, and I’m no different. You want people to see what you see. To worship what is essentially celluloid bubble gum, with a devotion normally reserved for the major deities. They’re not just Monster Movies. They’re actually about something...And they are... But you have to be careful of over-analyzing, which some of us fanatics tend to do. I guess I got carried away. But they’re my friends, and I wanted them to be appreciated... and I guess they are with or without my interpretations (better without)...Sorry...
And I didn’t even get to discuss the homoerotic relationship between Fritz and Dr. Frankenstein...Sigh...