Friday, June 27, 2014

A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day's Night ~ Confession time. Up until very recently, I had never seen A Hard Day's Night in its entirety. It came out in theaters again during my senior year of high school, and I'd asked a girl I liked (and who liked the Beatles as well) to go, and she turned me down. I never got to see it, then or later. See, what rejection will do to a guy, girls? It will stunt one's cinematic and musical growth.

Over and above the wonderful Beatles soundtrack, it's really quite a good film. Director Richard Lester allows the individual Beatles' personality shine through past the script of Alun Owen, and the charisma of the boys overpowers easily. The film supposedly depicts a day in the life of the Beatles, and feels very unscripted despite the facts. The charm of the boys, along with the music, rules the screen.

Quick cuts, unusual for the time, great songs, and Marx Brothers-like gags and dialogue acrobatics make this a terrific film. Worth seeing if only to see the Beatles smoke and Ringo dance, but those aren't even the best parts. I wish I'd seen it decades ago.

And don't forget, if you'd like to see this one on the big screen, this summer it will be re-released to theaters to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Bring a date!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Eli Wallach 1915-2014

Star of film, television, stage, award winner and nominee, with a career spanning six decades, and at the grand age of 98, the legendary Eli Wallach passed away yesterday.

One of the world's greatest character actors, Wallach easily stole the movies he appeared in. What would The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly be without him? Or The Magnificent Seven, or The Misfits. He was even good in The Godfather Part III.

All wonderful unique roles, but Wallach always commented he got more fan mail for his portrayal of Mister Freeze on the 1966 "Batman" TV series than anything else he had done.

We have truly lost a legend, and the stage and screen will be much sadder and far more empty for it. Rest in peace, Tuco.

Monday, June 23, 2014

This Is The End

This Is The End ~ This film does one thing that I like. Usually when one sees a movie with name stars, unless the movie completely immerses the viewer or the acting is prime, one will always think of the star as the star rather than the character. For instance most folks don't know who John McClane is, but they know Bruce Willis was all that in the Die Hard films.

This Is The End uses that logic in its own favor by having its stars - Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, etc. - play themselves. Well, it's themselves as pot smoking partying losers, which may or may not be the truth, but at least you know who is who. As someone who stopped 'partying' quite some time ago, it made me think of most of these actors in a lesser light, fiction or not. Now get off my lawn.

Anyway, the pothead slob comedy brigade are at a party at James Franco's house when apparently The Rapture happens, followed by an apparent Hell on Earth. It vacillates between end of days satire and Exorcist parody and succeeds in neither. The movie tries really hard to be funny, but unlike old Cheech and Chong, which is funny whether you're high or not, I imagine only stoners would find this flick hilarious.

The only time I even smiled was when Emma Watson from the Harry Potter films, and later the Backstreet Boys, showed up for a couple minutes. Although I did jump when the demon bull jumped in through the window - so points for horror but very little for comedy. For a movie called This Is The End, it really never seemed to end, it just went on and on and on. This was relentlessly bad, I hated it a lot.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Penny Dreadful

Taking its name from the early pulps of Victorian times that chronicled the serial adventures of such monsters and horrors as Sweeney Todd, Spring-Heeled Jack, Black Bess, Varney the Vampire and countless fictional accounts of Jack the Ripper, Showtime's "Penny Dreadful" is amazing television.

Literally, the penny dreadfuls were internet rumors like the Slender Man gone mad, but in cheap paper form. If Snopes were around then, charging per click, they'd be rich. The penny dreadfuls were the soaps, the internet, and the bedtime boogieman cautionary tales of the Victorian age, and the precursors of the American dime novels and pulps.

The spirit of the original penny dreadfuls is alive and well in the Showtime series as it tries to blend various Gothic tales of horror into one web of continuity a la Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Among those in for weaving are Shelley's "Frankenstein," Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and the one that ties them together, Stoker's "Dracula." All are public domain, and easily manipulated into a new tapestry. I was a bit surprised that Stevenson's "Hyde" was not pulled into the mix, but perhaps that's a tidbit for the second season coming in 2015.

"Penny Dreadful" is the creation of screenwriter John Logan, who has penned as many of my favorite recent films as well as some I'm not so fond of. A select few include The Last Samurai, Gladiator, Skyfall (as well as the next two James Bond films), the ill-conceived Tim Burton nightmare version of Sweeney Todd, and the absolutely wonderful RKO 281. He is definitely a get for Showtime, as is executive producer Sam Mendes, who Logan met on Skyfall.

The story focuses on Sir Malcolm Murray (played by Timothy Dalton, speaking of Bond, but he's a much better heavy than hero in my opinion), a Victorian adventurer and explorer very much in the vein of Allan Quatermain, who is searching for his lost daughter Mina. We know from the start, simply from her name, where she's gone, and what Sir Malcolm will be up against, but sadly he does not. Dalton plays Murray as determined, obsessed, and someone who will "burn the world" to get his daughter back.

His servant and confidant is sadly the stereotypical 'magical Negro,' but I like him. Sembene, played by Danny Sapani of UK's "Misfits," possesses a certain second sight and reminds me of a cross between Mandrake's Lothar and Nonso Anozie's Renfield from NBC's failed TV steampunk version of "Dracula."

Along for the ride is also friend of the family (just barely, more like scarred outsider as we learn from flashbacks) Vanessa Ives. A free spirit of the time, she's played by Eva Green, never one of my favorite actresses, as I felt she was not right for her roles in Casino Royale of Starz' "Camelot," she is well cast here. A medium, a vessel for possession, possibly friend and foe, Miss Ives is the crux of the show. Through her the others characters are connected.

Ives brings in American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett, one of my favorite actors, especially in Bunraku) as firepower in Malcolm quest. Fleeing the US and riding with a Wild West show, he seems to have his share of secrets as well, the least of which are his drunken blackouts, and viewers' suspicion that he may be the Ripper menacing London behind the scenes of the show's main monsters.

Speaking of monsters, there is no shortage here. From singer/songwriter Harry Treadaway's creepy nerdpunk Victor Frankenstein to his two creations Proteus and Caliban to the sexy Reeve Carney, throwing off his Broadway Spider-Man typecasting to play the egomaniacal danger junkie Dorian Gray. He's still in the adrenaline business, but we get to see his face, and much much more of his body as well as his real accent.

Gray is after any new experience he can find, including bedding half the cast, including Brona Croft, the prostitute dying of consumption who has hooked up with Ethan. It seems as though she may also be the target for the Frankenstein monster's mate sooner or later. Just as Carney is trying to break genre typecasting, Brona is played by Billie Piper, everyone's favorite "Doctor Who" companion, Rose Tyler. I find her forced accent here annoying, but I guess she's still trying to shake off that whole Defender of the Universe thing.

The whole bunch of them are headed toward a confrontation with Dracula sooner or later, who himself seems to be more in the Nosferatu visual department, which when you go by the book is actually on mark. There are some wonderful homages and nods to the Stoker book, like the plague ship, and the way the flashback episode was done in an epistle, but by no means think this goes strictly by the book. The sudden and surprising death of David Warner's Van Helsing should cure you of that right quick.

There are two more episodes of the first season on Showtime, and you can read my good friend Marie Gilbert's weekly impressions of the show over at Biff Bam Pop! for another view. You should check it out, "Penny Dreadful" is not for the squeamish or the prudish (lots of sex, violence, and gore), but it is some of the best television going on right now.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Just Go With It

Just Go With It ~ While Adam Sandler is no longer somewhat king of the box office, he seems to still be making the same kind of movies. Here he's a plastic surgeon and liar who needs to continue the lie and enlists his assistant (Jennifer Aniston) and her kids to help. The lies escalate as one might expect and hilarity ensues. And, spoilers, there's also the prerequisite heartwarming ending.

Sandler's character's occupation makes for many amusing sight gags. That and Aniston's kids are the funniest parts of the movie, lots of comedic talent here. The soundtrack, composed of more than a few 1980s Police songs and mashups, is also fun. It's just too bad that the actual soundtrack (at least as far as I can find) doesn't have any of the mashups.

The really bad part, other than it being a Adam Sandler movie (and quite honestly, he's not so bad in this), is that he and Jennifer Aniston have zero chemistry together. They try, they're desperate, but it never happens. And it's not the fault of the script, the dialogue would have worked with two other actors.

Just Go With It is a nice distraction if there's nothing else on. It's not great, but it's not horrible either, heh, just go with it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Remembering Casey Kasem

This past weekend we lost Casey Kasem, at the age of 82. He was an actor, announcer, voice artist, disc jockey, and television personality, and always seemed t be part of my life.

As a kid I knew his voice from Saturday morning cartoons - Casey was Robin, Alexander, and Shaggy, just to name the biggies. When I got older, and was obsessed with music and charts, I was a hardcore fan of "America's Top 40."

Let's not remember the shame of his last few years and his family who seem even crazier by the minute, but let's remember the man who told us to 'keep our feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.' Casey Kasem will be missed.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Avengers Chat Tonight

Reaperradio presents: AVENGERS CHAT!

This chat will cover any and all Avengers comics as well as related titles, even the "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" animated series and the Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe.

COMICS: Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America Hawkeye, Black Widow, etc.  
MOVIES: Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man, etc.  
TV: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil, etc.  
ANIMATION: Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, etc.

When Sunday, June 15th 
1st round - 8:00 PM EST
2nd round - 10:00 PM EST

Where Avengers International Chat Room

- Click on your random name to change it and select an avatar. 

Avengers Assemble!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Escape from Tomorrow

Escape from Tomorrow ~ Beyond all the controversy of it being the ultimate example of guerrilla filmmaking, all about how it was secretly filmed in Walt Disney World and Disneyland without permission, it's actually not a bad idea. A story set in the theme parks is great atmosphere without even trying. The black and white is an intriguing thought, perhaps more so to get away with filming without permission than any real artistic choice.

The story itself is dark and surreal. A man on vacation in WDW gets a phone call from his boss that he's been laid off. Perhaps from worry and perhaps from drinking or 'cat flu,' he begins to hallucinate. As he crosses paths with other tourists he begins to think they know him or are in on some kind of conspiracy. As he begins to act on his paranoia, the hallucinations get progressively worse.

The film is so surreal, and so potentially anti-Disney both in concept and execution, I had to wonder if the third act was meant to be real or more delusion. If the latter, I would definitely say that writer/director Randy Moore has an axe to grind with Disney.

Escape from Tomorrow isn't all that bad, but it's not that good either. There are as many flaws as there are flashes of brilliance. It might have made a good half-hour "Twilight Zone" episode back in the day, or maybe a better "Outer Limits." For Disney fans however, it might be considered an attack or at best a conversation piece.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley ~ I know I must have seen her or heard her at some point, growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s, but the truth is I didn't really become aware of Moms Mabley until I was in college.

At the Community Center where the radio station was at Camden County College there was a very large but friendly security guard named Don. He was a good guy, but understand me, he did not need his uniform to intimidate someone. Don could have made an excellent living as a bodyguard or a professional wrestler. As far as the Center went, and the radio station, being a security guard, he came and went as he pleased.

I came in for a radio shift one night and found Don in the production studio laughing heartily at a record he was playing in there. He'd found it in the record library and had to hear it, rushing right in there to put it on the turntable. It was Moms Mabley, specifically Moms Mabley Live at Sing Sing, and Don told me as we listened for a bit that she was the funniest woman in the world.

I believed him. She was damned funny, and more than that, she was real - she was telling it like it is. As for Don, I had never heard a man laugh so hard and happily before, and rarely since. That was my introduction to Moms Mabley.

Now, some thirty years later I find this documentary on HBO Go called Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley. Whoopi, who for a time impersonated Moms in her act, puts together a nice biography of the lady. Meshing her life story with actual footage and interviews with contemporaries and those influenced by her, we're given a fair depiction of Jackie 'Moms' Mabley.

Despite (or some might say because of) her race, her age, and her sexuality, Moms Mabley made her way in a world against her, breaking down barriers that barred many in her time. She did it with humor and truth, a role model and inspiration for us all.

If I had any complaint about this doc, it's that it needed more footage and/or recordings of Moms. I'm going to go find some now, you should to, whether you see this terrific documentary or not. Recommended.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Copycat Kitchens

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When I look at the Food Network lately, I have to wonder about that. I'm a big fan of "Chopped," and I really can't get enough of it, but trust me, this isn't what I meant. It seems like almost every new show coming out of the Network lately is just another variation of the show.

"Chopped" has four chefs preparing three meals from three mystery baskets of ingredients. It’s a competition that eliminates one contestant every round until there is a winner of a cash prize. I love it, it’s challenging, it's creative, and most of all it's fun. And yes, I know that "Chopped" itself is sort of a derivation of "Iron Chef" and that it has spun off a Canadian version. Those are okay, it's the other shows I'm talking about.

The shows in question are "Cutthroat Kitchen," "Guy's Grocery Games," and "Kitchen Casino," just to name the main perpetrators. They are all essentially "Chopped," with slight derivations to the rules. "Cutthroat" adds obstacles to the contest, and is the most entertaining. Guy Fieri's "Grocery Games" adds a bit of "Supermarket Sweep" to the formula. And "Kitchen Casino" puts, what else, a casino into the equation. And "Rewrapped"? More "Chopped" than spin-off of "Unwrapped."

The thing is, while they are all entertaining to some extent, why not just make more "Chopped," rather than dilute the idea with substandard programming? None of them are as good or fun as "Chopped," so why not just do more "Chopped" instead?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Roof Oasis by Marie Gilbert

Marie Gilbert is a dear friend, and one of the most beloved members of the South Jersey Writers' Group. She has been instrumental in the birth and maintenance of the South Jersey Writers' Group Blog, as well as being one of the biggest boosters and sellers of the SJWG anthology Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey, in which her craft is also featured.

You've also seen her work at Biff Bam Pop! every week. There the Steampunk Granny regularly reviews cool stuff like episode by episode recaps of "The Walking Dead," "Bates Motel," "True Blood," and "Orphan Black" among others.

Marie also writes for Go Jane News, her interviews and ghost investigations are top notch, and has aided me in several blog tours. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she is an inspiration to us all. Marie rocks, and we love her, but now we have an extra special reason to be proud of our Steampunk Granny - she's now a published novelist.

Let me tell you all about Roof Oasis. Marie Gilbert's first novel is the tale of twins Michael and Lucy caught in a world devastated by bio-warfare that has inadvertently created zombies. As the hordes of the seemingly undead close in, the twins find that their only salvation may lie within a Victorian mirror hidden in the attic of their family home. You can read more about the novel here.

Roof Oasis: An Apocalyptic Tale (Volume 1), by Marie Gilbert, is available as a paperback from Amazon here and also on Kindle. The cover design and illustration is by friend and fellow SJWG member Shelley Szajner. Details about the upcoming book release party in June can be found here. Check out this great new novel by this terrific author.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

…And Ann B. Davis as Alice

As a child of the 1970s, I grew up with Alice Nelson as played by Ann B. Davis on "The Brady Bunch." Alice wasn't just the comic relief on the show, she was the heart of The Brady Bunch. We identified with the kids, and Carol and Mike were just like our parents, inaccessible adults who we really couldn't relate to - but Alice, Alice was the adult who could relate to the kids. She was part of their lives. She was the kids' and our link with the adults.

In the over the top 1995 movie based on the show, Alice was simply the comic relief, hysterical and absurd, but Ann B. Davis (not playing Alice this time in a guest role) was the heart, and more than the heart, the voice of reason in the end. For everyone who grew up on the show, and didn't laugh at the fashions because we were wearing them too, she was the best part.

Ann B. Davis got her acting chops on "The Bob Cummings Show" for which she won two Emmys. She worked in television, in commercials, and on the stage for years, but was known most for the role of Alice. She even cashed in on the fame with a Brady Bunch cookbook. Ann never married, and was a staunch Christian, so much so that she reputedly shut down a local stage production based on the Brady Bunch because it featured drag performers.

Personal life aside, she was a television icon, and she will be missed, but will live on in syndication for generations to come. She died this past weekend after a fall in her home. Ann B. Davis was 88.