Thursday, December 10, 2009

R.I.P Gene Barry

The Original Martian Repellent

When a huge celebrity of the hour overdoses on his toilet or crashes his SUV (...) every single media outlet on the planet makes a huge dish out of it and serves leftovers for weeks. But when a great of the past expires away quietly at an advanced age, nobody seems to care. Or does so much too late and improperly. Hence my writing about the passing today of a little-remembered but once-beloved actor, Eugene Klass aka Gene Barry, who died this Thursday December 10th of unknown circumstances. He was 80 years old.

Barry started out on his talent and scholarship as a local singing sensation, taking the radio and stage scene by storm in the 1940s until finally getting noticed by Hollywood in the early 1950s. A handful of small movie roles did little to elevate him nor make use of his vocal talent, save for a couple that fared poorly. One part however did secure a place for him in stardom: 1953's War of the Worlds, which he headlined as dr. Clayton Forrester.The part had originally been offered to Lee Marvin who declined; No offence to Marvin, but sci-fi fans are grateful...

His screen career on the rise, the actor is offered more TV work than he wished for, and reluctantly did he look at such offers until a proposal to portray real-life wild west lawman Bat Masterson, gentleman who relied on his wit and gold-adorned cane rather than guns to take criminals down. The show lasted only 3 season but reached cult status almost immediately, ensuring Barry a typecast yet long career on the tube.

In 1963 came his second TV hit, just a s short as the previous but equally beloved: Burke's Law saw Barry as a chief of detectives who also happens to be a wealthy playboy. The series' cult following inspired ABC to revive it in 1994, for an appreciated but unsuccessful single season. A third show followed, this one offering a much different and original format: The Name of the Game, where three series star would each in turn start in their own individual episode. Barry played newspaper owner Glenn Howard, with Robert Stack and Anthony Franciosa playing his star reporters. Again only 3 seasons, again beloved but little remembered.

14 years of playing the elegant justice-maker on the tube made it nearly impossible for him to break out on the big screen any longer nor to explore further series of his own on TV, and thus Gene spent the remaining of his career either guest-starring on shows or returning to his first true love, Broadway musicals, where he met with great success and recognition. By the end of the 1980s he all but retired, appearing only occasionally in TV shows when specially requested to do so. His last appearance was for Steven Spielberg's own adaptation of War of the Worlds in 2005, for a cameo that confirmed his status as the star to a sci-fi cult classic of Hollywood's Golden Era.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Who's Yoda-dee?

An oldie, but a goodie!

The waitress, Jodee Berry, filed her lawsuit in October 2001. Settlement was reached in April 2002 and Berry was allowed to pick the Toyota of her choice. Representatives for her former employers claimed the contest was simply an April's Fool joke.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Disney's Horrific Princesses...

I can't really say why it's such an attraction to see someone take cute and cuddly icons of our childhood and make them dark and deranged, but it just is. I go with the flow. Although sometimes it's just not right - like Todd McFarlane's line of Oz toys - a half-nude Dorothy in S&M bondage is just a damaging sight...

Graphic artist Jeffrey Thomas is one of those who can get the "cool" out of such concepts though, even if it means turning Snow White into a much -MUCH- scarier vampire than Edward Cullen, or give Cinderella more than she bargained for once the chariot turns back to a pumpkin...

Here are a few of Jeff's creepy designs for Disney Princesses, with the rest OVER HERE.



Walt Disney thought suicide was funny!

It takes a special kind of humor to read Alix Strauss' recent book  Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious, but probably not as much as it took to write it - the author offers enthusiastic accounts and analysis of suicides by celebrities of all artistic trade who took the self-imposed way out. So much that sometimes it almost feels like a DIY guide to emulating your idols... But as creepy as that sounds, there's even worse: the book tells of a period when Walt Disney thought it funny to make Mickey Mouse suicidal!

In the 1930s Mickey ran in newspapers alongside other comic strips, as written and drawn by Floyd Gottfredson and Hardie Gramatky. From October 8th through the 29th in 1930, the strip's storyline had Minnie dump Mickey for a douche named Mr. Slicker, leaving the poor mouse deeply depressed and trying different ways to off himself. And why did they run that strip? “I think it will be funny,” was what Gottfredson remembered being told by Uncle Walt himself who came up with the concept and pushed it.

Here are a few of those little "gems", if only to henceforth view Disney animated features in a different light...(click on each strip to see it full and large)


Friday, December 04, 2009

REVIEW: Across The Hall (2009)

2009 Thriller
StarringMike Vogel, Danny Pino, Brittany Murphy, Brad Greenquist
Written by Alex Merkin, Jesse Mittelstadt, Julien Schwab
Directed by Alex Merkin

If those who can't do teach, for the movie industry they simply bitch; many hopefuls and never-was will say of Alex merkin that he reeks of film school and threw into his movie every trick he learned to try and make a lame product look good. One thing though - it is a good movie and everything he threw in is refreshing in its capacity to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole 90 minutes. Why don't guys like him get entrusted with LXG and other big budget misfires? Oh, I know! because an independent movie allows the director to make it good without studio interference...

In a seedy hotel where one porter tries to maintain the illusion of sophistication, Terry is holed up in a room where he followed his fiancee, whom he suspects of infidelity. Blood is on the floor, a man is tied up in a chair, Terry is psychotic and Julian rushes in to help his best friend Terry but finds himself in a situation nothing good can come out of. What follows is a back and forth through a story where nothing is at it seems and appearances can lead anywhere we allow them to.

Merkin probably did learn one about films that he indeed applied to the letter, and quite beautifully: if your movie is little and you want big, make it feel big. From an incredibly well paced opening scene that sets the tone for wanting more to sharp editing and inspired camera angles, the film feels like a $30M studio offering, complete with a fantastic orchestral score that sets the viewer up for one hell of a ride.

As for the narrative drive, which jumps to multiple points of the story from start to finish, is avoids the usual linear feel of such devices to instead keep the suspense elevated and drop bombs more than once, best of
which the final twist that I can't help feel I should've seen coming but did absolutely not. Great performances by little known actors Mike Vogel (of CLOVERFIELD), Danny Pino (of TV's "Cold Case") and especially Brad Greenquist as the unsuspecting witness to the events only intensify the credibility of the director's tone and editing choices. And it's nice to see Brittany Murphy trying out her chops a bit, now that she's been kinda demoted off the A list...

Independent films often rhyme with long, brooding and somewhat boring, and especially with not visually appealing. Alex Merkin shows enormous gusto in overstepping these preconceptions and offers a thriller that puts to shame boatloads of the mainstream ones we've been getting from Hollywood for a long while. Highly entertaining, and just as recommended. Alex Merkin definitely makes my watch list.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

What Films Inspired Filmmakers

I've been trying to avoid looking behind the scenes of many movies these recent years 'cause the more you know about the process the less magical and inspiring it seems and feels; a demystification that prevents appreciation. Like CAST AWAY, which I was in complete awe over until I saw that large portions of it were filmed in a parking lot, and that about 85% if the island was CG. Kubrick would've tried, man...

Hot off the press, as in published just last week, is a book by Geoffrey MacNab that brings redemption to the process and magic back into the fold: Film directors who inspired immensely, remembering how they experienced awe and inspiration of their own from movies they fell in love with. The book called Screen Epiphanies: Filmmakers on the Films that Inspired Them lets a plethora of renowned directors from around the globe reminisce and share with us the moment (s) they knew this is what they had to do for a living.

On of my personal favourites comes from Scotsman Danny Boyle who remembers discovering APOCALYPSE NOW:

"When I came to London for a job in the theatre, I was living in a place in Fulham with some mates. They gave me a bedroom to stay in. I was an assistant stage manager, driving the truck, sweeping up and setting up the stages. They were an amazing company called Joint Stock Theatre Company. Outside the flat in Fulham, there was this huge billboard. 

One day, this black poster went up with Apocalypse Now on it. I am sure I must have known something about it from Time Out or whatever. Anyway, I went to see it. That was the moment when everything suddenly made sense. 

I guess what it does it that it collides some of the elements of American mainstream cinema from the time and art. That was what Coppola had done in a way. What was interesting about it for me was that I was so transformed by it. 

There is something that haunts most directors, which is that we don't really do anything useful although we're thought of as being useful. He [my dad] fought in the war and contributed something and yet all I wanted him to do was watch Francis Ford Coppola's version of the war. It didn't undermine the film for me but it categorises film for me in a way. Film often runs in parallel with life and it feeds off it but I don't think it necessarily nurtures it. I don't think it necessarily contributes in the way we think it does. We, in our world, in our bubble that we work in, imagine that it does but I am not sure that it does."

Ask Santa  for it this year and share your favorite director's own moment of clarity from a movie....

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

5 Films that Should be Remade

Granted I'm the very uppity and angry first to lash out and bestow nasty names to any producer, director and/or studio who dares remake a film I hold high in respect or affection, but even dear ol' moi has a few ideas about some movies that do indeed very much deserve (for some reason or other) to be remade, and whom should be onboard to do it. To be honest, it all started after seeing Zach Snyder's kick-ass take on DAWN OF THE DEAD - so entertaining, well made yet absolutely respectful of the original, it begs the question what else would benefit such a revisiting. At the risk of finding myself dealing with the business end of someone else's nasty name-calling, here's the 5 movies I wish most to see re-hauled, with suggestions as to cast and crew.

1) The Ghost and Mrs Muir

If it wasn't for the 1960 TV show, very few would remember Rex Harrison's fantastic turn as Captain GregG. It is still indeed an entertaining, beautiful and engrossing movie, but one filmed in the 1940s and set even earlier; values have changed so drastically that much of its drama would be easier to miss for current generations of movie watchers than a good TV show on Fox ('cause, you know, those get cancelled in a heartbeat...). An update would be quite the mirror to today's technology: falling in love with a ghost, someone who can only offer nice words and dreams of bliss but nothing of actual substance. Now THAT is a nice metaphor toward online romance.

A remake had been looked at by studio execs from the late 80s to early 00s, more often than not with Sean Connery as Gregg - which would've been glove to hand back then, but Bond Prime is out of the game and quite old to play romantic lead without appearing downright creepy.If it was announced tomorrow, I'd like no one more than Patricia Clarkson to be the haunted widow (even at her age, my God what a beautiful woman) while as foul-tempered Captain Gregg I see the great Ed Harris.

2) The Shadow

Almost 10 years before the Dark Knight himself started stalking criminals of Gotham, a voice appeared on the radio simply as a narrator to other shows' characters: The Shadow, with his haunting laugh grew to become an icon of pulp crime crusader, until the dreadful Alec Baldwin vehicle of the early 90s. If Chris Nolan proved anything, it's that you can indeed take a classic character ruined by cheezy outings and make him the most compelling badass out there. Lamont Cranston deserves much more than where Hollywood has left him off for dead.

What you need here is to avoid the obvious Rich Playboy by Day/Dark Crime Fighter by Night gist; Bruce Wayne ruined it for the rest of 'em. Let's go back to the source and make him just the elusive man who knows what evil lurks, but not quite "V" either; let his identity be revealed little by little as a potential franchise goes along. Perfect eyes for the man with a scarf: Rufus Sewell. He's still got a few good years of leading man in him.

3) Logan's Run
Fantastic source novel, and although the Michael York healdiner of the 70s has its fans - shitty film, made even more atrocious by the spun-off TV show complete with a middle-aged looking robot. Bryan Singer had his eye on this one for the longest time, but I really can't get over how much I hated SUPERMAN RETURNS. Was he about to do the same 30 years too late hommage?
Let someone with a fresh vision do this one (and actually read the book first...). I say Kurt Wimmer - say what you will of ULTRAVIOLET, he's still the dude who made EQUILIBRIUM, which kicked all sorts of ass from here till Sunday. And let's finally give Ryan Gossling a good sci-fi role. Still peed off the guy wasn't retained for GREEN LANTERN.

4) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

What the HELL were they thinking??? The guy who did BLADE in charge of an Alan Moore adaptation??? Why not Joel Schumacher? Or Brett Stinking Ratner? or Uwe Goddam Boll?!?!? Say what you will about Zach Snyder's WATCHMEN, the guy followed the story and spirit of the source material. Stephen Norrington turned the incredibly rich and dark comic books into a Fox Network failed pilot - failed upward and went to theatres...

I'm not saying do a frame-for-shot adaptation as Snyder did, but at least follow the gosh darn story elements that made the books so good in the first place. First of all, Alan Quartermain is a bottomed out Junkie, not a hero. And Mina Harker is the leader, not a fanged pom-pom girl. Tom Sawyer? please... Let's have Lance Henriksen as the sickening-slim Quartermain,  and underrated beauty Caroline Dhavernas as Mina. For starters.


 5) Oh God
 Fitting title isn't it? All the more so since it stars John Denver. No disrespect to his memory, I just really never had it for the guy. And George Burns as God - cute, but, you know... Now, granted some may view BRUCE ALMIGHTY as an unofficial remake, but I beg to differ. OH GOD was a dramedy with a sense of philosophical journey to it, while BRUCE was Jim Carrey and splapstick. Isn't that an oxymoron?
A remake should follow the tone of the original with maybe some dark sarcastic humor, and much less Denver. I'd see someone like Shane Black directing it with, say, Alan Tudyk as the Denver character and as God...hmm... Bob Hoskins. Love that dude. Extremely versatile for someone his size and shape, plus he's a Brit so you got that posh accent for the character.