One of my favorite quirky Prince tracks from the 80's is "Good Love." Insanely funky and light, it is the only pop track I've ever heard that has a shout-out to Gustav Mahler (Gustav!!). It never made it onto a Prince album, but it found a home on the soundtrack to Bright Lights, Big City, a film I've never seen, but happened across last night on TV.
I started watching 3/4 of the way through, so I never saw how they used the Prince song, but I did get to endure a painfully mannered performance from Michael J. Fox as a coke addict hiding from the horrible memories of his mother's (Dianne Wiest) cancer death.
If you can find me a Hollywood actor in the 1980's who was more like my mom than Dianne Wiest, I'll knit you a cock sock. Or bra. So watching her die a painful death wasn't something I cared for much.
At least they could have played the freakin' Prince song to lighten things up. GUSTAV!!!!
A few years ago while killing time in the airport before a flight back to the USA from Germany, I bought a spooky looking paperback to read on the plane. It was called So Finster die Nacht (So Dark the Night). The book jacket mentioned blood-drained corpses, and that usually makes for a good read.
I got through perhaps the first 150 pages on the flight, and things were off to a pretty good start, but then, as often happens with reading material I buy for the plane, once I got home and upacked, the book was quickly forgotten.
Then a couple months ago, at the recommendation of a colleague who knows of my fondness for vampire films, I watched the Swedish film Let the Right One In, and a few minutes into the film, things started feeling strangely familiar. "Hey, I've read this," I thought to myself.
I found the book I'd read on the plane in the stack of books on my nightstand, and I flipped through a few pages to refresh my memory. Sure enough, the movie was based on the novel by John Ajvide. (Called Låt den rätte komma in.)
If you haven't seen Let the Right One In, and you like a good vampire film (set in the gloom of a Swedish winter, no less), you really should watch it. It's a surprisingly touching film that that manages to combine fairly grisly horror with a sweet love story of two pre-teens (well, one seeming pre-teen and one real one) who each need someone to help them deal with the pain of being different.
I finally watched Let Me In a couple nights ago. My expectations were fairly low. I didn't think it would be possible to duplicate the unique air of macabre poignance of the Swedish film.
I was very pleasantly surprised. Neither a shot-for-shot remake of Let the Right One In, nor a ham-fisted Hollywood reworking of the orginal, Let Me In did an excellent job of keeping the horror intact without sacrificing the emotional tenderness that makes the story more than just a gory vampire flick with kids in the lead roles.
So in the end, I've enjoyed this story in three different incarnations. I've finished the novel, and now I've seen the two film versions of Ajvide's story. All have their grisly charm.
If you've seen both films, what did you think? I'm curious.
I've been watching a lot of really crappy movies in the last week or so. Some good ones, too, but far more stinkers than winners.
For example, at the moment I'm watching the moon-faced blond woman who was the med student in V (Julie) torturing an obstetrician to make him tell her the truth about her bratty daughter. It turns out, she's some kind of succubus sent to prepare the way for the birth of the Antichrist.
Or something like that. I'm not following the plot that closely. (I figure if the screenwriter couldn't be bothered to pay attention, why the hell should I?) Anyway, the teen girls in the tennis camp where I worked in the '80s were three times as evil as the little bitch in this movie, so I'm not impressed.
Why am I watching such schlock? I'm not on some masochistic celluloid freak-out bender. I'm just enjoying the chance to try out lots of different movies with minimal risk.
See, ever since TiVo started letting us watch streaming Netflix movies without having them count against the films in our queue, I've been trying anything that even remotely catches my eye.
It's quite cool. Anyone with Netflix knows the dangers of poor queue management: Friday night arrives. You settle down with a drink and some popcorn for an evening's entertainment, but to your dismay, all of the movies in your Netflix stack have subtitles. Or they star the vile Tom Cruise. Or maybe it's disk four of a series you have started watching yet
What follows is rarely pretty. Tears, acrimony, pissy sotto voce mumbling...
But now, even though not all Netflix titles are available in streaming form, I can try out a movie, quickly give it my thumbs-up or down, and move on. No harm, no foul.
Here are a few of the recent clunkers I've endured.
So yes, all of these movies are pretty terrible. But a lot of well intentioned people worked really hard on them.
PS. Apologies to those of you who have a soft spot in your heart for Big Eden. Didn't mean to offend to you--it just wasn't my cup of tea. Perhaps I'll give it another chance some day.
I haven't gone to a movie in the theater in nearly three years. I may have to make an exception for this one.
Mmmm, Zachary Quinto as Spock.
Now, if only Milo Ventimiglia could play, oh I don't know, some naked alien?
However, he was in quite a few of my favorite movies, such as The Hudsucker Proxy.
The first film I ever recall seeing Paul Newman act in was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When I was seven or eight I really loved the song "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head," which is featured prominently in the film, and won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1969. It was saccharine but catchy.
When I was a few years older, I enjoyed watching Cool Hand Luke with my mom one evening on our old 13-inch black and white Zenith TV. I have a vivid memory of being really grossed out by the scene where Luke eats fifty hard-boiled eggs. Nasty.
(I also recall being mortified to see the bare butt of the dad from The Waltons as his character is forced to spend a night in "The Box.")
In subsequent years, Cool Hand Luke always reminded me of my mom, and in particular of the night we first watched it while snuggled up under a blanket on our ugly army-green sofa.
When I was in college, I took a course called "Existentialism: Theistic and Atheistic," in which we watched Cool Hand Luke. I even wrote a short paper on it, though the specific details of my argument escape me twenty-odd years later.
I happened across the movie on TV two or three weeks ago. It was at least half over, and I didn't watch more than a few minutes. When I tuned in, Luke was saying good-bye to his mother, who, nearing death, had come to say good-bye to him in the prison camp.
It's a poignant scene, and as always, it choked me up as I watched.
Cool. I like October.
Somehow September got away from me, but I guess I should have been tipped off by the fact the leaves are changing colors.
It seems that at least my subconscious mind is ready for of ghouls and ghosts. I already had my first nightmare of the Halloween season a few nights ago.
Despite the title of this post, I wasn't dreaming about vampires. Nope, this was a horrendously gory and upsetting nightmare featuring Michael Meyers, the psychotic killer from the horror classic, Halloween. The pale Mr. Meyers has stalked me in my dreams for thirty years. (Yes, I'm aware what a freak I am.) Thankfully, the details of my dream have receded, but Darren was awakened by my cries for help, so you can be pretty sure I wasn't having much fun.
Anyway, back to vampires. I haven't really lined up any bloodsucker movies in my Netflix queue yet. (Remember how I said that October snuck up on me?)
I keep hoping that the remaining Hammer Studios Dracula films starring Christopher Lee will finally make their way to DVD, but I'm not holding my breath.
What I'd really like to see would be a big budget remake of Dracula that actually does justice to Bram Stoker's novel--for example by not randomly swapping the main characters' names or dressing up the thirsty Count in ridiculously frilly clothes as Francis Ford Coppola did back in 1992. This remake would need a director like Peter Jackson or Brian Singer. Someone obsessively respectful.
Ooh, but wait--what have we here? I just did a search on Netflix and found the original two hour pilot of the Night Stalker TV series that starred the late Darren McGavin (now wholesomely immortalized as Ralphie's dad in A Christmas Story).
The last time I saw that movie, I was in graduate school. It still scared me so much I slept with my light on that night.
That goes to the top of the queue...
As longtime readers of WoolGatherer know, I don't like watching movies in the theater. Too many morons run their mouths non-stop; too many parents think their collicky babies might be soothed by a night au cinéma.
Nope, give me a wide-screen HDTV, theater sound, a batch of cosmos, a hunky blond Wisconsin boy to snuggle with, and a sweet terrier napping on my lap, and I'm in hog heaven. (Which, as I was taught growing up in the shadow of the Hormel meat-packing plant, is a really wonderful place with rivers of slop and endless mud-wallows.)
So, even though there's no chance in hell I'll go see the new M. Night Shyamalan movie The Happening, which we're reminded is his FIRST RATED R FILM (meaning, one assumes, more gore splashed across his typical formulaic plot and SURPRISE ENDING), this image from the trailer did sort of catch my eye.
Sometimes, when Hudson has eaten too many treats at daycare, I could use a get-up like this when I do my knitting.
"Really," you ask, "this whole post was just the set-up for a lame joke about canine flatulence?"
I admit to being somewhat surprised myself. But here we are.
I liked it so much that I watched it again on Saturday morning, free of the calming effects of cachaça and delicious Erdinger Hefeweizen.
Reading the book proved to be exactly the right preparation for watching the movie--I knew when to expect the moments of violence. Extreme though they were, the brutality and gore shown in the film was actually somewhat less graphic than what's described in the novel.
As it turned out, though, acts that were only suggested in the film disturbed me more than the novel's explicit descriptions. (I'm thinking here of the scene where Chigurh stands on the front porch and checks the soles of his boots after his coin-toss "conversation" with Moss' wife.)
I thought the movie was every bit the work of genius I had heard it to be, but it surprised me in some ways. I enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones' performance far more than I expected. I've always though he was a great actor, but it's as if all the craggy folds of his haggard face were just accumulating in preparation for playing this role. He inhabits it completely and effortlessly.
Javier Bardem, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor after this performance, was even creepier than I expected him to be. (And I expected him to be really damn creepy.) This is one man you don't want to cut off in traffic.
I don't think I'll have nightmares about Antoi Chigurh, though. (Well maybe I'll have a couple unsettling dreams about his horrid Prince Valiant haircut.) Terrifying though his character is, the flat affect and catlike-tread he employs throughout the film render him oddly imperceptible. He's the killer who isn't there--apart from that one awful moment when he does the deed.
After the movie, Darren and I watched the "Making Of" feature on the DVD, and that was well worth our time. Both Coen brothers and Tommy Lee Jones said that they felt Cormac McCarthy's novel read like a screenplay, so they were able to shoot it almost scene for scene and line by line and have it turn out as they wanted.
To my mind, that doesn't in any way diminish the Coens' achievement. No Country for Old Men is replete with the masterful touches of dark humor and meticulous attention to detail that are so integral to other great Coen brothers films like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Miller's Crossing.
I've read that their next film will be shot in Minnesota. I've love to be an extra...
One odd bit of coincidence to close on--as I watched Anton Chigurh methodically and dispassionately dispatch his many victims, I found myself thinking "He's like a human Terminator."
As it happens, Garret Dillahunt, who plays Deputy Wendell, also played the role of a Terminator in the surprisingly good Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series.
Stranger yet, Josh Brolin, who plays the ill-fated Llewelyn Moss, will be playing the role of a Terminator in the forthcoming Terminator 4 film. One imagines he'll be thinking of Javier Bardem as he transforms himself into a relentless killing machine.
In closing, let me simply suggest that if you happen to stumble on a whole bunch of shot-up drug dealers and a briefcase with two million dollars in it, just leave the money alone and get the hell out of there.
After reading yarn boy's guest blog post on "literary crack," I decided to buy a copy of The Road to take with me on the trip to Germany.
I found the book bleak beyond measure, yet completely engrossing. That's a tough combo to pull off, but Cormac McCarthy managed it with astonishing skill.
Meanwhile, the Netflix DVD of the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Man, based on McCarthy's book of the same name, has sat gathering dust next to my TV for over a month.
I've been afraid to watch it, you see.
On the one hand, this makes no sense. Both Darren and I are huge fans of the Coen brothers's work, and we own most of their movies. It's a rare day that goes by in our home without a quote from The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy, or Oh Brother, Where Are Though?
On the other hand, I sometimes have a really hard time watching violent films. Images can get stuck in my head and haunt me far longer than I'd like. (For example, I've had nightmares about the movie Halloween since 1979.) I had a sense that there might be scenes in the latest Coen brothers opus that might linger with me too long and too vividly.
What to do, what to do?
When we got back from Germany, I decided to read No Country for Old Men to see if it would help me decide if I were up to watching film.
The novel was a total page-turner. It's brutal, gripping, terrifying, and I think it's a work of real genius. Once I started reading, I was half finished with the book before I put it down again. (I'll admit that I rushed through the last ten pages, and I should probably go back over those and give them the attention they deserve.)
I finished the last page, closed the book, and pondered how I felt. Now I knew exactly what I could expect to see in the movie. Not pretty.
Yet the plot is intricate, quirky, horrific, and intriguing, and I know that it's likely among the very best of the Coen brothers' films. In fact, as I was reading I found myself thinking at one point, "This would make a perfect Coen brother's movie!"
(Oh yeah... Right. Academy Awards, etc..)
But the truth is that I'm still afraid to watch the movie.
Any words of advice, dear readers?
Perhaps you've recently seen ads for a horror film called The Ruins. The commercials feature bikini clad women (that's strike one against the movie) who shriek endlessly (strike two), while jerky hand-held camera-work and frenetic jump cuts make it impossible to see what's supposed to be so damn terrifying (three strikes and you're out).
Around the fifth time I saw the commercial, I heard the announcer say "based on the terrifying best-selling novel."
Hmm, well maybe at least that's worth looking into.
So, I forked out $4.50 for a used copy of the novel from Amazon Marketplace (hard-bound, ugh--that will teach me to read the description more carefully), and last week I breezed through the novel in a few evenings.
I'm not sure I'm able to agree with Stephen King's hyperbolic claim on the book-jacket that "The Ruins will do for for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches."
First, I've never taken a vacation in Mexico.
Second, I've never been to a New England beach.
And third, the novel just isn't very good.
It's not terrible by any means, and it does have its share of creepy (and increasingly gruesome moments), but apart from a few particularly nasty images that have stuck with me in the few days since I finished the novel, I've pretty much forgotten this unpleasant bit of fluff. (It does make me glad yet again, however, that I live in a townhouse I don't have a verdant garden to tend.)
Out of curiosity, I watched the online trailers for the film and read the entire plot synopsis on the Moviepooper website. Apparently women weren't victimized quite enough in the novel, so the film keeps the characters' names but reassigns their roles and grisly fates. (That's a particular cinematic pet peeve of mine--something I've hated since I was a kid seeing the first of many Dracula films in which Lucy and Mina's roles are combined or swapped. Why? To what possible effect??)
Though I wasn't deeply invested in the novel's protagonists, I keep did hoping that at least some of the imperiled college students would survive their jungle misadventure. I have to give the book credit for being bold enough to deny that hope. The movie's producers, of course, didn't trust audiences enough to make the same bleak choice.
Still, I'll probably get the DVD from Netflix at some point. After all, the film does benefit (at least for a time) from the presence of semi-hottie Shawn Ashmore, of X-Men fame.
My recommendation: if you're in an airport bookstore about to board a long flight, you could do worse than reading The Ruins for a few hours.
No, not in the streets (at least not yet), but in popular culture.
There have been a slew of zombie movies in the past few years: remakes of horror classics like The Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead (in 3D no less); a trilogy of Resident Evil films based on the deeply disturbing video game of the same name; new takes on the walking dead like the gritty 28 Days Later and its equally grisly sequel 28 Weeks Later; and even a hilariously witty and gory zombie comedy, Shaun of the Dead (which is one of my favorite films).
As long-time readers of WoolGatherer are aware, my taste in monsters is usually confined to more highbrow fare, specifically vampires. Ravening, mindless monsters like werewolves and zombies never quite capture my imagination the way elegantly clad undead Eastern European nobility can.
Sure, I might watch a movie like 28 Days Later and find its horror gripping, and I enjoyed the Resident Evil films because of their kick-ass female protagonist, Alice and sexy supporting actors like Oded Fehr, but once the movies ended, I didn't spend much time thinking about them. (Well, maybe I had thoughts about Oded, but they weren't zombie-related.)
To the best of my knowledge, I had never read a book about zombies until my friend Greg loaned me his copy of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. The title alone was intriguing, and Greg's assurance that it was skillfully written and genuinely terrifying sealed the deal--I needed to read it.
Five pages in, the story had me hooked. It's tremendously absorbing, and I enjoyed the book so much that I rationed how many pages I could read each day, just as I had done when reading The Historian.
World War Z is a written as collection of interviews with survivors of a world-wide zombie plague caused by a virulent virus that turned most of humanity into flesh devouring ghouls. Brooks sets the book several years after the war's end (humans prevailed, but only barely), and he offers tantalizingly fragmented horrific snapshots of the infestation as it moved across the globe. Social norms collapse and chaos spreads as the sea of the moaning flesh-eating undead grows ever larger.
Because the book is written from a journalistic perspective, as though its readers are fellow survivors of the Zombie War and "The Great Panic" that gripped the world as the nature of the plague revealed itself, many details are never fully spelled out. Only as one reads the first-person accounts from survivors all over the globe does the larger picture begin to coalesce.
Even after I finished the book, puzzling gaps remain in the narrative, and I found myself pondering the the clues that might reveal more than is directly stated. (For example, though he is never mentioned by name, it seems clear that Colin Powell is the US President during the Zombie War.)
Often as I read, I was reminded of the many interviews I've read with Holocaust survivors: each voice is unique, each account of suffering unbearably personal, and yet the horror relayed is common to all, though the specific details differ. (Late in the book, Brooks explicitly links his tale to the Holocaust by having his narrator interview an old man who had survived the Nazi death camps in Poland and the zombie plague.)
For my part, I'm off to buy Brooks' earlier work, The Zombie Survival Guide.
You know, just in case.
To those who were eager to know what gift Darren gave me, it was a boxed set of all The Thin Man movies, starring Mryna Loy and William Powell as Nora and Nick Charles, the hard drinking, high-society sleuths who solve crimes with the help of their lively terrier, Asta.
They're silly movies, but I love them.
Not half as much as I love Darren, though. He's even better than Star Wars!
As you may recall, I almost never go to movies in the theater, because I don't like paying $9 to be surrounded by ill-bred noisy yokels who ruin the entire experience for me. So, I had not yet seen Spiderman 3.
I wasn't missing much.
Spidey 3's plot and writing were jarringly stupid, in much the same way that Superman 3 took a well established, likeable film franchise and turned it buffoonish and embarrassing.
There were too many villains, too much overacting, and way too many scenes in which the CGI animation looked like something from a first generation Xbox.
I'll admit that I did enjoy the moments when Tobey Maguire goes all Chris Gaines with his lank black hair and a few enjoyably caustic lines. However, when I want to watch a man in eyeliner nimbly dance his way across the tables in a bar, I'll watch Purple Rain. (And Prince didn't need special effects for his dancing.)
And Kirsten Dunst? Don't even get me started. "Wooden" is far too generous a word for her phoned-in performance.
Last night I watched the first of the many versions of A Christmas Carol that I will enjoy between now and Christmas. It was the 1984 film that starred George C. Scott. I hadn't seen that one in a few years, so it was a treat to find that TiVo had recorded it for me. (Oh TiVo, my life was so empty before you came along!)
As I watched old Scrooge undergo his familiar transformation from misanthropic miser to someone who keeps Christmas in his heart year 'round, I decided to rank a few of my favorite film interpretations of the Dickens classic.
I'm fairly certain that this is my favorite of all the Christmas Carols. The gloomy black and white production makes London look every bit as squalid and grim as it should, and Alastair Sim plays both the pre- and post-conversion Scrooge with bite and gusto. I'm also quite fond of the woman who plays his charwoman, with her frequent, non-sensical exclamations of "In keeping with the situation!"
Last year, Darren bought me the DVD of this movie, so I can watch it whenever I want. Yea for me!
This runs a close second to the 1951 Scrooge. It some ways, this version with Patrick Stewart stays closer to the original text, and that wins it points. Stewart does a tremendous job in the role of Scrooge.
For several years when I lived in New Jersey, Patrick Stewart did a one man show of A Christmas Carol on Broadway. It was more of a dramatic reading than acting out the role, but I've heard him on tape, and it was excellent.
Weepy old queen that I am, I always get a little choked up at the end of the film when Scrooge unexpectedly appears at his nephew's home for Christmas dinner. I think it's just because I like the idea that one can get a second chance at life, a "do-over" to mend old wounds.
This is the movie I watched last night. Interestingly, it's the only film in which Scrooge wears a dress shirt, trousers, and a coat during his night with the spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. Normally, Scrooge, who is pulled from his bed in the wee hours, spends the duration of the story in his nightshirt. Apparently George C. Scott refused to spend the entire shoot in pajamas, at least in part because many exterior shots were actually filmed in London during the winter.
Be that as it may, Scott's raspy voice and fierce bellow make him a formidable Scrooge.
Honestly, I've only sat completely through this picture once. The only part I really like is when Carol Kane, as the Ghost of Christmas Present, beats the living hell out of Bill Murray.
As ludicrous as the notion of The Fonze playing Scrooge in Depression-era New England may be, I actually thought this was quite a fine film.
It has been at least fifteen years since I last saw it, however, so another viewing is in order. I hope I run across it this season.
Um, no thanks. Just keep making Radio Shack commercials, Vanessa.
This one makes the list for pure kitsch value. I mean, come on, Erica Kane plays Elizabth "Ebbie" Scrooge, a bitchy department store owner? Go back to Pine Valley, and marry your fiftieth husband, deary.
Are there any other good films you think should appear on my list?
Alas, like many of us, he's now past his peak of freshness, but I still felt a familiar little shiver when he appeared on screen, playing an assistant detective trying to track down the anti-fascist rebel, V.
I first became aware of Rupert when I was in graduate school, during those tumultuous first months of my coming out process.
Knowing that I was very depressed by gay-themed movies that focused on young men heroically battling AIDS (and face it, there were a LOT of those in the early 90's), a friend suggested that I watch the movie Maurice, based on the E.M. Forster novel.
In Maurice, Rupert Graves plays Scudder, the cockney gamekeeper who becomes the lover of the deeply repressed and haughtily aristocratic Maurice. I was at least as struck by Scudder's beauty as the stuffy Maurice was. (It didn't hurt matters that Rupert was willing to do several full frontal nude scenes. I deeply appreciated his commitment to the role.)
The moment when Scudder climbs a ladder to reach Maurice's room in the dark of night remains one of my favorite scenes in cinema. (Though in my experience, hot men don't simply climb into your window for a passionate tryst without the promise of substantial remuneration.)
Rupert (and his exposed bits) next caught my eye in A Room With a View, a film I just watched again last week on HDVD.
Upon meeting the (nearly) equally delectable Julian Sands, Rupert utters my favorite line in the film, "Fancy a bathe?"
Moments later, the gorgeous young chaps are frolicking together like water sprites, splashing, wrestling each other, and having a gay old time, as it were. It's all rather breathtaking. (The addition of the roly-poly Mr. Beebe, does little for me, however.)
Again, these easy moments of carefree nude male companionship are not part of my personal experience, so the scene always makes quite an impression on me, leaving me wistful for warm ponds in the English countryside.
Rupert is also a delicious morsel in yet another film based on an E.M. Forster novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread. His attraction to the darkly handsome young Italian, Gino Carella, is palpable, but alas, Rupert keeps his clothes on for the duration of the movie, and the homo-erotic subtext never becomes, um, text. (By the way, Judy Davis turns in a stellar performance as an acerbic bitch in this film, a feat she would later repeat in the biting comedy The Ref.)
It made me a bit sad to see Rupert in V for Vendetta. Don't get me wrong--he's still a fine looking man. But he has lost that painful beauty that so gripped me when I first laid eyes on him. See for yourself.
Would I refuse to dance if he asked me to tango? No, of course not. But sweet young Scudder is gone for good.
Thank god for Jake...
Over the weekend I watched a rather odd film with the uninspired title of The Vampire (1957). TiVo had recorded it for me, and despite the dopey synopsis: "A small-town doctor cannot stop taking the pills that turn him into a fanged killer," I had nothing more pressing to do on Sunday morning that sit and watch the movie. I wouldn't call The Vampire good, exactly. In fact it was strikingly bad. Still, it did have a few interesting twists, and it wasn't entirely poorly acted. I didn't recognize the lead actor, but a supporting player was Dabbs Greer, good old Reverend Alden of Little House on the Prairie fame, who played scientist investigating a sudden rash of deaths in a small town. (He comes to a grisly end, but in his final moments, he does discover the cause of the deaths.) The hook that kept me watching this B-minus movie to its schlocky conclusion (a cop shoots the vampire a few times; the credits roll) was the nature of the pills that turned the good doctor into a bloodsucker whose icky, mottled face looked sort of like the crispy surface of a creme brulee. You see, the poor man suffered from migraines, for which he took an experimental medication that caused his dread transformation. Naturally, as someone who suffers from migraines, I felt some sympathy for the guy, at least until he started draining people of their blood. It's true that all medications have side effects. My pills give me a flushed face, sinus pressure, and an unpleasant hot feeling in my chest. Back in the 1950's, the side effects of migraine medications were clearly more extreme and debilitating (at least for those unhappy souls with the misfortune to be near the vampire with the achy noggin). So the next time I have to pop an Imitrex tablet to fend off a sick headache, I'll count myself lucky that, even if I feel sort of crappy from the pill, at least I'm not draining my coworkers or neighbors of their blood. ~WG
Over the weekend I watched a rather odd film with the uninspired title of The Vampire (1957). TiVo had recorded it for me, and despite the dopey synopsis: "A small-town doctor cannot stop taking the pills that turn him into a fanged killer," I had nothing more pressing to do on Sunday morning that sit and watch the movie.
I wouldn't call The Vampire good, exactly. In fact it was strikingly bad. Still, it did have a few interesting twists, and it wasn't entirely poorly acted. I didn't recognize the lead actor, but a supporting player was Dabbs Greer, good old Reverend Alden of Little House on the Prairie fame, who played scientist investigating a sudden rash of deaths in a small town. (He comes to a grisly end, but in his final moments, he does discover the cause of the deaths.)
The hook that kept me watching this B-minus movie to its schlocky conclusion (a cop shoots the vampire a few times; the credits roll) was the nature of the pills that turned the good doctor into a bloodsucker whose icky, mottled face looked sort of like the crispy surface of a creme brulee.
You see, the poor man suffered from migraines, for which he took an experimental medication that caused his dread transformation. Naturally, as someone who suffers from migraines, I felt some sympathy for the guy, at least until he started draining people of their blood.
It's true that all medications have side effects. My pills give me a flushed face, sinus pressure, and an unpleasant hot feeling in my chest. Back in the 1950's, the side effects of migraine medications were clearly more extreme and debilitating (at least for those unhappy souls with the misfortune to be near the vampire with the achy noggin).
So the next time I have to pop an Imitrex tablet to fend off a sick headache, I'll count myself lucky that, even if I feel sort of crappy from the pill, at least I'm not draining my coworkers or neighbors of their blood.
I doubt that the forthcoming film The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is particularly good, but it's based on one of my all-time favorite series of fantasy books, The Dark is Rising sequence, by Susan Cooper. That pretty much ensures that I will be watching the Netflix CD of the movie in a few months. (As you know, very few movies will actually persuade me to set foot in a multiplex.)
The movie's trailer is enough to tell me that the story has been bastardized in countless ways, but the film still appeals to me. Oddly enough, I had seen part of a commercial for the movie last week, and I told Darren, "That's the kind of movie that I would have been absolutely crazy for when I was a kid."
I didn't know until Monday, when I heard an interview with Susan Cooper on NPR, that this new movie was, in fact, based on her book, The Dark is Rising. In the interview, Cooper spoke about her misgivings about the many changes her classic novel had undergone in its journey to the big screen, but she also said she felt the movie was a solid effort that remained true to the spirit of her novel, even if it diverged widely in many of its plot details.
I am forever indebted to my fourth grade teacher, Mary Lou Nelson, for first suggesting that I might enjoy these books. I knew that they were all Caldecott award winners, which was a prime criterion I used to choose my reading materials back then.
The first book in the series, Over Sea and Under Stone, held my interest (and taught me that such a place as Cornwall existed), but it was book two, The Dark is Rising, that utterly captivated me.
What eleven year old boy could resist a story in which another eleven year old boy discovers that he's the last of an ancient line of immortal beings with magical powers?
Will Stanton, the novel's protagonist (no longer a Brit, but an American in this new film), discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is an "Old One," destined to use his burgeoning magical powers to tip the scales in an eons-long battle against The Dark.
Cooper's writing is deft and gripping without ever devolving into the formulaic treacle that sometimes mires the otherwise enjoyable Harry Potter novels. I don't mean to diminish what J.K. Rowling has achieved in her work, but even her enormous financial success pales in comparison to the impact Cooper's books had on me.
For a kid like me, who already sensed that he was somehow different than the other boys in his class, The Dark is Rising was powerfully resonant. Many were the nights when I lay in bed, wishing I had magical powers that would let me repay the taunts of the boys who also sensed my difference and singled me out on the playground.
Of course, Will Stanton,the hero of Cooper's books, never used his magical powers for such tawdry purposes as cheap retribution, but I would have hexed the living hell out of my tormentors.
So, if you know a young bookworm who is crestfallen that Harry Potter's adventures have, at LONG last reached their end, I heartily encourage you go present your little reader with Cooper's books, and let him or her discover what magic lies hidden in the rocky crests of Cornwall.
October has arrived, and if you've been with me since I started this blog, you know how much I love this time of year.
Soon, basic cable will start running many of the cheesy old vampire movies that I grew up watching with my dad.
Just to cover my bases, I will probably have Netflix send me a few of the '50's and '60's-era Hammer Studios Dracula movies that starred Christoper Lee.
There has been a dearth of good new vampire movies of late. I can enjoy the decadent leather-clad Eurotrash style of the films Underworld and Underworld Evolution, but somehow the combination of the undead and automatic weapons has never quite worked for me. A vampire should never really shout "I'm empty! Give me another clip!"
My hopes for the new CBS vampire series Moonlight were dashed within seconds of the opening credits, as the protagonist, a vampire private detective, outlined what can and can't hurt vampires in this particular version of the myth.
Oh my, how tired.
I'm okay with the show giving up the traditional "Christian weapons" of holy water and crucifixes, but if a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses is all it takes for our hero to stroll about in daylight, then you've lost me. Throw in bad writing, terrible hairstyles, and a pastiche of characters sloppily copied from far superior fare like Angel, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I can safely cancel my TiVo Season Pass for Moonlight.
I'm a bit more intrigued by the trailers I have seen for the movie 30 Days of Night, a new vampire flick set in Barrow, Alaska during its winter month of perpetual darkness. The set-up of the movie (which is based on a graphic novel) appears to hold some promise, but I suspect that plot and character development will take a back seat to splatter and jump-cuts of murkily-lit mayhem. If any of you happen to see this movie in the theater, send me a note and let me know what you thought of it. I'll be waiting for the DVD.
Tonight I think I might dig out a bootleg DVD I bought on eBay last year. It's a copy of a copy of a bad copy of a four-hour Dracula film that the BBC produced in 1978. Louis Jordan plays Dracula with an aristocratic, chilling grace that has always struck me as the perfect mix of menace and charm. He doesn't hiss or snarl like Christopher Lee, but he gets the job done.
PS--I totally forgot the Blade movies. Just so-so as vampire movies, but mmmm, Ryan Reynolds...
Over the weekend, I watched the campy old classic, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. It had been years since I last saw the film in its entirety, but TiVo was wise enough to know that I would enjoy seeing it again, so there Baby Jane was in my Suggestions list.
The film is truly delectable in its melodramatic excess, and the vicious dynamic between the two sisters is made that much richer when one considers that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis truly despised each other in real life and tortured each other in myriad ways during the movie's production.
It's odd that both actresses should later share the experience of having a daughter write a tell-all book about the horror of growing up with an academy award-winning sadist.
Almost immediately after seeing poor, half-roasted Blanche finally be rescued from the clutches of her insane, sand castle-building sister, I began to crave a viewing of the French & Saunder's clip below.
If I could be anyone else in the world (besides Prince, but a gay Prince, not just an androgynous hetero), I would be Jennifer Saunders. I think she's brilliant, and her career looks like it brings her enormous enjoyment. Dawn French ain't half bad, either.
So, if you have ten minutes, sit back and enjoy this hilarious spoof. (Just ignore the French subtitles. Or read them if you'd like. See if I care.)
Gotta love those silly Brits,
Last week we bought an HD DVD player, and I have to say it's pretty damn cool. The first movie we watched on it was Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. That's just the first HD DVD that Netflix happened to send us. It's not exactly a special effects extravaganza, but it looked really good. Gene Wilder's insane hair never looked so kinky crisp on my TV before.
We're not going to buy a lot of HD DVDs, because we still want to be sure that we're not committing to the twenty-first century version of Beta. If the Blue-ray format wins out over HD DVD, I don't want to be stuck with huge stack of "loser" discs. So, for now, we'll mostly get HD DVDs from Netflix and take a wait-and-see attitude.
Of course, I did want to buy at least a few new DVDs, and the first one I decided on was Superman Returns.
I've had a Superman fixation since I was a little kid. I played Superman a LOT. In fact, my mom sewed me two capes--one red one for when I wanted to be Superman, one black one for when I felt in a vampire mood.
Not for WG the sad, drab dishtowels sported as capes by other waifs in the neighborhood. I had fittings for my capes.
I no longer have a cape (that fits), but I can still get goosebumps imagining that a hunk like Brandon Routh is taking me for a romantic flight in his manly arms.
That hussy Lois doesn't deserve him.
While this two hour CGI weather-porn extravaganza isn't particularly memorable as cinema, the day I saw the film for the first time is sharply etched in my mind. It was late May of 2004, and Darren and I were on a weekend getaway to Duluth, MN, on the shore of Lake Superior.
We arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon, but when we looked out our lake-view window Saturday morning, a true gale was ripping across the lake. Huge waves roared by just outside our room and crashed repeatedly over the boardwalk. The wind howled through the hotel, and rain flew past in horizontal sheets. It was all very dramatic in a Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald kind of way.
Our plan for the day had involved a variety of outdoor activities, but the weather forced us to scrap our itinerary. We sat in a coffee shop, watched the waves batter the shore (and anyone fool enough to venture onto the boardwalk), and pondered what do with our wet weekend. Finally we decided to go see The Day After Tomorrow.
We drove through torrential rain and gusty winds to a drab little theater a few miles from the lake. We plopped ourselves into the stained, threadbare seats and watched lovely Jake Gyllenhaal and still hunky Dennis Quaid fight the weather for two hours. In the end, the weather pretty much wins, but the two hot guys live, so it's all good.
When the house lights came up, we stepped back out into the gale, feeling as though we were somehow caught up in the film we had just seen. Alas, no soaking wet Jake awaited us in our hotel room.
There's more to my attachment to this movie than the Gyllenhaal Effect and freaky meteorological synchronicity, however.
Watching this overwrought bit of celluloid reminds me of the last day I felt hope about my mother's health. A week before we took our trip to Duluth, my mom had undergone cancer surgery, and in the days after her operation, she had narrowly survived a sudden pulmonary embolism. By Memorial Day weekend her condition had greatly improved, and she was due to leave the hospital in several days. As we watched The Day After Tomorrow, for the first time in weeks I found myself relaxing, and at least for two hours, I was able to push aside my fears.
So, as I sit here watching Jake struggle through the flooded streets of New York for probably the twentieth time, I experience faint echoes of a day when I thought things might turn out okay for my mom and my family after all. In the end, things weren't okay, but this silly movie still bears the imprint of the hope I felt that day.
So, if you're ever channel surfing at my house and you come across a scene of Jake being chased by wolves through a Russian cargo ship stranded on Fifth Avenue, settle in because we're not going anywhere.
I first saw the Robert Altman film Gosford Park at the Sony Metreon in 2001. Darren and I were on the first night of a four day stay in San Francisco, and we decided to go see a 10:00 p.m. showing of the elaborate period piece.
In retrospect, it was a bad choice, at least in terms of timing. Nothing like sitting down for a long movie in comfy reclining chairs after a draining day of travel and sight-seeing, when one's body clock says it's already midnight. Darren was asleep within half an hour.
I managed to stay awake (years of boring graduate seminars had taught me the knack of keeping my eyes open under all circumstances), and I loved the film. So much bitchery, so much subtext, so many wonderful actors.
I watched the film again last night on TiVo, and I found myself completely charmed once again. The level of acting talent is astonishing, and like most Altman films, Gosford Park has a staggeringly large cast of familiar faces. Pretty, pouty Ryan Phillippe does a nice turn as a bisexual gigolo, Clive Owen is dark, handsome, and dashing, and Helen Mirren is impeccable as the prim, controlled housekeeper with a tragic secret. Oh, and there's a murder mystery.
Of course, movies like this aren't to everyone's taste, but I love the lavish attention to detail and the sharp eye for the rigid constraints of the British class system and myriad subtle humiliations endured by nearly everyone except the lord of the manor.
He, however, ends up poisoned and stabbed. It's all cracking good fun.
Happy Friday to you!
If you loved the movie Shaun of the Dead half as much as I did, then you will be eager to see this new film by the same bunch of crazies.
I may even be willing to see it in the theater, and that's saying something for me!
Last night I watched the John Waters film Polyester, starring the late, great Divine, as Francine Fishpaw, a suburban, alcoholic, odor-obsessed woman whose life is collapsing around her. (If your husband was cheating on you, your daughter was a teenage, pregnant nympho, and your son was a "Foot-Stomper" fetishist, you'd be hitting the bottle, too.) I hadn't seen the movie in a year or two, and watching it yesterday was a breath of fresh air.
That's fitting I suppose, since when the movie was released in theaters, it was presented in Odorama. On entering the theater, movie patrons were handed a card bearing ten scratch-and-sniff patches, and at certain points in the film, a number would flash on the screen, indicating which patch should be scratched and sniffed. Lucky movie-goers had the pleasure of inhaling the scent of fresh-cut grass, gasoline, skunk-spray, flatulence, and dog pooh. (I don't like sniffing stinky things, so I'm content to watch the movie sans Odorama.)
As with any John Waters film, the "acting" is dreadful, in large part because many of the performers were chosen for their unique looks and not their skills as thespians. A prime example of Water's casting philosophy is the snaggle-toothed Edith Massey as Cuddles, the 65 year old "debutante," who delivers the immortal lines "You're a regular little cochon, lady, and that means PIG!" and "Gee Francine, you're the most drinkinest gal I ever seen!"
Tab Hunter (still closeted back then, but way gay anyway) makes an appearance as Francine's love interest, Todd Tomorrow. Who could resist a man with a line of patter like "Let me kiss away your DT's, honey" and "Are you my little flesh-pot?" What a honey-dripper! In a truly odd twist, Tab also sings the movie's theme song, Polyester Queen, which was written by future Waters performer Deborah Harry.
If you have never watched Polyester, you owe it to yourself to indulge in this truly trashy classic. This John Waters film better not get made into a musical like Hairspray, or I'll knit myself a hat and eat it.
Celebrating the tacky,
As any of my friends or family can attest, I love a good vampire movie. In fact, I even love bad vampire movies. (Well, within reason.)
To this day, my absolute favorite vampire movies are the old Hammer Studios Dracula films that appeared in the 1960's and -70's. You can often catch these B-movie gems on late night cable around Halloween. Christopher Lee starred as Dracula, and the role of Van Helsing, Dracula's ever-vigilant nemesis, was played by Peter Cushing. (Cushing, in the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, would later achieve infamy by blowing up Princess Leia's peaceful home-world of Alderaan in the first Star Wars movie.)
These classic vampire movies cling faithfully to a tried-and-true formula: a fetching lass or strapping lad stumbles across a dark, semi-ruined castle high in the Carpathian Mountains. A creepy man-servant offers the lass or lad accommodations for the night. Soon the poor victim meets a toothy end, either at the hands of Dracula (for the lass) or (for the lad) one of Dracula's trampy undead brides. (The issue of Dracula's penchant for bigamy is never fully explored.)
Soon, friends or family, sometimes in the company of skeptical clergy, strike out in search of the missing lass/lad. Friends or family soon meet grisly ends. Some of these unfortunates quickly reappear, now alarmingly long in the tooth. Mayhem ensues.
Just when all seems lost, Van Helsing arrives, and somehow (for example through sunlight, lightning, heart-staking, full-body impalement, or submersion in an icy lake) the malevolent Dracula is dispatched. All is well with the world--at least until the subsequent film, when the next hapless lass or lad appears at the castle and somehow manages to re-animate the evil lord of the manor. Cue the screams, and off we go again.
My dad also loves these old vampire films. As a matter of fact, it was he who introduced me to the world of the celluloid undead when I was no more than five years old. Exhibiting good taste, if questionable parenting skills, my dad often let me stay up late and watch Dracula films with him.
I am being entirely literal when I say these films scared the piss out me. Watching the horrific, snarling Christopher Lee, I was sometimes too paralyzed by terror to scurry down the scary,dark hallway and use the bathroom, and I have vivid memories of wetting myself from fear. This irritated my dad, who had to miss a few minutes of the movie while he put in me in dry pajamas.
Looking back, it amazes me that my mother didn't intervene to prevent my delicate mind from becoming permanently warped by these wonderful films. Had she ever caught a glimpse of the 1970's-era Dracula flicks, where Christoper Lee tended to expose the breasts of the lass he was about to bite, you can be sure my mom would have put the kibosh on our father/son movie night. But my mother, as a good Irish Catholic, wasn't overly troubled by simple, non-sexual, gory vampire violence, even if it did result in a son who, 35 years later, still feels a need to sleep with the covers pulled up tightly around his neck.
Could simply watching vampire movies account for that level of permanent (though in no way debilitating) neurosis?
Perhaps not. But more of the story remains to be told...
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