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How To Make A Living Writing Short Fiction – can it be done? Yes.
Book Review: Lord of the Flies – all about Ralph and Piggy and Roger
Who Moved My Cheese? – a short review of this short book
How to comfort someone whose mother or father has died – advice for handling this difficult situation
Coping with unemployment – more practical advice for a difficult situation


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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Movie Review: Grand Prix
by Gary A. Braunbeck

In 1966, director John Frankenheimer turned out a pair of films that could not possibly be more different in subject matter and execution: Seconds and Grand Prix. Frankenheimer did not want to make Grand Prix, but was forced by the studio to do so after Seconds died a miserable death at the box office.

Grand Prix, on the other hand, was a tremendous hit, and remained Frankenheimer's most financially successful film until 1998's Ronin. The script by veteran playwright Robert Alan Arthur (who co-wrote All That Jazz with the late Bob Fosse), ultimately focuses too much on the soap-opera level problems of the drivers and their families, but it's when the film gets on the racetrack that Frankenheimer and cinematographer Lionel "Curly" Lindon (who did a season as Night Gallery's director of photography) blindside you.

When faced with the challenge of filming a lengthy race in such a way to make it interesting for film audiences, Frankenheimer decided he wanted to have the camera become part of the actual race, so he and Lindon designed a special camera and harness that could be attached to the front driver's-side of the car, giving the illusion that the viewer was riding on the hood during the race.

You've seen this same shot about a million times over the years in every car chase that's been filmed. You have John Frankenheimer and Lionel Lindon to thank for it. Until Grand Prix, no director had ever attempted to film a race or chase in this manner; nowadays, a director would feel like a fool not to include at least one such shot in an action film.

Movie Information

Running Time: 179 min.

Rating: PG

Director: John Frankenheimer

Screenwriters: John Frankenheimer, Robert Alan Arthur

Cinematography: Lionel Lindon

Cast:

James Garner: Pete Aron
Eva Marie Saint: Louise Frederickson
Yves Montand: Jean-Pierre Sarti
Toshiro Mifune: Izo Yamura
Brian Bedford: Scott Stoddard
Jessica Walter: Pat Stoddard
Antonio Sabato: Nino Barlini
Francoise Hardy: Lisa
Adolfo Celi: Agostini Manetta
Claude Dauphin: Hugo Simon
Enzo Fiermonte: Guido

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Movie Review: The Swimmer
by Gary A. Braunbeck

1968's The Swimmer (based on the short story by John Cheever) was a labor of love for its producer/star Burt Lancaster. In it he plays a businessman who, at film's start, has decided to spend a bright summer Sunday afternoon making his way from pool to pool, swimming his way across suburbia to his own home. He lives in an upscale and trendy community where everyone knows everyone else in their chosen clique, so it comes as no surprise to anyone when Burt wanders into their back yard and tells them he is swimming home. They laugh. They make martinis. They talk about what a card Lancaster is and what a simply mah-velous party story his little escapade will make. It seems like another Peyton Place soap opera at first.

But then people start asking about his wife and daughters:

"I heard what happened..."

"I was so sorry to hear..."

"How are you feeling now?..."

"I didn't think you'd want to be around anyone for a while, not after..."

What exactly did happen in Lancaster's life that has everyone treating him either with extreme caution or overzealous joviality? Where exactly is he coming from at the beginning of the film? (Our first sight of him comes as he's running in his swimming trunks through the woods, already sopping wet, yet he tells the first back yard gathering he appears in that theirs will be his "first" swim on his way home.) And why can't he tell anyone what he's been doing lately?

These key questions are skirted for the first half of the film, but it's the very lack of ready answers that provides a good deal of tension. Hints are dropped, concerned looks are exchanged, surreptitious gestures made behind Lancaster's back, and soon the viewer wonders about Lancaster's mental stability as, piece by piece, the horror of his life comes together like a jigsaw puzzle that's missing the last piece–which may be the reason The Swimmer is such a turn-off for many viewers: there is no direct and final answer to any of the questions, no last-minute revelation, but if you pay close attention, everything you need to know is there.

Lancaster gives a typically terrific performance, one full of both internal and physical catharses; every pool is a new baptismal fount where he washes away past sins, yet by the time he reaches the next pool, a different load of sins have made themselves known.

Movie Information

Running Time: 95 minutes

Rating: PG

Directors: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack

Screenwriter: Eleanor Perry

Cast:

Burt Lancaster: Ned Merrill
Janet Landgard: Julie Ann Hooper
Janice Rule: Shirley Abbott
Tony Bickley: Donald Westerhazy
Marge Champion: Peggy Forsburgh
Nancy Cushman: Mrs. Halloran
Bill Fiore: Howie Hunsacker
David Garfield: Ticket Seller
Kim Hunter: Betty Graham
Rose Gregorio: Sylvia Finney
Charles Drake: Howard Graham
Bernie Hamilton: Halloran's Chauffeur
House Jameson: Chester Halloran
Jimmy Joyce: Jack Finney
Michael Kearney: Kevin Gilmartin Jr.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Manchurian Candidate
reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

1962's The Manchurian Candidate

A lot -- a lot -- has been written and said about The Manchurian Candidate, the film that put John Frankenheimer on the map as a director. How effective you'll find the film today depends on your personal level of cynicism.

Candidate -- a satire in the truest sense of the word -- deliberately sets out to make the viewer uncertain as to whether or not it's supposed to funny. Admittedly, some of the scenes in the film have an aura of comedy about them which I think was intentional, while others (scenes obviously intended to be serious) unintentionally draw chuckles. Laurence Harvey's British accent seems ludicrously out of place for a veteran of the Korean War, especially since he's supposed to be American, but once you get past his voice, you cannot help but admire his rich, complex performance.

The final sequence, filmed in Madison Square Garden, remains one of the most beautifully edited and unbearably suspenseful ever put on film. (Many critics and film scholars credit Frankenheimer as having created the template for the modern political thriller; viewing such films as Candidate, Seven Days in May, Black Sunday, and the recent HBO film The Path to War -- which is now Frankenheimer's swan song, and a great one, at that -- this accolade seems almost understated.)

Movie Information

Running Time: 126 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay)
Cast:

Frank Sinatra: Capt./Maj. Bennett Marco
Laurence Harvey: Sgt. Raymond Shaw
Janet Leigh: Eugenie Rose Chaney
Angela Lansbury: Mrs. Iselin
Henry Silva: Chunjin
James Gregory: Sen. John Yerkes Iselin
Leslie Parrish: Jocelyn Jordan
John McGiver: Sen. Thomas Jordan
Khigh Dhiegh: Dr. Yen Lo
James Edwards: Cpl. Alvin Melvin
Douglas Henderson: Col. Milt
Albert Paulsen: Zilkov
Barry Kelley: Secretary of Defense
Lloyd Corrigan: Holborn Gaines
Madame Spivy: Female Berezovo



2004's The Manchurian Candidate

A remake of the 1962 classic was released in July 2004. It's directed by Jonathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs") and stars Denzel Washington in Sinatra's role as Ben Marco, Liev Schreiber in the Laurence Harvey role as Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep as Eleanor Shaw.

In this version, U.S. soliders are kidnapped during the Gulf War and brainwashed. The brainwashers use the Manchurian Corporation as their front, thus justifying the retention of the title even though the Chinese are no longer the villains in this remake.

The movie is decent, not nearly as good as the original, but worth watching. Washington is particularly good; he plays Ben Marco as a man who's gradually falling apart, rather than as a square-jawed hero.

Movie Information

Running Time: 130 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writers: Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay), Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris
Cast:

Denzel Washington: Ben Marco
Meryl Streep: Eleanor Shaw
Liev Schreiber: Raymond Shaw
Kimberly Elise: Rosie
Vera Farmiga: Jocelyn Jordan
Jon Voight: Senator Thomas Jordan
David Keeley: Anderson
Jeffrey Wright: Al Melvin
Sakina Jaffrey: Mysterious Arabic Woman
Simon McBurney: Noyle
Paul Lazar: Gillespie
Alyson Renaldo: Mirella Freeman
Adam LeFevre: Congressman Healy
Robyn Hitchcock: Laurent Tokar

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Movie Review: Seconds
reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

Seconds is arguably director John Frankenheimer's best film. Based on the excellent novel by David Ely, in it we meet middle-aged bank executive Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph in a masterfully shaded performance) whose life is so miserable he walks as if the earth might open at any moment and swallow him whole. His job drains him of humanity. His marriage is hollow and cold. His self-respect is rattling its last breath. He doesn't know how things came to this. He knows that he was once a decent man but he isn't any longer and he can't understand why. He feels alien to the world around him.

Then one day a stranger in the subway hands him a card with an address written on it; the stranger knows Hamilton's name, and as soon as we see the expression on Hamilton's face, we know that he has some idea why he's been handed this slip of paper.

That night Hamilton is called by a supposedly dead friend. "I have a wonderful new life!" he tells Hamilton. "I'm happy, old buddy, and I want to do the same for you!"

It seems there are these "people" who can give you a new life. A new face. A new voice and identity. They can give you a life where you are successful at the thing you always dreamed of (in Hamilton's case, being a famous artist). It costs a lot, and once the process has begun there is no turning back.

Hamilton, after much soul-searching, decides to go through with it, and embarks on a chilling journey to the secret headquarters where these "people" make arrangements for a new life. (He is taken there in the back of a meat delivery truck–some of the most unnerving black-humored symbolism I've ever encountered.) There he meets with the company president (Will Geer, Grandpa Walton himself, who is quietly and absolutely terrifying in the role) who has created this program. The decision made, the work begins, and soon Hamilton is transformed into the younger, more vital Antiochus "Tony" Wilson (played by Rock Hudson), given a new profession, a new home, a new life. Things are idyllic for a while, but eventually Hamilton's conscience and its questions about his old life drive him to return to his widow in an effort to find out where he went wrong.

Frankenheimer always dealt with extremes in his best pictures, and Seconds is possibly the most extreme film he ever made. His penchant for lean storytelling and muscular pacing is at its peak here, as is his use of his ought-to-be-patented foreground framing technique.

The film's biggest surprise, perhaps, is the performance of the late Rock Hudson. In a role originally slated to be played by Laurence Olivier (who the studio decided didn't have Hudson's box-office clout), Hudson displays a depth and power that viewers of Pillow Talk would never have thought possible.

Hudson's face is a subtle prism of conflicting emotions; every joy, every sorrow, every triumph and regret is there, etched into his expressions like words on a headstone. When something hits at his core, you see it on his face–and not in any heavy-handed, watch-me, watch-me way; Hudson's performance is one of impressive constriction, understatement, and substance, heart-felt and affecting, and (like the superb performance of Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler) a rare glimpse at a good but limited actor's one moment of true and undeniable greatness–which gives this film an added dose of bitter irony when viewed today: had Hudson lived, would he have wanted a second chance to prove his worth as an actor of substance and power?

Movie Information

Release Date: 1966
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rating: R (disturbing sequences and some nudity)
Color: B&W
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cinematographer: James Wong Howe
Writers: Lewis John Carlino (screenplay), David Ely (novel)
Cast:

Rock Hudson: Antiochus 'Tony' Wilson
Salome Jens: Nora Marcus
John Randolph: Arthur Hamilton
Will Geer: Old Man
Jeff Corey: Mr. Ruby
Richard Anderson: Dr. Innes
Murray Hamilton: Charlie
Karl Swenson: Dr. Morris
Khigh Dhiegh: Davalo
Frances Reid: Emily Hamilton
Wesley Addy: John
John Lawrence: Texan
Elisabeth Fraser: Blonde
Dodie Heath: Sue Bushman (as Dody Heath)
Robert Brubaker: Mayberry

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Movie Review: Sorcerer
by Gary A. Braunbeck

Sorcerer, made by William Friedkin in 1977 after his triumphs and numerous awards for both The French Connection and The Exorcist, was his own Apocalypse Now: a film that went over budget and took three times as long to film as originally planned, but one denied Apocalypse's subsequent fame, notoriety, and audience interest.

movie posterA remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, Sorcerer tells the story of four men, all wanted criminals, who flee to a nameless Third World country to escape punishment, imprisonment, torture, or death. When a devastating oil rig explosion offers the chance to make some big money very quickly (they have to transport old crates of leaking nitroglycerin over 200 miles of treacherous mountain road), each sees a chance to get out of this hell-hole country and forge a new life elsewhere, far from their regrets and old enemies.

Screenwriter Walon Green (who co-wrote The Wild Bunch with Sam Peckinpah) foregoes a script filled with meaningful dialogue and concentrates instead on expressionistic imagery to tell large chunks of the story. This, coupled with Friedkin's flair for jittery realism, gives Sorcerer an effective and gritty documentary feel.

I greatly admire both Sorcerer and The Wages Of Fear, but find my preference leaning toward Friedkin's film, if for no other reason because Sorcerer takes the time to establish these men in their previous lives so the viewer can have some sense of what they've been forced to abandon. Sorcerer possesses emotional layers where Wages opts for the coldly intellectual, and though both films are potentially devastating to the viewer, Sorcerer remains the more humane and accessible of the two.

Movie Information

Release Date: 1977
Running Time: 121 minutes
Rating: PG
Director: William Friedkin
Writers: Walon Green (screenplay), Georges Arnaud (1953 novel Le Salaire de la Peur)
Cast:
Roy Scheider: Scanlon/Dominguez
Bruno Cremer: Victor Manzon/Serrano
Francisco Rabal: Nilo
Amidou: Kassem/Martinez
Ramon Bieri: Corlette
Peter Capell: Lartigue
Karl John: Marquez
Frederick Ledebur: Carlos
Chico Martinez: Bobby Del Rios
Joe Spinell: Spider
Rosario Almontes: Agrippa
Richard Holley: Billy White
Anne-Marie Deschott: Blanche
Jean-Luc Bideau: Pascal
Jacques Francois: Lefevre

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sam Peckinpah
by Gary A. Braunbeck

Sam Peckinpah is the director who redefined screen violence; he is also one of my all-time favorite filmmakers.

He was born in Fresno, California on February 21, 1925 and died of a heart attack in 1984. In between, he was married five times and directed over a dozen ground-breaking films, mainly in the 60s and 70s.

He grew up on a ranch in the California mountains. His father was a judge, and Peckinpah was a rowdy teenager who eventually enlisted in the Marines. He was never put into combat, though.

After his discharge, he discovered theater and eventually got his lucky break in the early 50s when respected Hollywood director Don Siegel hired him as an assistant at Allied Artists. Peckinpah began writing scripts (he helped rewrite and had a small role in 1956's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") and got his first job directing in 1958 when he did an episode of the television series "Broken Arrow". His feature-length directorial debut was 1961's "The Deadly Companions".

Peckinpah, with films such as "Major Dundee" and "Ride the High Country", easily established himself as a great American director. Critics were quick (before "The Wild Bunch", anyway) to mention his name alongside those of John Ford and Howard Hawks.

Peckinpah hated it.

He hated it because in the "good old" Western the only characters an audience was asked to sympathize wih were, naturally, the good guys like Randolph Scott and Chuck Heston. When the so-called "bad guys" got blown away, it was supposed to make an audience cheer wildly.

Which, as Peckinpah was quick to point out, completely robbed the "Bad Guys" of any humanity whatsoever. Peckinpah was also quick to point out that the "bad guys" in "Shane" were given full identities, so why couldn't this be a trend that could set itself firmly in the American Western?

Because no one is supposed to care about the bad guys.

Peckinpah then set out to make an "anti-Western." A film that, while it might be set in the West, horses and posses intact, had nothing else in common with the type of films he'd been making -- and despising.

That film was "The Wild Bunch". In it audiences met the likes of Pike (William Holden in one of his finest hours) and his gang, a run-down, over-the-hill bunch of outlaws who time and progress has caught up with. They were old, tired, anachronistic, looking for a way out. Audiences learned to sympathize with these men as the film progressed, even side with them and, in the film's historic finale -- almost folklore now -- watch them die in blood-drenched slow motion, every agonized twitch dwelt upon until their mangled bodies lay dead before the camera.

Here was Peckinpah's genius with his bloody ballet of death: he'd made a Western, all right, but he'd shown it from the "bad guy's" point of view, and no one cheered when they died. The black and white way of presenting right and wrong was forever destroyed, and the myth of the American Western was forever debunked.

Peckinpah was then asked why he chose to make the violence so bloody, and why he chose to film it in slow motion. His reply (which I cannot quote verbatim) was something along these lines: "I thought audiences should be given a good, clear look at what they've been cheering all these years."

Peckinpah was accused throughout his career of glorifying violence, but he insisted he was doing the direct opposite: showing how repulsive it was by dwelling on it so much.

Partial Filmography:

"The Deadly Companions" (1961)
"Ride the High Country" (1962)
"Major Dundee" (1965)
"The Wild Bunch" (1969)
"Ballad of Cable Hogue" (1970)
"Straw Dogs" (1971)
"The Getaway" (1972)
"Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973)
"Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974)
"Killer Elite" (1975)
"Cross of Iron" (1977)
"Convoy" (1978)
"The Osterman Weekend" (1983)

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Movie Review: The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood
reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

This is a low-budget, sleazy, but high-spirited dirty movie from 1980 that has aged less well than many of the B-grade actors who starred in it. Adam West (Batman from the old TV series) is the most recognizable star, appearing as Lionel Lamely. The movie is supposed to show how the first "Happy Hooker" movie got made in Hollywood and is mainly a string of party sequences.

While it's pretty awful to the modern moviegoing eye, it does have a few amusing bits.

My favorite moment happens when Richard Deacon (you might remember him better as Mel, the befuddled producer on The Dick Van Dyke Show) in the role of a shifty Hollywood producer, is negotiating with a certain female author for the rights to film her book; the author tells him that she wants to make sure the essence of her book is captured by the filmmakers, and to this Deacon replies:
"Books, schmooks! Who do you know who reads books? Books are made for coffee tables or for something to look at while you're sitting on the toilet...but movies! Movies are for people with vision!"
I found it funny the first time I heard it, and I find it sharply perceptive now, something you'd never expect from a nervous-Nelly soft-core porno movie.

Movie Info

Rating: R
Alternate Title: Hollywood Blue
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Alan Roberts
Writer: Devin Goldberg
Cast:
Martine Beswick: Xaviera Hollander
Chris Lemmon: Robby Rottman
Adam West: Lionel Lamely
Richard Deacon: Joseph
Phil Silvers: Warkoff
Charles Green: Lawyer George
Lisa London: Laurie

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Movie Review: Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
by Gary A. Braunbeck

Early on in Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, one secondary character remarks: "Be content with your lot in life, no matter how poor it may be. Only then can you expect mercy."

movie posterNo other American director has understood or been able to capture the Mexican "culture of poverty" as unflinchingly as Peckinpah. Though Garcia may not be Peckinpah's best film (it continues to appear on several "All Time Worst" lists), it is without a doubt his most personal. From its lovely opening image (a young pregnant Mexican woman resting by a river, sunning herself) to its harrowing closing shot (a smoking Gatling gun), Garcia is unique, for no other film of Peckinpah's has so seamlessly managed to contain every element this often-brilliant director was obsessed with exploring: love, betrayal, desperation, tenderness in the face of brutality, loneliness, helplessness, anger, the struggle of integrity vs. conformity, friendship, and, of course, the futility of violence.

Peckinpah was accused throughout his career of glorifying violence, but he insisted he was doing the direct opposite: showing how repulsive it was by dwelling on it so much -- and on no film was he more accused of glorifying the violence he claimed to disdain than in Garcia.

The basic story goes like this: The beautiful daughter of a wealthy and powerful Mexican land baron is seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by one Alfredo Garcia, a shameless gambler/drunkard/womanizer. The land baron, El Jefe, assembles his soldiers and declares his outrage at the loss of his daughter's (and subsequently the lessening of his own) honor, and shouts: "Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!" And like the Knights of the Round Table questing for the Holy Grail, El Jefe's army is off and running.

Into this scenario enters an American expatriate named Bennie (Warren Oates) who is biding his time playing piano in a sleazy Mexico City bar. He is approached by two gangsters he often works for as a bagman (Robert Webber and Gig Young) who have been authorized to offer him a substantial piece of change if he'll hunt down and decapitate Alfredo Garcia. Bennie, despite many indecent instincts he's been trying to kill, accepts the offer, telling them he can use the money to take himself and his girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega, who remains the strongest female character to appear in a Peckinpah movie) somewhere far away and begin a new life.

Along the twisted way, Bennie proposes to Elita in what is arguably the most heartfelt and sadly moving scene Peckinpah ever filmed. The two run into and overcome several obstacles in their way (yes, I'm being deliberately vague here) before they find themselves at a rotting, neglected graveyard where the careless Garcia, shot by a gambling partner, is now buried.

The first half of this film has the loose narrative structure of an obscure European import; in fact, in places, it gets downright eccentric -- but I still say this film was condemned only because it came from Peckinpah; had it come from a director from New Zealand or France, critics would have drowned it in praise.

"Why does he think of this as a horror movie?" I hear you ask.

Because from the moment Bennie and Elita enter that wretched graveyard in the middle of the night, Garcia employs not only the classic visual elements of old horror movies (circling bats, wolves howling in the distance, misshapen shadows skulking in the background) but its heart and soul surrender to the horrific as well. The shadow-drenched grave robbing sequence is truly nightmarish, and from that scene on, the film begins a fast descent through all nine circles of Dante's Hell as Bennie makes his way across country with Garcia's decomposing head inside a wet burlap bag that is perpetually swarming with flies.

"Just you and me, Al, baby!" says Bennie, who spends the second half of the film slowly going insane. Warren Oates (who was infuriatingly underrated for most of his career) gives a fabulous performance as Bennie, making the man at once repulsive, sympathetic, heroic, romantic, and tragic. His fascinating and complex characterization was easily the best American film performance of 1974, yet was ignored by virtually everyone when it came time to hand out those overrated golden statuettes.

Bennie's "relationship" with Garcia's head gets so creepy by the film's end that I refuse to spoil it for you by going into any more details; suffice it to say that Bennie not only talks to Al, but often stops in the middle of a sentence to listen as Al gives him advice. (And that's not even the weird part.)

I am convinced that John McNaughton drew some of his visual and thematic inspiration for Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer from the second half of Garcia. Watch both films back-to-back and you might think you've just watched then first two movies in an uncompleted trilogy.

Movie Information

Rating: R
Release Year: 1974
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Writers: Gordon T. Dawson, Frank Kowalski, Sam Peckinpah
Main Cast:
Warren Oates: Bennie
Isela Vega: Elita
Robert Webber: Sappensly
Gig Young: Quill
Helmut Dantine: Max
Emilio Fernandez: El Jefe
Kris Kristofferson: Paco

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Images
reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

images posterIf you enjoy truly disturbing and mind-warping films, check out Robert Altman's 1972 film Images. It's an often horrific study of a children's author (played by Susannah York) and her rapid descent into genuine schizophrenia and paranoia.

The movie is just amazing, beautifully shot and directed to keep you off-balance. It also features a very interesting, pre-Star Wars score by John Williams.

Images is available on MGM DVD for about 10 bucks and should be seen by any and all fans of serious psychological horror.

Movie Information



Running Time: 101 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Robert Altman
Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond (who was later director of photography for Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
Writers: Robert Altman, Susannah York

Cast:
Susannah York: Cathryn
Rene Auberjonois: Hugh
Marcel Bozzuffi: Rene
Hugh Millais: Marcel
Cathryn Harrison: Susannah
John Morley: Old Man

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Pride of the Marines
a review by Gary A. Braunbeck

Pride of the Marines is a 1945 war drama starring John Garfield as the tormented marine Al Schmid. It's based on a novel by Roger Butterfield. This was one of the first movies to step away from the unconditional rah-rah nationalism of earlier WWII films and to portray the brutal nature of the conflict and terrible cost paid by the men who fought. In many ways, the movie was ahead of its time.

This movie contains one of the most terrifying and nerve-wracking sequences I've ever seen. Garfield and three of his buddies are trapped in a foxhole in a swamp, and the jungle surrounding them is swarming with Japanese soldiers. You never see the enemy soldiers, though early on you hear them yelling, "Marines, tonight you die!".

The marines can only see five feet in front of them because of the mist and fog, and one by one the guys are picked off by snipers (who take on the feeling of phantoms). Every once in a while you catch the glimpse of a shadow or hear the snapping of a twig...but that's it. As each of them falls to a sniper, the others become even more frightened and paranoid, until, near the end of the sequence (it's a good 10 - 12 minutes long, with no music, just sound effects and silence to build the unbearable tension), Garfield finally snaps and grabs the machine gun and begins firing blindily into the fog...

More would be a spoiler. It remains one of the most nerve-shatteringly suspenseful sequences I've seen.

Overall, the film is beautifully acted and it is one of Garfield's best performances. It's a pity it's not available on DVD, though you can very rarely find it shown on cable TV.

Movie Information


Rating: PG (were it re-released on DVD)
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Delmer Daves
Writer: Marvin Borowsky, Roger Butterfield, Delmer Daves
Score: Franz Waxman
Cinematographer: J. Peverell Marley
Cast:

John Garfield: Al Schmid
Eleanor Parker: Ruth Hartley
Dane Clark: Lee Diamond
John Ridgely: Jim Merchant
Rosemary DeCamp: Virginia Pfeiffer
Ann Doran: Ella Mae Merchant
Ann E. Todd: Loretta Merchant
Warren Douglas: Kebabian

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Friday, August 08, 2008

The Messiah on Mott Street
by Gary A. Braunbeck

The first time I was aware of art "happening" to me was when I was a little boy and was watching a first-run Night Gallery episode with my mom on December 15, 1971. The episode was "The Messiah on Mott Street," starring Edward G. Robinson, Tony Roberts, and Yaphet Kotto. The story centers on an old Jewish man named Abe Goldman (played by Robinson) who is sick and dying on Christmas Eve. Abe prays that a Messiah will save him from the Angel of Death, because if he dies, no one will be around to take care of his young grandson.

I realized about two-thirds of the way through that there was this little lump in my throat, and by the time the episode reached its unapologetically sentimental conclusion, I was bawling like a baby. So was my mom. Until the day she died, "The Messiah On Mott Street" remained her favorite Christmas episode of any television show. We had both been moved by Rod Serling's simple tale of redemption and miracles among the tenements, and as Mom was pouring herself and me some hot chocolate afterward, she wiped her eyes and said, "Oh, I swear, that Rod Serling can sure write good stories."

It wasn't until Mom said those words that I came back to reality long enough to realize that Rod Serling (who I knew from The Twilight Zone) had written the words that those people had said, and that his story had made both me and Mom cry (in that good but embarrassing way you never want to tell anyone about later), and that meant that words and stories could affect people.

Not a major unveiling as far as art exhibits go, but it did the trick for me. Watching that episode, knowing my reaction to it, Mom's reaction to it, and then her reaction about her reaction, brought it full-circle and I started crying again (silly, sentimental boy), and when Mom put her arm around my shoulder and told me it was all right, it was okay, it was just a television show, just a story, all I could manage to say was, "No, it wasn't," before I started in with the spluttering again.

I hadn't the experience or the brains to fully realize what was happening to me, so how in hell was I supposed to articulate it? It seemed to me then that, if this were a fair world and just universe, everyone would be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings as well as the people on Night Gallery had, and then maybe people wouldn't find themselves standing around with snot running down their face and tears in their eyes, frustrated because they couldn't find the words to express all they needed to convey.

So I began seeking out Rod Serling everywhere I could. I found collections of his short stories at the local library (Serling was a much-underrated prose writer) and read them all cover to cover, then started in again. Anytime a movie written by Serling came on television, Mom or dad would call me down to watch it. I became a Twilight Zone re-run junkie (still am), and you can bet your ass that mine was there in front of that television set every Wednesday night at 9 p.m. tuned to NBC for the next new episode of Night Gallery.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Movie Review: The Lathe Of Heaven
The Lathe of Heaven
directed by Fred Barzyk & David R. Loxton
starring Bruce Davison, Kevin Conway, and Margaret Avery
1980, PBS (available through New Video Group), unrated

reviewed by Ryan C. Lieske

I love science fiction. My first true love is horror, but SF would have to be a close second. I'll watch any overblown Hollywood SF action epic with billions of dollars in pyrotechnics, like Armageddon, and I even like silly little T&A romps like Species 2. But ultimately I like serious, dramatic SF films most, movies with well-developed stories and a real grasp of science, and not just a reliance on special effects and makeup.

They used to make idea-based movies all time: Forbidden Planet, the original Planet of the Apes, This Island Earth, Logan's Run, and Soylent Green. Sure, these movies had special effects and makeup and wonderful set design, but most importantly, they were about ideas. Some matter of technological science, or of psychology, or anthropology. Something to chew on. You had a damn good time watching them, but you could walk away from them with something to ponder. In recent years, the "smart, dramatic" SF film has been replaced by more action-oriented storytelling. And that's all fine and good; I enjoy those types of films immensely, as I said before. But it's nice to take a break once in awhile and let the brain actually do some thinking while watching a flick.

I can think of several films in the past ten to twenty years that fit in this category: E.T., Starman, Iceman, Contact, Gattaca, and Bicentennial Man (which, despite what critics would have you believe, is actually a very smart, poignant film).

There haven't been many, but those listed above were certainly thought-provoking and a nice break from the other films they most often got buried under at the box office. In 2000, Brian DePalma tried making a serious SF film with Mission to Mars, but he failed spectacularly.

And what does all this have to do with anything? Well, it is a preface to me telling you what I thought about a wonderful little movie that I recently found on DVD called The Lathe of Heaven. And it certainly fits into the intelligent SF category that I illustrated above.

This film was produced for public access and went missing sometime in the late 80s. It was thought to have been lost for good, but a 2" tape of it was found, and New Video has made a new digital master of it and finally brought it back to the public. I had never heard of the film before, but was familiar with Ursula K. Le Guin, the author of the book upon which it was based. I purchased the movies and found it to be a genuine delight.

Obviously, given the shape and format of the source material, the quality of the video transfer is on the rough side. The video's introduction details the resurrection of this movie and warns the viewer that "ghosting" and darkening of the images will be present. It is, however, the best possible production that could be done, and I thank the stars they were able to do that much, because it would be a real shame if this mini-masterpiece were lost forever. Besides, we movie geeks are used to watching poorly-transferred bootlegs of films we can't get in the States yet, so watching this film was hardly a chore compared to some truly awful PAL-scrambled videos I've sat through.

The Lathe of Heaven tells the story of George Orr (played by Bruce Davison), who fears that his dreams can change reality. He overdoes on some medication he's taking, and is then ordered by the state to seek professional psychiatric help. He goes to see Dr. William Haber (Kevin Conway), who dismisses George's fears at first. Then, after hypnotizing George and witnessing the transformative powers of his dreams first hand, he realizes that this poor soul has been given an extraordinary power. And the doctor sees this as a power that can be harnessed for the betterment of mankind, and for the planet, which has been ravaged by pollution and plague.

Once George catches on to the doctor's plans, he resists. He doesn't want to be a tool. He doesn't want to play God. From there, a fascinating morality play unfolds as the doctor tries to convince George that he wants to use him to make the world a better place; that God has given them this force to work with, and that they should not deny God's wishes. George just wants to live a normal life, but he can't control the dreams, and they change the world in many ways, some good, others not.

Davison and Conway play their parts with conviction, lending weight to the somewhat fantastic events. In the wrong hands, the performances could've been silly.

There are many layers to the movie, as you can imagine. Issues ranging from racism to environmental degradation to alien life zigzag across the landscape of the screen, sending the viewer into a journey where at first the solution seems simple, but as the tale unfolds, and we see more and more into the souls of the characters involved, we learn that most of the time in life, and in the universe, really, there are no simple answers. There can be no salvation without some damnation.

I don't want to really talk much more about it for fear of tainting your impressions going into it. It should be watched with a clear, open mind, letting it flow over you, sinking into you. You will want to talk to others about it afterwards, I promise. It may even bring a tear to your eye. There were times I got a bit choked up. At other times, chills scuttled over me, especially when the time comes that they explain the title. All I could say was "Wow."

I immediately went out and bought the novel. The DVD includes a taped interview with Le Guin by Bill Moyers, and she states that she is happy with the film, but that the film is of course not the book. If the film was that powerful, I can't wait to see how more there is to it on the page, where ideas can be expanded much more than in the confines of an hour and forty-minute film.

The interview is the only supplement on the DVD, but given the rarity that this film is, it's a joy just to have that on DVD. Although the interview is quite entertaining. Le Guin is extremely intelligent and personable to listen to. Hearing her discuss her work made me want to explore her literary endeavors beyond The Lathe of Heaven.

For fans of "serious, dramatic" SF, this is a true, mind-blowing, cerebral treat. Those who only look for lasers, spaceships, and slimy aliens in their SF will find this a chore to sit through. For all others, it is like manna from Heaven.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Movie Review: Tales of Terror

Tales of Terror - 1962
directed by Roger Corman
adapted by Richard Matheson
starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, and Joyce Jameson


reviewed by Ryan C. Lieske

Horror luminary Vincent Price stars in all three of the tales in this anthology, which is in my opinion one of the more enjoyable, if not entirely faithful, Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's work.

As usual, Corman seeks to wring every ounce of juice he can out of his miniscule budget, and for the most part here he succeeds. While not exactly terrifying, the film is still very entertaining, and, in places, almost creepy.

The film opens with its weakest entry: "Morella." Price plays Locke, a man haunted by the death of his beloved wife Morella, who died shortly after giving birth to their daughter Lenora. He has spent the subsequent 20-some years wishing for death (but unable to bring it upon himself for reasons he has never understood) and drinking himself into mournful stupors. When his estranged daughter returns home after many years of alienation, he must confront his hostility towards her (Morella blamed her death on Lenora, saying, on her deathbed, "It's because of the baby ... the baby...."). Once he discovers that his daughter only has a few months to live, he breaks down and attempts to reconcile with her. However, Morella (who also vowed revenge on her child moments before she expired) has other plans for this morose family reunion. "Morella" didn't make much of an impression, other than to make me worry about the quality of the other stories.

But my concerns were put to rest with the next tale, "The Black Cat," which an amalgamation of Poe's "The Cask of the Amontillado" and "The Tell-Tale Heart." This is the best of the three stories, and it's actually more humorous than the others. Peter Lorre plays Montresor Herringbone, a drunken old man who stumbles one night into a gathering of wine tasters. There, he meets Fortunato (Price, again), who can "name any wine just by tasting it." Lorre, looking only for free wine, passes himself off as a wine connoseur, and challenges Fortunato to a taste test. Eventually, Herringbone drinks himself silly, and it falls on Fortunato to guide him home. There, Fortunato is introduced to Herringbone's lovely wife Annabel. The two become lovers, and begin having an affair.

Soon, Herringbone discovers their trysts and goes about murdering them by sealing them behind a brick wall. Lorre makes this story all his. He plays his role of the drunken, jealous lover to perfection. The dark comedic highlight is the taste testing challenge. Watching Price's silly wine-tasting "techniques," and Lorre's mocking impersonations of him are worth the price of the video rental. There's also a rather strange dream sequence where Corman twists the camera angle so that everything on screen appears flattened and distorted, making Lorre and Price look like midgets with long arms. At one point, Price and his lover play catch with Lorre's head. If it wasn't so damn funny it might actually be disturbing.

And the film ends on a genuinely creepy note with the third and final tale, "The Case of M. Valdemar," which I've always though was the scariest story Poe ever wrote. Here Price plays the title character, a man on the verge of death. He has enlisted the help of a "mesmerist," played by Basil Rathbone. Rathbone is using hypnosis on Valdemar to ease his pain. He also manages to convince Valdemar to let him "mesmerize" him on the brink of death, so that Valdemar feels no pain, instead just slipping into a deep sleep from which he will never awake. Rathbone does just that, but something goes wrong (at least it appears to go wrong; Rathbone just may have some ulterior motives here): Valdemar's body does indeed die, but his spirit remains mesmerized, locked in stasis. They can hear his voice, coming out of the ether, but his dead lips do not move.

Matheson took artistic license with the original Poe stories, throwing in subplots of jealousy and adultery. He and Corman move the action along, while maintaining the essence of the original tales. While the video doesn't quite live up to its title, it's still an entertaining hour and a half, with great campy performances by three of the Elder Statesmen of Horror: Price, Lorre, and Rathbone. It's a pleasure to watch them work.

So, check this one out, that's what I say. It should please fans of Corman and his AIP Poe adaptations, not to mention fans of the aforementioned stars. This is some of their best work all around. While not high on scares or gore, it's still full of fun, despite its rather dull but watchable opening. As the back of the box promises, this is a "blood-dripping package that includes murder, necrophilia, dementia, live burials, open tombs, exhumation, resurrection, zombies and feline vengeance," so what else do you want?

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Movie Review: The Mummy Returns
reviewed by Jenise Aminoff

I have friends who read movie reviews and then go see the movies the reviewers hate because their tastes are so opposite. These friends probably lucked out and went to see "The Mummy Returns", despite its awful reviews. I say lucked out because I don't think the reviewers actually watched the movie. They just watched the trailer a few times, made their judgement, and wrote up the column. For example, Jay Carr of the Boston Globe review writes, "More money, more sand, more scorpions, more cavalry, more crumbling temples, more gold, more computer-generated imagery, more everything, except urgency and originality. The only suspense is not whether the intrepid Anglo interlopers will escape alive, but whether the film will, given the weight of special effects it's asked to carry." He gives the movie two stars.

Well, gee, that's about what we'd expect, right? That's certainly what I'd write if I'd only seen a few commercials. Having gone and paid the money and seen the movie, however, I'd say Carr missed a very important feature of the movie: it has a plot. In fact, it's even a fairly intricate and internally consistent plot. It is the Egyptian Year of the Scorpion, and Evelyn O'Connell (Rachel Weisz), our intrepid librarian, is led to an ancient temple by a dream. With uncanny prescience, she leads her husband Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) to the hidden treasure of the Scorpion King (The Rock), a bracelet which their son Alex promptly puts on once they return to London. A cult of egyptologists headed by the curator of the British Museum of History also wants the bracelet so that they can find the Scorpion King, defeat him, and take over his legions of Anubis's warriors. And who better to best the Scorpion King than our old friend, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the original Mummy from the first movie.

Unable to remove the bracelet, Imhotep's cronies kidnap Alex, forcing the O'Connells to chase Imhotep and the reincarnation of his lover, Ankh-na-Suman, across Egypt to save their son and the world in general. Along the way, we learn that Evelyn, too, is a reincarnation of a historical figure (although her identity will make you groan), and that Rick's past includes a mysterious tattoo indicating a predestined role in the upcoming conflict with the Scorpion King. And all of this actually meshes with the plot of the previous movie, one glaring continuity error aside.

Now, I'm not saying this is high art. There are numerous historical inaccuracies, not least of which is a jet-powered dirigible in the 1930s, when Von Braun was still experimenting with backyard rockets, not to mention that having large flaming objects anywhere near a bag full of what's probably hydrogen gas is an amazingly bad idea. My biggest gripe, however, is that the music soundtrack is absolutely terrible. At times reminiscent of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the soundtrack is mind-bogglingly unoriginal, and forgettable. Not a great marketing point.

However, they've planted a number of sequel hooks, some obvious, like Rick's tattoo (and I do want to watch the prequel again to see if he had it then), and some very subtle, like the mysterious Book of Life that shows up for all of two seconds and then is never mentioned again. Where is it? Who has it? And what can it be used for?

Overall, I'd say Jay Carr and most other reviewers slept through a whole star's worth of rating. It's definitely worth seeing, not just for the impressive special effects, not just for Brendan Fraser's stunning blue eyes, not even for the Crouching Tiger moments of full-out female fight scenes, but also to see that rarest of gems, a decent plot in a Hollywood action flick.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Psycho and the power of good film editing
by Gary A. Braunbeck

I once had the pleasure of spending fifteen minutes at a bar with the late, great Robert Bloch talking about movies, fiction, and peoples' misconceptions about what they both see and read.

Bloch told me -- as he did many other fans over the decades -- that he still had people come up to him and complain about how bloody and violent they found the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's film version of Bloch's novel Psycho. ("Thank God I didn't have her sitting on the toilet," Bloch always said.)

People complained about Janet Leigh's nudity and complained that seeing her naughty bits so offended their sensibilities; they complained about the excessive amounts of blood; and they complained, consistently, about the violence of seeing the knife plunge into Ms. Leigh's body over and over.

Go back and watch Psycho and pay particular attention to the shower sequence. Hitchcock -- aided greatly by the work of the brilliant film editor George Tomasini -- pulled off a dark magic trick that to my mind has yet to be equaled in American film: they made you believe you were seeing things that weren't actually depicted.

You do not see Janet Leigh's naughty bits. You do not see blood splattering all over everything. And you most definitely do not ever, even once, see the knife plunge into Ms. Leigh's body. But the sequence is so brilliantly filmed and edited that viewers were -- and some still are -- left with the impression that, dammit, they saw all of that.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Movie Review: A Sound of Thunder
A Sound of Thunder is Peter Hyams' 2005 film version of Ray Bradbury's 1953 time travel story of the same name.

We rented the movie because my husband was in the mood for an entertainingly bad movie (sometimes, you just want cheese, you know?). It was indeed fairly entertaining, and not quite as bad as we'd been led to believe.

It has two major problems:

1. The lead actor, Ed Burns, displays one of two facial expressions ("blank" and "vaguely annoyed") throughout the entire film. Case in point: when a character with whom his character has a close, brother/sister type relationship gets killed horribly -- he looks blank, then vaguely annoyed.

2. It was clearly intended as an eye-candy FX film -- and the effects looked really unfinished. The movie was heavily CGI-based, and almost all the CGI needed another rendering pass or two before it would be ready for audiences.

Apparently, the movie ran over budget in post-production, and the studio refused to front the money for proper completion. They shelved the almost-finished film for a couple of years, then dumped it in theaters.

While parts of it run like a checklist of action movie cliches, Thunder is really no dumber than other big loud skiffy films like The Day After Tomorrow, The Core, or Paycheck, and it does have some fairly witty dialog in places. And Ben Kingsley is fun to watch.

While I agree that Ray Bradbury's work deserves a better treatment, even with the underbaked FX and sleepwalking star, I think most science fiction fans would find this a more enjoyable movie than, say, Elektra.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Movie Review: Bubba Ho-Tep
by Gary A. Braunbeck

Bubba Ho-Tep is one of my favorite 2003 movies. It's an extremely adept adaptation of Joe Lansdale's novella of the same name by director Don Coscarelli. Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis are wonderful in their respective roles as elderly men who may or may not be Elvis and JFK stuck in a nursing home in Mud Creek, Texas* who must do battle with an Egyptian mummy who is brought to unlife after his museum box is dumped in a creek near the home.

The low-budget movie circulated the U.S. in extremely limited release last year. My wife and I took my nephew to see while it played in Columbus for a week -- to sold-out showings, no less -- at our local art house theater, the Drexel. Afterward, many people my nephew talked about the movie to in his home town wouldn't believe it was an actual movie.

However, now that Bubba Ho-Tep has been released on DVD, everyone who missed it in theaters can get themselves a copy. And in my book, it's an excellent purchase for any movie fan's library. I bought my nephew one just so he could prove to all his friends he didn't just make the whole thing up.

The movie is wonderful all the way around, with great performances from everyone, right down to the smallest supporting character. It's got all of Lansdale's trademark humor and off-center poignancy.

The transfer is gorgeous, and seeing it again (this time on the small screen) made me appreciate the director's use of comic-book angles more than I did inb the theater. There's a surprising amount of extras, but the single biggest reason to own this (aside from having the movie itself) is for the secondary audio track where Bruce Campbell as Elvis comments on the film as if he's seeing it for the first time. It's basically a 90-minute performance piece, and it's utterly hysterical.

What surprised me upon my second (and third) viewing (yes, I watched it twice -- c'mon, you know I have no life) was that there are countless little throwaway character bits that I didn't catch the first (or even second) time. A lot of love went into the making of this movie, a lot of care was taken, and the result -- even if you have some quibbles about it -- is undeniably a unique (in the dictionary sense of the word) movie: you ain't ever seen nothin' like this before.

The other surprise was the level of poignancy in the movie; this thing would have been a disaster if the filmmakers had decided to make fun of the elderly, or to play its two lead characters for laughs; they don't. The characters -- outrageous as they are -- are treated with respect and given dignity, and I was shocked that during the "salute" moment near the end, I actually got a little choked up.

Helluva good movie, a new cult classic (as it deserves to be -- the masses aren't ready for something like this).

I'd most definitely give this movie ***1/2, hands-down -- and it's ***1/2 instead of **** because I have a quibble: I think it takes just a tad too long to set up its premise, but that in no way diminishes the enjoyment.


* They shot the movie on-location in an actual nursing home in the actual town of Mud Creek, Texas. When you watch the movie, you'll notice that aside from JFK's room, the home looks pretty run-down. The home had been closed down temporarily for badly-needed repairs.




Gary A. Braunbeck is the author of 14 books and over 150 short stories. If you enjoyed this article, take a look at his book Fear in a Handful of Dust: Horror as a Way of Life.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter

The film The Sweet Hereafter is based on the novel of the same name written by Russell Banks. If you enjoyed the film, I encourage you to seek out the book, because it's wonderful. If you want to be a writer, or if you simply enjoy a good story, the novel has a great deal to offer you.

The book's central event is a school bus crash that kills many children in the small town of Sam Dent in upstate New York; the rest of the book explores the effect the tragedy has on the town and the novel's central characters.

The Sweet Hereafter provides the best example I've ever encountered of an author alternating between several first person narrators. It's told from four viewpoints: Dolores Driscoll, the bus driver; Billy Ansel, a grieving, alcoholic father of one of the dead children; Mitchell Stephens, a New York City lawyer who is trying to cope with grief over his own drug-addicted daughter; and Nichole Burnell, a teenager who was crippled in the accident.

Banks establishes such distinct cadences for each character that when all four of them are talking to one another, he goes sometimes for pages without a single "he said," "she said."

The book is 257 pages long and was first published in 1991, though parts of it appeared before that date in North American Review and Ontario Review.



Gary A. Braunbeck is the author of 14 books and over 150 short stories. If you enjoyed this review, check out his book Fear in a Handful of Dust: Horror as a Way of Life.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

The Ring vs. Ringu

The Ring, a 2002 American re-make of a Japanese film called Ringu, is a wonderfully disquieting film. I've seen literally hundreds of horror movies, and I was genuinely creeped out at the end of this one. I encourage all of you who enjoy intelligent horror/suspense films to check this one out if you haven't already.

The movie deals with uncovering the horror behind videotape that kills those who watch it. Those of you who haven't seen the film would do well to read no further....

Movie Review (with spoilers)

This movie closely follows the course set by Ringu, though there are definite changes; the protagonist father is turned from a conflicted psychic to a feckless videographer, and the protagonist mother's character has taken on a hard, heedless edge. The central disaster has been turned from a volcanic eruption to the mysterious death of the Morgan horses. The Ring's plot unfolds in a less straightforward fashion than Ringu's, and I enjoyed the other changes made for the American version.

Naomi Watts' performace as the driven Rachel Keller is wonderful. This woman refuses admit defeat, refuses to give up, and that is both her strength and her fatal flaw. We get a glimpse of how her refusal to give up can have a dangerous side when she is heading out to the old Morgan horse farm on the ferry. She tries to pet a horse on the ferry, persisting even when the horse starts to spook at her touch. She refuses to believe that she'd truly frighten a horse, and as a result the poor beast breaks out of his pen and leaps to his death in the cold ocean water. This event foreshadows her decision at the end of the film to do Samara's bidding and get her son to copy the tape and show it to others; she holds the little boy's hands down on the machine's buttons to ensure that he'll do it. Her overriding goal is to keep her son alive; her act seems to stem less from motherly love and more from her fierce, stubborn refusal to lose.

David Dorfman turns in a very good performance as Rachel's son Aidan Keller. The boy has an unnatural maturity that I think was both intentional and appropriate. His character has been abandoned by his self-absorbed parents as much as Samara was; he's praised for his independence, but what choice does he have? His mother is seemingly totally devoted to her career as a reporter and prefers that her own son call her "Rachel" rather than "mom". His father is almost totally absent from his life. He struck me a bit like the child of alcoholic parents; kids in that situation often seem unusually mature, because keeping the household in order has fallen onto them because the parents can't be relied upon. And, ultimately, Samara uses the boy to get to his mother Rachel, who as a reporter is uniquely suited to spread the tape. Noah receives visions from her well before he ever sees the tape himself. Samara needs Rachel to spread the tape; her other victims -- especially Rachel's niece, one of the first victims -- are disposable bait.

Having seen the movie several times now, I wonder if Aidan's connection with Samara is as simple as her being able to more directly influence a child closer to her own age. Aidan has dark eyes, but Rachel and Noah both have blue eyes. Blue-eyed parents can't genetically produce a child with dark eyes. This could either be a flub on the part of the filmmakers -- or it's intentional, foreshadowing that Aidan isn't Noah's biological son. It could be a clue that, when taken with Aidan's behavior, points to him having a mysterious parentage that further connects him with Samara.

Martin Henderson was believable as Noah, Aidan's absentee father and Rachel's old flame. Noah is talented and clever, but he doesn't have much in the way of common sense or maturity. Until the events of the film bring him and Rachel closer together, he's refused to even try to be a father to his boy, assuming that no father is better than a flawed one. Noah's fatal flaw is that he's too slow to put the pieces together and learns his lessons far too late.

Brian Cox does well in a small but important role as the reclusive Richard Morgan, Samara's understandably less-than-doting father. I really enjoy Cox's performances, and wished he had a bit more screen time here.

Daveigh Chase played Samara Morgan. She had relatively little screen time, but she was appropriately creepy, particularly in the mental hospital scenes.

Samara's character really intrigued me. She is the most restless of restless spirits -- she never sleeps, not even in death.

When Rachel and Noah discover the well hidden beneath the cabin, I thought I knew exactly where the movie was going. This same plot twist was used in the 1980 Peter Medak film The Changeling. The events of that film come about because a young, crippled boy is killed by his father and replaced with a healthy child so that his father can keep the family fortune. The child is disposed of in a well, and a house built on the well. The child's hurt, angry spirit haunts the house, but when his bones are uncovered and his murderer exposed, his spirit is also laid to rest and the poltergeist occurances disappear after the murdering father's "replacement" son dies and the family mansion burns.

But Samara's spirit doesn't seek vengeance (or at least not entirely). She had a taste for torment long before she died; in fact, it was her own mother, who had long yearned for a child, who dumped her in the well in an effort to get the evil occurences on the island to stop.

And that's the crux of the movie: Samara was no innocent young girl locked away and then murdered by mad parents. She was the fleshly embodiment of an evil spirit from the day she was born.

My own personal take on this is that Samara represents, if not an actual anti-Christ figure, then something like an anti-prophet. Many of the holiest figures of the Bible -- Isaac, Jacob, John the Baptist -- were born to barren mothers, women who supposedly could not conceive children. Samara's mother likewise could not have children. Early on, the island's doctor says that Samara was adopted as an infant, but Noah later discovers a birth certificate in Samara's medical files. After multiple miscarriages, Anna Morgan gave birth to Samara; only, presumably, Richard Morgan was not the child's true father.

Samara also engages in the activities of an anti-prophet. What do prophets do above all else? They spread the religious memes of their God. Samara's burning desire is to spread her nightmarish visions through the videotape, spread the meme of her evil. If, after seeing her nightmare, characters fails to spread it further, Samara kills them. As chain letters go, Samara's is pretty diabolical.


Movie Information

Running Time: 109 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Director: Gore Verbinski

Writer: Ehren Kruger, based on Hiroshi Takahashi's screenplay of Koji Suzuki's novel Ringu

Music: Hans Zimmer

Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli (who also shot Pumpkinhead)

Cast:

Naomi Watts: Rachel Keller
Martin Henderson: Noah
David Dorfman: Aidan Keller
Brian Cox: Richard Morgan
Jane Alexander: Dr. Grasnik
Lindsay Frost: Ruth
Amber Tamblyn: Katie
Rachael Bella: Becca
Daveigh Chase: Samara Morgan
Shannon Cochran: Anna Morgan
Sandra Thigpen: Teacher
Richard Lineback: Innkeeper

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Movie Review: Manhunter vs. Red Dragon
Director Michael Mann's Manhunter is among my favorite movies; this 1986 release was the first film based on Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. The studio opted not to use Harris' title because at that time his books were not as well known and they were afraid people would think it was a kung fu movie.

Those of you who've seen the more recent Brett Ratner/Ted Tally adaptation Red Dragon know the basic plot. Serial killer Francis Dollarhyde is slaughtering entire families to create grisly fantasy tableaus to "do as God does" and become the godlike dragon from the William Blake's painting "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed With The Sun" and overcome his powerless past. Retired detective Will Graham (who has the uncanny ability to put himself in the mindset of the killers he's tracked) is enlisted to find the killer, whom the police have nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" because of the impressive bite marks he leaves on his victims. Graham retired because of the physical and mental damage he sustained in discovering and capturing the serial-killing, cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, and as he sets out on his search for The Tooth Fairy, he seeks advice from his old nemesis in the mental hospital.

This movie is exceedingly watchable in part because of Mann's directorial style, but also because of the excellent performances by William L. Petersen as Will Graham, Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter and Tom Noonan as Dollarhyde. This is easily character actor Noonan's most memorable performace, and he is one of the creepiest, freakiest villains to come out of 1980s cinema. The scene where Dollarhyde confronts the tabloid reporter he's kidnapped and strapped into an antique wheelchair, forces him to read a letter of apology into a tape recorder, then bites the terrified man's tongue out is something to behold. But the scene right after it in which we see the reporter set on fire and rolling down a parking garage ramp is an image that will stay with you for a long time; they couldn't top this scene in Red Dragon, and they didn't really try.

And the soundtrack, my friends, does not suck (well, okay, the closing song "Heartbeat" is rather painful, but the rest's quite decent). The use of Shriekback's atmospheric, seductive instrumental "Coelacanth" in the scene where blind Reba caresses the tiger Dollarhyde's taken her to see is just perfect. So is The Prime Movers' "Strong As I Am" as the sad, seething Dollarhyde watches Reba saying goodnight to the doomed coworker who took her home. And nobody, and I mean nobody I've met who's intently watched the climactic final battle between Dollarhyde and Graham can listen to Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" again without thinking about the movie.


Comparing Manhunter and Red Dragon


When I and my housemates (who are even bigger Manhunter fans than I am) learned of the 2002 Red Dragon adaptation, we bitched. God, did we bitch and moan and gnash our teeth. Manhunter had gone without the audience and box office money it deserved, and now they were using Anthony Hopkins and an all-star cast to remake a movie that didn't need remaking?

We cynically believed they were only doing the new adaptation so they could release Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon as a DVD trilogy with Hopkins as Hannibal and the movie refilmed with the same dark, dungeonlike tones as Silence and Hannibal (Manhunter is mostly shot in bright tones, and the psychiatric prison where Lecter is kept is a white, antiseptic institution).

So I was prepared to dislike Red Dragon on general principle, and avoided seeing it in theaters. However, when I finally saw it on DVD, once I stopped grumbling about it I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both are very worthwhile movies with different strengths and weaknesses.

Red Dragon is indeed visually a much darker movie, though interestingly cinematographer Dante Spinotti filmed both Manhunter and Red Dragon, so it's worth watching both movies as a comparison if you're interested in moviemaking. Lecter's prison is once again the dark, stony dungeon modern audiences have come to know. The open, arty house of Manhunter's Dollarhyde has been replaced with the gothic Dollarhyde mansion of Harris' novel.

Red Dragon is more faithful to the plot Harris' novel, and for that I've got to give it big kudos. In Red Dragon we get to see more of Dollarhyde and his history as well as seeing the original, fateful confrontation between Graham and Lecter.

I had my doubts about Ralph Fiennes playing Dollarhyde. Fiennes is handsome and slightly built, whereas Noonan is imposingly tall. How could anyone believe Fiennes as Dollarhyde? The movie does well to show the effects of child abuse on Dollarhyde, and to show that his perception of himself as ugly and unloveable is largely in his own mind. Fiennes does a great job and overcomes his apparent miscasting.

Edward Norton, unfortunately, does not overcome his mis-casting. Norton is one of my favorite actors, but he was just not the right choice to play Graham. Petersen's performance was right the first time, and Norton could never make me stop wishing he were Petersen. Philip Seymour Hoffman was surprisingly unremarkable as reporter Freddy Lounds. And Anthony Hopkin's hammy performance made me pine for the subtle menace of Brian Cox's Lecter.

The female actors, on the other hand, are uniform improvements in Red Dragon. With the reversion of the plot to that of the book, Molly Graham has a much more pivotal role, and Mary-Louise Parker delivers a performance Kim Griest could not. And Emily Watson shines as the blind Reba McClane; she was the one perfectly-cast character in the bunch.


DVD, DVD, Which DVD?


There have been three DVD releases of Manhunter: the plain one-disk release, the two disk Limited Edition set, and the recent one-disk Restored Director's Cut Divimax Edition.

I've seen them all, and can confidently say that the Restored Director's Cut Divimax Edition is not worth the money. While some cut scenes have been restored, they don't add that much to the movie. And the final fight scene has been recut in a manner that isn't nearly as good as the versions on the other DVDs. If you have the money to spend and really enjoy the film, the two-disk set is the way to go. Otherwise, you'll do fine picking up the plain-jane release that you can find in bargain bins here and there.

Aggravatingly enough, none of the supposedly definitive DVD releases contain an important scene in which Graham talks about Dollarhyde and the effect child abuse had on him. His dialog goes something like this: "This man wasn't born a monster; he was made one. And while I cry for the child who suffered so much, the rest of me wants to blow the sick fuck out of his socks." Another point for Red Dragon is that it does contain a scene with a version of this speech, which I and others feel is pivotal for understanding Dollarhyde's character and Graham's insights.


This review first appeared in Full Unit Hookup.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

On movie reviewers

I've been thinking about movie reviewers today. Specifically, I'm remembering the time that my husband and some friends of ours hit the dollar theater to see Ghost Ship.

We were fully expecting a big, steaming screen full of cinematic cheese, a movie so awful it'd be giggly fun. Almost every critic had lambasted the flick as utter trash, so it had to suck like a sump pump, right?

Fifteen minutes into the movie, my husband nudged me and whispered, "Is it just me, or is this actually kinda decent?"

And it didn't suck. In fact, it was a pretty solid retelling of The Flying Dutchman legend with some modern embellishments. Sure, it had a few problems: the pacing was rushed in places and hurt the suspense, and there were some unfortunate music choices that were obviously failed ploys to make the scenes "cooler" for younger audiences. But the effects were well-used and well done, the dialog was good, the story interesting (if not always scary) and even minor characters had their moments. The problems I saw with the movie smelled like studio interference to me: they'd probably forced the director to cut the time down, add a couple of extraneous scenes to amp up the gore, and change the music.

All four of us liked this film, which is somewhat unusual in that our friends don't have much patience for old-style horror films (they proclaimed The Exorcist to be "boring" when they finally saw it last year) and they won't forgive what they perceive to be a poor ending (which is partly why they deeply disliked Signs, though mostly it was because they couldn't see that film for what it was: a fable with science fiction trappings rather than actual science fiction).

But most every reviewer said Ghost Ship is crap. It's not; it's a very watchable film with a solid story. It ain't the second coming of Citizen Kane, of course, but it's not the utter trash critics claimed.

Which leads me to my rant: I'm sick and tired of critics who persist in reviewing movies in genres that they fundamentally don't like or don't appreciate.

If you don't like science fiction films, or horror films, why review them? Just so you'll have something to pee on that week? You're not helping your readers make useful decisions about whether or not they should spend money on something.

Movie reviewers should first and foremost be movie fans.

They should like movies, not just art house flicks or Polanski films or the hot young director du jour. They should appreciate it all: foreign films, schlocky horror, head-bending science fiction, gritty noir. They should know what kind of an audience will like what kind of movie, and make recommendations therefrom.

But I see too many reviewers who are cinema snobs. If it's got any kind of a budget or a hint of the fantastic, they hate it. Columbus' The Other Paper has a reviewer who is so predictably snotty that if he hates something, I make a mental note to seek it out, at least on video (he's not quite consistent enough for his distaste to be useful to me for full-price movies).

So. Here at Look What I Found In My Brain!, I will try do my very best to be a useful reviewer. I might not like a movie, but if I think you might, I'll say so.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Movie Review: Altered States

Altered States is a 1980 movie directed by British filmmaker Ken Russell. It deals with an American scientist, Eddie Jessup (played by William Hurt and based on John C. Lilly), who does experiments on human consciousness using hallucinogenic drugs, an isolation chamber, and himself as a guinea pig.

The movie is based on a novel of the same title by noted playwright Paddy Chayefsky, who also did the script adaptation. While the movie is decent enough for early-80s science fiction fare and has some very cool visuals, the novel is much better, and I highly recommend it.

The movie would have been much better if not for Russell's bias against Chayefsky. The problem was, Russell hated Chayefsky's script from the outset. However, Chayefsky's contract stated that Russell could not rewrite or otherwise tamper with the script. So, Russell instructed his actors to speak their lines as quickly as they possibly could.

As a result, the poetic cadences in Chayefsky's dialog were destroyed, and some fairly high-level scientific discussion was rushed through, much to the detriment of audiences being able to understand and process what was said.

Enraged by Russell's sabotaging of his script, Chayefsky had his name removed from the film, adopting instead the pseudonym Sidney Aaron (his given first and middle names).

Despite all this, the film did very well and is the most financially successful of Russell's career to date.

The movie is also of note because it was the first film appearance of both William Hurt and Blair Brown. One also gets to see a very young Drew Barrymore before she rocketed to stardom in E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.

Cast:

  • William Hurt -- Eddie Jessup
  • Blair Brown -- Emily Jessup
  • Drew Barrymore -- Margaret Jessup
  • Megan Jeffers -- Grace Jessup
  • Bob Balaban -- Arthur Rosenberg
  • Charles Haid -- Mason Parrish
  • Thaao Penghlis -- Eccheverria
  • Miguel Godreau -- Primal Man
  • Dori Brenner -- Sylvia Rosenberg
  • Peter Brandon -- Hobart
  • Charles White-Eagle -- The Brujo
  • Jack Murdock -- Hector Orteco
  • Frank McCarthy -- Obispo
  • John Larroquette -- the X-Ray Technician

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Movie Review: Star Trek: Nemesis

I saw Star Trek: Nemesis opening weekend after friends dragged me to the movies. I hadn't planned on seeing it so soon, as I found Star Trek IX: Insurrection to be a bit weak. I'd seen some lukewarm reviews of Nemesis and figured I'd catch it on video or at the dollar theater.

I'm glad my friends talked me into seeing it, because Nemesis was all around a good movie. The script was well-written and the story was put together carefully. Stuart Baird's direction is good, as is the acting, and the pace is gripping. One does have to ignore a few instances of bogus skiffy physics, but that's par for the course.

In short: if you are a fan of Star Trek and didn't catch Nemesis when it was in theaters, it's a worthwhile rental (and you might like it enough to buy it). You'll have a good time watching it; there are some nice comic moments early on before the movie gets serious, and you'll see some of the best action sequences of any of the Star Trek series. One of my friends thought this was the best of the recent batch of Trek movies. I liked First Contact quite a lot, and would have to see it again before I'd rank Nemesis as being better. At any rate, Nemesis is much better than Insurrection.

Spoilers follow ....

The story opens with Commander Riker and Counselor Troi's wedding (Wesley Crusher is in this part, but he is only seen at a table; presumably he had scenes that may end up on the DVD as outtakes). They plan to travel on the Enterprise to her homeworld to have a second wedding and honeymoon. Meanwhile, the entire Romulan senate is assassinated with the aid of a device that releases a type of radiation that destroys all life it touches.

En route to the wedding, the Enterprise detects positronic emissions on a planet near the Neutral Zone. They investigate, and discover a dismembered android that looks just like Data. This android is B4, a prototype for Data. The crew takes the confused, childlike B4 onboard, not realizing that B4 is an unwitting pawn of Shinzon, the Reman who has used the bloody coup to set himself up as Praetor of Romulus. B4 is both bait to make sure that the Enterprise is the closest ship to Romulus and a naive spy to gather information for Shinzon.

The Enterprise is contacted by Admiral Janeway, who instructs them to travel to Romulus. Praetor Shinzon claims he wants peace between the Romulan Empire and the Federation and freedom for his fellow Remans, but he is secretly planning to unleash a doomsday device and kill all life on Earth, thus crippling the Federation and leaving it ripe for Romulan takeover. Shinzon, who is a genetically-modified clone of Captain Picard, is also dying, and needs a full transfusion of Picard's blood to cure him of his sickness. Thus, his reasons for bringing the Enterprise to Romulus are twofold.

Tom Hardy does very well as Shinzon. Hardy's clone is an intense, angry, desperate, arrogant young man with Picard's tactical talents and intelligence and a black streak of violence bred by his brutal youth. Whereas Picard had a bucolic childhood at his family's vineyards and a cultured education at Starfleet, Shinzon was created to become Picard's replacement doppelganger. Taught to be a spy as a child, his project was abandoned and he was cast into slavery in the dilithium mines of Remus and raised by a Reman warrior (played by Ron Perlman). He is curious about Picard, but has a complex hatred for him as well. Shinzon envies Picard's life and feels that as long as Picard lives, he will be nothing more than a shadow, a copy.

Patrick Stewart does a wonderful job as always as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. When he discovers who Shinzon really is, he wants to believe the young man's story of wanting peace, but he wisely distrusts him. Picard feels sorry for the young man, and wants to try to save him. But when Shinzon's evil nature is revealed, Picard is shaken by Shinzon's accusation that Picard would do as the young man has done, were he in his position.

In many ways, though, this is Brent Spiner's movie. In addition to being one of the co-writers of the story, he plays both Data and B4. Data has a crucial role in this movie, and in the end saves his crewmates and stops Shinzon at a terrible cost to himself.

My only quibble with the movie, aside from a very minor issue of the film portraying Picard as having been bald in his 20s, is the portrayal of Romulan Commander Donatra (played by Dina Meyer). Donatra was a minor character, but an important one, and considering the role she played in the outcome, her character needed a bit more development/clarification and screen time.

And, on a final note, the geek in me wished they'd gone a bit more into the nature of the Remans. It seems unlikely that their species could have evolved on a hostile planet like Remus. If so, how? If not, were they the original inhabitants of Romulus? I also wished they'd gone a bit more into the Viceroy's character. Ron Perlman didn't have enough to do in this role.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Review: The Powerpuff Girls Movie

I enjoy the Powerpuff Girls animated TV show, but I'm by no means a hardcore fan. I had no real desire to see this film, which I fully expected to be nothing more than a padded-out, gussied-up-with-better-animation TV episode. But, when my friends pestered me to go opening weekend, I figured I'd be a sport.

And I'm glad I got talked into going. This movie was an altogether pleasant surprise, and I had a great time. The writing was sharp and witty, and there are plenty of laughs for adults as well as the wee ones, and it has a well-developed plot.

Plot, you say?

Yes, indeed. In this movie, we learn the details of The Powerpuff Girls' creation and their subsequent decision to become crimefighters. We also learn that their arch-nemesis Mojo Jojo began life as a destructive little chimp in Professor Utonium's laboratory; he becomes a supervillain when he is splashed with the same Chemical X that gives the girls their superpowers.

The girls initially become pariahs after they gleefully lay waste to Townsville in a game of "Tag" that gets out of control after their first day of school. Forced to walk home alone after the Professor is thrown in jail for their destructiveness, they encounter Jojo, who has become a hobo in a cardboard box. Jojo tricks them into helping him create his headquarters and a laboratory to create an army of superintelligent monkeys (who, of course, rapidly get out of his control).

The girls, of course, ultimately redeem themselves in their usual rambunctious manner after a soul-searching scene on a distant, chilly asteroid. The puns and parodies come fast and furious along with the frenetic non-stop animated action. Watch for lots of Planet of the Apes and King Kong references in the final battle sequences.

A few of my favorite lines:

  • "It's time to oppose the thumb!"
  • "You're not evil! You're just really dirty!"
  • "There's too many monkeys!"

It's a gem of a cartoon; if you have any liking for the TV show, I can almost guarantee you'll have a lot of fun watching this.


DVD update:

We got the DVD of this movie pretty much the day it came out, and the extras make it worth at least renting if you enjoyed the movie. One slight downside (for some of us) is that the movie has apparently only been released in the full-screen version, although the outtakes are in widescreen. Fortunately, the aspect was not so wide that the movie's composition is really harmed by the reduction.

For instance, there's a gloriously off-color bit in the "deleted scenes" section. It takes place when the mayor and the angry mob accost the professor as he leaves his house to pick up the girls. The frame focuses on Sara Bellum's ample cleavage, and then she slowly raises a wanted poster of the girls into the frame as she asks, "Are these your babies, Professor?"

Other fun tidbits include gag interviews with the main characters and lots and lots of behind-the-scenes documentary segments.

The movie has a high repeat-watchability factor. We watched it twice in a row right out of the box due to housemates arriving home during the end credits and exclaiming, "Powerpuff Girls! We wanna see, too!" so we started it over and I didn't get sick of it. However, upon the third viewing, I finally noticed the one real plot hole in the film: why does the professor never notice his lab chimp's gone missing? Ah well, it's still a fun movie.


Movie Credits and Info

Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Release Date: July 3, 2002

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Director: Craig McCracken

Writers: Craig McCracken, Amy Keating Rogers, Don Shank

Art Director: Mike Moon

Animation Director: Genndy Tartakovsky

Storyboard Artists: Charlie Bean, Lauren Faust, Craig McCracken, Paul Rudish, Don Shank

Voice Cast:

Blossom: Catherine Cavadini
Bubbles: Tara Strong (Tara Charendoff)
Buttercup: Elizabeth Daily (E.G. Daily)
Mayor/Narrator: Tom Kenny
Mojo Jojo: Roger L. Jackson
Professor Utonium: Tom Kane
Ms. Keane: Jennifer Hale


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Thursday, July 21, 2005

TV Review: Dead Like Me

"Dead Like Me" is a series that debuted in the summer of 2003 on Showtime; it was inexplicably cancelled after just two seasons.

This show was completely off my radar initially, but I was hooked after I caught two episodes at a friend's house. If you're any kind of science fiction/fantasy fan, this show is well worth watching if you can catch the re-runs on Showtime or if you know someone who's purchased the series box sets.

In the darkly comedic pilot episode (directed by Scott Winant, who also directed episodes of "Once and Again", "The West Wing", "thirtysomething", and "My So-Called Life"), we meet a disaffected 18-year-old girl named George (Ellen Muth) who lives in Seattle. While on her lunch break from her first day at a dead-end job, George gets hit with the flaming, hurtling remains of a space station toilet seat. Newly dead, she discovers she's to become an afterwordly wage-slave and join the ranks of the undead Grim Reapers who patrol the city extracting departed souls from their bodies and escorting them to their afterlives. Her lack of faith and direction in her life made her unsuitable for either Heaven or Hell, and as a consequence she became the final soul to fill the spiritual quota of the Reaper who harvested her; she must act as his replacement.

The show also starred Rebecca Gayheart (Urban Legend, Scream 2) as Betty, Jasmine Guy as Roxy, Callum Blue as Mason, Laura Harris (A Mighty Wind) as Daisy, and Mandy Patinkin (probably best known as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride) as Rube. All played Reapers who tutor George in her new job and unlife. Harris was a mid-first-season replacement for Gayheart.

Being undead in this show's world is rather unglamorous: the Reapers still need food, shelter, and clothing, but they don't get a salary for the work they're compelled to do for the universe. So, they either have to rob the dead and squat in their apartments ... or they have to get a low-profile, dead-end job to get by.

The writing is top-notch; most of the scripts were done by series creator Brian Fuller, who wrote for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and also did the script for the recent, very good TV adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie. The musical score and song selections were done by ex-Police member and veteran composer Stewart Copeland.

While the acting is uniformly strong, Patinkin is especially wonderful to watch. The special effects are very decent, and because this is Showtime, the series is fairly uncensored when it comes to language and sex.

Cast/Crew Info

Georgia "George" Lass: Ellen Muth
Mason: Callum Blue
Betty: Rebecca Gayheart
Daisy: Laura Harris
Roxy: Jasmine Guy
George's Father, Clancy Lass: Greg Kean
George's Sister, Reggie Lass: Britt McKillip
Delores Herbig: Christine Willes
George's Mother, Joy: Cynthia Stevenson
Rube: Mandy Patinkin
Musical score: Stewart Copeland
Editor: Dona Nogan
Production Designer: Richard Hudolin
Director of Photography: Danny Nowak
Executive Producer/ Writer: Bryan Fuller
Pilot Director: Scott Winant

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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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