Saturday, October 24, 2015

Maureen O'Hara Merges With The Infinite

Several news sources are reporting the passing of actress Maureen O'Hara.

O'Hara starred in movies from the closing of Hollywood's Golden Age to the modern era, playing the leading lady in some fantastic movies across a wide range of genres.  

  • Esmerelda in the 1939 vcrsion of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Doris in Miracle on 34th Street
  • Kathleen in Rio Grande
  • Angharad in How Green Was My Valley
  • "Spitfire" Stevens in Against All Flags
  • Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man
  • Maggie in The Parent Trap

to name a very few.

Monster Watch: The Monster Squad (1987)

When I was about twelve, one of the signs that The Admiral was secretly listening to me, and not just thinking up new and interesting fatherly pearls of wisdom to dole out, was when he took the afternoon off from work to take me to see The Monster Squad (1987).  I'd wanted to see the movie, no one else did (except for him, I guess), and so one day he took the afternoon off in the middle of the week - I guess it was summertime - and we hit the Showplace 6, ate some popcorn and watched Wolfman take one in the crotch.

I recall we both liked it, it was darker than I expected, maybe even a little grittier, and Dracula was straight up frightening in my twelve year old eyes.  And, as anything you consider to be not-dinner-table-conversation occurred, I sort of cringed at having to let my dad know I knew what a virgin was outside of the Christmas story.

The prior year, he'd also taken me to see Little Shop of Horrors when no one else wanted to go, so apparently The Admiral was into taking me to see movies that would bomb at the theater, but gain a following on home video.  But he also got really jazzed at the opportunity to watch old sci-fi movies like War of the Worlds with me, and was always up for a trip to see something like The Last Starfighter or The Untouchables.  Way to go, man.

But, man, it really seemed like nobody else but The Old Man and myself had seen this movie until the last fifteen years.  Although, eventually friends did see it on VHS or cable, as did I.

At some point, maybe in 2008, pal JackBart and I caught a screening at The Alamo Drafthouse with a good chunk of the cast, director Fred Dekker and screenwriter Shane Black in attendance.  The place was packed, the Q&A was great, and the cast and crew pretty forthcoming with details.  I was one of five people who let out a loud whoop when Black mentioned he was working on Doc Savage.

One thing that really stuck with me from that screening was the honest recollection of studio compromise, of what was originally envisioned, and a script that the director felt had been very watered down to serve studio hopes for a Goonies-type film leading to franchise dreams, rather than a movie about adolescents growing up when you know, Dracula shows up.  I'd love to read that original script some day.

Friday, October 23, 2015

MONSTER SQUAD! 2NITE (in, like, 1 hr, 45 min)

Hey, y'all.

It's been pointed out that I have not reminded folks enough that we're watching Monster Squad tonight.

Movie: The Monster Squad (1987)
Day: Friday, October 23rd
Time: 9:15 PM Central, 10:15 PM Eastern, 7:15 PM Pacific
Stream From: Netflix
hashtag: #wolfnards

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (audiobook)

I can't remember the last time I actually read Washington Irving's story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but it remains a fun, spirited read, perfect for a quick fix of harmless Halloween fun as we head to the holiday.

I was quite pleased to realize the audiobook I'd downloaded was read by actor Thomas Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane on television's Sleepy Hollow, and an actor that is just begging for a part somewhere in the Marvel U, but I'm not sure as who, exactly.

If you saw the Disney cartoon or a hundred other adaptations, you know the story - though, ironically, the one place you absolutely will not get the story of Sleepy Hollow is from the television program of the same name, which went off the tracks and into a ditch immediately with its second season and is struggling to make a comeback with the third.

The book, itself, is relayed not so much in a spirit of spookiness, but in good humor that still translates - and, frankly, translates the long gone world in which the novel was written for the modern reader.  The book serves a vastly different purpose than The Haunting of Hill House.  It's a spooky tale meant to reassure the reader and comment upon the Americans of the era and geographic region in folksy ways, and it's practically a cartoon waiting to be adapted, as Mr. Disney did in good fashion.

Because it's of interest, I'll mention the inclusion of black characters in the story in both a caricaturist fashion and as observing faces who clearly find Ichabod Crane absurd so the narrator doesn't have to spell it out.  I don't expect too much in the way of progressive writing in popular fiction of 1820, but it certainly isn't exactly as offensive as one might find elsewhere.

Really, all the characters of the book are broad caricatures in a way, simple impressions to get the general idea across, and when Irving does get specific about Crane, in particular, the idea is to politely understate the absurdity of a self-important buffoon.

The description of the Horseman and ride are vivid, Irving painting a tremendous picture of the Crane's confrontation.  I have to imagine all of this would be a lot of fun to read to a kid at some point.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (audiobook)

I took some suggestions via Facebook for an October read.  Every year I try to read a "scary" book during the month leading up to Halloween, and while I got a number of suggestions (many of which confused "thrilling" with "Halloween scary"), I had to pick one or two and get on with it.  I almost read The Turn of the Screw again, I went for the source material to one of my favorite scary movies, instead.  In the end, I read Shirley Jackson's 1959 book, The Haunting of Hill House.

The book has been adapted into two movies, The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting (1999).  One of these movies is directed by Robert Wise, who never made a bad movie, and the other was done by the guy who made Twister and Speed 2: Cruise Control.  If you liked those movies, your mileage will vary.

The good news is that the book diverges from both movies, and, really, after the introduction of the characters, has very, very little to do with the 1999 big budget CGI-FX driven snoozefest.  In the case of the 1963 adaptation, the movie and book match and diverge in similarity, enough so that I really wasn't sure what to expect from chapter to chapter.  Really, though, it's the perspective of the book that provides the greatest difference for the reader, and provides an experience the movie simply cannot as the camera must always show something going on, and cannot rely on the reflections of the characters in the same way.  The characters simply are on the screen, perhaps with hints of something otherwise, but the frame has to capture an interpretation one way or another.

Eleanor is a 32 year old woman who has spent her entire adult life caring for her sickly mother.  She has no profession, no friends, no home of her own as she is now in limbo, living with a sister who has inherited her mother's prickly nature and the sister's boorish husband and young daughter.  At some point in the distant past, she experienced a supernatural event as stones rained down upon her house, an act she grew up believing was the work of unkind neighbors, and perhaps it was.  We can't know for certain.

A parapsychologist, Dr. Montague, has scoured the country for those who have experienced legitimate psychic events, and has invited them to the mysterious Hill House, a 19th Century mansion built to house the family of an industrialist with what seems to have been an unhealthy parenting style for his two young girls.  The house was believed "born bad", already evil before the many deaths that occurred in the house even began.

The house itself is built with doors that hang at an angle to shut, walls that are not exactly at the right angle, and various optical illusions meant to make the house a showplace of the era in which it was built.  The effect, however, seems to unsettle and confuse visitors, not create any sense of wonder.

Of the many invitations sent, only two visitors arrive, Eleanor - who may have once had stones hurled at her by unseen forces, and Theodora, a beatnik who may be able to catch glimpses of the thoughts of others.  Also, the young man who stands to inherit the house, an idler and wanna-be playboy, Luke.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"The Expanse" coming to SyFy in December

I am going to give this pilot a shot.

Curbing My Enthusiasm: Approaching "Star Wars - The Force Awakens" with caution

I may not have been the most excited kid on my block for the Star Wars prequels in 1999, but I was pretty darn pumped.  I like to think I had some serious Star Wars nerd-credentials back when that meant something, back in an era when the internet was not around to provide you with an endless amount of trivia via a super computer in your hand.  I could name most of the characters, vehicles, planets, had the posters, the toys, etc...  Grew up with the bedsheets, the wallpaper, all that.  Typical American 80's kid.  No, I didn't have a tattoo or anything, and I certainly didn't quit my job to go sit in line for weeks until the tickets went on sale.  In short, I was a pretty big fan, but I hadn't made it a lifestyle.

Mid-tier nerd.  I know there are people out there who actually run around training to becomes Jedis.  Folks gotta do, I suppose.

Prior to the movie, I went out and bought the toys when they arrived at Toys R' Us, and before that I'd been buying the re-issued toys.  I remember having to explain to my pre-Jamie girlfriend that, yes, I WAS going to buy an X-Wing fighter, right in front of her.

I was never much of an expanded universe guy.  I guess I knew from a young age that anything not in the movies-proper didn't "count", and that the books at B. Dalton and Waldenbooks were a cash grab as much as the Marvel comics with the green rabbit character, but nothing the movies wouldn't run over in a second as it seemed laughable that George Lucas read any of that material.  

When Episode I came out, Jamie and I stood in line - she, fresh out of the hospital, and wearing my Darth Vader helmet (it wasn't a size 7 7/8ths helmet, so it never fit me) and carrying my Vader light saber (I carried my green Luke light saber).  

We were in one of three or four midnight showing screens at the Gateway theater in North Austin, and there was a huge party atmosphere.  Light saber duels on the stairs and people cheering hard against the late hour.

The credits came up, we cheered.  I remember thinking "oh, this isn't entirely what I expected", and just let it wash over me.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Let's Watch "The Monster Squad" this Friday!

Movie:  The Monster Squad (1987)
Day:  Friday, October 23rd
Time:  9:15 PM Central, 10:15 PM Eastern, 7:15 PM Pacific
Stream From:  Netflix
hashtag:  #wolfnards

This Friday I'll be barreling across Texas in the afternoon to make it home in time for a screening of The Monster Squad, the 1987 adventure/ horror film.  It's a great Halloween, all-ages fright-fest with a post-Spielbergian depth to our suburban characters.

Note the Shane Black screenplay.  No, it doesn't take place on Christmas, but good question.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Flash Watch: Season 2 - Episode 2 "Flash of Two Worlds"

In my book, there are a few places you can say that really changed comics.  The publication of New Fun Comics, Action Comics #1, Detective #27, Sensation Comics #1, Amazing Fantasy #15, Fantastic Four #1, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Watchmen...  stuff like that.

We can break down how each of those changed comics, and some were in large, cultural shift-y kinds of ways, while others took more time to reveal themselves.

Flash #123 is one of the places you can put your finger on that changed comic books in ways no one anticipated at the time.  Pretty remarkable that between the first appearance of Barry Allen in Showcase #4, which I'm saying is the start of the Silver Age, circa October 1956, and the Flash of Two Worlds issue, circa 1961, we saw two huge changes in the state of comics thanks to one character (and, I'd argue, to a lesser extent in how Barry Allen dealt with his villains in those early issues).  Today, it's almost impossible to imagine modern comics from any publisher without the concept of a multiverse (see Marvel's current Secret Wars event or the many worlds of Archie Comics).

The multiverse exploded the possibilities for comics, for alternate universes, and became a staple of sci-fi in everything from Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror" episode to the existence of shows like Sliders and Fringe.  And, of course, is part of mainstream physics at this moment in time.

Before we get too far into discussing how cool I find the multiverse, I want to also mention that I have a tremendous amount of affection, in general, for the characters of the Flash titles, and Jay Garrick of the Silver Age and Jay Garrick of the post COIE/ pre-New-52 definitely falls into that category.

So, of course, it was tremendously fun to see Jay put on the helmet on a legitimate TV show.

Halloween Watch: The Black Cat (1934)

I know I rented this movie once before (on VHS, to put a date on it) but I realized in watching it that I had no recollection of the movie, which means I didn't really watch it the first time.

The Black Cat (1934) marks the most famous pairing of Lugosi and Karloff,  and while it is most certainly a horror film of a type, it's in no way a creature-feature or monster film.  It's a movie that would predate a lot of later horror films from Karloff and Lugosi as they adapted Poe, and, of course, later films with Vincent Price.

American honey-mooners Joan and Peter Allison are seeing post-WWI and pre-WWII Eastern Europe by train when they meet Lugosi, who plays a doctor who is en route to see an old friend.  From the station, they travel together to head to the next town in a bus which slides off the road near the friend's house, killing the driver and injuring Joan.  All of them head to the house, a fantastic bauhaus-style mansion.