Monday, June 30, 2008

Godspeed, Major Briggs

We were just talking about Don Davis on Saturday, and today I'm sorry to report that he's no longer with us.

We will remember him for countless roles, but perhaps none as memorable as Garland Briggs, the Air Force Major who could speak eloquently on all topics before slapping a cigarette out of his son Bobby's mouth. He alone could go toe to toe with Cooper when it came to seemingly outlandish behavior that somehow made sense.

Of the residents of Twin Peaks, there was something majestic and yet appropriately bizarre about the good major.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wanted: Dead or Alive?

We caught a sneak preview of WANTED tonight. It's a rousing action film from the Russian director of Night Watch and Day Watch. If you're familiar with those films, you'll have an idea as to the sorts of visual magic he creates. You'll forget that you're witnessing cold blooded murders at the hands of assassins because it's so darn pretty how he pulls it off. That in and of itself makes the film worth watching - although I'm pleased to report that there's more to it than that.
Drawbacks? I found myself reciting lines from Star Wars at key points through the film - which you wouldn't expect based on the trailer - but that's just me. And there were a few plot points (not the over-the-top action set pieces) that seemed a little too convenient for the storyline. Minor issues aside, it's a fun roller coaster ride - John Bob says check it out.

Night Watch and Day Watch are scheduled for release on BluRay in the next few months, so if you missed those, we'll set up a time for you to see them on the big screen.

The Slaughtered Prisoner

As one who prefers entertainment that generates a reaction as opposed to something quickly dismissed, I have to say that The Prisoner was certainly a success in that regard. To say that the final two episodes touched a nerve with the Wednesday night crowd would be an understatement. I'm not sure what sort of resolution folks were expecting, but certainly not what Patrick McGoohan delivered.

I still feel that the one-two punch of Once Upon a Time and Fall Out are a fitting conclusion to what remains a very challenging program for viewers. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that I was originally introduced to the show when the television landscape had never seen anything like it.

Shows such as Twin Peaks, which still ranks for me as the greatest television program of all time, owe a debt to The Prisoner, just as so many contemporary shows are here today due to the ground broken by David Lynch and Mark Frost.

Sure, measured against today's television spectrum, The Prisoner is almost quaint. That said, I don't think you'll find a more thought provoking show provided that you're willing to engage it.

Who is number one?

You are, number six.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Ark - The Serial?

Redundant? Perhaps... but still worth checking out.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Psychotronix Rocks

We had a great time at the Psychotronix Film Festival last night.

The show started around 7pm, and proceeded with a variety of 16mm oddities. I've included some YouTube videos to give you a taste of the types of things we saw.

We had seen some before, but were otherwise unfamiliar with scopitones

Vonna had a flashback and was able to sing along with the theme song to Milton the Monster:

There was a great video on manners featuring 'Chalky':

There were timely inclusions, such as an episode of the 60s Hulk cartoon:

There was a great office safety training video, which I wish I could find - here are two examples that covers some of the same ground:

There were drawings for lots of appropriately schlocky merchandise, from DVDs that would appeal to the likes of us present at the festival to strange toys (like Space Mucus). Vonna won a CD called It Came From Thrillville, with music and trailer audio from a number of classic sci-fi films.

Mr. Lobo of Cinema Insomnia was in attendance, as was Ernie Fosselius - creator of Hardware Wars, so I was able to pick up a set of Hardware Wars trading cards that I had foolishly passed up at Wondercon earlier this year.

It was after 12:30am by the time we got home, but it was worth it. Thanks to Bob and Ari for inviting us!

We'll keep you posted when the next Psychotronix festival gets scheduled this fall.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mark your calendars!

Our summer schedule has undergone one last adjustment. To review, this coming Wednesday (6/25) we wrap The Prisoner with the final two episodes of that show, Once Upon a Time and Fall Out.

The following two Wednesdays (7/2 & 7/9) will focus on the short-lived comedy ACTION starring Jay Mohr.

We'll be closed the following two weeks while Stan and I attend the Star Wars Celebration in Japan.

Upon our return, we'll celebrate the 30th anniversary of Stephen King's magnum opus with a four-week screening (7/30-8/20) of the miniseries based on The Stand. In addition to each weekly chapter (which less commercials only runs about 1.5 hours) we'll supplement those nights with an appropriate short subject.

Finally, starting August 27th, we'll launch into another overlooked gem - Shaun Cassidy written and Sam Raimi produced American Gothic. I think folks will have fun with this quirky show about good versus evil in a small town. Particularly after watching the epic struggle between good and evil in a much larger scale in The Stand.

Great programming aside, each and every Wednesday we have been treated to a variety of gourmet meals courtesy of Vonna. Even if you're uninterested in what we're watching, attendees will confirm the food is not to be missed!

We hope you'll consider joining us for our weekly Wednesday night screenings.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Abridged Prisoner

40 years after it's debut, I still find The Prisoner to be one of the most important and challenging television series of all time. That said, the show does have its highs and lows, and I thought I would recommend an abridged viewing of the show for those of you intrigued by the concept, but not convinced you want to commit to the full 17 hours the show offered. I do not feel that these seven episodes are the only good episodes - far from it - however I do think they represent the best of the best. Starting with the first and finishing with the final two episodes are mandatory (albeit excellent choices) - the four in the middle are the absolute cream of the crop.

After resigning from an unspecified job, our protagonist is gassed while packing for a trip, to wake up in a mysterious Village, where there are no names - only numbers.

The Chimes of Big Ben
Working with another villager, Number 6 plans an escape from the Village.

The Schizoid Man
The masters of the Village attempt to break Number 6 by making him believe he's really Number 12, in the Village to drive Number 6 mad.

Many Happy Returns
When Number 6 awakens to an empty Village, he takes to the sea to find his way home.

Hammer Into Anvil
After another villager is driven to suicide from her interrogation, Number 6 turns the tables on Number 2.

Once Upon a Time

Fall Out
That would be telling...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods

I recently had a chance to read Frank Darabont's screenplay for the fourth Indiana Jones film. Let me start off by saying I've long been a fan of Frank Darabont - back to his short film The Woman in the Room, his screenplay to the remake of The Blob, his excellent adaptation of Stephen King's classic "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (Vonna and I were there on opening night - so take that all you Johnny-come-lately Shawshank fans that only discovered the film on television or video), The Green Mile, The Majestic (yes, even The Majestic - we're still waiting for you J-C-L's to catch up with that - Sand Pirates of the Sahara alone is worth the price off admission), and his unrelenting, perfect-pitch adaptation of The Mist.

When word circulated that Frank was writing Indiana Jones, it seemed like fate. He had written several episodes of the under-rated Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and was obviously a fan of the franchise. Who better to usher in Indy to a new generation. There was much speculation about his script - would he reunite Indy and Marion, would Indy face Nazi's driven to jungles of South America, would he use a walker to get around with? Well, it all became a moot point when, despite Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford's endorsements, George Lucas shot it down. The fanboy community was outraged. And they were among the first to savage the (solely credited) David Koepp when IJ & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released. Obviously the Darabont screenplay had to be better, right? I have to admit, I often wondered the same, so when the opportunity presented itself to read Darabont's script, I jumped at the chance.

Cutting right to the chase, and no offense to Frank Darabont, or ANY of the number of screenwriters whose ideas were represented in his version, the film they shot is, in my opinion, a better film. A much better film.

Backing up a bit, it's important to understand that the Indiana Jones films have always been collaborations. It started with George Lucas, who developed the character; Philip Kaufman brought in the maguffin of The Ark of the Covenant; Spielberg brought his unique sensibilities to the table, and through the filter of Larry Kasdan, Raiders of the Lost Ark was born. That film was 10 pounds of action in a five pound bag, so it should come as no surprise that original ideas from the first story conferences were showing up in each of the subsequent sequels. The biggest challenge was always finding a new maguffin - the details of which can be read about in Jonathan Rinzler's indispensable book The Complete Making of Indiana Jones.

The Crystal Skull has been the maguffin George has been hanging onto for the last several years, so it is present in Darabont's screenplay as well. Also present is Doomtown - the atomic test facility from which IJ survives an atomic blast by hiding in a lead lined refrigerator (thank Jeb Stuart - author of IJ & the Saucer Men from Mars for that one). So the nature of this work clear absolves Darabont of assuming responsibility for all concerns with the script. Darabont did reintroduce Marion, in a much larger role. Absent was any offspring to the Jones clan, although father Henry Sr. shows up for what amounts to a cameo appearance.

For those of you who felt there were groaner moments in Crystal Skull, I assure you that none compare to Indy being swallowed by a giant snake, only to cut his way out from the inside, say to the dying snake, "something you ate?" before reaching in and removing his fedora.

The search for the lost city was driven by the opportunity to have your greatest wishes granted. While this results in be careful what you wish for moments for several of the incidental characters, Jones chooses Marion, and is basically let go by the aliens (contrary to the ahh, how romantic moment this must have been designed to inspire, to me it seemed unfitting of our hero to only be able to land his gal through the intervention of an ancient alien race). In what seemed to me to be a particularly out of character moment, at the climax of the film Jones shoots the Crystal Skull, destroying it, and then shoots and kills the alien, in a Will Smith/Independence Day moment of 'that's what I call a Close Encounter' - my words - not Frank's.

Don't take these comments to say that the screenplay had no redeeming qualities. I'm quite sure that had this version gone into production. One line that did elicit a laugh from me when reading came as Marion asked Jones about another woman in his life - that singer. He makes no apologies for Willie Scott, and mentions that he heard she moved to Hollywood and married some hotshot director. If the joke is lost on you, then you definitely need to read up on the behind the scenes history of these films.

In retrospect, I'm pleased to say that I think George made the right decision in continuing the development of Indy IV going rather than stopping with Darabont's draft. I also think that Darabont is better served - had his script gone into production, he would have been the target for slings and arrows.

Have we seen the last of Indiana Jones? If Crystal Skull is the last cinema hurrah for my generations greatest adventurer, you'll get no complaints from me. That said, if Ford dons the fedora once more, you can bet I'll be there on opening night.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Finger-lickin' good

We're locked in for the next Mad Movie Party - a 21st anniversary double-dose of vampire fun.

Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys held a special place in our hearts - it's a great summer popcorn-flick, and was shot in our own backyard of Santa Cruz. Great performances by Jason Patrick, Jami Gertz, Kiefer Sutherland and a rock and roll soundtrack that holds up remarkably well 21 years later make this film still fun today. I may drag out some 21 year-old photos of my pal Joey and I from our summer in 87 - two lost boys hanging out at the boardwalk...

On the flip-side of this coin, Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark was a much darker, ultra-cool vampiric western. Starring Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jenette Golodstein - the James Cameron stock company less Michael Biehn (who turned it down), the film was shot after Aliens and before the directors' brief marriage. All that and a great Tangerine Dream score make for the freshest take on vampires of the decade.

Join us for a fun night of blood-drinking good times, and finger-licking good food. Doors at 6pm, features start at 7pm - with the vampires arriving just in time for sundown. Oh, and The Lost Boys will be presented in HD - the next best thing to 70mm...

Hope to see you there.
John & Vonna

Psychotronix Film Festival

We've been invited (and in turn we're inviting you all) to the Psychotronix Film Festival, next Saturday (6/21) at Foothill college. It supports radio station KFJC, and is an all 16mm presentation of cartoons, commercials, shorts, ephemera and a feature film.

Read more on the website - if you're interested in carpooling, let us know.

Spotlight on Dragonfire films

We're almost wrapped with The Prisoner, and I wanted to squeeze something in the Wednesday slot before we close the theater during our trip to Japan. After careful deliberation, I've decided that it's time to slot in Action - the acerbic skewering of the day to day life of Hollywood moguls starring Jay Mohr.

The televised broadcasts were full of bleeped profanity, which (unfortunately) is uncensored on the DVD edition. Not for all audiences, but it should make for a few entertaining weeks.

And when we return from Japan - welcome to Trinity.