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little BIG music

Fans of videogames are well aware of the fine music that's been written by a pretty diverse mix of composers, and it's moved from a lucrative alternative to film and TV scoring to an art of its own.

Michael Giacchino and James Michael Dooley have done their share of videogames, and their contributions have shown a more formal orchestral approach for action and war-themed games.

Another approach is to draw from a wild pool of styles and idioms, which is probably the easiest way to describe Daniel Pemberton's album Little BIG Music: Musical Oddities From And Inspired By LittleBigPlanet. The iTunes album features cues not used in the PS3 game, and I've uploaded a review of the hour-long album.

Coming next: Richard Rubinstein's Knightriders.



- MRH
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Bolt (2008)

Disney's CD release of John Powell's Bolt marks the studio's gamble that 3-D will be the New Thing that draws families into theatres again, and recent media reports have had fun drawing all kinds of parallels to the 3-D wave of the fifties that included the shocker House of Wax (1953), Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), and the bawdy musical Kiss Me Kate (1953) - three outstanding films that also boasted intelligent (and crafty) use of 3-D, not to mention the occasional stereophonic sound mix.

Rue Morgue's January/February issue is timed to celebrate the format with the looming release of My Bloody Valentine 3-D, a remake of that fine Canadian classic made when Paramount's Frank Mancuso, Jr. was going into overdrive with horror fodder before the slasher genre petered out.

I've got several related pieces timed for the magazine's 3-D focus (including some 3-D clunkers from the 1980s), as well as an interview with Michael Wandmacher, the talented composer of the Bloody Valentine remake who also discusses his recent score for The Punisher: War Zone (2008). Whatever your impressions of the film may be, Wandmacher's score is very memorable, and I'll have a review of the score as well.

Before that, I've uploaded a review of Bolt, which is timed with Disney's Box Office Hits, a compilation CD featuring songs and theme remixes from a variety of flicks. (Paul Oakenfold's Pirates of the Caribbean remix of Jack Sparrow's theme is a bit weird, and it's admittedly tough to track its vestiges amid all the synthetic fluster.)

Coming next: Daniel Pemberton's music for the PS3 videogame LittleBigPlanet.



- MRH
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Season of the Mask 5: Peaks and Valleys

You want me in Part 9? Are you crazy???Note: this column contains significant spoilers!

When Miramax/Dimension took over the Halloween franchise, it’s fair to say the resulting films were the nadir of the series with one sole exception: Part7, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), where Jamie Lee Curtis came back to reprise the role of Laurie Strode and show us what happens when you live in fear for 20 years.

The reason the film works is more than Curtis owning the part; it’s the fact that fear from a serial killer is no different than fear of a delusional stalker who won’t go away, or an abusive spouse bent mangling the life of another. Michael Myers is a person with a singular drive to gratify himself by meting out some bizarro justice that goes beyond wiping out his family; it’s wiping out the sister who also won’t freakin’ die.

She’s an equal, and it’s bloody annoying.

But what if Michael finally reached that goal and eradicated every trace of his family?

The finale of H20 was written as the formal end of the Strode saga; the only recourse for the franchise godfathers was to have Laurie herself transforms into Michael and go after her son John, but that would’ve been too stupid.

Michael is done with, and Laurie is now free, although she has some legal issues to contend with, alongside the realization that she lopped off her big bro’s noggin in a strangely bloodless coup. That alone should, in a normal person, craft some recurring nightmares for, what, twenty years?

Part 8, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), kind of goes there, because we do see Michael finally getting rid of his sister, and unless she’s made of rubber and Jamie Lee Curtis needs some serious cash, that character is done with. The only recourse is to follow her in some prequel, and make up some lame scenes where toddler Michael maybe shoved a grapefruit in her face, or peed on her favourite dollie, or cooked her pet rabbit in the soup pot.

Beyond sibling fisticuffs and generic cruelty, the saga of Laurie Strode is over.

That’s more or less what Part 8’s screenwriters accomplish in the opening reel. After getting rid of Laurie, they’ve set up a scenario whereby six coeds become contestants in an online reality show, and must spend a night in the decrepit Myers home and explain to viewers how Michael Myers became a serial killer.

With no Dr. Loomis (he dead in Part 6, and again in 7), no Laurie and no John (her son) in Part 8, Michael has no raison d’etre beyond experiencing a minor annoyance with trespassers.

Whether he still retains any claim on the property is a legal issue. One assumes the assets of a serial killer – in this case, Michael – were seized and sold off to compensate the victims, so even Michael might be considered a trespasser on government/private property.

In any event, Part 8 shows that without a Strode roaming planet Earth, Michael is just another serial killer, and that’s kind of dull. The reasons Part 8 – directed by Part 2’s Rick Rosenthal – stinks like rotting potatoes, though, is more complex.

So as I continue to wade through the diminishing logic of the franchise, do check out reviews of Part 7 and Part 8, after which I’ll cover a lengthy documentary, and movie on to Rob Zombie’s ‘re-imaging’ or ‘rebooting’ of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s classic.



- MRH
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Murder by Decree

Alongside Black Christmas (1974), Murder by Decree (1979) is probably Bob Clark's second most important thriller, which has also been reissued via Critical Mass/Anchor Bay/Starz on DVD. It's also the director's classiest production, boasting an amazing cast of fine British and Canadian actors, and is among the few true-quality movies produced during Canada's tax shelter film boom.

Decree has a real script, beautiful production design, and has aged into a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery, albeit with very notable differences from the better-known Basil Rathbone films. It's also a film where Christopher Plummer was given a great role, and he delivered a fine performance. 1979 was a year after Plummer's menacing work in another underrated thriller, Daryl Duke's The Silent Partner (1978)... although that same year, the actor also appeared in Luigi Cozzi's dunderheaded Starcrash, a not-so-fine film I'll cover in January. (One has to spread the pungent fromage to dilute the odor of bad filmmaking.)




- MRH
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“From Benny Herrmann, and his band of merry melodians!”

Belated holiday greetings from a slightly self-imposed exile. Figuring most people were struggling to get through the heavy/wet/neverending snowfall during the days leading up to (and perhaps including) Christmas, as well as having zero time beyond family commitments to read, I’ve held back posts until today, meaning there’ll be almost a new set of reviews every day, through New Year’s Day.

The first reviews are focused on (uh, surprise) Christmas, and it starts with a review of a vintage fifties teleplay, where director Ralph Levy directed Fredric March in Maxwell Anderson’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Featuring music by Bernard Herrmann and a libretto by Anderson, the one hour drama was part of Chrysler’s Shower of Stars show, and included Basil Rathbone as the Ghost of Marley, and Sally Fraser as ex-luv Belle/Ghost of Chrismas Past before she became a bit of a cult icon in low (low!) budget sci-fi flicks.

Herrmann had previously scored Orson Welles' 1938 adaptation of Dickens' classic (hence the Wellesian sign-off in today's header), but the 1954 teleplay marked the first time he applied operatic songs as well as noew score to the beloved holiday tale.

Sticking to the mid-fifties and that era's fixation with noble morals and unabashed religious iconography (think of all those Biblical epics), there’s also a review of Herrmann's score, newly released on CD by Kritzerland, and double-billed with another holiday operetta, A Child is Born, which Herrmann based on Stephen Vincent Benet's play, and composed for this December 1955 episode of the General Electric Theatre.

Both scores were previously released on bootleg LPs which themselves drew from legit albums, and the good news is that the sound quality of the legit Kritzerland disc is a marked improvement. Carol apparently appeared as part of a multi-disc LP set from CBS, while Child was a classic Decca mono-drama mix, and one could regard these platters as early precursors to dramas released on VHS tapes and DVD.
Given the music was all that could be retained from these live teleplays in the fifties, the LPs were accessible, commercial ways for the average consumer to ‘relive’ the drama at home (which made sense, since radio dramas were still an active component of the home entertainment system).

Decca actually produced several holiday-themed mono-dramas, which included Ronald Coleman as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Bing Crosby and Orson Welles in Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, Loretta Young in The Littlest Angel, Gregory Peck in Lullaby of Christmas, and an edited soundtrack from The Coming of Christ, the NBC Project XX documentary featuring music by Robert Russell Bennett.

If I can squeeze time between less seasonal uploads this weekend, I’ll try and have reviews of at least a few of the aforementioned, too. (If not, hey, there’s Xmas ’09.)



- MRH
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Black Christmases

Billy needs a nap, eh?Here's a minor confession: the first time I saw Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974), I found it dull, slow, and badly acted - and that was quite some time before I developed a great affinity for vintage shockers, be they slashers, gialli, or weird.

What's surprising this time around is how classy the film is, in terms of Clark's direction, the sharp editing, the beautiful camerawork, and the carefully coordinated sound mix that balances harsh, ugly sounds & Carl Zittrer's music concrete with moments of silence, natural effects, and Xmas carols.

Other filmmakers have tried to make their own variations, in terms of dropping a serial killer/stalker into the cheerful holiday spirit of several characters - the sleazy Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), and the inane P2 (2007) - but Clark's film keeps moving towards the top because there's a grittiness to the villain (and his increasingly terrifying phone calls), and the characters are less stupid and over-sexed than the standard archetypes in slasher films. It's also a very simple story: maniac in the attic torments and picks off dorm inhabitants because it's so easy, and so fun.

Clark also doesn't wallow in unnecessary weirdness, and being one of the first formal slashers, he's not making satirical nods to an existing genre. It's an original work, and it's still a chilly little nightmare with just enough peripheral drama - the police investigation of a missing child - to give the film a bit of a docu-drama/police procedural feel.

As a complete contrast, there's Glen Morgan's misguided attempt to expand on the villain's backstory in his 2006 remake, with nods to the original (in terms of props, killings, and the casting of original castmate Andrea Martin as the new dorm mother), and beef up the gore to a stretchy, cartoon level.

Once the first eyeball is ripped from a girl's skull and munched by one of the film's two killers, you realize Morgan's on a comedic genre satire that woefully sacrifices the simplicity and earnestness of the original.

The fact he even renders the phone calls into laughable teases proves his script was wrong from the first paragraph, and it similarly validates the argument that perfect films shouldn't be remade unless there's a very, very good reason. With three endings to choose from, it's clear there was no justification to add a new spin on a classic beyond making some easy cash. The filmmakers had a lack of good judgement, and the producers showed contempt for horror fans, whom they felt would lap up anything with a classic title.

In one of the two featurettes on Dimension's DVD, Clark makes an appearance on set, and while the cast and crew's reverance is real, one can't help feeling the producers should've given him the money to make a film. Prior to his horrible death in 2007 (both Clark and his son where killed when their vehicle was hit by a drunk driver), Clark had been planning a return to the genre by developing a project called The Dreamers, which Burt Lancaster had wanted to make, ages ago.

It's not that Clark needed a hit, but a chance to get back to the genre that started his career, since Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972), Deathdream (1974), and Black Christmas (1974) were the films that firmed up his career as bankable writer/director/producer.

The creative successes of Tribute (1980) and A Christmas Story (1983) were contrasted by the massive windfalls from Porkey's (1982), after which he made a mixed bag of comedies, which included the disastrous Rhinestone (1984), Baby Geniuses (1999) and SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) - the last one being his final film credit.

Black Christmas has appeared several times on DVD, and I've written up a comparison review between the key versions up to and including the 2008 Critical Mass/Anchor Bay/Starz edition, which was released in tandem with his equally classy mystery, Murder by Decree (that review will be up shortly).

Those interested in more info on Clark should check out an interview with the director (as well as actors from Black Christmas) in Issue #63 of Rue Morgue, plus a page tribute to the late director in Issue #67.

Those fond of Clark's less bloody take on the holidays - A Christmas Story - might also be interested in a piece at Torontoist.com, where David Fleischer wrote up an affectionate piece on the Toronto locations used in the film, and how they've changed in the intervening years.

Coming shortly: a review of Bernard Herrmann's Christmas Carol, on CD, as well as the fifties teleplay.



- MRH
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Die Hard at 20: The Ultimate Christmas Film

Tonight at Toronto’s Bloor Cinema, Die Hard (1988) was screened, marking its 20th year as both the ultimate Xmas movie, and best satire on the disaster genre, where a studly hero saves countless innocents from grievous mortal danger during the holiday season.

Said dangers within the genre involve errant electrical behaviour, tumbling chunks of concrete or metal, far too much rampaging water, or an old favourite, fire or the risk of being blown to bits in some grand conflagration – specific dangers that often pin the hero (in the seventies, it was always the guy who saved the day) into a corner before he saves the morally good and the twits with grey-level morality from imminent death, or being horribly killed for the time being.

Die Hard is vitally important to the action genre because it also codified a set of elements that became standard in action films involving a batch of villains holding a group hostage until they’re picked off by an overlooked underdog (Officer John McClane), and ending with a classic good guy vs. bad guy battle. Maybe a relative is thrown into the mix as well, like Karl (Alexander Godunov) avenging the death of his brother Marco in one grand fight prior to McClane rescuing his wife Holly, and bidding Hans “Bubby” Gruber a final farewell.

The film’s title also encapsulates the simple plot of a guy rescuing people (plus wife/daughter/whatever close relative) from baddies in some existing physical edifice or vessel, while using his wits and aspects of the edifice or vessel to his advantage. ‘Die Hard on a X’ was the catch-phrase of the day, although it was more fun to say Fly Hard (Executive Decision), Sail Hard (Under Siege), Study Hard (Masterminds), or Catwalk Hard (No Contest).

Okay, maybe the last two are my own facetious inventions (the films are quite, real, though), but you get the point. Die Hard became more than a title, and helped many screenwriters pitch ideas in less time, although once the best variants had captured mainstream attention, all that was left was generic direct to video/cable TV crap (like No Contest, with doughy Andrew Dice Clay as the Bubby variant).

Bruce Willis was paid a fortune at the time for his efforts, and his career was arguably rescued from further comedic crap like Sunset and Blind Date – the two theatrical flicks that were meant to parlay his comedic style within the familiar parameters of Moonlighting, the TV series that launched his career.

Willis still made a pair of straight comedies thereafter – Look Who’s Talking I and II (or “duh” as they say in French) – but they were the last occasions he partook in mainstream comedic banalities. Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) was a disaster, but you could see why he thought the book, the character, and the film’s pedigree would challenge his creative drive. Of course, there was The Whole Ten Yards (2004), but that was a mortgage movie – a kind of thing actors or directors make purely for cash (mortgage, divorce settlement, alimony, college tuition fund).

It’s why John Huston directed Phobia (1980), Jules Dassin made Circle of Two (1980), Richard Donner directed Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks (2006), and Die Hard’s John McTiernan probably made Rollerball (2002).

(Yes, those in the know can immediately see the connection: the first three films, all outright stinkers, were shot in Toronto, and the latter was filmed north of Montreal. Our cities were *not* responsible for each film’s qualitative deficits.)

When Die Hard was given a sneak preview at the old Varsity cinema (prior to its major expansion), it was double-billed with big (1988), Tom Hanks’ manipulative but cute fantasy/comedy. Soon after leaving the cinema, I felt dazed and blown away (‘scuse the pun), due to a kind of film I’d seen before.

Why?

It was satirical, smart, kinetic, ripe with pop culture references and bubbling wit, and was designed to give audiences the biggest ride of their lives in Dolby SR (if memory serves correct). TV ads pumped up the 70mm 6-track Dolby alongside Willis’ star power, and the laserdisc was the first 12” video platter you had to own, because its image and sound beautifully tested one’s brand new big screen big sound system (albeit it Dolby Pro Logic 2.0), and maybe annoyed neighbours and/or parents.

Die Hard also played at Toronto’s Cinesphere, the domed IMAX theatre at Ontario Place, when the theatre was screening classic epics (Lawrence of Arabia) and action favourites (Top Gun), although unless you were seated at or very close to chaise J25, your field of vision and neck would be tested by the theatre’s severe screen size and steep rows, and seat backs far too close to one’s knees.

The fact these iconic big screen films don’t get the kind of seasonal theatrical screen time as in bygone years is a shame, but one hopes this is a bit of change for Toronto. With less rep theatres around and some of the best mid-town screens razed (The Hyland), converted into ‘an events hall’ (The Eglington), or transformed into venues never intended (the York now houses a yoga studio. Ahem.), that leaves a few downtown locales for fans, so make sure to check out those monthly listings, and plan ahead.

The irony of this blog is that it was supposed to be longer and include a bit on the audience’s responses and track any perceptible nostalgia, as well as seeing the film with a friend who, I’m 99.9% sure, was at the same sneak preview screening back in 1988 (We didin't know each other then). Instead, I’m drawing from memories from 20 years ago, and the excitement I would’ve felt had I been able to attend the 9pm show.

My efforts were ruined when the Sheppard line was shut down for more than 20 mins. this evening (ironically?) due to a fire at the Don Mills station. No sense in whining or calling the TTC every name under the sun (tempting as it is), but here’s a suggestion to paying customers who use this public transportation system that only now is getting the cash to do the simple things better funded (European) systems enjoy:

- fix the P.A. network so we can hear more than “Brsup begrber inconvenience, brgrbr br delay.” The echoing mush that spits from speakers is actually worse than the harsh dialogue stems I used to edit on 16mm mag stock, and listen to using a squawk box. Seriously.

- secondly, get the ‘next train coming in X minutes’ displays setup on every subway platform so we know exactly when the next train is coming and can plan when John McClane isn’t there to rescue us from boredom.

- and finally, if there’s a delay (fire) that’s clearly going to take more than 15-20 mins. to address (like, uhm, FIRE), tell people. Actually say very clearly, very politely, ‘Due to a fire at station X, trains will be held at stations, resulting in a delay of up to 20-30 mins.’ This would allow people to hail cabs, hop on a bus, and not stand there as the clock ticks away, time is wasted, butts are chilled in a super-cooled platform, and our regard for the most under-funded, clumsily upgraded public transit system isn’t weakened.

Remember: those station announcements and LED displays in buses and streetcars and subway cars weren’t implemented until 2007-2008 because of some logical thinking, but a lawsuit brought on by a handicapped patron ill-served by a cash-strapped system. These features have been in use in Hamburg, Germany, since 2005, and we’re a bigger city, too.

The whole country’s, in fact.

Coming next: Black Christmas, and les editorial venality directed at civic-level knuckleheads.
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Seasonal Satire

Private Joker learns about team work from Sergeant HartmanThe Toronto Star recently posted a link to a cleverly edited short called Full Metal Christmas, aka ‘Stanley Kubrick’s Lost Christmas Film,’ which is basically clips from the stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer short edited to the verbal assault by Sergeant Hartman in Kubrick’s severe black comedy Full Metal Jacket (1987).

As a seasonal short, it works. As a piece of modern humour, it works. And as an editing exercise of pure fun, it works, and it undoubtedly gave its creator waves of prideful giggles because he or she transposed material from one film to another, and created a whole new context for the visual and aural elements from two very disparate films: the destruction of holiday cheer in Santa’s sweat shop toy room.

The clip can be viewed HERE, but the short is part of a fairly common practice that was once far more rarefied because editing equipment was way more pricey in the eighties, and editing know-how was mostly in the hands of practical editors, either commercial, semi-professional, or amateurs with their own fancy gear (even though one could create the same piece using wits and decent consumer gear - if one was passionate, and creatively deranged).

The most classic examples of editors taking film clips and affixing them to rude narratives are the following:

- Blue Peanuts [requires YouTube registration by adults due to potty contents], where Frank’s F-word hurricane in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) is uttered by a mean old Snoopy.

- Apocalypse Pooh, where chunks from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) are edited to footage from Winnie the Pooh.

Prior to the internet, these videos (along with Marv Newland’s animated classic, Bambi vs. Godzilla) were available on washed out VHS rentals at some eccentric indie shops. How they got there, one can assume all kinds of theories (director submission, fan submission, anonymous mailing) but they did do the rounds and became cult items that happily haven’t been obliterated from the internet.

These are valid forms of pop culture humour from which no monetary gains were ever intended, and are kind of shareware projects that probably get people to re-watch the original films, since they’re classics in their own genres. (That’s at least the reasoning I hope is keeping these flicks unfettered from litigious-minded folks.)

It’s nice to see them easily available for a quick peek, and one would hope Kubrick is having a good chuckle upstairs, since he too possessed a gift for vicious wit and sharp satire.

Coming next: Bob Clark’s holiday classic, Black Christmas (1974) from Critical Mass/Anchor Bay/Starz, plus a comparison with the recent and utterly unnecessary remake.



- MRH
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A Lesser Auteur ?

Meep! Meep!A forgotten B-movie veteran of film noir, sci-fi, and horror, or the idiot brother of an Oscar-winning icon?

Those are the most extreme views one can apply to W. Lee Wilder, brother of more famous Billy Willder (Susnet Boulevard, The Apartment, oodles more) who eked out a fairly steady career in the fifties churning out low budget films on his own, plus a few TV assignments here and there before disappearing from active filmmaking by the end of the sixties.

Wilder's movies aren't inept nor disasters; they're just not really good. Mostly workmanlike, but that may be due to their extremely pinched budgets and the need to stay within the cliches each genre seemed to mandate in order for an easy commercial sale. A fair amount of the scripts Wilder produced were written by son Myles Wilder and William (Bill) Raynor, a pair of very prolific writers who survived very well in TV during the sixties and seventies.

As part of Legend Films' colorized B-movie wave, Phantom from Space (1953) comes with a decent black & white and colorized versions, and is the first of three alien-themed films Wilder shot between 1953-1954.

Of the remaining two, I've paired Phantom with Killers from Space (1954), which starred a young, dramatically vapid Peter Graves, and like Phantom, was photographed by William Clothier, a fine cinematographer who later went on to film several classic films for John Wayne (The Alamo), John Ford (Cheyenne Autumn), and John Farrow (Sea Chase). [The stringing together of three prominent Johns here is purely coincidental.]

I'll eventually get to Wilder's third genre entry, The Snow Creature(1954), but for now, feel free to check out the DVD review of Phantom from Space (Legend Films ) and a film review of the very silly Killers from Space (available via several P.D. DVD and online sources).



- MRH
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Two Shades of Mutant

Poster bears no relation whatsoever to actual film. Nuh-uh!Perseverance's CD of Mutant (1984) marks the second time Richard Band's large orchestral score is available on CD, except this time it's been augmented by previously unreleased cues, and new sequencing and editing that present the complete score in (mostly) chronological order.

I've uploaded a review of the CD, as well as addressed the major flaw of Band's early work from the eighties: the occasional 'familiar' nature of some some of Band's themes and motifs to the works of other composers, most notably Jerry Goldsmith.

No, I'm not opening that can of worms again, but trying to set this early score into some context with his later and far richer work from the ninetines onwards. Click HERE for the CD review, and HERE for a review of the goofball film produced by Igo Kantor, and executive produced by exploitation meister Edward L. Montoro (Beyond the Door). Elite's DVD from 2000 is a virtual bare bones release, but it's anamorphic, and in true stereo, too.

Please note: I'm in the process of uploading a number of previously announced reviews that have blogs tied to them, the latest of which is a long and windy review of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. You can read the intro bog HERE, or skip directly to the review HERE, which compares the Theatrical Cut to the Producer's Cut.

Coming shortly is a review of Perseverance's great new CD of Donald Rubinstein's Knightriders, and a pair of low-low budget, sci-fi non-classics by W. Lee Wilder, the workmanlike and far less talented brother of Billy Wilder.



- MRH

Canadian TV, Part 1: The Good

Moo-hoo Ha-ha!In spite of living next to the U.S. during the development of TV and our easy exposure to the diverse programs broadcast on ABC, CBS, NBC, and the defunct Dumont network, on its own, Canada hasn’t produced that much original programming since the fifties, and so little of those early works have been seen since their original broadcast. (Attention CBC: Where the heck is Wojeck?)

Even today, it’s still a costly venture for Canadian networks and specialty channels to develop shows, which is why we kind of fostered co-productions, or made shows packaged with familiar elements for easier sales south of the border. This was particularly true during the eighties and early nineties when out boob tube contributions included fine fodder like Sweating Bullets / aka Tropical Heat (starring Painkiller Jane’s Rob Stewart, with a curvy ponytail).

When I was a kid, the only Canadian shows I recall watching were The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, Rocket Robin Hood and The Amazing Spider-Man, The Friendly Giant (27 years on the air!), The Polka Dot Door, The Starlost, and The Trouble with Tracy. The Swiss Family Robinson. Adventures in Rainbow Country. Forest Rangers. The Beachcomers. King of Kensington.

Now, if you grew up during the seventies, those names will immediately evoke a set of very unique reactions. Frightenstein was that weird kids show with Vincent Price, a catchy title credit sequence, and some familiar characters: Dracula, Igor, and the Wolfman. Robin Hood and Spider-Man were animated el cheapo but trippy Ralph Bakshi productions.

Friendly Giant was an adorable CBC show with a friendly giant who read stories (“Look up… Look waaaaay up!”). Polka Dot Door was a long-running TVO series (TVO being Ontario’s equivalent to PBS). The Starlost was a terrible sci-fi adventure series starring Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey, Black Christmas). Tracy was a neon-dyed sitcom adapted from ancient (and very bad) fifties radio show scripts.

Swiss Family (which co-starred Friday the 13th: The Series’ Chris Wiggins) was a surprisingly action-oriented show with a Gilligan’s Island hook, wherein each episode sometimes brought the family close to returning home to the land of Toblerone before something always fell through.

Rainbow Country had a family and friends (headed by Jame Bond’s Lois Maxwell) living through cottage country dramas. Forest Rangers had ethnically diverse kids and adults learning moral lessons amid forest funnery. Beachcomers had lots of boats on water and slapstick humour. And Kensington had a laugh track.

Those are the details that I remember having prior to seeing some of those shows again as an adult, but that eclectic mix is what I watched, in terms of almost pure Can-Con (look it up).

MIA from the above list, now that I think about it, is Bruno (Beachcomers) Gerussi’s cooking show, Celebrity Cooks, Guess What? (hosted by Jan Rubes), Science International (‘with Joseph Campanella, and Tiiu Leek’), Definition (which used the now-famous Austin Power’s theme music, and the grand prize was a GE toaster) and the Joyce Davidson Show (whose guest list included Vincent Price. The theme music was derived from Lalo Schifrin’s Black Widow album. Thirty years, but I found the source!)

Here’s the thing about growing up Canuckle: even as a child, you just knew some of the shows you were watching were 'qualitatively lacking.' Tracy’s soundtrack was bleached with a laugh track, and the Starlost characters were always running through chunky styrofoam sets. Even at an age less than ten, I knew these shows sucked, BUT they were strangely hypnotic.

DVD has slowly brought forth some of the good, the bad, and the ugly shows from several generations’ collective childhood, of which The Hilarious House of Frightenstein is a biggie, and a goodie.

The first 3-disc set sporting 12 episodes had previously been released by Critical Mass through Alliance Atlantis, but with the former label now being distributed through Anchor Bay/Starz, Vol. 2, dubbed “Gory Gory Transylvania,” brings out 9 more episodes, each around 48 mins. (including the necessary Wolfman psychedelic dances).

Have no idea what I’m talking about?

Not a problem. Just click HERE for the review, where I hope I give an easy intro into a series, as well as its talented star, the great Billy Van, who played the bulk of the show’s memorable characters.

Van passed away in 2003, but his final interview appeared in Rue Morgue (issue #62), something you might want to track down after checking out the review, the fan sites, and the YouTube clips to give novices an idea of why this show really deserves an ongoing DVD release schedule.

Frightenstein is clearly the Good, which in turn will be followed by the Bad: The Starlost. (I’m still working on a suitable Ugly, but I’ve a great contender for a rude and provocative home-produced series that drove conservative watchers crazy in the eighties.)

I do have one wish, though, for the folks at Critical Mass: now that you’ve started to tackle a beloved classic produced by Hamilton’s old CHCH (Channel 11), how about the station's Strange Paradise? You know, the bizarro occult series from 1969 with psychedelic acting *and* colourful visuals. No actors ever chewed up so much plywood scenery with such hilarity. It’s 195 half-hour episodes, which can translate to roughly 5 DVD volumes sporting around 40 episodes apiece. Or maybe it’s just too risky?

Oogah-Boogah!



- MRH
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Epidermal Protrusions

Band-Aid, please.Elia Cmiral’s score for Toby Wilkins’ Splinter was recently released as a limited CD by BSX Records, and while my composer profile for Rue Morgue will appear some time in early 2009, a CD review as well as a review of the movie have been uploaded. (Alongside a limited theatrical release, Splinter was given a sneak preview on HDNet, and will likely make its DVD debut in early 2009.)

Also uploaded is a review of Max Payne, the latest score from Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, released on CD by La-La land Records.



- MRH
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Human chum for the holidays

24 days until Christmas. Fearful yet?How the heck is it already December?

Oh, never mind.

Recently broadcast on Britain’s E4, Dead Set (2008) is another attempt to mix zombie horror with British humour, although Charlie Brooker’s creation is more satirical and bloody than Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. It’s just amazing how something so deliciously violent and rude made to British TV.

This may well be a signal that there’s no turning back to the era of the Video Nasty, where violent images were banned to save the innocence of kiddies. With so much mainstream gore online, on DVD, in cinemas, and popular art, there’s no innocence to shatter because it’s already been smashed at an early age.

Dead Set is made for the adult-minded and each of the 5 episodes comes with a warning to beware of the violence, but play the damned thing loud, on a big screen, and in a darkened room. Very good advice.

Currently unavailable in Region 1 land (Boo! Hiss!), the series, which basically runs as long as a standard feature film, is out in the UK on DVD, and can be seen at E4’s website. It’s good, it’s juicy, and very, very wet. One could even say it’s the real sequel to 28 Days Later instead of the ineptly plotted 28 Weeks Later, which blew blue donkeys.

Wanna know more? Click HERE for the full review.

Coming next: a review of Elia Cmiral’s score for Splinter, plus a film review of the oucha! horror film.
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Season of the Mask 4: Retcon Alert

NOT the Scariest Halloween of them all!Term: retcon

Stands for: retroactive continuity

Definition a) trying to tie together errant continuity slivers into one narrative to erase nagging questions when writers of a TV series or theatrical franchise went somewhat astray in dropping red herrings over several years/several sequels; b) making sense of total bullshit.

When it was decided to resuscitate the Halloween franchise in 1995, it was decided that Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers would be the ‘final’ effort wherein all the head-scratching issues from prior sequels would be addressed. When the film was released, it had already been overhauled, most notably with a new ending. The reshoots, however, did not reduce the film’s new premise: that Michael Myers was central to a Celtic cult with incestuous practices, and their quest to keep Evil alive on Earth.

Neither the Theatrical Cut (available on DVD) nor the much-discussed Producer’s Cut (archived on YouTube) can be broken down into a simple synopsis because both versions are narrative disasters. The filmmakers tried too hard to make sense of continuity issues that were recklessly introduced (mostly in Part 5) with no foresight or logic. Most franchises use a bible to keep track of things, whereas Halloween's guardians, from Parts 2-6, used something much bolder: whim.

Not even executive producer Moustapha Akkad knew the meaning of ‘the Man in Black’ – not a good sign when the guiding hand of one of the most profitable and beloved franchised was allowing this sacred cow to be bludgeoned to death by really stupid creative decisions.

Is it the worst sequel in the franchise?

YES – but here’s the full disclosure: I’m watching the films in the order of their theatrical releases. That means I have yet to savor the fine nuances in Rick Rosenthal’s media satire, Halloween: Resurrection, or see if Rob Zombie’s reboot of the original film adds or violates the purity of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s original film.

However, those still curious about Part 6, and the chief differences between the Producer and Theatrical versions, should read my review. It’s long and windy, but it’s far easier to spend 200 words on a turkey and apply terms like inept, idiotic, and crapulastic than trace the serious breakdowns where both versions transform the simple concept of a slasher into something hypnotically awful.

So check out the review, and if you manage to stick through to the end, there’s some helpful links worth investigating, including a pair of candid interviews with screenwriter Daniel Farrands, who later went on to direct the chilling Amityville documentaries that are part of MGM’s Amityville 1 thru 3 boxed set, and more recently co-write the terrifying adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door.

Now that's a killer movie.



- MRH
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Criterion’s big C goes interactive and archival

Criterion has just remodelled their website into a more streamlined and interactive portal for their huge archive of classic, foreign, and contemporary films, as well as vintage archival materials, such as essays from laserdisc releases (which so far begins with Roger P. Smith’s essay from the Citizen Kane laserdisc).

The new site design emphasizes bigger spaces between graphics and text, whereas the prior design combined (what seemed to be) a bit more information within a narrower page width. Some titles include streaming trailers or a large still, but there’s still the standard tally of film credits, DVD specs, and special feature contents.

What’s new and novel to the site is Criterion’s decision to offer streaming video of select films, which will reportedly open up to include offline viewing as well in 2009. The $5 fee allows one to watch the film as many times as one wants for a week, and the $5 can be applied as a credit towards the purchase of the film you watched, either on DVD or Blu-ray.

This is perhaps the most intriguing attempt by the label to further exploit its valuable/invaluable catalogue of films. First there was the special edition laserdisc, then SE DVDs, then the bare bones Eclipse series that brought idling classics back into wide distribution, and now the opportunity to watch the film on your PC or Mac.

While the streaming will be restricted to the territories to which Criterion has the rights (making some films unobtainable, except as import DVD purchases for those outside of the U.S.), it solves a dilemma that’s quite common to film students: where the heck can one get that film needed for an essay, a research project, or one part of a class’ viewing list?

In big cities with rental shops catering to the astute – in Toronto [T.O.], there’s Bay Street Video, Queen Video, and Suspect Video among the top 3 – students have the chance to get the films they need, but due to the cost and sometimes highly eclectic nature of a Criterion film (Michael Bay’s Armageddon ain’t part of that group), it means a class of 20 students have to scour the city and get their hands on the 4 or 5 copies that may exist in T.O. If someone’s late in returning the movie, no one gets the film.

There’s the option to buy the film on DVD, but Criterions come with a premium price. The problem’s been slightly offset with the budget line Essential Art House series, but it’s a new stream that thus far includes just a few bare bones editions of classics, encompassing films such as Grand Illusion, Beauty and the Beast, and Wild Strawberries.

So if the rental is out, the sale copy is sold out, or you live in a town or city where it’s cost prohibitive to get the DVD, and you just need the film for a week to finish your project, the new online streaming option may be a life-saver.

The current selection is very small, but a taste of things to come: Au revoir les enfants, Fat Girl, General Idi Amin Dada, Hopscotch, The Horse’s Mouth, Il posto, Juliet of the Spirits, Lord of the Flies, Overlord, La pointe courte, Ratcatcher, Sans soleil, Solaris (1972), The Spirit of the Beehive, Sweet Movie, Sweetie, and The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

It’s an eclectic mix for sure, but here’s one suggestion to Criterion for the next wave of titles: check out the most used films by fans and students, and start to put those online, because those are among the most vital for school projects, and $5 will be the best money spent by students pulling hairs to meet a hard deadline.

I haven’t tried their streaming feature, but Criterion’s interactive site will undoubtedly give the first participants some forum to critique the process, if there’s any bugs or other technical issues.

But I am looking forward to the reproduction of essays and articles from their prior laserdisc releases, since the contents of those 12” platters sometimes contained unique reference materials (such as script and stills, in the case of Forbidden Planet) that were ignored by producers for the subsequent studio releases.

The real question for veteran fans will be whether Criterion will make available some of those commentary tracks (oh, like The Great Escape) that el cheapo producers refused to buy and port over into their DVD SE’s (and don’t get me started on the recalled James Bond commentaries).

Bruce Eder interviewed *a lot* of filmmakers, technicians, actors, and composers, and those tracks really deserve to be rescued from oblivion. Here’s hoping Criterion’s revamped website (with its simple and informative intro video) will evolve into a major resource, so film fans who’ve only heard of the goodies that appeared on long-dead laserdiscs will get a chance to scour them online, in perpetuity.



-MRH
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Jack's Back

No, this isn’t about the 1988 James Spader-Cynthia Gibb Jack the Ripper thriller directed by Rowdy Herrington (whatever happened to him?), although I admit I’m curious to see it after twenty years since its pay TV broadcast.

24: Retribution marks the return of Jack Bauer, the most successful and engaging James Bond derivative ever created for TV, and it’s about bloody time Fox brought back the popular hero after a long, long absence. The winter ’07-08 writer’s strike killed the show’s chances of returning this past January, but after a number of factors were resolved, Bauer was smartly fitted into a standalone 2-hour TV movie that’s far more satisfying than the 6 or 10 minute teasers Fox tacked onto the DVD editions of each season’s DVD debut.

In prior years, the teaser gave us a hook at what was to come in January, but you have to wonder why someone didn’t figure a TV movie was an even better way to grab us. Oh, right. It costs more dough.

In any event, Retribution has Jack hiding out in a pseudo-African nation on the brink of civil war, working at a boy’s school under the protection of an old friend and ex-CTU agent. When the local rebels need more boys for cannon fodder, they head for the boy’s school, and Jack’s efforts to avoid a subpoena handed to him by a U.S. consulate official goes down the river, as the good solider he needs to save the kids, prevent a mini-genocide, and save his friend’s life.

That’s all I’ll say about the film because, while one can argue it’s two episodes edited into feature-length format, it’s also a complete tale that has Jack returning home just as a new conspiracy cover-up is underway prior to the swearing in of America’s first Madame President.

24’s writers have always pounced on topical news reports, and the timing couldn’t be better. Last year’s president was a right wing hardliner who almost launched a global nuclear war, and things in the country were resoundly bad. It was all post-9/11, which meant the show was set in a world where nothing could be trusted because of an omnipotent cloud of fear: nothing and no one could be trusted, and extremism was wrecking the sense of freedom and pursuit of leisure with which everyone had grown up.

If the story arcs work, 24 is essentially gripping, old-time serial tension. Season 1 was perfection in a bottle (amnesia idiocy excepted); Season 2 was less tight but still engaging; Season 3 had one good episode amid dumb peroxide characters jiggling their way through an ineptly run CTU; Season 4 had a half good episode amid wayward tangents and lame plotting designed to trick ardent fans that only made them angrier; Season 5 was shockingly pretty good; and Season 6 was 24 back in high gear. Kudos to those who realize the show was seriously sucking and needed medical help.

Retribution is timely because it’s riding on post-election euphoria over a the massive political and emotional shift from Dubya to Obama, and like real-life, occurs prior to the transition to the new administration. The world Madame President will govern has already started with a major crisis (the African civil war) as well as a standard 24 internal cover-up of bad behaviour (illegal arms sales) which could threaten not only her administration, but her efforts to be a popular President in addition to keeping her family safe. As prior seasons of 24 have shown, shrapnel knows no boundaries, and the devastation can include presidential family members, drivers, best friends, or whatever gets in the way of the lunatic fringe. All standard operating procedure for the show’s writers.

Retribution will debut Tuesday on DVD as a standalone release, and will be goosed with, what else, a teaser for the new season, although during Sunday’s broadcast, Fox showed some teaser trailers of the teaser (teasing, isn’t it?) that showed a very alive, albeit scarred, Tony Almeida, to which I can only scream “HOW THE HELL IS THAT POSSIBLE?!?!?!?”

For that, we’ll find out in January, after Xmas and New Year’s celebrations, and after Obama moves from elect to sitting President. Undoubtedly the show’s writers will try and feed off what they feel we’ll be experiencing around then.

Fans of the series will not be disappointed by Retribution, as it’s another star-studded episode of sorts with Robert Carlyle as Bauer’s friend in need, and Jon Voight plays the new selfish scumbag with eyes on perhaps rubbing out a member of Madame President’s close circle. Sean Callery’s score is another punchy mix of electronic rhythms, and the use of split-screens pops up a bit more than in prior seasons. (The effect was heavily minimized after Season 1, although I felt that season’s directors made good use of the feature, and I kind of miss it.)

Director John Cassar handles the tense action scenes with his usual panache for sharply edited mayhem, and he’s brought in another massive contingent of fellow Canadians, which include Gil Bellows (Keep Your Distance), Carly Pope (Young People Fucking), and Colm Feore (who’s American, but has made myriad appearances in Canadian stage, TV, and film productions, including Bon Cop, Bad Cop).

We’ll compact the above review with comments on the DVD’s special features (a screener wasn’t available at the time of writing, so I had to settle for the broadcast version which lacks 10 mins. of additional footage).

And how was the Simpsons’ 24 parody? Mostly meh. The show only came to life when Kiefer Sutherland popped up in the middle, getting a prank call (“Imade Adoody“) from Bart, which sets up the finale and a funny closing line. Most of the show’s gags dealt with bodily functions, odours, fetid yogurt, and Marge racing against time to make a worthy contribution to the school’s annual bake sale.

Meh.


- MRH
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Spooky music from MovieScore Media

Sweden’s MovieScore Media scored a bit of a coup in acquiring the rights to release two very excellent scores which should appeal to suspense and sci-fi fans.

As Erik Van Looy’s (Memory of a Killer / De Zaak Alzheimer) latest film makes the rounds in Belgium, Wolfram de Marco’s great little suspense score makes its debut as a digital MP3 and limited CD album, which I reviewed HERE.

Also of note is the music for Invasion, another cult TV series from executive producer Sean Cassidy (American Gothic, Roar, The Agency) that was neglected and dumped by ABC after a rocky 2005-2006 run. Jason Derlatka and Jon Erlich’s music is quite frankly a stunner, and fans of the defunct series will be thrilled at how well cues have been seamlessly edited into a tight narrative.

Eventually I’ll get to reviewing the TV series (the DVD’s been sitting on the shelf for almost a year, but keeps getting pushed back due to heavier commitments), but this album, much like Perseverance’s Dark Skies (1996) is another memorial to a show that was killed before it had a chance to evolve. Like Loft, Invasion is also available from MovieScore Media as a downloadable and limited CD album, and the review is HERE.



- MRH
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What lies beneath that sheath of urban banality, Part 2

Way back in March of this year we reviewed After… (2006), a sadly mediocre and very disappointing film about terrors lying beneath the city streets in abandoned subway tunnels.

The corresponding blog was admittedly an excuse to blab about the Lower Bay subway station, a disused station that’s frequently seen in TV ads, TV shows, and feature films because it’s a fully functioning subway platform where full-sized trains can ride and out, and where set decorators can redress the platform into any city station (although every Torontonian who rides the TTC will easily recognize the station, let alone out distinct silver trains).

The subway was recently used by Montreal-based filmmaker Maurice Devereaux for his horror film End of the Line (2006), which played at the Toronto International Film Festival and is now out on DVD via Anchor Bay/Critical Mass.

To read about the film and DVD extras, check out the review HERE, but for more blather on Lower Bay and how it’s used in the film (as well as Montreal’s disused Wellington Tunnel), read on, although be forewarned that the ensuing blather may contain some spoilers.

Devereaux’ film actually gives us the best views of the Lower Bay thus far because the scenes shot on the platform have a measured rhythm. It’s first shown when a lonely character – a nurse finishing off her midnight shift – enters the station from above (if you look carefully, you can discretely see the silver door that seals the stairwell from the active ‘Upper Bay’ station).

Then there’s a montage that has the heroine walking slowly away from a creepy dude, and a subsequent conversation with her love interest. (An earlier scene that has a discharged patient waiting on the platform is more visually stylized, so there’s less to see in the brief opening teaser.)

Up until the train’s arrival, the potential lovers walk a bit down the platform’s center area, and given it takes place late at night, we’re also treated to some brightly lit views of the platform. Certainly noticeable is the station’s increasingly grubby look, as well as the smudges and drill holes from pasted signage and now-removed original signage from prior film shoots. There’s also the odd angle where one can also read the Bay station name.

In the DVD’s commentary track and in a Q&A with audience members at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival, director Devereaux also explains he had to flip the negative for some shots in order to cover the “Bay” name on the outer platform walls (which is why the shots read “Yab”). The subway tunnels as seen from a moving train, and any shots of moving trains are from the Toronto shoot, whereas the train interior is actually an old Montreal train, mounted outside like a museum piece.

As for fans of Montreal’s urban history, Devereaux also makes heavy use of the Wellington Tunnel, which used to be for car traffic, and was sealed off reportedly around 1994.

The locale is generously featured in the making-of featurette, and is effectively dressed to resemble a train tunnel by adding fake rails, and the digital insertion of a train face when passengers are seen running from the religious zealots determined to save their souls before the Apocalypse. (It’s the shot that’s on the main poster and DVD art.)

There are some giveaways, in terms of it becoming clear it’s the same sections of tunnel used in the film’s second half (graffiti, as well as the long rusty railing for pedestrians), but Montrealers and urban spelunkers will probably get a kick out of seeing a lot of the tunnel sections, lit very dramatically.

Some may find this fascination with disused tunnels and buildings all very silly, but there’s something genuinely hypnotic about a hunk of man-made structures – above or below ground – that are now sealed off from the public, and are more compelling when they were used by several thousand citizens every day.

One day it was a major artery, and now it’s a dark hole in the ground visited primarily by city workers or telecommunication workers using the tunnels to ferry fibre optics and electrical goo.

We already listed some Lower Bay links in the March 10th blog, so those interested in Montreal’s Wellington Tunnel can read more at the links below:

- This site features from very artful shots of the tunnels, flooded and quite frozen during a chilly winter - http://www.uer.ca/~nel58/photos/18084/ - and is proof how beautiful something old and disused can be when captured on film.

- Some eerie daytime snapshots: http://www.techienation.com/urban-exploration-the-wellington-tunnel/, as well as http://www.telinpho.com/pictures/Urban%20Exploration/slides/PICT0001.html

- And this site offers some exterior shots of the surrounding canal that was physically overhauled: http://rogerkenner.ca/Bike/Lachine_Canal_lite/Composite_02_Wellington_Basin.html

What’s lucky for us is that with cheaper (and smaller) technology, plus a wider interest in these sites, elements are documented online, which prove these old venues still exist, and perhaps give filmmakers added views of locations they may find compelling for a future film shoot.



- MRH
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Six Degrees of Forbidden Planet, Edward Bernds, and George Pal

The release of The Phantom Planet (1961) on DVD from Legend Films (in its original black & white and new colorized version on one disc) kind of gives me an excuse to cite some of the times props from MGM’s Forbidden Planet (1956) reappeared in el cheapo productions, as well as TV shows – something perhaps unheard of today, since any iconic prop would easily be recognized by fans, and seriously harm the suspension of belief.

I can’t precisely name all the works where the space suits popped up, but certainly the most obvious is Edward Bernds’ goofy sci-fi ‘epic,’ Queen of Outer Space (1958), where men land on a planet inhabited by feminists wearing pastel evening gowns and high heel pumps. The astronauts are all wearing Forbidden Planet suits, which were also used in one or two episodes of the original Twilight Zone series, including some stock footage of the space ship.

As historian Tom Weaver recounts in his commentary track for Queen, a fair chunk of footage in that film actually comes from Bernds’ other masterpiece, World Without End (1956), including shots of the revolving moon as the ship rapidly approaches, and angles of the moon craters before the silver ship crashes into a puree of plastic fuzz before an abrupt fadeout.

Phantom Planet is also an el cheapo production, and director William Marshall takes the moon footage from Bernds’ films, and uses it in reverse in an opening prologue about space flight. The same footage (plus the moon approach) was also used in director Ronald V. Ashcroft’s The Astounding She-Monster (1957), a brilliantly awful sci-fi shocker made for about $1.25, and available from Corinth/Image.

Saya-kowah... OOOMBAYAH!Director Ed Wood, Jr., had some uncredited involvement with She-Monster, but he’s hardly the reason why the film stinks. In spite of the brilliant poster campaign (just look at those striking pulp graphics and colours), everything is done badly, and the opening credits, which already use Bernds’ moon footage, also slap titles over the gorgeous matte shots of planetary mountains in the post-credit montage over which Sir Cedric Hardwicke explains how foolish we humans are in George Pal’s still superb production of The War of the Worlds (1953).

Bernds’ World Without End is finally free from the clutches of that irritating Best Buy exclusive deal in the U.S., and we’ll have a review of that film soon, as well as a minor rant as to why Leith Stevens’ music ought to be released on disc.

(What makes Phantom Planet unique for film music fans is that the bulk of the tracked score comes from Stevens’ haunting Destination Moon, George Pal’s highly influential, albeit fanciful and very dated tale of man’s journey to our orbiting globe of green cheese. Aside from a 10” LP and the re-recorded stereo album, little else of Stevens’ Destination Moon music is commercially available, so Marshall’s goofy film also gives us long chunks of montages with nothing but Stevens’ elegant score.)



- MRH
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City of Ember

The first interview from our backlog is a lengthy piece with Andrew Lockington, whom we interviewed regarding his great score for Walden Media’s City of Ember. Based on the novel by Jeanne DuPrau, Lockington’s score is also available as a CD and MP3 album, which we reviewed HERE.

Click HERE to read the City of Ember interview (although if you haven’t read it first, please check out our prior 2008 interview with Lockington HERE, covering Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D).



- MRH
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The other blue screen of death...

It's ME, you steely-eyed fathead !!!2008 has been a banger year wherein every kind of bizarro computer problem has happened – except they’re not really bizarro. Prior adventures included worms, trojans, and other assorted crud that necessitated the complete reinstall of Windows XP, heretofore referred to as Garbage XP.

Other subsequent adventures included replacing bad fans in aging (and not that old) power supplies, replacing power supplies, replacing dying hard drives (2), and networking issues between a handful of machines after another recent ‘issue.’

The track leading towards some unity and stability was more steady this week, and it seemed safe to continue to tackle the slow setup of an editing PC in stages. This week’s plan was to install the essentials prior to getting more RAM and a new hard drive for the new machine.

Easy, right?

Not until the power supply on the main server up and died during a mundane CD burn. The subsequent reboot resulted in a corruption whereby the only login given was for Administrator. Those having already experienced this adventure will know exactly where I’m going here.

If there never was a password, why would Garbage XP ask you for one? And if there was a password, why would Garbage XP disallow it? And if you ARE the Administrator, why would the secure account you set up with de facto Administrator privileges vanish from the login?

More importantly, why is Microsoft so impressively daft in setting up a situation where you, the Administrator, can’t access you own computer after a crash? Shouldn’t there be a workaround? Shouldn’t Garbage XP REMEMBER the password you registered?

Do a Google search for “Administrator Password Windows XP” and you’ll find very similar situations where peoples’ machines have crashed, and there’s no recourse but to reformat because some or several asses at Microsoft felt some default security feature should override what you, the OWNER of the system, shouldn’t be able to access when something critical happens to your PC – either a mundane home machine, an office workstation, or the server for a modest website.

The onus is on the owner to protect the integrity of the system so as any disaster can be confronted with some safety features. Fair enough, but it’s funny when some of them, clearly designed to work, DON’T because those bird-brains never bothered to assume that some business owners want the power and security that Garbage XP offers, but want the blasted thing to be more user friendly when disaster occurs.

One can attempt a system restore using the XP installation disc, but hey, you need that Administrator password again.

One can attempt to roll back to prior restore points, but hey, you still get that Administrator login that still refuses to acknowledge the password you REGISTERED and WAS WORKING prior to the ‘catastrophic’ shutdown.

There are a few tools people have developed, but some come with risks that ain’t worth it: a few allow one to reset the password, but that may also alter the encryption of said account, rendering data access impossible – and you can’t reset the password to its prior state.

There are also some software packages designed for data and assorted recovery, but they don’t always work. That includes even pricey ones like the former ERD Commander 2005, which Microsoft bought but has made available more or less to IT pros, probably because they figure:

a) You? Fix a password issue? You’re the average consumer we need to keep in the dark so we can keep selling flawed software (Garbage Vista) and stay in business.

b) Make the tool available? Why? Self-edification is something we find strange for the average user. Leave it to the pros.

XP is complex, but there’s no reason Microsoft can’t provide built-in tools so average businesses and websites can be self-sufficient in solving problems that, hey, seem to happen quite frequently when hardware and/or software goes bad. This is what happens when 9000 (my cheeky number) companies make all the parts in your laptop, or tower.

As my friend’s dad (an ex-long, longtime IBM man) always said, ‘It’s not if your hard drive will fail, but when.’

In my case, Garbage XP was newly installed on a new HD, and everything was swimmingly fine until the power went poofty-woofty. It’s not If your own power supply will fail, but When. It’s not If that prior Garbage XP update will corrupt, but When. It’s not If that software patch does something wonky upon installation, but When.

Funny fact: some updates between Garbage XP Service Pack 2 and Service Pack 3 suddenly start Adobe Acrobat’s installation engine. Why? Who knows, but a tiny entry at Adobe has a tech supporter more or less saying, ‘Yeah, we know about that one. We’re not sure why, but here’s a likely solution to your problem if you’re using Vista.’

Funnily, I wasn’t (nor have any plans to) use Vista, so a fair guess is the update was part of the virtuous ‘improvements’ Microsoft made for Vista, as well as slowly bringing XP closer to Vista’s wonderful features.

Naturally, this issue isn’t on (or wasn’t at the time) at Microsoft’s support site. It took you, the average user in a What-the-f**k? state, to use Google, and hope the solution lay out there with other bewildered users.

Companies need to understand problems will always happen when there’s so many brains involved in the creation of products that make up our individual and corporate computing systems. ,Providing users with free tools or tools within the framework of an operating system with easy-to-find online manuals in clear, normal English will ensure our time – the hours, days or weeks spent on baffling computer behaviour – isn’t consumed. We don’t get paid to solve these issues, so we pretty much rely on fellow users stuck in the same stinking goo that’s brought whole schedules to a halt.

To the techies and fellow users who post queries and detailed help on the net, free of charge, and free from bullshit ads, pop up windows, default Yahoo toolbars and all that ilk, you’re the best.

To the companies who don’t refine their coding, do enough testing and don’t maintain an active dialogue with users to solve problems free of assigning fault, we hate you. The whole lot of us, and may the personal PCs of hack programmers, lazy managers, reckless owners, and boneheads who designed rotten hardware that destroyed our valuable data return the favour ten-fold.

Me? I’m reformatting and reinstalling, but there will be site updates within the next 48 hours.




***

UPDATE

***



The reason there's an update is I found some success in (thus far) avoiding a reformat, so perhaps for those in a similar situation, where they can't gain access beyond a stubborn Administrator login, this may work. I've no time to post the results in any forum, but given this blog is well-read and crawled by numerous search engines, my experience ought to pop up in a related Google search.

These are the two scenarios where ERD Commander 2005 were applied:


HARD DRIVE #1: about a month ago the C drive became supremely wonky and crashed. Rebooting as Normal created an endless loop where XP crashed early into the first XP logo that pops onscreen, with the timer bar advancing while XP loads the main files.

I couldn't go any further in Safe Mode with network support, but I could reach the desktop in straight Safe Mode. That at least allowed the movement of files, but there was no hope in getting any further. Picking a prior System Restore point had no effect, and using the installation CD to attempt a recovery yielded a Administrator password request for a password that was "blank" (ENTER was pressed during installation).

I chose to drag out this useless drive as a test to see whether ERD was worth the risk, and to get a feel for the program prior to tackling the main hard drive affected by the power supply burnout.

- efforts to find a dump file and analyze its contents for any hints went nowhere as I couldn't find any dump file, leading one to believe that the problem may rely in a boot register.

- the system files, according to ERD's scan, were still good (which they obviously weren't, since booting into XP as normal was impossible)

- I used the Locksmith feature which allows one to reset the Administrator password. When I did this, it not only didn't work at the Administrator login, but it also made rebooting in Safe mode impossible: I now had to type in an Administrator password - and the one I just reset, again, didn't work.



HARD DRIVE #2: this was the replacement drive for the above, and the same drive that would not recognize my password no prior user account that has Administrator powers.

- ERD's scan file systems showed no ill effects from the crash due to the fried power supply.

- ERD's own version of regedit also showed the user acounts were still present. A right click on the mouse allows one to apparently reset the password of accounts, but I felt that, if the file scan was correct in finding everything stable, then it's best not to touch anything in the registry.

- the decision was made to back up all files on a clean hard drive that also contained a recent image taken by Powerquest; the goal was simple: get all the new data off before copying the older image onto the affected drive.

ERD's interface is very simple. It's a boot disc that allows one to access files, edit registry files, find prior restore points, copy files to existing hard drives, and, among other things, reset the password of the Administrator account, as well as other users.

The danger, as stated before, is maybe rendering that account inaccessible, but since I nabbed the key files onto a clean drive, there was no loss in trying a password change. Now, I noticed in my prior attempts to login as an Administrator that while the password I typed didn't work, XP kinda hung for a while, as if noting some accuracy before giving me a digital raspberry.

I reset the password to what I had retyped before, and rebooted, with the ERD CD removed from the drive. (It has to be removed in order to do a clean boot.)

The Administrator login appeared, I typed in the password, and voila! It allowed entry!

However, if, when you're using XP, you use your own user account (with administrator privileges and all), you notice the desktop image is different. That's because you're logged in as Administrator. My programs were all there, as in my normal account, but I had to do a few quick things to get the machine back to normal.

In Control Panel, I had go to Administrative Tools, then go to Computer Management. Inside there's a folder called Local Users and Groups. In the sub-folder called Users one finds all the allowed accounts. In the General tab for my regular account, I found it was marked as disabled - something XP did when the system went bad during the post-crash boot-up.

After unchecking that option, I simply logged off as Administrator, and when the machine went back to the main XP Welcome login page, there was MY login. I typed in the password, and it worked.

So here seems to be one area where ERD worked brilliantly: if the file structure is still good, it seems one can reset the password, although whether that was due to the reset clarifying what was already there is a mystery. What ERD does help with is in allowing users to move data to a safer location before trying a few things that have the potential to muck things up even further.

With Drive #1, even though the password reset didn't work and now prevented one from using Safe mode, ERD did allow me to go to that program's own desktop and menu and move data to safety.

This is a great tool that apparently isn't widely available to XP users (although variations of its features are in Vista). The new version of ERD under Windows' banner is for IT techs, and I'm grateful to Bob for coming by and supervising the whole restoration nonsense.

Can't say if it will work for someone else without any hazards, so my experience is just a case study (and being a litigious planet, I have to say I'm not responsible for anything blah-blah-blah user's own risk not mine blah-blah-blah do research before attempting anything blappity-blappity-blah always do backups before attempting any restoration work bloopity-blappity-boo).

HOWEVER, my main point is still valid: these restorative tools should be STANDARD on every operating system, and not held by an elite corps.

End of rant.

As you were.



- MRH
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Dah-lee iz not Cray-zee!

Prior to directing Melody (1971) for Serge Gainsbourg, Jean-Christophe Averty collaborated on a suitably surreal (if not a bit silly) portrait of Salvador Dali. Titled Salvador Dali: A Soft Self-Portrait, the hour-long film comes with cheeky narration from Orson Welles, and plenty of onscreen hamming. Released on VHS (and apparently laserdisc), this oddball film is screaming for a DVD release, and you can read our VHS review of the film HERE.

To compliment the film (and following up on a prior Dali doc, The Dali Dimension: Decoding the Mind of a Genius, from 2004), we’ve added a review of Adam Low’s 1986 BBC doc, Dali (aka The Definitive Dali).



- MRH
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Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg on DVD – Part 2

We've revised the review of Pierre Grimblat's Slogan (1969) with details on Cult Epic's new 2-disc special edition, which replicates the amazing extras on the 2-disc Region 2 French release.

Fans of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin will be pleased with the lengthy interview featurettes, as well as commercial samples by director Grimblat, produced during his years at Publicis.

Also uploaded is a review of Melody (1971), the TV production by Jean-Christophe Averty, wherein Gainsbourg and Birkin appeared in somewhat dramatized music videos for the songs on the album Histoire de Melody Nelson. Coming shortly will be a review of Averty's prior work, a surreal documentary on famous surrealist painter Salvador Dali.




- MRH

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Season of the Mask 3: Moustapha goes back to basics

Peek-a-Boo! I see YOU!Although it took five years before the next Halloween film was produced, one gets a sense executive producer Moustapha Akkad was very patiently working through negotiations during those years to buy back the film rights to his most successful property - the first film that became the most successful independent film at that time.

In letting producer Dino De Laurentiis and Universal take over the franchise, Akkad probably felt like a disappointed parent; seeing a fellow colleague (Dino) as well as the creators (kids John Carpenter and Debra Hill) bungle a formula that worked so well in the first and argubaly the second film. Seen in a different view, he may have felt it was also a matter of professional survival.

Akkad's first feature films as director were the epics Lion of the Desert (1980), and The Message (1976) - two big budget, star-studded desert epics that were designed to capture the spirit and showmanship of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, but with an Arabian twist.

Even though each film has its admirers (Message has evolved from a work of alleged blasphemy to a kind of spiritual historical classic for some), they failed to earn the large-and-fast dollars, and maintain an ongoing legacy. For all the grand production values that went into his desert diptych, it was a low-budget slasher/thriller that put Akkad on the map, and perhaps eased some of the (financial) pain lingering from his epics.

Akkad's own efforts to reclaim the franchise have been successful - the movies are still being churned out - but as the formula of a vengeful boy further morphs into an unstoppable, demonic force, one realizes it's impossible to capture the simplicity and narrative economy of the first.

Carpenter and Hill's original script has its share of teens doomed to die, but Hill's characterizations of the teen girls (mostly played by tall twentysomethings) are more believable than the more over-sexed equivalents in Halloween Part 4 (1988) and Part 5 (1989).

The decision to make the heroine of the new stream a 10 year old child was maybe kind of brilliant; who wouldn't cheer for a child being horrifically stalked by a monster? The small bits of character backstory were enough to make little Jamie (Danielle Harris) compelling, but transplant a grown adult into the same scenario, and the effect is more generic: that cliched adult/teen achetype, seen in countless slashers.

The resilience and limited potential of the Halloween formula perhaps means each film is more of a social and filmic time capsule of the genre. Parts 4 and 5, while considered slashers, are very eighties in their look, editorial style, and portrayal of teens. More overt of the era are the bad source tunes sung by mostly nonames in the soundtrack mix, which the producers had hoped would sell the film's album, or at least make it more pallatble to the youth market.

As filmmakers, Carpenter and Hill were more about maintaining a chilly atmosphere, whereas Akkad always had his eye on a more colourful presentation of subsequent films towards a youth audience. Part 1 may have been intended as a youth product, but it's maintained far more crossover appeal than much of the sequels (the exceptions perhaps being Halloween H20, with the return of Laurie Strode/Jamie Lee Curtis, and Rob Zombie's 2007 re-imagining).

So where does that leave the franchise? Since we're still moving through the series, in terms of Parts 4 and 5, it's headed towards increasing silliness. Just as Hellraiser 4 (aka Bloodline) gave us Pinhead-in-space, Halloween Part 5 was lightly peppered with Druidic mythology, setting up Part 6 as the strangest of the lot.

Ergo, uploaded are reviews of Part 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and Part 5 from Anchor Bay / Starz, to be followed by, yes, Part 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, and more. (Eventually we'll also cover Akkad's desert epics, too, which were given deluxe releases by the label not long ago.)



- MRH
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Spaghetti Western Music

Hey! What's that left palm doing down there?!?!Two quick soundtrack additions between a saturation of Michael Myers:

- Carlo Savina's very atypical score for Steve Reeves' last film, A Long Ride from Hell / Vivo per la tua morte (1969), plus music from the rarely seen Il misterioso signor Van Eyck (1966), nicely mastered on CD by Italy's DigitMovies.


- Roberto Pregadio's underrated score for The Forgotten Pistolero / Il Pistolero dell'Ave Maria (1969), plus some material from Franco Micalizzi's My Name is Trinity / Lo Chiamavano Trinità (1971) on this super-short CD from Italy's Curci.


- MRH
0

Season of the Mask 2: “Edited for Television”

No boobies or blood for you!Back in the seventies and eighties, when films were bought by major TV networks, it was a big thing. Producers getting $4 million for the broadcast rights wasn’t unusual, and the movie was treated like a major TV event. Pay TV was still an expensive alternative, so most people still relied on antennas to get their signals.

Movies, like TV shows, were subject to a network’s Standard and Practices guidelines, and that usually meant snipping naughty bits so anyone could watch the film, shorn of profanity, nudity, violence, or religious epithets. Saying “Goddamn!” and “Hell!” were quite verboten.

I grew up quite used to that nonsense. In 1983, buying a movie on VHS (or DiscoVision, or CED) was cost prohibitive. Shogun, on VHS, was displayed in a glass case at Eaton’s, and if memory serves correct, the set was somewhere around $100-200 for the whole thing. A blank T-120 tape cost anywhere from $36-32.

Seriously.

And yet, after much nagging, I was able to convince Dad to buy a VCR. The RCA Selectavision machine was around $1700, but we got a deal for an RCA 14” TV as well (just under $500) – the first colour TV we ever had. I distinctly recall seeing a Magnavox laserdisc player for over $2,000.

$2,000+ for a laserdisc player.

The VCR meant you could tape and actually own a copy of whatever TV signal you got, and although my first 14-15 years involved a dinky Admiral black & white television, WE HAD CABLE TV.

No, you don’t understand. WE HAD CABLE TV.

It was a window into movieland, and before garbage paid programming littered airwaves at night, and garbage talk shows cluttered up the afternoon schedules, TV stations aired movies.

Whether during prime time or daytime, there were movies, and many were preceded by this “Edited for Television.”

That disclaimer was even applied to From Russia with Love, a 1965 James Bond film that U.S. and Canucklehead S&P censors felt was too risqué. The edits left over from the chopped footage were sloppy, and you always knew something wasn’t right when a strange word uttered by an actor didn’t match the lips. (For a period piece on the snipping of films, check out this 1971 article in TIME magazine HERE.)

That was the kind of roadblock director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill faced in order to sell Halloween to NBC for $4 million. If the proposed trims were applied, the film would’ve run shorter than desired, so Carpenter and Hill wrote a handful of new scenes designed to fill out the film’s PG-styled edit, and give NBC enough room to lard the movie with ads.

Major films are no longer aired as often or treated as an event on network TV anymore. VHS, DVD, and Pay TV killed it, and that loss also signaled an end to shooting filler scenes for network airings. Sometimes the new footage – material not in the theatrical cut – was comprised of genuine outtakes and deleted scenes, but there were examples when a lot of footage was shot, probably with an eye towards a TV sale.

Classic examples include Superman, The Deep, Two-Minute Warning, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, Waterworld, and Far and Away. Waterworld has just been released in an expanded DVD release, the extra footage from Towering Inferno is on the DVD, and some of the Superman material is also on disc. But as for the rest, nuh-uh.

The inclusion or re-editing of a movie with extra footage, when it happens on DVD, does give viewers the chance to see whether the movie still works, and that’s more or less the main question we try and answer in our review of Anchor Bay’s extended edit of Halloween.

We’ve also uploaded reviews of Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (both produced by Dino De Laurentiis and released by Universal) to compare the changes and sharp turns that affected the franchise’s early installments.

Coming shortly will be reviews of Halloween IV and V, although I have to admit I am getting tired of the theme music, something at least the poopy Halloween III didn’t have in its score.

Coming next: soundtracks reviews, Cult Epics’ new 2-disc edition of Slogan, another rare work featuring Serge Gainsbourg-Jane Birkin, and more installments in the Halloween series.



- MRH

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