Monday, January 26, 2015

Bradbury and Horror

I thought I'd piggyback an article I found on the web about the auctioning off of Ray Bradbury's art collection.  The article refers to it as weird, which doesn't sit very well with me, because it has a negative connotation to it somehow.  I don't think of it in that light, some of them are surreal as in the Martian landscape above, and others take on fantasy subject matter, while others are just imaginative.  Perhaps I'm nitpicking as this type art is one that I enjoy a lot.  Either way, it's good to know Ray Bradbury enjoyed this type art as well.  You can read about the auction here. 

You can go here, to the io9 site, which calls it brilliant art (that's a lot better) to see what some of it looks like.

This past weekend I caught a three-part series from the BBC on the horror genre.  It was pretty good too.  The first part examines the early days of horror looking at early Universal horror like Dracula, Frankenstein, and some of the actors like Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and some of the other lessor actors that starred in the films.  In one segment of the film, Mark Gatiss, the host of the program goes to a museum in Hollywood, and looks at Lon Chaney's makeup kit.  You also get to see one of the props of a bat, that is the one that Bela Lugosi turns into when he does the transformation to the bat in Dracula. 

With the second part to the series, Gatiss talks about the British Hammer production studios. All throughout the series also features some of the posters from some of the films, which are great to see as well.  If you enjoy some of that artwork, I can't recommend highly enough a coffee table book by Ronald V. Borst called Graven Images. Where you will find posters from all these eras of movie making along with an introduction to each of the eras of the movies by such noted authors like Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and so forth.

With the third part we enter into more contemporary times.  Gattis interviews directors like George Romero from The Night of Living Dead fame, to Tobe Hooper who created the low budget, but infamous, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as others.  Overall I thought it was a well done series, and had a fairly clean video.  A lot of these Youtube videos look like that were transferred off from a VHS so that the picture is blurred and unpleasant to watch, but the above series is cleaner like maybe it came off a feed or a DVD somewhere.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Double feature

This past Friday I watched Maleficent.  I'm not a huge Jolie fan, I'm very indifferent to her really.  I have to say I wasn't exactly drawn to watching the movie either by the above poster art.  I thought for a Disney film the poster sure felt like Disney was going all Satanic on us.  Sort of creeped me out.  So at any rate, I ended up watching the film by happenstance really, and I guess it was my mood, but was swiftly swept up in its spell. 

I'll admit it's more style over substance, and I generally prefer a bit more substance to films, but the style was a real eye-catcher.  It's basically just a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and perhaps the reason it's story-lite is because it's probably made for a younger audience, though I enjoyed it enough too.  I guess the draw for me was just the way many of the scenes in the film were composed to please the eye, and they really achieved that at least in my mind of how a fairy tale should look.  Sure there's tons of CG to the film, but they did a pretty good job of making it all mesh.  What they also did right was add some darkness to the tale, which is why Jolie looks so evil.  She doesn't start out that way though, and that helps to form and inform some empathy with the character, and also gives it a nice Brothers Grimm feel to it.  I thought it felt a bit like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter a bit, but without the underpinnings of all the history, so you get a story that's pretty superficial and pretty to look at, but enjoyable too.  So I'd have to say, it's hard to recommend the film with high merits, but if you're looking for something entertaining, without a lot to think about it would probably work for you.
By contrast, the Disney film, Third Man on the Mountain had both style and substance.  I found it to be a much better film, perhaps even fitting the classic mold.  At any rate, it's a story based on the book, Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman and shot on location in Switzerland.  So you get some beautiful mountain scenery, is devoid of CG effects, because it was made in '59, but there are some really hair raising shots once they show the scenes of climbing the mountain. 

James MacArthur plays a Swiss youth (Rudi Matt) who vows to be the first to scale a formidable Matterhorn-like mountain called the Citadel. MacArthur's father was killed attempting a similar climb, but is seen by all the people in the village as a local hero and one of the best climbers. Though discouraged by his mother and uncle, due to his father's death, they try to steer the young MacArthur into going to school and finding another profession.  But like father like son, his heart is set on being a mountain guide.  The film also stars, Michael Rennie, who played Klaatu in the film, The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Rennie is the mentor to MacArthur, and understands the boy's excitement and love of mountain climbing. He wants him to go with him to scale the Citadel, but his mother and uncle are against it, which sets up the conflict. 

There's also a romance in the story between MacArthur, and one of the local girls in the village.  The only criticism with the film, isn't the story itself, but with the film transfer--looking like it was transferred from VHS, plus no extras.  You'd think Disney would come out with a very good remastering of this film, it certainly deserves it.  Like a lot of the movies from this era, it is full of adventure, some romance, some lighthearted fun, and great scenery.  After watching it I went over to Netflix and added some other early Disney films to my ever-growing list.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

You Ate My Fractal

I've always been a BIG music fan, and ran across these musical spoof videos on Youtube.  Amazing stuff in that the guy or guys that put these up did such a great job of synching up all the music to create such a hilarious videos.

Here's another great barnburner by the jam band, Phish:

This one by Hall and Oats cracks me up too.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Holy Screwed and Tatooed Batman

I read a very interesting article this morning on one of the co-creators of Batman, Bill Finger.  He was actually more responsible for creating the Batman mythos than Bob Kane.  His daughter, Athena Finger, is trying to sue DC comics, now Warner Brothers, for some of the rights to the copyright.  If you decide to read the article, don't be distracted by the crazy guy (Tamerlane) holding the sign that says, "Your mother is fat."  He actually does tie-in with the fight for the copyright, where he appears again at the end of the article.  But you can skip down further into the article if you'd rather not read about his antics and villainy.  Here's the article.  

Last night I watched King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), I guess I was in the mood for something pretty cheesy, but also wanted to revisit the film to see how it held up.  It is not one of my favorite Godzilla movies.  So far my favorite two movies in the franchise are Godzilla, King of the Monsters (the U.S. title) with Raymond Burr, and Mothra vs. Godzilla.  I always thought King Kong in this film looked pretty bad compared to the original film by Willis O'Brien.  Oddly O'Brien does have something to do with the Godzilla film however.

By the late 50's, special-effects wizard Willis O'Brien had fallen on hard times.  After the commercial failure of his third ape epic, Mighty Joe Young, O'Brien tried to peddle a follow-up script to his 1933 classic King Kong, called King Kong vs. Frankenstein.  As O'Brien conceived it, Kong would face a new giant monster.  This Frankenstein-like creature would be sewn together from the parts of various African animals.  Too bad we never got to see that film.

O'Brien managed to pique the interest of producer John Beck in 1960.  Unfortunately, stop-motion photography, the animating process behind the original Kong was costly and time-consuming.  Aware of Toho's growing reputation in the suitmation monster market (ie. using actors in a monster suit), Beck took O'Brien's core idea and approached the Japanese studio about bringing it to the screen.  It just so happened that in 1961 Toho was casting about for an appropriate vehicle to return Godzilla to the screen after a seven-year absence from the Godzilla sequel, Godzilla Raids Again (1959).  As a bit of trivia, Godzilla Raids Again, played on a double bill in some cinemas with Teenagers From Outer Space.

At any rate, Toho dumped the Frankenstein idea and substituted Godzilla, and the rest is history.  The original Godzilla director, Ishiro Honda, and the original composer, Akira Ifukube, reunited to work on King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Special effects were once again handled by Eiji Tsuburaya, who had reached the zenith of his craft.  These three men became the trademark team for Godzilla. 

In the this new film, the world would see Godzilla in widescreen and color.  As I said, the movie is a bit silly, but at the time was the Jaws of the Japanese film industry, and by some accounts, King Kong vs. Godzilla became the most profitable Japanese film of all time.  Though I don't think that is still the case.  However, at least it did legitimize Godzilla's fame as an international movie star from some of the other atomic monsters of the fifties and place him among the classic pantheon of cinema creatures.  It gave the creature box office clout, and an inexhaustible array of sequels and future possibilities, which lead into Godzilla vs. Mothra or the U.S. title, Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964).  Again, Godzilla vs. Mothra was sometimes double billed with another SF film, Voyage to the End of the Universe. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Shape of Things to Come

Finally, the sun came out.  Huzzah!!   Here's an article I found on Ray Bradbury's house that is being torn down.  It seems a shame in some ways, but I guess that's how life and the world works--out with the old, and in with the new.

It's weird to think of time.  I'll occasionally think about this area I'm currently living.  It's where my Dad was born and raised, and I grew up east of here in a similar midsized town, Longview.  But I'll think, this place was here before I was born, and will be here after I'm gone.  On walks that I take along the backroad to this place there's this overgrown area of trees that simply looks rather prehistoric, and I'll think the same thing.

At any rate, the world changes, and we do as well to some degree.  I bought the new Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series (or season) the other day off eBay.  It's a five disc set, and I got a pretty good deal on it.  Last night I watched the first story, called Deep Breath, and it was pretty good.  This is the beginning of the new twelfth doctor starring Peter Capaldi along with Jenna Coleman.  The episode opens as a dinosaur is terrorizing London.  The doctor and Clara are adjusting to his new incarnation, and meet a robotic man who is seeking paradise.  It all seemed a bit steampunk to me in some ways, and I enjoyed that aspects of it.  In fact a lot of Dr. Who these days sort of strikes me that way.  So the doctor and Clara have a dinosaur and this robot to deal with, and they are teamed up with the Paternoster Gang, which have appeared in other previous episodes from the Matt Smith era.  I kind of enjoy that gang, they add a different dimension, and at times, comedic relief to the show.  As usual things gets sussed out, and all ends well.

There are some special features on the first disc as well, which have some behind the scene stuff, commentary, and so forth.  One of the features is about the Dr. Who World Tour, which takes them to several cities around the globe, more or less to promote the program.  But what I found odd is that there's so many Dr. Who fans in South Korea, Australia, Rio de Janeiro, etc.  Also when I watched it, I remembered the small, local Dr. Who club that we had back in West Texas.  It consisted of just a handful of folks, who were also members in a Star Trek club as well--this was around the time Next Generation had started airing on TV.  But anyway, one of the guys in the Dr. Who club had built a Tardis console.  It actually looked pretty decent too, and was modeled after one of the earlier incarnation of the classic console (as they keep modernizing it).  It's the one with the  glass dome in the middle of it. 
I don't know what happened to that console. I think he gave it to another member, who kept it a while in his garage.  I don't know if he still has it or not, or what became of it.  I should call him to chat a bit, and ask him about that console.  At any rate, judging from the first episode of the new Dr. Who season, Peter Capaldi should make a pretty good doctor, we'll see.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Ruminations

I'm sitting here listening to Jonn Serrie's CD, Planetary Chronicles on Miramar recordings.  It's electronic, serene, spacey, and sort of hitting the spot for today.  From the liner notes, it says he was composer-in-residence at Electronic Music Laboratories, Inc., a synthesizer manufacturer in Connecticut.  His has composed music for planetariums around the world.  He has also used his music in conjunction with Lucasfilm, Ltd. and the Hayden Planetarium in new York on an interactive children's project featuring the robots C-3PO and R2D2 from the movie Star Wars.  This is music from some of those planetarium shows. The song, "Dawn Trader" was commissioned in 1983 for "winds on Distant Worlds" by the Fels, inspired by the cover of an Isaac Asimov book Robots of Dawn.

I ran into the above video earlier today, and thought I'd share.  It's an early synthesizer piece by the German band Custer.  They did a good job of combining the music with the SF imagery.

All this synthesizer music, which is sometimes lumped in with New Age music, reminds me of when I first started listening to it many years ago on the radio program, Hearts of Space.  They'd play all this cool space music, and it really captured my imagination.  I got to where I'd tape the programs on cassette on a Sunday evening, so I could listen to them later.  I remember whenever me and my brother would go to Austin on a short holiday, we'd hit the record stores there and I'd try to find some of this stuff on album.  A new record store (this was vinyl a bit before CDs)  had just opened there across the river. It was called Waterloo Records back in the 80's, and it was like a breathe of fresh air.  They not only had the newest rock bands on the charts, but also a big assortment of blues, New Age, punk, foreign music from Africa and other corners of the globe.  It was just an amazing place to go look around in and browse for music.  They were always playing something cool in there too, and I loved the open and clean way the store was designed.  They are still in Austin, but have since moved to the other side of the river, a bit further north on Lamar. 

Anyway, I got sidetracked on what I was going to talk about, and that is watching the Star Wars, Clone Wars cartoons last night.  They were really good, and I never had sat down to watch them before, which is incredible and odd, as I am a Star Wars fan to some degree.  They were drawn in a rather stylized way, but once you got used to it--it didn't detract from the story in any way.  Actually the artwork really grew on me, and I enjoyed the graphic nature and color of the animation. The stories were cool too. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Life is Sweet

Sitting here listening to some John Coltrane.  It's his Giant Steps CD.  I like it because for lack of any other words: it's upbeat, fairly joyful, and works wonders for my emotional state.  I'm doing laundry, and need to do some other chores around the house.  So this is a short and sweet post.  2015 is here!! Whoo hoo!!

I watched a movie last night called Only God Forgives, and I don't recommend it because it was one of those arthouse flicks without much plot and pretty slow in the pacing.  But I also caught a rather independent film documentary on the gonzo Rolling Stone/ Creem rock critic, Lester Bangs, that I did think was worthwhile, at least to me since I like music so much.  He was sort of smarmy in his reviews, and his outlook perhaps, but seemingly pretty smart.  I don't agree with him a large part of the time either, nor share his particular slant in taste.  Oh sure we like some of the same stuff, but overall he leaned more towards punk and garage bands, which I enjoy on occasion--oh, and he like Coltrane.  So there's that. 

At any rate, 2015 is looking pretty sweet as far as some of the movies that will come out this year.  I'm already looking forward to Ant Man in some ways.  You gotta love a character that rides on the back of ants, and wear a cool helmet like that.

But hey, later, later on in the year we'll get a new Disney Star Wars film too, and, AND a new Avengers film, and, AND a new Jurassic World film--I love dinosaurs.   Here's a rundown of some of the newer movies to be coming our way in this new year:

Have and share some JOY today.