DT Moviehouse Review: The Cabin In The Woods

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, and a perfect fit for the Halloween season, I review Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods.

Directed by Drew Goddard

Screenplay by Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon

Tagline: You think you know the story.

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What It’s About:

33d5bfc8College students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Marty (Franz Kranz), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) depart for a secluded weekend at a remote forest cabin and ‘accidentally’ summon up an undead clan of pain worshipping murderers who begin to stalk and kill them one at a time. But is all as it seems, or are they being manipulated for some mindbending, sinister purpose by office managers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford)?

Why I Bought It:

After a premature run-in (in a dark room no less) with the head twisting scene in The Exorcist when I was six or seven years old, I actively avoided watching horror movies for about nine years, finally breaking the ‘fast’ with, ironically enough, Exorcist III.

CITW_-_floaty_girlI’m really lucky that Exorcist III was such a great flick, or I never would have backtracked and sought out all the scary movies I’d missed.

And I never would have ‘got’ The Cabin In The Woods.

I never actually realized what a horror hound I had become until I saw this.

This is probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, period. It’s so enjoyable it almost seems like every single horror movie that has gone before was created specifically so this could come into being.

Make no mistake, to fully appreciate the greatness of this movie you have to have at least a passing familiarity with Hellraiser, The Shining, Dracula, An American Werewolf In London, The Mummy, HP Lovecraft, It, The Ring, Suspiria, Evil Dead, Halloween, Juh On, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Troll, Poltergeist, Alien, and Friday The 13th.

5pR6aThis is really a movie that benefits in a huge way from going in entirely blind. What a hard movie to cut a trailer for! Being kind of jaded about the summer slasher movie genre, the very title The Cabin In The Woods was a turnoff for me. I’m not into the torture porn genre made popular by stuff like Hostel and Saw and assumed this was going to be more of the same. It looked like yet another vanilla cookie cutter teens in peril flick. There would be some topless scenes, some beer drinking and pot smoking, and in the end, the smartest guy (or more likely, girl) would go through hell at the hands or claws of some inbred hillbilly stereotype or a zombie or plague crazy gutmuncher and maybe get away in the end, maybe not.

Then a couple people whose opinion I trusted started sounding off that this was great, but wisely (and I thank them) refused to give details as to what was so great about it.

Just watch it, they said.

So after a long time of not thinking about it, I finally rented it.

Little did I know that Cabin In The Woods would contain just about every clichéd trope in my aforementioned laundry list….and yet still somehow manage to be entirely original. Thrillingly, awesomely original, and more, a hilarious, subversive in-joke directed solely at horror fans.

This is not to say that you have to be a horror junkie with an all-encompassing knowledge of everything the genre has to offer. It’s just that it offers so much more if you’re a nerd.

Surface-wise, the plot alone is entertaining and the tag line says it all. Going into it, you think you know what’s going to happen. The very title evokes a paint by numbers scenario. Early on though, you realize something weird is going on, when the movie opens not with the teens gearing up for their weekend, but a couple of middle-aged salarymen in suits preparing for some big to-do at their white, sterile workplace.

Of course, then we get the obligatory scenes where get to know who’s who and who’s with who, which is the jock, which the brain, which the burnout. Yet there’s still something just a little off. Our football hero has in-depth knowledge of socio-economic theory. Our stoner and his wild conspiracy theories make more and more sense as the movie progresses. The boy’s aren’t slavering pussy hounds – when one discovers a two-way mirror looking into the object of his desire’s room and she starts to undress, we don’t get the voyeuristic topless scene. He knocks on the wall and lets her know what’s going on (does she do the same for him later on?).

As we go deeper down the rabbit hole of Cabin In The Woods, our expectations start unraveling. A bird hits an invisible force field. The office guys are shown to be having some effect on the behavior of the kids. There are tantalizing hints toward some greater purpose being fulfilled. And when the kids start acting like we expect them to, it’s unexpected.

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W.T.F! Yeah, Cabin In The Woods is kinda like this.

By the time a character we thought was dead returns, we know this same drama is being enacted all over the world for some strange reason and I doubt anybody who hasn’t seen this movie or read about it beforehand can guess what the heck is happening. Yet it’s not all some fly-by-night-pull-it-out-of-your-ass-make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. By the time Sigourney Weaver shows up to explain it all, it’s like the last piece of a puzzle is fitting into place and you think to yourself, “Ahhhh that’s perfect.”

It’s a real treat to be surprised by a movie, and it’s even better to be totally delighted by it as a genre fan.

cabinboardFor me, the movie really takes off when they go down into that cellar and find it packed to the gills with thinly disguised items from other movies. The puzzle ‘ball,’ referencing both Hellraiser and perhaps Phantasm. The diary with the incantations right out of Evil Dead. It’s all intercut with that wonderful whiteboard the office workers are all betting over, crammed with achingly great references to threats from across the horror spectrum. When that scene passes and you realize what’s about to happen, you love it, but a small part of you thinks in the back of your head, “Aw man, it would’ve been so great if they’d gone with the BLANK instead.”

And then, maybe twenty or thirty minutes later, they hit the Purge button and it’s Christmas morning, as every monster and beast, every ghost and murderer on that board floods your screen.

The_Monsters_The_Cabin_in_the_Woods-1024x426Cabin In The Woods that does the impossible. It’s a flick with a one off plot twist so great you can’t possibly expect it to be rewatchable once you know it’s coming. But you do watch it again. And you rewind and pause and slow mo it to death to see all those white board monsters tear their way through the complex. Geez there’s even a 50 foot woman in one of those cages.

One of the most supremely satisfying movies I’ve ever seen.

And, like the complexity of the plot itself, it’s smart. You can still delve a level deeper beyond the monsters and uncover a rich examination of the movie fan himself. There’s a great scene when Hemsworth and Hutchinson are being manipulated via hormone gasses, temperature, and lighting to have sex in the woods, and the team of manipulators are shown hanging on the scene from their viewing room, waiting for Hutchinson to show her breasts and groaning when she initially defers. How many guys have sat together watching a horror movie at home or in a theater and experienced the same audience reaction? It’s a funny scene, and yet the makers bring it back a step when Hadley and Sitterson dismiss the greater portion of the crew and put their full resources toward getting Hutchinson to disrobe, ostensibly for the viewing pleasure of the Old One (is the band of randy office drones a stand in for the moviegoing audience, which is funny, or is it the Old One, which suggests something more unseemly). Their expressions completely change. They’re almost sad to do it. But the Old One must be appeased. The tropes of the ritual must be adhered to.

When Marty says early on that the world needs to crumble, but everybody’s afraid to let it crumble, he speaks of the loss of privacy, the invasion of nebulous government watchers and dropping of sanctions on private life. This foreshadows the situation of the kids in the cabin, but doesn’t it also reflect on the fears of modern life in America?

What is the change Mary is calling for if we apply it to ourselves? Should the Old One rise up to completely tear down the system? Is popular entertainment an opiate used to keep that giant from waking up and breaking out? Maybe this is ham-handed political commentary to some, but then again how many of the general movie going audience came away with this message from something as innocuous seeming as a summer horror movie?

Cabin-In-The-WoodsIt also cleverly breaks the horror movie cliché down into a thematic, seemingly ancient codification. The athlete, the fool, the whore, the virgin. These are mystical concepts that really do occur throughout the history of human storytelling, and are most clearly represented in the cards of the Waite Tarot. The fool is often considered the stand-in for the questioner in a card divination. In Arthurian literature it’s the fool, often Sir Dagonet (as in Tennyson), Percivale (Perfect Fool) or in some cases (TH White) Merlin, who can look beyond the confines of his own story to comment on the greater meaning. The fool sees the strings, and can follow them to the storyteller. The fool attains the Grail, the greater, hidden knowledge, often to his detriment, as is the case with Marty here.

One wonders what cultural tropes the Old Ones in Japan need to see to keep them sleeping.

A thing I’ve said this in other reviews, but a good movie is entertaining. A great movie ‘moves’ the watcher, either moving their heart to experience some emotion, or moving the mind into a previously unconsidered mode of thought.

I would say The Cabin In The Wood is a great movie.

Best Dialogue/Line:

Marty’s weirdly funny and cryptic (and ultimately prophetic):

Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees further than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.

Best Scene:

Without a doubt the best scene is the monster Purge I’ve already described above. This flick has a lot of funny moments amid all the horror. Mordecai on speakerphone comes to mind.

But if I had to pick a scene that never fails to make me laugh because it’s totally indicative of the multilevel enjoyment I get out of this movie, is when Hemsworth’s Curt tries to escape the area by jumping the gorge on his motorbike.

6487After their camper is blocked from escaping through the tunnel by an unexpected explosion which results in a cave-in, Curt devises a plan to jump the gorge and escape on his motorbike, vowing to return with the police, the national guard, the ghost of Steve McQueen the LA Raiders, and ten thousand Roman gladiators to get his friends out, and especially to avenge the horrifying death and post mortem beheading of his girlfriend.

He assures them he can easily make the jump, and cuts a heroic, Thor-like figure for a moment, revving his bike and nodding to them his assurance.

“You can’t hold back,” his friend Holden warns him. He has to achieve maximum velocity to make this leap to freedom.

“I never do,” Curt growls.

He cuts loose, leaps the bike into the air, and it looks like he’s going to make it, until he smashes head on into the invisible honeycomb field enclosing the area. His bike explodes in a fiery ball and we sees his lifeless body tumble down the long length of the shield wall, bouncing as it goes, giving us a glimpse as to how deep it really goes (perhaps it’s there to keep the Old One penned in?).

For the victims in the story, it’s a horrible, hope-smashing moment.

For the guys in the control center, it’s a sigh inducing close call, which if you think of the movie in the terms that they are actually the ones trying to preserve the world and all human life on it, is kind of a time bomb cut the blue wire hero moment for them.

And for me, I just burst out laughing. Is it a guilty laugh? Maybe upon multiple viewings, but the first time, no. I just found the failure of Curt’s heroics unintentionally hilarious, like a somebody calling their shot in a game and then fumbling utterly, or Jack Burton exuberantly shooting in his gun in the air before the big fight in Big Trouble In Little China and then getting knocked out by the falling plaster.

I wonder if this made the Old One chuckle in his bed too?

Next In The Queue: The Call Of Cthulhu

Extra Life! You know….for kids!

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M’boys. Ready for action.

I’ve never been particularly athletically inclined. I did a little bit of basketball in middle school (I was terrible), the usual PE stuff in high school, and for a very brief period in college, some jogging and biking.

In high school though, I did discover and gravitate towards a certain group activity that in the 80’s was sort of a subcaste in terms of popularity strata, so far off the accepted social map as to be nearly clandestine (we gamed with a guy on the football team who the first day made me swear never to tell anybody he played -a secret I have upheld to his grave), and that was roleplaying games. First Dungeons and Dragons, the old gateway drug, then Cyberpunk, Rifts, Shadowrun, and Vampire: The Masquerade.

In college I ‘graduated’ from playing games to running them. I ran a West End Star Wars game for about two years, and I truly believe that this past time was instrumental in my development as a writer.

Thak fails his Wisdom save.

Thak fails his Wisdom save.

There’s something about tabletop roleplaying that develops the storytelling ‘muscle.’ It’s not just a buncha guys and gals huddling over a table snickering about elves. I really believe it’s a re-enactment of the primal form of human entertainment; sitting around in a group, telling stories to each other. Now we’ve got lightbulbs instead of a fire, and we chow on cylinders of Pringles and Diet Coke (though in my heyday it was Captain Morgan’s rum) instead of smilodon meat and fermented fruit juice (well, in some circles, that probably hasn’t changed much).

What part of "interactive gaming" is not a lie?

What part of “interactive gaming” is not a lie?

Roleplaying games sharpen the mind, quicken the pulse, and they’re a riot. Best of all, a tabletop game can’t be done alone, which dodges a troubling trend in entertainment geared towards youth. I love video games. As a multiple-kid-parent with a full time job and a burgeoning writing career, plug and play has been a godsend in terms of my own personal relaxation. I even worked in the video games industry for a little while. However, despite the interactive gaming tagline, you’re basically just staring at a screen for hours on end. The anonymity allows a lot of unsupervised, underage kids to spew a lot of horrendous garbage they would never dare say to a person whose eyes they could look into, and conversely, rather than teaching a kid to deal with somebody they might encounter in life who doesn’t have any social skills for whatever reason, you can just mute the little a-holes. Again, kind of foments universal disconnect rather than advancing the whole brotherhood of man concept.

IMAG0130But then at the beginning of this year, a friend of mine coaxed me back into rpging (D&D specifically) at the Local Gaming Store, and it’s been a revelation. Much more satisfying than vegging out to GTA (though I still do that too when I have the time).

Anyway, then Extra Life came along. As I mentioned, I have never been athletically inclined. I don’t run unless I’m being pursued or chasing down one of my toddlers, so I’ve watched the charity marathons some of my friends participate in a bit wistfully. I’d like to do something like that, I’m sure they’re having fun doing it, but it’s just not in my wheelhouse.

But this is.

Here’s the nitty gritty, straight from the mouth of the Extra Life bot -

“My local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital treats thousands of children each year, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. These kids are facing scary stuff like cancer, cystic fibrosis, and injuries from accidents to name just a few.

On October 25, 2014, I’ll be participating in this huge worldwide celebration of the social impact of gamers of all kinds from video games to board games and tabletop RPG’s! It’s my sincere hope that you’ll find it in your heart to support my efforts with a monthly pledge or one-time gift that will go directly to my hospital.

Your donation is tax-deductible and ALL PROCEEDS go to help kids.

I need your help to reach my goal.  Please make a safe, easy donation online today.  Click the “Support This Participant” button on this page to get started.  Thank you so much for supporting my efforts!”

My friend and I will be participating in a 24-hour marathon session of the new fifth editions of Dungeons and Dragons this October the 24th at a local gaming store, JJ’s Gaming Lounge in Chatsworth. It’s a mad little endeavor that I hope will raise awareness of the heinous problems the less economically fortunate and infirm children of our country face daily when it comes to finding the affordable healthcare many people with more stable lives take for granted.

I’m blessed that my own kids are healthy and that the safety net of a medical plan is there for them if they need it. I want to show that gratitude now by giving back in a small way. My chosen charity is the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, altruistic folks who can always use a helping hand helping others. I believe the D&D team for Extra Life has already pledged something over one million dollars total, so it’s not just a lark.

Please, if you have the means and are so inclined, catch the link below for a similar version of what I just posted here and the more-important donation button.

-Hasta pronto.

http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=113334

Published in: on October 7, 2014 at 8:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lock And Load! World War Cthulhu on sale!

Dark Regions Press’ WORLD WAR CTHULHU is available for purchase.

http://www.amazon.com/World-War-Cthulhu-Collection-Lovecraftian/dp/1626410747/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411678060&sr=8-1&keywords=world+war+cthulhu

You can read an excerpt from my short story THE BOONIEMAN right here.

Each of the stories has an accompanying illustration from M. Wayne Miller (who also did the cover for my Van Helsing in Texas novel TEROVOLAS). Here’s the one for THE BOONIEMAN. A ting of beauty, ain’t it?

wwc

How do you kill a senses shattering monstrosity from beyond the outer dark? Easy. You just don’t lead it as much.

Published in: on September 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

De Horrore Cosmico At Kickstarter

6c586547735714014eda8f29c8cfc9f8_largeGolden Goblin Press is into the final seventeen days of their kickstarter for He Horrore Cosmico, six scenarios the the Cthulhu Invictus game. In their own words:

Long before ivy grew on the walls of Miskatonic University or the Deep Ones first came to Innsmouth, centuries before the mad Arab penned the dreaded Necronomicon, the malevolent powers of the Cthulhu Mythos plagued mankind. During the Age of the Antonines (96 AD–192 AD), when the Roman Empire was at the peak of its power, dark and unknowable forces were at work.  Ancient wizards sought ways to cheat death, explorers stumbled on the remnants of alien civilizations, foul cults practiced unholy rites, and inhuman creatures sought to mix their blood with ours.

Across Rome’s vast empire, a few brave men and women rose up to meet these threats for the greater good of mankind. They carried light into the darkness, dispelling a poisonous taint which grows best in the shadows. With steel and spell and burning torch, these heroic investigators of the ancient world defended their civilization from the fearsome powers of the Cthulhu Mythos. Golden Goblin Press is proud to offer up six of their adventures.

58634b4826cb1310d0efd57fb05efddc_largeOnce GG Press hits the $23,000 stretch goal, they’ll be putting out a companion fiction anthology edited by Brian Sammons and featuring nine stories of Lovecraftian horror set in Roman times to fire the imagination of players and GMs.  The lineup for that book consists of -

Vulcan’s Forge, by William Meikle
To the Fertility of the Empress, by Christine Morgan
A Plague of Wounds, by Konstantine Paradias
Time Devours All, by Pete Rawlik
The Unrepeatables, by Edward M. Erdelac
Signs of the Black Stars, by Penelope Love
Lines in the Sand, by Tom Lynch
The Temple of Iald-T’quthoth, by Lee Clark Zumpe
The Seven Thunders, by Robert M. Price

My tale, The Unrepeatables, is about Damis of Nineveh, the lifelong friend and companion of the renowned mystic and miracle worker Apollonious of Tyana, and an ex-legionnaire insinuating themselves into the estate of a famous charioteer to investigate rumors that he is profaning the secret and sacred Eleusinian Mysteries.

More about the story as the book is funded – which means, hey, if you like Roman history and Cthulhu, go kick Golden Goblin Press a buck or two. They’ve got some really killer swag for backers, including Lovecraftian lare (household god figurines – which feature prominently in The Unrepeatables), custom Roman coins, and more.

DT Moviehouse Review: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

After a prolonged hiatus, it’s time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review the timeless classic, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.

Directed by George Roy Hill

Written by William Goldman

Tagline: Not That It Matters, But Most Of It Is True.

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What It’s About:

In the waning days of the American West, notorious bank and train robbers Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) see the writing on the wall for their way of life and head for Bolivia and a fresh start with schoolteacher Etta Place (Katherine Ross).

Why I Bought It:

bandsdThe first trip I ever took the West Coast was with my parents. We did the tourist thing, walked Hollywood Blvd, and hit the wax museum. On the way out, my dad and I were pulled aside by the photographer in the gift shop, who put us in front of a screen (I think it was blue, maybe green) and snapped our picture, then put our heads on the bodies of Butch and Sundance, in that famous pose where they’re leaning against some crumbling Bolivian backdrop, possibly on the last day of shooting (no pun intended). And for probably the only time in my life, it was a perfect fit. My dad was Redford, and I was Newman. My mom bought it on the spot, and it’s hanging still in the basement of their house on the stairs going down to his model Santa Fe railroad layout, next to a framed photograph of the real life Hole In The Wall Gang I picked up somewhere.

I had never seen the movie at that point. I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and didn’t care a whit for westerns.

My love for the genre came much later, after I’d burned through Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, John Ford, and the Duke and came the long long way around the barn back to the great American westerns of the late sixties and seventies, of which is this is one of the very best.

butchRewatching this movie is like slipping on an old coat, or seeing a couple friends from the old bunch. You know, the guys you were inseparable with in high school – only neither of you has changed. This is a flick carried on the shoulders of two giants in, if not star-making, star solidifying roles; Paul Newman as the irascible, likable Butch Cassidy, and Robert Redford as the winsome, steely eyed  Sundance Kid.  It’s impossible to imagine William Goldman’s words coming out of any other pair of actors. The charisma, the affability of the two leads is irrepressible, inimitable. Newman and Redford are one of the greatest pairings in movie history, right up there with Bacall and Bogart, Flynn and DeHavilland, Tracy and Hepburn.  This is the touchstone of male buddy movies. Without it Shane Black could never have a career.

If it sounds like I’m taking this one up inordinately, it’s just that there’s nothing to  really say about BC&tSK except praise.  The word classic gets bandied about for every superhero movie and Disney cartoon that comes down the pike – but this is the real deal. A bona fide Hollywood classic. If you haven’t seen it, your repertoire has a great big hole.

butch_cassidy_and_the_sundance_kid_enough_dynamiteButch and Sundance is the father of bromance movies. It’s a platonic love affair between two guys who are so good together the people they rob step out of cover just to see them do their shtick.  The lawmen that should be arresting them on sight offer them a place at their table. They’re the ideal romantic outlaws, stealing from the modernizing, corporate juggernaut of the advancing railroad and somehow never having a dime to retire on because they frankly suck at it. They don’t kill anybody, take no personal effects, and spend what they earn like water on the myriad of fairweather friends and women who appear out of the woodwork after they pull a job and fade away when the money’s gone. It’s their fallibility that makes them loveable. For as renowned a train and bank robber Butch is, sometimes he uses too much dynamite. For as deadly a gunfighter as Sundance is, he can’t hit the broad side of a barn if he’s not bending, spinning and twisting while he shoots, like some kind of proto-Jon Woo heroic bloodshed protagonist.

I call it a love affair. It’s definitely about the relationship between Butch and Sundance (I think, without any of the homoerotic subtext that you’d expect), but moreso, it’s a love affair between them and us, the audience. It doesn’t take long to fall for Butch and the Kid. They’re devilishly good looking, but again, their fallibility makes them seem real, like a pair of guys you’d like to hang out with, not movie stars aping real people. Katherine Ross has an admittedly light role as schoolteacher and Sundance’s paramour Etta Place, but she’s almost like the blank protagonist character in a video game. She’s the audience, wooed by these two guys into participating in their crazy lives for the thrill. But she’s also, I think, a stand-in for Goldman and George Roy Hill. Everybody falls for Butch and Sundance. You just can’t help it. The filmmakers can’t help it. I think the actors couldn’t even help it. That’s why Newman’s charity for mentally disabled youths was called Hole In The Wall, and Redford’s continuing film festival is named for Sundance.  These are such well written parts. It’s a lightning strike. Perfection.

The rest of the cast is a cornucopia of familiar faces, all memorable even in their minute roles. The Addams Family’s Ted ‘Lurch’ Cassidy as Butch’s enormous, ambitious, and surprisingly clever underling Harvey Logan. Strother Martin rasping through Sweet Betsy From Pike. Jose Torvay, the bandit with the watch from Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, playing a bandit again here. In the opening scene where Butch defuses an ornery gunfighting gambler with a mere mention of Sundance’s name, you can just about make out Sam Elliot’s left hand as he vacates the card table.

butchcassidy-420x0One of the more ingenious elements is Burt Bacharach’s swinging, playful score which on paper sounds like a recipe for disaster, but plays perfectly, lending the three montage sequences in which it’s specifically brought to the forefront a fun, airy quality, particularly the song, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, which plays over a brilliant scene of Newman and Ross just playing around on a bicycle. There’s an underlying sadness to the musical numbers too in their down moments, which matches the images excellently. There’s a sad clarinet and accordion duet during the travel montage in which, via a series of still photos, we see Sundance and Etta dancing at a New Year’s ball on the passenger liner while Butch looks on a little sadly, then dozes in a chair. Very lyrical without a word spoken.

I once heard James Coburn tell a story about working on Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid in which he said that the day before they were to shoot Kristofferson’s death scene, Sam Peckinpah confided to Coburn, “I just don’t wanna kill him.”

600full-butch-cassidy-and-the-sundance-kid-screenshotWe don’t want to see Butch and Sundance get their inevitable comeuppance. Yet when the boys brutally gun down a gang of Bolivian bandits, we know they’ve somehow crossed a line they won’t return from. It’s the heartbreak of the movie that is telegraphed by the bicycle salesman and the relentless, never in focus superposse led by the ominous night tracking Lord Baltimore and Joe LeFors in his white skimmer, and by Jeff Corey’s Sheriff Bedsoe, who warns them, “Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody. All you can do is choose where.” Etta tells them before well before parting ways, “I won’t watch you die. I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.” And whether by some mercy of Hill or reluctance of Goldman, we are spared the final heartbreak of say, The Wild Bunch. Butch and Sundance are surprised by Bolivian troops and after a desperate rush for the horses, are repelled and wind up surrounded by the Bolivian Army. Already bleeding from a half dozen wounds, Butch suggests they try Australia next. They trade a quip about LeFors and rush out shooting. We hear the Bolivian commander give the order to fire, we hear the crash of the guns, but like Bruce Lee forever leaping at the camera in the final shot of Fist Of Fury (no doubt lifted from this), the boys are washed in sepia, not blood, and we get to remember them as we loved them, game and daring, framed in the same daydream magic tones of the clever, old timey cinematograph opening credits.

This movie made legends of the real Butch and Sundance as much as it did the men who portrayed them.

It’s also, on a personal note, a movie I will forever associate with my father.

Best Bit Of Dialogue:

Butch 7 End“If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him, I’d stop robbing him!”

Best Scene:

The escape from the superposse via the jump from the cliff is hilarious, and deserving of the description classic, but my personal favorite is the moment Butch and Sundance first attempt to rob a Bolivian bank. This has been Butch’s big brainchild the whole movie, and their reason for retreating the heat in America for this tiny but booming South American nation. The first time they try to size up a bank, they are discouraged by a friendly teller who fends them off with simple Spanish, which neither of them can speak or understand.  This necessitates Etta having to tutor them in Spanish. Sundance neglects his lessons for amorous pursuits with her, and Butch scrawls his answers on a crib sheet in the next room when she quizzes them.

They burst into their first job, guns drawn, Butch yelling “Estu es un robo!”

The patrons raise their hands and go to the wall, Sundance covering them.

Butch fumbles through a couple false starts of Spanish, then furiously digs out his wrinkled crib sheet and reads;

“Manos arriba!”

Sundance, exasperated, yells;

“They GOT ‘em up! Skip on down!”

“Arriba!”

“SKIP ON DOWN!”

“Todos ustedes arrismense a la pared!”

“They’re AGAINST the wall ALREADY!”

Butch squints at the paper.

“Donde es….AWWWW You’re so damn smart, YOU read it!”

He flings it down and stalks forward with his gun. Sundance empties the drawers and they run out of the bank, bickering all the way, Sundance muttering “A goddamned CRIB SHEET.”

Would I Buy It Again?

Undoubtedly.

Next In The Queue: Cabin In The Woodsishot-2205

My Coolest Story From Comic Con 2014

Sergio Out Take 3I’m a bit late in posting this, but I wanted to share the coolest thing I saw at San Diego Comic Con two weeks ago. I took no pictures (wish I had) so I guess you’re gonna have to take my word for it. But Sergio Aragones is a genuinely nice man, and I think he’ll bear this story out if you just ask him.

Whenever I go I invariably see celebrities, and my daughter and her friend always grill me about who I saw. This year crossing the street I could’ve reached out and slapped Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans on the shoulder (and got my arm broken by his entourage for it), I shared a train with Anthony Head, and spied Robert Carlyle on the corner with his little girl hanging on his arm.

But I haven’t braved the colossal lines of Hall H since they announced the title for Revenge Of The Sith, and I don’t really go to star watch anyway. It’s Comic Con. I go to buy comics and just generally gawk and mingle.

So I’m a big Sergio Aragones fan, a big Groo The Wanderer fan. I don’t think you can be a fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan without liking Groo – or you shouldn’t. It’s wonderful social satire centering around a bumbling barbarian parody of Conan. One of the first comics I ever collected, and filled marging to margin with astounding art. For those that don’t know, Sergio Aragones is one of the best artists working today – a living legend. He’s an Eisner Award winning cartoonist who began his career doodling in the margins of Mad Magazine and he’s probably the fastest cartoonist alive. He’s….aw heck, just look at these samples.

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Mad #500-028-29The way Sergio fills a page is nothing short of extraordinary. A running joke in the pages of Groo was the exasperation of colorist Tom Luth who had to inject color into these staggeringly detailed crowd scenes….a task involved enough to drive anybody insane, but which Luth performed admirably on a monthly basis for a number of years. Sergio packs his splash pages with dynamic individuals and a myriad of hidden side jokes.  The only artist that comes close to what Sergio does, in my opinion, is Geoff Darrow.geoffReally, if I had the money to commission them both, and if they were willing, my dream is to have two pieces of art hanging side by side on my wall, one featuring Groo slicing his way through one of Geoff’s backgrounds, and the other of Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy fighting through an army of Sergio’s cartoon denizens.

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Anyway, all gushing aside, I always make it a point to stop by Sergio’s table when I’m at San Diego. It’s always a treat to see what he’s up to, and just listen to him, and once his wife baked a plate of awesome brownies for everybody.  This year I was in line to pick up a copy of his new Groo Vs. Conan comic (something I’ve anticipated for decades), and he was telling a story to the guy in front of me out of the pages of Sergio Aragones Funnies, his anthology series of illustrated autobiographical anecdotes (he has led a fascinating life). I had read somewhere his father had once been a line producer on movies in Mexico, but he was talking about his dad’s work on the movie Animas Trujano, which featured his (and my own) idol Toshiro Mifune as a Mexican revolutionary.

animas-trujanoMifune is one of the all-time great Japanese film actors, who solidified his place in history in movies like Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai. He was the John Wayne to Akira Kurosawa’s John Ford, like DeNiro to Martin Scorcese, and if he’s been in a bad movie I’ve frankly never seen it. Apparently Animas Trujano, as absurd as his casting may sound, was no exception – Sergio said it was nominated for the Mexican Academy Award, and a little internet digging confirms this.  Sergio told us Mifune didn’t know a word of Spanish, but learned his lines phonetically, like Shih Kien in Enter The Dragon. As we were geeking out about this cool little inside story, Sergio pulled the topper, the thing that put this neat little moment over the edge for me. He reached into his thick, worn wallet, dug a bit, and produced one of those old Kodak photographs where the colors are mostly orange and a bit blown out and there’s a white border around the image – those kind you don’t see anymore and is basically only preserved in Instagram filters and crackling old photo albums.  In the picture are two sun reddened men with their arms over each other’s shoulders buddy style, smiling at the camera through their brushy black whiskers. From the peon costume of one of the men it looked almost like a behind the scenes still from a Sergio Leone movie, as if Gian Maria Volonte had taken a break in his Indio costume and taken a shot with a friend on the crew.

“Here’s a picture of my father on set with Mifune,” he said. “He really looked Mexican.”

Totally blown away. Knowing my tastes as readers of this blog may, it was like all the stars of my fandom aligned perfectly at once in some kind of Great Conjunction. I was standing at San Diego Comic Con, talking with one of my all-time favorite artists, looking at a candid, unpublished photo of one of my all-time favorite actors.

I felt weird asking to take a picture of him holding a personal photo of his dad, so I didn’t. But next time you’re at Sergio’s table, if you’re a Mifune fan, ask to see it.

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Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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From Pompeii To The Endeavour

Visited the California Science Center yesterday to see the Pompeii exhibit.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Ancient Roman artifacts were very elegant and striking, but the last room with its casts of dead men, women, and children left me a bit shaken. The physical attitudes of a group of three people who expired on a set of stairs, the last apparently huddled behind the legs of another, and that of a young pregnant woman turned on her face, one hand to her belly…. I couldn’t help but project myself into the lives of those long deceased citizens facing what must have amounted to Armageddon. With no word for volcano in the ancient Latin language and no mass communications lines to inform them of natural phenomena they did not personally have knowledge of, what must they have experienced on that final terrible day when the ambivalent mountain in whose shadow they’d lived their lives suddenly burst open and vomited fire and hot ash into the sky? It must have been horrifying; mind-splitting. They must have died in abject terror; what an ant suddenly exposed to focus sunlight through some unfathomable child’s magnifying glass must experience – to have your life choked off by something completely beyond your comprehension.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe ended the visit with a look at the space shuttle Endeavour, a really awe-inspiring sight in its own right. When you walk in the shuttle is like an immense bird only a few feet overhead, a bit battered and weathered from its journies.

The myriad heat panels that cover it are very like an intricate mosaic from the floor of one of Pompeii’s atriums, perfectly interlocked shingles whose individuality are only perceivable upon close inspection. Nearly two thousand years in the span of an hour or two. I couldn’t look at the two without thinking that one was the pinnacle of human achievement and the other one of the deepest troughs of human tragedy. Did the children of Pompeii, who probably didn’t understand the volcanic eruption that killed them ever conceive of the world 2000 years in the future in their daydreams?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESPeople live and die, new people are born. Do we feel cheated when we expire that we won’t see the progress of humanity? Is every individual a single piece in the advancement of all of humankind? The shuttle doesn’t mourn the loss of one or two heat tiles, and the artisans of Pompeii did not abandon their portraits in the face of a handful of broken tesserae.

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Dionysus (Bacchus) Enthroned

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Ptolemy II

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Unidentified bust of a forgotten Roman

Bit depressing I guess, but it was kind of an emotional seesaw to go from sorrow to elation SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESpompeiithat quickly.

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Household Lare

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Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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My Panel At San Diego Comic Con

The Thursday schedule for San Diego Comic Con 2014 is now up at their site, and if you scroll down to the 7pm slot you’ll see a familiar name…..

Word Building -

Robert Roach (Menthu, The Roach), Gini Koch (Alien Collective), Ed Erdelac (Terovolas),Nathan Long (Blackhhearts Omnibus), and Nancy Holder (Wicked Saga) discuss structure and storytelling, the use of pacing, and how certain creators use a timeline to build flow. Moderated by Jeffrey Twohig.
Thursday July 24, 2014 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Room 32AB
So if you’re in the neighborhood of Room 32AB that evening, come by and give a listen.

On This Day Richard Matheson Found What Dreams May Come

Today is the first anniversary of the day one of my five favorite writers of all time passed away.

little_girl_lost_chalk_portalMy first exposure to Richard Matheson was undoubtedly the Twilight Zone, where he delivered such classic episodes as the Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, Steel, Death Ship, and for me, the unforgettable Little Girl Lost, about a girl who tumbles through a spot in her bedroom wall into a pocket dimension.

Matheson famously split Captain Kirk into two halves via the transporter in The Enemy Within on the original Star Trek.

enemey-within-kirkThe first novel of his I can remember is I Am Legend. My high school English teacher had an old paperback copy of it sitting on the shelf. The cover art was of a man reaching up to heaven howling with a stake and a mallet in his hands as dozens of grasping hands clutched at him from the shadows. The cover copy read “The Last Man Alive On A Planet Of Vampires.”

It would be years before I read it, but it always stuck with me. It’s a seminal work, singularly most responsible for the zombie craze.

iamlegendI think the first book I read of his was The Shrinking Man, a harrowing, surprisingly existential story about a man shrinking to subatomic size.

The next, I think, was The Memoirs Of Wild Bill Hickock, a ‘found’ journal of the famous gunfighter debunking the myths of his life. I relished that book, one of the first westerns I ever read, and was astounded to make the connection at the end between this and ‘the guy who wrote for The Twilight Zone.’

Then I read What Dreams May Come.

It’s probably one of the finest, most life affirming novels I’ve ever read about the possibility of the continuance of the human soul unfettered by denominational dogma. A book I cherish, constantly recommend, and hope to pass on to my own children.

beardlessMatheson constantly surprised me. When I found out he’d written a World War II memoir, The Beardless Warriors, I rushed out and got it.  It’s a powerful first person account, deftly bringing a modicum of comprehension to the total insanity of war.

Another book that holds an honored place in my library is his collection of western short stories, some weird, many rivaling even early Elmore Leonard, By The Gun.

And prose wasn’t enough. Matheson was an accomplished screenwriter, penning such great flicks as The Devil Rides Out, and Somewhere In Time (based on his own novel, Bid Time Return).

Last year the world lost a very great talent.

Nothing further to add, except if you haven’t read Matheson, do so.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Richard-Matheson/e/B000AQ285E/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403582681&sr=8-1

 

 

Star Trek Continues

ld_star_trek_cast_ll_120820_wmainI’m an old school Trek fan. Specficially TOS (The Original Series), the classic 60’s show with Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly, Doohan, Nichols, Takei, Koenig et al. I love the interplay between the characters, I love the killer retro look and sensibility, the appealing primary color palette.  If you haven’t checked out the Animated Series, it’s like a lost fourth season, with much of the same talent both in front of and behind the camera returning. DC Fontana and some of the other writers handle scripts, all the principals return to voice their characters. I discovered it a few years ago on Netflix Instant and it was like going home again for a little while.

But TOS lasted three (four with TAS) seasons and that’s it.

My wife is a big Next Gen fan, but I’m not. The sterile look never really grabbed me like classic Trek, and while the characters and stories are great, I never latched onto them like the original. I got some enjoyment from Voyager and Deep Space Nine, and from the last season of Enterprise when it started doing what it had originally promised, but I’m not a fan of the new movie universe at all.

Nothing ever quite took hold of me like Classic Trek.

star_trek_tos_zps73d073cdA fellow writer, Bobby Nash, was raving about this fan production Star Trek Continues, the other day on his Facebook page, and the stills intrigued me, particularly the re-enacted pose of the TV Guide cover featuring Kirk and Spock looking up at the camera with their arms folded. It was a nifty insider homage, I thought, and the actors playing Kirk and Spock really looked the part.

Reading a bit on it, I realized the crew behind the web series had managed to raise in excess of $120,000 on Kickstarter (Kirkstarter they called it) to get the show running and I was understandably curious.

So I caught the first episode on Youtube (Pilgrim Of Eternity – check it out HERE). It was a sequel to the Who Mourns For Adonais? episode, in which the Greek God Apollo turned out to be a powerful alien being which required the subservient worship of humans to thrive. At the end of that classic episode Apollo is defeated by Kirk and crew and fades out, calling to his fellow exiled Olympians.

startrekcontinues-cast1Right from the get-go I could see where that Kirkstarter money had gone. They have perfectly recreated the 60’s era Enterprise set. The bridge, the corridors, the crew quarters, even the Jeffries’ tube made an appearance. The costumes were spot on, and most importantly, the lightning was perfect. This looks like a hi-def episode of Classic Trek, precisely like the remastered editions that came out a few years ago, right down to the aspect ratio.

I’ve seen some very well-produced fan films of Trek, Star Wars, and superheroes. There is some very impressive work out there, but one uniform problem I’ve had with them is the quality of story and acting. You can have a technical, visual masterpiece on the screen, but if you can’t capture the mood and story of the original, all you’ve got is a pretty copy of something far superior – like a digital photograph of a white sand beach in sunny Puerto Rico. The postcard is never quite as nice as being there with the sand in between your toes.

Now, the STC cast play their parts well. It took me maybe thirty seconds to accept this wasn’t Shatner, Nimoy etc. before I started being drawn in by the story.

Yeah, the story.

In a fan production.

It was pretty cool, and full of nods to the original show without coming across as fan service.

They got Michael Forest to reprise his role as Apollo (here physically diminished by an energy drain) and he picked up the part like he’d only played it the other day, yet with the experience that comes with age, actually making the role…better than the original.

I showed it to my wife.

“The acting’s not bad,” I said. “And the story’s pretty….good.”

So we cued up Lolani.

Man!

lolaniThe show took off for me at this point.

The STC guys took the old nudge nudge wink wink boy’s club trope of the green skinned Orion slave girl and brought it into modern day context without destroying the sixties framework. They took an eye candy character and gave her nuance and heart, and presented as subtext a condemnation of the poor treatment of women passed off as cultural more existing today. THAT’S Star Trek! Plus, they brought in Lou Ferigno….as a quality, imposing villain….in green body paint!

Plus, Vince Mignogna, who I kind of dismissed as passable in the previous episode, shined in this outing.

ferignoAnd the third episode, The Fairest Of Them All, set in the mirror universe, is even better!

In this one Mignogna once again impressed me with his tyrannical Kirk counterpart, but Todd Haberkorn, knocked it out of the park as Spock. I admit my first impression of him in the part was, well, he doesn’t quite have that resonant but flat voice and he’s a little more human looking than Nimoy. But I forgot all that in this episode. He’s got Spock down pat. There’s a great scene where he and his former captain part ways, and Kirk screams his name as the shuttle doors close….loved it.

The rest of the cast hasn’t escaped my attention either. Grant Imahara was seriously echoing the dark version of Sulu in this one, and the lovely Kim Stinger had me from the first singing in the galley as Uhura. Chris Doohan, son of James Doohan, carries on the Scotty role his father originated so admirably it borders on uncanny, and Michelle Specht is a welcome addition as ship’s counselor Elise Makennah.

stc_fairest_06If I have any criticism it’s more Bones, my favorite character. I haven’t quite seen enough of Chekov to make a judgment either way.

Yeah, the whole show has me giggling in a good way.

This is a labor of unfettered love for 60’s era Trek and if you’re a fan like I am, you need to check this out right now. This is stellar work, I think even transcending the appellation ‘fan film.’

I can’t wait to see more (and I hope they open up for script submissions!).

It’s probably the greatest gift a Trekkie could ask for.

Check their website here.

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/

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