Thursday, December 18, 2014

WHERE IS ROD SERLING WHEN WE NEED HIM?

The story about the Sony hacking scandal isn’t fully known yet. It started out as an embarrassing exposure of Sony executive snarkiness by cyberhackers who seemed delighted to shame them with the release to the public of their bitchy emails about pampered movie stars and President Obama’s taste in movies. Then the scandal became something far worse, a turn towards terrorism. Whoever these cyberhackers were, they didn’t want Sony to release their movie THE INTERVIEW, a controversial comedy skewering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Was North Korea behind it? Was it a real threat or just more saber rattling?


Whoever they were, apparently they were truly put off by the trailers for the Seth Rogan/James Franco political farce about two fools sent to North Korea to ‘take out’ the dictator. They didn’t want the movie to open Christmas Day or ever, for that matter, and the threats promised bombs at theater chains that would deign to show it. They dropped the term “9-11” and suddenly everything got very heavy.

And within hours of the released threat to the Web, five of the major theater chains agreed to the terrorist demands and chose not to open the film. Soon after, Sony announced that they too would capitulate, and they decided to not release the film at all. Ever. Not in theaters. Not on VOD. Not on DVD. No Netflix, no Amazon, nada. The film would be metaphorically buried.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, eh?

Perhaps those theater chains (Carmike, AMC, Regal, Cineplex and Cinemark) have good reason to exhibit caution rather than the controversial film, but they sure acquiesced promptly. They didn’t even take 24 hours to think about it, mull it over, or organize a committee to discuss all the options. And Sony made a grand stand for their product, didn’t they? Why were they all so rash? Sure, they might have reached the same conclusions a few days later, but at least it would have been a few more days of serious examination. Is there more here than the public knows? Is that why such quick caving?


It would seem that the public doesn’t really know. There’s got be more to the story, especially when the US government publicly states that they think the North Korean government is behind it. Looks like there might be more than just saber rattling here this time as the movie executives were truly rattled by the threats.

But no matter the uncertainties of exactly what is going on here, there is one thing certain. Our nation is afraid. Very, very afraid.

It took less than 48 hours for all parties to get in line with the threats and that should be more frightening to this nation than anything. Does this mean that now entertainment will continue to withhold their product if it is offensive to the powerful? I hope not, but the swift actions by Sony and the theater chains are not encouraging for any artist or proponent of free speech.

One can’t help but think that since 9-11 we have become a nation of overreaction. The rashness and quick escalation of the theaters and Sony’s response to the threat reminds me of that famous episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE where “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”. In it, a peaceful suburban street experiences a few strange occurrences and questions regarding certain neighbors. That stokes their paranoia so deeply that this sleepy little burg devolves into chaos, violence and destruction as they think an alien is in disguise and trying to take over the planet.

The paranoid citizens of "The Monsters Are Do On Maple Street" episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959).
The kicker, of course, is that all of this was indeed caused by little green men bent on colonizing Earth, but their shrewd plan was to merely plant the seed of distrust. The natural failures of man would supply the rest and do all their dirty work for them. Writer Rod Serling was making a comment on the Cold War and the fear of Communism that was rampant in 1959, but that story seems more than a little informative about today. All it took was conjuring up the ghosts of 9-11 and fear of terrorism, and our nation jerks its knee rather than stiffen its backbone.

Discretion and caution can be the right move, but anytime art caves to protest, it sure feels wrong.  Maybe the movie is just a silly trifle,  and it doesn’t matter that much to most in the big scheme of things when death and destruction is possibly at stake, but the principle of it getting released sure should. And too many seemed ready to appease all too quickly and bury it.

The sad truth is that the Internet has been the Wild West for some time now. It's unchecked, often unlawful, and capable of raising a ruckus faster than any medium the world has ever known. This latest fiasco shows how rumor, fear and panic can spread like wildfire. So we as a nation, heck, as a world, need to start getting a lot smarter about participating in it, judging it, monitoring it, and assessing threats that come from it. And how about better enforcement of the many crimes being committed there these days?  If ISIS is on Twitter, why can’t we find them? Why can’t we catch that cretin who leaked all those celebrity’s private iCloud photos? Where is Interpol? Where are the international laws for the web? And can't we find all these awful hackers and terrorists quicker? As quick as we squelch the release of a movie?

Rod Serling, creator of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and writer of "The Monsters Are Do On Maple Street" episode.
I wish Rod Serling were around these days. At the height of the Cold War, he dared to criticize our paranoid nation for squelching rights and humanity that was all too easily shelved by our need to beat back the red devil. And he did it in entertaining ways that were a hit with audiences, and have stood the test of time. Surely, the same fight has.

Fighting terror and evil should be the same now as it was then. And that shouldn’t mean that in order to do so, we suppress speech, put the kibosh on rights, and live in fear of our own shadows. The monsters aren’t due on Maple Street. Damn, they’re still here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

FIVE MUSICALS THAT SHOULD TAKE FLIGHT AFTER NBC'S VERSION OF "PETER PAN LIVE!"


With great fanfare and a ton of ad dollars hawking it, NBC’s PETER PAN LIVE! finally was broadcast last night and – surprise, surprise! – it wasn’t the disaster that many had predicted and even wanted it to be. Twitter stood by, anxious to live tweet its demise, but from the moment Allison Williams flew in the window in an impressive bit of wire work, we all knew it wasn’t going to be the train wreck that last year’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! was. The second Carrie Underwood started singing about the hills being alive, we knew that her lackluster star turn would render the mountainous journey DOA.

If there were any problems with NBC's live take on PETER PAN they were evident the moment the cast was announced. It may be tradition to cast a female in the role of the boy who never grows up, but in this modern age that decision seemed sexist and silly. What? Weren’t Chris Colfer or Justin Bieber available? Is there no young actor in Hollywood who can sing and dance? Is Peter Pan that unplayable?


The casting of Allison Williams struck many as wrong from the get-go. She was too pretty, too feminine, too untested as a musical comedy star. Those all may be true, but she did a very good job as Peter, showing off a terrific singing voice and a mischievous take on the role. She was expert at the physical parts, and she sure sold all that flying, particularly during the final battle with Captain Hook. Her spinning and spinning was something to see, for sure!

She may not have been as plucky as Sandy Duncan or as elfin as Mary Martin, but she conveyed a danger that those two did not. When Williams stares, she is a little scary. (Someone will cast her as a villain some day and it will be a sublime turn, I’m sure.) Her only real handicap was that she’s simply too attractive a woman. By casting her, the show brought a subtext of lesbianism to the forefront, and it was a little too sexy for what is supposed to be a family musical. Still, that’s more of the casting’s fault than hers as a performer.


And those who bitched and moaned on Twitter all night long, and at the water cooler today, about Christopher Walken’s take on Hook, I ask, “What did you expect?” If you’ve ever seen him perform in say, the last 30 years, you know he’s eccentric to a fault with his halted line readings and thousand-mile stare. If you’ve ever seen him host SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, you know he relies on the cue cards like he’s reading the script off of them for the first time. And has he been truly scary in any material since he shot Dennis Hopper in TRUE ROMANCE back in 1993? Ah no. And arguably, as written, Hook isn't frightening at all in this frothy bubble of a musical.

Actually, Walken was quite a hoot throughout despite not really singing his role. He did give his Hook an appropriate world-weariness that added to the show's themes of of maturity vs. youth. And it seemed at times that he was trying to show Johnny Depp how a real eccentric buccaneer walks and talks. His make-up was as gay as anything this side of Gary Beach, and outside of say, Gary Beach, I can’t think of an actor who could’ve camped it up as well. And if you've ever seen the estimable Cyril Ritchard's performance as Hook in the 1960 TV production, Walken did his legacy proud.  

The real problem with this production of  PETER PAN wasn’t the casting of the two leads, or the way-too-old Lost Boys, or the limits of wires and sets on a soundstage. The true issue is that it’s simply not a great musical. It’s got a few wonderful songs, and that soaring number where the Darling children first fly, but other than that, it’s a creaky old chestnut that hasn’t particularly aged well. And it's really quite inferior to the superior Disney animated take on J. M. Barrie's classic story.


THE SOUND OF MUSIC had a similar problem last year as they brought the stage version to the screen, and it's far inferior to the movie version we all know and love. The original Broadway production had many problems - too much Baroness, too much Max, too little time with the children - and all those issues were eradicated by a shrewd screenplay by Ernest Lehman. If only he'd have adapted PETER PAN. 

Some musicals on stage, despite their reputation, aren't that great to begin with, or they haven't stood the test of time all that well. PETER PAN is one of those shows that is both. And here's hoping that next time out, NBC picks a truly wonderful show to adapt for the TV screen. There are some great musicals out there whose screen versions could easily be bettered. Here are five that could stand a more exemplary and definitive version that echoed their stage greatness. 


1776

The 1972 big screen version of the Tony award-winning 1969 Broadway show isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. What it mostly is…is loud. Sure, director Peter Hunt brought most of his original New York stage cast with him for the movie, but too many of them played things as if they were still on the stage. Every joke, note, and facial expression seemed absurdly big. It’s rather garish, and this exceedingly clever and moving show could use a new screen version. 

And TV would be perfect for it as most of the show takes place in the Continental Congress hall in Philadelphia. The sets of both THE SOUND OF MUSIC and PETER PAN were simply too limited by soundstages, but that wouldn’t be a problem for this single setting show. And think of the actors you could get to play our Founding Fathers! How about Jason Alexander or Kelsey Grammar for John Adams to start with? Filling that hall of men with TV’s great male stars could make for an all-star extravaganza. And it would give Hollywood’s rather bereft supply of Fourth of July entertainments a network perennial that could return year after year.


HELLO, DOLLY

Here's another film version that isn't bad at all. It’s just that this 1969 version of the great Broadway musical has a too young Barbra Streisand playing the aging matchmaker Dolly Levi. Babs is actually quite a good Bubala in the role, but she was only 27 at the time. And watching her chase after the curmudgeonly Walter Matthau, who was an old 50 then, seems incongruous. Thus, the key romance in the piece isn’t believable. 

HELLO, DOLLY is one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time, but it’s shocking that something of its stature hasn’t been revived on Broadway more often, and doesn't have a better filmed version. Perhaps TV can get there with a comedic actress like the 46 year-old Debra Messing or Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who's 53. And let's face it, the show is certainly relevant to our modern times what with the saturation of dating sites like Match.com, eHarmony and J-Date. Oy vey! 


MAME

Here's another Jerry Herman classic, and it’s one that's never been revived on Broadway, and a TV version would be ripe for the picking. This story of a ‘live for the moment’ aunt taking her young nephew on a journey through nonconformity is wholly right for today’s anti-one percent sentiments, and Herman’s score is one of the best ever written. The 1973 film version with Lucille Ball again wasn’t a disaster, but the senior citizen Ball was simply too old for the verve needed for this 40ish bachelorette. What about someone like Megan Mullally or Julie Bowen cutting loose in this role? Heck, Cameron Diaz would be better for this role than that of Miss Hannigan in ANNIE. (Something tells me that film is going to make me wish that tomorrow came sooner!)


A CHORUS LINE

Another stage-bound musical that would seem to be tailor-made for TV is A CHORUS LINE. It’s all about the cast and the dancing, and if television can do wonders with those two elements on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE why couldn’t the same thing be done with this 1975 Pulitzer Prize winning musical that Sir Richard Attenborough turned into one of cinema’s biggest musical turkeys in 1985. Today, this story couldn’t be more of-the-moment with everyone and their brother clamoring to become a star in one reality competition after another. 

And with GLEE ending this coming year, there’s half your cast for this show already. This searing and soaring stage musical deserves a more honorable tribute on screen than the wincingly bad one that exists. God, I hope NBC gets it...I hope they get it!


GUYS AND DOLLS


If it’s good enough to perform at every high school from Boise to Baltimore each year, than it sure would be worthy of a definitive screen version. The 1955 movie of the Frank Loesser classic may star  Frank Sinatra but he's playing Nathan Detroit, not Sky Masterson. Detroit only has a few songs, while Sky gets to sing "Luck Be A Lady". And who plays Sky in the film adaptation? Marlon Brando. He may have been the actor of his generation, but he was no singer. Thus, the picture was doomed before it even began. 

NBC shouldn't try to better Robert Preston in a new version of THE MUSIC MAN next year, but rather try to find a proper Sky to do GUYS AND DOLLS proud. How about Chris Pine? He's about to sing the part of Prince Charming in INTO THE WOODS that opens Christmas Day, and the word is he's spectacular. Doesn't a great musical deserve that? 

NBC, are you listening? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

WHY DOES OSCAR OVERLOOK HORROR FILMS?

Original caricature by Jeff York of Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in the very scary GONE GIRL . (copyright 2014)
We’re in the middle of Oscar prediction season again, and there are few horror movies that will figure in any serious prognosticating. The animated film “The Book of Love” is a ghost story and it is considered to be a strong contender for Best Animated Feature, but no out-and-out horror films will likely be in the running for any other categories. Despite the raves for frighteners “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Oculus”, few expect them to figure in the nominations.

Why is that? Do genre films like horror, thrillers and science fiction yield a reputation that doesn’t appear serious enough to be considered art? Are the pulpier aspects viewed as too base or even cheesy for best of balloting? Perhaps it’s because genre tends to be more visceral than intellectual. But no matter what the excuse is, the Academy finds plenty of reasons to shun such films year in and year out.  

Original caricature by Jeff York of Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider in JAWS. (copyright 2013)
In fact, it’s quite astonishing how horror films specifically have gotten such little love from the Academy Awards over the past 86 years. When it comes to Best Picture, only a handful of true horror films have ever been nominated. “The Exorcist” in 1973, “Jaws” in 1975, and “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991 made the cut. Borderline scare-fests like “Fatal Attraction” and “No Country For Old Men” did too, but classics like 1931’s “Dracula” and ‘Frankenstein” didn’t.

The list of other classics that didn’t yield a single nomination is astonishing: the 1942 version of “Cat People”, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (neither the Don Siegel original or the Phillip Kaufman remake), “Night of the Living Dead”, “Halloween”, “The Shining”, “Theater of Blood”, John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, "Let the Right One In"  – none of them were up for boo. At least “The Silence of the Lambs” swept the Oscars its year, taking Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Adapted Screenplay.

More often than not, if horror does receive Academy recognition, it’s in smaller categories like makeup or special effects. And horror rarely rates an entry in the acting categories. Thankfully, there have been exceptions over the years, like when Ruth Gordon won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), and Kathy Bates won in the lead category for 1990’s “Misery”.

Original caricature by Jeff York of Vincent Price in 1973's THEATER OF BLOOD. (copyright 2012)
Still, horror legends like Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price were never nominated for their performances, nor for that matter, were any of them given life achievement Oscars either. In fact, it’s more often the case that acclaimed horror performances, even those that have won critics awards, get notoriously snubbed by the Academy when they’re filling out their ballots. Jeremy Irons won a slew of awards for his dual performance in "Dead Ringers" in 1988, but the Academy just couldn’t stomach nominating him from that David Cronenberg shocker. Same with Jeff Goldblum for Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly” two years earlier. It was a widely heralded performance, but the Academy ignored him anyway.

There are other great performances in horror movies that have been similarly overlooked. Even if they’re from hit movies or are adapted from great literature. Alistair Sim couldn’t muster a Best Actor nomination come Oscar time for his dramatically nuanced turn as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol”. He captured the miser’s loathing and bullying like few others before or since, and he aced the redemption part too, but it still wasn’t enough to sway voters.
Original caricature by Jeff York of Anthony Perkins in PSYCHO. (copyright 2013)
“Psycho” was such a phenomenon in 1960 that it couldn’t be ignored, so the Academy nominated both director Alfred Hitchcock and supporting actress Janet Leigh, but they forgot to remember its star Anthony Perkins. Was Perkins simply too effective at creating the insidious character of Norman Bates, arguably the greatest horror movie character in the history of film, that it unsettled too many voters? Were his fellow actors jealous that he transcended the one-dimensional male ingénue roles he’d often had previously and hit such a complicated part out of the park?

What’s so incredible about Perkins’ work in the film is how he manages to make the audience sympathize, even empathize, with such a psychopath. You actually root for him to cover up the crimes of his ‘mother’ and get away with it. And it isn’t until the very end that audiences realized how his character had conned everyone on screen and off. Maybe the Academy members resented being fooled so definitively, or perhaps their complicity in cheering on his horrible actions made them feel remorse and guilt. Either way, they snubbed him.

Two of the greatest female performers in frighteners were unfairly ignored as well. Both Catherine Deneuve in "Repulsion" and Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” gave incredible performances in the classic horror films directed by Roman Polanski, but neither performance got the Academy’s due. The gorgeous Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing a “Monster”, but these two ingénues couldn’t get the time of day for battling theirs onscreen.
Original caricature by Jeff York of Alistair Sim in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. (copyright 2012)
The year before “Repulsion” came out in 1965, Deneuve played a singing shop girl in Jacques Demy’s candy-colored “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. Her follow-up role the next year couldn’t have been more different. Yet Deneuve showed she had the talent and the range to pull off the part of a deranged young woman losing her grip on reality. And she did it with nary any dialogue, instead using her large eyes and expressive body to register her downward spiral into insanity and homicide. Still, Deneuve’s palpable performance wasn’t enough for the Academy.

And why was Farrow ignored? She’s onscreen virtually the entire film and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. You’re invested in every second of her pregnancy and even come to understand her choice to nurture the baby at the end, rather than snuff out Satan’s spawn. Yet while the Academy acknowledged Gordon, they ignored the movie’s lead.

If straight horror movies fare poorly with the Oscars, horror comedies barely even register. Michael Keaton may be considered this year’s Best Actor frontrunner for his sublime work in the dark comedy “Birdman”, but he couldn’t muster even a Supporting Actor nomination for his hilarious turn in the 1988 comedy hit “Beetlejuice”. And of course, horror comedies like “The Evil Dead”, “Fright Night”, “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland” were completely overlooked. Those last two even warranted a 92% and 90% rating at RottenTomatoes.com, respectively, but that and a dollar fifty got them home on the bus.
Original caricature by Jeff York of Linda Blair in 1973's THE EXORCIST. (copyright 2012)
There is hope though. “Gone Girl” brushes very strongly up against the horror genre, and it’s a real contender this year. It’s expected to get Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing and Cinematography. Whew! Rosamund Pike is surely Oscar worthy, but we’ll see if her monstrous Amy Dunne character has turned off too many viewers to prevail. Glenn Close played a similar role in “Fatal Attraction” and came this close to winning, but she didn’t.

It has always been an honor just to be nominated for an Oscar. There are only 24 categories and most of them only allow for five nominees. (Best Film now allows 5-10, depending on vote totals.) Nonetheless, horror movies too seldom make the top five, and that’s not right. Is a film whose primary purpose is to scare you less legitimate than a film where the goal is to make you cry? Here’s hoping that at least “Gone Girl” and “The Book of Life” scare up some awards this season. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

THE KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL CAREER: TALENT, HARD WORK AND MORE THAN A LITTLE INSANITY

Original caricature by Jeff York of Jake Gyllenhaal in NIGHTCRAWLER. (copyright 2014)
The 2014 film year has already been distinguished by movies with a decidedly dark slant to them. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is not your typical Wes Anderson whimsical comedy, but rather a biting commentary on racism, the class system and fascism despite its candy-colored decor. THE LEGO MOVIE may have been aimed at 6-year-olds but the romp was as cynical as any of Christopher Nolan’s superhero movies. GONE GIRL is not just a thriller, it’s also a searing indictment of the compromising institution of marriage. And the brilliant BIRDMAN is both an affectionate love letter to the theatrical world as well as a brutally scathing takedown of the egos in show business.

Now along come two movies that are so dark, so bleak, and so black of heart, that they almost could be horror films. And both contain a ‘villain’ with borderline personality tendencies that are truly terrifying and might even be sociopathic. And each film has a lot to say about America and in particular, what it takes to succeed in the modern world. The films are NIGHTCRAWLER and WHIPLASH. Even their names are rather frightening.

NIGHTCRAWLER could easily be the name of a horror movie and true to form its protagonist is a man who’s essentially a monster. Jake Gyllenhaal, in a career best performance, plays Lou Bloom, a petty thief who stumbles upon a car accident one night and watches as a freelance videographer films the scene for a local news station. Suddenly, he sees a way to make money as well as a name for himself.

Bloom starts to bloom in his chosen career path as he starts racing across the streets of LA looking for the latest accidents, murders, and crimes to film. He’s intrepid and immoral, and willing to do anything to get the most lurid shots for a voyeuristic TV audience. He’ll even tamper with a crime scene or move a dead body to get a better shot. It skyrockets his career and buoyed by it all, he starts extolling his success philosophy to both his assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) and the station producer (Rene Russo) buying his bilious tape. It’s the same bullshit that you’d find in a Tony Robbins tape or any self-help book, and it’s clever how writer/director Dan Gilroy uses it to expose the crap that is the cliched American Dream formula.

One of the most amusing things about this dark comedy/thriller is the way in which Gilroy has directed Gyllenhaal to play Bloom. He is a man who doesn’t close his eyes to any of the ugliness, thus he barely blinks in this movie. Bloom has an aggressive staring gaze, like a predator considering prey, and it's both eerie and amusing. The shrewd actor even lost 30 pounds to give his hungry hunter a hollowness. There is no core to him. And the weight loss helped make Gyllenhaal's large eyes pop even more. They seem to be akin to his camera lens, all seeing and unwilling to look away. 

Bloom triumphs again and again in the story, and he becomes addicted to it. Ultimately, he starts creating the stories to keep his camera rolling. He even allows himself to become the news towards the end of the film, and again, reaps heaps of glory, albeit for a story he set up, starred in, and shot with his ever-present camera. Bloom’s complete lack of journalistic ethics makes the blurring of the lines between good reporting and bad reporting at the heart of movies like NETWORK (1976) or BROADCAST NEWS (1987) seem almost quaint by comparison. And Bloom’s sensationalized, over-the-top work isn't much different from the utter hysteria the cable news media created these past months with their breathless coverage of Ebola or ISIS. NIGHTCRAWLER couldn’t possibly be any timelier. It’s an up-to-the-moment cautionary tale about the faltering morals of our news media and its  insatiable catering to an audience's that devours fear and misery on a nightly basis.

Original caricature by Jeff York of Miles Teller and JK Simmons in WHIPLASH. (copyright 2014)
Bloom may fancy himself a connoisseur in a way, but he knows it's not exactly art he's creating. Nonetheless, the question of art is precisely what's at question in WHIPLASH. Here writer/director Damien Chazelle deals directly with what one suffers for their art, specifically the struggle of a young musician to make it in the world of jazz. His protagonist is Andrew (a brilliantly nuanced Miles Teller) who's a young drummer trying his best to meet the exacting standards of his brutish and dictatorial teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons). It's all about the thin line between a dedication to one’s art versus obsession. 

Andrew is good enough to make it into the top jazz band in a performing arts college (a take on Julliard), but he's not sure he has true greatness in him. He wants to become a legend in the mold of  Charlie Parker or Buddy Rich, but what does it take to get there? Can pushing yourself through endless practice get you there? When talent and hard work isn’t enough, what becomes the X factor that pushes you into true excellence? Is it insanity?

Fletcher seems to believe that if that's necessary, than so be it. That's why he's pushing his students to the brink. That’s why he’s willing to bully, terrorize and physically assault his charges to get them to dig deeper. For him, the end result of true greatness justifies the horrible means. And he thinks nothing of methods that  include physical assault, verbal abuse, and driving a student to the edge of mania.  

Fletcher may be a monster, but he’s not all black despite his rather Johnny Cash-esque wardrobe. (That costuming choice is a bit on the nose.) And the casting of Simmons was a stroke of genius as he’s capable of even making assholes into sympathetic and relatable characters. Every time he was onscreen as bellowing newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson in the SPIDER-MAN movies, he was an absolute treat to watch. Here, he does something similar, turning Fletcher into both a terrifying jerk, but a funny one as well. Not since John Houseman’s pudgy face stared down Timothy Bottoms in 1973’s THE PAPER CHASE has an educator been so leeringly LOL.

Fletcher goes too far, no doubt, as no teacher has the right to slap students or slur their heritage or sexual orientation. My God, his anger issues are as brazen as his brass section! Still, this instructor knows that playing up the fears of failure in an artist can amp up their will to survive and strive. It's a pact with the devil the ambitious Andrew is all to willing to succumb to. Like Lou Bloom in NIGHTCRAWLER, he wants to be a huge success as well, and he's willing to do almost anything to reach such lofty goals. Andrew bleeds, sweats, loses sleep, turns away his kind-hearted dad (Paul Reiser) and adorable girlfriend (Melissa Benoist), and even drives recklessly to get to a concert to play - all to be the drummer of his dreams. And Fletcher’s.

Teller does an amazing job of portraying the character and he  demonstrates some truly astonishing work on his drum kit too. We remain on his side every step of the way, even when he starts to go mad. And by the end, when the two men finally get on the same page together,  the two see eye to eye, literally, over what matters - the music. You can hear the difference that Andrew’s perseverance has made in his extraordinary climatic performance. 


The takeaway from both of these dark films is that hard work and talent no longer ensure career success. Something else is required to give it a push, be it shamelessness, brass balls or utter insanity. It would appear that crassness and craziness are the new paradigms of the job market.

Friday, October 31, 2014

WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES FOR THIS YEAR'S HALLOWEEN!

Hey, just kidding. That was sort of a trick. 

Now, here's the treat. The images I'm sharing with you are indeed graphic, but not in that gross and gory sort of way. Instead, I'm sharing with you a series of the original caricatures I've drawn over the past couple of years of some of my favorite horror icons. I hope you enjoy these 'graphic images'!



Good evening! Yes, it's the Master of the Macabre himself, hoping your Halloween comes off without a hitch. He's done some wonderful horror like THE BIRDS (1963) and what some consider the greatest horror movie of all - PSYCHO (1960). 


Vincent Price is one of my favorite actors, and nobody dominated horror films the way he did. Here he is in one of his best, as the title character in THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH from 1964. His best role ever? As the murderous Shakespearean actor in THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). Rent both!


Sigourney Weaver saves the cat in the original ALIEN (1979). This caricature was done for Blake Snyder's blog about screenwriting called "Save the Cat" (http://www.savethecat.com). His book argues that heroes should do something heroic, like save an animal early in the film, to get the audience on that character's side. Weaver's Ripley is a caretaker throughout, and makes sure she saves the cat from the alien space creature as well.


THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) may be a silent movie, but it's still an incredibly creepy one. The story of a carnival side show attraction and its murderous proprietor and somnambulist attraction has some of the most nightmarish images in any film.


The scariest movie I've ever seen was THE EXORCIST (1973), mostly because it seemed all too real. Interesting as well was the fact that for the first hour of its running length, it's a rather straight-forward story about a girl's psychosis. It's discovered to be Satanic possession in hour two, and that's when all hell breaks loose. 


It may be a TV-movie but THE NIGHT STALKER was one of the scariest films ever. The portrayal of vampirism, personified by the well-suited Janos Skorzany (Barry Atwater), will haunt me forever. If you see it, it will do the same to you!



My all-time favorite horror movie is JAWS (1975) starring (left to right) Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider. Every time I stumble upon it on TV, I have to watch it. Still.


Glenn Close played one of the scariest characters ever in the horror movie/thriller FATAL ATTRACTION (1987). She was a sympathetic 'monster' in many respects, with Michael Douglas' philanderer perhaps being the true villain of the piece. 


Alistair Sim created film's most definitive Scrooge in the 1951 A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Funny how the world's most popular Christmas fiction is a horror movie, what with those ghosts and all.


Finally, GONE GIRL may be a thriller but it's also more than a bit of a horror movie, as argued here recently (http://bit.ly/1sgSoIE). And Rosamund Pike is my pick for the best 'monster' in a movie this year. (Pictured here with Ben Affleck.)

I hope you enjoyed these scary portraits. And have a happy Halloween, everyone!