Category Archives: Movies

[A-Z] P is for Picture Show (Rocky Horror)


Just yesterday I wound up listening to the soundtrack for the Rocky Horror Picture Show at work. It was pretty awesome. Although it’s been a good twenty years since I last saw that film, I still know most of the songs by heart, and can still recite the audience participation lines for them as well. Of course, I didn’t do that at my desk at work. Nor did I get up to do the Time Warp when that song came on (though a co-worker did suggest we could have a Time Warp dance mob in our conference room).

Listening to the album left me nostalgic for my high school and early college years. It was my friend Brad Sunday who introduced me and several other members of our high school science fiction club to Rocky Horror; somehow he’d acquired a VHS copy and played it during an after school meeting (bear in mind this was a Catholic high school, and it was done with a teacher’s permission). He taught us some of the audience participation lines (but not all — because Catholic high school) and when and where to throw toast and toilet paper at the screen, so that when we finally went to the real thing, we wouldn’t be unprepared.

Me, I didn’t go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show until I was in college at UC Davis, and then for awhile I really got into it. With my friends P. and T., I drove into Sacramento just about every weekend, often twice a weekend. I threw the toilet paper, I shouted the lines, I danced the Time Warp in the aisles, and I even played Eddie in the floor show one night. That was fun.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Certainly it’s nowhere here in Sacramento. It might be playing regularly in some small theater in San Francisco or Berkeley, but those theaters are just hard for me to get to. I went to the Berkeley show once, about fifteen years ago, with a bunch of friends, but that’s about it. Nowadays, if I want to see it locally I have to wait until June (when the Sacramento Horror Film Festival rolls into town) or Halloween.

And perhaps that’s for the best. I’m past the age where staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning appeals to me, and, of course, that was part of the whole experience. I’m still young enough to be appalled that Fox is considering making a two-hour television version of the movie, but too old to want to go and dress up as Eddie again.

Or maybe I should go in June. Maybe I should go, just to do the Time Warp one last time.

Let’s do the A-Z Blogging Challenge again!

[A-Z] M is for Monsters

Creature_from_the_Black_Lagoon_posterLike, you know, those classic monster movies of yore. I love them. I haven’t seen any for years, though, because I don’t actually own any (though if you’re looking for a present to buy me, Amazon has the complete Universal Monster Movies Collection for sale for only about $126!) and because they’re not currently streaming on Netflix, as they would be if God loved me.

A few years ago, before Universal Studios announced that they were going to create a “cinematic universe” of their classic monsters similar to what Disney’s doing with the Marvel cinematic universe, I had it in my head to write a series of stories in which these old monsters were real — or, at least, using themes and ideas inspired byBride-of-Frankenstein-Poster them. I wrote three of these stories, two of which you can find on my website: “A Most Heinous Man” and “The Bride Price“. It’s a concept I revisit from time to time. I’m even working on a novel which is sort of a retelling of the Frankenstein story, in a modern setting, and told from the monster’s point of view. There is no shortage of such novels and movies, of course, but I like to think that the voice and tone that I bring to the story, as well as my focus on various relationships between the characters, make my vision unique.

The best monster, of course, is Frankenstein’s Monster in the movie Frankenstein (based, of course, very loosely on Mary Shelley’s novel). Who doesn’t love him? A constructed person all full of brains and angst over his creation. What’s not to love? I loved the movie when I first saw it, an54560_455307905052_7972798_od, surprisingly, I enjoyed the sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, even more. I don’t normally enjoy sequels, after all, but Bride is surprisingly good. I recommend it highly. Even the sequel Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman was surprisingly decent for a third entry in a series.

Someday I’m going to sit down and watch all those old films again. They’re so much fun: so very earnest in their depictions of the monsters and their stories. Granted, they were often made on the cheap, sometimes with no other purpose than to shock teenage boys in movie theaters on Saturday afternoons, but some of those old classics were meant to be taken seriously.

I also like kaiju movies, but that’s a different letter entirely.

Today’s slightly out of order post is brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Grr. Arg.

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (Poster)Yesterday Jennifer and I watched another film on our 50 pack set of “Classic Sci Fi Films”: Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. For what it was, it was a fairly decent film, though it seemed somehow disjointed. In essence, a group of astronauts land on the planet Venus and encounter all kinds of monstrous critters, like man-eating plants with long tentacles, and dinosaurs. Fun times. Meanwhile, there’s a woman astronaut aboard a ship orbiting Venus, and Basil Rathbone as a scientists stationed in a lunar colony monitoring the entire mission. And it was these different settings that made the film seem so disjointed; it was almost as though there were two films, spliced in with each other. It reminded me of the American version of the original Godzilla film, where American-produced scenes starring Raymond Burr were interspersed with the original Japanese scenes.

Turns out my feeling was right. Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet was originally a Russian film called Planeta Burg (which apparently translates to Planet of Storms). Roger Corman picked up the rights to this film, and filmed the additional scenes to make the film more appealing to an American audience. Of course this sort of thing never ends well, and that’s why Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet seemed so disjointed.

I’ve already given a brief synopsis of the story. I’ve left out a few details, like the robot that accompanies two of the astronauts to the surface of Venus and that ultimately nearly kills them while trying to save itself from the lava flowing from a volcanic eruption (apparently the robot had not been programmed with the Three Laws of Robotics). All in all, it’s a pretty simple story, even if the American version doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (Jennifer and I were left confused more than once and asked each other, “Okay, what just happened and who’s on what planet?”).

Other films from this set of discs have had simple — if occasionally incoherent — storylines. And that makes me wonder about increasing complexity in narrative in general in movies and television. In Everything Bad is Good for You, Steven R. Johnson argues, among plenty of other things, that narratives in movies as well as television have grown more complex over the years, requiring more emotional and intellectual investment from audiences. Even modern reality shows, which many people deride, are more emotionally complex than something like I Love Lucy or any other show contemporary to it, since they require analysis of the emotional complexities of the participants in the show and their agendas. Television shows in earlier years did not have the series long story arcs that shows like Lost or the reboot of Battlestar Galactica had; even some modern sitcoms feature this sort of ongoing plotline (I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’m sure someone else can).

Which made me think: what if we took someone who had just seen Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and transported them instantly through time and stuck them into an IMAX theater to watch Avatar, what would happen? (I’m not talking about taking someone who’s just moved through time the normal way, by aging — such a person would have gotten used to the increasing narrative complexity.) Would their minds be utterly blown? Many critics have said that although Avatar is visually stunning, its storyline is relatively simple. But would our theoretical time traveler be able to track the story at all? Or would they be utterly confused?


Remakes that don't need to be made but are being made anyway

I offer the following as proof that Hollywood not only does not care about us, but actively hates us with an intense fiery passion, and laughs at us because we continue to fall for their shenanigans.

  • V. Apparently NBC has been working on a remake of the brilliant 80’s science fiction invasion miniseries, only this time without Marc Singer, Robert Englund, or Jane Badler. The only good news here is that the project has been in development for three years and probably won’t ever see the light of day.
  • Friday the 13th. Not so much a remake as a “reboot”. Granted, an occasional reboot can work well. Think Battlestar Galactica. Most of the time, though, “reboot” makes me think “reimagining”, which rarely works well. Think Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. Think Rob Zombie’s Halloween. I am looking forward to J. J. Abrams’s reboot of Star Trek, because if anyone can bring an original vision to a pre-existing mythology, then it’s Abrams. Then again, I said that about Tim Burton, and we all know how that turned out.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. MTV apparently has this one in the works. Seriously, here all I can think is “What the hell?” I mean that in all sincerity. What. The. Hell. It was an awful movie to begin with, made into a cult classic because people were originally so appalled by its awfulness that they took to throwing toast and toilet paper at the screen, which made RHPS an event instead of a mere movie. You can’t throw a big budget and name actors at an event like this and hope to come even close to the original experience. If this goes anywhere besides straight to the budget DVD rack at WalMart, I’ll be seriously surprised.
  • The Wolfman. It won’t have Lon Chaney. ‘Nuff said.
  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. An iconic 80s movie, made gloriously memorable because of Keanu Reeves and George Carlin. But now Carlin is dead and Keanu has gone on to become a great popular higher paid actor, so what will the new B&TEA have? Pretty much nothing. Why not just remake Weird Science? Or War Games?
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still. Speaking of Keanu Reeves. Keanu Reeves, for God’s sake, in an unnecessary remake of one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. How about Forbidden Planet with William Shatner? Sheesh.

False Memories of Bad Movies

Hellraiser 1Last night I got it into my head that I wanted to watch the Hellraiser movies again.  There are eight such movies out now, with varying degrees of suckitude (the rule of thumb with such film franchises is that the higher the number of the film, the lower the quality; Nightmare on Elm Street 5 was worse than Nightmare on Elm Street 4, which was worse than Nightmare on Elmstreet 3, and so on).  I’d seen the eighth film, Hellraiser: Hellworld on the Sci Fi Channel recently, so I knew what sort of depths the franchise descends to.  Not even the presence of Lance Henrickson in that film could make it enjoyable.  On the whole though, I remembered the films as being an interesting examination of pain, pleasure, morality, and so on.

So I watched Hellraiser, the original film.  It was tolerable.  The special effects were cheesy, as were the costumes and hairstyles, but it was made in 1987, so what the hell.  Some elements made me uncomfortable — not in a "Wow, this is disturbing imagery" sort of way, but more in a "Wow, I sure hope my neighbors don’t catch me watching this" sort of way.  Nothing really bad, you know, but I did just move into a new neighborhood and I’d rather wait awhile before my reputation as a freak has a chance to settle in.

But most of the time watching Hellraiser, I was thinking about Hellbound: Hellraiser 2.  I’d seen that film when it came out and a couple of times since, but it’s been easily ten years or more since I saw it last.  I just remembered that I had enjoyed the film, that I’d thought the imagery was more intense, the storyline better, and so on. I was, in short, remembering it as a pretty good film.

Hellbound: Hellraiser 2Man, I don’t know what I was thinking.

Hellbound, in case you don’t recall, starts off almost immediately after the events of the first Hellraiser film.  At some point after attempting to burn the puzzle box in a vacant lot, Kirsty Cotton was picked up by the police and dumped in the Channard Institute; her boyfriend, Steve, who only had a one film contract, was able to convince the police that even though he, too, had just come from a house full of mutilated bodies and was raving about demonic beings, he was perfectly sane and quite able to go home.

It turns out that the Channard Institute is run by an evil psychiatrist, who’s not above allowing incurably psychotic patients mutilate themselves if it helps him summon up demons that can take him to hell to experience pain or whatever (Channard’s motivations are never entirely clear).  He does this once, in fact, summoning up Kirsty’s demonic stepmother, Julia, who for some reason made a pact with Leviathan, God of the Underworld, to return to Earth (the motivations of both Julia and Leviathan are also left as an exercise for the viewer, apparently).  Channard then brings another patient from the Institute, a young woman who has a penchant for solving puzzles (we’re never told why she has this quirk, but she’s insane, so I guess that’s okay), and this woman, Tiffany, solves the puzzle box and opens the gate to Hell.  The Cenobites are summoned again, and instead of going after Tiffany, they go after Dr. Channard.  Pinhead intones, "It is not hands that summon us, but desire."  Of course that did nothing to stop them from going after Kirsty in the first film, or anyone else who might have found the puzzle box and opened it by accident.  It’s just that Channard was evil or something.

Meanwhile, Kirsty goes through the same doorway back to Hell to rescue her father, who was murdered in the first film.  She doesn’t find her father, but her father’s murderer, the heinous Uncle Frank, who is being tormented for all his crimes.  And…

Well, it all kind of goes like that for awhile.

The special effects are better in this film, true, but the film is hampered by a cast of characters, human and demonic, who just sort of wander around doing things with no real motivation.  Oh, it also includes the most boring supernaturally charged fight scene in the history of horror filmmaking.  Channard, transformed into a monstrous Cenobite, shows up and encounters Pinhead and his crew.  "Oh, good," Channard says, "a fight."  Then Pinhead and his crew all stand silently and are killed one by one without even putting up a fight.  It annoyed me; if I was among a group of people who were being killed off one by one, I’m smart enough to at least run away, and I’m not even a demonic pain entity from beyond Hell.  Oh, and such entities can apparently be killed, which sort of takes the threat out of them.

It’s a bad movie.  I suspect it was always a bad movie.  So why did I remember it as a good movie, one of those rare instances when the sequel was superior to the original film?  I have no idea.

Has this ever happened to any of you?  Have you rented a movie that you remembered as being really awesome, only to be blown away by its sheer badness?  Share your experiences.

The Wizard of Oz: Moral Pauper, Devious Mastermind, or Simply Dumb?

A few months ago I wrote in this blog about my theory that Glinda, Good Witch of the North in the Land of Oz, is actually a Machiavellian mastermind, scheming and using Dorothy Gale’s serendipitous killing of the Wicked Witch of the East as the opening gambit in a plot to eliminate the Wizard and make herself the only magical power in the entire country.  Since I wrote that, I’ve read some more of the Oz books, and discovered that later plot elements confirmed my theory; once Dorothy left, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man took over the leadership of Oz until Ozma was returned to power, and once Ozma was back in power one of her first acts was to outlaw magic and witchcraft, save that practiced by her good friend Glinda.

Glinda is definitely a power mad fiend.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This time, though, I wanted to address another aspect of the Oz storyline that really bugs me.  This element I’ve only noticed in the play and in the 1939 movie, so as far as I know it doesn’t represent anything that L. Frank Baum (or his successors) wrote, but it’s in the script and the screenplay, and it bugs me.

But before I begin, I guess I should say that I really do love the movie.  The music is fun (in particular, I love the Scarecrow’s song), the visuals are spectacular, and the storyline is an elegant incarnation of the Hero’s Journey.  It’s got the Call to Adventure, it’s got the Wise Mentor, and, of course, the Return Home with Gifts.  The actors are all wonderful and the characterizations are delightful.  It really is a fun movie, and I’ve seen it often.

It’s just that the Wizard is such a schmuck.  "It’s not how much you love," he tells the Tin Man at the end of the film, "but how much others love you that matters." And the sad thing is, the Tin Man believes him.

I suppose that in some ways, it’s not all that bad a message.  In particular, it’s probably a good tool for socializing young children.  "It doesn’t matter how many people you love or how much you love them," we might say to them.  "All that matters is how much other people love you."  Frank Morgan as the Wizard of OzThis could easily help children behave at school or in public.  "Act in such a way so that people will love you," we could tell them, ensuring that they will behave properly.  And, of course, there’s the underlying subtext:  "The person who dies with the most people loving them wins!"

The trouble is, that doesn’t really work, and the number of people who love you is a horrible measure of the kind of person you are.  Remember the line one of the Princes had in Into the Woods?  "I was raised to be charming… not sincere."  With sufficient charm and charisma, even the most horrible person can get plenty of people, even thousands, to love them.  Ask Squeaky Fromme if you don’t believe me on that.

More to the point, though, I think that there are plenty of people out there who are fully capable of loving other people deeply and whole heartedly, but who are not very capable of expressing that love; and because the way they express it is inadequate, sometimes even inappropriate, in spite of years of people trying to teach them otherwise.  I’m thinking in particular of the many nerds and geeks I have known throughout my life who suffered from this problem.  Some of them were very, very loving people but just plain incapable of showing it.  Perhaps they had Aspergers.  Perhaps they were autistic in some other way.  Or perhaps they just never learned the appropriate skills.  The point is, in spite of their huge hearts, they weren’t well loved by many other people (this is actually a theme I’ve been playing with a bit in The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster).

So what, exactly, is the Wizard trying to imply with his comment to the Tin Man?  He was spot on in his advice to both the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, I think, so what was he trying to say to the Tin Man?  Was he being deliberately dim?  Was he trying to undermine the Tin Man’s self confidence, knowing that the Tin Man would take over leadership of Oz after he left (if so, would that put him in cahoots, somehow, with Glinda, or was he possibly trying to bring Glinda’s machinations to a halt)?  Or was he simply reflecting a worldview popular in 1939, when the film was made?

Being me, I, of course, look for the nefarious motives here.  It was all a conspiracy.  Not just one conspiracy, in fact, but a web of competing lies and manipulations which proves that even a simple place like Oz can be a web of internecine conflict which could rival the current Republican Party.

Watch the film, kids.  Enjoy it.  But remember that what the Wizard says to the Tin Man is just wrong.

Movie Goodness

A few movies have magically appeared on my computer recently. There’s The Grudge (which I said was the scariest damn movie I’d ever seen the first time I saw it, but its effect has been diluted since I saw the original Ju-On), and its (surprisingly halfway decent) sequel The Grudge 2. But today I’ve gotten to see:

  1. Run Lola Run, a wonderfully stylistic German film from 1998 which everyone ought to see, if they haven’t already. It appeals to the philosophy/sci fi nerd in me, and is a good flick as well; and
  2. Slither, with Nathan Fillion. This film bombed spectacularly at the box office, probably because it was a horror/comedy in the line of Evolution or Shaun of the Dead at a time when Hollywood horror was dominated by Japanese Yurei and brutal blood-and-guts films like Hostel and Saw I, II, III, etc.. In addition to its gross-out factor, this film is honestly one of the most intelligent monster movies I’ve seen; there’s an attempt to explain the critters in terms of Darwinian evolution, something most such films don’t bother with, and the characters are all well drawn and well written. There are some unsavory folks in the film, but the script, actors, and director make even those characters sympathetic. The world that the film creates has rules, and it follows those rules (and the Grudge films, in spite of their creepy imagery which is what freaks me out, are really bad at following the rules set out in their own premise — the second is by far the worse offender in this regard). You should see this film not just because it’s funny and scary and achieves that mood without the spitefulness that often marks this type of film, but also because Nathan Fillion deserves more work than he gets, and because Jenna Fischer (another woefully underrated performer) is brilliant in her small role.

I recently also saw Feast, another horror comedy which has its moments (but which doesn’t establish clear in-story rules and isn’t particularly noteworthy except for an amusing performance by Jason Mewes). Meh. And The Return, which I saw mostly because I like Sarah Michelle Gellar (I think she’s cute and very talented; so sue me). This film has some genuinely creepy moments, but isn’t complex or interesting enough to warrant multiple viewings.

I’m now seriously looking forward to seeing The Host. I’ve heard good things about that one.

The Matrix and Philosophy

The Matrix and PhilosophyThe Matrix and Philosophy edited by William Irwin

My bachelor’s degree is in Philosophy (UC Davis, 1992), and The Matrix is one of my favorite science fiction films ever; and so this book seems like it would be a perfect match for me, doesn’t it? It’s part of the same Philosophy and Popular Culture series which includes other books such as The Simpsons and Philosophy, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Philosophy (which I have and which is a surprisingly entertaining read, save for the very last essay), and the forthcoming The Undead and Philosophy, which I need to get just because the title sounds so impressive. There’s another book out now called Superheroes and Philosophy which I want to read, even though I have never been much of a fan of the superhero genre.

Continue reading The Matrix and Philosophy