Monthly Archives: June 2013
We have truly lost one of the legends of the writing game. Celebrated multiple award-winning author Richard Matheson passed away this weekend, surrounded by family and friends. He was 87.
Even if you didn’t know his name (shame on you!), you know his work. Here is just a sampler – the following movies are all based on his work – The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, Real Steel, Trilogy of Terror, The Box, Loose Cannons, The Legend of Hell House Burn Witch Burn, Jaws 3-D (hey, a paycheck is a paycheck), and the these last three, all based on the same novel, The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and I Am Legend.
That’s not all, all of the good “Twilight Zone” episodes that weren’t written by Rod Serling, they’re all Matheson too. He wrote hundreds of short stories and books, and countless hours of television in many different genres, including episodes for “Star Trek,” “Combat!,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Thriller,” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” Other than “The Twilight Zone,” possibly his two greatest contributions to television were the Steven Spielberg-directed Duel and The Night Stalker, which became a fondly remembered cult TV series.
We have lost another legend.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter ~ Based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, this mash-up of the horror and historical genres is a lot better than it has a right to be, and yet, it should have been, and could have been a lot better.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a pretty good vampire slayer flick, and a half-decent horror flick. It tries very hard, sometimes almost desperately to make the historical part fit, and actually makes some pretty rational points about the philosophy of slavery throughout the history of mankind, and in the mind of man himself.
The problem is that the initial premise of the film, hell, the source material itself, is just ridiculous. Think about it. The idea that our celebrated sixteenth President had a secret identity hunting and killing vampires is just ludicrous – and it’s played straight, deadly straight. What’s missing is a sense of humor. Just a bit of whimsy or even a wink at the audience would go a long, long way toward improving this flick.
The movie is well done, as I said, and the fight scenes are pretty cool. The final train fight and the earlier stampede chase is especially dynamic. Benjamin Walker is excellent, and darned earnest, as the President, and I look forward to seeing him in other stuff. Turn your brain off, and just enjoy, and it’s not a bad movie at all.
Actor James Gandolfini died today in Italy from a massive heart attack, he was 51. The three time Lead Actor in a Drama Emmy winner was best known for playing bipolar modern gangster and family man Tony Soprano in HBO’s “The Sopranos.” He was also a producer, and a star of stage and screen, besides his television work.
I first became aware of the man when he played a very evil piece of work in Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. His menacing presence made him perfect for the complex character of Tony Soprano in my opinion.
“The Sopranos” first entered my wheelhouse during its second season. I had written a still unpublished novel with hyper-violent overtones. Two beta-readers told me I needed a balance between the violence and the drama of everyday life, and both, separately suggested that I had to see “The Sopranos” so I could see how it’s supposed to be done. I got HBO, and was blown away. I quickly caught up, and was addicted to the show until its end.
Most of the reason the show was so successful was Gandolfini’s talent and presence. If we did not believe Gandolfini as Tony, the show falls apart. He was the show in many ways.
The man was perhaps the best lead in perhaps the best show ever made for TV. It is so sad to lose such a talent so young. Who knows what might have been in his future. James Gandolfini will be missed.
While known alternately as both Great Britain’s first and Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound movie, Blackmail in truth was released simultaneously as a talkie and as a silent film. To make sure it was seen by as many people as possible, Hitch made two versions, the one silent to ensure theaters not yet equipped for sound in 1929 could still show it.
Blackmail is a tale of passion, betrayal, murder, and yes, blackmail, based on a play by Charles Bennett, who also helped Hitch adapt it for the screen. Bennett would end up working with the director in this capacity many times over the years, on films like Secret Agent, Sabotage, The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. On his own he would also go on to adapt the TV version of “Casino Royale” and Curse of the Demon.
While originally a stage bound story, Hitch, and Bennett, do a wonderful job of opening the story up to many locations and sets. Many adaptations like this of the time were limiting and almost claustrophobic. The film’s climax is an edgy mad chase through the British Museum, similar to scenes Hitch would continue to construct throughout his career.
Lead actress Anny Ondra, primarily a Czech and German actress is stunning as an early Hitchcock blonde. All the other roles are played with precision but Ondra is the standout by miles. She was so well liked that the studio refused to let Hitch do the ending he wanted. The studio insisted Ondra walk free at the end, rather than pay for her crimes.
Hitch’s directing and storytelling skills are at their height here, and seriously, when aren’t they? Even before he was the master of suspense, he was always a master filmmaker. As with all Hitchcock films it is key you pay attention at all times, the devil is in the details. Simple yet complex, the dynamic storytelling style that would make Hitch one of our era’s greatest directors is evident and already honed here at the end of the 1920s decade.
I recently caught the rarely seen silent version on “Silent Sunday Nights” on TCM, and it was stunning. Must see for any Hitchcock fan or student of the medium, recommended.