Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Manga and Anime

At the beginning of the month, Michael Jones asked me if I have, or have had, a manga or anime series that I have particularly enjoyed.

 The answer is actually quite a few. My first exposure to anime was back when it wasn't labled as such through daily afternoon viewings of Speed Racer,/Space Battleship Yamato, Gatchaman, and Captain Harlock.

More recently I've been enjoying Attack on Titan (both the manga and anime series), Blood +, and Death Note in the form of anime, though I've also seen the live action Death Note movie.

Other manga that I've liked quite a bit are Astro Boy and other works by Osamu Tezuka, such as Buddha, and The Lost World,  Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, Nausica√§ of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. I'm also really fond of the Anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

There are others but those are the ones that occurred to me.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Crazy 4 Cult: Back In LA

Gallery 1988's annual "Crazy 4 Cult" show opened last night at their gallery at 7308 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. I contributed the piece below, based on They Live (1988). The show runs through December 28, 2014, and the rest of the art from all contributing artists should be available to look at and purchase at the Gallery 1988 website soon.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass

As promised, here is a look at the four pieces I did for "The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass" show now on display at Creature Features in Burbank, CA through January 4. Each is 3-D cut paper. Contact Creature Features for purchasing information. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Rudolph Turns 50

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the beloved Rankin/Bass Christmas special, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which debuted on this night in 1964, Creature Features, in Burbank, CA, is hosting "The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass" a group art show featuring some very talented folks.

I have four pieces in the show, which I'll share here tomorrow.

The show runs through January 4th. If you can, you should definitely stop by and check it out.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Ask Me Anything #44

After a much needed month long break, things will be returning to normal here. There will be some updates in the days ahead, but in the meantime, the first Monday of the month means it's time for "Ask Me Anything."

You can ask me any questions you'd like, whether it's about my work, opinions, influences, favorites, least favorites, holiday gift suggestions, or anything else you think I might have an answer for. Questions can be posted in the comments section below, and I'll either answer them there, or in a separate post sometime later in the month.

Please take the time to view the previous questions so that we don't wind up with a lot of repetition. I've been asked a lot of good, thought provoking questions in the past as well as some really banal ones, all of which I tried to answer. You can see the previous questions by visiting Ask Me Anything  #1#2 ,  #3#4#5#6 , #7 , #8#9,  #10,  #11,  #12 , #13#14,  #15 , #16#17 , #18 , #19,  #20,  #21#22,  #23#24#25#26#27#28#29#30#31#32#33#34#35#36#37#38#39#40#41#42, and #43.  Answers not found following the questions can be found in the archives section for each associated month under Ask Me Anything.

Now ask away. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Monday, November 03, 2014

Don't Ask

This is the first Monday of the month which normally would mean it's time for "Ask Me Anything." However, I have a heavy schedule this month, so I'm putting it on hiatus.  This month you can expect some posts pertaining to things I did not post during October so that they would not get lost amidst all of the Countdown to Halloween material.

"Ask Me Anything" will return the first Monday of December.

Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie 2

Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is convinced by his psychiatrist (David Cronenberg) that he has been murdering people during blackout periods. Boone seeks refuge among the Nightbreed, a civilization of monsters that live beneath a necropolis called Midian. Boone learns he's innocent, and in an attempt to rejoin his girlfriend in a normal life, accidentally leads humans, intent on destroying the monsters, to Midian. 

I've been waiting for the director's cut since I saw the movie opening night at a movie theater in New York City and noticed that scenes from the trailer were missing from the actual movie, and subsequently learned about the studio interference which led to reshoots that completely reversed the intentions of the film, which were to portray the monsters as heroes and the humans as monsters. The director's cut is not much longer than the theatrical cut and there aren't any "holy crap" new scenes added to the movie, but more time is spent on cementing Boone's relationship with his girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby) and turning the movie's perspective back to one in which the monsters are definitely the sympathetic, peaceful, people that Clive Barker intended them to be. I always hated the exploding bloodbath that was the climax of the theatrical cut, but here a lot of nuanced scenes are woven into the fabric of Midian's apocalypse, that the feel of the climax completely changes. The restoration of the newly reintroduced footage is pretty seamless, especially considering the poor quality of some of the footage when it was rediscovered. I also sprung for the deluxe edition blu ray which has lots of extras in the form of making of documentaries, still galleries, and further deleted scenes that were not reintroduced back into the movie. I have only tapped the surface of the extra features, but it's a treasure trove I look forward to diving into completely.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie 1

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) is Hollywood's second spectacle based on Victor Hugo's novel.  The 1923 version, starring Lon Chaney, was a hard act to follow. In terms of spectacle, this version matches its predecessor. The sets are glorious, the crowd scenes populous, the cinematography beautiful. This time Charles Laughton plays the titular character, Quasimodo under Perc Westmore's impressive make-up. Laughton's Quasimodo is less animated and acrobatic than Chaney's, but is able to get across a great deal of pathos in his reserved performance. Cedric Hardwicke makes for a nasty Frollo, and Maureen O'Hara, while not quite convincing as a Gypsy girl, makes for a beautiful Esmeralda.

It's an excellent movie, but not quite at the level of the 1923 version. The script hits all of its notes really broadly, and practically underlines key bits of exposition and dialogue to make sure the audience doesn't miss them. There's a much more optimistic feel all the way throughout that doesn't really match the situation unfolding on screen, even ending with a happy, if bittersweet ending, not true to the source material. It's somewhat like the difference between the 1943 Phantom of the Opera and the 1925 original. The silent versions were energetic, dark and mysterious. The romance was tinged with doom. The sound versions were too busy trying to cement themselves as audience pleasing costume melodramas, and completely blunted their dark edges. This remake of the Hunchback excels where the remake of Phantom didn't. Even if it were only for Laughton's performance, this movie would be well worth seeing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Barbara Britton, Ella Neal, Eva Gabot, and Katherine Booth, 1941.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 2

 Soon after turning her lover, Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), Djuna (Jos√©phine de La Baume) is faced with a visit from her unstable sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), that not only threatens her and Paolo's safety, but the entire extended vampire community.

Kiss of the Damned (2012) is more of an exquisite mood piece than a plot driven film. Visually it's a bit of a throwback to another era, which combined with the exotic, cosmopolitan foreignness of its cast of characters gives it a timeless quality, or at least a feeling that the vampire world exists outside of time as we know it. It's even tempered and mostly even paced, and more concerned with new relationships and the intrusive nature of any third party paying a visit while these relationships are being forged. While Djuna, and Paolo seem to be embracing the idea of forever together, Mimi seems to be striking out against what stability over long periods of time means to her; boredom. Her behavior is not only willfully self destructive, but dangerous to everyone around her. While Kiss of the Damned, doesn't really bring anything new to the vampire genre, it was still a welcome change from how the vampire story typically unfolds, and extremely well done, too.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 1

A pair of lesbian vampires, lure men to their enormous, out of the way, home, promising sex, but using them for sustenance. Meanwhile, a young married couple camping nearby get pulled into the mystery of what is happening in that supposedly abandoned house and find they should have left well enough alone.

Vampyres (1974) is a a really uneven film. The bulk of the movie is spent on erotic encounters that on the surface seem to be hungry and fierce, but are actually incredibly chaste and superficial. These encounters fall into a repetitive pattern of the vampire women pleasing each other, then luring a man to the house for additional pleasures. There are three types of characters here, the predatory vampire women, the horny male victims, and the nice married couple, one of whom is suspicious of the behavior of others, and the other who is too trusting. There are some nice visuals, and the house itself is magnificent, but too much of this film passes by slowly, and the only real ferocity and horror doesn't come until the end. This is perhaps worth a look, but not a revisit.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Gale Robbins

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 2

The staff at an oil company's remote Alaskan base, find themselves under siege by a series of strange events that seem to be connected to global warming. One by one, they die in peculiar ways, with much speculation on what's happening. Central is the idea that nature is striking back against the planet's human infestation. Here, in the arctic that attack is being brought on by the spirit of the Wendigo in the form of ghost caribou.

The Last Winter (2006) is an environmental horror film that leaves plenty of room for ambiguities, much like Larry Fessenden's previous films. Like his other films, this provides the viewer with a smart, ambitious movie that isn't entirely satisfying. That lack of satisfaction is possibly the result of wanting a film that is trying to give so much to succeed completely and spectacularly, which The Last Winter doesn't. I found myself completely enmeshed in the story as it unfolded, and was happy to see that a horror film set in an arctic research facility could completely separate itself from any version of The Thing. I'd also gladly trade in half the movies I watched this month for one ambitious, if not quite successful Larry Fessenden film.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 1

A monster is terrorizing the countryside of Gevaudan, France, and no one can stop it, or a wicked secret society connected with it. While barely a horror movie, Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) is loosely based on events pertaining to my favorite real life monster, the beast of Gevaudan. This movie plays fast and loose with the facts, but makes for a beautiful looking historical action movie. There are a number of preposterous things on screen, but I was willing to roll with them. The mystery plays out nicely, and the actors and the characters they play are all engaging. This was my second viewing of this movie, and I still like it a lot.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

June Collyer

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 2

A writer travels to a Caribbean island in search of material for his next novel and stumbles across a scientist allegedly working on a cure for cancer but really creating an army of zombies.

I Eat Your Skin (1964) contains nothing as lurid as the title would suggest. There's one beheading in the movie, and a lot of hijinks with the protagonist unscrupulously going from one woman to the next while avoiding jilted husbands. The scenes of horror are pretty sparse, but the zombies themselves are pretty eerie looking. It's not really worth seeking out, but makes for a passable late night, or rainy Sunday afternoon viewing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 1

A Jazz Pianist living on an island is visited by an ex flame who will do anything to keep him from marrying his new beau. To prevent this, he lets her fall to her death from the top of a lighthouse rather than save her. Her body vanishes, but her ghost sticks around to torment him, or is it just his guilty conscience driving him mad and compelling him to commit more horrible acts.

Tormented (1960) is a bit on the goofy side and feels a bit like a William Castle movie without the built in gimmick. It was actually the work of Bert I. Gordon who took a break from his obsession with giant people and monsters to make this film. Richard Carlson stars in a role that's a real divergent from his usual casting as the heroic scientist. Here he's driven to distraction by ghostly visitations and a pair of witnesses that force him into committing more direct means of murder. Overall this movie is pretty fun.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Judy Garland

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 2

The Munsters find themselves the targets of a criminal investigation when a series of crimes are committed by the wax figures, which are really robots, including replicas of the Munsters.

The Munsters Revenge (1981) was a reunion tv movie which reuinted Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, and Al Lewis, but gave us a new Marilyn and a kid who looks like Juice Ortiz from Sons of Anarchy as the new Eddie. Within just a few minutes you could tell how bad this movie was going to be by the lameness of the jokes. The jokes were always pretty corny on the original television series, but they had an endearing charm to them and were actually funny on occasion. Not so here. This movie is just sub par all the way through. Sid Ceasar is terrible as the mastermind behind the robots which are actors wearing various Don Post masks, and a pretty great Creature from the Black Lagoon suit. The best feature is that the Wolfman sounds like Turu, the pterodactyl from Jonny Quest, also the vocalization of half the monsters on Space Ghost, The Herculoids, and the like. The make-up on the Munsters is not nearly as good as it was in the tv series, or previous movie, and no amount of it could hide how much Yvonne De Carlo had aged in the nearly twenty years since she'd last played Lily. We do get to meet a new member of the Munster family; Cousin Phantom of the Opera. That's what they really call him. He's an annoying one note character whose singing is constantly shattering nearby glass. It was pretty painful for me to see the Munsters brought so low in this movie. I recommend staying away from it.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 1

The Munsters learn that they have inherited a manor in England and Herman, the title of Lord Munster. Unfortunately, the English side of the family, not happy with this arrangement, initailly determine to frighten the American Munsters away, then when that fails, to kill them. There's also an automobile race.

Munster Go Home (1966) is a theatrical motion picture that would show the world the Munsters in color (which is jarring, and really threw me as a kid). The movie is essentially an episode of the tv series on a grander scale. The comedy is the same, which means lots of corny material, but also some really fun stuff too. The anticipation of how the English Munsters' plan to frighten their American relatives out of the spooky manor backfiring leads into a satisfying play of spookshow antics which the Munsters find delightful and welcoming instead of frightening. This movie is a lot of fun and would make a nice Halloween double feature with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.


31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Vera Ellen

Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 2

Two brothers (William Shatner, Tom Skerritt) try to bring down the satanic cult led by Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) who has been tormenting their family for generations, determined to get his hands on a book in their possession which will increase his power.

I decided it was time to revisit a film from my childhood. More often than not this turns out to be a terrible mistake, but I actually really liked The Devil's Rain (1975), probably more than I did as a kid. Yes, there are some hoaky bits, but the pace of this movie is phenomenal. It really throws you into the story with no preparation and no explanation for anything going on, but it's never hard to grasp onto. It even throws some startling imagery on the screen really quickly, with the figure of a melting, eyeless man disolving in the rain. The eyeless people and melting flesh is a recurring visual motif in this film which features rather nice make-up effects and some decent special effects depicting the souls of Corbis' converts within a large windowed jar. It's not a classic, but it's certainly a lot of fun.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 1

A trio of kidnappers, out to deliver a pair of hostages to their cruel boss, take a wrong turn down a road that they can't seem to get off of. Things start to go wrong and get really strange for them as their situation grows increasingly desperate.

Devil's Mile (2014) is a film with very little substance pretending to be something more fulfilling. It has some nice moments, but far more stretches of little interest. The characters aren't particularly engaging and presented as such despicable creatures that it's not possible to empathize with them in their plight. The kidnapped women aren't really presented as anything, so you often forget about them entirely. The twist at the end is also flimsy and clearly meant to be mind blowing, but isn't, and adds nothing to a movie very much in need something to give it some heft. It was nice to see the crew of Rue Morgue magazine in a cameo though.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26

Colleen Moore

Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 2

Tim, a Vietnam vet, and Seminole, is also a hermit and something of an environmentalist terrorist. He lives far from any human neighbors out in the middle of the Florida Everglades, where he shares his shack with a bunch of snakes including his two favorites, a pair of rattlesnakes named Stanley and Hazel. Tim uses his snakes to attack those whose outlooks are in opposition to his own views. This includes a businessman who gets rich off of selling animal skins, that man's lackeys, and a burlesque performer who uses snakes in her act. Eventually, Tim starts to just plain lash out and his beloved snakes turn against him.

Stanley (1972) is essentially Willard (1971) with snakes. It's an odd movie. It's incredibly earnest, yet if someone told me this movie was intended as a parody, I wouldn't be surprised. It certainly has plenty of campy moments. Either way, it's entertaining, and I kept having deja vu moments that have convinced me that I must have seen this movie on tv as a kid. I give actor, Chris Robinson extra credit for keeping a straight face throughout the movie. My only real negative criticism is that snakes were not only harmed in the making of this movie, but horribly killed as well. I've even seen an anecdote that the director had Stanley made into a wallet once filming was completed, which goes against everything that Tim, and this movie, stands for.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 1

A bunch of non-characters wind up at a lake near a closed camp and are slaughtered by an even less interesting non-character wearing a mask.

I was never really a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, so I'm not sure what compelled me to watch the Friday the 13th (2009) reboot. Reboots in general have been a pretty sorry lot, but this turd takes the trophy. This is easily the worst movie I've watched this countdown, and possibly the worst movie I've seen in some time. It makes the originals look like masterpieces in comparison. At least those movies seemed to have been having some fun, and even though the kills were increasingly ridiculous, there was some sense of "let's see the make-up guys pull this one off." This joyless movie didn't make any effort to really go beyond poking people with sharp pointy things. To start wondering about such plot points as when Jason got an engineering and electrical degree while living in the woods as a hermit since childhood give the writers of this more credit than they deserve. Having said that, Jason operates out of a VAST network of underground tunnels, that I'm assuming he dug and wired himself, since no other explanation was given. I'm guessing this was the filmmakers thinking that it would be more logical to have him suddenly appear out of nowhere if he popped up through a trapdoor, while not worrying about the logic behind anything else in this movie. Did I mention this movie is a turd?

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25

Elaine Stewart

Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 2

Led by their abusive director, a group of actors sail to an island containing a graveyard for criminals, in order to perform a ritual meant to raise the dead. Pranks are played, witty barbs exchanged, and to everyone's surprise, the incantation works and the risen dead are not amused.

Your enjoyment of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) will depend a great deal on how you feel about acting groups, because that's what you'll be subjected to for the first hour of this ninety minute movie. For me, that's a completely unenjoyable experience, so the first two thirds of this movie were pretty punishing. Alan Ormsby, who authored one of my very favorite books, and is also a very nice man, co-authored and created the make-up for this movie (as well, as my previous entry, Shock Waves). He also stars as the nasty director, a performance that is effective, but irritating. If you've seen the movie you'll understand why I'm thankful that Ormsby and Paul Bartel never co-starred in a movie together.

Overall, the entire movie has an amateurish, low quality feel to it, which actually works in its favor. It's clear everyone had a good time making this, and really made the best with what they had to work with. What it needed though was a little less of the drama friends hanging out together and making a movie vibe, and on screen dominance, and more of the repercussions of the ritual waking of the dead. The zombies are pretty neat looking in a no tech way that makes them feel a bit real and fantastic at the same time, but once they emerge, there's no real sense of suspense or drama, and it feels like everyone is rushing to get the movie over with.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 1

A group of tourists on a ramshackle pleasure boat find themselves wrecked after an encounter with a ghost ship. Stranded on a nearby island, they discover things are even worse than they imagined, as Nazi zombie super soldiers created to be able to exist underwater without breathing, have found their way to the island where they pick off the castaways one by one.

Shock Waves (1977) stars Peter Cushing as a reclusive former Nazi scientist, and John Carradine as the captain of the pleasure boat. Despite their starring status, both have small roles in the grand scheme of the movie's running time. Among the castaways is Brooke Adams, a guy that constantly reminded me of Richard Simmons, and a really whiny guy with the voice of David Sedaris, but none of the wit, or charm. For most of the movie nothing really happens. This inaction is broken up by periodic appearances of the Nazi zombies, who also don't do much of anything beyond walking across the bottom of the sea, rising from the waves, and wading through inland bodies of water where they can ambush and drown their victims. The zombies, with their uniform appearance (which includes uniforms which somehow didn't disintegrate after thirty-odd years at the bottom of the ocean) minimally decayed skin and big black goggles which protect them from the sun, are a welcome change from the rotting shamblers we're used to. Overall, this is another movie about an uninteresting batch of adults doing stupid things so that they can find themselves in one danger after another. It's somewhat entertaining if you haven't seen it before, but probably not something you'll want to go back to.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24

Barbara Bates, 1945.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23 - Movie 2

Seed pods from space land on earth and begin to create duplicates of everyone they come into contact with, leaving the originals as desicated husks, while the emotionless duplicates silently take over the world.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is possibly the best example of a remake that equals, or surpasses, its original, in this case the 1955 movie of the same name. Moving the action from anytown USA to the chaotic city of San Francisco works in its favor, and allows us to take in the transformation of the citizens almost ambiently around the main action as the central characters stumble upon the plot initially by a rash of people claiming that their spouses aren't really their spouses, followed by the discovery of unformed human duplicates and suspicious behavior among their friends, coworkers, and officials. By the time they figure out what's really going on, it might very well be too late.

This film really succeeds by presenting its eerie invasion concept against the mundane day to day lives of the central characters and the behavioral changes detected in their loved ones dismissed as an emotional distancing effected to cope with their hectic and unhappy lives. There's a lot of paranoia on display as well. People not believing others, people suspicious of whether their friends are really their friends, of who can be trusted...The special effects are pretty unsettling, amplified by Ben Burtt's highly effective sound design, which along with Denny Zeitlin's minimalist score, drives a lot of the unease and tension in the film. Then there's my favorite moment in the film, which I won't spoil for those of you who haven't seen it. I'll just say it involves a banjo playing homeless man and his dog.