Ray Bradbury 1920 – 2012

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Ray Bradbury, one of the world’s most prolific and influential science fiction writers, is dead at 91.

Rest in peace, Ray.  Your childlike enjoyment of stories and whimsy, and your command of language and ideas will be sorely missed.

Photo: CNN.com

Star Wars Day and Other Nerd Holidays

Happy Star Wars Day!  May the Fourth be with you!

I would hope some of my readers know what I’m talking about.   But if you don’t, today is Star Wars Day.   On this day, Star Wars fans celebrate their favorite films and culture.

“No, I’m not obsessed. Why do you ask?”

Image: Werner100359 / Wikimedia Commons

Geeky demonstrations of fandom are nothing new.  During the 1960s and 1970s, Lord of the Rings devotees ran around saying “Frodo lives!” and “Gandalf for president!” or writing it all over everything.  But with the advent of the Internet, they have exploded.

May 25, Geek Pride Day, started with a loosely organized event called the Geek Pride Festival, made by Tim McEachern, which ran in Albany, New York from 1998 to 2000.  It was picked up in Spain in 2006 and spread like wildfire via the tubes.

Geeks and nerds are becoming the new cool.  In typical geek fashion, this 2011 article by Todd Bishop on GeekWire contains charts explaining the aspects of geekdom.

Companies like ThinkGeek cater to our desire for toys and gadgets from our favorite media offerings, or cool stuff like cubicle trebuchets with which we can launch office wars.   A calendar program I came across called VueMinder Lite (the free version) has an option to fill in geek holidays.   And conventions like DragonCon, ComicCon and VisionCon attract major and minor celebrities alike.

Besides Star Wars Day, some of the holidays geeks have created or commandeered include:

CapsLock Day—June 28 and October 22

I hadn’t heard of this one, but it’s pretty funny.   One of my coworkers at Exjob would love this one.  All his emails LOOK LIKE THIS.  YES HE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THAT IN INTERNET SPEAK, THIS IS CONSIDERED YELLING.  The original holiday was in October, and the June 28 addition celebrates capspeak pitchman Billy Mays.

Pi Day—March 14

Celebrates pi, or π, the mathematical thing.  No, I don’t do math but I know the first three digits of pi are 3.14.  So there.   Eat pie on this day and talk about math.  Or just eat pie.  :)

Computer Security Day—November 30

An international observance, this holiday originated in 1988 to highlight computer security issues.  Celebrate by doing a virus check, changing a password, or helping a newbie with his/her computer safety issues.   This is a good day to schedule an annual equipment check.

Hobbit Day—September 22

Birthday of Bilbo and Frodo.  First started in 1978 by the American Tolkien Society.  Do something hobbity today!  Read some Tolkien, have a party with ale and fireworks (if you can).  Or just go barefoot, as hobbits do.

Talk Like a Pirate Day—September 19th

This is my FAVORITE geek holiday!  My chat room goes nuts with this one.  I attempt to get away with piratespeak as much as I can, even at work.  My ideal day job would be one where we get to dress up Pirate Day.  At the very least, I can usually get away with a ruffled blouse, boots and my skull earrings.

Official logo – more info at http://www.talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html

You can find more geek holidays here, at Geekdays.com.   Pick your favorite and celebrate!

Gran Torino: Hollywood Gets it Right

How many of you saw Gran Torino?

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m behind.  If you’re like me and have not seen it, get the hell to your video store now.  Now!

Seriously, this movie was so good, it puts me into a killing rage over the rest of the lazy pap Hollywood is pumping out.

Kinda like this guy...

Warner Bros. Pictures / NYT

Situation:  Walt Kowalski, a weathered and misanthropic Korean War veteran has lost his wife.  A Hmong family is living next door to him, much to his crabby, racist chagrin. One night he catches their teenaged son Thao Vang Lor in his garage, clumsily attempting to steal his cherry 1970s Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation.  The family is ashamed and offers the kid’s services as reparation.  And so it begins.

Clint Eastwood has been working in films for decades.  The man knows a good story when he sees it.  He took one look at Nick Schenk’s freshly-optioned screenplay and insisted not a word be changed.

The story takes its time building the characters.  We get to know Walt fairly quickly, because he doesn’t hide his personality in the least.  Thao has a sister, Sue, who breaks through Walt’s crusty exterior not by being sweet and sunny, but by not taking any of his shit.

As the neighbors slowly and painfully get to know each other, we see that they each have troubles and conflicts.  Thao’s problems start to spill over into Walt’s life (and onto his lawn) not just because they live next door to each other, but because they are becoming friends.

Each scene moves the story along, a sign of good writing.  There is nothing wasted here.  I had no sense of time passing as I watched the film, as I often do when a story is packed with tedious filler.  Even the long and excruciatingly awkward barbecue Walt attends when he’s first invited over by Sue has its purpose in establishing first contact.

Schenk, a television writer, hit this one out of the ballpark.  If he never produces another screenplay, it won’t matter.  It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to know that this genial-looking writer, the same age as me, toiling away in TV work, had such a success.  If he can, I can.

To my friend who said “You can’t do anything important after 30,” TAKE THAT!

When a writer does something this good, it inspires the rest of us.  When Hollywood can take a powerful, affecting story and not screw it up, a tiny flicker of hope kindles inside me for the future of movies.  The day Eastwood no longer walks among us will be a tremendous loss and I hope there are other directors coming up behind him who are up to the challenge.

Watch the trailer for Gran Torino here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8Z2n534q1Q

 

Favorite Movies to Watch at Christmas

I should really call this MY favorite movies to watch at Christmas.

Everyone has certain films they enjoy during the holidays.  Some may be typical family fare, others are specific to them, for whatever reason.  Below, in no particular order, are my favorites.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

This would be the supremely creepy television film starring the incomparable George C. Scott, with David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Susannah York as Mrs. Cratchit, and a heart-wrenchingly adorable Tiny Tim (Anthony Walters). The sets perfectly capture the dismal conditions of early nineteenth-century London, and the costumes and hairstyles are authentic to the period (YES!).

Victorian England had a long tradition of yuletide ghost stories.  Marley’s ghost is terrifyingly pale and desolate.  This movie scared the Dickens (ha ha) out of me as a child.

This man was a genius.

Best moments:

  • When Scrooge arrives home on Christmas Eve, and the doorknocker turns into Marley’s face and goes “SCROOOOOOOOOOOOOGE!”
  • Also, the moment when the Ghost of Christmas Present (Edward Woodward) shows him the two starveling children Ignorance and Want and throws his own words back at him—“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

Home Alone (1990)

Yeah, I know, it’s obvious.  But this movie is so damn funny and it never gets old.  Kevin’s (Macauley Culkin) ingenuity at foiling the Wet Bandits’ feeble attempts to break into his home are a source of vicarious inventive glee.   Off topic: I always use the Wet Bandits as the perfect example of crime scene signature (leaving the water on when they leave).

Also stars esteemed actor Roberts Blossom as the curmudgeonly neighbor who keeps an eye on Kevin until his frantic mother (Catherine O’Hara) makes it home.

Best moments:

  • The Rube Goldberg booby traps.
  • “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”

Yeah, kid, when the relatives show up we feel the same way.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Same year, very different movie.  This hilariously bizarre Frankenstein fantasy from Tim Burton has Johnny Depp as a disfigured misfit, Diane Wiest as the kindly Avon lady who takes him in, and Winona Ryder as Kim, her daughter and Edward’s crush.  Depp and Ryder began a three-year relationship during filming.

Best moments:

  • Vincent Price in his last role as the Inventor who creates poor Edward to assuage his loneliness.  His onscreen death as he presents Edward with his hands poignantly rides an arrow straight to your tear ducts, fueled by Danny Elfman’s beautiful score.
  • Edward trying to eat dinner like a normal person.  Alan Arkin is a scream as the oblivious, resigned father.

Poor Edward. All he needed was a little bit of syrup. But this cruel family would not let him have any.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Another obvious one, but everyone loves it.  Seriously, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this movie.  If there is such a person, they should be subjected to the fate that nearly befell Ebenezer Scrooge.

Peter Billingsley plays a little boy in the 1940s who wants a Red Ryder, 200-shot, carbine action, Range model air rifle for Christmas.  He fights to obtain his desire against a barrage of adults telling him “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  Based on the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Shepherd.  Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are awesome as his parents.

Best moments:

Everything really.  But my favorites are

  • “Fra-GEE-lay. Well, that must be Italian!”
  • “Meatloaf, meatloaf, double beetloaf.  I HATE meatloaf!”
  • Favorite line:  “Randy lay there like a slug.  It was his only defense!”

Lifebuoy soap. MY mother used Ivory to wash out my dirty mouth.

Better Off Dead (1985)

I don’t own this one but it’s on my want list.  Teenage guy Lane Meyer’s (John Cusack) girlfriend breaks up with him before Christmas.  Dad (David Ogden Stiers) thinks he’s doing drugs, his mute genius little brother (Scooter Stevens) sees more action than him, and his mother (Kim Darby) is just crazy.  His comical encounters with a rival skier, a homicidal paperboy and a charming French exchange student keep the laughs coming.  I haven’t seen this in a while.  Must remedy that.

Best moments:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgnhkxxYZv8&feature=related

  • Poor Monique (Diane Franklin) endures the alarming cultural and matchmaking efforts of her host mom to her fat, socially inept son Ricky.  “Fraaaaaanch toast, Fraaaanch fries….”
  • “I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!!!”

 Gremlins (1984)

One of my favorite horror comedy films ever!  Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan)’s traveling salesman father Randall (Hoyt Axton) gives him a very unusual Christmas present:  a tiny Mogwai, a little furry critter he finds in Chinatown, which Billy names Gizmo.  He ignores the warnings concerning Gizmo’s care and unleashes a scaly plague upon the small town where he lives.  His squeeze Kate (Phoebe Cates) and his younger buddy Pete (Corey Feldman) must help him reign in the monsters.

Friends don’t let monsters drive drunk.

Best moments:

  • Mom (Frances Lee McCain) has to dispose of one of the creatures in the microwave.  POOM!
  • Kate’s hilariously over-the-top story of what happened to her father at Christmas.

I’m sure there are others I’m leaving out here.  If you’re looking for films to watch on Christmas, you can check out the lists below or choose your favorite.  Have one you’d like to suggest?  Please share in the comments.

Merry Christmas!

http://www.ugo.com/movies/best-christmas-movies

http://my.news.yahoo.com/best-christmas-movies-093300347.html

John Williams and Me at the Hollywood Bowl!

Ever since I saw Bugs Bunny torment an opera singer there, I’ve always wanted to go to the Hollywood Bowl.

Every year, film composer John Williams does a concert there where he conducts his own and other composers’ music, in his Maestro of the Movies concert.  This year, Certain Someone and I were able to go!

The Maestro himself, John Williams

Our chat room on Streamingsoundtracks.com (see link in the blogroll) has several members who go every year.  We met up with some of them for food, and a group trip to see JW, as we call him, at the Bowl.   The hotel where we stayed was within a short walk and not far from other famous Hollywood locations.

The Bowl

Some quick impressions of the Hollywood Bowl:

Smooshy seat cushions for rent.

Hills.

Expensive water.

World’s fastest bathroom line!  (because there are like 500 stalls in there)

Here it is!

Yes, that date stamp should be 8/27/11...stupid camera.

I have to say that the Hollywood Bowl is one of the better venues I’ve visited.  It’s huge, and stuck up in the hills on Highland Avenue.  There are numerous refreshment vendors selling water, snacks and light sabers (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Seat cushions can be rented for a buck and trust me, if you’re in the bench seats, you’ll need them.  The Bowl is an open-air venue and the old wooden benches are hard.  To sit in the boxes, you have to have a season pass.  If I lived in L.A., you bet I would have one.

Benches. There are many. This place is HUGE.

 

You can bring outside food and drink in but no glass bottles.  They do search purses and bags, so be ready for that.   It’s very much a family-friendly venue, so if the show is appropriate, bring the kiddies.

The Concert

Here’s a scan of the playlist; I hope you can read it.

Click on it and then magnify.

William Faulker’s story The Reivers, accompanied by music, was supposed to be narrated by Morgan Freeman but that didn’t happen.  So JW got his old buddy James Taylor to do it, which he did very well.  Yes, THE James Taylor!

This guy.

Then JW said “I know we didn’t bring you here to SING…”  and the audience went nuts.  So Taylor got his guitar and sang a cowboy lullaby he wrote for his nephew James.  It was fabulous. I was never a huge fan of his, but always liked him and this was really a treat.

JW did a cool thing with the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade music.  He showed the opening scene, with Young Indy stealing the Coronado Cross from the bandits, without music, and talked us through the though process that went into what music to use where.

He said “Of course, first I have to WRITE it…”  Hee hee.  Then he played the scene again with the orchestra accompanying.  Pretty neat to see how that worked.

JW’s most famous score, Star Wars, capped the evening.  Now I’ll explain the light sabers.  Repeat concertgoers (and Star Wars nerds) brought light sabers to the concert, which you could activate with the flip of a switch.  They sell them at the venue too, because apparently this is a JW tradition.

First was “The Asteroid Field” and “Princess Leia’s Theme,” and across the Bowl, people were holding back, you could tell.  On the beginning notes of “Main Title,”  the entire audience lit up with a sparkly sea of sabers.  Ultra nerdy, and indescribably beautiful.  Next year, I’m getting one.  Yes, we’re going back!

I didn't take this picture; this is from the opposite side where we were, I think.

Three encores! The Star Wars Imperial March; all the lightsabers were bobbing in unison.  That’s Darth Vader’s music, for you non-nerds out there.  Then E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, followed by Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And then it was over.

That was the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life, and you don’t have to be a scorephile like me to love JW and the LA Philharmonic, one of the most famous and talented orchestras in the country.   Do go there, to any concert of your choosing.  Help support arts programs whenever you can.  You may discover something amazing!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Ending a Series

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2

Image: visualhollywood.com

When a series concludes, it’s a bittersweet moment.  You want to know how it all comes out, but yet not leave it behind.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the last film in the series based on the books, and it is a doozy.

I knew I would see this one in the theater.   Alas, no Thursday night costume party sneak peeks for me; I had to work the next day.  I hate crowded places, so my plan was to wait until Sunday morning, when everyone would be in church.

You know what a huge Potternerd I am.

You had to know I couldn’t wait.

I was downtown after skating, and drove by the theater to see what the parking situation was.   So I thought…hmmm….I have time…  Before I knew it, I was in a nice comfy theater seat!

The guy next to me smelled like a sour sock.  At least he kept his arms down most of the time.  It’s beastly hot out right now, so I forgave him.   But since Stinky was texting during the movie, I decided that I would wiggle, clap, mutter and cry as much as I wanted.  So there!

If you didn’t read the books, I’ll try not to spoil anything for you.  (But read them. DO IT.)

#1—It explained everything. 

The last novel was split into two films so as not to leave out anything critical.  This is the end of the series, after all.  Rowling wrapped up the loose ends nicely, including the most important one.

They stuck very close to the book, especially in Part 2.  No doubt Potterphiles will endlessly rag on the movies for not being 100% right on, but whenever you translate media this happens.  I’m not going to discuss that now.

Bottom line is everything you wanted to know, you know.

#2—It looked exactly as it should have. 

I love it when a movie closely resembles what I pictured in my head while reading.  Everyone has a different vision, but this was pretty damn close to mine.  I think they did a good job with locations and costumes overall because no one has complained that any of the HP movies don’t look right.

Good world-building allows readers and viewers alike to suspend disbelief.  And the final film in a series is the most important.   Ending images are the ones people will take with them.  There are certain expectations of a finale and HP: DH2 fulfilled them.  Think Pelennor Fields at Hogwarts.  :)

#3—They kept the same actors through the entire thing.

I think this was in their contracts, but other than that I don’t know how they did it.  If we’d had to adjust to a new Hermione or Ron, it would not have worked as well.  The best part (although maybe not for the kids) was watching the characters AND the actors grow up before our eyes.

Holy crap, they were tiny.

Holy crap, they were tiny.

Image:  movieline.com

Richard Harris as Dumbledore was replaced by Michael Gambon, but he can be excused because, you know, he died.

#4—They got GOOD actors, which paid off in the end.

Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) have matured as actors over the course of the series.  They gave excellent performances here.  Also perfection are Dame Maggie Smith, (Professor McGonagall), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix LeStrange) and of course Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort).

In fact, the HP films have had consistently good casts over the entire series.  They reek of awesome.  It kept the quality up so that when they finally got to the last one, they lost nothing.

Alan Rickman has never won an Oscar.  You might argue that Harry Potter is hardly award-worthy, but look at Heath Ledger.  He won, deservedly so, for the Joker.  Mr. Rickman should win for Severus Snape, especially in this movie.   I never cried so hard at the theater in my life.

#5—They picked the best composer they could get for the music. 

I’m going to get arguments from some people I know.  John Williams ably scored the first three films, and is now associated with the Potter theme.  He passed the torch to Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and now to Alexandre Desplat (say deh-SPLAH).  His best Potter score is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.   Many people wanted Williams to return for the end, but he did not due to scheduling conflicts.

Desplat’s scores are emotional rather than catchy, which fit the darkest Potter film quite well.  I listened to it for a couple of weeks prior on Streamingsoundtracks.com.   Hearing it in the context of the film made it even better.  A good soundtrack complements the movie without being distracting, but doesn’t fade into the background either.

Overall, my impression is a good one.  I can’t pick things apart unless they are really bad, and nothing bothered me here.  NOTHING!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Read the books!

Hey Hollywood, Here’s How to Remake a Film!

Certain Someone and I recently watched the terrific remake of True Grit, a classic Western that starred John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, a washed-up alcoholic marshal engaged by Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) to find Tom Cheney (Jeff Corey), her father’s killer.

Jeff Bridges played Rooster this time around, with Josh Brolin as Cheney.  Hailee Steinfeld was Mattie and Matt Damon played LeBeouf, a Texas Ranger also seeking their quarry (Glen Campbell in the original).

There are several elements to a successful remake that make it worth watching.  This one had them all.

A good story

True Grit has a fantastic hook for a Western –the young girl seeking her father’s killer with the grizzled lawman– and there’s plenty of action to keep a viewer engaged.  It’s also an effective character piece.  The internal conflicts provide motivation.  You can have action by itself, but it’s not going to grab you in the gut unless you care about the people and why they are doing this.

Good writing

You can have the best story in the world and screw it up with bad writing.  Example:  the film Red Dragon, one of my favorite books ever, by Thomas Harris (and if you’ve never read Harris, get your butt to the library now).  Technically, it’s a stand-alone film, but the story was already done by Michael Mann in the 80s, as Manhunter.

Bear with me here, because I need to explain this.

Both films have flaws, but Manhunter is at least watchable, if slick.  Red Dragon was re-written so poorly it made my head hurt.  They both used dialogue from the book and in one scene in both movies, the same bit was used.  I’ll paraphrase here:

Manhunter: Feds Graham (William Peterson—yeaaaah!) and Crawford are privately discussing the Tooth Fairy serial killer.

Graham: “He won’t stop.”

Crawford: “Why not?”

Graham: “Because he’s got a genuine taste for it.”

A Harris original; a straightforward, chilling line.  It tells us much about the Tooth Fairy and Graham also, since he’s best known for his ability to step inside the mind of the monster.  Good choice to keep it in.

Now Red Dragon: Same bit, but transplanted to a police briefing.  Press might have been there too.  I don’t remember.

Graham (Ed Norton this time—meh):  “He won’t stop.”

Some dumb girl in the front row:  “Why not?”

Graham (turns head dramatically):  “BECAUSE HE THINKS HE’S GAAAAAAWWWD.”

Sheesh...


I nearly fled the theater.  The only reason I didn’t was Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde, aka the Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan in Manhunter).  Fiennes, as all Harry Potter fans know, plays the greatest villains.

Another mistake was taking dialogue and scenes between the Crawford and Graham characters and rearranging them so they now involved Graham and Hannibal Lecter, who has a very small part in the original book and the Mann film.

It was an unsubtle attempt to get more screen time for Anthony Hopkins’ popular version of Lecter (Brian Cox played him in Manhunter). And the conversations between these two did not ring true to either a real life scenario or the characters themselves.

Overall, Red Dragon kept certain entertaining background elements of the book that Manhunter chose to scrap, but it ran like a Chevette traveling a road full of potholes. It would go, and then CLUNK! And go, and then CLUNK!  I still smoked then and spent most of the movie wishing for a cigarette, a sign of extreme boredom.

A good cast

Back to True Grit.  Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are all good actors.  They know how to give life to their characters.  An iconic performance like Wayne’s is tough for a contemporary actor to overcome.  You need someone who has the ability to play the character his or her own way and still be true to the original.  And they need solid supporting actors.  Hailee Steinfeld shows promise—she was awesome.

Making a remake, not a reboot

Nowhere in this movie did I see any updating.  There was no massive CGI, no snarky modern dialogue from characters dressed in Victorian garb, and no slow motion Matrix-style fighting (can we move on from that already?).

I’ve only seen bits of the original—it always seems to be on when I can’t watch it.  But I’ve heard from people who prefer Wayne that they were at least happy with the newer film.

Since Hollywood is remaking so many classic films (and some not so classic ones), you’d think they would learn some of these things.  I will still exhort them—vigorously—to seek new and original material.  There are plenty of novels that would make terrific films.  If they read a book once in a while, I’d probably go to the movies more often.

Is there a remake out there you like?  Or do you know a book that you’d like to see made into a film?  Feel free to share in the comments.