Mister Frost

There was, many years ago, a Jeff Goldblum movie titled Mister Frost. It was an understated little flick, something I’m pretty sure only I, my best friend, and my father ever saw. And we didn’t see it in the cinema, no, it was something we found as a rental, back in the day.

Jeff Goldblum plays the title character, a serial murderer who might or might not actually be Satan. The bulk of the film (as I recall it; it’s been so many years since I’ve seen it) takes place in a mental institution where Frost terrorizes a psychiatrist played by Kathy Baker. The movie had lots of those terrible lines that are fun to quote. One of them came early on when Frost is found working in his yard. I can’t remember the exact context, but a visitor (he’s still at home at this point) asks him about something, and he answers in that offhanded, Jeff Goldblum kind of way: “Oh, the bodies. I was just burying them as you were walking up.”

That may not be the exact quote, but you get the gist. Later on Frost tells Baker’s character: “. . . But soon . . . Soon you’ll be on my side of the mirror.” It’s a dumb line, yeah, but Goldblum has made a career of delivering dumb lines quite well.

Like The Prophecy (which I talk a bit about here), Mister Frost is no great film, but I still like it. In both cases they got the right actors, which is key. Both Goldblum here and Walken in The Prophecy are spot on. Playing to type, sure, but a lot of actors build decent careers that way. They do the kinds of things they (a) know they’re good at (i.e., their strengths), and (b) know their fans, such as they are, will want to see.

Then again, sometimes actors take roles because the part is not a challenge and therefore an easy paycheck. And/or they have holes in their schedules to fill. Or nothing else in the offing. Or the movie sounded better on paper. Or it’s a director or co-star they’ve wanted to work with. Or they’re just bored.

And sometimes actors get offered roles not because they’re the best fit but because no one else would touch it.

Ah, Hollywood. Every movie tells a story—even if some of those stories are not very good or are not told very well—and behind every movie is another long story of how it got made.

The Prophecy

Anyone remember this movie? I loved it. That’s not to say it was a good movie—it wasn’t. But then, neither was Highlander (sorry, folks, but really), and yet Gregory Widen still managed to capture a huge cult following for that one. Less with The Prophecy, but what interesting ideas Widen has. I like the way he thinks.

And of course I adore Christopher Walken.

I’m trying to remember the first time I saw Walken, and though it seems like the kind of thing you should clearly remember, I can’t. Saturday Night Live maybe? (That sketch with Tim Meadows as the census taker is classic.) But I’d seen Walken well before that. I remember catching part of an old movie set in Italy (Venice?) . . . The Comfort of Strangers. Now that was a strange movie. But again, I already knew who Walken was when I saw it (on television, at about age 15—I’d stopped flipping channels specifically because I saw Walken and wondered what the movie was).

Ah, well. Some people and things in your life just seem to be from forever, I guess. Like there’s no point of origin; they are omnipresent.

Then again, the idea of an omnipresent Christopher Walken is slightly disturbing.

But that’s what he’s great at as an actor, too. It’s what made him so great as Gabriel in The Prophecy. Angels are amazing creatures, and can be very good, but like anything holy and supernatural there is also something terrible about them. Walken managed that fine line very well in his role as Gabriel.

Did I see the other Prophecy movies? I think I saw the second one but I’m not convinced I saw the third.

Oh, and by the way, I can absolutely tell you the first time I ever saw Viggo Mortensen, and that was as Lucifer. Fucking creepy.

Tidbits

Have a couple script treatments to write, but with my office not even half unpacked and sorted I totally don’t feel like it. My physical space isn’t right, so my mental space isn’t right, either. Gah.

Wondering what I thought of Frankenstein? Wonder no longer: my thoughts are here.

And if you’re wondering what I think of Matchbox Twenty’s “She’s So Mean” you can read a short musing on it here.

Now I am off to continue excavating, and to possibly even do some work (namely writing).

Frankenstein Comes to Dublin (California)

A couple months ago, I got a notification from the National Theatre in London (I and a lot of other people I’m sure) about how the filmed version of their staging of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (two Sherlocks!) would be returning to UK cinemas in June. You see, I’m usually in London in June, but this year I went in April instead because I wanted to avoid all the Jubilee and Olympics hoopla. So I sent them (and their distributor) a note that I would very much like it if they’d send that little reel of theirs over here to San Francisco. (More than one, actually. But less than many.) And they (bless them, and so terribly polite, too) said they’d look into it.

Which they did. And now Frankenstein will be available for viewing at a number of US locations in the first full week of June. I’ll be going on June 6th, and possibly also the 7th because they are, in fact, showing both versions at the Dublin, CA, location nearest me—a different one each night. YOU can see the show, too; just toddle off over here to find out where it will be showing near you.

First Loves Blogfest

First Movie

My parents have told me my first movie was Bambi. I don’t remember this. And I don’t like Bambi, so even if I did remember it as my first movie, it certainly wasn’t my first love.

The first movie I can remember really having an impact on me—a movie I loved and still love—is Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is, in fact, the first movie I can actually recall seeing in the cinema. I was all of five years old and, say what you will about my parents’ judgment or lack thereof, my childhood would be defined in large part by Steven Spielberg movies, Raiders being just the first in what would become a long list of loves. Raiders introduced me to “movie magic” and made me fall in love with movies as a whole, and in a way that would define not only my childhood but my path in life.

No pressure there, Mr. Spielberg.

First Song/Band

I grew up listening to my dad’s records. By the time I was three or four, I knew how to work the turntable on my own, and there were three albums I played often enough for my parents to want to hide them from me:

  • The Eagles, Greatest Hits
  • Paul McCartney and Wings, Band on the Run
  • Jimmy Buffett, Volcano

I don’t know which of these I’d count as my “first love” in the music category. I’ve always liked music in general. Now, if we’re talking about music I liked well enough to buy for myself? Using my very own allowance? Music I for which I would sacrifice the chance to purchase a brand new My Little Pony? Well, the first cassette tape I ever bought for myself was Invisible Touch by Genesis. That was the first time I liked a band different from what I’d grown up with, what my parents listened to. So that one probably wins the prize.

First Book

Ooooh. Geez. I grew up in a house full of books. My parents are readers, and I was reading for myself at age three. I remember really liking I Can Read With My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss . . . I was also known to sit down with my two-volume World Book dictionary and read that. So maybe there’s no accounting for taste.

But the first book I remember really loving, the one that had a huge impact on me, was The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I didn’t know at the time the book was controversial, and I’m guessing either my parents also didn’t know, or else they didn’t know I had a copy, because I’m sure my mother would not have let me read it otherwise. All Snyder’s work had a strong influence in my childhood because, reading her stories (The Changling is another that really stuck with me), I had for the first time in my life the feeling that maybe I wasn’t the only person in the world who felt the way I did, or thought the way I did. Sure, I read my share of Judy Blume, too, but I had a very different experience in terms of “the social,” and so while I understood and enjoyed Blume, her work did not resonate with me in the same way as Snyder’s. The Egypt Game (and The Changling) spoke to the kind of imagination I carried with me and the kinds of games my best friend and I made up and played. It was wonderful to know that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so strange—or, rather, that my brand of strange was worthy of acknowledgement, and that I had just as much of a story to tell as the popular girl down the block.

First Person

Oh, sweethearts. At the risk of getting existential, do any of us really know whether we’ve truly been in love?

Fine, okay. The first person I might have had semi-romantic feelings for (or maybe just attraction)—and I’m thinking of people in my life, not actors or pop icon crushes—would be Joel. That is to say, he was the first boy I actively sat around (if one can “actively” sit around) and thought about for long stretches of time. I was 11 at the time. But I had also just moved to a new town and had nothing much better to do than read, watch television, and daydream. So Joel may only have been a way to kill the boredom. Thanks, Joel!*

*Joel and I did become a couple near the end of the school year, after he kissed my cheek while we were co-captains at Field Day. But after that year I switched schools and his family moved, so . . .

That Old Feeling

Whenever I read that an actor and director is planning to work together—again—I have to wonder: why do some actors and directors get so stuck on one another? And what does that really offer the viewers?

The world has more or less come to terms with the bizarre love triangle that is Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. And Woody Allen rotates through various fixations with actors or actresses that serve as his “muse du jour,” Scarlett Johansson being a recent example. Chris Nolan has his Christian Bale and has sprinkled cast members from Inception throughout the last of the Dark Knight trilogy. Which brings us to Leo DiCaprio, now set to make yet another Martin Scorsese movie.

This is probably a great setup for the actors and directors. They’ve worked together before and know what to expect from one another. It’s sort of a safe way to get things done, especially in a business where everything (particularly money) is on a huge scale.

But if you look at the kinds of movies these actors and directors make together, you’ll notice that for the audience, they’re all kind of the same. A Tim Burton movie is going to be quirky and a bit dark. A Chris Nolan film will also be dark, but less quirky and more moody. And a Woody Allen film is a Woody Allen film, no matter which muse he has at the moment.

I liken seeing one of these movies to going to a favorite fast food restaurant. I always know what I’m going to get, and I usually like it. But too much of it will give me indigestion.

And really, more often than not I want something different. So, you know, I think these actors and directors should consider expanding their menus. Give someone else a shot?

By the way, as a complete and total aside regarding my previous post, some of you have written to ask why I hate Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t. In fact, I love him. But my subconscious has cast him in a particular role, and like the directors named above, my subconscious also likes to use the same actors again and again.

My 80s Crush


 
 
I should start by saying that in 1980 I was four years old and a little young for crushes. I really don’t remember much of the 80s as a whole, aside from a vague notion of Ronald Reagan as president (and that Genesis video with the puppets), and a fear of Russians, except that in my mind all Russians looked something like Gene Hackman, and so really I had a fear of, well, Gene Hackman.

I’ve had people make suggestions: Richard Dean Anderson (aka MacGyver). Yes, but I didn’t actually get into that show until the early 90s. And while I admired MacGyver, I didn’t have any romantic feelings for him or anything. Robert Downey Jr. I do like him—now. But in the 80s I didn’t know who he was because I was too young to see the kinds of movies he was in. Jonathan Frakes (aka Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation). I was a ST:TNG fan, true, but again, no especial romantic attachment to the characters or actors.

So after some thought and once I sifted down I discovered there are, perhaps, two potential candidates for this blogfest. The first would be Harrison Ford. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first movie I can remember seeing in a cinema. (My parents swear my first movie was Bambi, but I don’t remember that at all.) I was under this strange impression that the main character’s name was Petey and was, because of his hat, some kind of cowboy, but these misunderstandings aside, the film made a terrific impression on me. I went over to my best friend’s house and forced her to play endless games of Indiana Jones (once I’d been corrected on the name). I was also aware that Indy was the same person as Han Solo from Star Wars, and since Star Wars was my best friend’s favorite movie, it was easy to marry the two into one game by making Han and Indy cousins.

Still, wanting to be someone is decidedly different than wanting to be with them. I was too young to want to be with anyone romantically; I only wanted to have adventures.

Candidate #2 came a few years later, when I was on the cusp of understanding “attraction.” It’s a movie I mention often enough here: Young Sherlock Holmes, starring Nicholas Rowe. That movie came out when I was nine, and while a part of me wanted to be Holmes—the clever one, the hero—a bigger part of me wanted to be Elizabeth. She was pretty, and moderately smart, and very pert, and most importantly: Holmes loved her. In my mind, nothing could be more perfect.

I think the influence of that movie, and of Rowe in the lead role, bred my predilection for tall, thin men with accents and messy hair who are somewhat more interesting looking than classically handsome. (Though growing up in a house filled with Sherlock Holmes in varying incarnations may also have had something to do with all that.) I was still too young to want anything more than, say, hand holding or, at a stretch, maybe a kiss (though the very idea embarrassed me without me understanding exactly why), or really just to be saved by the hero for once instead of being the hero myself. But I look at it this way: though I didn’t have fan posters in my room until I was much older, if there had been one in my room at age nine, it would have been of Young Sherlock Holmes and/or Nicholas Rowe. So using that as a rule of thumb, he comes out on top when attempting to gauge my budding interest in the opposite sex circa the 1980s.
 

 

2011 B.O. Down from 2010

Okay, so theatrical releases made less money last year than the year before. And that leaves the industry asking, “Why?” I don’t know why they ask, “Why?” since the reasons are pretty clear:

  1. The movies they made were stupid.
  2. Even the good concepts, once worked over by entire tribes of writers, the studios, and a revolving door of directors and other creative types, became really stupid movies.
  3. Movie trailers used a super secret formula—that the entire world has decoded—to not only show us how stupid the movies really were, but also to give away entire plots, thereby invalidating the need to see any of the actual movies.
  4. Distributors and cinemas then charged way too much money (during an economic downturn, no less) to go see those stupid movies.
  5. Worse yet, they wanted to charge MORE money for stupid movies in 3D, which is basically the same thing as asking people to pay you for giving them a headache.

Oh, sure, you could say more people have really good home theater systems and would rather watch in the comfort of their homes. You could say people are sick of other people talking and texting during cinema showings. That the “movie experience” has changed from a bunch of strangers in a darkened room to a cozy homefront with friends and family. Those might also be considered valid points. But I’m going to adapt some Simon Cowell to the situation and say, if you want better box office in 2012: Find a better concept and make a better movie. (Or, at the very least, the kind of movie that drives people to need to see it right away and on the big screen, regardless of the cost and discomfort of dealing with cinemas and irritating strangers.)

Tearjerkers

I mentioned in an earlier posting that I don’t really cry at movies or television shows. I get choked up every now and then, and I can even appreciate honest sentiment without getting worked up about it (and, as I’ve said, I really despise it when it’s done to manipulate an audience). But anyway, W Magazine asked a number of actors about movies that made them cry. Here is what they said.

For me, it was The Fox & the Hound. Jesus. I’ve never cried like that before, and I hope never to cry like that again. I mean, family members have died without me bawling like I did at that movie. I only watched it once. That was all I could take; I’d be terrified to try again, even now. I still have the VHS tape somewhere . . . I remember I was up in my room (yes, I had my own telly and VCR, I was that kind of brat), and I popped it in. I’d never seen it in the cinema, and I don’t remember now who gave me the tape or if I bought it or what. I just remember sobbing my eyes out all over my bedspread. I went downstairs and crawled into bed next to my mother and cried and cried, and she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what was wrong with me. I’m just not a crier. I generally only cry when I’m laughing too hard. And my poor mother, not able to get a coherent word out of me, but she took it in stride and I think I ended up watching an old episode of Columbo with her to make me feel better.

What movie has made you cry?

All-Time Favorite Movies

I was thinking about this last night because, for whatever reason, the old film Summer Magic sprang to mind. I love that movie, but I almost never remember to put in on any of my favorites lists.

So I started thinking about other movies I’ve loved, ones that might not always end up on obvious lists. The Innocents, for example. Rope. Okay, that one could be obvious.

So here, in no particular order, are my all-time favorite movies . . . At least the ones I could think of while sitting here.

  1. Summer Magic–I spent a summer when I was 9 or 10 watching this repeatedly on the Disney Channel. I sing “On the Front Porch” to my daughter at bedtime each night.
  2. Rope–so tightly written and directed; a Hitchcock classic.
  3. The Innocents–Deborah Kerr stars in this old take on “The Turn of the Screw” and the result is awesome.
  4. Now, Voyager–I get sucked in every time.
  5. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil–while I can’t love the choice to create a love interest for John, thanks to the stellar cast this film stands as one of the rare moments when the adaptation is as good as the book.
  6. Young Sherlock Holmes–probably the most influential film of my childhood; I used to come home each day and pop it in the VCR while I did my homework.
  7. Clue–still a go-to for stormy nights.
  8. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels–such a funny, clever little movie.
  9. The Uninvited–by which I mean the old 1944 film, which is truly spooky.
  10. The Haunting–the 1963 one, of course. So chilling.
  11. Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade–okay, obvious again, but these two films were also backbones of my childhood. Raiders is the first film I can actually remember seeing in a cinema.
  12. All the fantasy films that came out around the time I was eight, including Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and The Last Unicorn. These became sleepover staples.
  13. Anything starring Cary Grant.

There are others. I know there are. I keep wracking my brain over which movies I feel I absolutely have to own, you know, the ones I had on VHS and felt the need to convert to DVD and then (when available) Blu-Ray. That’s sort of the gold standard, isn’t it? Spending that kind of money repeatedly on something?

I could add more recent films that had an impact on me: Jurassic Park, The Matrix . . . These two hold the record for films I’ve seen in a cinema, 10 times and 7 times respectively. In high school it became a bit of a gag for my friends to take me, yet again, to Jurassic Park. That was back when movies stayed in the theater for more than two or three weeks.

And Gone with the Wind is what I curl up with when I’m sick. I tuck up on the sofa and sip tea and watch Scarlett manipulate everyone around her, everyone but Rhett because he’s her match. Too bad she doesn’t see the truth of that until he walks away.

In college my friends and I used to rent a bunch of movies at a time–we’d pick a genre and rent one or two films from each decade, then have a marathon as we worked our way through chronologically. I discovered a lot of great movies this way.

I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work in film and television (thanks, Mr. Spielberg!), and the above are just a handful of the reasons why. I’m lucky to do what I do, even in the modest amount that I do it.