Friday, February 03, 2006

James Bond/007 Record Albums


Continuing yesterday's line of thought, I wanted to highlight today some of the more notable record album covers from the James Bond films.

Why? Well, I just love the art, honestly. I guess these are the same as the "posters" for the films in question, but these illustrations evidence a kind of creative fantasy vision that, frankly, I find missing from many movie posters today.

Ever notice how, following Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and H20 (1998), so many movie posters, both inside and outside the genre, are just a bunch of attractive faces/heads, against a black background. It's like packaged head shots or something. I really hate that, and think it's uninventive. It's ironic that as special effects have improved and movies like Revenge of the Sith, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory show us new worlds, the movie posters have become increasingly bland.

But just look at the album cover art for the Bond flicks, going right up into the 1980s. I would love to have wall-sized posters of these beautiful pieces.

Getting back to the albums, however, it's really amazing what a consistently great job John Barry did scoring so many of the Bond films. He was truly missed on the ones he didn't do, such as Bill Conti's very cheesy 1980s score for For Your Eyes Only.

Of course, the Bond theme itself was written by Monty Norman, and has become the series' trademark just as much as the famous gun barrel opening. Let's hope neither element gets cast aside for the upcoming "re-boot" of the series, Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig.

Over the years, so many great vocalists have contributed to the Bond mystique too, from Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger), to Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice), to my personal favorite of the Bond theme songs, Live and Let Die, by Paul McCartney and Wings. You've also had performances by Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me), Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only), Rita Coolidge (Octopussy), Duran Duran (A View to A Kill) and Tina Turner (Goldeneye). Thinking of the recent Pierce Brosnan Bonds, the theme tunes have been far less memorable than I would like. And Madonna's Die Another Day? Don't get me started. I thought everything about that movie, from the soundtrack and theme song to the villain and so-called plot, was the "nadir" of the Bond series. And that's saying something, when you consider Moonraker or Diamonds Are Forever...

What's your favorite Bond theme song?

February Far Sector Column Posted

Hey everybody, my monthly column is up over at Far Sector and it concerns the release of the new movie, Bubble, and the closing of the "window" that separates theatrical and DVD releases.

Here's a snippet from The Bubble And The Window:

The big news rattling the movie industry last weekend was the release of Steven Soderbergh’s experimental, low-budget movie Bubble. Not because the film itself represents a bold initiative, though it boasts no big-name celebrities and stars only “found” non-professional actors--the latest twist on the neo-realism of the 1960s. Instead, this movie has become a cause celebre because its distribution plan has been deemed revolutionary.

To wit, the typical 'window' between theatrical premiere and DVD release of a film is a bare six months. However, in the past few years, when faced with unsaleable big screen turkeys such as 2003's From Justin to Kelly, studios eager to make back their investment have squeezed that window. It’s been contracting to five months, sometimes even as few as three. For instance, the latter was the case of the box office failure, Serenity. The critically-lauded space opera was a big screen attraction in mid-September and a warp speed stocking stuffer by the Holidays.

However, with the advent of Bubble, the tradition of the “window” faces its greatest challenge. Bubble was released theatrically on Friday, January 27, 2006 and it premieres on DVD and Cable TV a scant five days later, on January 31st, 2006. That’s not a window; that’s not a bubble. That’s a fart
...

To read more of the piece, head here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 28: My Record Album Collection!



Wanna know how old I really am? Nothing ages me more, perhaps, than my fondness for an obsolete product like record albums.

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s (my childhood and teenage years), I collected record album soundtracks for science fiction and horror movies like a crazy man. And, of course, I still have 'em all.

What's a record album?

Jeez! Come on, now!

Brief history lesson here: before Internet downloads, before CDs, there were these funny-looking discs called records that you would play on your Hi-fi stereo.

Go ask your father...I'll be here when you get back.

Anyway, I began my love of sci-fi/horror movie soundtracks in the late 1970s when my parents took me and my sister to a record store at Willowbrook Mall in New Jersey.

We were there to purchase an Olivia Newton John album, "Totally Hot," if memory serves, but deep in one of the racks I found...Star Wars, the soundtrack composed by John Williams.

Darth Vader's portrait was on the cover art (with outer space in the background) which at my age just seemed too cool for words. (And a little scary...). The album even included the famous "Cantina" song, which I really liked.
It also had the music from the fight between Luke and the Sandpeople, which my friends and I liked to put on when we would wrestle with sticks and try to kill each other. Ah yes, memories...

My parents bought that album - and many more - for me, and well, the rest is John Kenneth Muir history. Soon thereafter, I was saving my allowance, scouring record shops, and even flea markets for genre finds.

A flea market in South Jersey called Englishtown had a vendor who was there each and every week, selling classic James Bond soundtracks, from the Sean Connery era. And his prices were cheap too (like five dollars a piece). This was neat, because the ABC Sunday Night Movie was airing films like Dr. No and the other early Bond pictures at the same time, so there was some "synchronicity" there.

Through the eighties, my love affair with soundtracks grew exponentially and came to include everything from the Star Trek films (though I hated the soundtrack to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - it sounded too Christmas-y to me, and I could have done without all the whale noises...), to the Roger Moore James Bond movies, to - gawd! - Back to the Future (with songs by Huey Lewis!) Does that make me an American Psycho? At one point, I even had the soundtrack to To Live and Die In L.A.

My favorite movie composers include all the ones you would expect. Not just John Williams (loved his Raiders of the Lost Ark score best of all, perhaps), but Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry and even James Horner. I loved the score to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but then experienced deja vu when I listened to his Aliens score from 1986. I even liked the score to Dune (by Toto!)

Perusing my collection in the 21st century, I can even see that some of my choices are downright embarrassing. For instance, I own the soundtrack to Jewel in the Nile, which features that immortal mid-1980s Billy Ocean hit, "When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going!" Also, describing my teenagers years, the soundtrack include's Whodini's "Freaks Come Out At NIght."

Given my long and storied history with genre record albums, I wanted to spotlight them in this post, as my 28th toy flashback even though - technically - record albums aren't really toys.

Still, I've been thinking how much I truly miss these full-sized record albums, not because the sound quality was better on a "record player" or anything like that, but merely because albums offered the additional bonus of gorgeous box art. Many albums came with two records, and so you could open up the box/sleeve to see two full pages of glorious stills from your favorite movie. Somehow, the little photos on CDs don't have the same appeal to me. And with downloads? Nada!

Anyway, bear with my photography here, folks.

Album covers are way too big to fit in my scanner bay, so I had to photograph my collection with my digital camera. Some photos probably could be better, but if you want to know who I am - and understand my work - you just gotta see my record albums!! These are the "tunes" I had on in the background while I began writing short stories and film scripts in the tenth grade. While others listened to Cindy Lauper, Devo, Rick Springfield, The Clash, etc., I had on John Carpenter's soundtrack to Halloween, or Prince of Darkness. What can I say?

If you recall the glory days of vinyl, record albums and trips to the "record store" to get sci-fi and horror soundtracks, give a shout out in the comments below. Which ones did you own? What's your fondest record album memory? What's your guilty pleasure? Come on now, quid pro quo, Clarice. I did tell you about Jewel of the Nile, after all...


Personally, the album that still thrills me most today is the Flash Gordon soundtrack by Queen from 1980!


"Flash....Savior of the Universe!"

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Which Superhero are you?

Hey everybody, check this out! I was over visiting one of my favorite blogs, The Ramblings of Marx, and I read the January 12, 2006 post. I saw this superhero test on the Net, wherein you get to figure out "who you are" in terms of caped-ones. I was hoping for a Superman call (he's my favorite), but I'm pretty happy with who I ended up with...

Has everybody else seen this already? If so, sorry I'm behind the eight-ball (as usual), but I thought it was fun anyway. Take the test and comment below to let the readers know what secret identity you're harboring...

You are Spider-Man
Spider-Man

100%
Green Lantern

95%
Iron Man

70%
Hulk

55%
The Flash

55%
Catwoman

45%
Wonder Woman

40%
Robin

40%
Supergirl

35%
Superman

20%
Batman

20%
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Horror Wisdom of the Week:

Most people do, actually. I mean, like to be scared. It’s something primal, something basic. Horror movies and roller coasters and the house of horrors ride. You can face death without any real fear of dying. It’s safe. You can leave the movie or get off the ride with a vicarious thrill and feeling that you’ve just conquered death. It’s one hell of a first class rush.”

-A young Tom Hanks makes the case for the value of horror films in He Knows You’re Alone (1980).

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week:

Obi-Wan Kenobi: "Your new Empire? Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic! To Democracy!"

Anakin: "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy."

Obi-Wan
: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes. I will do what I must."

- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

TV REVIEW: Surface, Episode # 14

Based on last night's very exciting trailer for Surface's fifteenth episode, I'd guess NBC hasn't decided yet the ultimate fate of this program (which - I admit it - I love.) Last week, it seemed we were perched to get "all the answers" leading up to a series finale. But last night, the advertisement was plugging the season finale. There's a world of difference in that distinction, so I suppose we can hope that Surface may see a sophomore season.

This is a good thing, because the show improves every week. Last night, more pieces of the puzzle came together. We now know that Lee is not the same guy who appeared in the archival film in last week's installment. Though, by incredible coincidence, he has precisely the same crew-cut. Instead, Lee's a clone, and he's not too pleased about that fact. I liked this twist, and I suppose I should have seen it coming. I had thought the scientists were doing longevity experiments or something, but that guess was off the mark.

Secondly, Rich traveled to North Carolina and found a SPECTRE/Blofeld-ian-type "scientific headquarters" for a mysterious company that specializes in cryo-stasis. After (easily) hijacking a truck, Rich learned that this company is freezing and storing samples of every life-form on Earth...a kind of Noah's ark, as he suggests to Daughtery in a hurried cell-phone call. I hope they're also including one of those rabid Cha-Ka creatures from last week...

Meanwhile, in Wilmington, Miles' spider-senses are really developing. Er, I mean, he gets back at a nasty bully by electrocuting the guy. Nimh also makes a guest appearance in a local diner. He's still adorable. I know his species is about to unleash holy hell on the human race, but Nimh would be a welcome pet in my house any time. As long as he promises not to eat my cats, like he did that poodle a couple of months ago.

The episode ended on a crescendo of tension as a massive earthquake (apparently caused by the sea monsters...) rattles Puerto Rico and the Eastern seaboard. It's the Day After Tomorrow redux, as a huge tidal wave approaches land. Carnage candy!

I can't wait for next week's season finale...

Here's my guess on what's really going on: The tidal wave is a planned event, a predicted outcome based on the creatures' behavior - a way of removing some of the pesky human population. In fact, I think the scientist behind this (Kessler, the 110 year old guy) is furthering his own "final solution" and the monsters are but a means to that end. He's using the monsters to devastate the planet and kill off the human race, but then after the tidal waves and other disasters subside, I predict the monsters will die off (a pre-programmed gene in their DNA) and Kessler will now have the opportunity to begin life on the planet all over again with his Noah's Ark of specimens. And he will be the master of his domain, if you know what I mean.

Of course, I'm probably wrong. Forgive me, I just watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow not long ago, and it featured roughly the same plot. If Kessler turns out to be a computer-generated Laurence Olivier, I'll be really disappointed.

See, I like to make all these snarky comments about Surface, because it's so cheesy and derivative. The special effects are cheap-o (but I love 'em), and the plot plays like a dozen or so cinematic blockbusters of the last quarter century. But I just can't help it, I'm addicted to the program and really enjoy it.

CATNAP #29: I Can't Do My Work!



Pictured above, you see why it's hard for me to stay on schedule. All three of my beloved cats (Lila, Ezri and Lily) really like to sit on my desk (in front of my monitor) so I can't see what I'm typing. I like to have them close, that's for sure, and I enjoy the show. But sometimes, I just have to scoot 'em out of the way to see the monitor. Not pictured, but to the left of the screen is a cat-mattress where they can sleep if they choose. Guess how often they use it instead of standing in front of the screen? Never! Their favorite recent hobby has been to knock my toy Dalek over the edge of the desk onto the floor. It has wheels, so this is particularly enjoyable for the felines. If the Dalek is already down (or exterminated...), they'll send Luke's landspeeder over the edge...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Space Babe?

The last few weeks here on the blog, readers have been selecting their fantasy spaceship (The Enterprise, NCC-1701-A), and ideal crew members. So far, we've looked at robot sidekicks like R2-D2, Muffit, Twiki and Peeop, and also, last week, irritating kids (including Anakin, Wesley Crusher, Adric and Loki).

Now it's time to pick another team-mate from the shelf of sci-fi TV cliches: our favorite "space babe!" Now, I realize that "space babe" probaby isn't a politically correct term (any more than is "Bond girl"), but over the years so many talented and beautiful women have graced the decks of spaceships. And well, space babe just seems like an easy...uhm... shorthand to describe them. For our purposes, let's define a "space babe" as an officer or crew member of a space vessel, one who is highly intelligent, charismatic, capable, very skilled, and drop-dead gorgeous.

Ground rules: this week, I want to leave out medical officers, because doctors will be the subject for another week, so we're automatically disqualifying Helena Russell, Cassiopiea, and Dr. Beverly Crusher, in case anyone cared to nominate them for "space babe" status. They'll be included during the next go-round (before we select our "enemies" and type of "mission.")

So many gorgeous, capable women have memorably been brought to life as "space babes" on so many programs over the years that I'm sure I'll miss some important ones. The best way to catch as many as I can is to start chronologically and work up to the present. Write-ins are also welcome.

So, first off, waaaay back in 1964, we have our inaugural nominee, the lovely Judy Robinson (Marta Kristen) of the Jupiter 2 on Lost in Space. Not only the ideal big sister and girl next door, she looks great in a silver jumpsuit. Mark Goddard's character, Major Don West, thought so too. Watch out, though, her Dad is an officer too..

Over the years, no franchise has given audiences more lovely ladies than Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. In "The Cage," Majel Barrett's cerebral "Number One" did a bang job as Captain Pike's first officer. Radiant and intelligent, Number One is a great character who disappeared before her time and certainly would have made a terrific regular.

But then, on the original series, two additional lovely Starfleet Officers strutted their stuff for three full seasons. Nichelle Nichols plays the multi-talented communications officer, Lt. Uhura. This officer not only possesses a great singing voice, she can translate Klingon. And, in a pinch, Uhura can also perform a striptease in the desert with nothing but a few palm leaves. Uhura's finest "space babe" moment probably arrived in the second season episode, "Mirror, Mirror" in which she showed off her impressive washboard abdomen (in a fetching two piece Starfleet uniform). The Mirror Sulu sure liked her, but this Uhura was a kitten with a whip!

And I don't know any red-blooded American geek boy who hasn't also fallen head over heels in love with Grace Lee Whitney's beehive-wearingJanice Rand. Janice boasts great legs (and she wishes the Captain would notice 'em more, in "Miri"), and we can understand why Charlie Evans had such a thing for her. Soft, sweet, and infinitely resourceful (she used a phaser to heat up some coffee once...) Rand was the perfect captain's yeoman. Later, she became transporter chief and the Excelsior's communications officer.

After Star Trek came Space:1999 in the mid-1970s. Zienia Merton played Sandra, Moonbase Alpha's data analyst. Sandra Benes' finest moment came in the episode "Full Circle" in which tiny Sahn was abducted by cavemen (!) and forced to wear a skimpy set of animal skins. Yeah, baby!

Year Two of Space:1999 saw the addition to the cast of Maya (Catherine Schell), whom I have already voted for as the "sexiest resident alien" of all time in another post, last summer. A brilliant historian, mathematician and computer expert, Maya also possesses the unique ability to shapeshift. As a Psychon, she can transform into any living being in the universe and hold that form for an hour. So she's pretty useful to have at your side on a mission. She's right at home piloting an eagle, firing stun guns, or turning into a leaping lizard.

In 1978, Battlestar Galactica aired on ABC TV and introduced the world to such lovely women as the TV reporter, Serina (Jane Seymour), the warrior captain from the Pegasus's Silver Spar Squadron, Sheba (Anne Lockhart), and Adama's intrepid daughter, Athena (Maren Jensen). Athena is a bridge officer, a shuttle pilot, and one of Starbuck's many, many girlfriends. She's a pretty good tactician, and has also trained to fly a viper. So Athena is a good solid "tech" choice.

In 1979, Glen Larson gave us another TV series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Colonel Wilma Deering (played by Erin Grey) set hearts afluttering in the tightest red and blue spandex hip huggers you've ever seen. The suits revealed Deering's long, athletic, gorgeous form, and - come on - who can't love a lady in shiny lip gloss? Wilma Deering serves as an agent in the Earth Defense Directorate, and is a seasoned operative in undercover missions (where she frequently disguises herself as a bimbo...). She's good with a blaster, and - with a little confidence-building from Buck - a hell of a starfighter pilot too. Deering is extremely resourceful as well, as revealed in "Planet of the Slave Girls," when she escapes from a boiler room filled with lava. Later, she became an officer aboard The Searcher.

Rounding out the 1970s, we musn't forget two important imports. Blake's 7 featured space smuggler named Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette), who donned a Farrah Fawcett haircut, as well as a telepath from Auron named Cally. Later seasons saw new characters board the Liberator and the Scorpio, including a gunslinger named Soolin and a warrior named Dayna. Also, on Doctor Who, there have been lovely companions aplenty inside the TARDIS, from Victoria and Zoe to Sarah Jane, Leela and Romana. Wow, this field is getting crowded!

The 1980s brought the return of Star Trek and a new generation of space babes. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Denise Crosby essayed the role of Tasha Yar for one season. And, in a memorable turn, the actress also graced a Playboy centerfold. Wow! But Tasha is not only a great security chief aboard the Enterprise, she's rather casual about her sex life, which is cool.

I fell in love with Tasha Yar in "The Naked Now" when she inquired about Data's - ahem - full functionality. Tasha died at the hand (puddle?) of a malevolent oil slick in "Skin of Evil," and I always missed her. She'd be a great addition to the crew, manning the phaser banks and photon torpedoes and always urging attack. And just make sure that every now and then she gets that virus that acts like "alcohol intoxication."

Then, of course, there was Marina Sirtis's Betazoid, Troi. I like the actress very much (and she was great in Crash this year), but I never really cared for the concept of the character. In Encounter at Farpoint, Troi looked like a cheerleader of something. Still, it couldn't hurt, I guess, to have an empath around telling us that our enemies are "hiding something."

Deep Space Nine gave us Nana Visitor's Major Kira Nerys, a resistance fighter against the Cardassians during the occupation of Bajor. She's tough, ruthless, and a hell of tactician too. She kicks ass, and I always kind of wished she was in command of DS9. If we get Kira, let's make sure we also get her sexually aggressive "mirror" counterpart, the Intendant...

The same series also introduced the world to two lovely "Dax" women from the far off world called Trill (which is, oddly, the sound my throat made every time either Dax appeared on tv...). Jadzia Dax made spotted skin look good, could go toe-to-toe with Klingon warriors in hand-to-hand combat, and was fun to have around on a vacation to Risa. A gambler and a party-goer, Jadzia was Sisko's confident.


The other Dax is Ezri (for whom I named my cat). She's as cute as a button, and downright adorable, as played by sexy Nicole De Boer. Frankly, people tell me every time I go to a sci-fi convention that my wife Kathryn resembles Ezri Dax, so I have a soft spot for this character and actress. Ezri Dax is a counselor like Troi, but somehow less annoying.

Voyager beamed onto our TV sets in 1995, and half the crew was composed of "space babes." Personally, I've always been very fond of Captain Janeway myself, but I would be court-martialed for calling her a babe. I wouldn't mind serving under her, though, cuz I think she's a good captain. Sh'es my second favorite Captain after Kirk, actually. But anyway...Kes? B'Elanna Torres? That Amazon Borg, Seven of Nine? Who would you pick? Jeri Ryan's Seven is quite a physical specimen, no doubt, and boasts an intellect to match the bod. She would be a helpful crewmember, no doubt, despite some of her social adjustment problems.

If logic is a qualification for our crewmember, than Enterprise's T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) would be another ideal choice. She too, strikes me as poorly socialized, however. But she's a hell of a science officer.

Babylon 5 presented the character of Ivanova, played by Claudia Christian. I've had a thing for Claudia Christian ever since I saw The Hidden in theaters back in high school (back in 1987). In that movie, lest you've forgotten, she plays a stripper who performs a pole dance (and is good with a machine gun.) But Ivanova is a tough officer and a solid, capable XO, but a little neurotic for my tastes. Not that she wouldn't be welcome aboard.

One of my favorite "space babes" from recent years is a character who would probably rip out my throat if I called her that. I'm talking about the hot-blooded, leather-clad Aeryn Sun, the renegade, former Peacekeeper from Farscape. But thinking about Farscape, what about Chiana? Or Zhaan? Not traditional space babes, but totally babe-o-licious, nonetheless.

And then there's Firefly (Zoe! Inara! Kaylee!), and the new Battlestar Galactica (Boomer! Starbuck!). So this week, there are virtually endless choices, and I don't think it'll be easy coming to a consensus.

Personally, I'm leaning towards Maya or Ezri Dax. Although, I can't get Wilma Deering out of my mind...

What about you? And female readers of this blog, if you don't care to choose a space babe, feel free to add a comment below with your choice for space "hunk." This is equal opportunity sexism...

Fantasmo Cult Cinema Explosion

Calling all John Carpenter worshippers!

This Friday evening, February 3rd, at the Chesapeake Central Library in Chesapeake, Virginia, Team Fantasmo will be hosting the 11th episode of their "cult cinema explosion" series, this one spotlighting the works of a Hollywood maverick and a great film artist; the director who brought the world such efforts as Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Escape from New York, Starman, Christine, Big Trouble in Little China, etc., etc.

Fantasmo has selected two great 1980s Carpenter flicks for the evening's double feature. The first is 1980's supernatural shocker, The Fog, starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh. And the second is They Live, the Roddy Piper epic from 1988.

The evening's festivities begin at 7:30 pm, when I'll introduce Carpenter's work, and in particular, discuss the specifics of that double feature.

The Fog is a literate ghost story, and I'll talk a little bit about how the film artfully mimics the the format of the traditional ghost story (folklore that is repeated verbally - replete with mnemonics - from one generation to another).

And They Live -- which was released just days shy of the Bush/Quayle vs. Dukakis electoral college smackdown, takes on a decade of Republican politics, capitalism, homelessness, yuppies...and pro-wrestling.

I'll also be signing and selling some of my books, and catching up with my buddies in Chesapeake. It's going to be a fun night, so if you happen to be in town, drop on by Friday night. I'd love to see you! Read more about Fantasmo right here.