Friday, April 06, 2007

The House Between Episode # 5 Preview: "Mirrored"

Only one more week until The House Between's fifth webisode, "Mirrored" bows here, on Veoh, and on the home page at www.thehousebetween.com.

I must say -- this is a fun show; as you'll soon see. So scope out the preview below, and return here next Thursday for my director's notes on the episode. Which will be extensive, and hopefully embarrassing to the cast-members! Hah! Then, on Friday the 13th, watch the show...





Thursday, April 05, 2007

It's Here!


* 829 Pages.

* 328 Films reviewed

* 156 photographs

* 6 Appendices

* Interviews with: Rebecca Balding (The Silent Scream, The Boogens), Kent Beyda (Fright Night, Humanoids from the Deep), Kevin Connor (Motel Hell, The House Where Evil Dwells), James L. Conway (The Boogens), Ellie Cornell (Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers), Thom Eberhardt (Night of the Comet), Richard Franklin (Road Games, Psycho II, Link), Gloria Gifford (Halloween II), Tom McLoughlin (One Dark Night, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives!), Peter Smokler (Alligator), Lewis Teague (Alligator, Cujo, Cat's Eye) and Ken Russell (Altered States).

The back cover reads: "John Kenneth Muir is back! This time, the author of the acclaimed Horror Films of the 1970s turns his attention to 300 films from the 1980s. From horror franchises like Friday the 13th and Hellraiser to obscurities like The Children and The Boogens, Muir is our informative guide.

Muir introduces the scope of the decades horrors, and offers a history drawing parallels between current events and the nightmares unfolding on cinema screens. Each of the 300 films is discussed with detailed credits, a brief synopsis, a critical commentary, and where applicable, notes on the film's legacy. beyond the 80s. Also included is the author's ranking of the 15 best Horror Films of the 1980s.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Culture, Identities and Technology in the STAR WARS Films, Essays on the Two Trilogies

In a few short weeks, the thirtieth anniversary of Star Wars will be upon us, as hard as that is for of us many of us X'ers to believe. Honestly, Star Wars changed my life. I was in second grade when I first saw it in 1977, and it was the most dazzling, amazing movie a seven-year old's mind could conceive. I spoke with my Dad about the film a few weeks ago during dinner, and the experience of going to see it at a theater in Paramus, N.J. almost thirty years ago. He told me he staggered out of the first viewing with his head spinning. "The real world," he suggested "seemed to move so slow" after seeing Star Wars. Even thirty years later, I recall that feeling of exuberance; that excitement.

George Lucas's space opera has permeated the pop culture in so many ways since '77. It's tempting to gaze at it as some kind of magical watershed production which just appeared - with no antecedents - and went to warp speed, literally, in the public consciousness. Yet the historian in me must remind myself that Star Wars developed the special effects breakthroughs of Brian Johnson and Space:1999 (1975-1977); that Star Wars was originally a variation of Flash Gordon, a property Lucas had first attempted to license; that the film was an homage to such Akira Kurosawa films as The Hidden Fortress; that the blockbuster mentality Star Wars took advantage of had already commenced with such studio films as Jaws (1975); and that even the merchandising blitz it set off had antecedents in Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, The Six-Million Dollar Man, Space:1999 and other genre productions.

I can remind myself of all those facts, and yet Star Wars is THAT film. It's the one major production where all these elements came together like a Big Bang to create a work of art that seemed fresh, new and different. So much of "success" is combination of timing and chemistry, and Star Wars has both of those things in its favor. It was released at a time when people were hungry for escapist fare, but it was also so damn inventive; such a well-told and resonant story. It was seeded with brilliant mythological undercurrents and ideas, and therefore it has continued to exist long past the cinematic marketplace of the disco decade.

So, it's the perfect time to explore Star Wars' significance in American culture with Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy, # 3: Culture, Identities and Technology in the STAR WARS Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies. This is a McFarland collection of fascinating essays edited by Carl Silvio and Tony M. Vinci, and they all gaze seriously and studiously - and intelligently at Star Wars' impact on our culture.

I know the elitists out there laugh at such things, the idea that Star Wars can be examined this seriously, but to them, I blow a big fat raspberry. How is examining Star Wars any different, really, than studying The Iliad or The Odyssey? All these works of art reflect their times and worlds in a deep and clearly resonant way.

The book's introduction notes, correctly that "few filmic narratives have so captivated the public's imagination" as Star Wars. "The textural universes serves as one of society's richest repositories of contemporary myth and social meaning, a galaxy where collective hopes and anxieties are both revealed and imaginarily resolved."

Indeed. I couldn't agree more, so it was with great enthusiasm that I read further. Part I of the Book, "Cultural Contexts" meditates on the "value of rebellion and the dangers of blind democracy," among other things, a particularly relevant topic given today's theory of the Unitary Executive. Another essay, by John Lyden gazes at "apocalyptic fatalism" in Star Wars, the idea that "the plan revealed for the future is set and no one can change it." As evidence of this facet of the tale, Lyden points to all the talk of "destiny" in the Original Trilogy, and character comments such as the Emperor (and Vader's) taunt that "it is useless to resist," meaning that there is a foregone conclusion in Luke Skywalker's journey to hero (or perhaps, villain...).

Part II of this collection of essays focuses on "Identity" and "Politics." One essay is called "The Imperial March: The Galactic Empire as Racial State," but it was "Feminism and The Force" by Diana Dominquez that fascinated me most in this section. Dominguez writes that old fashioned, patriarchal archetypes are shattered in Star Wars during Luke's first meeting of Leia. As you'll recall, he's found her in her prison cell on the Death Star, and she comments that he's "short" for a "stormtrooper." This comeback destroys, according to Dominguez, "The familiar fairy tale trope of the fair unknown knight or prince in shining armor who comes to save the silent but eternally grateful damsel in distress and whisk her away to safety and a life of happily ever after." I remember reading an interview with Buster Crabbe - then an old man - on why he didn't like Star Wars and he pointed to this "liberated" quality to Princess Leia.

Interestingly, Dominguez also sees Padme Amidala of the prequel trilogy in rather positive light. After noting that she goes from being "outspoken" Queen to dying over love - essentially standing by her man (as the song goes...) -Dominguez describes Amidala as an "alarming reflection of the complex, confusing and contradictory messages today's young women receive from society and the media."

The third part of the book was probably my favorite, simply because it aligns with many of my own particular interests. It's sub-titled "Technology and The Public Image" and there's a terrific essay called "Kill Binks" by Dan North, subtitled, "Why the World Hated its First Digital Actor"). It studies the vehement fan response to Jar-Jar Binks, and enumerates many reasons for it.

Equally fascinating is "The Emperor's New Clones; Or Digitization and Walter Benjamin in the Star Wars Universe by Graham Lyons and Janice Morris. This essay studies the impact of Lucas's digital tinkering with the saga to conform to what the artist insists is his original vision for the trilogies. In other words, digitization as "balm" for what the creator perceived as the shortcomings of his original presentation. This essay is even-handed and gazes at how some of the special edition upgrades are positive, while others are quite bewildering. In discussing the addition of a (bad) CGI Jabba the Hut to Episode IV: A New Hope, the authors discuss how an actor's performance (in this case, Harrison Ford's), loses it's "integral" "wholeness" and becomes disjointed and no longer authentic. This is something I've had ample time to consider myself, and discuss with a friend, Tony Mercer, on my own production, The House Between. What happens to actor performances when new special effects and sound effects are added; and the actors are no longer registering the context they imagined? Or that the script initially imagined? This is a fascinating debate, especially in the age of CGI and digital "fixes." There's even a section here on the "Who Shot First?" debate, regarding Greedo and Han in the cantina, and it's stimulating reading.

Here on the blog over the next few months, I'll be celebrating the 30th anniversary of Star Wars with lots of different posts (and picking up my blogging of the films...), but I can think of no better way to kick off that endeavor than with a careful reading of this fascinating collection of essays.

CHOICE likes Mercy in Her Eyes

I got a nice review from Choice Magazine regarding my study of Mira Nair. Her latest film, The Namesake just opened in limited release in several parts of the country this week.

Here's what CHOICE had to say: "...Muir (who has written numerous books on film) demonstrates that his subject is worthy of attention. Muir likes to deal with filmmakers whose work is independent and uncompromised - specifically, with what he calls "singularity," the control of an auteur. Muir calls Nair the spiritual heir to Satyajit Ray, the first great Indian filmmaker. Nair's work tends to depict the struggles of clashing cultures; as Muir puts it, Nair seeks a national versus personal identity, "her own personal India." Muir's discussion is chronological, and each chapter deals with one or more of Nair's works, from her first feature-length film, Salaam Bombay (1988), to her most curent, The Namesake (2006). The chapter on Bombay takes the reader on a step-by-step journey through scripting, financing, and casting to the actual 60-day shooting schedule. Muir avails himself of interviews, articles and Internet blogs, and his coverage is thorough. The first full-length study of Nair, the book includes an extensive bibliography (which lists reviews, periodical appreciations, interviews and blogs), endnotes, and stunning color reproductions from the films. Summing Up: highly recommended."

Woo-hoo! An Indian reporter, Amit Sengupta also did a "global sketch" on me and Mercy in Her Eyes for the Saturday edition of the Kolkata Times , but alas there's no Internet edition, so I can't link to it here. D'oh. It's a nice piece...got a picture of me and everything!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The House Between at The Thunder Child

Hey folks!

There's a new interview about The House Between up at
The Thunder Child! Barbara Peterson conducted the interview, and we had a great back-and-forth about the creation of the series. Thanks, Barbara!

Here's a taste of the interview:



My original intention had been to create a series about science fiction fandom and an arrogant writer/guest speaker (to be played by me…) who goes to conventions and makes a fool of himself on stage and with the fans. It would be Curb Your Enthusiasm with a genre twist, and have a lot of sci-fi in-jokes. I was going to do it mockumentary-style, with talking head interviews, which would have been very easy and affordable to shoot.

Very soon, however, I realized that such a premise – while funny – would get old quickly. So I dug back into my endless writing files. Back in 1999 I had written a script leading up to Y2K about a woman who is kidnapped from her car in a parking lot, and wakes up to find herself trapped in a strange house with people from different historical eras. Outside the door is a pulsating force field. So they’re all trapped in this house with no escape. This was a feature script, one where the house was booby-trapped, had hidden passageways, etc. It was called, if I remember correctly, “Last Day.” I resurrected some ideas from this screenplay to create The House Between.

Anyway, check it out! And also take a gander at all the great material The Thunder Child: Science Fiction and Fantasy Web Magazine and Sourcebooks has to offer.

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 57: AMT Star Trek Kits


I've blogged about model kits before (back in the early days of this site...), but today, I want to focus specifically on the array of kits once available from AMT for the Star Trek line.

When I was a kid, the only way to play with replicas of your favorite starship (besides Dinky die cast metal ships...) was to build a mode kit. I was never a particularly coordinated kid, so this was difficult. John Muir and glue don't really go together very well. Sticky fingers and smudges and all. Anyway, as far back as 1966, the year the series premiered, AMT (later AMT/ERTL) committed to producing a highly-detailed line of vessels and in one case, a figurine, from Gene Roddenberry's classic series. Fortunately, I have a father who is coordinated and skilled at building models, and he stepped in where his son would only make a mess.

Among my favorite kits from AMT was the Exploration Kit, which featured the equipment trifecta: a Starfleet phaser, tricorder and communicator. I remember my Dad built this kit for me, let it glue overnight, and left it outside my room for Saturday morning play time. I awoke eager and happy, slung the tricorder over my shoulder, clipped on the communicator, gripped my phaser and "beamed" down to the wooded trails near my house for a new adventure. This was after an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series had aired on CBS that morning. What fun.

In 1980, during the winter olympics at Lake Placid, I grew gravely ill for a long period of time -- we didn't know it then, but my sickness was actually carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from a malfunctioning furnace in our old house -- and I passed the time (with a terrible, unending headache...) with a model of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise that my father built for me. I was ten years old at the time, and still able to escape into adventures with that starship. In particular, I remember flying it in orbit around the globe I had stationed on my desk in my room.

Over the years, AMT released a number of kits from the original series, including a Romulan Bird of Prey (replete with Romulan logo on the bottom...), a Klingon D-7 battlecruiser (as featured in the third season shows...), and even K-7, the space station featured in "The Trouble with Tribbles." There was also a Mr. Spock figurine, one that depicted the logical first officer encountering a three headed dragon on a planet's surface. I had all of these kits, and my favorite - the "interplanetary" UFO. Now, this vessel was not actually from the series itself, just a random alien ship to encounter, but I loved that fact. It was a way to create a new adventure, to have the Enterprise "meet" a new alien, neither Klingon nor Romulan. I played these models out.

Other kits included the shuttlecraft, Galileo 7, and a diorama of the Enterprise bridge. I remember my father meticulously painting the chairs, banister, deck and characters of the latter. The set came with Captain Kirk (seated, for his command chair), Mr. Sulu and Mr. Spock. I always wondered why no Scotty, Uhura or Chekov. The bridge seemed like a "house with all the children gone," with just three officers on deck.

In the year 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture arrived in theaters, and AMT released a deluxe kit of the new version of NCC-1701, replete with 'rainbow" decals for "warp speed" effect. This model was larger than the series' editions, incredibly detailed and absolutely gorgeous. It was wired with lights, and made quite the impressive statement. I still believe - and I can't be dissuaded from this - that the movie version of the Enterprise is the most gorgeous starship ever put to celluloid. At the same time, another Spock figurine was released (this time he was gripping a tricorder, not a phaser, and looking at alien fauna, not a monster..), and two other ships: the Klingon K'Tinga cruiser (trashed by V'Ger in the film...) and the Vulcan shuttle. I loved the Vulcan shuttle because it could split into two vehicles for docking: the warp sled and the crew compartment.

Over the years, there were many new editions of these classic models. The first significant change in the Enterprise itself came in 1989, for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, when the model kit was modified to include the shuttlecraft Kirk and party used to raid Nimbus III. Remember "Emergency Landing Plan B?" I thought this was particularly cool. I was in college when the movie came out (and I dutifully saw it six times in the theater...), and I built the model myself. I still have that shuttle in my office.

By the time of Voyager in 1995, I was a happily married adult and AMT/ERTL no longer had the license to Star Trek. It migrated to Monogram at that time, and an era was over. Still, for almost thirty years, AMT and AMT/ERTL were responsible for creating some really beautiful Trek kits. And as a kid, I loved playing with them, and going - along with Kirk and Company - where no man - where no kid - had gone before.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

THE HOUSE BETWEEN Ep# 4: Visited

In "Visited," the fourth webisode of the online sci-fi series, THE HOUSE BETWEEN, Arlo (Jim Blanton's) act of violence in the strange house summons malevolent creatures outside in the blackness, the mysterious "Outdwellers." Meanwhile, Astrid (Kim Breeding) and Theresa (Alicia A. Wood) try to save the wounded Bill's (Tony Mercer) life, and wonder if they can trust Travis (Lee Hansen). Produced for the Lulu Show LLC by Joseph Maddrey. Written and directed by John Kenneth Muir. www.thehousebetween.com