Saturday, September 29, 2007

TV REVIEW: Bionic Woman

As I was watching Bionic Woman the other night, I realized the inevitable had finally occurred. Before my very eyes, a dramatic TV series had achieved true feature film quality. Unfortunately, in the case of The Bionic Woman, that feature film would have been Catwoman, Elektra or Underworld. 

When my wife, Kathryn saw that this "re-imagination" was "developed" by the same "creative" team that perpetrated the new Battlestar Galactica, she turned to me and said, "wow, they really love raping old shows, don't they?" That comment just about sums up my response to the dreadful pilot of this remake, which substitutes the charm of the original 1976-1978 Lindsay Wagner series with tons of mock tough guy attitude and dialogue...all spouted by women, of course (because that's not sexist; merely unpleasant).

This is less accurately The Bionic Woman than The Bionic Gilmore Girl, as the new Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) has been saddled with a young adolescent sister she is caring for, in a sibling relationship clearly derivative of the Buffy/Dawn aesthetic from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That isn't the only idea raided in this dreadful remake. There's a scene lifted directly from Superman: The Movie (1978), wherein a little girl in a jeep spies Jaime running at super speeds through the woods. In case you forgot, in Superman: The Movie, a little Lois Lane spied Clark running at super-speed over a field from her perch in the train. That was bad enough, but then the pilot had the nerve to crib the rooftop "learning your powers" scene from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002). 

Well, at least this Bionic Woman understands the rule that if you're going to steal, you should steal from the best. Why create something new when you can rip-off something else, and say it's "homage," right?

Anyway, Jaime is injured in an assassination attempt by the first bionic woman, Sarah Corvis, played in over-the-top fashion by a twitching, winking Katee Sackhoff, but the real target was Jaime's professor boyfriend...who just happens to be a brilliant bionic scientist.  In short order, he has remade the injured Jaime into another bionic woman who, like her predecessor is hard-wired for "highly specialized warfare." In the remake, bionics means anthrocites (or nanites): microscopic robots capable of rebuilding and regenerating destroyed limbs and enhancing vision and hearing. Jaime takes the news of her upgrade poorly, which in this case means that the episode cuts to a soulful pop tune montage.

Just when this pilot episode can't get any worse, there's an unmotivated, random encounter in an alley between Jaime and a street thug which allows our bionic heroine to demonstrate her new fighting skills. Interestingly, she's not only fast and strong, she's suddenly -- without benefit of any training whatsoever -- completely agile and familiar with elaborate fighting moves..

Then, there's the final bionic showdown between Katee Sackhoff and Jaime. Like the 1998 Godzilla, it occurs in pounding rain so you can't make-out clearly just how bad the CGI effects are. As viewers, we're wise to that trick now, but Bionic Woman goes with it anyway. Faced with the clearly psychotic freak show, Corvis, the new Jaime doesn't register fear, anxiety, or any recognizable emotion whatsoever. She just goes right into the fight --presumably the twenty-four year old's first with a maniacal super villain -- without any preamble, doubts or a hint of concern. That's when you realize this show jumped the shark the moment the cameras started rolling.

Other than providing a sort of affirmative action program for the actors on Battlestar Galactica (Aaron "Tyrol" Douglas shows up too) -- please watch, they need the work!!! -- every aspect of this misbegotten remake is hackneyed, poorly conceived, and atrociously executed. The story is superficial, going nowhere in terms of the morality of biotechnology, for instance. All the details of "bionics," are given the barest lip service, as if the writer's figured that audiences couldn't understand the concept of nanocites. The deepest philosophical moment comes when Jamie asks "who gets to decide right from wrong?" Well, honey, apparently you do, because you are the bionic woman now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The House Between at Fantasci

On Saturday, September 29, a three-minute trailer for The House Between Season 2 premieres at the Fantasci Convention in Chesapeake, Virginia.

The House Between portion of the con starts at 9:00 pm, and I've sent up not just a trailer on DVD, but four episodes of the show's first season for the organizers to choose from, "Arrived," "Settled," "Positioned" and "Visited." After the viewing, cast and crew members will be on hand to answer audience questions. So if you happen to be in Virginia tomorrow, check out the show!!!

Read more about the convention and The House Between

Regarding the series schedule, I've had a number of queries about "when the show is coming back" and right now our planned premiere date is Friday, January 25, 2008. Unlike last year, the season will air every week for eight weeks, rather than appear every two weeks and run for fourteen weeks. The second season episode order and air schedule is as follows:

2.1 "Returned" (Season Premiere) (January 25, 2008)

2.2 "Separated" (February 1, 2008)

2.3 "Reunited" (February 8, 2008)

2.4 "Estranged" (February 15, 2008)

2.5 "Populated" (February 22, 2008)

2.6 "Distressed" (February 29, 2008)

2.7 "Caged" (March 7, 2008)

2.8 "Ruined" (March 14, 2008)

Leading up to the premiere, there will be special House Between events on this blog (including trailers, a making of featurette and more), at the series home page, and on the discussion board (where you can find the Vincenzo Diaries, and starting on Halloween, an original House Between short story), so keep checking in. Editing has begun in earnest now, and the footage looks terrific.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Theme Song of the Week #12: The House Between 2.0 (2008)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


In 1977, Kenner released an unusual Star Wars toy, and one that was likely recycled from an earlier Kenner product in the heat of the merchandising blitz. Nonetheless, it's cool today as evidence of the first wave Star Wars craze of '77. You are looking at one of the Star Wars SSP (Super Sonic Power) toy vans. Two such vans were released, Luke's (which is white), and Darth Vader's, which is black. Both vans had a fifth wheel located under the center of the van, and the vehicles could be raced by a kind of primitive launching instrument/mechanism. Can't you just imagine cruising down the streets of Southern California in one of these for real, your hi-fi tape deck blasting Melanie's "Brand New Key" while you "feel the force?" When Kathryn gets home today, I'm going to ask her if we can detail our Scion XB just like this...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Appointment Television

I taped Journeyman and Heroes on NBC last night, but haven't had the opportunity to watch either program yet. I'm looking forward to both. (And yes, I'm even trying my darndest to stay objective about the new Bionic Woman...)

This Sunday, September 30th, brings the return of two of two additional dramas - and two of the best series on television - both airing on Showtime. I'm talking about Dexter, the compelling story of a serial killer with a "code" of conduct, and Brotherhood, a tale of siblings in Rhode Island, one a crook, one a politician.

On Dexter, (which I reviewed here on the blog), I wrote: "Fascinating and boasting a distinct point of view, Dexter is already appointment television. It's an inventive series, splendidly acted and written, but what I like about it most so far is the high quotient of black humor." After watching the first season again (available on DVD), I stand by those words but will go further: Dexter is the best series on television. The performances are superb and multi-faceted, the stories are involving and ingenious, and the series takes the moribund police procedural format in a welcome and new direction. It's a mystery to me why this effort didn't get nominated for more Emmy Awards. There's a groundswell, though: virtually everyone I know I has this series in their Netflix queue. If you haven't checked it out (especially if you're a genre fan), then this is a good time to catch up. You won't be disappointed.

On Brotherhood, I said the following in TV Year: "Sexy, gritty and never less-than-compelling, Brotherhood thrives as a terrific summer series, one that clearly understands the basic conceits behind politics and crime. Both "professions" are all about making compromises and being compromised." This show has been M.I.A. for far too long (it aired back in the Summer of '06) and the first season is also available on DVD. I hope the long hiatus hasn't hurt Brotherhood's chances of catching on, because I found it to be of a stature equal to HBO's The Sopranos.

Now, if Showtime would just do one more thing for me this season: buy the rights to make Veronica Mars' fourth season. One can dream, right? Anyway, even without VM in the mix, September 30th promises to be a very good night for TV.

Monday, September 24, 2007

TV REVIEW: Moonlight: "No Such Thing as Vampires"

CBS brings Moonlight, a new vampire noir to prime time television on Friday, September 28 at 9:00 pm with this pilot episode, "No Such Thing as Vampires." The series stars hunky Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St. John, a private investigator and creature of the night working in Los Angeles (Angel's old haunts). "Being a vampire sucks," Mick quips early in the proceedings and you can hear crickets after the lame joke, but fortunately the episode gets better, smarter, and even borderline witty as it builds momentum.

Eschewing the world of "demons" popularized by such recent genre efforts as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and Supernatural, Moonlight is a more reality-based series, where the presence of vampires is the only genre element (at least so far). In a "talking head" interview session at the beginning of the show, Mick quickly establishes the basics of his undead life. He sleeps in a freezer, not a coffin, garlic repels his dates, but not him, and wooden stakes don't kill vampires. For that, you need a flame thrower, or maybe a lucky decapitation. Like Showtime's Dexter (a serial killer not a vampire), Mick boasts a heroic code of ethics. He doesn't hunt women or children, and he only kills "predators" (meaning bad people).

The supporting characters on Moonlight include Beth Turner (Sophia Myles), an up-and-coming hottie reporter at Buzzwire, the de-rigueur black detective, Lt. Carl Davis (Brian White), and Guillermo (Jacob Vargas), a dealer in "blood and information." The stand-out among the cast, however is Jason Dohring amoral "400 going on 30" vampire tycoon, Josef Konstantin, sort of the latest-twist on a Barnabas Collins character from Dark Shadows. He's rich, powerful, self-indulgent, quippy and drinks his blood direct from the wrists of his sexy female entourage. "1982...that was a good year," he sniffs one woman's arm, sizing her up like a fine wine.

Like all good film noir or detective stories, Moonlight features a lot of hardboiled voiceover narration from Mick, in this case explaining how "when you live forever, the past always catches up with you." Here the story "starts with a girl," or two girls, as Mick investigates the death of a beautiful college girl and runs into reporter Beth, an encounter that brings to light a case - and a connection - from twenty-two years ago; a case Mick has never forgotten.

The dead girl appears to have been bitten by a vampire, but the trail leads back not to one of Mick's undead brethren, but a smarmy college professor who runs a "vampire study group" and seduces his female students with his shtick that he's a "real" vampire. Described as a "Svengali," the professor, Christian Ellis (Rudolf Martin) speaks in compelling and nearly hypnotic terms about the womb being a place of blood and darkness, and that human existence is but a search to return to that paradise. Thus we're all vampires, after a fashion. That's about as much originality as you get here; and let's face it, Moonlight has precious little maneuvering room: on one side it bumps into Forever Knight, and on the other side it brushes against Angel.

That established, the show is good cheesy fun, but not so wretchedly cheesy you'll want to puke. Moonlight is certainly an improvement over the last genre detective series I reviewed here, the dreadful The Dresden Files. What makes this show tolerable, and sort of entertaining in a mainstream, vanilla way is the show's persistent sense of humor, which becomes more fully developed over the hour. The pilot starts out being too hip for itself, but then settles into a nice groove with its romantic banter, one-liners and witticisms. Josef complains about "non-fat soy vegan blood" in one amusing scene, for instance, and at another point Mick gets to say the wonderful line that "forever is a long time with an ex-wife like mine." I hesitate to use the word "campy" after my recent post about the adjective's over use, but there's a tongue-in-cheek element of Moonlight that prevents me from writing it off as just a stupid vampire detective series, despite its staggering unoriginality. I can see this series, if it continues like this, being a guilty pleasure.

So far, I admire the sense of humor, enjoy the Veronica Mars references that have popped up (the first episode mystery of Moonlight occurs on Hearst College campus, where Veronica was a student...) and appreciate the attempts to resurrect from the grave all the film noir elements of old. On the latter front, there's the voice over narration and laconic narrator; there's the flashbacks to the "one" case that the detective never forgets, and - of course - the obsession on "the dame." Also, there's a chilling (brief) scene in which a young student is hunted by a masked killer, and some nice stunt work in the climactic scenes. I can't say that Moonlight is in the same league as Dexter, Heroes or even Jericho, but it's a pleasant enough way to spend forty-two minutes. First episodes are always dicey affairs anyway (and there was a lot of behind-the-scenes changes involved with Moonlight too...), so there's every reason to hope and pray that Moonlight could sharpen its fangs a little over time.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK 65: Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979)

The best way to spend the long three years between Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), was to watch Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), one of the most entertaining space operas of the disco-decade. Like every sci-fi TV show airing the 1970s, from Star Trek (in syndicated reruns), to Space:1999 (1975-1977), to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), Battlestar Galactica's time on the air was accompanied by a merchandising toy blitz. Most of the products came from Mattel and Monogram-Revell, but the intrepid young fan of Battlestar Galactica certainly could choose amongst his favorite series-oriented toys.

I was always an action-figure kid and so was thrilled when Mattel released a line of action figures based on the series. Among the first releases, Lt. Starbuck, Commander Adama, Muffit the daggit, a Cylon Centurion, the Ovion, and The Imperious Leader. I'll never forget the day my Granny come over to visit our house in Glen Ridge and brought these six figures over (sold together in one box) for me. I was thrilled. The figures came adorned with capes (Adama and Starbuck), and armed with weaponry (a rifle for the Cylon and Colonial pistols for the heroes). I do remember being terribly disappointed that Mattel couldn't be bothered to create a Captain Apollo figure. He was my favorite character. It would be like releasing Star Wars figures but not making a Luke Skywalker edition, just Han Solo. It didn't (and still doesn't...) make much sense.

Later, Mattel released a second round of figures that included the alien Boray (from the episode "The Magnificent Warriors"), John Colicos' Baltar, a golden Cylon, and my most cherished of all the figures: Lucifer (an IL Series Cylon given voice on the series by Jonathan Harris). As you can see the from the photographs, I still own all these figures, though I must say time is catching up with them. Hard to believe it's been nearly thirty years.

Mattel also released a number of small ships based on Battlestar Galactica vehicles, including the Colonial Viper and the Cylon Raider. Two other ships were made, though they weren't featured on the series: The Stellar Probe and the Colonial Scarab, a kind of land-based viper/tank combo. Kids who grew up with these toys will remember that these ships shot small red pellets from their snout, and that one little boy choked to death while playing with one. This resulted in a quick CYA decision that all future versions of the ships (and the Boba Fett figure from The Empire Strikes Back) would be glued to the ships; and not launchable.

One of my favorite toys from Mattel was the large-sized, eighteen inch or so, Cylon Centurion warrior. You could push a lever on the back of his skull, and see his red eye move back-and-forth, from side-to-side. When you pressed a button on his backpack, his eye, his chest, and his laser weapon would all light up red as well. My Aunt Patty and Uncle Bob got me this toy for Christmas in 1978, and I'm delighted to say the old Cy Centurion is still intact...even though his legs are a bit wobbly. They also bought me the sparring partner for this Cylon, a white-haired Colonial Warrior who did not resemble any character on the series. When I was ten, I tried painting his hair black so he'd look like Apollo and succeed only in ruining the figure. He's no longer with me. Note to self: don't let ten year olds near spray paint.

Monogram released models of the four most prominent spaceships on Battlestar Galactica, including the Galactica herself, the Cylon Base Star, the Colonial Viper and the Cylon Centurion. I had all four (built my dad, who is an incredible modeler...), and spent hours waging space combat with them.

During its one season on the air, Battlestar Galactica merchandise included technical blueprints, an Iron-On-Transfer T-Shirt kit, scrapbooks, a plush Daggit (Muffit) and more. I've kept as much of this material as possible over the long years, and across my many moves (from Glen Ridge, to Richmond, to Charlotte, to Monroe). Looking at these toys, they aren't as in good condition as many of my other collectibles and I think that's because I played with the Battlestar Galactica toys a lot. It was a really, really fun show, and I had fun recreating my own adventures with Cylons and Colonials.

Friday, September 21, 2007

CULT TV FLASHBACK # 32: Moonlighting (1985-1989)

The unfortunate departure from television of Veronica Mars, my favorite prime-time detective, has left me remembering fondly another classic TV series regarding detectives, in this case a pair of them. Moonlighting (not to be confused with this season’s vampire detective series, Moonlight...) was created by Glenn Caron Gordon. This talent also gave TV one of the greatest superhero shows of all time, Now & Again (1999-2000) and is currently behind the Emmy-Award winning Medium, which is as much unconventional family drama as it is psychic genre series. Returning to Moonlighting today, one detects Caron’s skill in crafting dynamic characters and more importantly, making them look, sound and feel like individuals, not ciphers explaining plot lines. If Veronica Mars is an updating of the film noir form with today's tech devices (wi-fi, cell phones, etc.) functioning as critical McGuffins in the resolution of mysteries and crimes, Moonlighting is (for the 1980s anyway...) the last word on the The Thin Man aesthetic. Like the rarified world of Nick and Nora (Powell and Loy), this is a universe of delightful wordplay and what seems today like impossibly innocent charm and banter.

The pilot episode of Moonlighting (directed by Robert Butler) not only sets up the series premise, but reminds the viewer of the era it was created: the mid-1980s. In the very first moments of the pilot, for instance, we see a criminal with a Mohawk haircut (like he stepped out of The Road Warrior...), and a close-up of a Sony Walkman. Touches like these age the series somewhat, but also makes it a great nostalgia trip if you happened to be around during that time. As for me, I remember watching Moonlighting on network television in first-run, waiting patiently (seemingly forever...) for new episodes.

More importantly, the pilot establishes the premise of the series. Ex-model Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd), the Blue Moon Shampoo Girl, has been robbed blind by her business manager, and is left only with a series of non-liquid assets - write-offs - which include a pawn shop and a detective agency. Since being poor “doesn’t become” her, the prissy Hayes immediately visits all of the businesses she owns and begins to shutter them, firing employees and selling off materials. When she arrives at “City of Angel Investigations,” however, she encounters glib detective David Addison (Bruce Willis), who convinces her that they should team up as partners and run the re-named “Blue Moon” Detective Agency. Maddie is unreceptive to the notion, at least until she becomes involved in a murder mystery involving a stolen wristwatch, an item that could lead right back to stolen Nazi gold from a half-century earlier.

The pilot is inventive and funny, even if the narrative is slight. The amusing climax involves Maddie and David on a high-rise building in Los Angeles (on a ledge just below a giant clock…) attempting to recover a stash of hidden diamonds. It’s one-part thrills, one-part comedy, and wholly charming. Maddie ends up dangling on the hands of the oversized clock, hanging precariously over the street traffic far below. Movie buffs will recognize the scene as a variation of the classic Harold Lloyd gag/stunt from Safety Last! (1923), and this is part and parcel of Moonlighting's charm. At the same time that it is very 1980s, it also pays homage to Golden Age Hollywood.

Most of the mysteries served up on Moonlighting are amusing but equally slight. What truly made the series great; and what continues to make it a classic program today, is the writing (and performances) of the two eternally-in-opposition characters, Maddie and David. In a sense, it’s the old “Odd Couple” gambit, pairing Shepherd’s prissy, rules-oriented character with Willis’s “wild and crazy” guy persona (which was parodied so often in the 1980s and 1990s that at first it’s difficult to take seriously here...).

Yet what remains fascinating about these sparring partners is not just their individual differences and clear lust for one another, but rather the way that their characters symbolize particular views and agendas about the world and modern America. In particular, this is a series but the changing terrain of the war of the sexes. Bubbling right under the surface of Moonlighting's affable exterior is commentary on 1980s sexual politics, and it’s a fascinating subject to re-visit today (post-Ally McBeal - which in my view represents the death knell of feminism).

In particular, the 1980s was a period in which feminism, at least to a certain extent, floundered as an organized movement thanks to the forces of resurgent conservatism. The ERA went down to defeat in 1982, and anti-feminist forces held power for the entire decade. Yet - at the same time - women were gaining very real power in the work force as never before in American history. Just beneath the sexual-tension surface of Moonlighting is a series concerning such then-hot-button issues as what it means to have a female boss, the "appropriate" workplace relationship between men and women, the cultural infantilizing of men (or man-children, as Kathryn calls them), and a discussion of when and where charges of "sexism" might legitimately and meaningfully be lodged. Moonlighting's sparring partners are constant combatants in this war, always jockeying for positions of superiority.

In “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice,” a first season episode filmed in gorgeous black-and-white and introduced by Orson Welles, Maddie and David each “fantasize” about an unsolved 1940s murder case at a night club called the Flamingo Cove. Tellingly, they each play a role in an adulterous love triangle, and each is convinced that their “character” is innocent and that it is the other person who was guilty of murder. David takes on the persona of a coronet player who falls for a femme fatale, the chanteuse wife of a clarinet player -- Maddie in his dream. In his fantasy, he is an innocent down-on-his-luck guy led astray by a tough-talking, irresistible dame.

By contrast, in Maddie’s version, it is the coronet player -- David -- who is the seducer. She rejects all of his advances until he almost literally forces himself upon her. He comes at her powerfully, telling her he doesn't hear her objecting, meaning she doesn't stop his romantic advances. In both cases, "our" Moonlighting characters (the modern detectives) take on a character supporting their sexual agenda; we see the story through that lens, from both sides of the "war of the sexes." In the present, David accuses Maddie of being sexist because she assumes that the (male) coronet player is guilty; that no woman would have murdered her husband without a man urging her to do it. David's assertion is equally sexist: that the coronet player was led astray by the wiles of an irresistibly alluring woman; that the misdeed was paid for by the promise (and delivery...) of sex.

Another classic episode, "My Fair David," adopts Shaw's Pygmalion as source material and sees Maddie betting David that he cannot behave like a mature adult for one week. This means he can't do the limbo in the office waiting area (where there might be clients...); this means he can't sing and dance (as is his wont) and he can't even crack-wise. David's "cost" for losing the wager is that he must fire two employees at the detective agency, proving he can be a grown-up, professional and "boss," not merely a buddy. If Maddie loses the gamble, she has to unclench and do the limbo in the office reception area. The idea is Maddie's dedicated attempts to render David (a prospective partner...) an "acceptable" man to female eyes: meaning that he take seriously his job (a symbol of security), and that he presents well in public. Maddie needs him to be a trusted ally, not an infant. The old canard about women is that they fall in love with men, but then set about to change them; to blunt their edges to make them acceptable as providers and prospective fathers. That notion is clearly at play here.

However, there's more. The wager takes an interesting turn in "My Fair David" when the office receptionist, Miss DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) comments to Maddie that she has "de-Daved Dave," meaning that in her drive to change Addison's juvenile behavior, Maddie has ripped away the very qualities that make him attractive as a male. In the end, even Maddie comes to this understanding; she confesses that she misses "the old David," the one who loved life and made her laugh. So these childish qualities, which Moonlighting obviously views as "male" qualities, are seen as positive ones. Importantly, David doesn't really learn anything in this episode; whereas Maddie learns to lighten up. Men: 1. Women: 0.

Not every episode goes that way, of course, (though there is a Moonlighting episode that adapts The Taming of the Shrew, with David and Maddie in central roles...), and the approach is generally even-handed. What makes the individual episode sparkle is not merely the underlying context, but the staccato banter, delivered with warp-speed aplomb by Shepherd and Willis. The battle of the sexes is a game - perhaps, a deadly serious one - and David and Maddie are committed warriors. Yet their primary weapon is wit, and even in the age of Gilmore Girls, television doesn't often commit itself to the verbal flights of fancy we see on abundant display here. Also, as all lovers surely know, chemistry is a critical part of the romantic equation. I don't know whether Willis and Shepherd liked each other or not, but together they personify romantic chemistry. They possess in spades what Duchovny/Anderson had on The X-Files, and what Tracy and Hepburn shared back in their day. This personal chemistry makes every move, every quip, every battle of the wits on Moonlighting something more than just a war of the sexes-style diatribe or men vs. women argument. It makes it...foreplay.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pop Culture Consumes Self: More Remakes for Lunch

So, "originality" is now officially a quaint concept in Hollywood? I just read that there are remakes in the works of two more 1980s horror classics: Near Dark and Fright Night.

We can add these titles to a list of genre remakes that includes: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, Omen 666, The Hitcher, When a Stranger Calls, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, and Black Christmas. Already on the slate: Friday the 13th and Straw Dogs.

Putting aside the judgment whether or not these remakes have been poor, we must ask the question: why is Hollywood obsessed with remakes and re-imaginations? The only logical answer is the market. Movies have gotten so expensive to produce, and must earn their money back during a very tight window: on opening weekend. Thus, it is necessary these days to boast a "brand name." It seems a movie can't go into theaters and succeed financially without one. That brand name, that franchise title -- like the words "Big Mac" or "Whopper" -- immediately alert an audience about what to expect.

What is disturbing me to about the trend of remakes and re-imaginations is that they are most often helmed by young directors who have no understanding of the context or meaning of the original film. They are hired guns and traffic directors, not artists with something to say. When we gaze back at the more artistically successful horror remakes in film history (Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1978] and John Carpenter's The Thing [1982]), we can see that the filmmakers behind those efforts remade the original film with an updated, relevant context...which made the remakes meaningful. I don't demand that all remakes be faithful interpretations of the original material, I only ask that they have something to say; that they re-deploy a successful property to tell us something about the times we live in. Along with that, I'd like a little style, a little panache, not just blood and guts. Is that asking too much?

Here's a thought: One day I would like to go to the theatre and see an original horror movie that challenges and scares me. I'd like it to be original; something daring and new. That isn't to say those films never come around; I'm an admirer of recent horrors such as Hostel (2005), The Devil's Rejects (2005) and The Descent (2006). But those seem to be the exception today; not the rule. Again, we can argue the quality of remakes, but what we can't argue is that they are being served up with increasing regularity.

Am I just old and cranky, or do the plethora of remakes bother anyone else? Is originality such a difficult commodity to come by? Or is it just because Hollywood has been taken over by accountants, and those who should be making horror films - a whole generation - have been left out in the cold?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Theme Song of the Week 11: "V: The Series"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Muir in "A Decade of Darkness"

Back in April, not too long before I shot the second season of The House Between, a film crew came to my house in Monroe and interviewed me for a special featurette that was going to be included on the special edition DVD of Return of the Living Dead (1985).

Well, I got my copy yesterday and quickly found "Decade of Darkness," the documentary featurette that covers in 22-minutes the broad trends of 1980 horror films (with a little precursor going back to the 1970s and a little spill-over to the 1990s). I was happy to see that I was in very good company in the documentary, as it also included new interviews with directors John Landis, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, and Tom Holland. Elvira was also in the mix (alas, we didn't get to share any scenes...), as was Fangoria editor Tony Timpone and Chop-Top Bill Moseley.

Decade of Darkness features footage from an array of MGM video releases including, The Brood (1979), The Fog (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), The Howling (1981), Motel Hell (1980), Lifeforce (1985), Return of the Living Dead (1985), Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (1986), Child's Play (19888) and Pumpkinhead (1989). I was delighted that the editor selected a lot of R-rated, gory footage too; not the same run-of-the-mill clips you see all the time.

I'm grateful and honored to have been included in the documentary and I feel that the production hits the hot spots of the subject matter pretty well for so short a running time. Also, I must say, it's a pleasure to have my name associated in any way, shape, form or manner with Return of the Living Dead, which I name in Horror Films of the 1980s as one of the top 15 films of the decade.

So if in addition to seeing a great zombie movie, you want to see me in action discussing horror flicks - and in my living room to boot - check out the special edition of Return of the Living Dead and "The Decade of Darkness," now available.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice...uh...Won't Get Fooled Again

Here's an informative article about AVP2 from MTV News.

I've seen the film's trailer (check below). It looks promising. I want it to be good. But the first AVP was really, really weak. The Predators looked like overstuffed professional wrestlers and every time a gore scene seemed to be coming, the damned movie cut to bloody splatter on a wall. D'oh!

*Sigh* I'm sure I'll be there on opening weekend of this sequel. Dragging Kathryn along. "Come on honey, it's going to be cool."

I had a hard time selling her on AVP, so please, someone suggest a tactic I can use to get her into a theater to see AVP2. I don't think "It can't possibly be worse than the first one..." will do the trick.

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 64: Star Wars Action Figures (Kenner)

One of the great pleasures of being a kid in the age of Star Wars was the elaborate and amazing action figure product line from toymaker Kenner. These small-sized action figures (usually about 3 inches in height, I guess), were beautifully crafted and most importantly - durable. I still have in my possession over fifty of the figures I played with when I was ten years old, and they might be scuffed or bruised but they aren't missing limbs and for the most part, the paint isn't wearing off either.

I remember back in the day that it was considered expensive when these figures were sold for $3.99 by some retailers. Most of the time - if you were lucky - you were able to purchase Kenner's Star Wars figures for $2.50. I remember desperately trying to complete my collection and get every figure possible, including doubles of some (like Imperial Stormtroopers and the "Star Destroyer Commander.") Even in pre-adolescence, I wanted to build my own standing army, I guess.

Another great plus of the line was the gigantic assortment of figures. There were figures for virtually every character in the original trilogy. I'm not just talking main characters like Han Solo or Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker here, but characters like "Snaggletooth," "Hammerhead," "Squid Head" "Gamorrean Guard" "Cloud Car Pilot" and the like. Heck, anyone remember "Lobot?" Basically, if a character had even a cameo in the Star Wars film, you could possess the action figure. That was mega-cool, as was the fact that the Star Wars figures came with accessories like blasters, or in the case of Yoda, a walking stick (and a snake draped across his shoulders). Those characters who carried light sabers in the films had action figures armed with retractable Jedi sabers. Vader's was red, Kenobi's was blue, and Luke's was yellow. I remember I had fun subbing out the light sabers and giving Luke a red one, and so on.

The Star Wars action figures also fit beautifully in their Kenner-produced vehicles and playsets, which also ran the gamut (from the Millennium Falcon to the bridge of a Star Destroyer to the base on Ice Planet Hoth, to the Ewok Village). Seriously - a person could spend every last dollar on Kenner's Star Wars toys if they were so inclined simply because there was so much of the darn stuff.

I treasure this collection, even though it is mostly played out. I loved Star Wars as a kid, so very little of my collection remains "mint in box."

So anyway, here are some photos of my Star Wars Kenner Collection. They now reside in my home office where I work. It won't be long before Joel is eyeing them up with serious interest, I'm afraid...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Comic Book Flashback # 7: Battlestar Galactica (1978)

"Thousands of years ago, colonies were established throughout the universe by a mother race from the far reaches of the universe...a race known as -- human. Now, in the seventh millennium of time, a solemn and dramatic event is taking place...A peace envoy representing the twelve known colonies of man moves through space in hopes of bringing to a close a thousand-year-war..."
-Opening narration from Marvel's Battlestar Galactica comic (1978)

This is the "Marvel Super Special!" in "Full Marvelcolor!", a "Special Collector's Edition!" (Boy, someone at Marvel sure liked exclamation points back in the day...) In more specific terms, for $1.50, fans of Battlestar Galactica could read and enjoy this over-sized "official adaptation of the television sensation!"

Based on the three-hour "Saga of a Star World" by Glen A. Larson - the series premiere - this adaptation is written by Roger McKenzie and drawn by Ernie Colon. As with many comics of the age, this four-color version of a popular TV show is fascinating primarily in the way it differs from the broadcast material. Specifically, some of the ship and character designs are very different from the now-familiar versions fans remember. For instance, Baltar does not resemble John Colicos whatsoever in the comic, but is instead a bald, hulking figure, almost alien in appearance (like Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu). Sire Uri (portrayed by the late Ray Milland in the TV version) is here depicted in a strange way too: as an overweight, hoggish figure. Yes, he actually resembles a pig.

Story-wise, the comic also reflects Baltar's original fate, before it was altered to make the traitor a regular character on the series. As fans will recall, in the movie version (which played in theaters internationally), this original (and grim) fate was restored: A Cylon Centurion slit Baltar's throat at the behest of the Imperious Leader. In accordance with that original material (not the TV show), the comic features a Cylon murdering the man and depicts Baltar's bloodied (slit...) throat and a sword dripping blood. Interestingly, the scene is set "in a shadowed chamber somewhere on a hellhole known as Cylon." Even in the filmed version of the material, it occurs on a Cylon base ship, not a planet.

Perhaps most significantly, Caprican reporter Serina (Jane Seymour in the film) is in the comic book referred to as Lyra, and she is suffering from a fatal space malady that will soon take her life (a plot point adopted for the Laura Roslin character in the re-imagination). The last page of this comic edition sees Lyra begging Captain Apollo "Please, Apollo, no questions! Just whatever happens...promise me you'll look after Boxey."

I remember taking this comic-book with me on a six-week cross-country road trip in 1979, when I was nine years old. I must have read it a million times (that, and a comic-book version of the original King Kong film that I found in a Ben Franklin store in Wisconsin). In addition to the comic-book adaptation, the Battlestar Galactica super spectacular features portraits of Starbuck, Ovions, Commander Adama and Muffit, as well as a variety of articles by Tom Rogers. These included "Life in the Future," "Battle Tactics," "Spaceships and Such: Hardware Of the Future," and "Aliens and Robots." The comic also features a piece called "The Wizard of Hollywood's Dream Factory," an interview with special effects artist John Dykstra by Steve Swires.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Theme Song of the Week 10: Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982)

Monday, September 10, 2007

CHOICE reviews Horror Films of the 1980s:

The October 2007 issue of CHOICE reviews my latest genre guide, Horror Films of the 1980s. An excerpt:

"As readable and entertaining as it predecessor, this tremendous tome of terror is the quintessential concordance to the films of the dead teenager decade...Muir opts for comprehensiveness, covering each of the 300 horror flicks released between 1980 and 1989...

...Muir's genius lies in his giving context to the films. He offers a time line of events for each year, and his introductory essay documents the 1980s uncertainty that led the genre to become both influential and profitable.

...With the skill of a Jason, Muir has carved out a niche for himself with this kind of reference work. As fun as the films it documents, it will make readers run screaming for the local video store..."

Friday, September 07, 2007

What isn't Camp...

Not to sound like cranky old Andy Rooney, but I'm getting tired of every pop magazine and web site referring to old TV shows as "campy." Exhibit A is last week's People Magazine (the one with Owen Wilson on the cover). There's a brief article about the new Bionic Woman series that notes how the re-imagination won't be "campy" like the old show. This clumsy description recalls for me all the media buzz about the new Battlestar Galactica when it came out a few years back, and how the old (1978) Battlestar Galactica was "campy." Here's a campy reference; here's another; and here's one more. You see?

The Bionic Woman campy? Battlestar Galactica campy? Now, I might go along with the term "corny," given the age of both series and the manner in which audience sensibilities have changed in thirty years. But neither series is inherently or deliberately campy. "Camp" is a tongue-in-cheek attitude, a knowing (and purposeful) attitude of "so serious it's funny." Neither The Bionic Woman nor Battlestar Galactica is actually "campy" to any measurable degree. An example of a truly campy TV show is the original Adam West series, Batman; which played the Caped Crusader and his universe as "ultra-serious" to the degree it was amusing. Perhaps Kolchak: The Night Stalker occasionally was campy too; playing tongue-in-cheek moments over some of the rubber monster suits and other oddities (such as vampires running around on rooftops).

Yet The Bionic Woman and Battlestar Galactica are being called "campy" by writers whom - I suspect - never saw either original series at all; and simply (and lazily...) found an easy descriptor: "campy." I mean, it sounds good doesn't it? It's not true to history, however. In the 1970s - the age of Star Wars, The Six Million Dollar Man, Battlestar Galactica and The Bionic Woman - entertainment on film and television was at a very different point than it is now. It was more theatrical; more artificial. Today we demand abundant grittiness and naturalism and so our entertainment is "dark" and brooding to more accurately reflect how vieewers apparently see "real life." However, just because a film or TV show is more artificial or theatrical than naturalistic does not mean it is by definition campy. If it does mean that, then add Star Wars to the list of campy entertainments, I guess.

Nobody's perfect. I've used the descriptor "campy" imprecisely in the past as well. But I don't like this epidemic of labeling everything made two or three decades ago "campy," so today I'm proposing a moratorium on the clumsy use of the term. At least here, I won't be using the word "campy" synonymously with "corny" or "old fashioned." Let's hope some other writers do the same...

Freddy's Revenge Reviewed with Images

You just never know what you'll find on the Internet. My review of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (from Horror Films of the 1980s) gets featured in this Live Journal Entry ("Death Has An Aftertaste" is the blog title), accompanied by extensive photographs. I bring this up not to boast or anything, but because I think that the images from the movie selected by the author really augment the review and help make make my point (about a homosexual subtext) in the film.

Dig those eggs in the skillet..

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

McFarland New Releases - September 07

McFarland has another quartet of fascinating film/tv reference books out this month, and I wanted to bring the titles to your attention. The books are:

The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film and Culture
When the first season of Star Trek opened to American television viewers in 1966, the thematically insightful sci-fi story line presented audiences with the exciting vision of a bold voyage into the final frontiers of space and strange, new galactic worlds. Perpetuating this enchanting vision, the story has become one of the longest running and most multifaceted franchises in television history. Moreover, it has presented an inspiring message for the future, addressing everything from social, political, philosophical, and ethical issues to progressive and humanist representations of race, gender, and class.This book contends that Star Trek is not just a set of television series, but has become a pervasive part of the identity of the millions of people who watch, read and consume the films, television episodes, network specials, novelizations, and fan stories. Examining Star Trek from various critical angles, the essays in this collection provide vital new insights into the myriad ways that the franchise has affected the culture it represents, the people who watch the series, and the industry that created it.

Teachers in the Movies
The teaching profession has a long history in motion pictures. As early as the late 19th century, films have portrayed educators of young children—including teachers, tutors, day care workers, nannies, governesses, and other related occupations—in a variety of roles within the cinematic classroom. This work provides a broad index of over 800 films (both U.S. and foreign) which feature educators as primary characters. Organized alphabetically by title, each entry contains a short plot summary and many also include cast and crew details. A detailed subject index is also included.

Second City Television
This work offers a complete episode guide and comprehensive history of Second City Television. The influential Canadian sketch comedy series created dozens of memorable characters (i.e. station president Guy Caballero and showbiz mogul Johnny LaRue) and featured well-known performers such as John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Short, at the height of their comedic careers. Presenting a thorough summary and review for each of SCTV’s 135 episodes, the author traces the initial appearance and evolution of some of comedy’s best known television characters and sketches. Two appendices provide guides to the program’s compilation shows and recently released boxed sets on DVD.

Hollywood Horror from the Director’s Chair
Profitable, relatively inexpensive to produce, and with a faithful built-in audience, Hollywood horror franchise films have long dominated the market for generic feature film productions. This work examines the significant effects, good and bad, that the horror franchise genre has had on the careers of several American film directors, including Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), Don Coscarelli (Phantasm), and Joe Berlinger (Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows). A comprehensive bibliography is included, along with an extensive alphabetical filmography of popular horror franchise films

The Road Warrior (1982)

I first viewed  The Road Warrior  on a double bill with  Superman III  at the Castle Theater in Irvington, New Jersey. I was thirteen or fou...