Category Archives: Movies

Why All The Nerd Rage?

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“Look, fellas! A film that didn’t go the way we wanted. Let’s burn it! BURN IT!!”

First off, I am a nerd. I freely admit it. I’m interested in and excited by many of the same things one thinks of typical nerds being interested in and excited by. I like comic books, Harry Potter, old monster movies, Star Trek, toys, science stuff, Star Wars, etc. I work at a comic book store. I blog about nerdy things. I understand the passion nerds have toward their thing.

I’m not into everything nerd, though. I don’t do cosplay. I’ve never participated in roll playing games. (Well, there was that one time in the ’70s when a friend tried to get me interested in Dungeons & Dragons. It just wasn’t for me.) I don’t play video games, because, honestly, I was never very good at them. I’ve never watched an episode of Game Of Thrones. (Yes, I’m aware that last statement has become today’s version of the “I’m vegan” boast. Sorry.) But, not everybody is into everything. Who has the time?

Still, I understand the passion. There was a time when I scoffed at Trekkers who dress as their favorite characters and go to conventions, but I realized I was being a jerk. Let the people indulge their passion. As long as they aren’t hurting themselves or others – what’s the problem? Have fun! Nerd out! Be proud!

I also understand the disappointment a nerd might feel when they believe one of their passions has let them down. It’s the rage that some express so publicly and so vehemently that puzzles me. The internet has made it possible for every nerd to have their say and, boy, are we having our say. (See update below.) Much of which, that I’ve seen anyway, is fairly benign. Some of it is quite interesting and well thought out and well presented.

But, there seems to be a small segment that needs to rage about stuff. And they also seem to need to be the first to express hate for something. On my podcast Dimland Radio (available on iTunes), for the last couple weeks, I talked about my bewilderment about a couple of raging nerds on social media being first in line to hate two movies that haven’t even been released yet!

These folks were angry at teaser trailers!

Teaser trailers!

What the hell? The movies haven’t been released, but they appear to want to be able to say, “I was the first to hate it!”

One trailer is for DC Comics’ upcoming stand-alone film focusing on the origin story of perhaps the greatest villain in comic books – The Joker. As I understand it, Joker, to be released in October, will not be a part of the same DC Universe as the other DC movies. However, it might connect to a future Batman movie.

That didn’t stop one particular nerd from expressing their hatred of the movie. Their main gripe was that Joaquin Phoenix was cast in the title role. The nerd wanted Willem Dafoe. Dafoe might have been a fine choice, but to rage about it? I mean, they weren’t just disappointed about the casting choice. They were angry.

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I tried to settle the person down by reminding them (twice) that the movie hasn’t been released yet. I was suggesting they put their rage on hold until they actually see the movie. They wouldn’t budge.

I think Joker looks like it could be very interesting and I’m looking forward to it.

But, then there’s the Star Wars franchise. Oh, my goodness. There may be no other nerd passion that can cause more rage than Star Wars.

Full disclosure here. I think the Prequels missed the mark. I think there was way too much George Lucas involved. He had attained such a high level of success and power that there was no one around to rein him in. No one to suggest less Jar Jar and more Darth Maul. No one to suggest the love story in Episode II is awful. No one to suggest that, though it looks really cool, the final lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin taking place essentially inside a volcano is ridiculous.

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“Sniff. Sniff. Anakin? Do you smell something cooking?”

“I do, Master. It’s us! We’re surrounded by lava! It’s just like being in an oven!”

The biggest problem with the Prequels was the audience never knew who was supposed to be us. Which character were we supposed to identify with? Anakin? Padme? Obi-Wan? Jar Jar?

In movies I’ve previously blogged about the audience knows who to identify with. In 12 Angry Men (1957) it’s Juror #8. In The Maltese Falcon (1941) it’s Sam Spade. In L.A. Confidential (1997) the audience is given three characters to put ourselves in the place of: Officer White, Lt. Exley, and Sgt. Vincennes. In a lesser movie, this might confuse the audience. But, for this movie, the script and the direction are so great the audience goes right along with it.

The Prequels didn’t have great scripts and direction.

I will say the Prequels aren’t all bad. Visually they are stunning. Although, I would argue the over-reliance on green screen and CGI caused a problem with the tone of the movies. The tone just didn’t feel the same as it did in the original trilogy.

So, I was disappointed by them. I’m not angry about it. They didn’t destroy my childhood. And I should say that I also don’t sense the nerd anger as strongly when it comes to the Prequels. Mainly, I think, the nerd reaction is more of an eye-rolling. The anger wasn’t quite there.

Then came the Sequels.

The Sequels’ arrival happen to coincide with the ubiquity of opinion on the internet, with the rise of social media. Now the rage could begin in earnest.

The Force Awakens? That’s just the same as A New Hope. At least the Prequels were different! The Last Jedi? That’s… that’s just too… different. These new movies have destroyed my childhood!!

Settle down.

I think these new Star Wars films do precisely what the Prequels did not: They match the tone of the originals. That may be, in part, due to the far more prominent use of practical effects than in Episodes I, II & III. Practical effects are there. They have mass. The actors can act with them. They still work better than CG effects, although CG is getting pretty damn good.

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The characters are more well-defined. We are given a hero to follow and identify with: Rey. And we are given other new characters of interest: Finn and Poe. We have a complicated and compelling villain: Kylo Ren. We have a new plucky little friend: BB-8. And, of course, our old friends have returned: Han, Leia, Threepio, R2, Chewie, Yoda, and Luke.

Sure, the films aren’t perfect. Some of the jokes don’t land. Some of the dialogue is clunky. A character or two are bit on the cartoonish side. (Cough! Cough! Hux! Cough!) But the original trilogy wasn’t perfect either. Alec Guiness himself said at the time that he thought the dialogue wasn’t the best he’d read. So it’s not Mamet or Tarantino. So what? The Ewoks are a bit too teddy bearish to be taken seriously. So what? There’s no backstory for the Emperor. So what?

The movies are fun. And that’s what I want from a Star Wars movie.

Last week, the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker dropped. It looks fantastic! I don’t know that it will live up to the trailer, I’ll have to wait to see the movie to be sure, but I am excited.

I had an exchange with one angry nerd who, mere moments after the trailer was posted online, practically tripped over himself to announce to Facebook that they already hated it. “Look at me! I hated it first!”

The angry nerd lamented that Disney can’t match George Lucas’ storytelling ability. Really? Disney? Disney?!  Well, here’s his comment and my sarcastic response:

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For the record, I will say that I have really liked the Star Wars sequels and the side stories of Rogue One and Solo. In fact, I think The Last Jedi is one of the best of the entire series.

Maybe I’m just a nerd contrarian.

Update: I changed this line to include myself as one of the opinionated nerds. After all, I’m a nerd who is taking advantage of the internet to have my say, too. I’m just not raging about it.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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You know what’s a really good movie with a dozen not-so-happy fellows in a jury room?

Perhaps my regular readers have noticed there hasn’t been a new post by me for two weeks. If not, you guys need to pay closer attention. I mean, come on! It’s been two weeks!

Well, there is a good reason for my absence: I had jury duty.

This was the third time Ramsey County, MN found the need for my services. When I received the summons, I said to my wife, “Ah, man. Can’t they pick on someone else?”

This tour of jury duty was even more special than my previous stints. This one lasted nearly two weeks. Normally, Ramsey County only requires citizens to give up a week of their lives, unless you end up on a jury and the trial extends past that week. Which is what happened this time. (It could have been worse. A fellow juror had once served on a trial that lasted six weeks!)

This was a civil case. A man was suing his attorney for legal malpractice, alleging negligence in drafting a stock sale agreement. It was a complicated case with loads of emails to sift through. But, it was more interesting than you might think. We found in the plaintiff’s favor.

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As in my previous jury duty stints, I got to thinking about Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957). This classic jury room drama stars Henry Fonda as Juror #8, who, at first, stands as the lone not guilty vote in a murder case requiring the death penalty. The film shows us how #8 gradually brings the other jurors to his side.

Oh, he didn’t necessarily think the 18 year-old man on trial was innocent of the murder of his father as the deliberations began, he just thought the jurors should discuss the case and not return such a quick verdict. It did seem cut and dried once all the evidence had been presented, but he just didn’t feel right sending a young man to the chair without talking about it first. So, he said, “Not guilty.”

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He expressed having a problem with the quality of the court-appointed attorney the young man had as a defender. Juror #8 thought the attorney let too many things slip by without really questioning them. A lawyer should fight tooth and nail for a client facing the death penalty. He thought the accused should have asked for another lawyer.

With his position made known to the other jurors, it was decided that each of the 11 for guilty would take a minute or two to discuss why they believed the young man killed his father. (This was a nice way to catch the audience up on the particulars of the case.) Most of the jurors get a chance to speak, until some came in out of turn with other comments.

Still the case was laid out. A fight between the father and son was heard earlier in the evening, later another fight was heard. This time the son was heard shouting, “I’m going to kill you!” The downstairs neighbor heard the boy shout that threat and then heard a body hit the floor and someone immediately run out of the apartment; then the neighbor saw the accused running down the stairs. A neighbor in the apartment across the street actually saw the young man stab his father and run away.

When the boy returned home much later that night, he found the police in his apartment. He claimed to have been at the movies when the murder occurred. But, in his father’s chest was a switchblade knife that was identical to the one the poor young fellow was known to possess. A knife that was considered to be unique with a curvy blade and a handle with an inlay of a dragon. A knife which he claimed to have lost through a hole in his pocket.

OK, I’m convinced. The kid killed his father.

Except, that knife was not as unusual as the jurors were led to believe. Juror #8 stood and pulled from his pocket a knife that was identical to the murder weapon. It would be incredible to think that someone else had killed the man with an identical knife, but as the dissenting juror pointed out it was possible. The first inkling of reasonable doubt?

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It was a dramatic moment, but the other jurors were unconvinced. Juror #8 conceded that he didn’t intend hang the jury. He made a bargain. He asked for another vote, this one secret, with him abstaining. If there were still 11 votes for guilty, he would go along with the group.

The vote was taken. One man changed his vote…

I won’t go into the plot any further. If you haven’t seen this film, I want you to enjoy the way it unfolds. (Yes, I know I’ve already indicated how it comes out, but how good a movie would it be if the jury was hung or found the kid guilty?)

The acting throughout is really good. These actors are all up to the task. Going around the table from Juror #1: Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber. There isn’t a bad performance put in by any of these talented men.

Two cool things to point out about this movie:

1) As the jurors make their way into the jury room, we get to listen in on snippets of conversations as they make their way to their seats. If you watch closely, you will noticed it is all done in one shot. The actors and the camera all make their way around the room seamlessly. I had watched this movie a dozen times before I noticed the scene was one long take.

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2) When Juror #10 (Ed Begley) gets particularly angry, he goes on a racist tirade. That’s not cool, but the way the other jurors respond is. They act like mature adults. They don’t shout him down or beat him up. They turn their backs. They simply move away and wait for him to lose steam.

12 Angry Men is a brilliant film and ought to be required viewing for all prospective jurors (and everyone else for that matter).

Except.

In the real world, this would have been a mistrial. Read no further, if you don’t want a big spoiler.

A friend explained this to me and my recent jury duty confirmed it. Jurors aren’t supposed to do any investigation of their cases. They are to solely decide the case on the evidence and testimony presented at trial.

So, what does Juror #8 do? Just after he produced the knife, he admitted to walking through the boy’s neighborhood, getting a feel for it. It was there where he found and bought the knife. Folks, that would be considered investigating and that’s is a no-no.

OK, so he investigated? So, what?

None of the other jurors are going say anything. Heck, none of them even mentioned he violated the rules of the court. Only one pointed out that he broke the law by purchasing a switchblade knife, and that notion was pretty much just shrugged off.

The thing is the dunderheads left the second knife in the jury room! The bailiff, after escorting the men to the courtroom to give their verdict, would have returned to the deliberation room to clean up. He would have found the second knife and reported it to the judge and the jurors would be brought back in to explain its presence.

“So, Juror #8 did some investigating, did he? Mistrial!”

Oh well, the movie world isn’t the real world.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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You know what’s a really good movie about cops and corruption set in 1950s Los Angeles?

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“I know Titanic will probably win, but this really is the best movie of the year.”

Those words were said by me to my parents right after we watched the modern classic cop drama L.A. Confidential soon after it hit theaters in 1997. Based on the novel by James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential was directed by Curtis Hanson, who was also co-producer and co-wrote the screenplay. This movie has a stellar ensemble cast: Kevin Spacey (more on him in an upcoming aside), Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and David Strathairn.

Those last three actors were completely new to me. I was quite surprised to learn Crowe and Pearce weren’t Americans. The latter is an Australian born in England, while the former was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia. In the film, there isn’t a hint of an accent other than American in their performances.

Throughout the movie, everyone is in fine form. The acting is so good and the characters are so well realized, even the secondary characters are spot on.

And as the characters go, no one is pure in this story.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, front, from left: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey; back: Russell Crowe,

Cromwell is terrific as the corrupt Capt. Dudley Smith, but just how far will his corruption go? DeVito nails his role as the sleazy celebrity gossip peddler Sid Hudgens, who bribes Spacey’s character (Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes) to arrange celebrity busts for the headlines and increasing sales of Hush Hush magazine. Vincennes also gained fame through those arranged busts and that helped him land the role of technical advisor, a role he relishes, on a very Dragnet-like TV cop show.

Crowe as Officer Bud White is a cop who provides muscle in helping Capt. Smith rid Los Angeles of organized criminals, but not organized crime. You see, Dudley wants to replace the former crime boss who had been busted on a tax evasion rap. That way he can be the fine upstanding Captain of the world’s finest police force, while secretly controlling and profiting from the organized crime he’s supposed to oppose.

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Basinger won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Lynn Bracken, a high priced sex worker made to look like movie star Veronica Lake. She’s part of an expensive stable of call girls made to look like Hollywood stars run by local millionaire Pierce Patchett (Strathairn). He is said to treat his “employees” well as he caters to a more exclusive clientele. His slogan is “Whatever You Desire.”

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And then there’s Sgt. Edmund Exley, son of a legendary cop who was killed on duty. That murder was never solved. Exley, a highly intelligent, scheming, and ambitious, if naive, cop, is determined to live up to and perhaps surpass his father’s legacy.

On Christmas Eve, chaos erupts in the jail cell area of police headquarters. Earlier in the evening, two cops got in a minor skirmish with a group of Hispanic men, who had initially gotten away. But they’re caught and brought in and the over-served police officers celebrating the holiday mete out some payback punishment of their own.

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The press was there and caught the violence on camera and it was big news the next day. Embarrassing news for the LAPD and they needed to save face. That’s when Exley’s smarts and ambition took him from a Sergeant to a Detective Lieutenant. It also made him an enemy of every other cop in the precinct, including Officer White.

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Then came the Nite Owl.

But, first, a short aside.

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Kevin Spacey is in this movie and he’s not very highly thought of at the moment. He’s been accused of sexual misconduct with one case involving a minor. He’s also on trial for sexually assaulting an 18 year-old man.

Our legal system has the presumption of innocence as it’s baseline, but these accusations can’t help but taint the work Spacey has done over his career, much of it outstanding performances, such as his role as Jack Vincennes.

In most cases involving entertainers being flawed human beings or maybe having social and political views I don’t agree with, I try to consider the art and not the artist. It’s not always easy. It’s easy for me to not watch the Spacey movies that I thought were crap (Hurlyburly? Have you seen it? It’s horrible!), but Se7en? The Ref? The Usual Suspects? Baby Driver? Should I give up watching those?

Your answer might be yes. And that’s fair. You might think less of me for it, but I’m going to keep watching the art, while grimacing at the artist when it comes to Kevin Spacey. What you do is your decision.

Aside over, now back to the blog.

Right. Then came the Nite Owl.

The Nite Owl was an all night diner at which the customers and staff were murdered one night during a robbery. Exley was the first detective on the scene, but Capt. Smith took over the case the moment he arrived. It was soon discovered one of the victims was a former cop. He was Bud White’s partner before he was drummed out of the force for taking part in the Christmas Eve brawl.

That’s where I’m going to leave it. To go into any more details of the plot would risk spoiling a story that twists and turns its way through the seedy side of sunny California in the 1950s. There are betrayals, team-ups, double-crosses, some romance, terrific action, and one excellent out-of-nowhere gasp moment! I mean my mother, when she saw that moment, literally gasped.

The production, including using popular music of the time, is spotless as it captures the look and feel of what many think was a simpler time, a more innocent time, a greater time in American history. Except there never was a time of innocence. There was always a dark side to society. And there were always men and women willing to take advantage of it.

It’s brilliant!

If you haven’t seen it. Watch it! If you have, watch it again!

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Packing Peanuts!

Correction 2/1/19: I had the name of that crappy Kevin Spacey movie wrong. I said it was Hodge Podge, but the name is Hurlyburly. I made the correction.

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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An Old (And Pretty Much Solved) Complaint

Going way back to the early days of the cinema there has been what is known as the widescreen format: A film with its image being wider than it is tall. This format is also called landscape, because it’s the best format for capturing the horizon in nature. And in those early days, there was also a more square format for movies. Both formats were fairly common until Hollywood (and the rest of the world) was plunged into the Great Depression and in the early 1930s movies went to the more square image. It was a move to help limit costs.

Then, in the early 1950s with the American economy booming, televisions became more and more common and Hollywood began to worry it would lose its movie-going audience. Theaters installed air conditioning and some movies experimented with 3D in hopes of pulling people away from their TV sets.

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Another way Hollywood tried to entice movie-goers was to return to the widescreen format with VistaVision and CinemaScope. Using that wider screen, filmmakers made epics even more epic; filling the screens with luscious colors, vast landscapes, and thrilling action. And it worked. People went to see those magnificent spectacles.

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Then a new problem arose. Audiences wanted to see those movies on TV and the networks wanted to show them, but how? Ben-Hur (1959) was certainly not going to fit on a more square-like screen. What could they do?

The solution was to have someone crop the image and move that crop from side to side to shift the focus. The process was called pan and scan. Most people wouldn’t notice, but filmmakers and movie lovers did.

Pan and scan made the images and characters feel too close to the camera. Many films felt claustrophobic. Action scenes became confusing and far less impactful. The use of pan and scan essentially was a re-directing or re-interpretation of the film. The technician doing the cropping had to decide which part of the image to show and which part to leave out. The process changed the films. And absolutely ruined them.

Of course, I didn’t realize this when I was a kid. But even then I would notice that, when one of those epic films would start on TV, the opening with the title and the actors’ names would have black bars across the top and bottom of the image. Once the opening credits were complete the image would then fill the TV screen. Eventually, I understood why. They needed those bars to change the aspect ratio of the screen in order to not have the title and the actors’ names cut off at the sides.

When home video became a thing, most movies, maybe even all, were released in the pan and scan or full screen format. Eventually, filmmakers and movie lovers began to demand widescreen or letterboxed videos and DVDs. They wanted the entire picture, which would give the full and intended vision of the filmmaker. That meant the black bars would stay for the entire movie.

Well, a couple weeks ago I watched the mess of a movie Mackenna’s Gold (1969) on DVD. It came into Nostalgia Zone and I borrowed this favorite from when I was a kid. It is a mess. The producers realized the movie was so confusing they had to rely heavily on a narrator to keep the audiences clued in on what the hell was going on.

It was also in full screen. Ugh.

I was able to grab an image from the internet that shows how this particular shot was supposed to look. I then cropped the image to look the way it appeared in the pan and scan.

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This is how it was supposed to look.

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This is pan and scan.

In a movie as lousy as Mackenna’s Gold it probably isn’t vitally important to see Telly Savalas in the same shot. But, let’s look at a shot from Tombstone (1993). A sometimes silly (I mean just how many bullets does Holliday have in his two six-shooters during the big OK Corral gunfight? 40?), but very rousing and entertaining Western telling the tale of the Earp Brothers’ and Doc Holliday’s battle with the lawless gang known as The Cowboys. The shot (sorry about the poor quality of the image) is from the scene in which Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) meet for the first time.

As you can see in the widescreen shot, the two gunman are intended to be on screen at the same time. This adds to the tension of the scene. We are supposed to see the two interact with each other and we are also meant to see the reactions of the surrounding characters – all at the same time.

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All the actors interacting in this scene is what makes this such a great shot.

A full screen version of this scene would be laughable. In the wide shot, it would have to pan back and forth between Ringo and Holliday. It would be distracting and would kill the impact of the scene.

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Pan and scan would force the scene to…

 

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…cut back and forth between the two characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think you get the idea.

As the headline of this blog suggests, I realize that we live in great times for film lovers, because our TVs have all gone widescreen. This also means that full screen videos and DVDs are old hat. No one does the pan and scan anymore, so why am I complaining?

Eh. It’s what I do.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Horror Incorporated Didn’t Need A Host

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“Lurking among the corpses are the body-snatchers, plotting their next venture into the graveyard…”

Those were the first words that welcomed Twin Cities viewers to the weekly night of terror offered by the local TV station KSTP, back when I was a kid in the 1970s. The show was called Horror Incorporated.

There were many such creature feature offerings on local television stations all over America in those days. Our horror movie showcase was a little different than most. Ours had no host.

No Vampira. No Ghoulardi. No Mister Lobo. No Sir Graves Ghastly. No Doctor Creep. No Sharon Needles. No Grimsley.

No host.

But my research does show that Horror Incorporated did indeed, however briefly, have a couple of hosts. First was Dr. Paul Bearer (get it?) in the early 1970s. There also appears to have been a second host in the mid-70s, who went by the name Graves. Neither host lasted very long. For the majority of its run from the fall of 1969 until sometime in the later 1970s (I’m not certain when it ended) there was no host.

And having no host was good, because…

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Not a great Dracula.

In the 2000s, the show was revived with hosts. There were two attempts at a revival, in fact. I don’t know which came first, but one was hosted by Count Dracula, who stood in front of a green screen and did a not so great Bela Lugosi impression. He would make puns and tell a few facts related to the featured horror movie. He would then tell viewers to “OBEY!” and come back next week. Lame, but the actor did his best with what he had to work with.

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Not the Addams Family.

The other attempt had a small cast of young actors doing sort of a take off on the Addams Family. In fact, the main character, Uncle Ghoulie (center in above photo. No, not the wolf!), was a cross between Gomez Addams (as played by the great John Astin on the ’60s TV show) and Svengoolie, a current and longtime horror show host. They did skits and tried their best to insert humor into the proceedings. They had varying degrees of success.

Neither incarnation lasted long.

I might have a bit of nostalgic bias here, but I prefer no host. That’s the way I saw the Friday night creature feature when I was a kid. There was no silliness, except what might have been in the movie. The way that version was presented was to absolutely creep you out. You were supposed to be scared. It set the tone for a scary movie. And if they had a good one to show, one with Lugosi or Karloff, perhaps, the viewer would be in the proper mood for a scare and not a giggle.

The show featured a simple open and close which often times were far more frightening than the featured film. They consisted of a sparse set: Black with only a coffin in a spotlight. And, of course, there was fog. The lighting would change from harsh white to yellow, blue, purple, green, red. There were sounds of creaking doors, shrieks, groans, and cries of anguish. And then the lid of the coffin would begin to open and two pale, claw-like, almost skeletal, hands would come into sight. The occupant was rising from his coffin to head into the night in search of blood… I’m guessing.

And there was the voice-over provided by Jim Wise, who was also working for KSTP radio. He sounded excellent as he welcomed viewers to that week’s “excursion through Horror Incorporated…” Chills! Good old-fashioned, blood-curdling chills, folks!

When the feature was complete, the scene returned to the coffin. This time its occupant was returning from a night of terrorizing innocents. And the voice-over told us…

“Next week, I will be back again with another venture into the chamber of horror. Come along for another experience through the unknown, into Horror Incorporated.”

Now just try to get some sleep, kids!

You can watch the opening and closing at this link. See if you don’t agree that it is very effective. Also, visit The Horror Incorporated Project. It’s a fun site that really helped me in my research.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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A Pedant Watches Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Warning! Spoilers ahead.

On my podcast, Dimland Radio (available on iTunes & Podbean) I do a semi-regular segment I call the Dimland Radio Pedantic Moment. It’s a moment in which I’ll get all pedantic on some usually minor thing I’ve noticed. For example, in one of those life insurance TV ads Alex Trebek does he mentions the three P’s of life insurance offered by a particular company. They are Price, Price, and Price. A Price you can afford, a Price that cannot change, and a Price that fits your budget.

Um, Alex? A price that fits my budget is a price I can afford. So, it’s really only two P’s then, isn’t it?

See? Like that.

Sometimes my pedantic moments are rather lengthy. On last week’s show my moment was a long one. It covered much of what I didn’t understand about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A listener to my podcast attempted to assist me in getting past my pedantry, but some of it is still mystifying to me. I thought I’d go over the problems I have with the film here, as well.

Don’t get me wrong! I really like the movie. It’s just that…

The plot.

A super-advanced, extraterrestrial species, which had been visiting our planet and kidnapping our people for decades (unless you believe they built the Egyptian pyramids – they didn’t, humans did – then they’ve been coming here for thousands of years), had decided to make themselves known by driving average people crazy by implanting an image of Devil’s Tower in their minds without any explanation as to why. The people are just compelled to figure it out and go there.

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“Huh. Where have I seen that before?”

The aliens are kinda jerks.

They also steal a four year old boy right from his terrified mother’s arms. Because they needed just one more human, I guess.

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“It’s OK, lady. We’re just going to do a few experiments on him.”

No, the aliens aren’t kinda jerks. They are complete ——–!

(I prefer not to swear on this blog, but you know what I mean.)

They have also been leaving clues for the government to come meet them at Devil’s Tower. The government scares off the locals and builds a base which includes a landing strip, for some reason, and wait for our interplanetary neighbors to show up.

The pedantry.

Something the government people picked up on is a series of five musical notes coming from the spacemen that they think means something. They think it is important. This is where I get a little lost. There’s a meeting of the government people in Carnegie Hall or some similar facility, in which the head man demonstrates some hand signals matched up with the music. The hand signals come from a method of teaching music developed by a fellow named Zoltan Kodaly.

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“It’s been my life-long dream to play a reel-to-reel tape machine to a live audience.”

This is received with thunderous applause from the government people in attendance. It was met by me with a confused, “Huh?”

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“Hot crowd! Hot crowd!”

So, at the end of the movie, the alien mothership shows up and the humans and ET have a musical conversation. But, how do we earthlings know what to say in response to whatever it is that the little grey men are saying? Sure, some fellow says the aliens are teaching us a basic tonal language, whatever that means. Another says it’s the first day of school, but how do we know what the tones mean? How do we know what to play back?

On my first day of school, if my teacher had asked me to spell cat without first teaching me the alphabet, it would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? If the aliens are trying to communicate with us using musical notes, we would need to know what the notes represent first, wouldn’t we? And yet the government men somehow know how to respond. One of them tells the musician what to play; at first, eventually a computer takes over. The musician is the only one who seems to understand my confusion. He even asks, “What are we saying to each other?”

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The musician (in the middle) is thinking to himself, “Well, at least it’s a payin’ gig.”

Remember Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in which a massive space probe is destroying the earth trying to talk to extinct humpback whales? It was the Enterprise crew that figured that out, so Admiral Kirk suggests that they respond by reproducing humpback whale sounds. Mr. Spock correctly points out that though they could make the sounds, they don’t know the language. “We would be responding in gibberish.”

Isn’t that what the humans were doing in that scene in Close Encounters?

My pedantic moment continued with my discussion of the return of the hostages these heartless aliens had been picking up on their numerous visits. Out of the mothership pile several confused people, some of whom had been gone for decades. Just how thrilled will they be to learn their loved ones had moved on or even died. “Thanks a lot, alien buddy old pal.”

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“Welcome back. You’re wife has remarried and she’s in her 60s.”

They could comfort themselves by saying, “Well, at least, I haven’t aged.” Because the aliens must have been traveling at light speed the entire time they had held these people captive. And this led to a remark made by one of the government men when another said that Einstein was right about the whole the relativity thing and aging. The remark was, “Einstein was probably one of them.” Them being the aliens.

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“Don’t look now, but isn’t that Ash from Aliens standing behind us?”

When I was a kid I thought that line was profound. Now I find it incredibly irksome. The suggestion that the human species can’t produce someone as intelligent as Einstein is profoundly insulting. Much the same way believing the ancient Egyptians weren’t capable of building the pyramids is profoundly insulting.

And here’s the pedantic thing: The government people were expecting these hostages to be returned. They had a checklist of names and a big board of photographs. How did they know? We hadn’t even learned to communicate yet! Remember? It’s the first day of school!

And just how do we know these people weren’t replicants as in Blade Runner or pod people as in The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers? They could have be sent here to take over the world! Look, the aliens have shown they don’t care about the loved ones left behind when they take prisoners. They pulled cute, innocent, trusting, little Barry right out of his mother’s arms. They didn’t give a damn.

I don’t trust them.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it. It’s still a great movie.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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That’s Not How That Works

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There is a very real effect out there known as the CSI Effect. It’s what happens to lay people when it comes to their expectations of forensic science due to what they’ve seen on any of the numerous CSI TV series. For the purposes of artistic and dramatic license Hollywood has been exaggerating what forensic science can do for decades. And I just saw another example.

In 1948, 20th Century Fox released Call Northside 777, a film noir classic based on a true story. It stars James Stewart as the cynical newspaper reporter J.P. McNeal, who has been assigned to do a story on an ad offering $5000 (that’s more than $50,000 in today’s money) to anyone who can provide evidence that will free an innocent man from prison.

OK, stop right here and know that there are big spoilers ahead.

The innocent man is Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and it’s his mother (Kasia Orzazewski) who has worked as a janitor for eleven years to raise the money. Wiecek was convicted and sentenced to 99 years for killing a cop in 1932, the height of the Prohibition Era. He was essentially convicted by the testimony of one eyewitness.

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James Stewart and Lee J. Cobb

McNeal thinks the story is a waste of time, but his editor (Lee J. Cobb) presses him to dig deeper. The initial story “Mac” wrote was getting good response, so the digging continued. Without me going through everything, the cynical reporter comes to believe Wiecek to be innocent. Despite the evidence uncovered by Mac being compelling, the newspaper’s lawyer speaks the hard truth that it isn’t the kind of evidence that will convince the coroner’s inquest to overturn the verdict.

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“Sorry, boys. But the evidence isn’t good enough.”

McNeal needs to get the witness to recant her testimony or find new evidence. Or drop the story.

The witness refuses, even though it’s learned that she didn’t recognize Wiecek as the killer at first. It seemed the police worked with her a little bit, because it’s also learned that she and the accused had been together with the police the day before she finally picked him out of a line up. However, the court transcripts showed testimony that she hadn’t seen the accused the day before she identified him.

If Mac could only prove the accused and the witness had seen each other the day before, that would discredit her testimony and taint her identification of the accused. He just needed to find the evidence.

With time running out before the newspaper’s lawyer was to apologize to the coroner’s inquest and drop the case, MacNeal found an old photograph showing Wiecek and the witness together being escorted into police headquarters. The indications were that the photo was taken the day before the line up, but could Mac prove the timing?

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“Enlarge that newsie!”

Up to this point, the film was pretty good. Not the best film noir I’ve seen, but I was enjoying it. And then it happened. This pedant has been bugged by this dramatic device for years. Lots of old cop shows have done it, I can remember a specific episode of Columbo that did it, and Blade Runner (1982) does its variation of blowing up a photograph to get details that just aren’t there. It’s just not possible.

With Blade Runner, I’m a little more forgiving, because it’s set in the future (2019!) and there’s technology far advanced to what we have now. (Next year is going to be interesting. Replicants, flying cars, cool computer devices that can turn corners in photographs.) But, in 1943, when this picture is set? No way!

Here’s what happens. Mac has part of that photograph enlarged first to 100x, then to 140x, and finally “as big as possible.” The part he’s interested in shows a newsie way off in the background, across the street, holding a stack of newspapers. What the intrepid reporter is attempting to do is zero in on where the date would be on the newspaper the boy is holding.

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100x

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140x

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Oh, please!

And there it is! The date! Proving the photograph was taken the day before the eyewitness identified Wiecek in that line up. Proving that the witness was mistaken or lying about not seeing the accused since the crime until that line up. Proving that she may have been influenced by the police to identify Wiecek in that line up.

Wiecek was set free.

(Uh, it’s a good thing no one suggested the newsboy could have been holding a stack of newspapers from the day before the photograph was taken. Cough! Cough!)

So, for me, the movie ended with an, “Oh, that’s impossible!”

By the way, I said the film was based on a true story. It is, but, according to Wikipedia:

“In actuality, innocence was determined not as claimed in the film but when it was found out that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the main witness had initially declared that she could not identify the two men involved in the police shooting.”

Not quite as sexy, I guess.

Packing Peanuts!

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