On My Unapologetic Love for The Oscars (with predictions)

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I don’t know anyone else where I live now who cares about The Oscars. There are a lot of casual movie fans here, and some of the best movie theaters in the country, but the amount of people who are really hardcore movie buffs is pretty small. Every Oscar season I tend to hear the same comments…Hollywood wingnuts patting each other on the back with meaningless awards, who cares?

Well, I do. I love movies, and I love watching the Academy Awards to an almost irrational degree. Now that I live in a part of the country that makes me feel like some kind of freak for being this way, I decided to look at what makes me how I am.

A little of it is the simple fact that I grew up approximately 100 miles from Hollywood. In LA, the Oscars are a BFD. Even being somewhat removed like I was, if you live in or around Los Angeles, show business impacts your life in some way.

It starts first thing the morning of the show, when the morning news tells you what streets around the theater are blocked off for the day, and how those closings will affect traffic. Then you’ll see some footage of the setup going on inside and out. As the red carpet fires up there’s always an overhead shot from a helicopter, showing the line of limos going around the block (I always wondered how all the limo drivers killed the time until the show was over). Afterwards there are reporters at all the after-parties trying to catch celebrities; it’s inescapable.

There’s something else, though, because even a lot of my friends in California didn’t/don’t get into the Oscars like my wife and I do—it’s like Super Bowl Sunday for us. I’ve always had a love not just for movies, but for movie making. The whole process, the business of making movies. In a lottery wet dream, if I won millions of dollars one of the things I would do is start a movie production company and make movies for the rest of my life.

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When I was a kid I always loved playing make believe. I was in a school play as a lawyer in maybe second or third grade, and I loved it. I’m barely able to make eye contact in a one on one conversation, but give me a part to play, let me be a character, and I come out of my shell.

So, to summarize—I love movies. Everything about them. Oscar night is a national holiday in BooksofJobe-istan, so I’m putting out my Oscar thoughts on now because no writing will be getting done after about 10 am on Sunday. I will, however be sending the occasional tweet throughout the day, so if you’re so inclined follow me on Twitter if you don’t already and share my little slice of Hollywood heaven with me.

Alright, on to my thoughts for the show.

As much as I love Ellen, I’m a little underwhelmed about her hosting this year. I’m sure there will be some really funny bits and some laugh out loud jokes, but it just feels a little…safe. I’m sure she’ll do a fine job, but until they find that next Billy Crystal-in-his-prime-level host I wish they’d keep searching and trying out new hosts. Seth MacFarlane was surprisingly good, but not quite right.

As far as the actual Oscar race, this year is anticpated to be rather surprise free (as are my predictions). There are clear favorites in every main category with the exception of Best Picture, which (according to some) is a three-way dead heat. I don’t mind when there are no real surprises in store, what I really enjoy are seeing people who are winning for the first time, especially the ones who you can tell are deeply touched to have won. And not just in the major categories, either. When some guy wins for one of the technical categories, then goes up there and starts choking up saying how it’s for his dad who just passed away recently or something like that? I love that stuff.

So with that, here are my (rather safe) predictions for the major awards on Sunday:

BEST-PICTURE-OSCARS-2014

Best Picture

12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

This is seen by most to be a 3 picture race between Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle. I would be absolutely shocked if American Hustle won, I really see this as just between the other two. Gravity was a major accomplishment in filmmaking and I expect it to be rewarded handsomely, but I still feel like the academy will hand the prize to the more “serious” film. Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor

Christian Bale (American Hustle)

Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street)

Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

There are a lot of people who would like to see DiCaprio win his first Oscar for the balls out crazy performance he gave, but I think Mr McConaughey has academy voters transfixed with his McConaissance (™ Hooray for Movies). Plus, there’s no better Oscar campaign than acting your ass off in a TV show already being hailed as one of the greatest ever that is airing during Oscar season (True Detective). Prediction: McConaughey.

Best Actress

Amy Adams (American Hustle)

Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

Judi Dench (Philomena)

Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Cate Blanchett has been the frontrunner pretty much since Blue Jasmine came out and no one, not even the Oscar machine that is Meryl Streep, will be able to stop her from taking home the statue. Prediction: Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)

Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)

Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

The biggest sure thing this year. Period. Prediction: Leto

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)

June Squibb (Nebraska)

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

This again has a clear leader in Nyong’o, who has already won the smaller awards and seems poised to win her first Oscar. There’s this little voice in my head telling me there’s an outside chance June Squibb could win, but I think this one is pretty much sealed up. Prediction: Nyong’o

Best Director

Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)

It’s rare for the Academy to split Best Picture and Best Director, but that’s what I think is going to happen this year. Even if 12 Years a Slave takes home Best Picture, Alfonso Cuaron’s achievement cannot be denied. He made history with Gravity, and he’ll be rewarded for it. Prediction: Cuaron

Best Adapted Screenplay

John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)

Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)

There’s a little more wiggle room for a surprise here: the prevailing wisdom seems to be that John Ridley will win, but a lot of people would like to see Before Midnight take it home, and you really can’t rule out Terence Winter’s f-bomb extravaganza The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m torn here, because I really would like to see Winter win here, but I have to go with my gut; I think Ridley’s the man. Prediction: Ridley

Best Original Screenplay

Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine

Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club

David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle)

Bob Nelson (Nebraska)

Spike Jonze (Her)

This is another interesting race. Woody Allen is out, pretty much guaranteed, due in no small part to the drama surrounding him lately. The two favorites are American Hustle and Her, which interestingly was written by someone (Spike Jonze) that David O. Russell has previously directed (3 Kings). Her was unquestionably the most original script of the bunch, but I’m having a hard time believing American Hustle will be completely shut out. So as much as it may pain a certain friend of mine who may or may not be reading this that absolutely hated it, I’m calling Russell for the win. Prediction: Russell and Singer

Alright alright alright, that’s it. If you watch the show Sunday I hope you all enjoy it. I know I will.

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The Wilhelm Scream—Hollywood’s Inside Joke

I’m in total movie mode this week. We’re six days from the Oscars, and I’m keyed up. I’ll go into exactly why the Oscars excite me so much later in the week, but suffice it to say I’m thinking movies nonstop—making my predictions for Oscar night, reading about upcoming movies (strangely excited to see how Gone Girl turns out when it hits theaters October 3rd), and I came across a gem of a story about how one second of sound became one of the longest-standing traditions in Hollywood.

First, here—listen to this.

What started as a simple sound effect in 1951 has turned out to have a legacy no one could have ever predicted. In the film Distant Drums, a scene was shot where a character is bitten by an alligator and dragged underwater. As is usually the case, the character’s scream was recorded separately and inserted later. In post production, six screams were recorded in a single take. Three of the screams were then used for various scenes in the film and that was that. Then, as future movies were made and screams were needed, sound editors referred back to the ones already in the bank and continued using them in several Warner Brothers films over the years. By 1976 the scream had already been used in some manner in 18 films and a few episodes of TV shows.

Which brings us to 1977. Ben Burtt was the sound editor for Star Wars, and a huge movie buff. He was doing research for the film, looking for sound effects, and stumbled across the original recording  of the screams from Distant Drums. Having already noticed the recurrence of the scream throughout the years as a film student, he decided to make it a cross between an inside joke and signature of sorts. He named the scream the Wilhelm after the earliest character he knew of to utter the cry, and included it in all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Willow, Poltergeist, and several others.

A friend and colleague of Ben’s, Richard Anderson, began using the scream liberally as well, and by the 2000’s they had an impressive number of films peppered with their now-trademark wail, ranging from Planet of the Apes to Madagascar. Future generations of filmmakers also began to use the scream once it was discovered that the classic version was free to use without penalty or fines, and regardless of studio attachment.

In recent years, noted filmmakers to use the Wilhelm in their films include Peter Jackson (2 of the 3 Lord of the Rings movies) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Inglorious Basterds). Once I realized what the scream was and how often it was used, I realized it was like that road sign you pass a thousand times and don’t notice until someone points it out. I’ve unknowingly heard it probably hundreds of times, and every time I hear it from now on I can’t help but chuckle.

For a much more detailed account of how the Wilhelm came to be the stuff of legend, including a theory of whose voice is actually providing the scream, click here for the full story. And just in case you think I’m exaggerating about how much it’s been used, click here for the most recent list of movies that feature some variation of the scream (last updated in 2010 with over 200 films). There are also some compilations on YouTube, if you’re so inclined. I guarantee you, you’ve heard it before.

The Bechdel Test: I Passed and I Didn’t Even Study

I recently became aware of a sort of litmus test for movies, which I feel also relates to writing and storytelling in general. It’s called The Bechdel Test, the origins of which go back to a comic created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985. From the site Bechdeltest.com:

The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria:

(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

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Sounds pretty simple, right?

Yet despite its simple construct many, many movies fail to meet the criteria. That piqued my interest, so I decided to take a look at my own work to see how I fare.

Of the four longer projects I’ve either completed or am working on (novels/novellas), two pass and two don’t. Is that good? Should I alter the ones that don’t meet the criteria?

I understand the point of the test—to put a spotlight on gender (in)equality in moviemaking. Which makes sense, since most big budget Hollywood movies are produced by a group of old, rich, white men, and the movies they put out are not always a true representation of the moviegoing public. The publishing industry is a different beast altogether, what with the multitude of indie and genre specific publishers in the business, but that doesn’t change what became my ultimate question: whether they pass the Bechdel Test or not, are my stories relatable?

Sometimes a story just can’t have every demographic present. The Pass the Remote blog just discussed the Bechdel Test, and presented a lot of examples of movies that do and don’t cut the mustard and for what reason. As I thought about it, I realized one of my wife’s favorite movies (and mine too), The Shawshank Redemption, fails miserably. I don’t think there’s a female in the whole movie, other than a few mentions of Andy Dufresne’s wife. That doesn’t take anything away from it of make it any less of a movie (or book, as I’m sure most of you know it’s based on the novella by Stephen King).

Still, while I wouldn’t go out of my way to alter my story simply to pass this unofficial test for gender bias, I do consciously think about gender and ethnicity when I’m dreaming up a story. There’s even a version of the Bechdel that changes the focus from women to people of color—unfortunately none of my work passes that test. I want to have characters from all walks of life, but I don’t want any of them to be caricatures or stereotypes, and I don’t want to throw in characters who are flat or one dimensional just to be able to claim diversity.

One of my current works in progress features several hispanic characters, for two reasons. 1) Necessity, since the first half of the story takes place in a small town in Mexico, and 2) I have been surrounded by Latinos and their culture my whole life and am comfortable creating Hispanic characters that are realistic and three dimensional (or at least as realistic and three dimensional as any of my other characters).

My newest work in progress has an African-American character in it, my first. I did originally conceive the character as a white guy, but all the other principle characters (who am I kidding, every other character in the book) were white, and it just seemed like that was A) boring, and B) unrealistic. So I made the change, and I’m glad I did. It brings a different dynamic to the four main characters (homicide detectives) and makes the story more interesting. What I realized as I began writing this post was that I made the change because I thought it would make the story better, not because it would diversify the make up of the characters.

Now I want to hear what you guys think. As a writer, a reader, a watcher of TV and movies—how much do you think about this stuff? Will you watch/read something even if it leans one way or the other in terms of it gender and ethnic make up? Would you consider adding more diverse characters to your own story for diversity’s sake or do you trust your instincts and let it fly as it is?

Golden Globes Picks and A Few Predictions

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I have a somewhat strange fascination with awards shows (except music awards—more on that as we get closer to the Grammys). Especially, but not limited to, The Oscars and The Golden Globes. And while The Oscars are clearly the more prestigious of the two, there’s no denying The Golden Globes are a heck of a lot more fun.

For one, booze is in ample supply, and while most of the attendees manage to keep themselves in line, there’s generally a much looser atmosphere than at other stuffy awards shows. Acceptance speeches tend to be a little more off the cuff, and everyone appears to actually be enjoying themselves.

It’s also the only major awards show (unless you count the SAG Awards) that pairs both Movies and Television. That allows for a lot more interesting combinations, both in terms of presenters and who you might see mingling in the crowd or on the red carpet. The Oscars will always hold a special place in my heart (which I’ll tell you all about as we get closer to the show), but if I had to choose one awards show I’d actually want to attend, I think The Globes would win hands down.

With that, I’m going to offer up a few predictions for the telecast Sunday, January 12, 8ET/5PT, as well as my picks in the major categories. Some will be fairly educated guesses while others will be the equivalent of pinning the tail on the donkey. Okay, away we go!

Prediction: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will make me (and probably you) laugh.

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While I love both women just fine on their own, together they really are more than the sum of their parts. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, or honey and mustard, or mayonnaise and sriracha (if you haven’t tried that last one, you’re only hurting yourself). Their timing is impeccable, and they have one of the most important qualities a comedian can have: fearlessness. They will make themselves the butt of the joke at the drop of a hat if it’ll get a laugh, and I’m as excited for whatever they have planned as I am for the a lot of the awards themselves.

Prediction: An acceptance speech I want to hear will be played off while one I don’t care about will be allowed to ramble on ad nauseam.

It never fails. The show’s producers, intent on keeping the show on time, jump the gun and cue the orchestra during an especially amusing or emotional acceptance speech early in the show, while a big star is allowed to ramble on incoherently after the show is already behind schedule.

Prediction: Some of the winners will piss me off.

There are always nominees I root for more than others; that’s only natural. But I have a confession to make—sometimes I’ll start actively rooting against a certain nominee. Petty and childish? Afraid so. Part of the fun? Absolutely. I don’t necessarily have anything against any of the nominees, I just pull so hard for some of them that I get a little caught up in it all.

Prediction: I’ll be upset when I find out someone I was a fan of died during the “In Memoriam” segment.

It happens every year; usually it’s a character actor whose name I don’t know but whose face I recognize instantly. Sometimes it’s a director or even a producer I may know by name only. It usually manifests itself in a gasp of, “Oh no, he/she died? How sad.” While I’m on the topic of the In Memoriam pieces, I also have a problem with applause during the segment. Some of the shows have put a stop to this, and The Globes may be one of the ones that asks the audience to remain silent, but it bothers me when one person’s death is deemed sadder or more important than someone else’s.

Prediction: The show will run out of steam in the last hour (or two).

It’s hard for them not to, honestly. Giving out awards for three hours is boring. There’s always a lull somewhere around the halfway point that lasts until the final few awards. With any luck Amy and Tina have something planned to kickstart the show when it starts to drag, keeping the show’s momentum going to the final Globe being given out.

Okay, on to the awards. I started to give a brief explanation as to my reasoning for picking what I did, but to be honest, does it really matter? Trying to figure out who the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is going to give globes to is like trying to figure out how Nicolas Cage picks his roles; that being said, some of these I feel are pretty good guesses while others are total shots in the dark. On to the list of nominees; my picks are the ones in bold.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Philomena
Rush

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

American Hustle
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet, Labor Day

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Julia Delpy, Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Spike Jonze ,Her
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle

Best Foreign-Language Film

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (France)
The Great Beauty 
(Italy)
The Hunt 
(Denmark)
The Past 
(Iran)
The Wind Rises 
(Japan)

Best Animated Feature Film

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Frozen

Best Original Song, Motion Picture

“Atlas,” The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
“Let It Go,” Frozen
“Ordinary Love,” Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Please, Mr. Kennedy,” Inside Llewyn Davis
“Sweeter Than Fiction,” One Chance

Best Original Score, Motion Picture

Alex Ebert, All Is Love
Alex Eves, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

Best TV Movie or Miniseries

American Horror Story: Coven
Behind the Candelabra
Dancing on the Edge
Top of the Lake
The White Queen

Best TV Series, Drama

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Masters of Sex

Best TV Series, Comedy or Musical

The Big Bang Theory
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Girls
Modern Family
Parks and Recreation

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
James Spader, The Blacklist

Best Actor, TV Series Comedy

Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy

Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie

Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luther
Al Pacino, Phil Spector

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie

Helena Bonham Cater, Burton & Taylor
Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie

Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Rob Lowe, Behind the Candelabra
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Corey Stoll, House of Cards
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie

Jacqueline Bisset, Dancing on the Edge
Janet McTeer, The White Queen
Hayden Panettiere, Nashville
Monica Potter, Parenthood
Sofía Vergara, Modern Family

Cecile B. DeMille Award
Woody Allen     

There’s a small chance I may (may) live tweet the awards, so if you don’t already, follow me on Twitter via the button to your right and follow along during the show. Or I may not end up live tweeting, in which case I’ve just tricked you into following me.

Are you making picks? Play along! Disagree with any of my picks? Let me know in the comments below, and enjoy the show!

The Three Things That Shaped Me Into the Horror-Loving Weirdo I Am

Going back as far as I can remember (which is probably around the age of 8 or 10), I’ve always loved the dark side of things. The horrific. The violent. The macabre. By the time I was thirteen, I was renting slasher movies at the video store every weekend, reading the scariest books I could find, and watching any horror movie I came across on TV.

With October almost over and All Hallow’s Eve practically here, I realized I hadn’t written anything about Halloween or my love of all things frightful. I contemplated some sort of Top Horror Movies list, but to be honest, as much as I love horror there are tons of people out there who take it a lot more seriously than I do. People with encyclopedic knowledge of virtually every horror flick released since Noferatu – that sort of thing. I’m not going to insult a true horror fanatic’s intelligence by ranking horror movies when I haven’t even seen The Conjuring yet.

So I started thinking, and a question popped in my head: if I was watching and reading all this crazy stuff so young, when did it all begin? What turned me into such a little gore-obsessed freak by the seventh grade? I began to think back, and I realized if I really had to pinpoint the origins of my love for the sick and twisted it could be traced back to three things.

1. Pet Sematary – Stephen King (1983)

petsematary

It will probably come as a surprise to absolutely no one that one of my first forays into horror was via Mr. King. It wasn’t the first King book I read (that would be The Dead Zone), and it wasn’t the first horror book I read (that was Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, although I don’t remember a thing about it), but it had the biggest impact on my young, impressionable brain. I believe I was around 10 when I was given the book as a gift, and between the gore, the reincarnations, and the terror of those that have come back to life being a little ‘off’, the book captivated me like nothing I had read before it and set me on a very dark path, entertainment-wise.

2. Elvira’s Movie Macabre – KHJ-TV Channel 9, Los Angeles (1981-1986)

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Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. I don’t know if everyone reading this will know who Elvira is/was, but in L.A. in the early eighties she was a freakin’ rock star. I remember tuning in to her show every weekend and being treated to schlocky B-horror classics, as well as some not-so-classics. I was but a tiny tot, so the memory is faded at best, but the standouts I remember were The Man with Two Heads, Crucible of Terror, Blacula and especially The Incredible Melting Man. Elvira would make cheesy jokes and double entendres throughout the movie, bringing me my first glimpse of the combination of horror and comedy – another big part of what makes me, well, me.

My dad did not share my love of horror, but he would watch Elvira with me every weekend. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized that he watched for a couple of obvious reasons.

Elvira

3. Scanners – Directed by David Cronenberg (1981)

scanners

The first “serious” horror movie I remember watching (even though it’s largely part sci-fi as well). Although I would later immerse myself in all things Voorhees, Krueger, and Myers in my teens (not to mention Pinhead), before all that there was Scanners.

I haven’t re-watched the movie in ages, and to be honest I had to look it up on imdb to remind myself exactly what it was about – a group of extremely powerful psychics are able to control minds and inflict bodily harm on people at will, and they must be stopped from reaching their goal of complete global domination. But really, none of that mattered when I was a ten year old boy excited to be watching his first real, grown-up scary movie. What it really all boiled down to was one scene that burned into my brain like a smoking-hot branding iron.

A man’s head explodes right before your very eyes. There’s no cut away to blood splattering on the wall then back to the bloody stump, there’s no little spray like when someone gets shot in the movies. His head blew up into a million little pieces and it left me with my jaw hanging open and changed me forever. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

I re-watched the short clip of the exploding head before writing this, and I have to say after all these years the effect holds up incredibly well. As a young boy just getting his feet wet in the pool of horror and gore, Scanners took me and threw me in the deep end head first.

Some might think it’s odd that I enjoyed such gruesome stuff at such a young age, and some may find the fact that my parents would let me watch and read things with such graphic content a little troubling, but I turned out okay (heh heh, right? I’m okay, right?).

If you want to see the cranial carnage in question, take a deep breath and watch the 11 second clip by clicking here.

So, there you have it. The three things that set me down the path of evil, darkness, and…more evil. Writing this got me wondering: what would you point to in your childhood that set you on your path, whatever that path is? No matter what you do, for most of us one (or in some cases several) things helped shape us to go in the direction we headed. What are yours?

Have a great Halloween everyone, and since I can’t help myself: for anyone out there who doesn’t watch a lot of horror that is wanting to scare themselves silly, I would recommend turning off all the lights and watching The Descent (2005), directed by Neil Marshall, preferably with the original UK ending. Enjoy!

thedescent

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

I’ve come to the point in my blog where I feel I need to mention something – I’m not a film critic. This is not a movie review blog, I just talk about movies once in a while and give my opinions. I say this because there are so many good blogs out there dedicated to film review, and I feel I’m doing a disservice if I don’t mention them. Just off the top of my head head you have Zany Zach’s Blog, Fandango Groovers Movie Blog, and (with all due respect to the first two) my personal favorite, Hooray for Movies. All these gentlemen do a fantastic job reviewing movies on a regular basis, and I am nowhere near their league. Please visit the above blogs for you normal movie-reviewing needs.

That being said, here’s a half-assed movie review. 🙂

dearzach

I’m not big on the use of hyperbole. Sure, I have my go-to phrases that I overuse: awesome, hilarious, disgusting all get tossed around pretty liberally. Rarely, though, do I use words that exaggerate what I really think. I tell you that so I can tell you this: over the Labor Day weekend I watched a film that was in turn depressing, heartwarming, shocking, heart-wrenching, infuriating, and inspiring.

When Andrew Bagby was murdered by his ex-girlfriend, his lifelong best friend and filmmaker Kurt Kuenne was devastated. Growing up, Andrew was always a willing participant in Kurt’s movies, even investing in one of Kurt’s projects as they got older. In the wake of Andrew’s death, Kurt decided he wanted to make one last film with Andrew, and set off on an international journey to interview anyone and everyone he could find who knew him.

What starts as an extremely intimate look at people’s fond memories of a lost friend and family member (which are somehow sad and funny at the same time) quickly evolves into something much more complicated when Andrew’s killer reveals she is pregnant with his baby. Andrew’s parents follow the killer to Newfoundland, where she’s fled after committing the murder, to fight for custody of the child. The film chronicles the Bagby’s fight both with the killer and the insanely incompetent legal system.

To say much more would lessen the impact of the movie, so all I’ll say is this: I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt such a wide array of emotions while watching a movie, documentary or otherwise. The connection with the people you’re watching is so deep that as events unfold they come as a punch to the gut.

The film isn’t perfect. In some parts it feels a bit amateurish, but that’s easily forgiven due to the powerful subject matter. There’s a good chance you’ll be left feeling some combination of depressed, heartbroken, or downright pissed off.

Whenever you’re ready, you can watch the movie in its entirety for free here – Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Sometimes, The Book Isn’t Better

Over the past month or so I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I know some people out there don’t like audiobooks, but I really enjoy them. As someone who’s always been fascinated by voice acting, I love hearing a good performance of a good book. I thought Gone Girl was pretty good. Not great, but good. Having already known that David Fincher is attached to direct the film version when it hits theaters in 2015, as soon as the audiobook was over I had one thought – I’ll bet the movie’s better. Which is kind of backwards to popular opinion, isn’t it?

We’ve all heard it before. Most of us have probably said it ourselves, and probably more than once.

“I saw _Insert Movie Title Here_ the other day.”

“Oh yeah? How was it?”

“It was okay. The book was better.”

I used to think (and sometimes still do) that some people would say that no matter how good the movie was, just as a sort of humblebrag to let people know they’ve read a book. But there’s a reason all of us have heard that and most of us have said it – it’s usually true. There are things in books, be they physical descriptions, what characters are thinking, etc. that can be hard to convey on film. Then there’s the matter of the story itself. Some stories just lend themselves to the written word better than any other medium. So the movie that really is better than the book can be a rare bird indeed.

The Ground Rules

First off, as usual with my “list” posts, I’m limiting this to five. Also, I’m keeping it honest by only ranking books I’ve actually read. It would’ve been easy to include books I hadn’t, as the same books populate every other similar list – Jaws, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, The Godfather and many others. And seriously, is there any way humanly possible the book Wise Guy by Nicholas Pileggi could be better than Goodfellas? But I resisted temptation. Finally, I’m limiting the list to just one Stephen King book/movie adaptation. I’ve read his work far and away more than any other author, and could easily devote an entire post solely to films based on his work.

The Honorable Mentions

Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986) vs Red Dragon (Thomas Harris, 1981)

manhunter                          reddragon

This was a tough call for me, so I decided list it as an honorable mention just to give it some recognition. Although I haven’t read it in several years, the first of the Hannibal Lecter books has long been one of my favorite thrillers. When you take a book that good and adapt it with Michael Mann directing, you’re going to get a good movie. And you do. Manhunter is very good, and it may very well have made my list if it weren’t for one thing: the ending. Some people consider the end of the novel to be a bit cliche, but I liked it. The movie changed it for whatever reason, and it left me disappointed. That being said, Manhunter is still a great movie. Although Anthony Hopkins would eventually claim the character as his own, it’s very interesting to see how Brian Cox plays Dr. Lecter.

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) vs The Shining (Stephen King 1977)

jack                         shiningbook

Like I said, I’ll keep the list limited to one Stephen King adaptation, but if I’m doing honorable mentions I may as well go ahead and mention The Shining. It is my all-time favorite horror movie, and I usually end up watching it every October when channels start running horror marathons leading up to Halloween. Thing is, I really like the book, too. It’s scary in its own right, and I think over the years the movie has overshadowed it, which kind of sucks. But, as much as I hate to disagree with the master, I like the movie better. King purists (which are a rabid bunch) vehemently disagree with me, but I’ll stand my ground. The film is actually much darker and funnier at the same time. The movie is a bit like the book on LSD. So what Stephen King work did I rank higher? Funny you should ask, because that brings us to…

The List

5. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994) vs Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King, 1982) *from the book Different Seasons

shawshank                 differentseasons

This is a case where the movie really didn’t change too much; just some small tweaks like combining multiple characters into one, adding the death of a character to heighten the drama, that sort of thing. The story itself was really not altered. It’s just that the movie was that damn good.

As big a fan of movies as I am, I don’t always notice things like cinematography, art direction, lighting, etc. After writing, acting, and directing the other technical aspects of a film can go unnoticed. When I watch Shawshank I may not necessarily recognize exactly what it is that sets it apart from so many other movies, but I know it’s special. It’s a bit like eating a delicious plate of food. You may not be able to pick out each specific ingredient, but when you taste all of it together you know it’s something extraordinary.

This movie is also the very, very rare exception where I wholeheartedly approve of the “Hollywood ending.” Honestly, was there any other way this movie could’ve ended other than with Andy and Red meeting up on the beach?

4. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007) vs No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy, 2005)

nocountryfilm                   nocountrybook

I have a confession to make: I’m not a huge Cormac McCarthy fan. When The Road came out to such acclaim, I thought I should give it a look to see what all the hubbub was about. I think I made it about 35 pages, then gave up. A couple months later I picked it back up and finished it. It was a challenge, though. I guess his writing style is just not for me. I obviously see the talent Mr. McCarthy has, but it’s lost on me. It’s like listening to Mozart when you’d rather just crank The Ramones.

That being said, even after my experience with The Road I wanted to give him another shot. I had already seen the Coen Brothers film and really liked it a lot, so I decided to try the book. I did like it better than The Road, but something about it just never really grabbed me and pulled me in. Like Shawshank, the movie barely changed a thing story-wise, but it just heightened everything to a new level. I felt a tension and sense of dread watching the movie that I didn’t feel with the book. Maybe reading the book first would have had a different effect on me, but after reading a few pages of Blood Meridian, I think it’s safe to say my Cormac McCarthy collection will never take up much space on my bookshelf.

3. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) vs Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk, 1996)

fightclub                 fightclubbook

Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favorite authors, easily in my top 5. The thing about his books, though, is they don’t necessarily make for an easy transition to the big screen. Which makes Fight Club that much more remarkable. David Fincher took a very complicated story and managed to make it easier to follow without dumbing it down at all. He turned a good book into an excellent movie. The casting and direction were also top notch, and I can’t imagine the book being adapted any better. Palahniuk himself has said that the film is superior to his book, and I have to say, he’s not wrong.

2. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997) vs Rum Punch (Elmore Leonard, 1992)

jackiebrown                 rumpunch

Again, an author in my top 5. Elmore Leonard has a gift for writing dialogue that sets him apart from most other writers. I got a box full of Leonard paperbacks for Christmas a few years ago and tore through most of them in no time flat. Writing this reminds me I need to go back and read the rest to remind myself why he’s a master.

At this point in the list we reach movies that really made some changes. In the case of Jackie Brown, some pretty significant changes. For one, the ethnicity of the main character. In Rum Punch, Jackie is white. Casting Pam Grier, changing the character’s last name to Brown, all the awesome music, creating an homage to ’70’s Blaxploitation films? All Quentin Tarantino.

He still could have made a good movie without making those changes, but it’s those changes that make the movie what it is. Following the blockbuster success of Pulp Fiction, I think this movie let some fans down who were perhaps looking for something a little more violent. That’s really a shame, because I think Jackie Brown is nearly flawless. Robert Forster was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work here, but lost to Robin Williams for his performance in Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams was great in that, but part of me feels Robert Forster was robbed.

1. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006) vs The Prestige (Christopher Priest, 1995)

prestigefilm                        prestigebook

This film tops my list for two reasons: it’s my favorite film of the five, and it changed the source material the most. Christopher Priest’s novel is intriguing to say the least, but Christopher Nolan took that novel and made something truly awesome.

I should mention here that I really can’t stand period pieces. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a dude, or because I’m American, maybe both; all I know is if a story is set before, say, the 1950’s I’m generally not interested. So when I heard the plot of The Prestige – two rival magicians in nineteenth century London feud while trying to one-up each other performing the ultimate illusion – I was less than thrilled. But given Nolan’s track record (Memento is another one of my favorites) I decided to check it out.

I loved this movie, and I feel it’s one that practically demands repeat viewings. The way elements of Priest’s novel are taken and tweaked are so masterful that I felt like it made the book seem vastly inferior. The way the film unfolds in the same manner as a magic trick blew me away, and I think is something that may be lost on a lot of people, which is why the film asks you, “Are you watching closely?”

Like with No Country for Old Men, I read the book after seeing the film; reading the book first may have changed my opinion.

Well, there you have it. As always, these are just the subjective opinions of some geek on the internet. Feel free to agree or disagree as you please by leaving a comment below. If you’ve read one of the books but not seen the movie, or the other way around, do so and see what you think, and please, let me know.