REVIEW: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

Acts one and two are seldom striking yet generally involving, with cinematography so intimate a cut to wide feels awkward. I occasionally recall last year's "Public Enemies", in which Michael Mann's shaky-cam stylings sailed overboard, rendering even calmer close-ups headache inducing. Widely, though, Laurence Dunmore's "The Libertine" comes to mind with swirling, long takes encircling performers as organic extensions of their craft. The intense, unbridled third act redeems its predecessors' intermittency with indelible imagery and payoffs for each setup, with the single exception of a questionably included sub-subplot. One could deem the qualitative progression a humble representation of our lead's own shifted demeanor, though little is humble here.

This is a film seen through mirrors. Weighted, reflective symbolism tells our tale, with many major plot points and the main character arc occurring solely through allegory. Advantageously these emblematic layers interlock seamlessly and sensibly in context, from catalysts and symptoms to their victims and beneficiaries and beyond - to the audience ourselves. Not only does Nina's story reflect "Swan Lake" and see extensions of that relationship personified, it all centers on a performance of the notorious ballet itself. Touches of fawning, nonverbal melodrama and Clint Mansell's strong, accent-heavy score create an occasional ballet-as-film feel - not necessarily reliant on but often accompanied by the presence of actual dance.


INTERVIEW: Steve-O, Star of "Jackass 3D"

Published in the Winter 2010 issue of Icon Magazine.

What follows are EXCERPTS (in this case, generous ones). For more on the worlds of entertainment and fashion, subscribe to Icon Magazine.

Live-action Looney Tune Steve-O" has built a career on the edge of self-destruction. For years, his recreational life followed suit. Between drugs and a death wish, the "Jackass 3D" star battled deep depression before a revelation steered him toward recovery. He is now almost three years sober with an autobiography on the way. I had the pleasure of speaking with him as he lounged in his Los Angeles apartment with his pound-rescued pooch. With a signature rasp, he communicates warmly with knowing chuckles. He calls South Florida home and offers insights regarding his new lifestyle, social issues, spirituality and his own dark journey...

ICON: It's easy to look at your TV shows and think you're a fool, but you're actually very dedicated to your stunts. Has that changed since going sober?

STEVE-O: I feel like there are a lot of people that think I'm boring or lame at this point, so making this new movie I definitely had something to prove. The most important thing has been to learn how to have separation between what I do and who I am. [When "Jackass Number 2" came out], I had no identity separate from the persona of "Steve-O". Just going to that premiere it seemed to dawn on me that I wasn't going to have a career forever, you know? I kinda came unraveled. This time around I've really put a lot of work into the separation between who I am and what I do. When I show up to work it's just "game on" and after that I can come home and be a pretty boring guy and feel happy about it.

I: And you're writing an autobiography?

S: I've been keeping myself real busy lately. Writing the book, doing stand-up comedy. I can't break bones and shove stuff up my butt forever, so I'm trying to figure out the next thing to do. I've done some stand-up before but now I'm hitting the comedy clubs every night and it's going great. I've had Dane Cook mentoring me. The other night I went on a couple comics after Sarah Silverman and immediately before [Cook].

I: You're vegan now. Is that related to the sobriety?

S: It's a fuckin' trip how it all went down. [My psychosis] started in 2006. I don't understand it. I have my theories, but the fact is I started hearing voices. I remember them telling me that I was gonna have to face consequences for everything that I did. There were some voices telling me that it was really important to them that I hold my breath. Suffocate myself. I'd be writhing around on the floor trying to do it, hysterically kicking. I'd take in some air and these voices would be mad at me, calling me a loser, telling me I was nothing. I can only describe those voices as demons.

[The demons] would make my apartment do wild shit. Curtains would be opening and closing, lights would be flashing. They wanted me to throw away my drugs and all my shoes were impatiently tapping their toes like, "We're waiting." One time I was sitting in a [swivel chair] with this pile of drugs in my body and thinking, the way I was going, I wasn't gonna live much longer. Very distinctly I thought, "I don't care if I die." Right when I thought those words, it was like a hand reached in. The chair spun around as if a big strong guy had grabbed it. It was like a fuckin' mechanical bull. The spirits were saying, "Think again man, that's not gonna work."

Some voices would chime in and say they were really worried about me. I remember there being a completely organized, full-on intervention. When [Johnny] Knoxville came and did [my] intervention, it was really like my third intervention. I had just hallucinated the first two.

There are all kinds of hallucinations. Tactile hallucinations are where you see it and feel it. I saw, heard and felt all this stuff. That's fact. Still to this day I do not believe that all those hallucinations were the products of drugs. At the risk of sounding hokey, what I believe is that the drugs tore down barriers between me and the spirit world and opened me up. I was made accessible. If these voices and hallucinations were products of drugs there would be variation going on, and there weren't.

I became obsessed with this spirit world. I was at the end of the line. I came across this video on YouTube and here's this Hare Krishna guy from India. This guy bluntly says, "How can you expect to be saved if you eat meat??" He's just perplexed by this. He's like, "What rational person can go around killing and eating meat and think they're gonna be saved?" So I'm sitting here snorting, smoking and drinking and my reaction to this is "Hey! I've gotta quit eating meat!!"

It's so funny, filling myself with drugs and alcohol but immediately when I watch this YouTube clip it becomes imperative for me to quit eating meat. It's a drug-crazed maniac that arrived at this but I've been sober for two and a half years and my belief has not changed one bit. After this life there's more to deal with, and that's a rad thing, but I immediately got so freaked out by what this guy said about being saved and eating meat that I became terrified about what the voices told me about facing consequences. You hear about the concept that we're all one and we're gonna experience everything we did to everyone else. Fuck man, I don't wanna take on all the fuckin' suffering I'm blowing out! I stopped eating meat right away. I had no motivation other than fear.

Less than a month later, Knoxville rolls in with the gang and they do this intervention on me and they lock me up in the psych ward. I bounced around different psych wards and rehab centers for a full six months, then I went into a sober living environment. I was serious enough about being sober that I kept myself in that halfway house until I had two full years of sobriety.

Over this course of time I became hip to the idea that it's important to replace fear as a motivator - to not be motivated by fear but rather by faith. Well, people don't like the word "faith". I think "love" is synonymous. So I worked past being afraid of punishment for eating meat. That doesn't mean all of a sudden I was cool with eating meat, all it means is I shifted my perspective. By not eating meat and having a more compassionate lifestyle, every time I eat I'm respecting myself, other life and the planet.
I don't wanna be on a soapbox and tell other people what to do. I'm not saying everyone should become a vegan. I'm not gonna save the world because I'm vegan. I'm just trying to get results out of myself, and the results are that I'm a happier person.

I: Are you still involved with your shoe line, Sneaux Shoes?

S: I can safely say that I burned that bridge with the Sneaux Shoes people. It was a good relationship - those people are great and I've got a lot of gratitude - but I don't wear anything that comes from animals anymore. What was so rad about it was that I also got creative control over the television commercials. The commercials are fucking great, man. "Sneaux Shoes: so tough, alligators can bite your feet! No problem!" And an alligator bit my foot! When I was in high school applying to universities, my major was communications. That was the first real, solid plan I had for myself - to become an advertising executive. I wanted to persuade people. So that relationship with Sneaux Shoes, it's probably the closest thing I did to fulfill that first dream.

But you know what sucks about leather, man? Not to harp on this, but I used to feel leather was fine because I was a meat-eating person. I wanted to be like the American Indians who would use every part of the animal. But the thing is, any leather products like purses, shoes, clothes... none of that comes from beef cows. There's leather cows they slaughter just for the leather and they throw away the meat, and [vice versa]. That's fuckin' bullshit!

I steer clear of all that stuff. If people knew what went into their leather and fur and meat... they work so hard to stay ignorant about what's behind all that...

I: Because it might scare them into a new lifestyle?

S: Yeah, and who am I to fuckin' change my lifestyle, then start pointing fingers and telling everybody else what to do? The thing that sucks the most is an asshole on a soapbox. I just feel like if people were to get educated, they would be more inclined to steer clear of that kind of cruelty.

I: What's the story behind your dog?

S: His name is Walter. We go tearing through the town on a longboard and he just hauls ass. He's the cutest little dog, but he's just so messed up. He's got issues. Nobody wanted him. I saved him from death row. He bites people, he destroys shit, he's a complete fucking pain in the ass, he won't shut up... he's just like me. I can totally relate to hurting people, destroying shit, being a complete non-stop pain in the ass. I dunno if this is like a living ammends, but he's my little angel and he's come into my life to teach me about love and tolerance and give me a lot of my own medicine.

The thing is: adopt, don't shop. In just America, there's millions of dogs being put down. The way they kill dogs, the last thing we need is more puppy mills.

Rescuing dogs from shelters, that's another thing like being vegan. This little dog is helping me so much because I gotta build my self-esteem. And who knows man, maybe this could all be training to start a family. Ha!! You never know. I think a lot of people would rather me keep taking blows to the nuts to prevent me from having a kid! We'll see what happens.

I: How would you like to be remembered?

S: Since I was a kid, there's been this riddle of our existence. We have one dominant instinct: to survive. This instinct overrides everything else about us. Fight or flight, you know? The only guarantee is that we're gonna die, and our strongest instinct is to try not to. That sucks! So for me I felt like the purpose of life is to figure out how it's cool to die. For me, I felt like the solution to the riddle was in the video camera. I could document my life and create a legacy. I was like, "After I die, people can still watch my shit! I won't actually be dead!"

Now I look at it entirely differently because sure, the footage will be around forever but it's got an expiration date. Kinda like milk. "Best before". "Sell by". "Jackass 3D" is like a carton of milk that says "Sell by October 15th." So October 15th the movie comes out and just like the milk. It's soured. Expired. I've really had to reevaluate what's up with that, you know?

I feel like I just want what everyone else wants. I just wanna be happy. That was kinda my downfall. I was getting too worried what other people thought. And I still have that in me. Like I said, I want to prove to everyone else that I haven't become lame because I'm sober, but what's most important - and it's the most important thing for everybody - is to be happy, and that's what I'm working on.

INTERVIEW: Patti Stanger on Men, Dating, Love & Money

Published in the Winter 2010 issue of Icon Magazine.

What follows are EXCERPTS. For more on the worlds of entertainment and fashion, subscribe to Icon Magazine.

Fresh into a newly NYC-based fourth season of her hit show on Bravo, "The Millionaire Matchmaker", the outspoken Patti Stanger is a busy gal. For a decade she's been running The Millionaire's Club, an exclusive dating service for successful singles in search of ideal mates. She receives millionaire clients through audition videos and interviews before commencing the matching process and is known for her quick tongue and equally quick and accurate compatibility evaluation skills.

In the midst of a characteristically hectic afternoon at the Millionaire's Club, I was lucky enough to speak with Patti about life, love and fashion. She carried on precisely as any fan might imagine - with wit, candor and speed. Ever the multi-tasker, between statements she'd call to assistants, ensuring certain matters were in order and adding an endearingly authentic quality to the conversation. At times I almost had to remind myself to return volley, as listening to Patti's insights is as captivating as watching her program. The questions are Lindsay Meholick's, Lindsay herself being a Florida-based matchmaker and the founder of Behold Florida.

ICON: Have you seen [relationship] values change with the 21st century?

PATTI: We live in a text/disposable society, it's "Next, next, next, next, next!" And that's why you have delayed adolescence. It used to be 40 years old for a mid-life crisis. Well, now it's become 50 and 60. Guys are not getting married, they're not having children, and they're having children out of wedlock. Just walk over the streets of Hollywood, AKA Matthew McConaughey and George Clooney.

I: Did you always know you would go into matchmaking?

P: No, no... I never was going to do it ever, actually.

I: You were more in the fashion world originally, right?

P: I wasn't even in the fashion world. Basically, I was going to be a screenwriter. I went to film school at the University of Miami. I wanted to be Sherry Lansing.

I: What do you feel is the first step for men who struggle with confidence issues?

P: They think they can text the girl and ask her out. They also feel they can talk about other women to her and she's gonna accept it, because they're trying to prove that they're desirable - that women want them. Keep those skeletons at home! And if you can't call me on the phone, you've got issues. If you're e-mailing me and texting me and talking through the internet or the phone, you're a ghost. You're a phantom. That means you've got some serious, serious, serious intimacy issues. A real man wants to pick up the phone and hear your voice.

I: What should a girl not wear on a first date?

P: You should never show all the assets. Too much skin kills the beast. If you want to show a little cleaveage, fine, but then cover your legs or your arms up. Don't reveal the entire package! You wanna leave something for dessert.

I: I do find myself attracted to girls who are more conservative from the get-go.

P: Right, because you want to imagine what she looks like underneath. You want to do the secretary thing. That Maggie Gyllenhaal thing. You wanna go, "Ooh, I wonder what her breasts look like. Ooh, I wonder what her stomach looks like!" You're imagining! And that's what lingers in your mind when you leave the date and that's what makes you want to call me again. If I show everything and you have sex with me, oh my God! You're thinking I'm a whore, I must do this to everybody!

I: So what should men like me be wearing to a first date?

P: Jeans and a t-shirt and a great leather jacket in the Winter is phenomenal, but if you're in Florida you wanna wear a really nice button-down, striped Ben Sherman shirt, a really great pair of Rock & Republic jeans and cool sneakers if you're doing the Converse thing... or if you can't afford really nice, expensive shoes. But when you do the Gucci loafer, no socks on, white pants and the striped pink and white shirt, you either signal 'gay' or that you're a pansy man. I'm gonna walk across the street. I wanna see my rugged guy. And most women say to me, "We don't want metro!" This is an urban myth. No one wants to date their girlfriend. I wanna know that you hit the gym. If you're in Florida and you've got a little short sleeve on, like a Donna Karan t-shirt, I wanna see a little pop at the end of the sleeve, you know?

COVER ARTICLE: Keeping Up With Kim

As published in the Winter 2010 issue of Icon Magazine.

What follows is my introduction for Icon's interview with Kim Kardashian. For more on the worlds of entertainment and fashion, subscribe to Icon Magazine.

The family sitcom has gathered Americans around their televisions for decades. Most everyone did indeed love "Raymond", want to be part of the "Full House" or see what "All in the Family" and its spin-offs were going to do next. Where Maude and Uncle Jesse got to hang up their hats and resume private life after each taping, most modern screen families don't see that luxury. Since the millennium, mainstream programming has undergone a reality makeover and its reigning champion is E! Network's "Keeping Up With the Kardashians", led by none other than its princess, Kim.

Kim makes headlining this breed of show look easy. Some may challenge, "Hey, I have a family, why not 'keep up' with me?" To those challengers: try maintaining Kim's level of charisma - or her admirable air of modesty in the face of high-profile fame and fortune - 24/7 while putting your deepest personal predicaments and family foibles up for mass scrutiny. Yeah, Kim makes it look easy, but each moment before unrelenting "Keeping Up" cameras is a demanding one. What's more, the celebutante founded high-end clothing boutique Dash, continues to design and tirelessly promote her own fashions and fragrances and during her show's off-season still makes appearances on her sisters' program, "Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami". She's a brave, beautiful and busy girl.

Born and raised in Los Angeles the daughter of famed defense attorney Robert Kardashian, Kim was intentionally denied certain luxuries to teach the values of work-ethic. With these parental lessons at heart, she networked with the social elite and became a stylist in Paris Hilton's entourage. At 5' 2" and a voluptuous 35-26-40, Kim became a camera magnet and earned her own slice of the glitterati spotlight. Before long she was launched to household-name levels of notoriety.

Still ascending ladders of fashion and fame with no end in sight, Kim Kardashian keeps a few secrets in her clutch for maintaining simultaneous success and style, along with a nugget or three regarding current and upcoming projects.


REVIEW: The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010)

Some filmmakers sure like to flex their versatility. Though they share themes, Darren Aronofsky's films differ wildly from one to the next. Those of Danny Boyle are structured similarly but employ dynamically varying shooting styles. Then we have the famously hot-tempered David O. Russell, whose films' common thread seems only a director credit (and, okay, Mark Wahlberg). I'm hard-pressed to think of any striking similarities between Spanking the MonkeyThree Kings and  Huckabees, the latter two of which I favor greatly. The Fighter continues the reinvention trend, though this time I'm not quite as enamored.

Russell's technique is more than adequate, as shows through naturalistic performances across the board (not just from the "names") and handheld camerawork that would be documentary-like were it not for the expert blocking. With the exception of a sparse few cringe-worthy moments (and an awkward sound mix, not that that's relevant), the result meshes subjective and complex layers of emotion with objective humor and is not nearly as hackneyed as the cliché-ridden theatrical trailer suggests.

Bringing unexpected meaning to the title's implied singularity, this story is about the tight-knit community surrounding Micky Ward (Wahlberg) before it is about Micky himself. We open on a meager documentary crew following these comfortably dysfunctional family members and friends. Like the documentarians we try to capture and register what information we can as we fly through overlapped character introductions. As we continue, though, we only ever catch glimpses of Micky's stance. Contrary to boxing film trends as seen in the likes of Requiem for a Heavyweight and Rocky (and a couple Rocky sequels), the brawler is more a local icon held up by those attached to him than a compelling character in his own right, which renders the final match more obligatory than such a thing usually is.

The Fighter really gets by on the aforementioned performances, with a yet again physically deteriorated Christian Bale (like Russell, also noted for an on-set outburst) leading the way. His character Dicky Eklund's arc, which could have used a more fleshed out second act, is the foundation. Bale inhabits Dicky perfectly, adding still another fascinating performance to his résumé. An epilogical clip of the real Dicky (with the real Micky) is a testament to this, as seeing the man's true behaviors is like seeing what we come to recognize as Bale's through a different body.

With technical aspects intricate at best and sufficient at worst with an organic blend of difficult realities and humorous deprecation, The Fighter is another mostly impressive entry from David O. Russell with a handful of good, memorable scenes, but it never really amounts to much and doesn't know when to throw in the towel.


REVIEW: Exit through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

There's a story I once heard... or read, I don't quite recall. The details are fuzzy, but here 'goes. A nighttime custodian at a big time museum - The Louvre or The Prado, perhaps - drew a custom floorplan of the building's restrooms. Not quite a blueprint, the original image helped streamline the custodian's sanitation schedule. One shift, this man thought up a prank. He switched a less secure painting with his floorplan. The next day's reaction was not one of distress over missing art (safely stowed in a restroom), but one of awe over the new "modern masterpiece" the facility had apparently decided to showcase. Not unlike Marcel Duchamp's readymade "Fountain" put-on, the floorplan had critics and admirers baffled... but astonished. Often to find something cryptic is to find it superior to you. Enigmatic. This blue collar prank brings question to the interpretation and evaluation of art by its audience.

Is the story true? I've no idea. Does it matter? Well, I'm not concerned with its authenticity, anyway. Exit through the Gift Shop has met with much speculation over its own authenticity, and while I'm convinced its ultimate story is factual, I don't suppose my reaction would change were it revealed as hoax. Like our custodian, Gift Shop's relatively elaborate tale humorously contemplates art's true meaning, this time not only from a consumer perspective, but also from that of the (not necessarily ordaining) creator.

I think we can all relate to artistic creation to some degree. At least in the sense presented here through subject Thierry Guetta, who haphazardly documents every moment of life he has tape for. Each fleeting moment is already gone forever by the time we register it - like a temporary work of street art - but the camcorder provides an illusion of control. Even if no one ever sees them again, they are preserved in some form for better or for worse. I, nor a vast percentage of us, can say we're near as extreme as Guetta, but between camcorders, cameras, camera phones and the internet, we are constantly documenting our lives. I have a shoebox full of home videos - sixty-minute tapes of seventeen-year-old me doing flips into a pool or playing with my pet iguana... walking around Disney World after hours or watching "the guitar guy at the party" sing Green Day. My Facebook profile boasts over one thousand pictures, and that's only accounting for ones I'm tagged in. Before all this, I kept journals and sketchbooks.

Hardly any of this casual output is meritable, but my creator mentality was always "If someone discovers this someday, it will represent my life." I'll confess to occasional delusions of grandeur. For example, though I intended no profound significance recording myself leaping headlong into a swimming pool, I often hoped the videos would one day cause people to read into nonexistent meanings. If that extreme hypothetical occurs, will I then be distinct as an "artist"? Well, most probably not, especially considering a professional daredevil like Steve-O who got his start recording himself leaping headlong into... well, cement. Is this admittedly odd example's message "art is not safe"? I'm not sure. Is it Gift Shop's? Maybe.

Though not assembled too differently from other found-footage documentaries, Exit through the Gift Shop got me thinking more in-depth on a subject I already greatly enjoyed pondering. Its Palahniukian presentation of modern counterculture introduces to wider audiences the intricacies of street art while making certain questions about art in general more accessible for contemplation. Just remember to purchase a souvenir when the ride's over.


REVIEW: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Michael Bay, 2009)

A film set's unique energy can inspire bold spontaneity. In spite of premeditated shot lists and painstaking schedules a director might suggest, "Wouldn't it be cool if we did it this new way I just thought of instead!?" Sometimes these changes become highlights through representation of what it meant to be part of the film's creation - the raw aura of the production. Watching Revenge of the Fallen, it feels as though director Michael Bay - who here wears acclaimed sci-fi influences from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Empire Strikes Back on his sleeve - was making these spur-of-the-moment decisions every day. Is that a positive or a negatron? That, of course, depends on the viewer, but it would be difficult denying this beefed-up Transformer experiences power overload and becomes way more than we want to meet the eye.

I'll confess, I was pleasantly surprised with the first half of this overlong beast. The characters may be skeletal and pacing's been thrown out the window, but the action is memorably ballsy. Aptly filmed, testosterone-fueled scenes feature appealing compositions that strongly utilize shadow, existing backlight and the fog of war. It's just a pity, as it is in far too many films anymore, we aren't allowed to appreciate the compositions for longer than 0.25 seconds. This is about as backhandedly beautiful and relentlessly frenetic it gets before you move on to a Neveldine/Taylor film.

Bay - for the most part - has traded in the practical, in-camera dynamo of films like The Rock and Bad Boys II for CGI, but at least - again, for the most part - the CGI is top-notch. One disaster sequence almost out-Emmerichs Roland Emmerich (who about out-Emmeriched himself with 2012). Considering the trappings, this action is all that counts, and it certainly stands to be counted.

The problem is the sprawl. Paper-thin characters prancing through a Saturday morning cartoon's plot are only tolerable for so long, and they wear out their welcome about an hour before the credits roll. For much of this Giza-set hour, the film becomes "The Lord of the Ringbots: The Return of the Prime" - a giant battle around the Great Pyramids that causes human brains to default to auto-pilot. The grand yet relatively reigned-in robo-a-robo brawl between Optimus and Megatron earlier on greatly outweighs this sandy stretch. Heck, even the transforming university bimbo with a mechanical whip-tongue puts this desert finale to shame.

Revenge of the Fallen is surely one of the coolest things a 10-year-old boy will ever see this side of George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, but as it pushes on longer and longer it just becomes a tiring downward spiral. Though suffering from some of the same issues as in the first movie, the action is surprisingly coherent, but all else has been sacrificed in favor of that accomplishment.


FILM: Friday the 13th (Swede)

If you're unfamiliar, "swede" is a termed coined by Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind starring Jack Black and Mos Def as video store clerks who remake destroyed films on VHS through meager, budget-free means. A swede is one of these amateur remakes, named as such for the initial claim they are actually custom-made Swedish versions of American films.

The swede phenomenon caught YouTube fire and for some time my girlfriend Jaime and I have been wanting to do our own swedes. After a couple weeks' deliberation we finally buckled in and over the span of maybe four hours whipped together our own no-budget version of Sean S. Cunningham's 1980 slashterpiece, Friday the 13th.

Having been technologically restricted of late, I resorted to Windows Movie Maker 2.6 to piece the footage together. As you'll hear, the basic software created audio issues a-plenty, but thankfully after a few exports/re-edits I managed to minimize the problem.

We're aiming to put together more swedes soon enough - be on the lookout for Paranormal Activity, Boogie Nights, Vanilla Sky and more! For now... you're doomed:



Another October down, and I must say, I'm quite satisfied with my horror haul - in both quantity and quality. Sure, there were plenty of duds and even some outright rankness, but there's never anything wrong with experiencing a film of any caliber - even pure excrement can broaden horizons.

In total I watched twenty-four relevant films (or, at least, films I deemed relevant) and one television episode between this horrorthon's commencement and All Hallow's Eve. Fifteen of them, good or bad, great or dreadful, were not highlighted with full reviews, so I figured I'd offer thoughts on a handful of these leftovers now...

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
(John S. Robertson, 1920/Rouben Mamoulian, 1931)

One day I must - MUST - get around to reading Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Its four film adaptations I've seen - these two, 1941's Spencer Tracy vehicle and Amicus' I, Monster - have all been absolute winners.

The first, starring John Barrymore, is silent filmmaking at a beautiful best and a true inspiration to behold. The second, starring Fredric March, is a bombastic spectacle rife with bold cinematography and uncompromising artistry. The opening point-of-view tracking shot may already be one of my absolute favorites due to expert blocking and set design. It also taught me that our titular doctor's name is in fact pronounced "Jee-kyll", but has fallen into common-use territory a la "forte". One could even say proper pronunciation is one of the 1931 film's fortes.

The Evil of Frankenstein
(Freddie Francis, 1963)

After devouring the first pair of of Hammer's Frankenstein films - easily two of the best films I've seen from the British studio - I mistakenly leaped ahead to Frankenstein Created Woman. Though I wasn't too enamored with that fourth in the series overall, I was mostly concerned with my having missed the full resolution of Revenge of Frankenstein's compelling cliffhanger. Turns out I was well off missing out. This third entry does nothing to link itself to its immediate predecessor, instead relying solely on the merits of the original. What's more, it completely reimagines events of that original in both look and storyline with embarrassing results. Most prominent is the alteration in the creature's appearance from Christopher Lee's decaying corpse to a more Universal-looking green guy with what appears to be a styrofoam McDonald's burger container stapled to his forehead.

The experience was not a complete waste, however, as the cinematography - which uses the often-mobile camera to probe its environments - is rather marvelous. It is frustrating to see the maturing Baron Von Frankenstein constantly thwarted by imbeciles who simply refuse to understand him, but at least he keeps on trucking.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
(Dwight H. Little, 1988)

Something about big Mike's big return is just plain inept. Oftentimes it seems the production was not allowed ample shooting time, so scenes were only captured from one questionably selected angle. The entire drawn-out second act is a yawn-worthy "Michael's coming, you'd better watch out" with nothing of note taking place whatsoever. At least Sasha Jenson shows up every so often, making me merrily announce "Hey, it's that guy from Dazed & Confused!" In all honesty, I think the just-for-fun, shoestring-budget Dark Departure films I did with Ryan Stevens are better than this load. At least Ryan had Michael's mannerisms down to a science - this incarnation of Michael is just awkward.

I did find myself considering a recant of my oft-mentioned criticism of Michael's driving motivation, though. Of course in these sequels it's introduced that he's been after his family members all along... but in Carpenter's original, he was just an entity of pure evil. That was all fine, well, and good, I guess... but it never quite gelled with me. After seeing the story's continuations this season, I conceded that "just evil and that's it" was the better way to go. Now I believe I understand it even more - I was reminded that Michael didn't set out to murder random babysitters from the get-go. He simply returns home with a killer instinct, and these babysitters get on his case. Laurie braves Michael's front porch to prove something to the boy she's responsible for. One of her friends shouts to a passing car driven by Michael,  "Hey buddy, speed kills!" They placed themselves on his radar, subsequently placing me on board with Michael's motivations.

(William Malone, 2008)

In fairness, I didn't finish this one. I came close, but after four nights of the film inducing me with involuntary sleep not unlike that of its lead female character, I gave up. I had certain hopes, seeing as after his House on Haunted Hill remake and feardotcom I am a big William Malone fan, but if this is impartial evidence, it would seem Malone has trouble operating under a limited budget. As one familiar with certain Malone-isms, I can see many a point where the director's vision is desperately trying to rear its demented head, but is reined in by pathetic effects.

The budget isn't all to blame, unfortunately, as the script treads off in varying directions without letting a single one flourish. The lead actors' stale performances don't help matters while the great Jeffrey Combs isn't given a single interesting thing to do. Watching Parasomnia is much like watching a contemporary Dario Argento film a la The Card Player or Do You Like Hitchcock?... just not quite as fun.

Trick 'r Treat
(Michael Dougherty, 2007)

There exists a fine line between derivation and a sheer lack of originality. The concept at Trick 'r Treat's forefront, involving the child-like embodiment of Halloween spirit teaching lessons to Scrooges of the season, is decent enough, but just about everything surrounding this bite-sized slasher is directly and shamelessly ripped from the reels of Halloween, Pumpkinhead, CreepshowTales From the Crypt and more. I was grumpily tolerating the proceedings until Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)" cover came on, employed in the precise fashion it was for Malone's House on Haunted Hill (the original of which is later shown in its colorized form - perhaps an unwitting allegory). At that point the experience became so miserable I went into my permafrown mode.

All that said, I can see why this mixed-up anthology is so popular. If you can surpass all-too-familiar content and annoyingly undercooked production design, the flick is dynamically lit and rapid-fire enough to be amusing on a base level. If you become completely resigned to it, perhaps some of the twists will thrill you. For me, though, I'll be behind my frown until the credits roll.

The other favorable films I took in but neglected to review are Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (Terence Fisher, 1969), which brought its series back up to par, Horror of Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958), which I meant to review in contrast to the fourth in Hammer's Frankenstein series due to compellingly different uses of spiritual themes, The House on Haunted Hill (William Malone, 1999), which I've probably seen about thirty times by now, and The Most Dangerous Game (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932), which is probably the best film I saw all month. Falling on the other side of the quality gap are Opera (Dario Argento, 1987), The Masque of Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964), Terrore nello spazio (Mario Bava, 1965), El espinazo del diablo (Guillermo Del Toro, 2001) and Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007).

So, the month may be over, but plenty more horror awaits! I've yet to exhaust my interest in Hammer Studios, I've barely tapped the world of giallo and even certain classics like The Haunting and The Fearless Vampire Killers still lay ahead.

HORRORTHON '10: The Walking Dead, Ep. 101: Days Gone Bye (Frank Darabont, 2010)

Robert Kirkman's ("Battle Pope", "Invincible") comic book epic, "The Walking Dead", which began in 2003 and currently stands at seventy-eight issues, isn't about zombies the way something like Night of the Living Dead or Resident Evil is about zombies. Oh, sure, re-animated shamblers skirt the series and propel its plot, and with any given page one of your most beloved characters could be gruesomely dispatched, but at its core "The Walking Dead" is about society and morality in the absence of government and law. Honestly, it can be rather soap operatic at times, but I eat up every drop of ink.

Frank Darabont's opening installment in AMC's hotly-anticipated television adaptation may not be as visually stark as its black and white source material, but it captures a similar vibe with frequent musical silence. Darabont is not a slave to source and sets an initially quaint stage for this sprawling tale with ideas translated between media to have similar effect through slightly different means. Design-wise, though, the props, costumes and on-screen talent are direct ports.

Perhaps the most promising aspect for fans of both rookie and veteran varieties is how Darabont, who also penned the teleplay, expands upon scenes, moods and themes - a rarity among print-to-screen adaptations, as most tend to simplify. Revisiting a familiar story in a new way here feels less "been there, done that" and more "hey, I'm getting even more out of this, now!" Right off the bat, certain zombie clichés are presented, but I'll be damned if they aren't handled with more gravitas and emotion than I've seen before - a true sign this is definitely the "Walking Dead" I know and love.

It's only the beginning. Rick has still only just arrived in Atlanta. Knowing the trials and travesties that lay ahead, I can already see throngs of new fans seething about recent events and frothing for more. If careful standards set by this pilot maintain, AMC's The Walking Dead will be a classic.


REVIEW: The Losers (Sylvain White, 2010)

My direct approach to this DC Comic-based actioner was a bit different than I've taken to any film before. Initially I had next to zero interest, but I read Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt's script in the interest of learning more about various screenwriting styles and became eager to see how the resulting film measured up.

The script makes for an exciting, even riveting read - it's high action for action's sake, led by a dynamic collection of witty characters. It's not unlike The A-Team, but never loses a tongue-in-cheek nature regarding its intended "B" caliber. Frankly, it's impressive just how zippy the script is, as if twice as much was originally written then stripped down to bare essentials. Much would-be exposition is taken as read. Our heroes' origins and villains' motivations, while not entirely breaching fill-in-the-blanks territory, rely on previous knowledge of how these aspects typically develop in similar films. The mentality is clear - all that secondary storytelling just gets in the way of the "boom-boom ka-pow". On the page, the mentality works perfectly.

The final project is stripped further, however, and plowed through at such breakneck speeds the characters are frequently talking over one another, spoiling comedic moments and making an already-simplified plot difficult to interpret. It's a good thing I did read the script, as otherwise I doubt I'd have had any idea what was going on or have cared on some minute level about the protagonists, let alone been able to tell them apart.

Understandable and fitting tweaks were made to suit the production, like a greyhound racing track changing to a cock-fighting ring, but as a trade off certain signature moments ("You know there's a website where you can download MP3s of a donkey farting? How cool is that?" - actually a fair bit of character development in that line, believe it or not) have been traded in for generic ones (basically a bunch of "yo mama" jokes along with "Cats can make over one thousand sounds where a dog can only make ten" in place of our donkey fart).

As for a component not immediately related to script, the cinematography is capable enough. It's of the now-trendy shake-cam variety, but the style is actually warranted while managing to capture the action-oriented end of the scope well enough. Comedic moments are more or less left in the dust. The colors are super-saturated, which winds up hit-or-miss depending on the scene in question.

On-screen talent-wise, Chris Evans is really the sole notable, turning his jaunty character into the only worth remembering. The few times he is focused on, the film is at its best. Otherwise, the cast is stilted, as if they weren't given ample time to read into their roles. The villainous Jason Patric comes off on par with your average student film's lead talent, squandering a potentially hilarious turn.

With my read-first, watch-second order of business for The Losers, the experience was an interesting one, but one of unfortunately unseized potential. A relatively touching epilogue proved I hadn't been completely gypped - something was working on some level - but where this could have (and clearly wanted to) be a franchise, it hardly warrants its feature-length treatment.


HORRORTHON '10: Halloween 2: Director's Cut (Rob Zombie, 2009)

No matter its maturity or lack thereof, sometimes an extreme outburst of emotion is affecting simply for its extremity. For example, in Oliver Stone's Alexander, Olympias' (Angelina Jolie) pained exclamation from her hands and knees following sexual assault from Philip II (Val Kilmer), "In my womb I carried my avenger!" - it penetrates my core every time. Rob Zombie's follow-up to his re-imagining of John Carpenter's Halloween is such an outburst, personified in Scout Taylor-Compton's visceral performance. It is two hours of calculated rage, helpless sorrow and twisted love via celluloid, complete with Zombie's knack for composition and beautifully disturbing parallels.

I didn't care for this one at first, my theatrical viewing having seen few ups and many downs through murky visuals and scattered themes. In general, giving Halloween 2 a second shot proved beneficial in that certain trials faced by protagonist Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) are better digested alongside foreknowledge of plot. Now, rewatches can be different, yes, but not better by definition. If following a proper viewing a film necessitates another run as part of its full scope, it's not doing its job to its best, says I. The difference here is what makes the material I revisited a "director's cut". Zombie's post-theatrical, more focused re-tooling helps the proceedings immensely, going beyond simple benefits of remembering what's coming next.

Michael himself is practiced and pitiless from two years of roughing it like a mountain man after Zombie's first outing with the killer. His mere presence, often in a tight, inescapable space, is a virtual guarantee of sudden and brutal death. All the while a theme introduced briefly in the first film carries on - of peace and merriment elsewhere in spite of isolated horror immediately threatening us. We are reminded that Michael is a man as opposed to an enigma.

Defying slasher trends, Halloween 2 also provides its cast, peppered with "that guys", with adequate fleshing out before tearing that flesh from its bones. This is not a movie to be watched with a sick grin, as here we empathize with our victims and their acquaintances. Zombie has always shown a mind for unschmaltzy sentimentality in the face of vicious evil, going back to House of 1,000 Corpses' father character, Don Willis (Harrison Young). That mind may well be at its least forgiving and most successful here. Zombie continues to honor his predecessors, though, through such nods as the repeated smashing of a stripper into a somewhat symbolic mirror, just as a nurse was repeatedly splashed into boiling water in the original Halloween sequel. Furthermore, Zombie exemplifies his love of German Expressionism through several bold dream sequences.

I'm glad to have returned to Halloween 2 and found a piece I admire in spite of prior disappointment. This film carries more depth and and points of interest than a great number of its contemporaries, and may well be the most ambitious slasher of its decade. For being dominated by darkness, it features an occasionally pleasing use of reds and blues. Its key performances are great, including those of the warm and concerned Brad Dourif and Malcolm McDowell as a loose-cannon Loomis. Overall, the experience feels more like a visual version of Rob Zombie's music than anything else the auteur has done (apart from a handful of his music videos, of course).

Extra Factoid: The band featured in the film takes its name, Captain Clegg & the Night Creatures, from Hammer's title switcheroo on their adaptation of "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh", which I detailed earlier in the Horrorthon.


COMBO-REVIEW: Iron Man/Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, 2008/2010)

Who said there's anything wrong with a little escapism? In the early-to-mid-20th century, alongside cartoons and newsreels, brief vacations from reality ran prior to feature presentations: film serials. Many of these were based upon comic strip characters like Flash Gordon (popularized in celluloid by Universal's 1936 serial) and comic book characters, such as Fawcett's Captain Marvel and Marvel's Captain America (adapted by Republic Pictures in 1941 and 1944, respectively). Later in the century, the comic names would warrant feature presentation and now, in the new millennium, those features are bigger than ever. Superman, Spider-Man, the X-Men... love 'em or hate 'em, they're the kings of summer, and right now the shiniest crown (appropriately) belongs to Iron Man.

Heroes of this breed are often pitted against national enemies as a quick route to audience sympathy and subsequent escape-easing. Superman and Flash Gordon have notoriously battled communism as represented in Russian and Chinese villains. In 1963's "Tales of Suspense #39", Stan Lee introduced our man in the iron mask, Tony Stark, as a prisoner of pre-war Vietnamese terrorists. In holding, Stark constructs a suit of body armor, which he uses to conquer his communist captors. A weapons manufacturer and dealer, he fits the political propaganda platform better than any number of contemporaries as he not only directly addresses the issues, he provides a modicum of balance to what is typically handled in biased fashion.

For Jon Favreau's 2008 film with fast-talking, nonchalant Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, Stark's jungle jail is updated to a cave in war-torn Afghanistan - a contemporary symbol the majority of us will instantly recognize as the embodiment of scum and villainy. In this way, over two years on from its release, Iron Man already feels dated - a relic of wartime under George W. Bush.

Seeing a relative few action sequences, the character-driven Iron Man is focused on developing an accessible and relatable man as opposed to a superhero, but that man's adversaries are not awarded similar care. The true baddie is only revealed in act three, making up for lost time by spouting rigid, expository one-liners in the midst of a computer-generation-heavy freeway brawl. This is not dissimilar to the same year's Incredible Hulk, which abdicates its abominable antagonist's more compelling characteristics in favor of CGI things clobbering one other. The twist is blatantly foreshadowed and, following rumination, even seems fitting when Stark's naïveté is considered, but it lacks intrigue and leaves us on a lackluster note.

2010's sequel is more loyal to Stark's premiere adventures in "Tales of Suspense", our villain throughout being the Russian Ivan Vanko as portrayed through the menacing presence of Mickey Rourke. Anti-"Ruskie" sentiment an obscured memory or, more likely for Marvel's target audience (myself included), a nonexistent one, Vanko's key purpose is as Stark's foil. He is introduced to us not a prisoner, but still a wronged man in relatively similar conditions to those of Stark's oppressive cave of heroic origin. Favreau depicts Vanko's suit construction as a mirror, even replicating certain memorable shots from Stark's initially crude process. In many ways it's easy to see where Stark could have followed Vanko's same life path were he raised differently.

For the most part, Iron Man 2's action is impressively choreographed and executed before aesthetically pleasing backdrops. Tangentially, as much as I love Don Cheadle it is unfortunate to see him assume supporting character Col. Rhodes' duties in the talented Terence Howard's stead due to salary complications. Howard's line, "Next time, baby" from part one has become a sadly unfulfilled prophecy. Sadder is the further devolution of Scarlett Johansson from the early decade's blossoming actress to today's walking pair of T&A, but I digress.

So how come our knight in hi-tech red and gold armor doesn't quite breach qualities beyond "satisfactory entertainment"? In Iron Man, Favreau is more interested in subject matter as opposed to capturing that matter in interesting ways. A shot of an Audi R8 is cool because the car is cool - not because of how the cinematography compliments it. Slap on some AC/DC and we're done here. With Iron Man 2, the Favs seems to have humbly assessed where his first effort could have improved and amplified his game, but he is given precious little to work with. This sequel is surprisingly well-woven in spite of a sagging midsection, but instead of a free-standing blockbuster it ultimately comes off like a segmented story arc in a line of comics - a mere building block in the stairway to something bigger and more profitable (in this case, The Avengers). Where Favreau is bulking up, the material he's presenting is on a diet.

Now, I'll openly confess that in this case I, myself, could be an answer to my opening query. Initially I didn't fairly consider Iron Man's escapist quality. Where typically I appreciate farcically exuberant excursions from reality (as recently evidenced by a positive reaction to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), in 2008 I was still bitter from Sam Raimi's drastic changes to my beloved childhood hero, Spider-Man, and in 2010 I was gravely discouraged by reports Marvel was depriving Favreau the time he needed to fulfill his sequel's aspirations. Fact is, though, the movies may not be technical or artistic achievements but they are culturally relevant icons that whisk us away to colorful abandon. Sometimes, particularly when deep investments aren't demanded of us, that's enough to be passable.

In the comics-as-movies department, Marvel is mounting an epic feat. As their heroes have become marquee fare, though, they could stand to graduate from their serial roots and provide extra care to each project as an individual entity. Here's hoping Favreau keeps his eye on the ball and Iron Man 3 is allowed to breathe.


HORRORTHON '10: Captain Clegg (Peter Graham Scott, 1962)

Adapted from Russell Thorndike's literary series about a town that thrives on bootlegging, Hammer Studios' Captain Clegg was originally to be titled "Doctor Syn". The name was changed so not to conflict with Disney's own impending adaptation (a three-part miniseries ultimately titled The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh). Hammer had also planned an adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" named "Night Creatures", but canned the idea upon warnings it would likely be banned in England, leaving an unfulfilled promise to the United States for a "Night Creatures" film. For a quick solution, they re-branded Clegg yet again for Stateside release.

Hammer often has an interesting way of handling their protagonist/antagonist angles. More often than not we are in the realm of the antihero. While the characterization creates seemingly clear lines between who we are intended to side with and who we are intended to scorn (no matter how righteous they may actually be from an objective stance), the favored side rarely wins out. Is this a lesson? Is it cruelty? Whatever the case, Clegg's handling here is a bit more careful, as where it does play with the line in spite of an otherwise clear good/bad division, it comes off overall as a moral fable. The story, though loaded with captivating but ultimately extraneous subplots, could easily be boiled down and told in the style of Aesop.

Clegg is a thoroughly entertaining and seamlessly woven tale rife with distinct and colorful characters. On a list of favorite non-franchise Hammer, I'd place it close to the top, just shy of The Hound of the Baskervilles (which features the best Cushing performance I've seen thus far) but still munching The Devil Rides Out's dust. It also holds the honor of being only the second Hammer to actually frighten me a bit, as I found its "marsh phantoms" to be quite creepily well-accomplished (the first to frighten was the aforementioned Devil Rides Out, which features a truly marrow-freezing depiction of Satan). With much of the focus on story progression and suggestion, there aren't too many punches to throw, but the ones we do encounter certainly aren't pulled.


HORRORTHON '10: Halloween 2 (Rick Rosenthal, 1981)

Typically, slashers for me are pure fun. They're classified as "horror", but, at least where I'm concerned, that's just a broad umbrella the nearly fool-proof slasher formula falls under. Let's talk characters. Jason's a badass to be sure, far and away my favorite of his sort, but scary he is not, even prior to his antihero turn. Freddy was silly before he made the much-complained-about jokester transition and his ever-mutating mythos is too confusing to make me cower. Leatherface, Harry Warden... disturbed and brutal, but I ain't quivering. That's where Michael Myers stands apart.

Michael is more "real" than any aforementioned slasher brute. He's practically your next-door neighbor. In spite of having three Michael movies I've yet to see, I can confidently say the character's most defining moment comes in the climax of the 1979 original. His mask is briefly removed and we glimpse not a grizzled, deformed, burned or decaying ghoul, but an average-looking twenty-one-year-old who even seems a bit startled, himself. Through this and his expert lurking, he is the only movie killer of his breed to instill fright in my bones.

Halloween is without question a (perhaps the) quintessential slasher. The only aspect that doesn't gel with me is the motivation. Michael, who at the age of six murdered his sister, escapes a mental facility to massacre babysitters... simply because he's pure evil and that's it. So with prior knowledge that survivor-girl Laurie Strode would be revealed in this second outing as Michael's sister, though aware of originating director John Carpenter's adamant disapproval of the studio-demanded development, I was excited to see the "this time, it's personal" terror lay siege and bring Laurie's quaint world crumbling even further to the ground.

Director Rick Rosenthal (who would later bust a rhyme with 2002's Halloween Resurrection), working from a Carpenter script that picks up immediately where its predecessor left us, smoothly maintains a familiar Halloween mood. The fear is perpetual, the scares organic. Rosenthal's blocking and almost constant camera movement indeed build to jolting release, but the flow is carefully resigned enough to be immersive without tugging up our obstructive horror firewalls. Subjectively, there's all the more reason to be scared this time, as well, because Michael has gone full-on sadistic. At least four victims meet their ends through perversely creative methods that pry our jaws wide open.

The film is not without lowlights, however, and as contrary to Carpenter's negative sentiments regarding familial developments as I thought I'd be, the first major issue comes straight from that Michael/Laurie sibling revelation. I may not have entirely bought Michael as "pure evil and that's it", but considering how the deepening of his overall motivation is handled, I've gotta side with Carpenter - he would have been better off staying simple. Thing is, the twist is an afterthought. It's lobbed in almost as a non-sequitur. Never once does it even impact the events. it's just... kinda there.

And how's this for some blasphemy: I prefer Malcolm McDowell's re-imagining of Dr. Loomis to Donald Pleasence's showing here. Pleasence seems to simply go through the motions. I don't mean McDowell's version of the character had more going on due to Rob Zombie's mostly respectable (and, in the case of that sibling deal, superior) expansions to Haddonfield's horrorverse, which he surely did, just that that more recent performance had more behind each line than Pleasence's had here.

Where I can't call Halloween 2 perfect, I won't hesitate to label it a fantastic example of the American slasher. It may falter with a misfired twist, a lack of enthusiasm from Pleasance and a smattering of sloppily executed plot points, but overall it meets and exceeds every mark that should be expected of it. It's a dream-like, giallo-esque and worthy follow-up to its prior. Perhaps most importantly though, it's scary as hell.


FILM: The Making of American Spirit (2007)

My father, Tom Stoup Sr., worked at the Hyde School's Bath and Woodstock campuses for many years and found their patriotic performing arts shows so memorable he wanted to bring the idea into the new millennium as the new headmaster of CDS' upper school. Toward the end of the 2006/2007 school year I was commissioned to film two days of rehearsals for the Carrollwood Day School's ambitious production of "American Spirit".

As with Prep Ball later that year, I used the relatively bulky Sony DV bestowed upon me by cousin Doug Stoup of IceAxe Expeditions. Being the sole individual behind the piece with only a brief amount of allotted time, I really had to devise my camerawork to be both creative and comprehensive. I'm not sure I ultimately succeeded, and some shots are quite shaky, but if I missed something it was gone for good - no mulligans - so overall I am extremely pleased with how it all turned out.

More than anything, this film is for the people it is about - the students and teachers involved in bringing "American Spirit" to the stage. In that regard it was extremely successful, as returning to the school to showcase the finished product brought laughter, tears and awe, defining the experience for the participants. It's a pity I never got my hands on footage from the actual production to work in somewhere, because admittedly the enthusiasm on display here is low. The students pulled together before the big day, though, and the resulting show was truly one for the CDS history books.

Most additional landscape and nature footage was filmed during my time in Yellowstone National Park in 2006, with one shot coming from a post-Yellowstone road trip to Astoria, Oregon. Originally I was kicking around the idea of an angsty, pseudo-existential docu-drama about my amazing year out West, but with that pipe dream punctured, this repurposing works swell.


HORRORTHON '10: Frankenstein (J. Searle Dawley, 1910)

Edison Studios, named as such only for being owned by The Edison Company (Thomas himself allegedly had nothing to do with it), created the first cinematic version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1910. The film, shot in three days in the Bronx, opens with a statement declaring itself a "liberal adaptation", and that it most certainly is. While traces remain of Shelley's utterly fascinating tragedy about an obsessive and romantic doctor's experimental exploits, Edison's Frankenstein seems on its own agenda. This take vaguely establishes a metaphysical connection between its title character and his monstrous creation, suggesting that without the doctor's mental capacities for evil, the experiment's result might have been an ideal person the likes of which humankind had never seen (so, basically, Tom Cruise). In this regard the film is decent in and of itself, but the drastic changes and simplification of certain complexities to simple "evil" prevent me from respecting it as an adaptation (even a liberal one) of one of my most beloved novels.

1910 is, of course, before D.W. Griffith began making feature-length material that would introduce the world to new narrative ideas and, naturally, Edison's Frankenstein reflects as much. The vast majority of scenes are accomplished through singular wide masters with title cards before each to explain impending events.  The one stand-out is the creation scene, which cuts between the doctor's point of view (pictured above) and a wide of his laboratory. The creation effect itself - the growing of flesh on a progressively mobile skeleton - is terrifyingly well-accomplished.

For decades following the studio's dissolve in 1918, Edison's Frankenstein was actually considered lost. It only resurfaced publicly in the late '70s when collector Alois F. Dettlaff, who had purchased a dilapidated copy from his mother-in-law in the early '50s, realized its rarity and ordered a 35mm preservation copy. Only on March 18th of this year was the film (now public domain, as are all films created prior to 1922) once again made available to the masses. Its deterioration is obvious as the entire piece is clouded with dirt and overexposure, but nary a frame is indeterminable.

So, in short, Edison's Frankenstein is an interesting short film in its own right with a smattering of memorable moments, but as an adaptation of Mary Shelley's literary masterwork it is an oversimplified insult. I imagine some simplification was the result of how concerned financial backers reportedly were about their audience's physical or mental tolerance for certain subject matters at the time, but altering Victor Frankenstein into empathetic evil that shares a vital bond with his creation's mentality? That's a skull-scratcher.


FILM: Anything for Mom (2004)

At some point over my beginning months at Full Sail in 2004, I joined Ouellette brothers J.P. and Beau's 48-Hour Film Festival team. For insurance that entries were indeed constructed within the allotted forty-eight hours, genres and props were assigned to each team. We received "buddy comedy" and a cheap, floral lawn ornament.

Zipping from apartment to apartment, we developed our idea, gathered props, scouted locations and stockpiled coffee. Leticia Moran provided equipment, Joeseph Price handled camera and directing was shared between J.P. and Brian Mulder. Though these somewhat clear positions were in place, we all got a fair amount of creative and technical input. To help us keep reigns on the unscripted narrative, we filmed chronologically.

The completed piece (edited by Don Osborne) was shown along with thirty to forty other submissions on one of City Walk at Universal Studios' largest screens. It was exhilarating and nerve-racking to see work I contributed to in a theater. It was relieving to hear people actually laughing at it! We did not receive any of the festival's awards, but on our way out we overheard plenty of positive chatter about "that brothers movie with the flower".