Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's Halloween! Where's my Silver Shamrock mask???

I’ve been lapsing in my posting, so I’m going to try to make up for it with a rather long one. Enjoy!

With Halloween lurking around the corner (a matter of hours, actually), I deemed it necessary to chime in on a heinous crime that is being enacted on this hallow-ed (I know, bad pun) day.

When I am at home on Halloween, there are a couple things I always look forward to:
1. hoarding the best candy from the giant metal bowl, so that I don’t feel so guilty for giving it to unthankful children
2. being a complete jerk to those kids (usually teenagers) who just didn’t feel like dressing up, and
3. kicking back with the TV on and watching hours upon hours of horror movies.

While the first two of that list will surely come to pass, it is unfortunate that I will really have to search around to find any good Halloween programming this year. Most cable networks, including Turner Classic Movies, AMC (Awful Movie Crap, formerly known as American Movie Classics), and ABC Family have been showing horror films throughout the month leading up to Halloween. That said, I did a bit of scanning ahead with the ol’ DVR to see what all the networks have planned for Friday. And here is the list of Halloween-related programming for 10/31/08:

Beginning at 6pm ET:

FX – House of Wax (4:30)
HIST – Haunted History of Halloween
TRAV – Halloween’s Most Extreme
BRAVO – 100 Scariest Movie Moments (marathon)
TCM – Bedlam (5)
AMC – Constantine
E! – 20 Most Horrifying Hollywood Moments
BIO – Mediums: We See Dead People
HIST-I – History’s Mysteries: Crypts, Coffins and Corpses
WE – Extreme Ghost Stories
TDIS – Alvin & The Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein
HBO2 – Ghost, then The Craft
HBOSE – The Crucible
HBOF – Ghost Trackers
MAX-E – Hills Have Eyes 2 (remake)
MMX-E – Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist
MAX-W – Rosemary’s Baby
TMC-E – The Dark (5:15)
STARZ2 – Hatchet (5:30)

ION – The Canterville Ghost (7pm - 1996)
FX – Halloween H20
HIST – Modern Marvels: Halloween Tech
TRAV – Ghost Adventures
FAM – Poltergeist
TOON – Goosebumps
TCM – The Haunted Palace (1964)
AMC – Resident Evil
E! – Doomed To Die? 13 Curses
TVLAND – marathon of Halloween episodes of classic tv
SCIFI – Ghost Hunters Live
BIO – More Haunted Houses
WE – Extreme Ghost Stories
NTOON – Are you Afraid of the Dark?
FUSE – (7pm)
ENCR1 – Silence of the Lambs
G4 – The Host
IFC – Eaten Alive (7:15pm)
RETRO – Night of the Living Dead
HBOCM – Snakes on a Plane
SHOCE – Hannibal Rising
TMCE – The Dead One (7:30)
STRZ2 – The Bone Collector (7pm)
STRZ3 – Resident Evil: Extinction

CN8 – Sometimes They Come Back (9pm)
ION – Legend of Sleepy Hollow (9pm, 1999)
FX – Ghost Ship (9pm)
HIST – Primal Fear (doc, not movie)
FOOD – Food Network Challenge: Haunted Gingerbread Houses
DIS – RL Stine’s Mostly Ghostly
TCM – Die, Monster, Die!(9:30)
AMC – House on Haunted Hill (1999)
BIO – Ghosts: Fact or Fiction
WE – Ghost Moms
TDISE – Power Rangers marathon
FUSE – Hellraiser (9pm)
ENCR1 – Child’s Play
FLIXE – The Blair Witch Project (9:45pm)
TVONE – Blacula (9pm)
MAXE – Jaws
MAXW – Fear (1996)
AMAX – Predator
WMAX – The Reaping
SHOCE – Incubus (2005)
TMCE – Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horrors
STRZ2 – 30 Days of Night
STRZ3 – Seven
STRZ5 – Grindhouse

BRAVO – The Exorcist (11pm)
TCM – The Shuttered Room (11pm)
AMC – Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)
FUSE – Body Snatchers (11pm)
ENCR1 – Firestarter (11:30pm)
ENCR5 – Maniac Cop 2 (12:10am)
RETRO – Videodrome (11:40pm)
FLIXE – The Wicker Man (1973, 11:10pm)
TVONE – Scream, Blacula, Scream (11)
TMCE – Man’s Best Friend
STRZ3 – The Cell

There are a few things that strike me as terribly odd with this batch of programs, and I will delve into each in turn. Firstly, do you notice that I didn’t list ANYTHING from the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, etc.)? Well, that is because they must feel that Halloween is beneath them, so they are all sticking to their regular Friday programming schedule. Was it really so long ago that you could chill on a Halloween night and flip from channel to channel to channel and almost always land on a spook-fest of some sort? Anyway, it seems that the cable networks (and the premium networks) are trying to pick up some of the slack. Let’s move on.

Okay, we’ve got The History Channel, Travel Network, Bravo, E!, Biography, History International, WE…essentially all of the Infotainment & Gossip networks all playing some form of scary countdown or quantitative theme show that centers around something resembling the macabre. Let me ask you this, when you’re handing out candy with the lights off, do you really want some bland narrative running in the background? Where is the atmosphere in that? Come on, I’ve seen movies shown on most, if not all of those channels on normal programming days, why stop now? I’m probably going a little bit overboard on this one, because at least they are ‘trying’ to get into the spirit of the season. I’m a little biased, because I feel a lot of those ‘Top Ten’ list shows are a bunch of crapped that were actually compiled by the show’s own producers, thereby forcing the viewer what is considered the elite of the given topic. Don’t get me started with those damned VH-1 shows…moving on.

Some cable networks are following the major networks’ lead and ignoring the holiday altogether. Here’s a little rundown:

TNT – The Da Vinci Code
TMCXE – Employee of the Month
STZ1 – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
STRZ5 – The Holiday
STR6 – Daddy Day Camp

TBS – Fun With Dick and Jane
TVLAND – Police Academy
THE N – Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon
ENCR6 – Catch and Release
TDISE – Power Rangers marathon
STRZ6 – Next Friday

Okay, I’ll give you The Da Vinci Code, because Tom Hanks’ hair was truly frightening. And I’ll even give you Pirates of the Caribbean 3, simply because the fact that Disney let that one even see the light of day was a horrifying experience. The other programming? Well, I don’t know, maybe they are directed at the fundamentalists and hardcore Christians who think Halloween is an abomination (which is to say, they are all angry because they couldn’t , or forgot to dream up some bizarre, ritualistic, Biblical-themed holiday to usurp the celebration). I really don’t want to tread down this route, so I’ll save this discussion for another time.

Let’s take a little look at AMC. Now, as previously mentioned, the channel’s name is an acronym for American Movie Classics. Now, for everything else on the planet, in order for something to be considered a classic, it has one little criterium: it must be AT LEAST 25 years old. What is AMC showing on Halloween? Constantine (released in 2005), Resident Evil (released in 2002), House on Haunted Hill (released in 1999), and Return to House on Haunted Hill (released in 2007 – it’s basically brand-new!!!!). So, nothing they are showing on Halloween night is over 10 years old. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, these are also part of AMC’s special marathon called The Evil Eight, hosted by Rob Zombie. This is funny, primarily because none of these movies are even in Zombie’s directorial canon, and I seriously doubt he truly enjoyed them. The way these things usually work is that they have a list of movies to show, they get a host (usually someone ‘in’ the scene), give them a bit of a script (for the really bad jokes), and force them to say nice things about mediocre movies. The guest host has no real control over the situation at all. My guess is that AMC is having him on, because they may be planning to put House of 1000 Corpses or Devil’s Rejects into rotation soon, and are using him as a tool for free promotion. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of sinister theories like this.

Next up on my head-scratching list is the notable absence of certain movies/shows. Go ahead and scroll back up to see if you can spot anything missing. How about It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? Oh, someone aired that on Tuesday, so there’s no need to play it again. Okay, how about some of the tried-and-true Halloween classics, like Psycho? Not scheduled to air. ANY of the vintage Universal monster movies, i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, or The Mummy? Not scheduled to air. A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th? Oh, a lot of networks ran that over the summer. Certainly we cannot go a Halloween without a HALLOWEEN marathon! I live for John Carpenter’s genre defining movie on the day in which it was set. Oh, AMC is showing a mini-marathon of Halloween, Halloween 4 and Halloween 5…IN THE MORNING, starting at 9:30am. Don’t get me wrong; watching the original Halloween over a bowl of Corn Pops does have its morbid charm, but the movie isn’t the kind of television entertainment I want to be experiencing while the sun is out. Besides, I think I spent most of my growing years with Halloween and Halloween 2 as the backdrop to MANY of my Halloweens. (Wow, that was a weird sentence.)

Has the advent of the DVD deteriorated the networks’ interest in providing new generations with the movies that we grew up with? Or are they so hell-bent on making a buck, they don’t feel that Halloween is profitable anymore? Whatever the case, I think most of these stations are missing out on an excellent programming opportunity, especially since Halloween falls on a Friday this year, which means, most people will be having all-night parties, and they will require some form of televised stimulus, if not for background noise alone. It is sad, really, that we have moved so far beyond those golden days of being able to expect favorite shows and movies to return at those special points in the year. Now, it seems that the networks are run by accountants, rather than creative individuals who take pride in their work. I suppose I will have to rely on my DVD player for proper atmosphere this Halloween.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Technology Rocks!

The technology age in which we live really astounds me. Think about it. In a mere 20-25 years, we have developed telephones that play music and videos, portable Global Positioning Systems so we no longer have to get directions from anyone, and we can order pizza and pay almost any bill via computer! But one of the technological advancements that continues to amaze me is’s uncanny ability to dictate what I should be spending my money on based on their Recommendations.

If you haven’t visited, it is an online one-stop retailer, where you can purchase almost anything. I believe the company started out merely as an online bookseller and exploded from there. Anyway, if you are registered with the site, Amazon has some form of quantitative data crunching technology that makes purchase recommendations for you based on a number of factors: things you have previously bought from them, tastes of other customers who also bought what you have previously purchased, items you have rated on the site, items you have in your shopping cart, and current market trends.

And beneath each recommendation, Amazon feels it must justify why it is telling you to buy this item, by trying to put the blame back onto you, the consumer, based on one of your previous actions on the site. It will say something like, “TOP GUN, Recommended because you purchased RISKY BUSINESS,” or “LE MORT D’ARTHUR, Recommended because you rated THE 13TH WARRIOR” or something silly like that.

Anyway, one of my little time-killing hobbies is logging on to Amazon, clicking on the Recommendations tab, and perusing through the 300 or so items they think I would have an interest in purchasing. I chuckle at some of the things, because they are dead wrong with my personal taste, but at other times, I am amazed and say to myself, “Yeah, I do want that! Thanks Amazon!” More often than not, it feels like Amazon has somehow reached into my subconscious and is telling me things I already know, but didn’t actually think about.

So, without further ado, here are the top 20 items Amazon thinks I need to own to be a happier person:

1. Craig Armstrong – THE INCREDIBLE HULK film score CD
2. Danny Elfman – HELLBOY II: GOD’S ARMY film score CD
3. Pyramaze – IMMORTAL CD
5. VIKING: BATTLE FOR ASGARD videogame soundtrack CD
7. David Buckley – THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM film score CD
9. Symphony X – PARADISE LOST CD
10. Brian Tyler – EAGLE EYE film score CD
15. Witchfinder General – DEATH PENALTY CD
18. QUO VADIS (Two Disc Special Edition) DVD
20. Meshuggah – OBZEN CD

Strangely, Amazon recommended most of those CDs simply because I rated the AGE OF CONAN: HYBORIAN ADVENTURES videogame soundtrack. While I did truly enjoy that CD, I really don’t believe it sounds anything like the products mentioned above. In fact, all of the aforementioned soundtracks were recommended based on that one item. Not sure how that happened, though I would like to own the HELLBOY II film score. I reviewed it for Muze when it was released (yeah, I do freelance CD reviews for them, which pop up all over the internet – in fact, I linked HELLBOY II to one of them), and I thoroughly enjoyed it, though my review was based on what I was able to listen to on So I truly would welcome the disc. Maybe I’ll get it this weekend.

Moving on, Pyramaze and Amon Amarth were recommended because I rated the new Evergrey album, Meshuggah and Watchtower were recommended because I rated an Anacrusis album, Symphony X was recommended because I rated an obscure Morgana Lefay album, and Witchfinder General was recommended because I rated a Cirith Ungol CD. What do these all have in common? Pretty much nothing. I don’t think any of the recommended titles sound anything like the rated items. Okay, I guess Evergrey and Pyramaze are progressive melodic metal bands, but Amon Amarth is a death metal band! I guess it was recommended because both bands are Swedish. That makes a lot of sense.

You’re probably wondering about the other stuff, so here goes. Cathedral was recommended because I rated another Cathedral CD. Of course, the logic here is, if you like one, you should like them all! Try telling that to all those snot-nosed ‘purists’ who thought George Lucas’ STAR WARS prequel trilogy diluted the divine essence of the original trilogy.

THE DEVIL’S TEETH was recommended because I put a book about great white sharks in my shopping cart (so that does actually make some sense). And in all honesty, I already own a copy of THE DEVIL’S TEETH, I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. ROBOT CHICKEN was recommended because I rated the ROBOT CHICKEN STAR WARS SPECIAL. Again, this makes perfect sense. However, SPACED was also recommended because of this same DVD. I guess Amazon thinks that Simon Pegg and Seth Green are the same brand of comedy? I dunno.

The Steve Martin book was recommended because I added another Steve Martin book to my cart. Okay, Amazon, you are currently winning this argument. THE PENGUIN GUIDE TO BLUES RECORDINGS was recommended because I plopped the similar guide to Jazz in my cart. The DISNEY CD was recommended because I rated the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN Disney Park ride CD. And although I also rated tons of other Disney CDs, somehow, it chose that one as the clincher.

And finally, QUO VADIS was recommended because I got a kick out of the 1945 film version of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (and if you haven’t noticed, the very story from which this movie was based is also the place where my blog name originated – woo hoo!). This one doesn’t really make any sense at all either. One is a gladiator film about the rise of Christianity, and the other is an Oscar Wilde cautionary tale that borders on horror. I’m struggling to see the connection here. Maybe they had a cast member in common, or Warner Home Video coerced Amazon into advertising the two together to try to somehow piggy back sales from completely unrelated audiences. I don’t get it. I guess that’s why I’m not in advertising.

The one thing this tells me, though, is that I probably need more hobbies that don’t revolve around CDs, DVDs, and books, because according to Amazon, that is all I spend my money on. If only Amazon sold food, then my Recommendations would REALLY be interesting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

So Ends Another Era...

I came home from work tonight and popped onto Facebook to see what everyone was up to, and if anyone was on to chat, and I came across something that floored me. One of my friends posted his status as being “sad that the Original Gangster Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite passed away”.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Rudy Ray Moore was a prolific, if not raunchy comedian/actor who rose to fame in the mid 1970s with movies like DOLEMITE, DISCO GODFATHER, and my personal favorite, PETEY WHEATSTRAW – THE DEVIL’S SON-IN-LAW.

I immediately went over to to see what kind of eulogy they had prepared for him, and there wasn’t even a blip of a news item announcing his passing. I did a google search and found that reported on it, stating the following:

Dolemite actor Rudy Ray Moore died last week due to complications from diabetes. He was 81. In addition to being a blaxploitation film icon thanks to Dolemite, his character’s fast-talking, street-walking persona served as a blueprint for many hip-hop stars whom he would inspire. Moore was one of the early champions of the hip-hop culture and collaborated with artists like Snoop Dogg, Big Daddy Kane and 2 Live Crew (on the song “Throw the Dick.”) After starting out as a singer, Moore made the segue into comedy, releasing over 30 comedy albums and appearing in 18 films over the course of his career, but he’ll always remembered for his role as Dolomite, the silver-tongued pimp. Moore helped paved the way for comics like Richard Pryor, as Moore’s records were often so controversial for their language that stores would either refuse to stock his albums or place them behind the counter in brown bags. In 2000, Moore resurrected the Dolemite character for the first time in 20 years for the Insane Clown Posse film Big Money Hustlas. Moore is survived by his daughter and 98 year-old mother.

Sadly, this was written as if it were merely culled from bio information the writer may have found on Wikipedia, not by someone who actually appreciated (let alone was even familiar with) his work. What is more depressing is that IMDB (the almighty authority on all things film-related) didn’t even have a Trivia page or Bio listed for the man. It’s as if he was merely another inconsequential actor wading in a sea of mediocrity.

I am doubly saddened by this whole ordeal, because I have a lot of fond memories that circulate around Rudy Ray Moore. A friend and I used to celebrate his works, with an ample supply of malt liquor, on weekend nights, with many an evening culminating in the viewing and recitation of the aforementioned PETEY WHEATSTRAW or one of the DOLEMITE flicks.

On a trip to New York City this past spring, I even picked up a copy of the PETEY WHEATSTRAW soundtrack on vinyl!!! I was shocked that a label would recognize the understated, classic R&B brilliance of the album. I have even heard that they also released it on CD! Of course I highly recommend checking it out.

More recently, PETEY WHEATSTRAW became a clinching factor in my bonding with a couple members of Snoop Dogg’s entourage during his 2008 Summer Tour (alongside 311 and Fiction Plane). I had bumped into a couple of the guys at a nightclub and mentioned that I remember them from the Snoop Dogg show the night before in VA. We got to talking about the philosophy of Snoop’s music, which is, in essence, an update and a celebration of classic R&B and funk, and we eventually got on the topic of movies. I told the guy (who I later found out was Snoop’s own half-brother Bing) that I was a big fan of those 1970s movies like COOLEY HIGH, SHAFT IN AFRICA, BUCKTOWN, TRUCK TURNER and PETEY WHEATSTRAW – THE DEVIL’S SON-IN-LAW. He was actually awestruck that I had even heard of the movie, most likely because I am white – yeah, I know it’s a semi-racist assumption, but honestly, can you blame me for thinking it?

Although I spent a good chunk of my youth in a suburbanite setting, another good chunk was spent in some not-so-friendly areas. I was somehow drawn to these urban films, probably because of their harsh, yet easily relatable, visions of life. I was captivated by their rawness, their crassness…their ‘realness’. I expressed this to Bing, and I can’t help but think we developed a sort of kinship in that moment, but then again, that probably could have been due to the Cognac. Anyway, we ended up singing the PETEY WHEATSTRAW theme song in the club for a bit, and that is one of those little memories that I will honestly cherish for some time to come.

But back to Moore; his films, while cheaply produced, were full of comic action, music, and inventive storytelling. Moore’s blending of martial arts, gangster action and comedy was pioneering, and to date, I don’t think anyone has managed to bleed the genres as seamlessly as he. Sure, you can say that he wasn’t the greatest actor, but his movies were so full of heart and his passion for expression that you really couldn’t help but adore him. He was silly when he needed to be, but when he was serious, his coldness could chill you in an instant.

Now, as you can see, I was more familiar with his films than his comedy albums, and it does somewhat shame me that his albums have largely passed me by. But I suppose now is as good a time as any to get acquainted with his non-film work. Then again, it may make me just a little bit sadder that another genius has been extinguished. Regardless, I am sure his albums will bring a smile to my face.

Of course, there are many dissenters out there, who would quickly pass him off as a callous, untalented hack. These are people who cannot look beyond a fleeting glimpse; they do not want to understand. And it is even more distressing to think that there are thousands of people out there who have never even heard the name Rudy Ray Moore, because popular media has shunned him for so long. While an incredible advocate (and practitioner) of The First Amendment, Moore was semi-silenced for many years by our lovely fundamentalist, mass appeal media system, which abhors anything that isn’t quite “family-friendly”.

Thankfully, there is a DVD box set out there containing 7 of his classic films, and many of his CDs are still in print, so we can still revel in his brilliance.

Rudy Ray Moore, you will be missed. May your legend live on to affect (infect) many generations to come. Thank you for the memories.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

There's a bit of tarnish on THE SHINING

I just finished watching THE SHINING for the first time since childhood, and I came to the startling conclusion that it really did not hold up well over time. In fact, I found it shockingly boring and drawn out.

Let's back up a bit. My fiancee told me that we have to attend a wedding tomorrow up in the mountains at a lodge that reminds her co-workers of The Overlook Hotel, which is actually Timberline Lodge (but you can look that up on Wikipedia on your own). Anyway, I asked if she'd ever seen THE SHINING, and she admitted that it was one that slipped by her.

So I tracked it down, and we watched it. Now, as the film was starting, my memories of watching this movie when I was 6 or 7 came flooding back (the 2 scary dead/not dead little girls in the hallway, the naked lady who gets scabby in the bathroom, poor Scatman Crothers getting hacked up by the concierge, and Jack Nicholson's frozen face at the end). I was thinking about those moments and the fact that EVERYONE seems to consider this a horror classic, so I settled in for a good chill-ride down memory lane.

However, I found myself becoming bored very quickly. Sure, the cinematography was top-notch, and the scenery was stunning...but that was about it. The dialogue was very choppy and uneventful, and Crothers round-about explanation of what "shining" actually entailed and how it related to Danny/Tony didn't really make a lot of sense. People (MANY PEOPLE) credit Stanely Kubrick as some kind of filmmaking prophet, but I really didn't get that from this movie. In fact, the only parts of the movie I actually enjoyed were the aforementioned ones held over from my childhood.

I began thinking of the things that led to my dissatisfaction with the film. First, I started with Stephen King. I loathe the man's books, but once in a while (CARRIE, CHRISTINE, and dare I say it, THE MIST), movies based on his work have an understated, if not cheese-filled charm that make for a pleasant diversion. Then again, since THE SHINING was only loosely based on his book of the same name, I chucked that notion out the window.

Then I moved on to the acting. Of course, you can't fault Nicholson. The guy could be cast in a live-action SMURFS movie and make it convincing (at least his role, anyway). Scatman? Come on, the guy voiced Jazz in the old TRANSFORMERS cartoons. How about Ms. Shelley Duvall? Well, I did enjoy her hopelessly ditzy Olive Oyl in POPEYE (yes, hanging my head, I liked that movie...which probably tells you a little bit about my often easily amused taste). However, I just didn't find her convincing as a weak-willed, yes-man of a housewife. I dunno, her bug-eyes made me think she was more nuts than Nicholson, despite his ski-slope eyebrows and teeth-gnashing.

Okay, so we have one thing that reeked of obnoxious. Also, believe it or not, Kubrick's direction really didn't sit well with me. I know he was trying to push the feeling of isolation and being alone too long with one's thoughts, but everytime they showed Danny barreling down those hallways on his big wheel, I couldn't help but imagine how fun that would have been. Hell, I would have taken it a step further and used the staircases as toboggan ramps, a la GREYSTOKE. Also, Kubrick must have either been short on budget or really wanted you not to forget certain things, because his incessant reuse of several shots -- over and over again -- really started to grate on my nerves. The movie was slow enough as it was; I didn't need another excuse to go grab another beverage (I was drinking hot chocolate, mind you, nothing more).

Ultimately, I was left wondering how I even had the attention span to sit through this same movie during my childhood. I must've either been bolted to a chair, or I wasn't paying close attention to the tv. I'm sure that another 20 years down the line, my memory will abbreviate the film once again back to those fleeting moments. Either that, or I will remember drooling from this viewing.