Posts Tagged ‘Thriller’

DVD Review: Four Film Favorites: Draculas

October 30, 2009

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This is the actual Dracula… but it isn’t my Dracula:

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And this is not my Dracula:

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Not this one:

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Or this one:

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And I don’t really think this is anyone’s Dracula:

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When I apply the ownership of “my” to it, I’m talking about when you close your eyes and think “Dracula,” the image that pops into your head is “your” Dracula. For me, THIS is my Dracula:

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That, my friends, is Christopher Lee. (Pausing for the appropriate oohs and ahs.) Christopher Lee starred in seven of the nine films in the Dracula series from Hammer Films, from the late ’50’s to the early 70’s.

One of my greatest memories of childhood is my father and I, each Saturday afternoon, watching old horror films on The Channel 20 (WXON) Saturday Afternoon Thriller and Sir Graves Ghastly on channel 2 (WJBK). And, of those old films, my favorites were the Dracula movies.

And, among those Dracula movies, the Hammer films rose to the top. At the time, I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk about the production values, or the acting… I would have just said they were better. Despite my age, and my ability to analyze the films and explain what draws me to them, I find myself falling back into my childhood feelings about them – they are just better.

They weren’t slow and plodding, they didn’t look like they were filmed in someone’s basement with cardboard props, and Dracula was what he was supposed to be – a monster. Evil and nasty, and not terribly talkative.

(All due respect, and I say this as a fan of both Angel and Forever Knight, but I miss when vampires weren’t all sensitive and brooding.)

I really enjoyed these movies, but hadn’t seen them in years. Oh, there have been a few releases for home entertainment over the years, but nothing great or even complete (due to rights issues, I believe).

Then, a few weeks ago, I was told about a DVD set that was out from Warner Bros. called, “4 Film Favorites: Draculas.” This is a two disc set, containing four of the Christopher Lee/Hammer Films Dracula movies – Horror of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972. The price for this assembled bit of cinema greatness? Around ten bucks.

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I was immediately doubtful. First, I’m not a fan of double sided discs when it comes to movies. They seem really susceptible to scratching and damage. Second, squeezing four films onto two discs usually mean low quality. Third, what could I really expect for $10.00?

But, fan of the films that I am, I went ahead and bought the collection.

And I’m so glad I did.

What you get is a pretty straightforward, no frills kinda deal with these. You essentially get the movie and its trailer for each film. That about does it in the area of “extras” on these discs. What makes this set worth more than the cost though is the quality of the films themselves.

Remember how I mentioned there have been various releases of these films in the past? Generally, those releases were crummy, lifted from less than stellar prints of the originals. This set, though, is sharp and crisp, not plagued with saturation problems or muffled sound like previous releases. And, the original trailers? They are pretty cool.

I would love to have a complete set of the nine Hammer Films Dracula movies, but I’m happy that four of the best of these films are collected here. (Maybe someday, the rights issues will be cleaned up and we’ll see an entire set!)

(Just in case you were interested, that set would include: Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.)

I’m not going to go into each of the movies right now, for two reasons. One, tacking on four movie reviews to this is far more work than I want to do right now (yeah, I’m lazy, but I may review the movies separately at a later time), and, Two, it is four movies for ten bucks! Even if they were horrible, that’s only $2.50 a film. I’m sure you’ve spent more on a bad film sometime in the last decade!

But, these aren’t bad. They are pretty awesome. Admittedly, I’m biased, and I’m sure nostalgia is playing a big part, but even so, I would not hesitate recommending this set to someone that wants to see some really great Dracula movies.

And, with that, my good readers, Vampire Week here at The Steve Austin Book Club draws to a close.  Thanks for joining us, Happy Halloween, and we’ll see you next week!

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Secondhand Selections: Sphere by Michael Crichton

October 2, 2009

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Greetings, faithful readers, and welcome to another new feature here at The Steve Austin Book Club – Secondhand Selections!

What is Secondhand Selections? Recently, EG was in a thrift store (We’ve established he is cheap, right?), and came upon a shelf of books. As he started looking through the books, he noticed that there were several science fiction and fantasy books among the myriad of diet books, self-improvement books, and thirty-year-old textbooks.

Considering that the average paperback now rings in at $7.99 and up, the chance to pick up a couple of books for a dollar or less appealed to him!

And, thus was the seed of this feature planted!

The rules are simple – the books reviewed in this feature have to be purchased either at a resale shop (thrift store, Goodwill, whatever). It is a chance to prove that there is cheap, literary treasure out there to be had! Or, on the other hand, there is a chance that reading some of these books might also explain how they ended up abandoned to a resale shop.

Now, let’s get to it, with the very book that EG picked up on that day when the concept of this feature was born: Michael Chrichton’s Sphere!

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This review was written with as few spoilers as I could manage and still give you, the reader, an idea of what the book was about. I’m pretty sure that you’ll be reasonably safe reading this review, but if you don’t want to know anything about the book, STOP NOW!!!

Overview:

In the middle of the South Pacific, a spacecraft is located near the bottom of the ocean floor, and, based on the surrounding environment, it has been there for at least 300 years. The ramifications of the find spur the U.S. Navy to proceed with a top secret plan written during the Carter Administration, titled “Recommendations for the Human Contact Team to Interact with Unknown Life Forms (ULF).” The author of that plan, psychologist Norman Johnson, is called in, along with mathematician Harry Adams, biochemist Beth Halpern, and astrophysicist Ted Fielding, as the civilian team to assist Captain Harold Barnes as they investigate the finding.

The team sets up shop one in an artificial underwater habitat, and soon begins exploring the mysterious ship that yields yields more questions than answers – such as, why are all the signs on the ship in English?

In the exploration of the ship, the team locates a large, perfectly polished silver sphere about 30 feet in diameter, and completely alien.

Approaching storms require the team to return to the surface, but, before they leave one of the team members does the unexpected… and enters the alien sphere.

Unable to evacuate, the team is stuck as the storms come and they are cut off from the surface world until the weather clears. Eventually, the team member that entered the sphere comes out of it.

And, that is when things start to get really interesting, as an unknown entity begins to contact them.

Review:

I have to admit something – I saw the movie Sphere in the theater in 1998. And, I have not thought of it since then, other than to think, “Well, that was a waste of money.”

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In that case, why did I pick up this book? We all know that, generally speaking, books tend to be far superior to the films made of them. I’m not knocking film, it is just really difficult to transform a tapestry woven over 300 pages or so into a 90-minute film. As a result, a lot is lost… or changed.

Sometimes, the film can be pretty good as well, and then you seek out the book, which is what I did with a little art film titled Jurassic Park.

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I liked the movie, and a lot of people told me I should read the book, because it was even better.

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So I did. I read the book, and it was great. It was also different from the movie.

When I came across Sphere at the thrift shop, my immediate thought was, “blech!” Then, I realized two things: My feelings were based entirely on the film, and Sphere was written by Michael Crichton, who also happened to write Jurassic Park. Based on that, I decided to give the book a chance.

The book is, overall, a page turner. Crichton knew how to connect with the reader, as proven in his other books, and it is no different here. It also picks up speed as it goes along, until the reader is nearly racing toward the end. (That’s something I really like to feel in books.)

Despite some pretty “out there” concepts of science (and, by “out there” I mean both complicated and suspect), the book was accessible throughout, due in a great part to choosing as the main character Norman Johnson, a non-scientist that asks the questions that the reader has almost as quickly as the reader comes up with them.

Sadly, the other characters in the book tend to be one of two options – two-dimensional or non-existant. The other members of the team recieve the two-dimensional fill out in characterization, while other characters seem to simply be until they are no more. I can’t say for sure if this was by design, so that the reader latches onto Norman even more, but it does tend to make some of the dramatic moments of the book less impactful, because we don’t have an attachment to other characters.

The action sequences are well-built throughout the book, and do have that sense of urgency needed to drive the reader forward. Thankfully, it is written so that the reader doesn’t get too hung up along the way with techno-babble. I’ve read some books that get focus on that so much that you feel like you are reading a technical manual!

There are, though, some massive lapses in common sense that pop up throughout the book. As an example, when the characters worry about running out of air in the habitat waiting for the storms to abate, I immediately found myself asking why they wouldn’t go over to the spacecraft, which had already been shown to be able to support them.

Another problem is that there are some unexplained jumps in logic that are made. Toward the end of the book, there is a character that, despite having been unconscious for more than 12 hours, seems to be completely up to speed on what is going on upon waking, leaving the reader going, “huh?”

I think the biggest disappointment with the book is the ending, which is a little too simple, almost trite, in how it ties up all the loose ends. In that regard, the reader is left unsatisfied.

I don’t mean to be hard on the book. It isn’t bad, it really isn’t, and it is very exciting at times. And, trust me, it is sooooo much better than the movie. It just wasn’t as good as I wish it had been.

For that reason, I’m giving the book a solid two and a half Running Steves.

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And, maybe, since I haven’t seen the movie in eleven years, maybe I’ll watch that again and let you know how I feel about it in more detail sometime!

This blog won’t be the last thing to fail you in life…

March 3, 2008

 

So, you might have noticed I’ve not blogged in a few days and that I also missed my Friday “Post-Id Notes” commitment.  Due to this, you are probably inclined to call me a failure.  

Well, that’s fine.  But, guess what, if you want to call me a failure you’re gonna have to get in a very long line behind most of my family members, friends, the faculty at Carson-Newman College, and the teller at my bank to do so. 

Anyway, I don’t have any long-form reviews or essays today.  Instead, I’ll just throw out a handful of things that are percolating at the top of my brain can… 

TERMINATOR:  THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES: 

I haven’t had a chance to mention this, but I was actually surprised to find that I like this show quite a bit.  I think the lead chick (Lena Headey) is quite compelling and Summer Glau as the female Terminator is playing one of the great odd-ball characters of recent sci-fi.  And, though I’m not the biggest fan of emo John Connor, I like how they’ve found a great story to tell that fills in the gaps between the film series. 

That said, I have yet to watch a single episode all the way through in one sitting.  It’s like something in the Fox transmission signal triggers this narcoleptic condition I never knew I had.   

It’s weird.  It’s not a boring show.  It’s got a good lot of action that isn’t completely mindless, interesting characters, and an automatic “IN” with me on concept alone.   

But still, tonight is the season (possibly series) finale and I’m still 3 episodes behind on my Tivo.  I can’t figure it out.  I keep trying to watch it and keep falling asleep. 

Now, to top it all off, the episode I’m stalled out on currently is the introduction of Brian Austin Green into the series.  Yeah, I’m doomed.  All they need now is for Ian Ziering to appear as a Terminator and I’m all done. 

“Even we are concerned with how boring we are.”  

YOU TUBULAR: 

I saw this clip today at Gawker.com which linked it from kottke.org which got it from You Tube.  But, I couldn’t help myself.  This was too cool and I’d hate for anyone to miss it. 

We comic fans love a good “What if?” and this is a great one.  What if Saul Bass designed the opening credits for the original Star Wars film…  Brilliant! 

THE CONSTANT: 

Last Thursday’s episode of Lost, “The Constant,” is exactly the one I would point to as exhibit A for someone who doesn’t understand my fascination with/adoration for this show. 

In said episode, one of the island-dwellers, Desmond Hume, travels back and forth in time from the present (2004 on the show) and the year 1996.  But, this time-travel isn’t done in a Delorean, a phone booth, or any physical means whatsoever.  It’s actually his consciousness that is travelling back and forth between his current and past self due to heavy exposure to a powerful electromagnetic force. 

This is a heady sci-fi concept and they don’t skirt around the science of it or the inherent paradoxes that time travel stories are typically rife with at all. 

Now, before you tune out, that stuff, while catnip for your hardcore Phillip K. Dick fan, is all very much beside the point.  If it was just about the mode of the time travel and the puzzle that the audience has to piece together to understand it then it would be alienating to most and I wouldn’t win over a single convert. 

But, in this episode, the writers have used the concept for all its metaphorical weight in order to tell a very compelling, heart-breaking love story that culminates with a simple, lump in the throat, phone conversation between two separated lovers struggling to get back to each other’s arms. 

Lost, for all its mysteries, literary references, creepy smoke monsters, and pseudo-scientific minutia is about the characters first and foremost.  It is populated with a cast of broken people who are trying to escape who they are and somehow overcome great obstacles to become who they are supposed to be. 

The greatest mystery being explored on the show is that of the human heart and how you heal it. 

Even the creators of the show have lost track of that from time to time, putting the mythology first.  But, as the strange Ms. Hawkings says in Desmond’s last time-spanning episode in season 3, the universe has a way of course-correcting. 

So too does this show and I think this episode in specific and this season in general have done just that.  It’s once again about being lost and hopefully being found. 

WHAT IN THE FREAK IS FREAK?: 

So, one of the reasons I’ve been not feverishly writing this blog is that I’ve been feverishly writing something else.  This something else is turning out to be all-encompassing to me and I’m completely obsessed with working on it lately. 

It’s a screenplay that takes place in the year 1985.  As happens with my writing, I often have a song playing in the back of my head when I’m working.  These songs usually become themes or evoke a mood for me that I’m trying to get across in the story.   

The song lately on this particular script has been Whodini’s 1984 rap classic, “Freaks Come Out At Night.”  It was mainly the chorus that was thumping in my head but due to the glories and conveniences of iTunes, I grabbed up the song for 99 cents and have been listening to it.

I shouldn’t say “listening to it.”  I should say “living in it.”  What happens is that sometimes I’ll play a song in the car when I’m with my son and if he likes it (“Someone Keeps Moving My Chair,” by They Might Be Giants was the last one) he asks me to play it over and over again until I want to throw myself out of the car window. 

As a result, I’ll venture a guess that over the course of the past weekend I listened to this song more times than it may have ever actually aired on the radio.   

I’m not out of love with it yet.  But, prolonged exposure to it has made me realize that I have no idea who the “Freaks” in this song are supposed to be.  I guess when I first heard it in the 80’s it was fresh off of the still brilliant “Thriller” video and my own Fangoria-obsessed childhood and so I naturally thought the freaks were some sort of ominous, shuffling contingent of the undead prowling the nighttime streets in search of brains.   

But, read a snippet of the lyrics and you tell me who the freaks are supposed to be because I have no idea… 

Now the party’s jumpin’, the place is packed
And when the crowd’s like this, I’m ready to rap
But before I could bust a rhyme on the mic
Freaks are all over me like white on rice
Freaks come in all shapes, sizes and colors
But what I like about ’em most is that they’re real good lovers
They do it in the park, they do it in the dark
But most freaks are known for breakin’ hearts
You could never tell what a freak was thinkin’ of
And you may never catch a freak without at least one glove
And they don’t walk, when they step, they strut
And nine times out of ten they drive you nuts
But take my advice, you don’t stand a chance
Freaks are so bad they got their own dance
So if you wanna live a nice quiet life
Do yourself a favor, don’t come out at night, ’cause
 

Now, let’s pull out a few attributes of the freaks from this.  They’re good lovers, they engage in lewd exhibitionist behavior, they break hearts, they generally wear at least one glove, they strut, they drive you nuts, they’re bad, they have their own dance, and most importantly, they come out at night. I may have been on to something with the “Thriller” connection.  But, it’s not the undead we’re talking about here.  It’s Michael Jackson, right?  I guess the big giveaway is the one glove thing.   

That being said, the song is “Freaks” plural.  Which, as terrifying as it is, means there are more than one of him, right? 

Yikes.  I guess I’m staying in at night. 

Okay, that’ll have to do it for now.  I’ll try to show up again tomorrow. 

But, if I don’t, please know that I love you and I miss you like the deserts miss the rains.