Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Refilling the Flagon of Chuckles (or at Least an Extra Tall Improv Glass)...


One of these days, my wife Jen and I will see Patton Oswalt live at the end of a tour, when he has buffed his latest material to a crystalline sheen and stropped each and every punchline to its ultimate razor sharpness. He will be recording (or close to recording) his latest cable special or album, in a hall specially selected for its visual and audial excellence, and it will be a truly memorable night of comedy for us.

But until then, I love watching Patton Oswalt in workshop mode. Last night was our fourth time seeing him onstage in any setting, and our second seeing him onstage at the Irvine Improv (in the old theatre and now in the brand new design, which is much improved, though Patton did riff on how dwarfed he was in the larger, deeper stage layout. [The other two times we saw him live were at the Tenacious D and Friends – Stand with Haiti Benefit at the Wiltern in 2010, where he did a short set amongst many other acts, and at the inaugural Festival Supreme in 2013, where we missed his Stage 3 set (and others) because we could barely get back to that area comfortably without being crushed by the crowds, but he did get on the main stage to make a couple of introductions, and appeared onstage during Tenacious D's closing set, though hidden inside a costume.] 

The last time we saw Patton onstage at the Improv, he came out in sweats, just after having fed his then-infant daughter, and worked haphazardly but hilariously through brand new material off a legal pad. We had seen Eddie Izzard in the early part of a tour a few years back, but he was way beyond where Patton was that night in regards to polish. I found it fascinating to watch Patton throwing out lines and quite literally rewriting on the pad on the stage as he discovered what worked with the crowd and what didn't.

Skipping ahead to last night, Jen and I got to bear witness to Patton's first long stand-up set since his wife died suddenly four and half months ago. He was nervous (or at least seemed that way, and it would be understandable) and if he wasn't totally in control of his emotions, he did have the audience behind him the entire way. Most of the crowd seemed to have an awareness of what they were witnessing, and made allowances for it, although Patton addressed that issue directly on a couple of occasions, calling himself out when he felt that he had gained cheap applause through stage trickery.

Working sporadically off a legal pad once again, the hour-long set was a mix of brand new material, a couple of the best bits from his last tour (the "clown from the edge of the forest" story, for example), his fluent nerd-speak, and some crowd work with the first couple rows of tables (his refrain of "Tractors!" being a favorite for me) when he needed to clear his head a little. But hiding behind everything was that hill that needed climbing, which he tackled somewhat tentatively and more than a bit roughly. With less agile comedians, should they start a bit with "So, my wife died four and a half months ago...," the air would definitely find its way as quickly as possible out of the room. It was different here, because there was so much hanging on it. To a degree, we in the audience were all guilty of being rubberneckers, and perhaps Patton was as well. His act has long relied on being open about his life experiences in a rather sincere way, even more so in the last few years since he got married and had a child. To just ignore that in his act now would seem a betrayal, and he finally tackled it head on with a certain degree of success. Comedy is a fine-tuning process, and with material soaked in this much darkness, he has a lot of tuning to do before it is ready for mass consumption.

Patton had one sure thing in his pocket, and he was able to rely on the makeup of his audience when he needed a jolt of energy in the show: his high-profile Twitter feuds with various Trump acolytes, and his anger at the political circus in which we are enmeshed currently. In fact, so fired up was he on this point that he interrupted his new opening material to launch into some Trump material. "OK, I'm sorry, but this can't wait..." Everyone knew exactly what was coming. It was grand.

On a personal note: I found it interesting that when Patton mentioned that most of his audience were probably of like mind with him politically and then the resultant applause started, my eyes immediately drifted across the audience to see who wasn't clapping. (Mind you, Irvine is a city in Orange County, traditionally the most Republican-voting county in left-dominant Southern California.) The people on either side of us weren't clapping at that cue, but then they laughed as hard at everything, including every other anti-Trump rip that followed, as we were, so that response applause was clearly no indicator. I just found it interesting that my knee-jerk reaction was to suss out the enemy within. That is where our country has gone with this, and I am as guilty as anyone of being unaccepting of the opinions of others. We all need to step this back a notch or two.

[I wish that I had pictures but the Improv, much like a movie theatre, has a "no cell phone policy" once the show is underway. I don't like my movies interrupted, and I am certainly not going to ruin a stand-up show either. Unless Dane Cook is on the stage...]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Tower of Film: My Top 25 of 1964

For those who might think it is in poor taste for me to use the word "tower" so blithely in an article title on September 11, my answer to anything negative you might have to say about it is a deeply cold "Fuck you, it's my goddamned birthday."

Also, this tower is still standing. (And please don't cue the Elton song...) This tower stands as long as I do (or at least as long as I can breathe, if in fact standing ever becomes a true difficulty, then I shall watch sitting down). The Tower of Film is my term for the figurative monstrosity that has arisen out of the 12,000-plus feature films that I have watched in my now fifty-two years on this spheroid, with the very cream of the crop occupying the higher, more exalted positions on that tower.

The Tower of Film started out a few years ago as a different project which slowly evolved into its current state, once I realized the enormous breadth of the project and just how much I had underestimated its original potential. That first intent was merely to make sure that I watched the most important films that had been released within each year of my lifespan, but then went far beyond that I started accumulating an enormous database of films, which ultimately spanned over 6,000 films before I stopped pulling it together about three years back. (I have yet to update it to account for those last three years.)

Early on in the project, I decided to start going through the list and concentrated on the very first year within it, that naturally being 1964, the year of my birth. Using the website Flickchart to rank all of my films (to date, I have ranked 12,040 feature films – that I have views from start to finish, a prime criteria for candidacy on my part – on that site), I've discovered that I have watched 164 films from 1964. (Not every film that I have seen is on Flickchart yet, so there are some titles left out each year.)

After several years of ranking my films one against the other on Flickchart (I highly recommend it for movie buffs if you are at all interested in determining your favorite films of all time), I present now on this celebration of my 52nd year my Top 25 films of 1964:

[# | title | director | my ranking overall on Flickchart out of 12,040 films as of 9/11/2016]

#25The PawnbrokerSidney Lumet Flickchart: 1,447
#24Nothing but a ManMichael Roemer | Flickchart: 1,340
#23Fail-SafeDir.: Sidney Lumet | Flickchart: 1,336
#22World without Sun | Jacques-Yves CousteauFlickchart: 1,306
#21The Gospel According to St. Matthew Pier Paolo PasoliniFlickchart: 1,300

#20Ghidrah, the Three-Headed MonsterIshirô HondaFlickchart: 1,299
Some of you might be surprised that I am able to have a big, stupid, Japanese monster film appear on the list slightly higher than a far more sober and intellectually demanding Pasolini film (as well as a trio of steady, sharp dramas). I have two answers to that: 1) I am an atheist, and if I do have a god, it is only Godzilla, not the Jesus (though he seemed like such a nice boy...); and 2) Welcome to the world as occupied by my brothers and I, the world of Silly and Serious, where equal weight is given to items in both camps at the same time. I am deathly serious about my silliness, and can be most silly when it comes to matters of great seriousness. For me, Pasolini sits alongside Toho quite easily, and I can jump from one to the other in seconds. And my love for the Ghidrah film (though I prefer it to be spelled Ghidorah) is high enough where I could have placed this even further up on the list given my druthers. However, no one has given me any druthers in a good while, so the film sits in the list where it is for the moment.

#19Seance on a Wet AfternoonBryan Forbes | Flickchart: 1,162
#18The Masque of the Red DeathRoger CormanFlickchart: 1,033

#17The TrainJohn FrankenheimerFlickchart: 1,032
If I had been exposed to this Burt Lancaster film a few years earlier than I actually was it would probably rank even higher on this list than it does. I have always been a sucker for Lancaster, and this would have made me crazy had I seen it at twelve or thirteen.

#16Une femme mariéeJean-Luc GodardFlickchart: 1,004
#15Seven Faces of Dr. LaoGeorge PalFlickchart: 1,003
#14 | Gate of FleshSeijun SuzukiFlickchart: 961

#13The Umbrellas of Cherbourg | Jacques Demy | Flickchart: 927
This might as well be called The Umbrellas of Charm-bourg, because once I saw it a few years ago, I knew that it was just so perfect. Where had it been all my life? (Though it is likely I would have hated it as a child...) This film has the greatest chance of moving straight up the charts for me on subsequent showings. It already has a tad.

#12Topkapi | Dir.: Jules Dassin | Flickchart: 883

#11Goldfinger | Dir.: Guy HamiltonFlickchart: 645
I am going to admit here and now that as they age and as I do too, some of the older Bond films are slipping for me. Maybe it is because I am becoming ever more progressive in my attitudes with each passing year, but attitudes that I once either accepted, shrugged off, or embraced are harder for me to simply let pass. Still, I love the early Bond thug as portrayed by Connery (and still the best Bond for my money) and it is hard to ignore the famous set pieces, villains, punchlines, and hardware that have been ingrained in my head since youth. It has come down my list a bit in recent years, but it is still hanging in there. I do not expect Mr. Bond to die.

#10Zulu | Cy EndfieldFlickchart: 618
#9Becket Peter Glenville | Flickchart: 542

#8 | Band of Outsiders aka Bande à part | Jean-Luc GodardFlickchart: 370 
Only the second director to land on the 1964 list twice (the other being Lumet), I expect this Godard classic will bring the most debate from my fellow film buffs for being this far down in my Top 10. My defense is simple: I did not see it until after the age of thirty, I like other Godard films of that era better (Contempt, Week-End), and my Top 3, maybe 5 are almost impossible to surpass in my mind on a nostalgic level, being a child of 1964 (though, of course, I did not see any of them until I was a good bit older than a mere baby).

#7 | Woman in the DunesHiroshi TeshigaharaFlickchart: 338
I bought the Criterion triple-movie box set of Teshigahara's films sight unseen just because Woman in the Dunes came highly recommended to me from about four thousand different corners, and the substandard print I found on YouTube was too fuzzy to understand. A most stunning film, though I liked his film The Face of Another even more. Just discovering Teshigahara for myself made the entire effort of spending months creating my database entirely worth it. If all of this had only brought me to discover his films, I would have been content. But I have found so much more.

#6KwaidanMasaki Kobayashi | Flickchart: 311
#5 | Mary PoppinsRobert Stevenson | Flickchart: 261
#4A Fistful of Dollars | Sergio LeoneFlickchart: 195

#3 | A Shot in the DarkBlake EdwardsFlickchart: 136
While my love for Blake Edwards comes down to The Great Race from 1965, my esteem for Peter Sellers is built initially from my early exposure to this quite silly Inspector Clouseau film, the best of The Pink Panther series. It is only in the #3 spot for 1964 because two greater comedies were released in the same exact year...

#2A Hard Day's NightRichard Lester | Flickchart: 15
I will never get this film out of my system, no matter what I do. Richard Lester is absolutely underestimated as a director and needs a serious career reevaluation. Entirely too influential, sometimes in ways that people who have never even seen this film will never know. Plus, the Beatles were great natural actors, and hilarious as well. That it is all wrapped about live (though staged) footage of the boys in their prime makes it even better, giving us a real time capsule glimpse of history in the making, while also making us laugh with pre-MTV video antics and trademark Lester wackiness.

And for me, though it is sometimes a close swap with the #2 in the list, there really is only one film that could possibly top my Top Films of 1964 list:

#1Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BombStanley Kubrick | Flickchart: 8
The film that I watch on my birthday more than any other (probably about twenty times or so, though I am skipping it this time). In my all-time Top Ten, my favorite Kubrick film, and my favorite Sellers film. Eminently quotable, endlessly ridiculous, and ultimately vital in the times in which we find ourselves. Quite simply the sharpest, wittiest, most dead on satire ever created.




Well, that's it. I am sure many of you will have disputes about favorite films left off MY list. See, that the gist of it... this is MY list. These are films that have either influenced me quite young, as many of the movies higher up on the list did, or that have come into my life later of which I have grown an abiding fondness. However they got there, they are my treasures, and on this birthday, it is likely that I will choose at least one or two of them to revisit to make my day brighter. I hope you do the same, especially if there are films that you haven't seen yet on here. You could do far worse (and probably will at some point, just as I do...)

Hell, I started the day watching The Crawling Eye...

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Psychotronic Video Guide: Straight to Video but a Long Time to Letterboxd

[This post has been published simultaneously here and on my new film book website – V for Voluminous, C for Cinema. To read this post on that site instead, go to https://vforvoluminous.wordpress.com/.]

The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
by Michael Weldon
St. Martin's Press/Griffin | 1996
Trade paperback | 646 Pages

1st U.S. edition

My love for Michael Weldon's 1983 book, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, is well-known to my friends and longtime readers of my websites. Much of the early drive of my original blog, The Cinema 4 Pylon, was dedicated to playing catch up (in a series of posts that went by the title "Psychotronic Ketchup") in trying to see all of the films within that book, a volume which contained roughly 3,000 film titles of the not exactly middle of the road variety.

If there is a book within my library that I consider to be a "bible," though not in a truly religious sense of course, it is Weldon's Encyclopedia. As rough hewn and lowbrow as it is, for a fan of so-called "trash" cinema, it is indispensable. Before that book, which was published by Ballantine Books at roughly the same time I started working for a book chain in Anchorage, Alaska, Weldon put out a fanzine (that I never saw back in the day) called Psychotronic TV. After the Encyclopedia came out, he transformed his fanzine into a more widely distributed publication (though still pretty much tied to its fanzine roots in its sporadic publishing schedule and DIY aesthetic) titled Psychotronic Video. I grabbed a copy any chance that I got, and sure enough, just like with the book, I was always certain to read about films that made my head spin. I couldn't fathom that some of the titles could even be considered, let alone actually filmed and put into theatres or on video.

The magazine ran until 2006, when Michael Weldon finally closed the doors on the psychotronic world for good, but before that he put out a sequel to his first book. In 1996, Weldon published The Psychotronic Video Guide, an even larger book than the Encyclopedia in dimensional size, but it has a couple of hundred less pages and the rough movie count comes out around the same (at least according to Weldon's foreword) to somewhere around 3,000 films.

Since the Encyclopedia was published, the home video market really blew up throughout the eighties and into nineties, and straight-to-video titles became a really big seller, especially in the genres in which Weldon specialized: science-fiction, horror, martial arts, and action... tons and tons of action films. The Video Guide came out just before DVD hit the United States and started to slowly take over as the primary video format within the next few years. Like the first volume, which concentrated heavily on the '50s through the '70s – the prime years of exploitation and drive-in classics – the Video Guide does a fairly thorough job of snapshotting the bulk of the '80s output up through the mid-'90s. A big difference this time, though, is the inclusion of actual video compilations in the mix (many of them by Johnny Legend and Rhino Video, for example), once video started to become a home for original content and not just a second-run arena for former theatrical titles. Hardcore porn titles – well, a good handful or two of them, when they have content that goes beyond just bedroom antics – are represented as well.

Weldon also took the time to class things up just a little bit with the inclusion of certain directors who were renowned for their flirtations with genre form, even when they were considered general masters of film itself, e.g., Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. Weldon did a similar trick in the first volume by including nearly every film starring Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre, whether or not the films were genre flicks or not. The assumption was that the very inclusion of these actors within any cast placed that film automatically within the psychotronic category.

Something I have noticed that is a slight difference between this book and the first is that Weldon seemed more intent on actually reviewing many of the titles on the second go around. In the Encyclopedia, he seems mostly content with saying "This film is loaded with zombies. And Nazis. And tons of gore and blood. And Christopher Lee is in it!" and leaving it at that. (That is a completely made up example, but it strikes the tone of many an entry.) Very rare is the paragraph that really rips into a film, though there are a handful of entries where either his disdain or his high regard for a film is pretty clear. In the Video Guide, he seems more comfortable with telling his opinion on whether not a film stinks, and really lets go on many films. It is an attitude that I really wish the first book had, and perhaps he was less comfortable with striking such an attitude when he was younger and more freshly excited about the "B" genre.

Now, because my life turned to one of married discord for many years in the late '80s and early '90s, when the second book came out, I was freshly divorced in my early thirties, and suddenly not worrying so much about watching 37 movies a day. As a result, even though I really enjoyed going through the Psychotronic Video Guide when I first bought it, I have never really used the second book as much as the original volume. It is odd for me to say this, but movies, for a brief period, went to the back-burner as I readjusted myself to single life, and so the Weldon books went by the wayside for a good while. And unlike the first book, where the enjoyment I experienced as an 18-year old was in playing catch up with psychotronic history up to that point in time, the bulk of the films in the Video Guide are titles that came out after I had just reached my (presumed) adulthood. So, when this guide was released, by my own misguided accounting, I had pretty much seen the ones listed in it that I really wanted to see (with a few glaring exceptions), and so never really pressed myself to play catch up (at the time) like I did The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.




Then Letterboxd came into the picture...

When Letterboxd started up online a few years ago, after my initial flirtation with Flickchart (another movie site that I love), I created an account and started using Letterboxd to maintain my regular film diary, something I was already doing (and still do) via spreadsheet (there are still many titles, mostly shorts and cartoons, that I watch that do not show up in Letterboxd.) The site allows you great flexibility in creating lists of any size, and after they have been published, it shows you the percentage of films that you have seen and fades the title images as well, so you can focus on what remains to be watched. Pretty groovy function and the site looks nice as well. 

One of my first goals was to transfer the titles from The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film to Letterboxd so that I could not only easily figure out what I still needed to see, but so that others that might happen upon the list could use it for their own guidance through the "B" movie world. It took me a while to build those lists and when I was done, I sat back and thought, "There is no way that I could do this again." And then I started up on The Psychotronic Video Guide. I got a quick early start on the first couple of letters... and then let it sit for a year or two. Maybe even three. 

I kept getting remarks from users who liked the other Psychotronic lists begging me to create the rest of them. Finally, I decided to start using the last hour or so before bedtime to knock in a few more pages each night, and then took the giant book with me on my Alaska trip, knowing that I would have several hours each morning before my friends were up and ready to do things where I could make a pretty severe dent in the book. And now, two months after returning from that trip, I just put the finishing touches on the final letter, "W", and the entire book, save for a handful of titles not yet on Letterboxd under each letter (which are recounted in my notes), is now live on the site.

My Lists for The Psychotronic Video Guide on Letterboxd.com:
And if you enjoy using these lists, feel free to leave a comment on Letterboxd or follow my page there if you decide to join yourself. It's a really wonderful website.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

What It Is, My Man, and What It Will Be...

If you are the sort of person who is nice and polite and checks back regularly with websites you enjoy and wonders sometimes why a website for which you retain a particular admiration doesn't update more frequently, then this post is for you.

Of course, I would not dare to presume that my humble website might be counted amongst those sites for which you hold particular admiration, but on the off-chance that it is to be counted within that group, then please let your eyes drift downward.

I have not posted on The Cinema 4 Pylon since July 10, and that post was Part 1 of what was meant to be a multi-part excursion into the world of straight-to-video action thrillers, a genre which I have largely avoided in recent years. The post was triggered by an impromptu and cheap DVD purchase in a Wal-Mart in my then just-completed holiday trip up to my home state of Alaska, and there was never meant to be a two-month gap between the first part and even the merest mention of the second part.

The last thing I posted before that was on the day after I returned from my trip to Alaska on July 7. It too was Part 1 of what was meant to be a multi-part excursion into something completely different, this time into a personal history of Disneyland and how my sense of the place was completely warped by a seemingly innocent children's book in my youth. The Part 2 and the Part 3 to that Part 1 were already written by that point – in fact, were written even before I left for my Alaska trip at the end of June – but I started to rethink the piece after I posted Part 1, and so has now been sitting in limbo until I have time to revisit it again. But it is the same story as with the first Part 1 I mentioned... it was never meant to get to this place.

So, why have I not been posting on here?

Well, a myriad of reasons. I can give those reasons in a list, but such lists turn into excuses, and then it just becomes a case of lying to myself. Basically, what I am saying in the end is that the Pylon became less important to me than everything else in my life. 

That isn't true, of course: the Cinema 4 Pylon is meant to be a representation of my mind, and my mind is all that I have going for me when all is said and done. What has happened is that I split that mind into too many fragments in recent months, and some of those fragments have taken on a life of their own unexpectedly.

THE SHARK FILM OFFICE

Most important to me of late has been the success I have been having in getting The Shark Film Office to finally take off its water wings. The Shark Film Office has been around since 2006, but I just never committed to it back then, and kind of wrote it off altogether, especially when I went through my darkest period a few years ago and almost completely stopped writing. When I turned the engines back on the Pylon last September, however, I then followed suit on my animation blog, the Cinema 4: Cel Bloc. Once the Cel Bloc was up and running again to my satisfaction, I started to think seriously about The Shark Film Office and whether to revive it or not. There was a moment or two where my cursor hovered over the "Delete Blog" button (I, of course, had saved out all of my text elsewhere), but doing so seemed to trigger something in my head. I started thinking more and more about how I would do the site if really, truly committed to the shark site.

Knowing that Syfy had a full week of shark movies coming up at the end of July with six brand new premiere films was the kicker, and just before that was the latest edition of Discovery's Channel's Shark Week, which allowed me to expand to documentary reviews as well. But something happened on Google+ for me that allowed me to rethink my whole plan. I was getting a ridiculous amount of views on my Google+ page, far more than any of my friends on there were getting, and it was all happening since I started up the Pylon again last year. I don't know what triggered it, but now my Google+ posts were showing up high in search results for any subject on which I posted, most often in the Top 10 results. Sure, I would rather that the actual articles would show up in the search results instead – but, hey, a link is a link, and these results were translating into Rik-diculous numbers of views and in turn getting people to visit my websites.

THE DYNAMIC DUO

In this mix are a couple of other projects that my writing partner and erstwhile pal, Aaron Lowe, and I have been bashing out over the past few months that have also proven to be a lot of fun and get us a little notice lately: Visiting and Revisiting with Rik and Aaron and We Who Watch Behind the Rows: Stephen King in Print and on Film.

I have written about both of these projects on this website already, and you can find out more on both by visiting the links to them above or going into my bio page. Of course, we have run into some difficulties in not just maintaining both of our own original sites (his is Working Dead Productions) when we spread ourselves out a tad thin with not just extra blogs, but also in maintaining a working life and a family life. In my case, I had been out of work for well over a year, which has allowed me a lot of free writing time and given me an opportunity to revive the blogs and get my shit together in that regard. Additionally, I have a wife who works, but our only charge is a small cat. In Aaron's case, he has a regular job and a wife and daughter, though they expanded recently with the addition of a second newborn daughter. So, now his writing is often done with baby in one hand.

We have really enjoyed the first response to our first few attempts on both sites (the first several articles for each, you might recall, were split between our respective pages before we decided to build new sites for each title), and have big plans moving forward. Aaron and I are always throwing around ideas for a podcast, either audio or video, though I seem to be the one really holding us back in that regard.

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN

Coming up first though, is the annual Countdown to Halloween in October, something in which both Aaron and I have taken part in recent years, and plan to continue this year. Countdown to Halloween is a handy site which allows people who run Halloween-oriented blogs, or blogs related to horror, toys, candy, masks, costumes, etc., to gather in one place and have people who are into any of those topics easily find websites of interest. Taking part in the Countdown gives bloggers access to badges they can display on their site and allows them to expand their audience.

I don't know what Aaron has planned for his own site, but here is what I can tell you about two of mine and We Who Watch as well:

The Cinema 4 Pylon – Semi-regular posts throughout October on various monster toys in my collection, more about monster trading cards, Halloween music posts, and a couple more editions in my relatively new The Monster's on the Loose! series, where I discuss the horror-related films, shows and cartoons that were most instrumental in developing my interest in the genre when I was but a wee lad.

Cinema 4: Cel Bloc – I have articles on several cartoons planned for October, all with spooky themes (naturally), with a concentration on Walt Disney cartoons this time. Scheduled shorts to include Lonesome Ghosts (1937), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949), Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! (1966), Spooks (1930), and Trick or Treat (1952).

We Who Watch Behind the Rows – Aaron and I are spending part of September reading Stephen King's first officially published novel Carrie (1974) and then watching the four film projects derived from it: Brian De Palma's seminal version (1976), the rather belated and unnecessary sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) with Emily Bergl, the unnecessary TV remake (2002) with Angela Bettis (who makes it watchable, of course), and the still unnecessary theatrical remake (2013) with Chloe Grace Moretz. Then we will post about all of them throughout the month of October. Sorry to tip my hand on the films, but I haven't rewatched them yet; those are just my opinions going into this process, having seen all of them before. [There is also a Filipino version of Carrie, though I doubt we will find a copy in time for this series.]

We have not discussed plans for a Halloween film or two on Visiting and Revisiting, but that may be because it is hard to find horror films that neither one of us hasn't seen already. The next film we plan to cover there is Miracle Mile, which we will hopefully get to in the next week or two.

BACK 2 THE BASE

The robustness of our combined plans, of course, are always going to be hampered and/or enhanced by what we do personally. Speaking for myself – and really, I probably shouldn't even be that bold – I have told you all of this without relating to you the good fortune of recent weeks: that I have started to pick up freelancing work. Yes, this means money, which is alway a good thing to have, but it has also meant a reduction in the amount of free time that I have at hand lately. It started out small, as a mere handful of hours that has blossomed into a great many more than I was anticipating, and it has been nice to be able to work completely from home and at my own pace. And now a second project has landed in my lap at the same time, so I am now having to learn how to balance this along with everything else. But I feel productive in a societal and monetary sense again, and this will helpfully keep the wolves at bay for a short period.

In the end, I will be posting here on the Pylon again regularly, I just need my schedule to align with my goals a little more. For now, blog-wise, I remain focused on the shark site online, but there is another contender for my time of which I have yet to speak except to a small handful of individuals. Even with this utterance, I hope that they shall remain mum as to its details in the public venue, especially in response to this posting.

I have committed myself to a personal writing project offline that will hopefully turn into a completed book over the next year's time. Knowing that I am a few months into the project will also give you another idea as to why The Cinema 4 Pylon has suddenly been relegated to second class citizen status within the universe of its own creation. More details will be released in coming months. Or not at all, if the entire thing goes kablooey on me. In which case, forget you ever read this...

RTJ

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cheapest by the Dozen: The "12 Movie Action Pack" Pt. 1

Eagle River Rd. coming up on Wal-Mart
Even in my quietest, most reflective moments, I cannot escape the movies.

My recent trip to Eagle River, Alaska was meant as a tonic to my senses, a restorative designed to prompt deeper memories that would aid me both psychologically and in my writing. Such a visit to my secondary hometown (born on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, but grew up in my prime childhood years in Eagle River) was supposed to allow me to reflect on a period of my life long past. Lunch with a childhood chum was the first order of business, then a stop by his parents' home in my old stomping grounds, and ultimately, a short visit to the then-beloved house we lived in next door prior to my parents' divorce (to which my brothers and I, to this day, always refer as "the green house").

And the trip proved to be exactly as refreshing as I expected. I delighted in seeing my old friend Mike again and catching up on details and rumors of past friends and neighbors, and trying to work out in my head the locations and timeframe of certain events from our past. Following lunch, my erstwhile pal, Robear, and I were indeed intending to make that stop at Mike's parents house (which we did), but on the way there, came the intrusion of something which I had not been planning: Wal-Mart.

The Wal-Mart on Eagle River Road was not built or even conceived before I moved out of the town in my teenage years. But somewhere along the way since, Eagle River's commercial interests expanded, and with it came certain big box stores and chain restaurants, chief amongst them Wal-Mart. I am not saying this as a diatribe against commercialism; I am just merely pointing out that the times changed, and so did the prospects for the shoppers of Eagle River. And it was built less than a mile from my old home. While we had no idea what a "Wal-Mart" was when we were kids, the fact that we had to ride out bikes down from the mountains a couple of miles just to buy baseball cards or comic books from any store in Eagle River should tell you that had such a temple of the free market been erected in our youth, it would have become our Mecca. We would have loved such a place, not all that far from our neighborhood off Eagle River Road, deeply and emotionally.

The shirt that I found at Wal-Mart. The nose
was borrowed. And the mustache was a gift.
The reason for the sidetrip to Wal-Mart was for but a single purpose, which then swiftly evolved into a dual one. Several of my close friends and I were scheduled to march in a parade in Downtown Anchorage in a couple of days for the Fourth of July, and Robear needed to find a couple of medium-sized American flags to go with our banner (for our Invisible Dog Club, a long-standing tradition in our group of friends which had sadly laid dormant for about a decade until the previous year). Since we were already at Wal-Mart, and the company is well-known as being the capital of the Über-Patriot, I decided to take a peek around the store to see if I could find a decent Captain America-style t-shirt to wear for the parade. We found success in both ventures. Robear found his flags, and I found an official Marvel shirt for only $10, which fit my XL belly as well as a shirt with stretchy fabric could, but on my way to finding that shirt, my eye was captured by a rather large bin sitting near the registers. 

In recent years, I have learned to avoid rather large bins that are sitting near registers, since they are only there to trap the impulse buyers among us. Impulse buying is something I have had to resist since moving to California over a decade ago, but especially now that I am without a regular job and have little cash at hand, I have brought such offhand purchasing almost entirely to a standstill. But, sitting there staring at a rather large bin filled over its top edge by a certain product, my past came back to haunt me. Not so much in the DVD years, but when VHS was still the thing, I regularly haunted the rather large bins sitting near registers. In fact, they were rather regular stops for me. I found many of what my stupid brain perceived as incredible videotape bargains in those days, not necessarily at Wal-Mart (where I have rarely shopped) but at various Target, Best Buy, and Fred Meyer stores. A so-so movie that seems unfathomable to purchase at $14.99 seems absolutely perfect and worthwhile at $4.99. (Well, sometimes... it really depends on the movie and/or who the star or director happens to be.) The thought would be, "Well, I have 20 bucks in my pocket. I can bring home four new movies to add to my collection." The quality rarely mattered, as long as it fit into the general scheme of my library, which was heavy with horror and science-fiction titles.

Once DVD hit, however, and finding copies of films that had been released in their proper theatrical aspect ratios became the status quo of collectors, the bargain bins rather went away for me. This is mainly because I started caring about which version of a film I had in my collection, and so many of the DVDs in the bins featured blockbuster films cropped down from their respective widescreen ratios to the standard 4:3 format used on television. There were also rumors about certain retailers (Wal-Mart chief amongst them) editing objectionable content out of some films. Of course, to do so is patently illegal without the consent of the creator of that content, so if there were copies like that in stores, it would have been due to the studio releasing a separate cleaner version, not the store itself. But still, the rumors were out there for many years, and I just decided to not get involved in purchasing items which may have been tampered.

So, there I was, inside a Wal-Mart for the first time in about a year (since I visited Idaho), and I was staring anew into the crammed depths of one of those rather large bins sitting near the registers. Inside its thick cardboard walls, the rather large bin held several hundred DVDs, each selling for the LOW LOW LOW price of only $5.00 apiece! "HOW CAN YOU FUCKING RESIST?," the rather large bin practically shouted at me. Since I had a couple of minutes to kill and I was, for the first time in a great while, at peace with the world -- I was, after all, on my own time, on vacation, in my home town, waiting for my friend -- I decided to flip through some of the titles briefly. I saw covers featuring Pierce Brosnan, Julia Roberts, Brendan Fraser, Will Smith... but nothing that I would really consider owning or, if I had seen the film, worthy of another viewing, even at five bucks. I kept dragging my hand through the bin, hoping to find something that could even halfway pique my interest, but it seemed there was little chance of that.

And then I found the 12 Movie Action Pack.

Now, of the DVDs that I am least prone to purchase in a rather large bin near a register, it is usually the movie multi-pack. I don't mean a box set where each movie is on a separate disc and you can be reasonably assured that a certain amount of care went into the transfer, duplication, and design of the materials. If a true box set of certain filmmakers or genres is available at a great price, you can rest assured that I will eye such a product with great interest. No, I am talking about the cheapie sets where several films are crammed onto a single disc or two, and where the quality is probably not as great as one would wish for a film that is nowadays going to be most likely projected onto at least a 44-inch screen or larger. You really do get what you pay for in these instances, and I will tell you from the outset that such a condition is exactly what I planned to find in a set simply titled 12 Movie Action Pack for only five bucks at Wal-Mart.

There were some other factors at play here, however, that made it impossible for me to resist buying the 12 Movie Action Pack. First, there was the packaging. On the front cover, the tiny posters for the first six movies in the set appear, and going from left to right, the leads for the films were Nicolas Cage, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jason Statham, John Cusack, and Sylvester Stallone. On the back, the stars for each of the second six films were Rich Franklin (some UFC guy of whom I have never heard before), Morgan Freeman and Cusack (again), Kiefer Sutherland and Melora Walters, Woody Harrelson, Cage (again) and Nicole Kidman, and Michael Shannon. The four stars that are touted on the DVD cover with just head shots and their last name, however, in a series of larger pictures, front and back, were Statham, Van Damme, Cage, and Lundgren. I was shocked, speaking of action stars, that "A"-lister Sly Stallone was not among the four shown on the cover instead of more "B"-prone Lundgren, which of course made the set catch my notice even more.

Secondly, on first glance while in the store, I thought that of the twelve films in the set, I had never seen any of them. Not a single one. It's not that straight action films are not my thing, it's just that it requires a pretty remarkable trailer -- such as Mad Max: Fury Road, though that, of course, has major sci-fi overtones, carrying it more into my movie wheelhouse -- to get me into a theatre to see a film in that genre these days. There was also a realization that, in my normal course of movie bouncing, that I was not likely to ever see any of the films in this set without some form of unexpected interference, i.e. my purchase of a DVD set such as 12 Movie Action Pack

Third, another intriguing aspect was the fact that I had only ever heard of three of the films in the set: the fairly well-received though financially unsuccessful Rampart with Harrelson; War, Inc. with Cusack, of which I remembered the trailer and that it had actually hit theatres at one point; and The Iceman, a biopic of the infamous Mafia hitman played by the quite often terrific Michael Shannon. [More on this title later...] Of the rest, I had no memory of ever having heard of their titles. I chalk this up to general ennui with the bulk of Hollywood filmmaking, to the point where I can now see trailers several times and still completely forget that such films have ever been released. It is likely that I saw the trailers for half of these films and completely erased them from mind. Or it is just as likely that, except for the three that I mentioned, I truly have never heard of them.

I finally ran into Robear again, and as we made our way to leave, I made a second stop at the rather large bin sitting near the registers, and said, "I will not be leaving without THIS!" and grabbed the 12 Movie Action Pack. We made our silly purchases, and then carried on with the rest of our afternoon as planned, seeing my old neighborhood, Mike's parents' house (which had expanded greatly from the old days), and my old house, which was now under new ownership. (Mike had talked to the new owners a couple of days before, and they said they would be happy to show me the place on Saturday, but when we arrived, they were, to my ultimate disappointment but slight, unspoken relief, not home. It would have been a bit odd and out of character for me.)

And the 12 Movie Action Pack? Well, it sat on my parents' coffee table for the remainder of my stay at their home in Anchorage, where I always had the intent of queueing it up in the DVD player but never did. However, on my first full day upon returning back to Southern California, I finally cracked into the DVD to see what potential treasures or horrors I would find...

[To be continued...]


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Rik Tod Johnson's Rik Tod Johnson in Disneyland, Pt. 1: A Little Golden Pipedream


Dream. It's a dangerous word.

Nearly anytime someone wins something on television, like a contest show, or someone even appears on something or meets somebody else they admire, that someone will invoke the word "dream". "I always dreamed about being on this show and meeting you" or "For most of my life, I have dreamed about winning this award."

I would like to out such statements as mere B.S. First off, dreams are rarely targeted. You may have "daydreamed" about winning that award, randomly thinking about how nice it would be to get some solid recognition for your hard work, and I guess that counts as a "dream" in the broad sense of the word. But I doubt the vast majority of people who have won Oscars or Tonys or Grammys etc. have put their heads down on their pillows and had a picture perfect nighttime vision in their sleep of a major award plated in gold being placed into their lucky little hands or meeting their favorite celebrity. Some may have dreamed of such a thing in a random sense -- and I am not saying for even a second that nobody ever has had this happen to them -- but I doubt that all or most of those who claimed to have "dreamed of this moment" ever really did. And if you are having dreams about someday meeting Ellen DeGeneres, you need to get a hobby or three. (I am not knocking Ellen; I like her just fine. Just choosing a random celebrity.) George Clooney... I understand. But even he - especially he -- would make fun of you to your face for saying such a loony thing. 

Actual dreams that spring from a state of dreaming are far too random -- and often inexplicable and too tied to our subconsciouses -- to target in such a way that you can have any control over the content, unless you have a belief that drinking warm milk a certain number of minutes (plus sixteen seconds) before you lay your head down will invoke a glorious vision of Scarlett Johansson nude in a poppy field wearing a musketeer tunic and hat and nothing else. (What? Too specific?)

What should be considered as life goals or mere childhood wishes can infiltrate your subconscious to the point that you may be trapped in believing that you have quite literally dreamed them since you were young. It is far more likely that you probably just thought about those goals or wishes so much over so many years that they have formulated in your mind as something you thought you had dreamed.

I would prefer "hope" in place of the word "dream" in most of these instances. "I always hoped that I would get to be on this show and meet you" or "For most of my life, I have hoped I would win this award." "Wish" would possibly be another acceptable term, though it might be too tied to fantasy, just as "pray" would be (for me, at least; you may have another opinion on that word, but this is my website). But I have as much "hope" in getting people to stop using "dream" as the catch-all phrase for life achievement as I do in getting social media fans to stop employing the words "awesome" and "amazing" automatically for anything that excites them -- never getting past "A" in their vocabulary -- or declaring anyone with the barest modicum of talent a "genius" of the highest order.

All of that said... I have always dreamed about going to Disneyland. 

And I hoped and wished and prayed that when I finally got there, it would be awesome and amazing and a true testament to the sheer genius of Walt Disney.

Now, using the word "dream" apart from the realm of sleepy-time and strictly as its secondary definition as a "hope" or a "wish," we all have dreams that either have not yet or never will come true. Or take a really long, ridiculous amount of time to come true. And sometimes those dreams spring into life from materials that were seriously out of date when you first saw them.

For me, throughout my childhood, apart from meeting Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds, that dream was going to Disneyland. Nothing more. A simple plane trip ( or many perhaps) down to Southern California to visit the mythic magical kingdom created by Mr. Walter Elias Disney, the unavoidable shaper and progenitor of a large proportion of the fantasies that filled my mind in my childhood. 

Every Sunday night on our local NBC affiliate in Alaska -- then KENI, though now using the call letters KTUU -- starting out when I was really young with Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and then switching the name to The Wonderful World of Disney when I five, my fantasy life was colored in greatly by the films, cartoons, and television specials of the certainly avuncular Walt Disney. I had a great many other influences -- which is really the point of this website overall -- and I have written about many of them at length. But Disney, as he is for many out there, whether you wanted it to or not, was at the top. And every once in a while, his series would air a special direct from Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, where one could see the wonderment of Walt's ultimate vision: theme parks entirely devoted to his characters and stories and his own childhood influences.

The Disney show had a massive hold on me and my brothers at the time. We ate up every episode (often multi-episodes featuring films cut up into smaller portions) like other kids in our neighborhood were fed the Gospel. We liked the adventure stories and animal specials on the show just fine, but we really loved it when an entire episode was devoted to Walt Disney's cartoon characters. If they showed The Swamp Fox again, we might be decide to concentrate on our Hot Wheels instead. (Davy Crockett was another matter; we always watched Davy.) But, if Ludwig von Drake starting pontificating crazily on some subject or other, or Jiminy Cricket told us why he was "No Fool" and how we could avoid it, or if Donald Duck or Goofy started failing wildly at some home repair or popular sport, we were hooked.

But the Walt Disney TV show wasn't the biggest factor in making me dream or wish or hope or pray that I could one day visit Disneyland. It was a book. A very thin children's book that would perhaps go beneath the notice of most people, especially parents -- especially MY PARENTS, who had no idea exactly what sort of trouble it was causing me.

As a small child, I was subjected to a children's picture book called Walt Disney's Donald Duck in Disneyland. The book was part of the series called Little Golden Books, and we had many examples of this series in our house. We had The Color Kittens. We had Little Toot. We had The Saggy Baggy Elephant, The Poky Little Puppy, Tom and Jerry, and Scuffy the Tugboat. Over time, split between my two brothers and I in different stages, we would own dozens of Little Golden Books. 

We had them for years -- speaking for myself, I still own many of them -- and we all read them well past the time that one usually stops reading simple children's books and moves on to big boy pants and big boy books. We did move on to those things in the natural course of things, but we always kept in close touch with our old books as well. Giving away old books as we grew up was never a part of our upbringing, a situation that my wife Jen laments to this day. (I should be given some credit for giving away half of my library before moving from Alaska down to Southern California eleven years ago, leaving me with a slim 2,500 books in my collection.)

A lot of the titles in our Little Golden Books collection were Walt Disney adaptations. You name a Disney movie from that period, and it is likely there was probably a Little Golden Book adaptation published for it. And it was also quite likely that we owned it. But my favorite of the Little Golden Book titles -- and thus, of the Disney ones as well -- was that first book that I mentioned: Walt Disney's Donald Duck in Disneyland.

[To be continued in Pt. 2...]