Tuesday, September 29, 2009

DARK SHADOWS: The Arrival of Good Ratings

Up to this point, the show had a fairly normal soap with a few minor exceptions, such as the ghost of Josette Collins and David's mother being a "Phoenix" as a climax. The dying ratings meant the show had to do something to really be noticed. And so...in episode 211, they bring in a VAMPIRE. Yes, won't go out in the day, must suck blood with fangs, allergic to garlic, sleeps in a coffin, middle aged 1960s teen idol....WHAT? Only in the 60s.

My father has a copy of this game, and I remember having great fun playing it.

Barnabas was so popular with the kids, he spawned toy models, bubblegum cards, board games, Halloween costumes...the list goes on. Interest in him even sparked paperback novels and comic books. How many kids nowadays come home from school to watch a daytime soap?

In simple words, the plot reads like this: Barnabas loves his family. Barnabas has been in a coffin for 170 years. Barnabas has lost a few of his marbles.Willie doesn't want to play Renfield. Barnabas doesn't give him a choice. Easy to follow, right? Classic elements ala Dracula.

Willie doesn't like being Barnabas's Whipping Boy.

Bring in the girl!

Maggie has been Vicky's friend since episode 1.

Maggie Evans. Maggie looks eerily like Josette. (Or so they say. That Josette portrait is pretty fuzzy) Could she be her reincarnation? No...because the ghost of Josette is still in the old house, watching over the family. Does Barnabas care? Not after being locked in a tomb for so long, he doesn't. Apparently, he has some unfinished business.

The Collins family takes Barnabas's claim at being a cousin from England at face value, and he soon moves into the old house, much to David's disdain. (that's where his ghost friend Josette lives) But who cares what the kid thinks? He still insists he's talking to ghosts!

"You mean...You're not a ghost?"



I grew up loving vampire lore. My favorite childhood vampire would have to be Barnabas Collins. That said, I recently began re watching the series Dark Shadows. As a child, I rarely saw much of the TV series. I don't think it was on TV at the time and I rarely saw a VHS copy, but whenever I could, I loved it. The only personal copy I had was of the movie House of Dark Shadows. Now I'm in the era of DVD glory! DVDs are inexpensive and easy to buy through the modern marvel of the Internet. I can now watch as much as I want as it comes in through Netflix! Although I'm already breaking down and buying DVD sets from Amazon.My love from the show is reconnected! True, it's badly preserved 1960s footage, often only kinoscope footage surviving, making it look decades older than reality, but there is a charm which prevails. Something romantic and slightly horrific about the clash of innocence and terror that forever curses the house of Collins.

I shall be adding arc summaries and my own personal observation and opinions of the famous dark soap from here on. I'll start with a quick overview of the boring things before the show took off. :)

Vicky looks forward to a bright new life at Collinwood

At the beginning of Dark Shadows, a young woman arrives to Collinwood to take on a job as a governess for the prestigious Collins family. The boy she was charged to care for, David Collins, is extremely disturbed and even tries to kill his father. David believes he talks with ghosts and loves to play in the abandoned house, known as "the Old House" which used to house the collin's ancestors.

The bright future is often gloomy and filled with psychos.
Many generic soap opera things happen. Blackmail, murder, kidnapping, unintelligent romance, etc...David's mother is revealed as Laura Collins. She wants to burn him alive to make him a PHOENIX like herself. Cuckoo? A bit. Of course, she doesn't succeed and dies a horrible death. The beginning was only interesting to me as a precursor for things to come.
Tragic Phoenix is Tragic.



In the past few years, I've seen a resurgence of American pulp reprints. This is exciting for me, since the stories in these pulps influenced so much of the super hero and detective stories we know today.What is a pulp? A cheaply printed fiction book, very popular in the 1920s, 1930 , 1940s and on to the 1950s to a lesser extent due to hieghtened censorship.

What sort of things did they print? Everything from disturbingly morbid sci fi-horror to stories for the bored housewife about steamy romances. The covers were often beautifully painted teasers, half naked attractive young people being tormented by wild deformed cannibals on a space ship? Sounds pretty normal.

One of my favorite parts of the original pulps are the aforementioned covers. Many of the subsequent reprints are of the text only, and lacking in the marvelous full cover paintings that madeup each issued book, or the beautiful black and white pen drawings, often very detailed, that were scattered throughout the actual books. Occasionally I see a reprint that contains these aspects, and those are the ones I find myself drawn to buy.

I've read quite a bit of the Weird Tales reprints, although the variety tends to lack, since H.P. Lovecraft tends to dominate as much as possible. Cthulhu sells apparently. To be honest, I'd rather read a good ghost story or a unique take on an folklore. No offence to the Cthulhu Mythos, but you just don't make it to my nightmares. That said, H.P. Lovecraft was a genius at the pulp genre, but as a 'junk fiction' writer, he never did see his fanbase peak.

The pulps created a new outlet for crime writers. Endless detective stories, adventure, romance, and horrors could be released every month and easily bought by the average person. A pulp book averaged about 10-25 cents - a far cry from the $15 average of today. (Just one of those 10 cent books of yesteryear now will put you back a good $80-$300) Every month, and sometimes twice a month, a reader could pick up their favorite crime titles cheaply at even grocery stores, or so I'm told by those generations who witnessed it.

In an era without television, and with limited radio channels, reading was one of the few ways to find stories that were guaranteed to peak your interest.
Me? I buy every reprint of The Shadow I can find! The dialog might be dated, the titles mellow dramatic, and the subjects politically incorrect, but I enjoy a good detective story sluthed by an invisible spy with an endless repertoire of tricks! Who Knows...What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? Nothing like a good maniacal laugh.

Speaking of racist, if a character wasn't white, you can bet they'd carry most of the dark stereotypes that aren't allowed in fiction today. Fu Manchu was probably the most infamous evil asian, fullfilling the role of the mad scientist and classic antihero of his own books. His popularity spun dozens of evil asian titles. The racism doesn't stop there, it often portrays savage indians (both Native American and East Indians alike), and uneducated manservent blacks are fairly normal. While reading anything from another time, it's important to remember that values and ideals have changed a lot over the past 50 years.

Pulps have brought us many famous heros we associate with other media, such as Tarzan, Flash Gordon , or lessor known cult stars such as Buck Rogers and John Carter of Mars. Famous heros such as Batman were admited by their creators to be inspired by The Shadow. Film Noir took many of it's formulas and cliches from the detective pulps of the 1930s. Where would we be without our cheap fiction?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

IDNTTWMWYTIM: "Postmodernism"

Okay, so it's been brought to my attention that I've used the term "postmodern" without explaining what it means, and have thus exposed myself to be the pretentious film student that I am. As though this whole blog didn't do that anyway. So instead of finding out what the deal with "chai tea" is, like I'd originally planned, you get this. Be sure to thank Stacy, everyone. ;)


Well, before you can define postmodernism, you have to define modernism. Which I don't want to do because this will take all night, and I freely admit that my understanding of this is not completely solid because I got a crash course in it for about a half hour one day, but here we go anyway. Modernism arose out of a huge social change around the end of the nineteenth century, with people like Freud and Einstein and Darwin running around, blowing huge holes in the established "common sense" of the day. The entire foundation on which people had based a lot of their beliefs about the world and even themselves and how they functioned were being soundly rocked and this created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty.

Modernism was the reaction to this, and to be quite honest, I'm pretty fuzzy on what exactly it entails. From what I understand, it shares many qualities with postmodernism, but modernism is always striving for underlying meaning, and a solid take on what is really "true". Postmodernism then takes the stance that meaning is subjective and "truth" and "reality" are shaped by an individual's perspective, not by any inherent qualities these ideas posses themselves. It also delves more into ambiguity, allowing for much more uncertainty and ambivalence than the more logical modernism does.

David Lynch is a quintessential example of a postmodern filmmaker because his works are very ambiguous in terms of meaning, and "truth" and "reality" are all very subjective. His stuff is also typically surreal, confusing, and in parts upsetting, so I wouldn't recommend running out to rent Lost Highway to see what I'm talking about unless you like that sort of thing. I tend to see Quentin Tarantino as postmodern, or at least partaking in postmodern elements, and there are loads of other filmmakers, artists, writers, etc. that do the same.

That's probably the best I can do to try and explain it, but it's a very significant movement in modern culture, so if you're still confused, there are probably some very helpful resources out there.

Also, next time you hear a word you don't know, write it down and look it up when you get a chance. Good way to learn stuff and you don't have to pay tuition rates.

Next time: What's up with this "chai tea" stuff, anyway?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Need to start saving my pennies for popcorn

After browsing through Moviebox (it's been a while, I'm really behind on my trailers), and seeing some things I didn't know were coming out (Percy Jackson? could be fun, I love mythology, especially Greek, but Chris Columbus hasn't wowed me in a while, so we'll see), there are a few in particular that I will definitely be parking my butt in a theater for.

The Men Who Stare at Goats, starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey. Those are four of my favorite actors working today, there is no way I'm not going to a movie with all of them in it, especially if the movie is a comedy about psychic military experiments that is evidently based on a real story.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, written and directed by Terry Gilliam, starring Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer (and I think I saw Tom Waits, too, score!). This is one of those movies that I'd see no matter who was in it because it just looks incredible visually. But beyond really great visual effects, it looks... well, imaginative. I love imagination in my awesome-looking special effects.

The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson, starring Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci, and a bunch of other people I'm too lazy to look up. This is one of Stacy's favorite books, so I was curious when I saw the trailer (at Julie and Julia, of all things) at how faithful this looked to the original story. She said it seemed pretty close, and I must admit that I'm very intregued this got green-lit and that it seems to have a decent budget to boot. I will be seeing it.

Whip It, written and directed by Drew Barrymore, starring Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Zoe Bell, Juliette Lewis, and Jimmy Fallon. This just looks fun as hell, and I am in full support of Zoe Bell getting more facetime in movies.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

A new thing that will reoccur whenever I think a word has been misrepresented, misunderstood, or even not understood at all for long enough and feel like getting on my semantic soapbox. Also because I love that quote and the movie it's from.


Feminism is not:

-about hating/bashing/mocking/oppressing men
-outdated, unneeded, or irrelevant in today's society
-touted by bitter women who are too ugly to "get a man"/lesbians who hate men
-touted only by women
-anti-femininity/stay at home moms/family/marriage/love/makeup/sexuality/beauty

Feminism is:
-about promoting equality and respect between all genders
-an increasingly complex topic in today's society
-touted by people of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, sexual preferences, nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and levels of the popular ideal of physical attractiveness
-about people of any gender having the ability to choose their lifestyle, profession, education, style of dress, sense of aesthetics (as much as anyone choses that), hairstyle, romantic/sexual partners, and opinions-- and most especially then not restricting the rights of anyone else to do the same
-still incredibly relevant and important on a global scale (yes, developed Western countries too) because sexism does, in fact, still exist
-often debated amongst even self-proclaimed feminists because cultural ideals and personal experiences differ from region to region and person to person, and sexism is not always blatantly obvious or free from controversy or ambivalence-- this is why discussion, debate, questions, and expression are so fundamentally important to any subject or movement

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just hope they use their powers for good

So who else has seen a movie and felt completely mislead by the trailer you'd seen for it beforehand? I'm sometimes amazed, even now, of just how important movie trailers are to get right, and easy they are to manipulate. Seriously, it's so easy to make a mediocre movie look fun or a good movie look boring, to say nothing of how easy it is to even switch the genre. In cooking, it's said 'the first bite is with the eye', meaning the appearance of the food can set up a person's expectation for the taste, and for me, the trailer is that same idea for the film. It takes a lot of skill to make a good trailer that offers enough to inform the viewer of what the plot is without giving away too much of the good stuff, and keeping it all under three minutes.

I was just reminded of this in part because of the trailers I'd been seeing for Jennifer's Body and then reading about what the writer and director have been saying about it, along with other people either anticipating it or who have seen it. And I was reminded again today about it because of browsing through my Youtube favorites and seeing how many fake movie trailers I had in there. There are some really well-made ones there, and probably still more I don't know about. I figured I'd share some of my favorites, since all my other blog posts are half-finished and I'm still moving. (Sorry for the links instead of imbedded videos, I just got a laptop and for some reason can't figure out how to copy the entire imbed code.)

The Shining as a romantic comedy.
Mary Poppins as a horror movie.
A Goofy Movie if it had been directed by David Lynch.
Titanic 2, featuring footage and dialogue from possibly every movie ever made.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Jennifer's Body"-- not a review

I'm taking a very short break from my attempts at moving today to make a really lazy post. With autumn looming large and Halloween decorations already springing up, my thoughts are beginning to turn to the spooky. Now I'm not an avid horror hound the way Stacy and Cindy are, to be sure, but I've always been a little macabre and am a big fan of creative and effective stories in any medium and genre. Having said that, I really wasn't interested in the movie Jennifer's Body that opens today, based on the ads I'd seen, and figured it was just another mindless horror/slasher film with lots of T&A and gratuitous violence. Fine if you like that sort of thing, but it doesn't really interest me-- I tend to get bored and start imagining what the families of the victims must go through when they find out what's happened to their sons and daughters, or wonder if they would have outgrown their teenage assholishness and gone on to have a good life if some axe-wielding psychopath hadn't decided they deserved to die for having sex outside of marriage or doing drugs. I'm really not the target audience for these movies, I just don't get the entertainment value in watching people die.

So my interest in this movie was approximately nil, but then I started seeing posts about it in some of the blogs I follow like Feministing and Women & Hollywood, and I found out that the film was written by Juno scribe and outspoken feminist Diablo Cody and directed by Girlfight creator Karyn Kusama. My interest was now piqued. Could this film be more than the ads made it out to be? It sure wouldn't be the first time, especially since the ads I'd been seeing were airing during Adult Swim, which shamelessly caters to the teenage and twenty-something male crowd, so they'd pick the ads with the most gratuitous shots of Megan Fox's cleveage possible. Maybe I hadn't given the movie a fair chance and it could be really interesting. Unfortunately, I can't give an opinion because I haven't seen it, nor will I anytime soon-- I have too many other movies on my list to see first, like Inglourious Basterds and 9. But I thought since it'll probably be a little bit before I get to it, I'd link to some articles about it that gave me things to mull over. (I'm also secretly hoping that one of my co-bloggers might take up the helm and post some related thoughts on this or other movies they've seen. Hint hint.)

Sister Hacked by Alexandra Gutierrez at The American Prospect.
Jennifer's Body by Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood.
Diablo Cody IS a Feminist by Melissa Silvertein at Women & Hollywood.
"Jennifer's Body": Why Hollywood Apparently Can't Make a Feminist Slasher Movie by Sarah Ball at Newsweek.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Terror of Lois Lane

Iconic AND sexy. Don't get me wrong, the bad boys like Batman turn my crank, too, but I still maintain that there's something sexy about an over-sized boy scout like Superman.

I recently saw Superman: The Movie (1978).

It was really, really WEIRD.

I had seen it before of course; seems like it was on in a constant loop during my childhood. We even had it on disc before we had it on vhs. But I doubt I'd sat and watched it all the way through in probably twenty-five years; I was in single digits and low ones at that when last Mr. Reeves and I met.

Two of my nephews wanted to watch it on Netflix's instant watch thing a few days ago, so I got it running, and soon got sucked into it myself. The opening is great: the shots of young Clark Kent, loved by his adoptive parents but ostracized by his peers was alternately sweet and heart breaking. This was for me an almost perfect metaphor for high school regardless of your planet of origin. In high school I knew I was full of amazing skills that none of my classmates could see; I was too shy, they were too busy, we were all too busy obsessing over ourselves to actually BE ourselves. Granted, I can't fly (yet. YET.), I certainly can't outrun a speeding train (though I CAN have an asthma attack and fall down faster than a speeding bullet), and crap knees keep my bounding to a minimum, unlike Clark, but I think everyone feels like they have wonderful secrets inside themselves.

He finally manages to get something of a one-up on his rude high school compatriots, and then his dad keels over dead. I think that was probably a Pretty Bad Day for the Kent clan. He then sets off to the warmest looking arctic set I've ever seen to find out how to unlock his own secrets (seriously, no visible breath and he's not even wearing a scarf for crying out loud!) . During this time span in the good ol' Fortress of Solitude, he becomes Superman, and learns to harness his own amazing powers for good; he then heads for Metropolis to become a reporter for the Daily Planet. There he meets Lois Lane, the future Missus Superman, and also Lex Luthor, who is played SO over the top by Gene Hackman that I firmly believe he had altitude-related nose bleeds all over the place then and probably still to this day. It's your basic good beats really fucking manic evil story.

But I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about Lois Lane, as portrayed by Margot Kidder. I'm here to talk about how she occasionally scared the SHIT out of me in this film. I know that she's had issues with manic depression during her life, so I have no idea if this is bleed over from that, but when Lois was called to be excitable or frantic, she was TERRIFYING. When it came to the minutiae of the role, the fine details of Lois' emotional responses, particularly to Superman, she was superb, and came across as almost heart-breakingly vulnerable.

Here she's gorgeous..

However, when she was worked up she looked like ghoul that had acquired a taste for human flesh. Part of the problem was the lipstick she was wearing (or maybe the hue on the television that I watched this on); it was a strange shade of pink that made her teeth look kinda yellow, so when she'd freak out she looked like she had a mouth full of coyote teeth. In a few scenes I was legitimately concerned for Superman's well-being; no male can survive a hardcore man eater, not even the man of steel himself!

I don't think any of this terror was Ms. Kidder;s fault, I got the impression from other performances in the role that the actors had been instructed to play their roles "big"; manic Lois was in keeping with hyper Lex and spastic Clark. But it was still occasionally pants-wetting for me.

...and here she's terrifying!

I also wanted to talk a little about Christopher Reeves, namely that he was awesome in this role. He was appropriately flustered and bumbling as Clark, and MAN could he fill out a set of red underoos as Superman! More than that, though, seeing this movie with more adult eyes I saw that the man was a legitimately gifted actor. I think he got this part not only because he looked the part, but because he was also a very talented. He gave Clark an impish quality that was nice; you could tell he kinda enjoyed giving Lois shit, whether she knew he was doing it or not.

This is an image that even now, at 32 years of age, instills me with comfort. Having never been saved by Superman, I have no idea why this is.

He also seemed a bit shy, which is an interesting idea for Superman. Batman and Superman to me have it almost switched around: Bruce Wayne is the disguise, Batman in the reality. But Superman is really Clark Kent, even if it's not entirely the Clark Kent that the world sees. Clark is more confident as Superman, but who wouldn't be? It's like trolls on the internet: it's easy to be assured and confident when no one knows who you really are. Clark just wants to be near Lois, and he'll do it as Superman if he has to.

Seriously, look at that. LOOK AT THAT!

Overall it was intersting to rewatch; now I wanna see the sequels again, mostly so I can see Clark and Lois gedditOWN. Some parts of it are genius: Superman's scream of denial when he rescues Lois too late, Lois in quieter moments, Jimmy Olsen as a huge dork, etc. Some parts are hilariously silly, like the "rock slide" that was clearly pebbles (in slow motion, no less) being poured into a puddle. The dangling helicopter scene was wonderful while Lois freaking out was the stuff of nightmares.

He really rocks that look, even with that stupid spit curl.

I will close this with one thing of note: NO ONE with glasses adjusts them that way. No one. REMEMBER THAT, HOLLYWOOD!