Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Empire' at 30

Last Friday, May 21st, was the 30th anniversary of the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. There have been several tributes posted in various places, including this look at a first draft of the script.

Last week Mrs. Kaiju and I had discussed that we should watch Empire sometime over the weekend to mark the occasion. We spun the disc on Sunday night. I'm sure everyone in our generation remembers what it was like to see Empire for the first time, with that surprise double cliffhanger ending. We were very pleased at how well the movie holds up after all these years. It makes the problems with the prequels that much more irritating.

I recommend that you check out this link to the trailer for the original 1950 version of the film. Thanks to Viking Moose and others at Urkobold for being the first place that I saw this.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Favorite Music Friday: "Every Breath You Take"

In this edition of "Favorite Music Friday", I want to spotlight one of the great songs of the '80s. This is a song that I wanted to talk about eventually, but the subject came up recently. Two weeks ago, in fact, when we were talking about The Police before the LV game.

I have many favorites, whether it's music, or books, or movies, but I haven't made the conscious decision to list any of them in order, as a "top ten" or "best of", or sort them out in that way. There are usually so many greats to choose from that it's difficult for me to narrow it down. At some point I'll post about my favorite movie, The Maltese Falcon, but that list gets scattered after #1.

One that I'm sure of: "Every Breath You Take" is my choice for the Best Pop Song of All Time.

I know, it's a song about a stalker. Sting himself has said that it's "very sinister and ugly". I understand that. However, musically, it's beautiful. The video is elegant in its simplicity.

Having said that, I actually like my runner-up choice better: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic". The only reason "Every Breath You Take" edges it out is because it was a bigger commercial hit.

As a film buff, I love that it's obviously shot using film. There's speckles and pops, and a film tear at 0:15 seconds into the video:

At the first listen, it's deceptively simple. In the video the band does a silly dance in the recording studio. But when you really listen (headphones, not earbuds), there's a great deal going on in the song -- the layers, the changes. What I mentioned before, about the music telling a story, is found here. It really brings up a host of emotions for me.

I wanted to include the "official" MTV versions of these videos, but their player is very jerky and stops to re-buffer. Here are the links; you may have better luck:



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta, RIP

One of those things that you expect, sooner or later, especially after his recent bouts of illnesses. But when it happens, it's still a shock and a loss.
We saw the news late Monday night that Frank Frazetta had passed away earlier that day from a stroke. He had a history of strokes and had been in poor health the past few years, particularly with the death of his wife Ellie last year.

I'm glad that his children resolved their differences last month -- deciding to work together to promote their father's work and legacy -- after the unpleasantness between them following Ellie's passing.

This isn't meant to be an obit -- there are plenty of official stories out on the 'net, written better that I could do it -- at the Washington Post, Deadline, the LA Times and the New York Times. But I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about an artist who has had such a profound effect on my own imagination and ideas about art in general.

I can't pinpoint exactly my first encounter with Frazetta's work. I've always been a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, for as long as I can remember. I do have the memory of seeing the Lancer (and later Ace) Conan and Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks with Frazetta covers in bookstores, especially the prominent display in the Waldenbooks upstairs at Scottsdale Mall. I also remember seeing samples from, and the ads for, the Ballantine Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta books in Starlog Magazine in the early '80s.
Later, after more time and reading, I learned more about his extent of his work -- not just cover paintings but pencil drawings, ink work, comic book art, movie posters and album covers... on and on.

What I think makes his work so powerful and popular is how dynamic it is, how much is going on in that snapshot of time. In some works, we see the moment before something happens. In others, it's the aftermath. But in all of them, there's the quality and artistry -- visceral, raw energy, in every brushstroke or line of ink. Pure magic.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

More DVD News

More recent news:

Sony will release the Blu-ray edition of Jason and the Argonauts, the 1963 epic from stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen, on July 6th. Jason is probably his best work, where he's at the top of his game. An interview with Harryhausen by genre director John Landis is included from the DVD, and additionally the Harryhausen Legacy featurette will be on the Blu-ray.

The trailer commentary site Trailers From Hell has released a DVD of their best trailer videos. Speaking of John Landis, he provides commentary on four of the trailers.

Next week, the original Gamera will be released on DVD. This will be the first unedited, subtitled release of the film in the U.S.

The Criterion Collection has a free channel of their films on Hulu.com. They released the first six Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman films on Hulu in February, and last month twelve more were posted, including the rare 14th film, Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, as yet unreleased on DVD.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Hammer DVD and merchandise news

There was much news this past week on the pop culture front. Most of the items I read about deserve their own posts (and I'll increase my posting count that way!).

Two of the really exciting items concern Hammer Studios. Titan Books has already released two new books about the history of the studio, and their merchandise unit has signed a deal to release Hammer-related items including t-shirts, starting later this year.

Even better, thanks to Synapse Films we'll soon be getting the remainder of the Karnstein Trilogy on DVD.

Fangoria Magazine is reporting that Synapse has picked up the rights to several Hammer titles -- Vampire Circus, Twins of Evil, Hands of the Ripper, and the 13-episode TV series Hammer House of Horror. House will be available in a DVD boxed set, and new high-definition transfers of the films will be released on DVD and possibly Blu-ray.

Twins of Evil completes the Karnstein Trilogy on DVD, with the previous releases of Lust for a Vampire by Anchor Bay, and The Vampire Lovers (print restoration article, possibly NSFW) in MGM's Midnite Movies series. Vampire Circus is a title that has been sought-after for years on DVD, and is considered a "fourth" movie in the Trilogy.

I'll update the R1 Hammer DVD list when actual release dates are officially announced. While we're waiting for that, check out my other Hammer posts and take a look at the site for the terrific fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors. The articles in LSoH are excellent but the Bruce Timm covers are a great bonus.