Feb 28, 2006

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November

By B.E. Earl

02/28/2006 7:17 PM EST

Hey kids! One thing I forgot to mention about March 17th in my last posting was that it is the US and UK major release date for the new Wachowski produced film V for Vendetta. In anticipation of this event, I sat down last night and re-read my copies of the DC comic books written by Alan Moore that the film is based upon.

For those not in the know, ‘V for Vendetta’ was actually started by Moore in the early 80’s and never quite finished because the British magazine that was publishing the serial went under. Moore and DC Publications picked up the unfinished storyline in 1988 and finished it with reprints of the first part of the comic and new material. As Moore himself states in the preface, nothing much has changed (except the age of his daughter) since he first started the story as Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party were still ruling Great Britain. ‘V for Vendetta’ was his attempt to comment on a society that he felt was rapidly going down the wrong path.

The titular masked hero/villain, V, is a freedom fighter of unknown origins who not only is attempting to change the landscape of society in this future view of Great Britain, but is also on a vendetta against those who had seriously wronged him and others like him in the past. In this version of the future, Great Britain has survived a nuclear war that had destroyed much of the rest of the world. Having removed all American nuclear weapons from British soil by Parliamentary edict some time ago, they were no longer a prime first strike target. The nuclear winter and resulting famine and flooding, however, caused a drastic change in the government of the country. A fascist regime took over and soon Great Britain became a violent and corrupt Orwellian society.

Our hero, V, chooses Guy Fawkes Day in 1997 as his coming out party and actually succeeds where Fawkes failed in blowing up Parliament. The act is more symbolic than anything else as Parliament’s power had long since gone the way of the dodo. Along with his naïve young accomplice, Evey, V proceeds to rain destruction down on the fascist government and send the whole country into chaos. He also continues his bloody quest to hunt down his former tormentors and make them pay for they had done to him.

The graphic novel is extremely well written and intelligent, maybe even more so than ‘Watchmen’ for which Moore is more often lauded. The way that Moore was playing with the conventional form and content of comic books was revolutionary at the time. Even as dated as it seems now (the comic book’s future date was 1997/1998), we can see how well this story could translate into a timely piece of political filmmaking. I would love to see the Vicious Cabaret section from the comic book played out on the big screen, but I understand it has been excised from the screenplay. Too bad.

I understand that film is going to be different from the graphic novel, as should be the case with a work of this scope that has a multitude of secondary plots and characters. That is the great thing about adapted works of art. You always have the original to go back to. Moore himself has had nothing to do with this film having given away the rights long ago to his friend and collaborator David Lloyd. He has said that adaptations of his work have nothing to do with the work itself. Each should stand alone.

I’m hoping that this adaptation stands alone, but I’m also hoping that it contains enough of the wit and intelligence of the original to show the rest of the world the true genius that is Alan Moore. We shouldn’t have to settle for anything less.

Feb 24, 2006

Got Any Irish in Ya? Want Some?

By B.E. Earl

02/24/2006 10:37 PM EST

Hey boys and girls! St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner and it is one of my favorite times of the year. Besides the weather getting warmer and Opening Day of the baseball season to look forward to, March 17th usually ushers in the beginning of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Good stuff indeed! But it is St. Patrick’s Day itself that is the centerpiece of the lovely month of March. So without further ado, I give you my Top 10 favorite things about St. Patrick’s Day:

10) The Quiet Man – Having this pearl on DVD doesn’t stop me from watching it every time AMC or some other station plays it during the days leading up to March 17th. Hey, they even showed it on Christmas Day this year and I watched it. John Ford’s tale of a retired boxer coming home to his birthplace in Ireland gets better with every viewing. Who would have thought that the Duke could play a romantic lead so well? I could do a Top 10 list of my favorite parts of this film alone. I could, but I won’t.

9) Corned Beef Sandwiches – Sure you can get them any time of the year, but don’t they just taste better on St. Patrick’s Day? Or you could go hog wild and get the full dinner with cabbage and great big hoarkin’ potatoes. Funny thing is that this only became an Irish-American staple after the immigrants made it to America because it was cheap beef. Go figure.

8) Andy Cooney – If you haven’t heard this Irish-American crooner do his version of “When New York was Irish”, well then I guess you simply haven’t heard it. My mom is a huge fan of this singer and we have seen him a few times upstate at an Irish resort. Plus, his brother teaches my nephew karate. So there! Oh yeah, and he also does a rockin’ version of “The Unicorn Song”. Can’t seem to get it out of my head once I’ve heard it though. Must…think…of…something…else! Aarghhhhhhh!

7) Black Bush – C’mon now, this is a PG rated blogsite so get yer minds outta the gutter. I’m taking about the Black label of Bushmill’s Irish Whisky. I just recently found out that it’s “Whisky” without an E if made outside of the USA and “Whiskey” with an E if it is made here. But then I saw a bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon that is made in Kentucky and they spell it without an E so maybe I’m just talking out of my ass. Good trick if you can do it.

6) Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers – I had a live album by these gentlemen some time ago and I only seemed to listen to it around this grandest of holidays. “Ahem, ahem…me mother’s gone to church. I ain’t supposed to play with you cause you’re in the dirt. It isn’t because you’re dirty, it isn’t because you’re clean. It’s because you have the Whooping Cough and eat margarine.” I still don’t have the foggiest what that means, but it makes me smile every time I hear it.

5) St. Patrick’s Day Parade – Not the one in NYC that is shown on the telly, but the one in Huntington Village which is always on the Sunday prior to St. Patrick’s Day. It pure drivel, but it’s a great day outdoors with my friends from town and it nearly always ends up with someone puking in one of the bathrooms at JD’s. Ah…good times!

4) Green Beer – Okay, I really don’t like green beer and I don’t know anyone who does. But I have to give props to all those bar owners who think that people actually do like green beer. The foine city of Chicago goes it one further and actually dyes their river green on St. Patrick’s Day. And we think the Dutch are crazy with all those Orange colored outfits at the Olympics. Strike that. The Dutch are crazy.

3) Irish Sweaters – I’ve got two hand-made Irish sweaters and St. Patrick’s Day is one of the only times I choose to wear them. It’s not that I don’t like them or they look bad on me. It’s just that I run a little hot most of the time anyway and these things make me sweat like a whore in church, and sweaty, chubby guys don’t get a lot of lovin’ from the ladies.

2) Irish Eyes – I love that on St. Patrick’s Day its cool to be Irish even for those without an Irish bone in ‘em (I refer you to the title of this article). Now I know that it’s cool to be Irish 365 days a year, but that’s because I’m just about 100% of Irish descent. I say just about because there is some debate over one of my grandmother’s claim to not being Irish. Her parents emigrated from England, but they were originally from Ireland. In fact her first cousin was Padraig Pearse who was a great poet and hero of the Irish Revolution. I think she just likeS busting our balls about the whole thing. That and she was Protestant.

1) Guinness – Mother’s Milk. The Black Stuff. Irish Viagra. Whatever you want to call it, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the only so-called holidays with an official drink. Lay down the Murphy’s Stout, put away the Killian’s Irish Red (made in America anyway) and save the Harp for another day. On St. Patrick’s Day we drink Guinness Stout. The only stout! Okay, we drink it the rest of the year as well, but damn it…we drink more on St. Patrick’s Day! Slainte!

Feb 5, 2006

Wicked Smaht

By B.E. Earl

02/05/2006 8:54 AM EST

Hey kids! Have you ever watched a film and decided that you didn't really like and/or understand it at first only to decide at a later time that you actually did like it and that it has gotten under your skin a bit? This happens to me an awful lot. It happened just recently with a so-called classic horror film called The Wicker Man from 1973. As you know, both Slyde and I are big fans of the horror genre, but neither of us had ever seen this classic until I had the chance to purchase the DVD sometime last week.

Let me give you a brief set-up to the movie. In modern day (early 70's) Scotland, a policeman (Edward Woodward) from the mainland is lured to a small island in the Hebrides to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He encounters a strange group of villagers who act as if they had never seen the girl before. He also encounters the islander's strange religious and sexual practices which is disconcerting to him as he is a devout (and quite repressed) Christian. Suspecting that the girl has been sacrificed or is about to be sacrificed as part of some neo-pagan ritual, he stays on the island in an effort to save the young lass. I'll not go any further in case any of you haven't seen this gem, but let's just say things start to go awry for our young, repressed hero.

I'm not quite sure why I gave it a thumbs-down after my first viewing. It surely wasn't what I expected. There were horror elements to be sure, but I certainly wouldn't classify it solely as a horror film. The first half of the film played out almost as a musical, if you can believe that. There were songs sung in pubs, in fields, around the maypole, and even one extraordinarily strange seduction sung by the landlord's daughter to the policeman while in different rooms! It also didn't go a long way towards explaining some of the strange imagery on the island, but I guess at that point I had already semi-given up on the film.

That next day, however, I found that it HAD gotten under my skin a little. I began to research a little of the background of the film and it started to fascinate me even more. You see, this film was the brainchild of writer Anthony Shaffer, director Robin Hardy and star Christopher Lee. In fact, Lee was not paid a dime for his acting in this film although he continues to call it his favorite film that he had ever worked in. This project was very close to his heart and he wanted to see it completed. Had he accepted his normal fee the film may never have gotten off the ground. Mr. Shaffer had wanted to do a smart, contemporary British horror film which then turned into a morality play, and partly made that weird left turn into musical/drama. The studio which had made the film (British Lion, I believe) was sold soon after shooting had completed and the new head of the studio, Michael Deeley, was not quite sold on the film. In fact, after an early viewing of the film with Shaffer and Lee, he asked them what they thought of it. They believed that it was one of the finest things that either of them had worked on. He replied that it was quite possibly the worst film he had ever seen.

Well, if the head of your studio believes that about your film it ain't gonna be easy to get them to distribute it. They tried to convince Roger Corman to distribute it in the US, but his offer was too low for the studio to accept. It soon found another distributor, but without the clout that Corman could bring to the table the film shot quickly to obscurity even though it drew rave reviews. However, it soon began to rise in the underground as a cult classic. Theaters were playing the film at midnight showings to sold-out audiences. With the advent of VHS (and DVD later on) the legend of the film has continued to grow. There are fanzines, websites and festivals dedicated to the film. One disappointing note is that the original negative to the film has been lost to history. It is believed that it was accidentally included in some garbage that was used for landfill in England's M3 motorway. Mr. Lee deduces that was a direct result of the dislike that Mr. Deeley had for the film!

So, with new information in hand I decided to watch the film a second time and damn if I didn't love it this time around! Even the weird musical scenes were a delight to watch. And the conflict between the repressed Christian ideology of Woodward and the neo-pagan joy of the villagers was especially juicy to behold. Britt Ekland (dubbed by Annie Ross to portray a Scottish accent), Ingrid Pitt (strangely, the producers kept her Polish accent) and Diane Cilento were all beautiful and quite magnetic on the screen. But it was the thoroughly delightful Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle that stole the show. He was funny, thoughtful, smart and not at all outwardly evil as the ringleader of the neo-pagans. A very different Lee than the one I had grown up on when he was doing all those Hammer horror films. He didn't look so awful in a dress towards the end of the film either. I guess you have to see the film to understand that last bit.

Now this classic is being remade for 2006 release with Nicolas Cage as the police officer. They've also switched locales from an island off Scotland to an island off the Puget Sound in Washington (or somewhere in Maine...I've seen both written). Now, I hate to bash a movie before it is released, but I am of the opinion that they should have left this one alone. If they had to remake it I would have preferred that the producers keep the Scottish flavor as the influence of the Celtic pagan rituals will be hard to maintain in an American version. And Nicolas Cage? Ugh!

Anyway, as I stated in the opening sentence, I like when a film gets under my skin a bit. This one had me researching Celtic pagan rituals which is not so easy since the history is murky at best. You see there was no written documentation of these rituals, so what remains today sometimes feels like a bad game of telephone...but played over a couple of thousand years instead of whispered around the room at a party. The maypole, the fire dance, John Barleycorn and the wicker man itself all are a part of early pagan practices although any specifics are hard to come by. This film left me wanting more, and I think that is one of the marks of a truly great piece of art.

Feb 2, 2006

All About the Mommies

By B.E. Earl

02/02/2006 5:31 PM EST

Hey Kids! A couple of news items have been buzzing my brainpan lately and rather than just let them stew in my noggin, I thought that I would share my oh-so-unimportant thoughts with the Slydesblog community. Here’s (really) nothin’:

Big Momma’s House 2 – Now I know that I’ve previously poked fun at this totally unnecessary sequel, but it just opened this past weekend and it really struck a nerve. This film, for lack of a better word, actually grossed over $28 million in ticket sales on its’ opening weekend. That is about what my beloved Serenity made in its’ entire theatrical run here the US! Who the hell is actually buying tickets for this crap? Didn’t anyone see the trailers? There has to be some conspiracy! And why did Martin Lawrence need to make this film? Were there so many unanswered questions from the first one? Wake up people!

I am so sick of trying to make sense of the weekly box office tallies. I mean, I know that there is nothing but crap out there, but you know what I do when there isn’t anything worthwhile to see a the theatre? I stay home and practice my embroidery. I’m getting very good. I’m currently making a quilt with scenes from all the quality movies that Martin Lawrence has made in the past decade. It shouldn’t take me very long.

Cindy Sheehan – OK. I’ve got all the respect in the world for those who choose to protest the war. Especially a mother who feels that the President lied to us, and who also feels that her son’s death in Iraq was a direct result of those lies. I’ve supported her behavior in the past, and I even got a bit of a giggle about her protest outside the President’s Texas ranch a while back. Guy can’t even take a working vacation nowadays without getting protested on. But she has crossed that tenuous line of my compassion in the past week with last night’s arrest in the Capitol and her photo shoot earlier this week with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Let me tell you why (in my humble opinion, of course).

She was invited to the State of the Union address by a Representative from the great state of California (I still giggle when Ah-nuld says that word). She was given a pretty good seat not far from the President and she was told that there would be no protests allowed in the Capitol. She was then led to her seat and proceeded to take off her jacket where she exposed an anti-war T-shirt that she picked out especially for this occasion. Security then led her out of the building where she was arrested for demonstrating in the Capitol. That charge was soon changed to unlawful conduct. Now, I’m a fairly intelligent guy. I know what she was trying to do. She wanted to get arrested. She wanted her name to be in the papers today. I’m fine with that. But don’t you think it would have been far more effective for her to have played nice and just sat there the entire time with a stern look on her face for the entire nation to see? Her Representative from CA must surely have alerted the press to her attendance. A few dozen shots of her sitting with her arms folded, shaking her head at the President’s rhetoric would have made an even better story for the talking heads at CNN. Without her presence, the camera had only a few disapproving shots of Sen. Hilary Clinton to keep us going. I’m all for protesting the war, but sometimes I don’t believe that these people are thinking straight when they are trying to get their message across.

Don’t even get me started on her photo shoot with Chavez. Aw, you had to go and do it, didn’t you? You got me started. OK…I warned you. This is the one that really got my blood boiling. Does she realize whom she slipped into bed with this time? This is a man who has openly praised his good friends Fidel Castro and Mohammar Khaddafi. This is a man who does not believe in a representative democracy like we have here in the good ole’ US of A, but a participatory democracy…not that anyone has a clue as to what a “participatory” democracy entails. He is a dictator. If not in name then in actions. He led a coup d’etat in 1992 against the democratically elected Venezuelan government and spent some time in jail for it before he, in turn, was elected President in 1998. That doesn’t diminish his thoroughly un-democratic actions since he has taken office, at least in the eyes of his critics. Maybe dictator is too strong a word to use at this point, but he has taken steps to dramatically increase the power of the executive in his country while controlling the police, military, judicial and tax authorities. Do the math.

You may want to do a Google search next time before you run off for a photo op, honey! Who’s next? Osama bin Laden? Go for it! Just make sure you let us all know where and when that’s gonna be. I’m sure US Special Forces would love to join you.