Sunday, December 25, 2011

Manning Up

It's time for us to retire the term "man up."  It's become a very popular phrase (along with the many versions of "grow a pair") and the more I hear it, the more the implications of it irritate me.

Perhaps I'm being too picky.  Perhaps the implications are so hidden that it doesn't matter.  The thing is, they're there.

What are the implications?  People usually use the term when they want a man to be brave and responsible.  "Grow a pair" is very much about gaining courage.  And yes, to act responsibly very often takes a great deal of bravery.  Which gender, however, has the pair to grow?  What this implies is that anyone who can't "man up" or "grow a pair" is unable to be brave and responsible.  Which means that such traits are the pervue of males alone.

Again, perhaps I'm being too picky.  But the implications are there and let's not forget it wasn't that long ago that women weren't allowed to vote because they "couldn't be trusted" to make wise decisions (or so men thought).  The head of the households were men and a man's house was his castle (and the woman should be thankful that he was allowing her to live there so she should be quiet and get his slippers).

This was the pervailing attitude in various degrees for centuries and in some cultures around the world, it still is.  We have women forced to walk around in burkas and women forced to marry their rapist (and if they don't, they're imprisoned for crimes against morality) because some countries still believe in the superiority of men.

Even in America, if a woman in charge makes a powerful decision she's said to have "grown a pair" over night (or very often stolen her husband's).

I'll admit, I grew up in a household where my father could not be counted on to act responsibly.  I learned how strong a woman could be by watching my mother be stronger than she gave herself credit for.  She was the one who worried about the bills being paid.  She was the one who worried about getting the kids to school.  She was the one who went to pack staples at night so she could supplement the meager allowance her husband gave her (you're not assured of child support when you're married) so that we weren't sitting on furniture that was torn and falling apart (my dad once told me that he had refused to buy new furniture because he was "teaching my mom a lesson."  I guess she decided to just go and get it for herself).  My parents were far too complicated to paint my father as completely worthless, but he was not the sort of father a father should be, nor was he the sort of husband a husband should be.  So I grew up believing that a woman should not necessarily expect to be taken care of because one day, she might not be. 

Bravery and responsibility wasn't and shouldn't be the sole commodity of the male gender alone.  It's something that all people should aspire to so referring to the acquisition of these traits as "manning up" is disrespectful to that other gender that is just as capable of those traits and has fought for centuries to be recognized for such.

My mom didn't need testosterone raging through her to fill in the gaps left by my father's disinterest in his family.  She did what needed to be do.  And there are a lot of women, married, single, mom's or not, doing the same thing.  Finding that inner core of bravery and responsibility that we all should possess to help make this world a better place. 

So let's retire the silly little phrase.  I know it sounds cool and tough, but it also sounds stupid when we bear in mind the implications, unconcious or not, surrounding it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Happy Holidays

No Virginia, there is no war on Christmas.  It was something invented by fools like Bill O’Reilly to…well, who knows why.  Why would someone look for problems where none exist?  To bolster weak positions?  To bolster weak egos?  The people behind the War on Christmas talk a big game about the greatness of this country then completely trounce upon one of the core principles that make it great.
Semantically yes, they have a point when they say Christmas is about Christ.  That’s where the “Christ” in “Christmas” comes from.  What they conveniently forget, however, is that the people who made up the holiday Christmas (oh let’s call them Christians) did so by hijacking other celebrations, such as the Roman celebration of Saturnalia and the Germanic celebration of Yule, and slapping the Christmas label on this time of year by claiming that Christ was born on Dec. 25.  Now the time of year wasn’t the only thing said Christians hijacked to create their tradition and the fact is that this follows in a long line of religions “borrowing” from each other (though none stole a tradition and made it their own as well as Christianity did).  But to insist that this time of year must remain sacred for one dogma is an insult to that good portion of the world who doesn’t believe in that dogma yet also holds this time of year dear.
This brings me back to one of the things that make this country great.  The Founders, in their far sighted wisdom and perhaps having witnessed their share of religious squirmishes, decided that everyone should have the right to worship (or not to worship) as they pleased.  So strongly did they believe in this that they put it in our Bill of Rights.
That’s a scary thing for Christians for in their philosophy, it’s not only sinful but dangerous not to acknowledge the glory of the Christian God.  And I must point out in all this that I refer only to intolerant Christians for I know there are Christians out there who couldn’t care less if someone wished them a “Happy Holiday.”  No, to intolerant Christians, turning our collective back on God could cause all sorts of calamities to befall the country.  It’s a fear that makes them pine for “one nation under God” and helps them forget how important a freedom of religion is (because without religious freedom, they might be the ones persecuted one day.  I mean actually persecuted as opposed to the persecution they’re imagining because FOX told them to). 
The term in question seems to be the insidious “holidays” as in “Happy Holidays” (though I’m sure “Seasons Greetings” is considered just as powerful a weapon in the non-existent War on Christmas).  These are two harmless sayings that I remember in cards and decorations as a child. 
It is true that the term “Happy Holidays” has been replacing “Merry Christmas” with increasing frequency over the years and here’s why: Because we have a vibrant country with a variety of religious philosophies (including those people who hold no religious views).  These people work hard, play by the rules, and pay their taxes.  Why then is it so terrible to honor the diversity, include everyone, and call it a “Holiday Tree”?
To whine about this is akin to the fools in the United States House of Representatives wasting time in November voting to make “In God We Trust” our national motto despite the fact that a good portion of tax paying citizens don’t trust in the Christian god (or any god for that matter).  We had a perfectly good motto, e pluribus unum, “Out of many, one,” that honored the country and the diversity of its people, but those who would vote to change that motto and disenfranchise a portion of this country aren’t interested in honoring their fellow citizens.  They’re only interested in proving a point:  God rules and unless you can get on board the Christian train you’re not invited to the party.  The irony there is that Saturnalia, the festival appropriated by Christians for the purpose of Christmas, was a festival where everyone was invited to take part no matter what they’re religion was.
To put it on a personal level, I was raised a Catholic (left the faith when I was 14) so calling this season Christmas is a very ingrained thing even though I no longer believe in Christianity.  Having worked in public service for years however, I’m aware that while not everyone celebrates Christmas, they may celebrate a particular tradition at this time of year.  Plus, I appreciate that this time of year could be important even to those who don’t celebrate a religious tradition.  After all, the secular New Year’s isn’t far away.  So when I send someone on their way, I am more likely to wish them “Happy Holidays” because I don’t want to assume what creed the people follow.  That to me is more respectful to fellow Americans.
The word "Christmas" in this song is not going to stop me from loving it.
Stores have taken this tack the past few years and their attempt to be respectful to their customers is grist for the mill for the pea brains trying to pump up this mythological idea that there’s a War on Christmas.  It’s the stores business to make a welcoming and comfortable environment for every customer not just a small minded sect who has decided their god is being dissed because the store is trying to be all inclusive.
Yet now there’s a list made up by the American Family Association (AFA) that grades stores on what it feels is the aiding and abetting the enemy in the War on Christmas based on how often they use the term Christmas (not that the stores have stated that they’re against Christmas, just that they haven’t used the Big C in their advertising and such).  Even if the store sells Christmas items, if it doesn’t blast out the term Christmas in all its advertising, it’s on the AFA list of stores censoring Christmas.  In the economy we’re struggling with now, these intolerant fools are going to slash at a store because its managers had the audacity to want to make everyone feel comfortable.  This doesn’t sound like a war on Christmas.  This sounds like a war on tolerance.  A war on the very philosophy our Founders believed in.  You are not supposed to be punished because you don’t bow down to a particular creed.
I’ve had people wish me “Merry Christmas.”  I’ve had people give me religious gifts.  And I could be petty and become insulted over these people assuming I am of a particular faith.  But how stupid would that be?  These are tokens of someone’s affection.  No matter what god they believe will bestow it, they’re wishing me peace.  How could I be so rude as to throw that back in their face?
But this is a concept very foreign to those actually waging a war at this time of year.
And I can imagine after being in charge for so long, that it must be tough for some Christians to give a little when it comes to tradition.  After all, I’m sure there were faithful celebrants of Saturnalia who didn’t appreciate it being swiped by Christianity (we won’t even go into festivals like Easter or Halloween).
But it’s 2012. We need to start growing up.  No one is denying anyone’s right to celebrate Christmas.  Those who use the term “holidays” are merely trying to honor the fact that this time of year does and should have resonance with a variety of beliefs and we can all enjoy it if we can just freakin’ learn to get along!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ra One: The Greatest Movie Ever Made

No, the movie "Ra One" has nothing to do with vampires, or my writing or me accept for the fact that I’ve wanted to see Shah Rukh Khan play a superhero for a long time. I threatened in a previous post that I would elaborate on my fixation this movie and now I'm making good on my threat.
So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

The makers of "Ra One" had a tough road to hoe. They were working on a genre rare in Bollywood. The Indian filmmaking industry had toyed with the superhero genre with films like "Drona," "Krrish" and "Robot" but none of these movies were able to cross pollinate Bollywood and Hollywood as successfully as "Ra One."

The glue that holds this movie together is Shah Rukh Khan whose belief in the project translates into the film. It’s a skill he brings to so many of his pictures. His intense promotion, before and after the film was released illustrated his commitment to the project. He understood that to bring this project to fruition, he might need to go outside Bollywood for certain things. It was not an insult to his nation’s movie industry. Rather, it was a realistic understanding that while Bollywood might excel at some things (it has very much kept the musical genre alive), it didn’t possess the skills for some modern aspects of movie making like visual effects (vfx as he calls it).

So, he asked for help and borrowed, as most creative endeavors do. He was, after all, helping to create something that was unique for Bollywood, but not to the rest of the world. And even Hollywood has borrowed a style here and there. The wire work seen in many movies is hardly unusual in the martial arts movies of China. Many of the ground breaking effects to be found in "The Matrix" movies were inspired by martial arts movies.

I point this out because one of the more pathetic critiques of "Ra One" has been that it relied on Matrix-like effects. Well what movie hasn’t since the makers of "The Matrix" invented them? It’s a bit like being annoyed because "The Jazz Singer" was the first sound movie and later movies utilized the technology. Movies, TV, commercials, web clips, they all use that distinctive look.

But Khan himself said that while much of what the makers of "Ra One" were doing was new to Bollywood, it was not necessarily new to industries outside of Bollywood. He felt it was time for Indian cinema, which can be a rather insulated industry, to try to broaden its appeal. There’s no reason, he feels, that Bollywood movies can’t be as widely accepted as the movies of other countries without losing its sense of identity.

It’s a bit hard perhaps for Americans to understand. We are, as Bill Murray so wonderfully put it in the movie “Stripes,” mutts.

We can call ourselves African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, but the bottom line is, as a nation, America is a mutt. Its strength, and yes, some of its headaches, come from our muttitude. We’re the kid sibling who can be a little wild cause the elder siblings have tamped down the path for us and made it an easier journey. In exchange, we’ve been able to consider life in a different way and perhaps come up with some things that the elder siblings haven’t been able to cause they were too constrained by the responsibility of their world. It’s curious: In some ways ours is a distinctive sensibility, yet an every-person sensibility. When you watch Spider-man, or Superman, or The X-Men, we don’t have a lot of national taboos to concern ourselves within these movies. We simply tell the stories. What you see are stories where nationality doesn’t really come in to play much, no matter how very proud we are of America. Even Superman who fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way…well, the American Way (when we don’t have some arrogant politician screwing that up) is pretty much just about Truth and Justice. That’s all you really need in life. It’s a universal thing.

And it’s this universal feeling that helps make American movies so popular around the world. America’s true distinction is its ability to be indistinct.

Other older countries have definite cultural distinctions that, whether they’re positive or negative, don’t necessarily translate outside that country’s borders. Some of it is laziness on the part of the viewer foreign to that movie’s home audience. America, for example, has no problem believing that the Sharks and the Jets in “West Side Story” will participate in a whole song and dance before a rumble, butthey find two lovers breaking into song and dance in a Bollywood movie, ridiculous. The music can be as wonderful as that of a Hollywood musical, yet it just won’t wash with some American viewers.

Of course some of it could be due to the fact that, despite this intense push for globalization that India itself has benefited from, Bollywood is not willing to alter itself in anyway to be compatible to non-Indian viewers.

Shahrukh Khan is proud of his country and proud of his country’s film product. But he understands that in order for it to be more acceptable to countries outside of Indian, the industry must do a bit of bowing itself. The detriments can be nonexistent, the benefits high.

And that’s what fueled this movie and perhaps that’s why it succeeded where “Krrish,” “Drona” and “Robot” didn’t. It relied on experts in the fields. Bollywood for some parts; Hollywood for others. The resultant blend was highly entertaining.

My first thought when I heard that my wish of Shah Rukh Khan playing the role of a superhero was granted was, “How are they going to put musical numbers in a superhero movie?”

I love superheroes, though I prefer them on film to paper. I never had the patience for graphic novels (or as they used to be called, comics). I like my reading more linear. But I do have a good imagination and love to lose myself to fantasy. I’ve always loved mythology and superheroes are, after all, simply a modern society’s way of carrying on the mythology of the past.

But while the superhero musical isn’t a new concept (decades ago there was a rather successful Superman musical as well as the Spider-man musical mounted a few years ago) it isn’t something you’d expect from a superhero movie.

In short, how were the makers of “Ra One” going to believably blend music and superheroes? Perhaps I should have had more faith. Or perhaps I should have realized that both genres, the musical and the superhero movie, require a suspension of disbelief that might cross easily into each other’s realms. Of course it has to be done carefully. I’ve yet to see “Robot” completely, but “Krrish” and “Drona” both had musical numbers that I found to be rather clunky. But then so were their storylines.

The musical numbers in “Ra One” are incredible and skillfully woven into the storyline (which is more than I can say for some non-superhero Bollywood movies I’ve watched). Those that don’t involve dancing, carry along the exposition of the film wonderfully, especially in the instance of "Raftaarein" which culminates in the destruction of a train station by an out of control train. The rapper Akon was chosen to perform two of the songs and does a superb job of singing the Hindi lyrics that one wouldn’t know that it’s a non-Indian singing the song.

The dance numbers are fun and frothy. “Criminal” advertising clearly the love between the game maker Shekher and his wife Sonia. "Chammak Challo" hints at what could be between G.One and Sonia. "Right By Your Side" has a bit more youthful feel and is another montage that helps move the exposition along.

The premise of the movie is simple. A game maker Shekhar Subramaniam living in London wants to impress his son. Shekhar’s language is Tamil while his wife’s is Hindi. In some respects, India is a bit like America: A large nation of states trying to hold itself together despite the difference in certain regions. India, however, has the added pressure of having regions that speak different languages (though if you listen to the difference between Yankee and Southern speak in America, you might find the same confusion). These regions have cultures that differ slightly too, so Shekhar and Sonia do have a bit of a different sensibility to them. Which must be at times difficult for their son Prateek who has to deal with their distinctive cultural peculiarities while growing up himself in London. Sonia wants to see her husband and son’s bond strengthen, but it seems nothing that Shekhar can do can reach his son. His son doesn’t hate him. He’s just embarrassed by him and perhaps the cultural divide is a bit too wide.

So Shekhar decides to grant Prateek his wish and creates the ultimate villain in one of the games that his company produces. Some question has been raised as to why Prateek would want “idolize” a villain (his gaming name is Lucifer). Here’s why. Cause Prateek is a young boy and young boys are stupid creatures who are fascinated by the strength of evil. It, hopefully, isn’t something that lasts long. But very frequently, villains have added dimensions that heroes don’t have and thus they are considered more exciting than heroes. Prateek doesn’t want an unbeatable villain, but one that challenges Prateek, who is very good at video games. When he does partake in the game that his father ultimately creates, he still uses his name Lucifer, but he takes on the avatar of G.One, the hero, to beat the villain Ra One. He’s looking for a challenge and so far, most video game villains have not proven much of a challenge.

As the movie’s introduction explains, however, the company is also working on ways of creating ultra-sophisticated 3D technology that could change the world of technology. So the basic premise is that this villain, Ra One which stands for Random Access One (but has an allusion to the Indian demon Raavan), designed to be ultra-intuitive in game battle simulations, begins to think for itself and utilizes the technology to enter the real world. The last thing he remembers is being beaten on level two by Lucifer (Prateek who was playing the game during the launch party) so he feels the urge to destroy Lucifer before doing whatever mischief he can in the real world. Newly born to the world, he is like a child, his one focus being to kill Lucifer.

The parts where Ra One begins to think for himself are quite eerie as is the part where he finally beaks free from the game. The mood is enhanced by some wonderful incidental music and excellent cinematography.

Now this is the part of the movie that even I had to admit was a bit beyond my grasp. They did indeed take a lot of liberties. So what I did was what I’ve done through most superhero movies. I just went with it. I understood what they were going for and went with it. Cause here’s a little secret: I still don’t understand why Peter Parker didn’t die from the bite of a radioactive spider but instead had his genes manipulated, within a day mind you, to the point where he could climb walls and spin webs. And Iron Man? I’ve seen "Iron Man" about 5, 467 times and I still don’t get how his heart is able to provide enough power for him to travel thousands of miles away to another country, take down some bad guys using some pretty sophisticated hardware, and then fly back home after a battle in the air with two U.S. war planes. So far, we have not found an element small enough to fit into this heart yet strong enough to do the sort of damage that Iron Man can do. While watching the movie, I just sort of ran with it. The script was great, the acting was great, the effects were great. So I shined on the rest.

At this point in "Ra One," so enjoyable was everything, I was willing to shine on the rest. Plus the uncertainty wasn’t so glaring that it kept me from getting into the film.

There have been other criticisms of the film. It copied "The Terminator." It might have borrowed from "The Terminator," but copied? The concept of a young boy being chased by something that wants to kill it is hardly new. Look at the Old Testament. There are a couple of stories in there in that vein. Then there are the myths that the Jews borrowed from to create their myths.

It copies from “Iron Man.” The whole heart thing…they may have a point. But the argument could be made that the characters of Ra One and G.One were designed for a video game and video games are greatly inspired by superheroes (and vice versa). Shekhar the game maker may very well have borrowed the concept of a heart that powers the hero from “Iron Man” (though in the game Ra.One, the characters can function without their hearts. They are just not as powerful.

What you do have in “Ra One” is a great story with some really tender scenes when it comes to the game maker and his wife and the game maker and his son. And later, when G.One enters the pictures, looking so much like Shekhar, it adds another dimension. The intended elements, be they touching, funny, scary, were well executed. You have incredible performances by Kareena Kapoor as Sonia, Armaan Verma as Prateek, and Arjun Rampal as the last avatar of Ra One.

And then there’s Shah Rukh Khan who has been at the top Bollywood for two decades. At 46 he has somehow become sexier than he was ten years before. For the 2007 movie “Om Shanti Om” he sculpted his body and it has stood him in good stead for his role in “Ra One.” Even more to the point, he has grown as an actor and a dancer in the past ten years. I first noticed it in the film “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi,” which is a beautifully done film, story wise, acting wise and music wise. Dance numbers in earlier movies while exuberant didn’t possess the same sort of intimate confidence that he had in this movie. And the role he played in “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” required a more subdued acting style only hinted at in other movies, that he nailed in this movie. In “Ra One” there are moves that his 46-year-old body with its pevious back, knee and shoulder problems, performs that would put to shame actors half his age. Add to that the energy that he brings to the role that, again, actors half his age would be hard pressed to keep up with.

Ultimately, that’s what brought me to the theater seven times for “Ra One.” It would have been more but my schedule is so tight that it was a minor miracle that I made it seven times. The fact that it was out longer than I thought it would be in America helped. I can tell you, the people at Big Cinemas in Niles now know me and will probably recognize me in December when I go to see the opening of Don 2, another Shahrukh Khan movie that I’ve been highly anticipating.

Honestly, though, I don’t know what about “Ra One” makes it rank in my top ten superhero movies (perhaps even top five). Is it because I’m such a fan of Shahrukh Khan? Is it because the Bollywood/Hollywood thing was pulled off? (The more I read about the movie and its hybrid reality the more interested I became in it.) Whatever it is it has made for a very happy October/November and will make for a very happy December when I receive my DVD copy (pre-ordered) of “Ra One”: The greatest movie ever made.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Corinthians and Vampires

Eddie Izzard is one of the funniest comics around.  Someone likened his style to jazz and watching his riffs, one can see why.  He's completely comfortable with the concepts he proposes and it comes across on stage.  One of his funniest bits is his take on St. Paul's Letters to the Corinthians.  Check it out:

Now, I was raised Catholic (I renounced it when I was 14) and went to a Catholic school for eight years.  I remember hearing about these mysterious letters St. Paul sent to what I assumed at the time was the whole city of Corinth and Izzard's take on it is pretty much in keeping with what  I imagined it to be.  Mainly because my teachers never told us who the Corinthians were and why St. Paul was writing to them.  I doubt it would have been enough to keep me believing the mythology, but St. Paul's zeal does make for an interesting chracter study.  But I think I prefer Izzard's take on it.

Another fantasitc bit is his take on B movies and vampires.  Even more fun is that some creative person has set many of Izzard's bits to Lego animation.  

Izzard and Lego, a fabulous combinaton!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Guest Post on VampChix

Hey everyone, the wonderful folks at the VampChix site who gave me such a neat review of Vampires' Most Wanted allowed me to submit a guest post for their blog.  I'll be on Monday, Nov. 7 so I hope everyone takes a look at it.  It was fun to write.  There will even be a sweepstakes for a free, autographed copy of the book.  Click here and take a look.

In the meantime, my addiction to the movie "Ra One" continues.  This is a situation that I will need to post about when I get a free moment (which has been in short supply the past few weeks), but suffice to say that I've been waiting for Shahrukh Khan to make a superhero movie for a long time and he has not disappointed me.  It's got everything I look for in a superhero movie AND fantastic dance numbers.  How can you go wrong?

This is a video found on YouTube that puts together trailers and scenes backed by the song "Raftaarein" which is heard over the train chase scene in the film and fits perfectly with that action sequence.

And it only makes me want to see the movie again!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Night at the Book Cellar

I took part in a four author book signing at the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. It's a neat book store owned by very nice people. We had a good turn out despite the weather and the night was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A New Story on the Book

The story on Vampires' Most Wanted has finally made Pioneer Press.  Kind of fun.  I need to tend to my blog a bit more consistently but life has gotten a hold of me and has been shaking me around like a pitbull.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Me and Bela

If all goes well, I might be able to add a few more photos (I'll consider myself lucky if I manage to get this on here), but here is one of the photos the Pioneer Press photographer shot of me for the upcoming article to run in the Press.  I painted that Bela Lugosi bust years ago, after buying it from a ceramic store that my sister and I used to frequent.  Somewhere packed away is a huge head of the Frankenstein Monster.  Who knew decades later that the Bela bust would come in handy?  Hopefully when the photographer works his photoshop magic they'll make the boxes in the background disappear.

It's hard not to feel bad for Bela Lugosi when you dig into the story of how Dracula flew from print to the stage and then to the silver screen.  Bela came in late to the stage production once it had reached Broadway, yet truly managed to make the role his own with a curous mixture of smouldering chill (I know, figure that one out).  He possessed the accent and the pedigree having been raised in the area not far from where the real Vlad did his thing.  He also possessed a mysterious, imperious, perhaps even dangerous, aura that helped add to the romantic mystique surrounding the character and helped make the stage production even more popular than it was.  Yet when it came time for the story to move onto the screen, he was not the first, second or even third choice for the role.  Had Lon Chaney not succumbed to cancer, we might have a completely different history.  Bela had to lobby hard to get that role and even had to agree to lower pay.  But he got it and made the most of it.  Later roles, especially later vampire roles he would play would show just what he could have done with Dracula had he been given the chance.  Was it the rather curiously conservative direction from Tod Browning that kept the movie from being so much more, or the unfortunate stroke of luck that left the project finally greenlighted just as the Great Depression was picking up steam?  Whatever it was. what we're left with in the 1931 movie is a rather constrained production of the stage play which, written more as a drawing room drama, was a rather tepid treatment of the original novel. 

Still, Lugosi would get a chance to sink his teeth into the role again in "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein released in 1948."  It's curious to note that Lugosi was once again not the first to be considered for the role of Dracula but the fact was, so far had his career sunk by the time of production, no one in the industry knew that Lugosi was still alive.  Universal Studios had released a few more Dracula movies after the success of the 1931 movie, but none starred Lugosi whose star was on the decline (perhaps partly due to Universal throwing him over for Boris Karloff).  Cast as Dracula trying to revive the Frankenstein Monster while being hunted by Larry Talbot, the unfortunate man cursed with lycanthropy (the character made famous and played here by Lon Chaney Jr.), Lugosi gave the role of Dracula his all.  He became the scheming, deadly, power hungry vampire hinted at in the 1931 movie and end battle between Dracula and The Wolfman is classic.

Sad to think that the role that led him to world attention perhaps also helped dig the grave for his career.  Yet having only played him twice in his life, it's Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula that gave us the iconic image not only for Dracula but for vampires decades after he last portrayed the character. 

It seemed only fitting in promoting my book on vampires that I take a picture with the master.  I hope he liked the book.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Well, I have to send the folks at VampChix a huge "thank you" for their nice review of Vampires' Most Wanted.  And if they're excellent site is any indication, they know their vampires.  Check out the review, then check out the site for a really fun and interesting vampire experience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Free Lance Zone Interview

A few weeks ago I did a five question interview with a site called Free Lance Zone.  On writing, of all things.  Imagine that!  It was published on Sept. 5 and always Johnny on the Spot, I'm linking it here on Sept. 7.  When my late brother Dennis was in his early twenties, he told me and my younger brother that he wanted to start a business called Turtle Electric.  The motto being, "We're slow, but efficient."  Perhaps I'm living the motto.  He did start the business.  Side jobs, mostly.  But forever became known to family and friends as The Turtle.

So in honor of The Turtle, I'm posting the interview here a few days late.  Slow.  Perhaps not terribly efficient.  But earnest.  That's the best I can offer right now.  :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

I was a guest of Nick Digilio on WGN radio Saturday (9/3/11) night.  It took some effort on the part of producer Craig Collins but he was able to finally track me down (thanks in large part to Lisa Poirier and Diana Bucko, the latter of whom took the 40 minute drive to my house to tell me that they were trying to get a hold ofme) to discuss my book Vampires' Most Wanted.  Nick is a huge fan of the genre (it's second in his heart only to zombies) and was a gracious and engaging host.  A wonderful experience all around.  And we spoke briefly of how great "Fright Night" was and how pathetic it was that it seemed to be tanking at the box office.  I still think it has something to do with the limited release of the regular verison in exchange for the larger release of the 3D version.  I think the producers or the studio shot themselves in the foot on that one.  From what I've gathered, the 3D version is exceptional (in comparison to the 3D version of other movies) but I still think that if the regular verison had been given a wider release, you'd see a much better box office record.  My interview on WGN can be found at,0,4495654.mp3file

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Fright Night" Rocked!

Well that was a pleasant surprise.  I decided to take the chance and see "Fright Night" the other day.  I've yet to find out why the 2D version is in such limited release (as per my last post, I won't go to a 3D movie), at least in the area.  The second week of release has seen no change in area times.  So playing hooky one afternoon, I decided to go see a movie.

I didn't hold out much hope for the movie since I wasn't a huge fan of the original and trailers didn't lead me to think the remake would be an improvement.  I went for David Tennant and while he did an excellent job with the revamped role of Peter Vincent, the movie had even more to offer than that. The humor/creepy mix was just right and the pacing, not just the editing but the pacing of the acting, was really tight.  The characters seemed to have a little more substance than those in the 1985 version.  Where Chris Sarandon played Jerry as a suave, GQ-sort of vampire in the original; Colin Farrell played him as a sort of grown up, feral, Eddie Munster.  The original Jerry the vampire moved through the 1985 movie confident in his security even after Charlie Brewster discovered what he was.  He was one of the most powerful beings on earth, possibly hundreds of years old.  What could suburbanites possibly do to him?  The 2011 Jerry had no such delusions, prowling through the film, his attention fixed on the person in front of him yet his senses open to any other threat that might be in the vicinity.  (There was a neat little cameo by Chris Sarandon for a little Jerry-on-Jerry crime).

There are of course the usual "oh come on!" moments.  But you can forgive the movie those trespasses because in general it's so entertaining and even managed to heighten the tenseness in the concept at the core of the original: How do you get people to believe that the guy next store is a vampire?  Of course it helped in this movie that Jerry had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

David Tennant was great as Peter Vincent.  The original character, played wonderfully by Roddy McDowall, was a nostalgic take on the sort of once famous actors who turned to whatever work they could scrounge up after their fame had faded. In the case of the original, as host of a sort of Creature Features TV show that played the movies which had brought him such fame.  Such a character probably wouldn't resonate with 2011 audiences, many of whom have never seen the sort of “Fright Night” television film fests that the character was relegated to hosting.  The character of Vincent was ramped up a bit for the remake: a young, flashy, successful Las Vegas magician who none the less had a story arc that might prove useful as a springboard for a sequel.

So all in all, not a bad time at all.  The question is might there be a sequel?  And if so, will it be released in 2D at all or will finding a viewable version be as arduous a quest as killing a vampire.

My vendetta against 3D continues.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Fright Night" 3D BS

I am not a fan of the original “Fright Night” released in 1985.  The concept was neat and I loved Roddy McDowall's portrayal of the has been actor Peter Vincent, but generally, it didn't do much for me.  So a remake of this movie isn't something that exactly calls to me.  What does call to me, however, is the chance to see David Tennant on the big screen in the revamped role of Peter Vincent.  In this movie, the character of Peter Vincent isn't a has-been actor but rather a hack Las Vegas magician, though probably just on the cusp of has-beenness. Might be pretty fun to see what he does with the role.

But I will not go to see it in 3D.   Hollywood has been having a love affair with 3D that frankly puzzles me.  A few years ago I saw “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in 3D  (because it was the only version out by the time I got the chance to see it) and $9 is already pretty pricey to see a movie.  I don't really want to pay $3 extra to wear a set of glasses that a line of greasy kids wore before me, and sit through two hours of glaucoma vision just for the sensation that a rock being thrown towards the camera is heading straight for my head.  I can get that sensation walking down the street, (but that's a topic for another post).  Perhaps I'm fairly easily amused, but when I go to see a movie, I'm more concerned with crazy things like acting, directing, plot.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I like special effects.  I just like to be able to see them clearly.  That’s why I was so irritated when I went searching for movie times for a 2D version of “Fright Night” and discovered that the only showing available this week at one of the few conveniently located theaters (i.e. theaters located on the road that takes me from one job to the other and then home) was at 1:25 p.m. The 3D version, however, had several versions to choose from at this particular theater while at other nearby theaters, 3D was the only version playing.

Why would the studio limit an audience to a movie like that?  As appealing as I might find David Tennant, unless he’s in a porno movie, I’m not going to see a 3D version of a movie he’s in (l like my Tennant crystal clear) so they've lost out on a sale with me.  Oh sure, $9 is a drop in the bucket but I can't be the only one who refuses to see a movie in 3D.  Enough people deciding against seeing a move in 3D would have to eat into the profits slightly. You’d think wider releases of both versions would lead to a big box office take.  Why would they schedule the 2D version in such extremely limited release?
Yet 3D seems to be the wave of the future.  They’re even going back and 3D-afying older movies like “The Lion King.”  Kind of like higher-tech colorization.  The 3D craze, however, puts me in mind of that wonderful sketch from the SCTV universe "Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Pancakes” as featured on the low budget "Monster Chiller Horror Theater" hosted by Count Floyd. When it comes to sitting through 3D, parody of it is as far as I want to go.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blood, Sweat and Tears

or, "My Experience With Writing Vampires Most Wanted."  It's a book destined to become a cult classic as well as the glue that will, in later years, hold the fabric of society together.  While in this blog I plan to write on any number of things in a variety of ways, the next several months might prove to be a bit vampire heavy.  From the moldy, to the sparkly and all the corpses in between, the book is a celebration of vampires in all their glory.  But it's more than that for me.  It's a celebration that I made it through the process which on some days seemed determined to lay me low.  This is my second book (the first being Chicago's Most Wanted) and hopefully won't be my last.  Despite the blood, sweat and tears, however, it's pretty damned exciting and I'd like to romance that a bit.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some vampire fiction to find a home for.  See you in the next post.