Thursday, April 30, 2009

Battlestar Galactica (the original one!)

That's right: a novelization by Glen A. Larson and Robert Thurston from 1978, describing the events of the original Battlestar Galactica. I think this counts as a "movie novelization" because this is the original two-hour "movie" that I vaguely remember actually being in theaters. Anyway, it's hilarious.



Actually, the back cover is even more entertaining than the front:



I love that the only person who gets mentioned by name is John Dykstra. Actors? Writers? Forget 'em, kid; we're here for the special effects from the Star Wars guy! And they were pretty good, but they don't really come across in the book. You'd think they'd play it up in the combat scenes, describing things as exploding in an expensive manner, with a noise that would really impress you if you could hear it, but none of that really happens.

But! I want you to look at Lorne Greene up there. He's the glowering white-haired gentleman in the circle. How would you describe him? If you're Glen A. Larson or Robert Thurston, here's how:

Commander Adama's angular cheekbones seemed the work of skilled diamond cutter. But his cold, penetrating eyes could not have been designed by even the finest of artisans. The members of his crew feared Adama as much as they loved him. There was a popular superstition aboard the Galactica that, when the commander became angry, those powerful eyes retreated into his skull and gave off rays that made him look so inhuman he might have just materialized as a god from some new alien mythology. Although tall and strong, he had none of the muscular man's typical clumsiness in normal movement.His gestures were smoothly graceful, and there was an ease in his bearing that made even his enemies comfortable with him—at least when he was comfortable with them.


That's right; the original Commander Adama had magical retracting laser eyes. Take that, Edward James Olmos!

While we're at it, here's how Starbuck is introduced:

Starbuck didn't have to look over his shoulder to know that a gallery of onlookers had formed behind him. When he had a pair of rubes like these two on the line, word always spread through the ranks of the Galactica, and people came running to the ready room. It was considered a privilege to be in onthe kill. Starbuck's gambling acumen had become so famous that his name was now a part of fighter-pilot slang. To be starbucked meant that you had allowed yourself to be maneuvered into a situation in which your defeat was inevitable. It was in the vocabulary of battle as well as in that of the gambling tables.

Like an actor, the handsome young lieutenant knew how to play to an audience. He let his face, so clean-cut for a man so diabolically shrewd, assume a mask of naiveté, as if he had just boarded the battlestar fresh out of space academy. Awkwardness substituted for the normal grace of his movements, and he leaned into the table like a man who wondered how he had gotten himself into this mess in the first place. All part of the setup. The gallery knew it, just as they knew he was ready to sweep down on his foolish opponents like a Cylon patrol from behind a cloud cover.


I remember this scene from the show. The rubes win the hand, but later on Starbuck is about to win his money back when the alert sounds and everyone has to go get in their Vipers and put John Dykstra to work.

This is not, as the cover claims, The Greatest Space Epic Ever, but if you're old enough to remember the original series, it's an adequate replacement for watching the show. And if you only know the recent series, it's probably a weird, jarring experience as you keep having to remind yourself that these aren't the Boomer and Apollo you remember. Either way, the scene where Adama looks at his daughter Athena and muses on her sensuous curves is really, really strange.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Black Gestapo

This is one of the more startling titles and posters in movie history. Let's take a look at the poster in question:



Well! That's something you don't see every day.

The movie is pretty bland, except for the occasional shot of the militant black army chanting "VENGEANCE! VENGEANCE! VENGEANCE!" with a soundtrack overlay of "SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL!" At the beginning of the movie, Watts is under the sway of beefy, sunglasses-wearing white thugs, who force businesses to push drugs and gambling. So we get a round of scenes in which the business owners are roughed up for not having enough money to give to the white mob. Then we meet the People's Army, which is not really military. It's sort of a black Salvation Army. Except for the second-in-command, who wants to get real guns and start fighting whitey for real. The leader of the People's Army, General Ahmed, doesn't go along with it until his girlfriend gets raped by the beefiest and most sunglasses-wearing-est of the thugs. So Colonel Kojah gets the go-ahead to train a small group to fight back.

So the next scenes involve Kojah's army shooting up the white guys when they try to pick up their ill-gotten gains. There's a fairly short war and the head of the white mob shrugs and decides to get the hell out of town and maybe try his luck in Harlem. And as soon as that happens, Colonel Kojah (who has renamed himself General Kiongozi) takes over the rackets, leaning on the local shopkeepers to sell heroin and push the gambling and so on. So you've got an Animal Farm situation, where the revolutionaries have become the new tyrannical masters, although it happens a lot faster here.

So now General Ahmed has to invade General Kiongozi's compound, which is suspiciously like a country club, and take out the entire army by himself. First he liberates the tennis courts, then he tricks a squad into running down the road until they collapse, then he kills about forty people. Finally, he takes out Kiongozi and the movie's over. Pretty straightforward sleazy stuff.

Now, it turns out there's a novelization from Holloway House, better known (if at all) for the Iceberg Slim books. Check it:



This novelization is an attempt to make the story mean something. It follows the movie precisely, but it fills in a lot of inner details that the director and actors were unable to do:

Kojah couldn't help but wonder if all great men felt as he did when they made their first stride toward greatness. He wiped his sweating brow and then slipped quickly across the carpeted bedroom to the doorway that led to the rest of the house. His team followed closely at his heels.

Was it possible that Henri Christophe, L'Overture, and Nat Turner felt as he felt? He could hear a distant drum beating out a marching beat, the cadence for his army of liberation of conquest. They must have felt as he did as they set out to destroy the dreaded honkie. The beast that had cowered peoples throughout the world. But he would not run in fear. He would fight and win. Win and become a legend, a hero.


The book is still pretty sleazy. I don't think it has a choice with this title. But it's much, much better than the movie it's based on.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cinemapocalypse!

Hey! So last night was Cinemapocalypse at the Grand Illusion. That will require some explanation.

First: the Grand Illusion is the oldest independent movie theater in Seattle. It's a tiny little place with a tiny little screen where you can go and see obscure movies in the company of other people who like to go see obscure movies in a awesome theater. Paste Magazine named it one of the seven best movie houses in the country a couple of months ago. If the movie industry wants to survive, I advise it to take advantage of the fact that seeing movies on a big screen with other people is just a more fun experience than watching one on a two-inch screen on your laptop.

Next: "Cinemapocalypse" is a little traveling road show brought to us by the good people at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, which is also on that Paste Magazine list I mentioned earlier. It's a great theater, not just because they serve delicious food while you watch a movie, but because it shows terrific movies. And two of the programmers are doing some sort of West Coast tour with obscure movies. They've been to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and now it's Seattle's turn!

I have to emphasize here that these were real 35mm prints being projected on a movie screen. That's fun. And the audience reacted appropriately with horror or laughs as the situation called for. It wasn't just a movie, it was a movie experience. And a fun one!

We went to Friday's show, which was a triple feature of Vice Squad, Night Warning, and Tourist Trap. Starting at 10:00 pm. Yikes!

Vice Squad

Wings Hauser stars as the villainous pimp Ramrod in a punishingly ugly movie. The last reel was especially punishing, because I think they had the volume up a couple of notches. The gunshots were extremely loud and actually hurt my ears. If it was a directorial decision, it was a really smart one. Although traditionally I think you want viewers covering their eyes, not their ears.

Some people might be interested to note that former original MTV VJ (and current Sirius XM DJ) Nina Blackwood is a junkie whore. In the movie, I mean. I'm sure the real Ms. Blackwood is a lovely person. She gets killed early on in a brutal and ugly scene. I was more excited to see Pepe Serna, dressed almost exactly like he is as "Reno" in Buckaroo Banzai. At the end of the movie, when he's all bloodied up, he looks just like Reno! Incidentally, I checked out Mr. Serna's IMDB resume, and I'm surprised to learn that he's been in other things I've seen. He was a voice on "The PJs!" Also, he's in two upcoming movies where his character name is "Reno", but they do not appear to be Buckaroo Banzai sequels. Important note for Blue Blaze Irregulars there.

There are some aspects of this movie that made me question its authenticity. For one thing, I thought it was weird that the police code for "hooker in the hospital" is "Code two and a half". What's with the half? Did they run out of integers? Also, when Nina Blackwood flatlines, the doctor just shrugs and covers her with a sheet. C'mon, pal, at least try to resuscitate her!

Next up: Night Warning

Do you know who Susan Tyrrell is? She's been in a million movies, including The Forbidden Zone, Tapeheads, Cry-Baby -- look, just see for yourself. She's the star of Night Warning, which is also called "Momma's Boy," "The Evil Protege," "Thrilled to Death," "Nightmare Maker," and "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker". Note that there are no butchers anywhere in this movie, although one character does bring a couple of baked goods over.

Anyway, Susan Tyrrell has been in mostly crazy cult movies, although she does have an Academy Award Nomination to her name. According to the Drafthouse guys, Susan denies having any memory whatsoever of making this movie. Which is a shame, because her incredible unhinged performance in the last half is, um, incredible. I probably could have made that sentence flow a little better, but I stand by it: it's so good, it deserves two incredibles, because she was doing things I really didn't believe.

The plot is fairly standard at its base: crazy aunt kills her sister and her husband so she can raise the baby herself, but it turns out she was really the mother all along and she's got an unhealthy attachment to the kid. And then she kills a bunch of people. But two things made the episode stand out. First, of course, was Tyrrell's performance. This was a hardened cult-film audience, and they recoiled in horror a couple of times. It's like you can't show a middle-aged woman licking milk off her teenage son's neck without making people go "Eeeeurgh!"

Before I continue, I just wanted to mention that the entire audience was made up of "The Beardo" from the cartoon "Mission Hill". Trust me, this is a perfect reference.

The other thing that makes this movie weird is the homophobic cop played by Bo Svenson, another veteran actor who apparently has no memory whatsoever of making the movie. His character's theory is that the first murder is committed by the son, not the mother, because the mother's story doesn't hold up. She claims she was defending herself from a rapist, but the guy turns out to be gay, and in a committed relationship with the son's basketball coach. So the cop decides that the kid must be gay too (because he grew up without a father, and what other evidence do you need?) and actively berates the other cop for doing actual police work like "looking into the time the kid's parents died due to a cut brake line" and "asking the kid's girlfriend if he has sex with her". Oh! the girlfriend is a young Julia Duffy, and I have to say, if I'd known as a young Newhart fan that there was a movie with extended shots of Julia Duffy's breasts, I would have seen this movie much, much earlier.

Let's see, what else... well, there's an eighteen-year-old Bill Paxton doing a great job as a jerk. I miss Jerk-ass Bill Paxton. And the entire plot is pretty much fed by everyone's tendency to knock at a house's door and then stroll right in. Personally, if I had a freshly-killed dead body in the kitchen, I think I'd consider locking the door. That might just be me.

After this movie was Tourist Trap, which is one of Rhias's favorite obscure horror movies. But it was 2:00 am and we were tired. Plus, Rhias had just had surgery two days earlier (she's doing well, thanks for asking!) so we staggered home.

...

Hmm. This entry doesn't really have a tie-in for movie novelizations, does it? Sorry about that. I promise to write up "Black Gestapo" soon. It'ss simultaneously a movie I can't believe they made and a novelization I can't believe exists!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Sweet Audrina

Hey! So I'm still doing the V.C. Andrews Challenge to read eleven V.C. Andrews books in 2009 and also post about them. Although since I've only done Flowers in the Attic and it's already April, you might argue that I'm a little behind. But here's something you haven't considered: shut up! I'll do it! Get off my back, maaan!

Okay, so My Sweet Audrina. It's not part of a series like all the other V.C. Andrews books. I'm pretty sure that's because V.C. just threw ever random plot twist she had available into the book. But she doesn't trust the reader to pick up on weirdness, so Audrina is constantly pointing out how weird this all is. "How come I don't know how I old I am? What's wrong with my memory? Ghosts? Huh? What?"

The ending is spectacularly unsatisfying. After discovering the Big Twist that her parents didn't really have a previous daughter named Audrina and there were the rapes and also a couple of murders and everyone's been lying to her all her life, Audrina is all set to leave. She's going to walk out the door and maybe go try to start a life somewhere apart from all these crazy murdering rapists. And then she doesn't! She basically shrugs and says "Well, they're my crazy smothering mind-controlling lunatics and I'll stay with them."

Okay. That's two V.C. Andrews books. I have to pick up the pace here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Yellowbeard

I love Yellowbeard, because I have a soft spot for Monty Python and pirate movies. I understand that not everyone feels that way, especially about pirate movies. Oh, it's easy to be a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Anyone can do that. But I love Cutthroat Island, which makes me practically the world's leading expert on liking pirate movies. And I understand that while I might love Yellowbeard (in fact, I already said I did, back at the beginning of this paragraph), not everyone does.

It took forever for Yellowbeard to be released on DVD, and when it was, the cover was 90% Cheech and Chong. I guess if it takes the raw star power of Cheech and Chong to get an obscure movie a DVD release, I'll put up with it. But my point is that I think it's weird that a movie hardly anyone but me likes, that only hit DVD on a fluke, had a big tie-in book published in 2005, 22 years after the movie came out. It's got the complete script, the scripts for the trailers (which is a neat idea, which you don't see very often), the story of the making of the movie, and a novelization of the movie. Well, it's pretty short, so I think it might technically be a novella-ization.

Okay, so like I say, there's more or less a 104-page novelization at the end, and that's pretty neat. It hews very closely to the events of the movie:

Clement began to question him. 'Did you see . . .' -- then he realised and turned to Mansell. 'He's blind, you silly sod!'

'I may be blind,' said Pew, 'but I 'ave acute'earing.'

'I'm not interested in your jewellery, cloth-eyes,' snapped Clement.


It probably doesn't read that funny. But if you've got John Cleese's voice in your head, it's hilarious. It's one of those transcription-style novelizations that don't bring much to the party. Luckily for me, I've seen the movie enough that even reading bare-bones descriptions let me essentially watch the movie in my head.