Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas


I don't think it's the very first white Christmas I've spent in Martinsville, but it's the only one in anything like recent memory. Of course, the better part of the snow came the other day, but there's still plenty out there to go around.

Fortunately, the Krismus Krud seems to have subsided, and all in all, it was an exceedingly pleasant day, with some nice gifts given and received, food aplenty, and a meaningful gathering with family and friends. While everyone else napped this afternoon, I got about 1.5K words written in the new story I'm working on. Then it was over to our friends, the Albaneses, for a couple of fun scary movies — Let the Right One In and Blackout. Oh, and more goodies to eat and drink.

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pyrotechnics in Outer Space


If you visit me here, you know that I loves me some Japanese SF movies, be they serious or be they cheese. I have just about every Japanese SPFX movie ever made, and once in a while, I find it necessary to go on a video binge. Yesterday, I watched Toho's 1959 opus, Battle in Outer Space, and this evening I put on the 1977 cheese-fest, The War in Space, sometimes known as "Star Wars in Japan." Sitting down to watch this was actually kind of cool because, even after all these years, I had never made it through the entire picture before. Way back when, I'd started it a time or two, but in my impatient youth, I couldn't get through the first 15 minutes without either yawning or rolling my eyes. One of these days, I'll pick up the Discotek DVD release, but it's a bit on the pricey side. I have the movie on VHS, which I recorded back when I lived in Chicago in the 80s. It came on late at night on WFLD, Channel 32, and there were only two commercial breaks, each lasting less than two minutes each. Oh, but for those days again.

The movie is more or less a rehash of every other Toho alien invasion movie ever made, and borrows very heavily from 1963's Atragon with a dash of Toei's Space Cruiser Yamato for good measure. A few of the good ol' regular Toho cast members appear here to raise a smile, such as Ryo Ikebe (Battle in Outer Space, Gorath) as the stoic-to-the-point-of-sleepwalking captain of the spaceship Gohten; Akihiko Hirata, best known for his role as the tragic Dr. Serizawa in the original Godzilla; and Goro Mutsumi, the alien leader in both Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla and Terror of MechaGodzilla, back in this one as...an alien leader, now dressed like a gladiator. For the appreciation of heterosexual males, we have the very hot Yuko Asano, who doesn't do a whole lot, but does appear in an appealing bondage scene that almost pushes the limits of a G-rating.

The direction by Jun Fukuda, who directed several of the later Showa-era Godzilla films, comes off as either breakneck or altogether stalled, which largely accounts for my past inability to sit through the movie. The hysterically bad English dubbing — typical of many 70s' Toho films — often has characters reiterating (at least once) the same lines that another character has just spoken. The real draw, though, the special effects — by Mr. Pyrotechnics himself, Teruyoshi Nakano — are a scream. High-tech the movie is not, certainly compared to Star Wars, which was made the same year; bobbing miniatures, stock footage, and sparse sets abound, yet Mr. Nakano does provide a true extravaganza in the area where he always excels: big old fiery explosions. There are lots of them, and they never fail to impress. There's something about watching actual miniatures blow up into blazing fragments that the most sophisticated CGI in the world simply can't rival.

Whereas all this cheese once stoked my ire — you know, being a serious SPFX movie fan — I find that, in my old age, they come together in a mix that is really quite fun. It'll probably be a while before I sit down to watch The War in Space again, but by God, I did it. I finally, really did it.

Damned Rodan, Teruyoshi "Mr. Pyrotechnics" Nakano, and Brett Homenick at G-Fest XI, 2004


Saturday, December 19, 2009

What Blizzard?


Lots of precipitation last night — started with snow, then some sleet, for a total of about five inches on the ground. Some predictions called for much direr conditions; I'm kind of glad it wasn't worse, though last night, it was definitely treacherous on the roads. The young'un came in from DC on the late-night train, and late is the word. Scheduled arrival was at midnight; it was closer to 4:00 AM, and thankfully, she was able to get a cab to the house from the station. It's already melting on the roads, though it will re-freeze tonight, for sure.

A little while ago, I went out to clean off the cars and go walkies for a bit, but it's nice to be able to come back inside to a warm house. Hopefully, I can get out tomorrow and maybe get some Christmas shopping done. Mark has procrastinated this year....

Friday, December 18, 2009

CATASTROPHE 1999: Isao Tomita


Back in the late 70s, I became enamored of Isao Tomita's score to the 1974 Toho film The Prophecies of Nostradamus, a.k.a. Catastrophe 1999, a film that has virtually never been seen in its entirety — anywhere, including Japan, where it was made — since its original release. Although not officially banned, Toho yanked the film from distribution because its depiction of nuclear devastation was considered "insulting" to survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A seriously butchered, 92-minute version, titled The Last Days of Planet Earth, reached our shores in 1979, courtesy of Henry Saperstein, but that disjointed travesty bears little resemblance to the original 114-minute film. Sadly enough, I've never actually seen the original Japanese version, though it rates highly on the list of movies I'd like to view before kicking this mortal bucket. Unfortunately, from what I understand, the chances of a quality domestic release from a company such as Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock are fairly slim.

As I insinuated in the first sentence, Tomita's musical score is what brought this film to my attention to begin with, and just on a whim, I recently reacquainted myself with the original soundtrack recording. My old 33 RPM LP has been gathering dust for many years, but I do own a copy of both the VAP CD of the full soundtrack and the Victor symphonic/electronic suite that is coupled with Toshiaki Tsushima's score to Toho's 1978 SF monstrosity, The War in Space. The latter version is the same recording as the original LP, while the former features all the music cues from the film, including some alternate cuts. While the Victor album features much of the same music, it comes together as a smoother and perhaps more satisfying stand-alone experience than the other; however, it's the longer, less coherent collection of musical tracks that more fully bring home the film's depiction of an environment devolving into a polluted, radiated wasteland, until finally all is consumed in the ultimate nuclear holocaust.

While the movie might be considered a re-imagining of Toho's 1961 film, The Last War, Catastrophe 1999 is surely the bleaker and far more vivid narrative. Tomita's score is based primarily on a pair of lyrical themes, one eerie and grim — an energetic but dark orchestral composition augmented by a whistling, theramin-like synthesizer, with a theme reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone's Italian western score. The other is a melodic, romantic love theme, also driven by a whistling synthesizer. The themes depict very contrasting emotions, but are unified by a powerful undercurrent of melancholy. Both motifs are repeated frequently but with varying orchestrations and tempos.

The score is one that may be best experienced in darkness, without other distractions, as it very effectively conjures up the movie's most powerful images — some of which did survive the hopeless Americanization. Even if you haven't seen the movie in any form, if you have any appreciation for very moody, atmospheric, and eerie music — laced with a touch of 1970s style — the soundtrack is absolutely worth hunting down.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Teenpires

Based on the recommendation of more than a couple of folks, I decided to check out The Vampire Diaries. I'd seen a couple of miscellaneous episodes and thought it was all right. CW is running a week-long marathon starting tonight, so I watched the first couple of episodes. Found it right entertaining — nice production values, pretty settings, pretty young people, some of whom leak a bit of blood. There are certain comparisons to Dark Shadows, given the background and temperament of some of the characters; we have a reluctant vampire, the inevitable modern-day heroine who resembles the vampire's long-lost love (oy). The story does provide an enjoyable version of the vampire mythos, making use of some of its most traditional tenets as well as discarding others — the vampire needs an invitation to enter the victim's home, casts a reflection in mirrors, can survive in daylight (though apparently through the use of an ornate ring). And it does have the distinctive "prime-time soap opera" feel that's a bit reminiscent of the 1991 Dark Shadows revival series.

All in all, a fun little vampire show. I'll probably enjoy checking it out further. It's gotta beat most of the other crap that CW advertises....

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New DARK SHADOWS Audio Releases Announced


Big Finish has announced the next of the Dark Shadows dramatic readings, titled Final Judgment, due in January, featuring Lara Parker as Angelique and Kathryn Leigh Scott as Josette, written by D. Lynn Smith. Also upcoming in 2010 will be my newest drama, titled Dark Shadows: Blood Dance, scheduled to star David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott. More info here: Dark Shadows News Page.

Possible new book news on the horizon as well, involving Dark Regions Press, which released my collection, Other Gods, in 2008. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Creative-Writing-Help.com Q & A Session


Visit www.creative-writing-help.com for a new interview with me; it's a nice little Q & A session about my own writing as well as the writing business in general. It was conducted this past week and just went up. Other interviewees include Piers Anthony, Stephen Dedman, Gorman Bechard, Marilyn Byerly, and more.

Last night, spent a very pleasant evening with the Albaneses. Had some killer pizza and chicken wings, then watched One Missed Call (the American version; no great shakes) and From Dusk Till Dawn, which is also no great shakes, but kinda fun. Enjoyed seeing it again after however many years.

Today...Christmas shopping! Woohoo, and all that.