Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Like producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus releasing competing Lambada dance movies on the same day back in 1989, two different authors had their Megalodon-on-the-rampage novels hit bookstore shelves within the same month in 1997 (Neither one features Lambada-dancing Megalodons on the rampage, but that would’ve been too much to hope for). The day I find myself on national television saying, “I’ll take Carcharodon megalodons for $400, Alex,” will be the day I praise Meg and Extinct, two waterlogged schlockers about gigantic prehistoric sharks that resurface after several million years to stain the oceans of the Earth blood red. In other words, Jaws meets Jurassic Park, but without a shred of the originality, style or suspense that made those pop page-turners so entertaining.
If you’ve read Jaws, you probably remember the sequence in which Hooper tells Brody and Quint about the Megalodon, a long-extinct ancestor of the great white shark, which he likens to “a locomotive with a mouth full of teeth.” Those words conjure up a frightening image, one that no doubt inspired Robin Brown to write the 1981 thriller Megalodon. I haven’t read the Brown novel, but it can’t possibly be any worse than Meg, a blood-soaked stinker that opens with a mighty meg ripping apart a Tyrannosaurus rex while a herd of Shantungosaurus watch from a nearby beach. Four pages (and 70 million years) later, we meet Professor Jonas Taylor, a paleontologist still haunted by the events of seven years earlier, when he may or may not have encountered a Megalodon during a top-secret military expedition to the depths of the Mariana Trench. Through layers of plot blubber too thick to slice apart in the 15 minutes I’m allowing myself to write this, he takes another trip to the Trench and accidentally unleashes a 60-foot meg that snacks on some large ocean vessels, devours a few dozen people (including Jonas’ philandering ex-wife and the son of his best friend) and could very well destroy the fishing industry by disrupting the migration patterns of whale pods. The laughably awful climax has Jonah – er, I mean Jonas – driving a deep-sea submersible into the meg’s mouth and gutting the monster from inside with a fossilized shark tooth!
First-time author Steve Alten deserves at least some credit for doing his homework and coming up with a fairly plausible way to haul the Megalodon out of retirement. Unfortunately, the meg’s bloody escape from the Trench provides the book’s only effective moments. The overabundance of techno-jargon certainly doesn’t help; Alten may have set his style sights on Michael Crichton’s Sphere, but the end result isn’t half as enjoyable as one of those breezy adventure novels Crichton used to write in his sleep at Harvard Med and then credit to “John Lange.”
Charles Wilson has more experience than Alten in constructing this type of thriller, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence of that in Extinct. The plot? There’s a big shark on the rampage around the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and everyone just assumes that it’s your average, garden-variety great white…everyone, that is, except Admiral Vandiver, Director of Naval Intelligence, whose background in marine biology leads him to the conclusion that the real culprit is a Megalodon. While he’s spewing out pages of scientific theory to his assistant (and us – zzzzzz), marine biologist Alan Freeman and charter-boat operator Carolyn Haines fight the meg…and eat dinner together…and Alan buys birthday gifts for his Aunt Rayanne…and the local sheriff’s name turns out to be Jonas (thankfully there’s no character named Ishmael)…and Carol is a single mom with a 6-year-old son…and, wouldn’t you know it, Alan looks a lot like her ex-husband…
Has it been 15 minutes yet?
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Earl E. Smith and
Gordon Eastman and
Gordon Eastman and
world champion stunt pilot
MPAA rating: G
Running time: 88 minutes
Released by American Cinema
Small-craft pilot David Young likes to stunt-fly in air shows with his UCLA aeronautics professor Art Scholl. During summer months he works a Wyoming jade claim with his uncle Eric Norden. When a pack horse loses his footing on a glacier, tumbling several hundred feet, taking Young with him, Norden says he is too weary for another trip next year. Young, remembering a snowmobile accident the previous winter in which fiancee Ann King was killed, doubts he will continue Wyoming mountain life. Then Young finds a rich vein of jade and proposes to convert an old Piper Cub into a short take-off and landing craft. Scholl helps him. Young falls in love with college student Pam Buckland, who is shocked to see Young in action in an air-show; Norden is killed in a flaming crash. Young returns to Wyoming and his plan to take the jade out by air. His mother, Patty Kane, is aghast. The idea works after exhaustive preparations. Young and Pam decide to get married.
World champion stunt pilot Art Scholl and the awesome beauty of Wyoming's Grand Teton mountains easily relegate this out of the ho-hum, young adventure yarn category and bracket it with some of the most engrossing entertainment geared and generated for family trade in quite a spell. Gordon Eastman, one of the best cinematographers in the business, was responsible for the photography (in association with Wesley Marks), and, for good measure, wrote the original story and served as co-executive producer (also with Marks). Carl Monson directed in an obviously firm grasp of the adventure motif in remote American surroundings. David Young, the leading man, is credible and convincing as a UCLA student bent on using a converted old Piper Cub in the dangerous job of taking his jade vein "find" out of the mountains. He is helped by Scholl and, in the process, finds romance with fellow collegian Pam Buckland. Eric Norden has some good moments as Young's uncle, who crashes to his death in an air show. Footage was shot in southern California and Jackson Hole, Wyo. The screenplay is credited to Earl E. Smith and P.A. Hedberg. In Technicolor and Techniscope.
Pennzoil has a national cooperative radio spot announcement plan in effect with American Cinema. Tie in with an area flying service on a co-op promotion, anyone holding a private license elegible for admission.
[Above: Boxoffice BookinGuide, January 28, 1974, 4660]
Gordon Eastman in Denver To Plug 'Never Look Back'
DENVER -- Gordon Eastman, conservationist and nature filmmaker, was in Denver talking about his new film "Never Look Back," booked at the time in 14 Colorado theatres. While here he was interviewed by William Gallo, Rocky Mountain News film critic. Portions of the resulting column follow:
"Gordon Eastman is a ruddy, rawboned Westerner. The wind and sun have dug deep furrows next to his mouth and he speaks with the confidence of the old self-reliant America. He dislikes the six months a year he must spend in Hollywood and would rather be at home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., or in the vast icy reaches of the Northland.
"Gordon Eastman makes movies, outdoor nature and adventure films, with titles such as 'The Savage Wild' and 'High, Wide and Free.' He has traveled all over the world as a director and cinematographer -- in his early years as a cameraman for Walt Disney. And now he has combined two of his loves, flying and the outdoors, in a new film titled 'Never Look Back,' which deals with the trials and tribulations of a young stunt pilot.
"Eastman also built two airplanes for the film just so they could be wrecked and he designed another which could land at 9,000 feet on a postage-stamp field. 'It had slotted wings and dropped wing tips and it could fly at 25 miles an hour without stalling.'
"The film features much fancy acrobatic flying and Eastman enlisted eight stunt pilots for the movie. Eastman himself has been flying since he was 16 years old and that passion is just one among many. He is an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hunting and fishing and he has passed on these interests to his wife and four children. His 11-year-old daughter just made the National Junior Ski Team and one of his sons is an elk hunting guide near Yellowstone Park.
"After 'Never Look Back' he plans the release of two more action-adventure films this year. The first will be 'A Matter of Winning' and deals with snowmobile racing. The second will be an Arctic Eskimo film, a 90-minute documentary. According to Eastman, people are really going for truth in documentaries. Eastman makes them good and entertaining. He does not make message films.
"Eastman moved from the state of Washington to Jackson Hole in 1962 because of the abundance of wildlife he could use in future films. 'You know,' Eastman says, 'I have flown over this country and there are great areas where you see no one. I don't think we've begun to settle this country.' Before it is settled, Gordon Eastman probably will photograph most of it."
[Above: Boxoffice, March 26, 1973, p. W-7]
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Interview by Kris Gilpin
“I would hope that Father is a character of some integrity,” says the soft-spoken Dotrice. “He has to make decisions on behalf of the underground commune and make sure fair play is done down there. I suppose we have basically formed what could be termed a perfect commune, communism in its purest form, without all the corruptions that crept into it in some of the eastern countries. All decisions are made by committee and Father has to represent a sense of justice. It’s not easy, because he has a very wayward child in dear Vincent [Ron Perlman, the Beast], who is forever getting into scrapes above ground. And much as Father has grown to like and admire Catherine [Linda Hamilton, Beauty], he’s terrified of their relationship because it means Vincent is going above ground more and more, and if he gets caught he’ll either finish up behind bars or in a freak show of some kind. And there’s a danger the whole of the community down there would be placed in jeopardy because of this.”
Dotrice is asked to appear at many science fiction-fantasy conventions as a guest, and he says, “It’s amazing how many female fans can’t wait for Vincent and Catherine to hop into bed together. But if they do, it’s kind of the end of the series, really.”
“At the beginning of this season we exploited the character of Father much more. There were about five episodes in which Father had a much larger part.” One of the reasons for this is because one of the scripts, entitled “Ashes, Ashes,” was written by the actor himself. “I obviously wrote in a very good part for myself. I’d have been rather stupid if I hadn’t, and I was concerned with the impetus and flow of the show.” Some fans had written to the show, early this season, noting it had become a bit claustrophobic, with most of the action confined to the atmospheric underground caves. This was due to last year’s teamsters strike.
“We were not able to go out on location so we had to remain in our little tunnels down in Vernon, or as we affectionately – or perhaps disaffectionately – call it, ‘Vermin,’” he grins. “Some fans are writing, saying there’s too little of Father now, but it varies. Some weeks you get a big part, some weeks you get a small one. But you can’t complain so long as the character is interesting and there’s a kind of progression of character, so that each week one peels back another layer of that onion and shows another facet of the character. That’s all one can ask for.”
As Father, Dotrice himself hopes to go above ground more. For this reason he wrote another episode called “Suffer Little Children,” which was his way of “trying to convince the producers I might break from these bonds and go up top more. The fact I’m walking around in what a lot of people might term unusual clothes, on the streets of New York, would go totally unnoticed, I’m sure!”
The friendly and erudite actor is thrilled to be working with Ron Perlman who, as it turns out, is an old friend of his. “At the risk of sounding sycophantic, it’s quite wonderful, actually. He’s a perfectionist, constantly on the phone to the producers. God bless him, to uphold the standard we’re trying to achieve on the series. He’s the most generous actor I’ve ever worked with.” Dotrice and Perlman once shared the stage in Dallas in a play titled, ironically, DOWN AN ALLEY FILLED WITH CATS. “And now here we are again in a tunnel with at least one cat.”
Without their wives at the time, and not entirely happy with the play or its director, the two actors consoled each other in various local bars at night and became good friends. Soon after, Dotrice left London for Los Angeles and checked into a hotel to live. One morning he descended a flight of stairs to run into Perlman, who had been living in the same hotel for some time. “One day he phoned me up very excitedly,” Dotrice continues, “and said ‘It’s absolutely marvelous. I’ve landed the lead in this pilot called BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’ve got some bad news for you: I’m playing your father!’ Ron is the most gentle man, and he can put his finger immediately on what’s wrong with a scene because he knows where his character is. He expresses himself awfully well and it’s a great pleasure working with him.”
In the first week of March, the same week BEAUTY switched to Monday nights on CBS, Dotrice guested on an episode of THE EQUALIZER, a show which stars his real life son-in-law, Edward Woodward. “It was only a four day shoot. I’d finished BEAUTY at 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon, took the red eye flight out to New York, went straight out to the studio and started filming at 7 o’clock the following morning. It was great fun working with Edward. In the middle of the first take on the first day he stopped, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he’s forgotten his words,’ but he hadn’t at all. He suddenly said – because he has a computerized mind – ‘Do you realize it is precisely 30 years to the day since we’ve last worked together?!’” That was in the Arts Theatre in Moscow.
[Above: Edward Woodward]Dotrice has two actress daughters: Karen, who played the little girl in MARY POPPINS and is now married to actor Alex Hyde-White, and Michelle (Mrs. Woodward), who starred with Michael Crawford in a successful British comedy show called SOME MOTHERS HAVE ‘EM. “It was the only show ever to get higher ratings than the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day, though it wasn’t as funny,” Dotrice chuckles.
Roy Dotrice was born in 1923 on the tiny island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. His childhood was pleasurable; he had many friends and developed a lifelong love for fishing at an early age. “I adore fishing and have fished in every part of the world: South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Canada – everywhere. What I adore about this country, and particularly California, is that it’s got everything. When I think of some of the dismal things one has to do in England in one’s spare time…”
He was very shy as a kid, hiding under his desk when the teacher called upon students to read Shakespeare in class. With never a thought of acting in those days, he truly came in contact with the profession the hard way over the next few years. He was 14 when the Germans invaded his island and, on the third night of their occupation, Dotrice and four other schoolboys pushed a small fishing boat out from underneath some German guards’ noses. Adrift at sea for three days, they finally arrived near Plymouth in England. A while later, he lied about his age and joined the Royal Air Force. “I told them I was 18,” he says. “Whether they believed me or not I don’t know but they were desperately short of men at that time.” He flew with the RAF for two years, was shot down and wound up floating around in a rubber dinghy -- again for three days. Thinking he was in Holland when he reached land because of the picturesque windmills and colorful fields, he knocked on the door of a quaint farmhouse and found himself face to face with a Nazi submarine commander. He spent the next three years as a young POW in prisoner of war camps in Germany, Poland and Lithuania. It was in those camps where he learned to play baseball and put on plays with his American counterparts in the stalags. Since he hadn’t yet begun to shave, he got roped into playing the female parts, his first being the Fairy Godmother in CINDERELLA. He was the only one in the “prison stock company” who hadn’t been an actor in civilian life. “I played Portia in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and lots of female parts, then eventually, thank God, graduated to male parts, and that whetted my appetite.”
After the war, through the Red Cross, Dotrice applied for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts – while touring “in a revue with a company of ex-POWs in a sort of potpourri of all the best items from the POW camps” entitled BACK HOME. These RADA scholarships had been provided by producer-director Sir Alexander Korda for ex-servicemen and women. With some time off in Manchester, Dotrice went to see the Manchester Repertory Company’s production of THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET. “The chap playing Browning -- and I owe him a vast debt -- was so diabolical, I thought, my God, if that’s a professional actor I can be as good as that without even going to RADA. And so I didn’t,” he recalls. The young actor turned down the three year scholarship which was offered to him.
From that moment on he became a professional actor, spending the following dozen years in repertory with Frank H. Fontesque’s Famous Players. “My contract was that I had to play the leading role -- a different part -- every week, it didn’t matter what it was,” says Dotrice. “I had to play them all, for the vast sum of something like seven or eight pounds a week in those days, playing all these terrible places all over England. But at least I gained valuable experience and a facility for playing character roles.” This served him well when he next went into the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing a “variety of parts, from Caliban to Julius Caesar and back again.”
During the RSC’s 1959 run of CORIOLANUS the actor formed a championship all-star baseball team which included Paul Robeson on first base, Sam Wanamaker on second, Laurence Olivier on third, Peter O’Toole on shortstop, Albert Finney as catcher and as the home plate umpire none other than Charles Laughton. “And when Captain Bligh said, ‘Strike three, you’re out!’ you didn’t argue, you went. We had a great time.”
They played the officers at the American Air Force bases in the area, who would “deck the whole place up, like a real ball park, with beer and hot dog stands. They’d all appear in real baseball gear. We didn’t have any of that. We used to come out onto the field in black tights and HAMLET blouses, wearing pumps, and I remember all the ladies saying, ‘Oh my God, never mind the baseball, just look at those legs!’” Out of 11 games, the actors won 10 and one was a draw.
Of all those hundreds of plays, Dotrice has yet to perform his favorite Shakespeare role. “I was on stage with Charles Laughton, playing a very small part in his LEAR. He inspired me so much I decided that’s a part I must play. I’ve got to get that out of my system eventually. Laughton was extremely difficult, but wonderful, to work with. After months of research on LEAR, he was convinced Lear was a sun worshipper and, therefore, probably a Druid. Now, about 20 miles from Stratford-on-Avon there’s a Druid circle, rather like Stonehenge. That summer, whenever it rained, he’d be wandering around the grounds with this great gut of his hanging over a little pair of underpants – and nothing else – with this huge, long, white beard it had taken him two years to grow.”
What Laughton hadn’t realized was that the area was a tourist attraction, “and suddenly you’d get a busload of day trippers arriving who must’ve been astounded to see Charles Laughton lying there in his underpants in the piddling rain on a sacrificial stone in the midst of this Druid circle, doing ‘Blow winds and crack your cheeks!’ But he was a wonderful man to know. I think I know what LEAR is about now, thanks to him.”
Dotrice cites the late, flamboyant Welsh actor Hugh Griffith as the one from whom he learned most about the craft. "He was a great actor, totally mad, wildly eccentric, with a marvelously lyrical voice. On stage I played Justice Shallow to his Falstaff and we had a wonderful professional battle every night to top each other and kill each other stone dead. Yet we adored each other and Hugh taught me so much about acting. No one knew how to steal scenes like Hugh Griffith. If I live to be a hundred I will never see a better Falstaff."
[Above: Hugh Griffith]
Dotrice actually holds the Guinness Book world record for the most peformances in a one man show, a staggering 1,700 performances spread out over an eight year period, in BRIEF LIVES. He says he wasn't a very disciplined actor until he started that show. "I was doing eight performances a week and on Sunday I'd stay in bed all day, just to recuperate." He portrayed John Aubrey, an Elizabethan chronicler, "the original gossip columnist, I suppose. The recording of his death said, 'A stranger died here, 1697.' Those were the two words I wanted to wipe away. That supplied the energy night after night, the idea that one was putting a man on the map who, for my money, ranks with John Evelyn as one of the greatest of the English diarists."
Eventually the actor worked his way onto the silver screen, with appearances in NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA, THE HEROES OF TELEMARK, AMADEUS and TOMORROW. He even did a comedy remake of the Corsican Brothers with Cheech and Chong, which he talks about after a good, long laugh. "I absolutely loved it because it was wild and crazy. The limo would pick me up from my hotel in Paris and I'd go down on location and around 10 o'clock Cheech and Chong would arrive looking rather bleary and I'd say, 'For Christ's sake, what the hell are we filming today?' And they'd say, 'Well, I dunno, man. What do we got on the call sheet, man? Hey man! We got 700 extras, man! And we got a guillotine! Okay! We're gonna do an execution scene!' We never had a script. We had to ad lib the whole thing. It was wonderful. It taught me so much and made me so inventive -- at least I hope it did. The whole day was one perpetual giggle. They never overworked after the sun went down." The film also starred Dotrice's wife, Kay Newman, as the midwife. "We had the most super time. We still see Cheech occasionally and we're very close to Tommy [Chong]. The greatest sadness for me is that they've split up, because they were a totally original team."
Aside from some day tackling KING LEAR onstage, Roy Dotrice (who won an Emmy for a TV production of Pinter's THE CARETAKER) would "like to do more movies, because I've done very few movies. I concentrated on stage for so long. I wasn't available for film. It's strange, but in the eight years I did BRIEF LIVES -- 1,700 times -- I played to just over 3,000,000 people. Now in one night of television BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will play to about 12 or 14 million people. I've never been happier in my life. I adore this country, this town and my way of life because I think what I'm doing is very rare in television. The show's something of a success but it's also artistically worthwhile -- and this is important for me. We're dealing with moral values and ethics, not rubbish. I think for many years we've underestimated the intelligence of the average American audience. One one show we had poetry, Shakespeare and classical music, and they're lapping it up. Thank God I'm lucky enough to be in a show which is giving them that."
[Originally published in Drama-Logue, March 16-22, 1989]
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
North Side of the Street
Rialto: HERCULES / DAGGERS 8 / WORLD OF DRUNKEN MASTER
Lyric: THE MURDER GANG / KARATE KILLERS ON WHEELS
Times Square: TRADING PLACES / 48 HRS.
Selwyn: NIGHTMARES / THE THING
South Side of the Street
Theater I: CUJO / ENTER THE DRAGON / MAD MONKEY KUNG FU
Theater II: KUNG FU MYSTERY KICKER / SHOWDOWN OF THE MASTER WARRIOR / 7 COMMANDMENTS OF KUNG FU
Harris: REVENGE OF THE NINJA / THE BEASTMASTER
Liberty: TEEN LUST / GETTING IT ON / THE CREEPER
Empire: ROOTS OF EVIL / STREET GANGS OF HONG KONG / TATTOOED DRAGON
Anco: THE EVIL DEAD / ALONE IN THE DARK
Monday, September 21, 2009
Positive Match started to fall apart on me around page 87 -- and I'm not referring to the storyline, I mean the book literally started to come apart in my hands before I was even a quarter of the way through it. Normally I like to finish a book before I begin tearing it apart, but the folks at Bantam jumped the gun and did half the job for me. It seems likely that if you shell out the 23 dollar cover price for Positive Match, you'll not only get a story that doesn't hold water, but a binding that can't possibly accommodate the 408 badly written pages inside of it.
The focus shifts so often in those first 87 pages that it's impossible to tell before chapter 6 who the main protagonist is. First, there's Guillermo Chacon, a Mexican teen who sneaks across the border into the U.S. -- only to be eviscerated by a team of surgeons 14 pages later. Then we have Maggie Sepulveda, a beautiful, no-nonsense investment banker who has been chosen to finance the expansion of Caduceus 21, a health care organization responsible for many of the organ transplant operations conducted in the U.S. Next, we go to a clinic in a remote Mexican village, where Dr. Nguyen-Anh Dupree veeerryy slowwwwly comes to the conclusion that that his friend Guillermo was murdered for spare parts. Cut to (sorry) Caduceus 21's mysterious silent partner, Century Chisholm, an elderly millionaire who practically has "villain" tattooed on his forehead. And let's not forget Nacio and Walker, two streetwise computer hackers who...well, on second thought, let's just forget them, OK?
For a "pulse-pounding novel of medical terror," this is pretty anemic stuff. Tony Chiu (author of the even more terrifying Ross Perot: In His Own Words) is good at slathering on the medical terminology and computer technojargon, but he barely has enough story here for an episode of QUINCY. To make matters worse, he lets this thing go on forever, leading up to an anticlimactic and tasteless finish.
However, the most ridiculous sequence comes at the halfway point, when Maggie gets into a three-page conversation about organ transplantation in B-movies! "Easier to sit through a dumb movie than a dumb book," says one character, and I agree completely. NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES never looked so good!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Written, produced and directed
by Channon J. Scott
Released by L. Five Films
MPAA rating: PG