29 April 2011

Twilight Zone: The Howling Man

Episode #41: The Howling Man
Directed by Douglas Heyes. Written by Charles Beaumont. Starring John Carradine, H. M. Wynat, Robert Hughes.

“The prostrate form of Mr. David Ellington, scholar, seeker of truth, and regrettably finder of truth. A man who will shortly arise from his exhaustion to confront a problem that has tormented mankind since the beginning of time. A man who knocked on a door seeking sanctuary, and found instead the outer edges of the Twilight Zone.”

I like to spread out my Twilight Zone episode reviews evenly across the season, but in this case I have to review three consecutive episodes that are either too good or too famous to skip past.

“The Howling Man” is one of the too-good-to-pass-up episodes. It’s the first outstanding half-hour of the second season, for which we can thank the combination of author Charles Beaumont, the atmospheric direction of Douglas Heyes, and the magnetic acting of the infallible John Carradine.

27 April 2011

Twilight Zone: Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room

Wow, I have not made the trip to another dimension in a long time. Not since I finished an analysis of the full first season of The Twilight Zone plus reviews of select episodes. But now that all of the original Twilight Zone episodes are streaming in HD on Netflix, it’s time to get moving again through a place not of sight or sound, but of mind, and sift through some of the episodes of season two.
Episode #39: Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room
Directed by Douglas Heyes. Written by Rod Serling. Starring Joe Mantell, William D. Gordon.

“This is Mr. Jackie Rhoades, age thirty-four. And where some men leave a mark of their lives as a record of their fragmentary existence on earth, this man leaves a blot: a dirty, discolored blemish to document a cheap and undistinguished sojourn among his betters. What you are about to watch in this room is a strange mortal combat between a man and himself. For in just a moment, Mr. Jackie Rhoades, whose life has been given over to fighting adversaries, will find his most formidable opponent in a cheap hotel room that is in reality the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.”

That The Twilight Zone even made it to a second season, which started in the fall of 1960, is a small miracle. Although a critical hit, the program was not a ratings smash—not remotely. If show creator Rod Serling had not secured another sponsor when Kimberely-Clark dropped out, The Twilight Zone would have been a single season long and never made it into syndication. But even with Colgate-Palmolive taking over sponsoring The Twilight Zone to keep it going, the show faced the new danger of the fearsome James Aubrey, an executive at CBS who wanted the show’s budget restricted. Aubrey has a notorious reputation for clashing with artists, and The Twilight Zone was the sort of creative beast that would suffer most from his reign.

For this reason, The Twilight Zone’s second season never gets near the heights of the brilliant inaugural one. The show was cut down from thirty-six episodes to twenty-nine, and six episodes were shot on video and transferred to 16 mm film (the “kinescope” process common to early TV), with awful results that robbed the show of its special cinematic quality. Thankfully, this video experiment was never repeated.

But working within a restrictive budget can stir ideas. “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” is one of the episodes that displays the budget pressure from CBS. This case turned out well, thanks to Serling’s skills as a writer.

25 April 2011

. . . (Ellipsis)

Cross posted to Black Gate.

Moving on from the em dash (—), my series on punctuation continues with a post guaranteed to leave you hanging.

The ellipsis, a.k.a. “those dots in a row,” are perhaps the most mysterious of the common forms of punctuation. The mystery begins in childhood, probably during a viewing of one of the Star Wars films, where a strange line of periods give the feeling of floating off into the story as the opening prologue crawl comes to an end. . . .

But it is not an end . . . because of those dots. . . . What do they do, anyway? How do I use them?

Well……….not like this……….

That was the first rule of ellipis (pl. ellipses) that I had to learn: how many of those damn dots are there supposed to be? To look at most Internet forums posts, where the ellipsis is more common than the word “the,” it would appear that some people have never learned the correct number of dots and instead lean on the period key and watch it repeat until they reach a level of satisfaction.

Rumor control, here are the facts: There are supposed to be three dots. And sometimes four, if coming at the end of a sentence with no other sentence to follow, as in the Star Wars example. In this case, one of the dots serves as the period on the sentence.

But much mystery still remains. How and when should you use these things? Is it three periods typed one after each other without break, or should there be spaces between them? Should the ellipsis character (…) be used instead?

21 April 2011

Streisand vs. Satan: The 1976 Best Original Song Oscars

Ever since the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony, where I live-blogged myself almost into oblivion, I’ve had this itching to micro-analyze an Academy Award category from the past. It would be easy to go over one of the Best Picture nominees from the last two decades (the year Unforgiven got the statue would be particularly fun, since that is one of the few times that my favorite movie of the year actually won). But I’m not doing things the easy way right now.

Instead, I am going to turn the magnifying glass onto one of the most interesting Best Original Song competitions in the history of the Oscars. Here is a category for which I normally have undisguised contempt—but there is something strange and wonderful about 1976 that cries out for exegesis.

Be cautioned: I have a Blogger tag titled “Jerry Goldsmith.” I make no pretension to objective judgment here. But it’s art, and it’s my blog, so why should you expect me to be objective?

Anyway, for your consideration and my biased opinion, here are the Best Original Song nominees for 1976 at the 49th Academy Awards, listed alphabetically by song title:

19 April 2011

— (Em Dash)

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

This is the most complicated image ever posted on my website.

A few days after I posted my article on the use of semicolons in fiction, I was at a writers’ group meeting and brought up the subject of the contentious punctuation mark. When I expressed my enjoyment of semicolons, one of the other writers present at the library table asked the most appropriate follow-up question:

“How do you feel about em dashes?”

Terrific query. Answer: I love ‘em. Many uses, wonderful informality, a real rhythm-maker. Great way to smash the cymbals on your drum set in the middle of a jazz riff. My major caveat about the em dash is that if overused, it draws enormous visual attention to itself that no reader can miss; the em dash is the most immediately obvious character on a page, and a slew of them is visible with a single glance. You know how annoying a long drum solo can get.

12 April 2011

The Secret of NIMH on Blu-ray (with Bad News)

The Secret of NIMH (1982)
Directed by Don Bluth. Featuring the Voices of Elizabeth Hartman, Peter Strauss, Dom DeLuise, Derek Jacobi, Hermione Baddeley, David Carradine, Arthur Malet, Paul Shenar, Wil Wheaton, Shannon Doherty.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

With 1982’s The Secret of NIMH now out on a fresh new Blu-ray Disc.…

Wait a minute. Seriously, MGM Home Video? (Or Fox, or whoever actually handled this disc.) This is the best you can do with your new release of The Secret of NIMH onto hi-def? Normally, I would wait until the end of a movie review to discuss the quality of a DVD/BD, but you require me upfront to take you behind the shed with a very large paddle. This is shameful. The Secret of NIMH is an acknowledged animated masterpiece, the film responsible for starting the uphill climb from years of “limited animation” doldrums toward the new flowering of the 1990s. This movie taught a generation of viewers what was possible in the medium. It has fans of freakish dedication, such as myself, and scads of websites dedicated to its deconstruction and analysis. And all you can do is slap down whatever print you had on hand and stick on 1080 lines of resolution?

09 April 2011

Killer Cute Bunnies: Night of the Lepus

Night of the Lepus (1972)
Directed by William F. Claxton. Starring Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun, Janet Leigh, Paul Fix, DeForest Kelley.

The Star Trek trivia for this movie must be disclosed up-front: Night of the Lepus stars both Paul Fix and DeForest Kelley. Paul Fix played the Enterprise’s Dr. Mark Piper in the show’s second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and DeForest Kelley replaced him as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy for the rest of the TV show and original film series. Two Enterprise doctors in one movie! And they share scenes together! And none of them are interesting!

Sigh… I should love this movie. I should adore it. But it won’t let me. It won’t let me laugh at it. It won’t let me admire it. It won’t entertain me on any level. A Western-set monster flick from the ‘70s about huge flesh-eating rabbits failing to entertain me. It makes me wish I had Tremors on Blu-ray so I could feel better afterwards.

05 April 2011

Movie Review: Tangled

Tangled (2010)
Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard. Featuring the Voices of Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Brad Garrett, Ron Perelman, Jeffrey Tambor, Richard Kiel.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

There are many moments in Disney’s CGI animated film Tangled (out on DVD and Blu-ray this week) where it seems the story is putting itself on a collision course with an ironic, rib-nudging joke about fairy-tale fantasy clichés. For example, young heroine Rapunzel, feeling freedom from her tower prison for the first time, dashes through a forest grove while singing. Suddenly, a flight of bluebirds rush above her head and flit up through a gap in the leaves into an azure sky; Rapunzel gazes at their disappearing flight, enrapt with the metaphor of liberation.

Cue Rapunzel tripping, or a huge bird dropping splatting onto her head, or a helicopter smashing into the birds, or a scratchy needle-drop ripping apart the soundtrack.

But… it doesn’t happen!

04 April 2011

My story “The Shredded Tapestry” to appear in Candle in the Attic Window

It’s always nice to have good news arrive in early April, when taxes are starting to get really annoying. (I don’t do my taxes. My taxes do me.) The good news arrived today in my email in-box: my short story “The Shredded Tapestry” has been accepted for the forthcoming anthology Candle in the Attic Window, to be published later this year by Innsmouth Free Press. The beautiful cover:
This is the first horror story I’ve sold, and it makes sense that it would be a piece of Gothic fiction, since that’s the horror style nearest to my warped heart. I wrote “The Shredded Tapestry” specifically to submit to Candle in the Attic Window, so I’m thrilled that editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles have picked it for the Table of Contents.

The idea for “The Shredded Tapestry” arose from my December 2010 visit to the Bavarian city of Regensburg (my travel post about it). After multiple visits to Bavaria, I knew I had to try my hand writing fiction set in southern Germany. “The Shredded Tapestry” is the second Bavarian-set piece I’ve done; the first I still haven’t cleaned-up to final draft.

Candle in the Attic Window has no set publication date yet, but it will probably be out around the end up summer. It will be available in both print and e-book editions. I’ll keep you posted on ordering info.