The 700 Movie Mark

I’ve mentioned the weekly movie night I’ve been curating for the last 16 years on this blog many times before—so much so, it has its own sub-category.

This week will mark the 700th unique feature-length film we’ve screened. There had been more movie nights than that, but I’m not counting a limited number of repeat screenings and the few nights when we watched nothing but shorts.

Partly due to this milestone and partly because we were stuck for topics to talk about, this Sunday’s episode of Cinema Smackdown was devoted to the primordial-ooze days of movie night. I blathered on at length about how this phenomenon came about, the first ten or so movies that were screened, and my close personal ties to this gathering (bizarrely, I now live in the original venue where movie night began in September of 2003).

Cinema Smackdown continues apace, with Michael and I doing weekly shows, almost without failure (admittedly I missed one show a couple of weeks ago because I was so damn sick). I don’t like to constantly promote it because it feels like every time I blink, we’ve done another episode. But if you’d care to delve deeper into the lore of movie night, let me point you at the last hour of radio we did.

You have two options to listen in. You can watch the raw studio feed I post on my YouTube channel (don’t be shy about subscribing or watching other episodes). That will let you listen in on our chatter before and after the show, as well as during commercial breaks. Or, if you want the actual broadcast version, complete with better audio, the news from the top of the hour, and the aforementioned ads, you can check out the CJLO archives. Here’s a direct link to the episode in question.

The Angel of Celebrity Death

Selections for what to watch at my curated Movie Night have always been informed by celebrity deaths. Whenever someone famous kicks off, I like to send them out with a film to show the ignorant masses who they were and what they were famous for. Lately, I’ve been a tad too on the ball when it comes to who’s about to push up a daisy or two.

Three months ago, I anticipated the long-delayed death of Abe Vigoda so close to the event, I went out of my way to grab a screenshot from abevigoda.com less than 24 hours before the site had to finally tick over as to his live vs. dead status.

Well, it’s happened again.

Last Movie Night, a mere 18 hours ago, I forced the class to watch the 1982 Agatha Christie whodunit, Evil Under the Sun. It was directed by the fairly legendary Guy Hamilton. In case you’re not familiar with the name, he’s mostly remembered for being one of the early James Bond directors who helped define the series and turn it into the endless formulaic juggernaut is it today. It endures because it’s a formula that works, but it didn’t come to fruition until the third Bond film (Hamilton’s first), Goldfinger. That was the one that introduced such James Bond staples as: an unrelated opening action sequence, spy cars, Q’s contentious relationship with Bond, the definitive henchman, the definitive non-SPECTRE villain, multi Bond girls who get killed off before he gets to the real leading lady, and, of course, the winning over of a lesbian for the forces of hetrosexuality.

Guy Hamilton, 1922 - The Moment I Thought Too Hard About Him

Guy Hamilton, 1922 – 2016 (The Moment I Thought Too Hard About Him)

Obviously, Hamilton directed a whole bunch of other films. And they include the Hercule Poirot mystery, Evil Under the Sun, which was shot on the island of Majorca. Well, guess who just died on Majorca right after we watched that movie – possibly WHILE we were watching it.

I’ll admit, this is starting to freak me out. It’s like I’ve been imbued with some horrible superpower. I feel I might need to be put down like Tetsuo in Akira before it grows out of control. Already, I’m thinking about which celebrity I should will dead with the eerie force of my brain next. The thought has crossed other sinister minds as well.

“Next week: a Michael Bay film starring Adam Sandler,” is the first official request I’ve received.

And it’s tempting. I’ll kid myself that I’m using my power for good at first, but eventually I’ll start wiping out perfectly innocent celebrities who appear in terrible franchise films to help pay for their latest divorce. And if it comes to that, Hollywood will be a smouldering ruin by the time I’m done.

Tremble before me.

In related news, my dead-celebrity novella, Filmography, is due out soon. Rest assured, I invented a celebrity to kill off in that one. Perhaps I needn’t have bothered. You can’t libel the dead, and anyone still alive won’t stay that way long if I put my mind to it.

Following Filmography

My unhealthy obsession with dead celebrities has come to fruition. Filmography is a novella I wrote about a trio of film nerds who end up kidnapping the corpse of their favourite movie star in order to shoot one final opus with the deceased actor. It’s a sick and twisted comedy. If you’ve ever read more than three words here at Eyestrain Productions, you might have already anticipated the tone.

The book got picked up by Dark Passages Publishing for a May release in physical and e-formats. The listing and bio are up on their site, and have been for weeks, but this is my official homepage announcement.

FilmographyI’ve been meaning to get around to it for a while, but was finally inspired by the timely events of yesterday. What was so special about yesterday? It was Jerry Lewis’s 90th birthday of course. And it was Wednesday Movie Night. So therefore it was time to force everybody to watch The King of Comedy.

Martin Scorsese hasn’t made many comedies in his career – though, let’s face it, Taxi Driver is HILARIOUS. Jerry Lewis, on the other hand, has made boatloads. Most of them terrible. Combine these two entities and it was inevitable something truly fucked up would emerge. Such was The King of Comedy, the single most prescient satire of the film and television industry to come crawling out of the 1980s. Like Network from the decade before, it was off-putting and extreme in its day. Watch it now and you’ll realize, with a shiver, that not only have we arrived at that moment in time, we’ve gone a good deal past it. Much as Network anticipated Fox, Glenn Beck, and the nightly news spun as tawdry entertainment in the name of higher ratings, The King of Comedy anticipated stalker culture. At this point, if you’re a celebrity and you don’t have at least one or two stalkers slapped with a restraining order, you ain’t nobody. The King of Comedy asks you to identify with Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), an outgoing, ambitious sociopath who doesn’t only want to chum around with his idol, he wants to replace him. In many ways, he’s creepier than Travis Bickle (also Robert De Niro), who merely wants to assassinate a celebrity

The fame phenomenon is a theme I keep coming back to in my work. I come from a city that notoriously doesn’t give much of a shit about celebrities. They come here to shoot movies, often with an over-compensating amount of security, and we (perhaps disappointingly) don’t mob them, don’t hassle them on the street, and don’t pester them for autographs and photos. Not unless they’re at an event arranged for just such a meet-and-greet. A certain respectful distance can be relied upon. Not so in many other places in the world, where famous faces have to hide under wigs and sunglasses, or stay indoors.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t fans here. And fans – serious fans – are odd animals. They can feel so close to people they’ve never met, remember more details about their lives and careers than the celebrities themselves do, and will mourn them like a loved one when they die. As the plot of Filmography points out: fans digging up dead celebrities has happened before. How long will it be before a group of idiots attempts exactly why my group of idiots do in this book? I’m a little shocked it hasn’t happened yet. In another decade, I may be just as shocked at how many times it has happened.

More major projects are on the way as the year progresses. Filmography may well prove to be only the first of three books I have coming out. Plus another four confirmed anthology short stories so far. Details, as always, will appear here. Hit the FOLLOW button on your right for email notices. Or follow me on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter. Or follow me home and hide in the bushes while you peer through my window and watch me change into something more comfortable.

The Swarm

“I’ll take ‘Bad Michael Caine’ movies for five hundred, Alex.”

I’ve been swamped — or should I say swarmed — of late. Aside from running around dealing with a bunch of organization and writing tasks, most pressingly I’ve been dealing with that latest invasion of nature in my house.

A couple of years ago, you may remember it was raccoons. This time, it’s wasps. A whole nest of them resides under the exterior paneling above my front door. They’ve been getting into the house lately, much to the delight of my cats and the horror of my wife. After disposing of ten of them in the vestibule one day, I went outside, armed only with a step stool and a vacuum cleaner, and proceeded to suck up another five hundred of the little bastards in one hour flat.

Supposedly, this variety of wasp dies off in the late fall when the queen leaves to find a warm place to hibernate, so the problem should resolve itself soon. I’ll remain on vacuum patrol until then. And one day, once it gets really chilly out, I’ll open up the vacuum cleaner and take the bag to the trash. There’s nothing like a cold day to calm down an eight pound sack of pissed-off wasps.

I’ll try to keep you up to date on a sting-by-sting basis.

*

One of the infrequent attendees at my movie night soiree is Rachel, who made an appearance and stayed for the film this week. With advance knowledge of her presence, I came prepared to exchange gifts. We have an arrangement, you see. She brings me exotic pilsners from the distant land of Saskatchewan every time she visits home and, in exchange, I taunt her about her phobias like a fucking asshole.

Rachel has a thing about broken bones, as I discovered last year when Adam Green‘s film Frozen drove her from the building at the halfway mark. She didn’t quite flee screaming, just cringing and gagging. With that in mind, I brought the infamous movie-night whiteboard filled with the following menu selections:

Finger Breaking Good (1976) – Mobsters try to muscle in on Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe only to find they play for keeps down in Kentucky – one piggy at a time.

The Bone Crusher (1981) – A loan shark grows weary of his job breaking people’s legs and finds a new lease on life when he switches to breaking people’s arms.

Snap Goes the Femur (1990) – The heart-warming true story of a downhill skier who bounces back after a career-ending injury.

Ribbed for Her Pleasure (1995) – A construction worker, pinned under a ton of sheet metal with a crushed rib cage, finds true love with a passing angel of mercy who talks him through his ordeal.

Fractured (2008) – A world famous stuntman refuses to be recruited by the CIA until he breaks every bone in his body during a failed motorcycle jump. How can he say no when they offer him a new identity, a new face, and a new skeleton made out stainless steel?

Rachel stayed for the movie anyway. Mostly because all of the above films are entirely fictional — phony fabrications on my part. For now at least. If there are interested producers out there, I’m available to write any of them for scale.

Call me. We’ll cut a deal.

*

Referring back to those writing tasks I mentioned earlier, there will probably be more multilingual translations of Longshot Comics coming in the near future. Europe keeps on calling and I hope to make some deals while the Eurozone still has a currency to pay me with.

Also, later this year, my short story, Bayonet Baby, will be appearing in the Weird War anthology from War of the Words Press. I’ll post a heads-up once it’s out.

Don’t look at me like that.

American Blender

Every time a celebrity dies, the movie-night crowd knows to brace themselves for something from their filmography — assuming it was someone connected in some way, shape or form to the movie biz. I hate being predictable like that, but I just have to face facts. I’m a star-fucker necrophile, and I’m not likely to change my ways at this stage of the game. Despite my pathological determination to expose the Wednesday night guinea pigs to forgotten B-movies every time some obscure cult actor kicks off (Vampira, anyone?), I make no apologies for this past Wednesday.

Comic book author/legend Harvey Pekar died this week. And I always felt he was something of a kindred spirit. Not because we had both been at San Diego at the same time, hawking our independent-comic publications, or because we’re both cynical depressives who married our own groupies. But because Paul Giamatti played Harvey in the movie adaptation of American Splendor and everyone says I look like Paul Giamatti. Paul looked a lot like Harvey in the movie, so I guess that means I kinda look like Harvey Pekar by one degree of separation. Lucky me, I know.

So obviously I had to run American Splendor on Wednesday. Now that that’s out of the way, I figure next Wednesday I can run another biopic — something like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Because I totally look like Brad Pitt too. I swear, it’s like looking in a mirror. A broken mirror covered with toothpaste spittle in a steamy bathroom.

For all my Italian-speaking readers (hey, Morena!) there’s a new article about Longshot Comics by Maria Caro over at ziguline. My understanding of what was said is limited to the power of free online translation sites. Not always the best way to grasp the nuances of what’s being said, if my own words from the comic’s introduction, interpreted and bounced back at me through the filter, are any indication.

“Like many other ideas, came to me in mind while I was under the shower… I found myself in feet on the platform of ceramics, knot and insaponato. Not tried of figurarvi the scene, is not a beautiful image. Me I was some there, with struck on struck that liberations in my head bloomed, and nothing paper and pen in order to annotate them.”

Following the Italian edition of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers, folks in Italy love me almost as much as the Germans do. All I need to do now is get big in Japan and I’ll have won the former-axis-power trifecta. That should be easy enough once I redo the Longshot art so all the dots have giant eyes. Before that happens, however, there may be other Longshot translations in the works. Details will be blogged about when there’s official paperwork.

The Transportation Hub Of The Universe

On my recent trip to Vancouver, I also took the time to infiltrate Bridge Studios for various business and stalker-related purposes. Bridge Studios is home to three ongoing projects of paramount importance to world pop culture. Both Stargates, SG1 and Atlantis, shoot there. And although I’ve never seen a complete episode of either, that didn’t stop me from taking an extended tour of the set during everybody’s lunch hour. I snapped off a bunch of behind-the-scenes photos of anything and everything that struck my fancy.

“They let you do that?” I was later asked.

No. But no one was there to stop me. And in the end, isn’t that what’s really important in life?

Fun fact: Bridge Studios is thusly named because it used to be owned and operated by Dominion Bridge, Canada’s predominant bridge-building company originally founded in my home town of Lachine, Quebec.

For all you Stargate fans, I’ll just say: yes. Of course I crossed through both stargates. And they really do work. However it seems at the time of my visit they were both configured to send travelers to Burnaby B.C., so my tour of the known universe was somewhat limited.

The third pop-culture event Bridge Studios houses is the meteoric career of Uwe Boll. Celebrated far and wide as the worst filmmaker working today, he shoots all his videogame-based box-office atrocities on the premises. Right now, he’s working on Postal, which promises to be an even bigger shitstorm than previous outings like House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and BloodRayne.

Fun fact: The original Lachine branch of Dominion Bridge operated for many decades and, aside from constructing many famous spans, worked my grandfather to death in 1942.

Some years ago, my name was bandied about as a writer who might be able to do a quickie post-production rewrite on Alone in the Dark to help it make sense…any sense at all. It never happened and the film went out as-is, disappointing video game fans far and wide and helping bury Christian Slater’s career once and for all. A special supplemental movie-night screening of Alone in the Dark was arranged at Eric’s one evening, and I was astounded to see the relatively short running time of 96 minutes put the entire room to sleep before the first hour was up. I’m not claiming any sort of voice-over exposition I might have been able to provide could have saved the movie. But perhaps, just perhaps, it might have made audiences ask “What’s going on?” one or two times less.

I was hoping to run into “Dr. Boll” on the studio lot or at the nearby production offices so I could rub shoulders with film history, but he wasn’t around that day. He was probably down at the gym training hard for his Uwe Boll versus His Critics promotional boxing match that was scheduled for a future date. That future date has come and gone, and you can watch former semi-pro boxer Uwe kick the crap out of several rank amateur, out-of-shape internet hacks on Youtube. There’s also an interesting account of the wondrous experience that was getting the crap kicked out of you by Ed Wood Jr.‘s heir apparent on Ain’t-It-Cool-News (scroll down the talkback to “Lowtax’s comments on fight.”) Don’t worry, Uwe didn’t beat up Harry. It was some other internet hack who took the thrashing.

My disappointment in failing to meet Herr Boll was alleviated only a day later when, to my delight, I watched him mount the stage at the Elan Awards to present one of the categories. I didn’t hear much of what he had to say. My table was too busy making sarcastic remarks about all the presenters to listen. But I did note that he took pains to plug the hell out of his boxing match before reading off the nominees.

You go Uwe! If more filmmakers out there admitted their whole career was a bad joke it would be a better industry all around.

Why go anywhere but Burnaby?

Damn, still stuck in this galaxy.

Hey, it looks just like that village we visited last week.

If you watch the show, you’ve seen this generic village set redressed a thousand times and shot from every conceivable angle.

Uwe was the real winner at the awards.

Uwe (left) presents some video game category or other at the Elans. No, he didn’t exchange fisticuffs with his co-presenter.

The Ticking Clock

I had the best of intentions, with all sorts of updates I wanted to add and things I wanted to talk about. But the clock has run out. Another trip to Ireland is upon me. I’m on the red-eye to Heathrow tonight, and then on to Dublin for heated debates concerning the second draft of the miniseries. By Friday, we’ll have reinvented the show half a dozen times (as opposed to the usual even dozen) and we’ll be another step or two closer to figuring out what it is exactly we want to put in front of the cameras. I don’t expect I’ll go into the same gory detail as to my activities when I get back again, but I’ve been booked for a trip outside the city limits for one day so I might get into some trouble worth reporting. A digital camera will also be making the trip, so expect more photos.

Among the updates I’ve failed miserably to complete are the movie night minutes. I have, however, added a few episodes to the forum lately, and should be able to finish them off once I’m back. I know you’re all dying to find out what shit we forced ourselves to sit through over the holidays. Sadly, I’ll be thousands of miles away from whatever the gang decides to view this Wednesday. That means, if my accounting is accurate, I no longer hold the single greatest attendance record for the event. I must now share that title with Eric, who tends to show up for a lot of movie nights because they conveniently take place in his home. I’ll have to find some way to drive him away in the coming weeks to damage his average. More episodes of Strangers With Candy might fit the bill.

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Trapped At Home For The Holidays

The television miniseries I’m co-writing progresses, a first draft has been delivered, and my long absence from this site is over. At least for this weekend. I might be back at it by tomorrow, and then all through the holidays. Joy to the world. Oh well, at least it beats writing for children’s television.

It seems like this one project is all I’ve been doing, but that’s not accurate. It’s merely been occupying my every waking thought. The problem with being a writer — as opposed to being a plumber, brick-layer, or barkeep — is that you never get to go home after work and turn the job off. It’s always with you, eating at your brain. The only job I can think of that might compare is a gynecologist. A male heterosexual gynecologist. It’s female genitalia all day at work and then, like the rest of the heterosexual male population out there, it’s female genitalia on the brain all night.

This is why so many writers drink. Not to forget, but to stop thinking entirely. Being a novice drinker myself, I mostly have to rely on video games to numb me. At least until I develop a serious substance abuse problem.

And speaking of drunks and junkies…

This week in world news, Bush finally found Canada on a map and decided to pay us a visit for the first time since he became president a million years ago. He dropped by Ottawa (the capital) and Halifax (the capital of drinking) in a whirlwind tour that went by so quickly, the army of protesters didn’t even have time to catch a chill in their designated civil disobedience zones. With Canada-U.S. relations at their lowest ebb since the War of 1812, this first state visit by the Bush White House poses a serious question for our two nations in these times of crisis. Namely, why can’t Halifax ever blow itself up when it might actually do some good?

If you’re wondering why it’s been so long since there’s been any new Movies in Longshot, it’s because I wanted to revamp that section so it would be a little easier to navigate. The newest entries now all appear on the top, with an archive below that arranges the previous strips alphabetically. I know that’s not much of an excuse for the lack of new material, but now that things are all orderly, I feel comfortable rolling out my latest cinema adaptations. Once again, there will be a new one each week, starting today and ending whenever I run out — which probably won’t be next week, or even the week after that. So drop by regularly.

And as I get back into the swing of things here, one of my priorities was to update the month’s worth of Wednesday Movie Night screenings I’ve fallen behind on. My one social indulgence each week, this has at least kept me in practice when it comes to watching movies. Otherwise I’m woefully behind in my viewing habits, despite the deluge of eBay imports that keep showing up on my doorstep, beckoning, “Shane, stop working for a living and come watch us. Watch us. Watch us…” I’d really feel better about the DVD backlog around here if I could only take off a month and watch five movies a day, every day. That would truly make my holiday special.

Sofa Spuds And Couch Potatoes

The idea for Wednesday Movie Night crawled out of the primordial ooze earlier this year when someone stated the obvious.

“Shane has a lot of cool movies we’ve never seen. Or heard of for that matter.”

“Maybe we should get him to bring one over every week,” was the next bright idea forwarded.

So began a series of film screenings at a venue known far and wide as “Eric’s Place.” People gather, food is served, movies are endured.

As I try to broaden the cinematic tastes of people who would prefer to have their experience with film narrowly focused on the occasional Star Wars prequel and whichever Ben Stiller comedy came out this week, I try to make somewhat entertaining choices. Often I cart along a selection of titles I’m in the mood to defend, and then put it to a vote, so that the audience itself bears some of the responsibility when the choice of entertainment edification tanks horribly. This democratic process has been put on hold for the month of October, and already there’s dissent at the polling stations.

The Hallowe’en fest began in earnest this past Wednesday after we got some preliminary short material out of the way. The trailer for Water to Wine was streamed from the net to a confused crowd who only understood why I was showing them this after they took a second look at the opening shot. As I pointed out, in only a few months time we will be celebrating an important anniversary. 2005 will mark twenty years since Harrison Ford made a good movie. Considering the state of his career, I think his appearance in a shitty snowboarding home video is a step in the right direction.

Following up on a bit of unfinished business, we screened what I had originally meant to show as a companion piece to Zatoichi a few weeks back. Episode VII of Samurai Jack had a blind samurai motif to it that I thought would complement the feature nicely. Sadly, I forgot my season one set at home the night Zatoichi unexpectedly won the “let’s watch that” vote, so I was caught with my pants down. Those in the room who were Samurai Jack virgins seemed genuinely impressed with the design of this quintessential episode.

And then there was the feature. After so many weeks of skipping over my horror collection for the sake of the self-professed wimps in the audience, it was time, at last, to take off the gloves. The horror festival of October had been announced well in advance, word of which movie we’d be watching was on the street, and everyone should have been well forewarned. The turnout was encouraging with a record number of attendees, and one who travelled an extra 5000 miles to get there (I’ll pretend it was specifically for movie night). The movie was Haute Tension, winner of this year’s FantAsia top prize for international film, and it wasn’t meant for the faint-of-heart. Since there’s still no Region 1 DVD to be had, this was brought to us through the miracle of internet piracy.

Allow me, for a moment here, to make no apology whatsoever for partaking in this kind of blatant film theft. I would be delighted to buy a legitimate copy of any and all films I want to screen at movie night. Have a look at my collection and you’ll notice it doesn’t take much to get me to plunk down the cash for a disc. But if the slack-jawed yokel distributors can’t get an interesting film into my hands in a reasonable amount of time (as in the same year of release, not three years later like Hero) then I’m going to find another way to get it. And if that means surfing a bittorrent site or greasing the palm of some eBay bootlegger, so be it. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, but at least I’ll die having seen the movies I wanted to see. And on a side note, I’d like to add that someone better release Cypher in Region 1 soon, or we’ll be watching a rip of that too. I’ll still buy the legit copy when it comes out like a good little movie buff, but I would prefer to show a proper DVD come the inevitable Vincenzo Natali fest. And so, I’m sure, would the folks who own the rights. Rant ends here.

I skipped the usual introduction I give for our feature presentations because I couldn’t talk about Haute Tension without blowing the whole film. Besides, what was I to say?

“Ultimately, this film is an abject failure, but it’s an interesting failure and therefore I think you should see it.”

Not terribly encouraging, particularly to a crowd who has illustrated to me in no uncertain terms that they have zero academic interest in film. Still, I think Haute Tension works wonderfully for a whole hour. Then it starts to fall to pieces, and finally, desperately, makes a wholly unnecessary turn into twist-ending land. Ironic how the surprise twist has become such a cliché in film lately, it’s now utterly predictable. Too bad, because while this horror flick was simply about a girl being terrorized by a relentless serial killer who doesn’t actually know she exists, it’s quite a pleasant variation of the familiar stalking-slasher genre.

Ultimately, however, the fact that the movie doesn’t hold water all the way to the end mattered little to our squeamish crowd. Many of them were driven away from Movie Night en masse following the very first killing. Haute Tension isn’t misnamed. It’s quite a tense film experience, to be sure. But apparently the release of that tension — in the form of decapitation by credenza — proved too much, and the body count in the room decreased faster than the film’s body count could rise.

“See you in November,” was the parting sentiment expressed by many as they reached the door. November, I assured them, would be strictly G-rated.

Pussies.

Up until now, the very moment of this posting, Movie Night was discussed online solely at Eric’s own private domain (a site protected by more security features than most internet banking transactions). I decided to move the discussion here, to my own site, for several reasons.

One: There are other people out there, friends and strangers alike, who might like to read about our ongoing film series (even if they can’t attend) and maybe weigh in with an opinion.

Two: Actual discussion, meaningful or inane, has ground to a halt over at Eric’s forum.

Three: Ditto for my own forum. At least now I’ll have something regular to post on the board to give it purpose and some much-needed traffic.

Go here to read the first post, which will give you a quick checklist of what we’ve sat down for so far. Jump in if you like. You don’t even have to register to post, so you’ll be free to mock us in complete untraceable anonymity. And isn’t that what internet forums are all about?

When I said paint the car, I meant the OUTSIDE.

“No, Shane! Not another horror movie!”