Sunday, May 25, 2014

Art Inspiring Art

It's not a stretch to see how works of art can actually inspire other people to create art themselves. Sometimes it's people such as director Kevin Smith who watched Richard Linklater's Slacker and decided that he too could make a movie of the same quality. It could also be seen in Andy Warhol paintings, where he would focus on something of pop culture such as a Hollywood idol or a something that could be seen in a movie and paint it in his own unique style. Marilyn Monroe was such a subject that Warhol painted.

Being aware of this, I give you ten other times art in some form or another either inspired or created other art.

1. The birth of Pixar: After releasing a flop in 1986 (Howard The Duck), George Lucas was left in massive debt. Steve Jobs of Apple fame, bought the computer animation technology from Lucasfilm at a high cost to help Lucas out. This technology ended up being the base programming to what would become Pixar Films. Indirectly, Howard The Duck led to box office smashes such Toy Story, Cars, Monsters, Inc, and many more.

2. While recording their third album, Aerosmith took a break for a night to hang out at the local movie theater. While there, they caught the movie Young Frankenstein where Igor tells Dr. Frankenstein to, "Walk This Way." Going back to the studio the next day, they recorded the song that would be one of their biggest hits and the second single from their Toys In The Attic album, Walk This Way.

3. Singer Poe released an album called Haunted that can almost act as a soundtrack to her brother, Mark Z. Danielewski's book House Of Leaves. Adding to the "art inspiring art" theme, but in a meta sort of way, both her brother's book and her album are inspired by their father and movie director, Ted Danielewski. He left audio recordings of life lessons he wanted to leave his children that his children found after his death. This inspired the characters Mark created and the recordings were used in Poe's songs, singing along or in response to what her father previously recorded.

4. As with many books, many eventually are adapted on the big screen. One such movie was The Cat In The Hat originally written in book form by the legend, Dr. Seuss. The kicker in this case was that the estate of Dr. Seuss hated the Mike Myers movie so much, that they banned all other works of Dr. Seuss from ever becoming a live action adaptation. So in this case, it can be said that inspired art that inspired the end of future art.

5. In the movie Alien, the blue light in the egg chamber came from a laser being used by the rock band The Who, whom were rehearsing in the next sound stage over for an upcoming tour. In this case, art accidentally bled into other art, creating a nice lighting ambience that set a scene in a successful movie.

6. If you're a fan of David Letterman, then you are aware of his Uncle Earl that he mentions occasionally (especially pre-2009). In the movie Beavis And Butt-head Do America, David Letterman was the voice actor of Butt-head's father. In the credits, Letterman's credit was listed under the name Earl Hofert, the Uncle Earl he mentions on his show.

7. In the music of David Bowie, the reoccurring character of Major Tom surfaces in several songs such as Space Oddity, Ashes To Ashes, Hallo Spaceboy. In 1983, music artist Peter Schilling continued the story of Major Tom in his hit single Major Tom (Coming Home). Now this isn't a massive revelation that music fans weren't aware of. What may be a little more eye opening is that David Bowie himself alluded that Major Tom is connected to Elton John's Rocket Man. Sometimes while performing Space Oddity live, Bowie will call out "Oh, Rocket Man!"

8. In a weird twist of art inspiring art, former SNL alum Dan Akroyd wrote the movie Ghostbusters and came up with a popular ghost named Slimer. Later on Akroyd would go on to say that Slimer is fellow SNL alum, John Belushi's ghost.

9. One rumor that I have yet to confirm, but has roamed around on the internet, centers around the amalgam movie Freddy Vs. Jason. One of the ideas was that the two movie maniacs destroy each other in battle and end up in hell, where Pinhead from Hellraiser would make an appearance at the end of the movie. Some movie execs tried to pitch this as a tag to the movie after the credits finished rolling.

10. And in a final twist, while filming The Passion Of The Christ, actor Jim Caviezel was struck by lighting during the crucifixion scene of Jesus. Apparently God was not a fan.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hollywood Ghosts

Well in honor of my book "Old Man's Lake" coming out in eBook form on Kindle, Smashwords, etc. and soon to be available on Amazon in print version (sometime this week), I give to you a list of ghosts that supposedly belong to former Hollywood elite and where you can find them.

1. At the Roosevelt Hotel you can catch the ghosts of two different Hollywood souls. Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Marilyn's image has been spotted several times in a full length mirror that once belonged in her poolside room. It's now located by an elevator on the ground level.

Also haunting the Roosevelt, Clift can be heard playing his trumpet and pacing the hallway while rehearsing his lines from the hit From Here To Eternity.

2. George Reeves' home is also a place to find a Hollywood spirit. It's said that he haunts the very home that he was found dead in. Whether it could be due to his reported suicide the police ruled it as, or to the theory of a murder based on an affair he was having, his spirit appears to be restless. Check out an underrated movie Hollywoodland that stars Adrian Brody, Ben Affleck (as George Reeves), Diane Lane, and Bob Hoskins to see the theories of Reeves' death.

3. Culver Studios is the site of  Thomas Ince's supposed haunting. Famous for being the place where Gone With The Wind was shot, filmmaker Ince was shot by William Randolph Hearst, who was aiming at Charlie Chaplin. Cold spots could be felt throughout the house, even in the summer and people often claim to hear his voice complaining about how the house is being kept.

4. Dan Akroyd says he feels that his home is haunted. It was the former home of Mama Cass of the Mamas And The Papas and from Akroyd has said, he believes it's her because he feels that it's the ghost of a larger person. He has reported that jewelry has slid across his dresser and felt a ghost slide into bed with him.

5. Sweet Lady Jane's restaurant has been the reported site of the spirit of Orson Wells. A spirit has been seen in his favorite booth, wearing a black cape, wide brimmed hat, and smoking a cigar that he used to enjoy while he was alive.

6. In a home off of Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, Lucille Ball supposedly haunts her former residence. Current residents have heard voices in the attic, windows have broken without explanation, and furniture has rearranged itself.

7. The famous Hollywood sign has a ghost haunting it too. During the 1930's Peg Entwistle came to Hollywood in hopes to become famous. Unfortunately, after one too many rejections, she climbed up the hill to the Hollywood sign, climbed to the top of the H and jumped. The day of her death, a letter was delivered to her home, saying she had won the part in a movie of a woman who commits suicide. Irony.

8. Lon Chaney Sr. is said to haunt Sound Stage 28 at Universal Studios. After his death in 1930, his figure has been seen running on the catwalks and lights have turned on and off without reason during the filming of other projects.

9. At Paramount Studios' Stage 31, Red Foxx is said to be heard laughing away at jokes that have been told. No real mischief is reported though. It's said that he just hangs out there, the studio where he died at from a heart attack.

10. Jean Harlow is said to be haunting the mansion in Hollywood she called home before she died of kidney failure at age 26. She was nearly murdered there by MGM executive Paul Bern and later that same year, he committed suicide in an upstairs bedroom. To this day, it's said that she roams the hallways of her former home.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ghostbusters 3...Finally?

For years, fans of the movie Ghostbusters were hoping for a third movie to form a trilogy. Rumors were out there that Harold Ramis and/or Dan Akroyd had written scripts for the third movie, but there were always roadblocks in the way.

One of the biggest roadblocks was Bill Murray himself. While publicly pointing to his business filming schedule (the man is still constantly working to this day), rumors swirled around Hollywood that he rejected scripts because of particular demands he had. Murray would say to various reporters that he would be open to being in Ghostbusters 3, but only if his fan favorite character Peter Venkman were to be already dead and in the movie as a ghost.

It even got to the point where Dan Akroyd in 2013, was prepared to move forward with a script that didn't include Peter Venkman at all. He was quoted as saying:

"Ghostbusters 3 can be a successful movie without Bill. My preference would be to have him involved but at this point he doesn’t seem to be coming and we have to move on. It’s time to make the third one.”

Unfortunately on February 24, 2014, actor/writer/director, Harold Ramis passed away from vasculitis. Ramis was not only Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters, but Dan Akroyd's partner in writing the first two movies and various drafts for the third movie. When Ramis passed, after his funeral, director Ivan Reitman announced that he would no longer be attached to the third installment of Ghostbusters. The heart of the movie was ripped away.

Akroyd bowed out of the script process as well. Etan Cohen of Paradise Thunder fame is the last writer to have been rumored to be in charge of the screenplay. While a good writer in his own, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, along with Ivan Reitman were the gatekeepers of this project.

It was stated by Akroyd that the new movie will feature a new set of Ghostbusters employees with cameos by the himself and Ernie Hudson. Billy Murray is still holding out for a script that he approves of before guaranteeing his presence in the film.

Reitman will still be involved, but only in the capacity of finding a new director to direct the third movie and possibly more. With a new generation of Ghostbusters, a handoff could be done ala Star Trek Generations, which could also mean a new generation of cartoons and merchandise.

This could be a moneymaker for Sony Pictures, but it feels almost superficial in a way. When the first movie was released in the '80's, a new line of characters that people young and old could enjoy together were created. The movies felt like they were made to entertain, despite bringing in a lot of revenue from various sources (TV, movies, merch). While fans may be relieved that a third movie will be finally made, it doesn't have that same feeling that the first two had.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Nominations 2014: My Picks

It's that time again, where every year, the Academy selects who are the best of various categories in movies. As usual, there is always debate to who should have won. Well, even though I don't have a vote, here are my picks for the 2014 Oscars.

Best Picture:
Who I pick: Captain Phillips
Who will win: 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Wolf Of Wall Street

Best Actor In A Leading Role:
Who I pick: Leonardo DiCaprio
Who will win: Matthew McConaughey
Dark Horse: Bruce Dern

Best Actress In A Leading Role:
Who I pick: Amy Adams
Who will win: Sandra Bullock
Dark Horse: Meryl Streep

Best Actor In A Supporting Role:
Who I pick: Barkhad Abdi
Who will win: Bradley Cooper
Dark Horse: Jared Leto

Best Actress In A Supporting Role:
Who I pick: June Squib
Who will win: Jennifer Lawrence
Dark Horse: Julia Roberts

Best Animated Film:
Who I pick: Despicable Me 2
Who will win: Frozen
Dark Horse: The Croods

Best Cinematography:
Who I pick: Nebraska
Who will win: Gravity
Dark Horse: Nebraska

Best Directing:
Who I pick: Wolf Of Wall Street
Who will win: American Hustle
Dark Horse: 12 Years A Slave

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Who I pick: Captain Phillips
Who will win: 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Wolf Of Wall Street

Best Original Screenplay:
Who I pick: Nebraska
Who will win: American Hustle
Dark Horse: Dallas Buyers Club

Best Visual Effects:
Who I pick: Star Trek Into The Darkness
Who will win: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Dark Horse: Gravity

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Clerks: The Most Important Indie Movie

Clerks may be the most important indie movie ever made. Independent movies otherwise known as indies have been made for nearly as long as Hollywood has been around. In many of them, a budget, or lack of, have made them stand out visually compared to their big budget counterparts. Low cost set, actors working for free, and film quality have been tell tale signs.

Unfortunately many times, this also meant that the movie's storyline has suffered. Until the '90's many people wouldn't even bother to spend the time to watch an indie. Then a liquor store clerk from New Jersey changed the genre like no other indie movie maker.

Deciding to change his life, a young Kevin Smith went to Vancouver to attend film school to learn how to make movies. His classes he took explained the theory of movie making compared to giving students a more hands on experience. He worked on a short "mockumentary", but otherwise felt he didn't gain much by the classes other than meeting future movie making partner Scott Mosier.

In doing some research about the money he used towards his film school tuition, Smith found out that if he dropped out before the half way point of completing his classes, he would be refunded a prorated amount of money. He decided to take that money and put it towards making his own movie.

He went back to his hometown and finalized a script that showcased his strong writing skills that would carry his future movies. The budget would be small (approximately $29,000) and Smith and Mossier had to find ways to keep the costs down. He would hire friends and family to play a large portion of the parts (e.g. his mother played the milk lady). Smith used his own store that he worked at as the main set of the film, where he would shoot at night and work there in the day.

As suggested to him, to keep from exposing the fact that the movie was shot during the night, he wrote into the script that the shutter door covering the window was closed and shot the movie in black and white. In doing so, the viewer can't tell if the lighting is artificial or organic.

Even with all the cuts, he still didn't have the full amount it would take to fund the movie. He had the money from film school, money from a natural disaster to reimburse him for his broken down car, and then funded the rest of the movie with credit cards. He maxed out his cards and to this day can't get an American Express Card, but he raised just enough to cover the cost.

After making the movie, he won various awards at film festivals, picked up a distribution deal, and made a deal with the Weinsteins to make more movies. His film reached a generation of fans that connected to his writing and characters he developed. All this was enough to start his career, but another factor launched a movement.

Smith became more accessible than most people in Hollywood are. He performed a mass amount of Q&A's, was an early adopter in using the internet to connect with fans, and formed a whole Podcast network, where he talked about everything from comics, movie making, and his life experiences in general. Through this, Smith made what he did seem easy to do. He often makes this very point himself.

Smith's words gave motivation to those who watched his movies and thought, "I think I could do that too." With the cost of movie making lowering, digital dominating over film, and the ability to edit and print via a personal computer, a new generation of filmmakers rose.

All of this sprang from an indie movie made in New Jersey, shot in black and white, and even had a scene with a cat pooping in a box. Moviemakers watched Clerks and it occurred to them that they could make a great movie with a small budget, without special effects, and no big name actors. Because of this, many movies that had no chance of ever being made, now have a chance. Great scripts have a chance. Undiscovered actors have a chance. Whether or not every new indie filmmaker had seen the movie or not, they could walk through the doors that Kevin Smith opened for them.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Macklemore And Ryan Lewis Won On Talent, Not Race

Last night (January 26th, 2014), the 56th Grammy Awards aired and by the end of the awards, music fans were Tweeting/Facebooking/Myspace'ing (does anyone really still use this site?) about the performances, fashion, and awards presented (and the controversy).

It was a night full of collaborations such as the surviving Highwaymen with Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton and Robin Thicke with Chicago. Even the surviving Beatles teamed up with the surviving members of Nirvana. People talked about fashion such as what fetish like outfit was Beyoncé wearing during her performance and the various robot helmets of Daft Punk.

Like every year there will be debate about whom should have won certain awards and that is usually a matter of a music listener's taste and whom the listener is already a fan of. This year though, watching the news stations (local and national) and their music experts, you would have thought there was a robbery.

The rap album of the year was presented to new, indie artists Macklemore And Ryan Lewis. Other nominees included Drake, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West. As soon as Macklemore was announced, many news commentators, entertainment reporters, and fellow rappers started to fire away at the new artist. If they wanted to complain about their belief that one artist/album was better than Macklemore, that would be an okay debate in my eyes, but a lot of them turned it into a race war battle.

CNN had a music industry reporter who claimed that the Grammy's were racists because they always pick "white artists" to win the rap album of the year. In fact only two white artists/duos have won...Eminem and now Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The reporter went as far as to say Eminem is only an average rapper at best and claimed the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis aren't even rap. A Fox News reporter said Ben Haggerty (leave it to Fox News to use the artist's real name instead of stage name) aka Macklemore should be ashamed to even have accepted the award. Hell, it even was a trend on Facebook's new "trending" feature.

First off, this is ridiculous. At the very least Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are rap musicians. No argument. Secondly, they were one of the break out artists this past year, doing it on their own (indie style), and becoming one of the year's best sellers. At the minimum, they deserved to nominated.

Breaking off from the minimums, I will agree that debates can be made for one artist over another, but not because of race. Regardless of skin color, a good album is a good album. To make the argument that they only won because of race is absurd. They won because they made an album that many rap music fans loved. There is no "race conspiracy" in the rap genre. With rap being a mainstream style of music now, people of all races/ethnicities/cultures are listening.

One radio host even went in the direction that said that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis should be ashamed of winning the award "strictly" on their race and should give back the award. They cited that Macklemore himself sent Kendrick Lamar a message saying that he was sorry he "robbed" him of the award. This isn't evidence of their self guilt. Many times an award winner is surprised they won over another nominee that they are personally a fan of.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, congratulations of your awards you have won. You deserved them and worked very hard to get where you did. Don't give in to the pressures of people calling on you to abdicate your awards because of your race. You won your awards and not your skin color. If "white skin" would win Grammy rap album of the year awards, the Beastie Boys would have won a few by now (they've only been nominated once). Not everything needs to be such a controversy. Let an artist enjoy their awards they won. Hell Kanye didn't even jump on stage to argue this one.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Insert Actor Here Please

One of the more underrated roles in making a movie is casting. Many movies have been made because of a stellar performance given by an actor and many have become flops because of the lack of care or favors that had to be done in the casting process.
With comic book fans, especially before the comic book movie frenzy, they would debate who would be best in particular roles of their favorite heroes. Who would be best as Batman? Who would be the best Wonder Woman? So many opinions and yet, someone in Hollywood actually gets to play that role. Casting directors along with the movie director themselves get to play that almost fun role (although sometimes due to politics, might not be fun). Imagine if the Superman movie in the 1990's that was being led by Tim Burton, actually cast Nicholas Cage as Superman himself? A balding Superman with the personality of a door nail? No please.
Fans of novels get into the same debates, although not to the levels that comic books usually get. In the 2000's, Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" had such debate before Tom Hanks was chosen. Tom Hanks is a great actor and from a connections stand point, made sense as well since he has worked with director Ron Howard many times. Being a fan of the Robert Langdon character, I thought Johnny Depp would actually be a better Robert Langdon (he played a similar character in "The Ninth Gate"). The debate raged on recently as well for the "50 Shades of Grey" book series. Who would be the two stars brave enough to be open to play the kinky roles? Which guy would be the one to bring in the "mommy porn" lovers out of the home and into the theater?
Imagine how different "Godfather" would have been in Jack Nicholson played Michael Corleone instead of Al Pacino. Nicholson was offered the part first, but turned it down. How different would Don Vito Corleone was played by the movie studio's first two choices, Danny Thomas and Orson Wells? I bet it doesn't become the classic that it did.
On the vice versa side, imagine almost any movie Keanu Reeves played in. Now how much better is each one of those movies instead of Keanu Reeves? Keanu Reeves' only perfectly casted role was Ted from the "Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure" movies. He wasn't even a top five choice for Neo in the "Matrix" movies. Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner (not kidding), Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Val Kilmer, and David Duchovny were all casting director's choices before they settled on Keanu Reeves. It's even rumored that before Hugh Jackman was cast as Wolverine, Keanu Reeves was the first choice. Horrible.
Movie casting doesn't get the recognition that a star actor, screenwriter, or director get, but it is one of the roles that can make or break a movie and should be recognized in a big, bad way, especially when it almost seems that a movie is perfectly cast.