Tuesday, November 27, 2018

SOMETHING WICKED... AGAIN!

The Good News is that a new edition of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, Ray Bradbury's classic fantasy from 1962, is forthcoming soon from Centipede Press. It will feature three of my interviews with Ray and with his illustrator, Joseph Mugnaini.

This is the cover of the First Edition, artwork by Gray Foy:


And here is the cover of the first British Edition, with Mugnaini's artwork:


Most spectacular was the the poster art from the Walt Disney adaptation, directed by Jack Clayton in 1983. Alas, the movie itself was nowhere as good as this poster art:


I am so looking forward to this new 2019 edition of SOMETHING WICKED, since it brings back memories of my encounters with both Ray and Joe. Here's Joe and me from an interview in the mid-80s in Los Angeles:


Rarely has a partnership between writer and artist been more happily fruitful than that between Bradbury and Mugnaini. They first met in the early 1950s in Los Angeles and remained staunch friends and sympathetic collaborators ever since. Here they are: Mugnaini on the left.


May they both rest in peace,,,

THE HAPPY PRINCE


Written, directed, and starring Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde; supported by a stellar cast including Emma Watson, Colin Morgan, Tom Wilkinson, and Colin Firth.

“DYING BEYOND HIS MEANS”

THE HAPPY PRINCE is not a happy movie, and it’s not really about a prince. The title comes from a curious fairy tale written by Oscar Wilde in 1888, about a beautiful statue brought down from sublime innocence to sordid reality by the sorrows of the world, leaving behind only an unbroken heart. We flash back to Wilde telling the story to his two sons at times throughout the film. It’s the linking device that binds together the free flow of images past and present.

Viewers relatively unfamiliar with Wilde’s life will not see the parallels between the fairy tale and Wilde’s life during the years after his imprisonment in 1896 for two years at hard labor. Immediately before his conviction and incarceration for the “crime” of homosexuality, Wilde had been a sort of “prince,” the witty and boastful toast of the London stage. His greatest play, The Importance of Being Earnest had lately packed in audiences. But within a matter of months all had come to smash. For two years he suffered greatly as he was passed from prison to prison, barren cell to barren cell, forced to endure gruesome privations that nearly broke him.

A recent book, Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years, by Nicholas Frankel, tells the whole sadly fascinating story of his decline from his release from Reading Gaol in 1897 to his death in Paris in 1900. And now THE HAPPY PRINCE retells events with remarkable fidelity to the historical record, accurately documenting the restless shifts in locations, the struggles for money, even down to the pathetic scene where a priest is called in to conduct a last-minute absolution to Wilde on his deathbed. Which is to say that aside from moments of witty badinage in his best epigrammatic manner, and of boisterous gaiety from the drink-sodden Wilde in the cafes and with his Italian rent-boys, there is little attempt to varnish over events, no false romanticism on display, no sidestepping the spectacle of a man seeming willing his own decline and death. His words, “I run to my ruin,” are all too true. Indeed, one of the chief fascinations of the Wilde story is that very fact—that he seems to have done everything he could to encourage his own downfall. Was there in him what Edgar Allan Poe once described as an “Imp of the Perverse” that impelled him to stage-managing his downfall, as if to imitate the “art” of the fairy tale?

At the same time, the cast of THE HAPPY PRINCE is so skilled and the sheer craft of the movie-making so expert, that the free-flow shifting of events in time and space is deftly executed and, ironically, a pleasure to watch. And as excruciating at times as is the narrative—flashbacks to the privations of his imprisonment, the sordid details of his heavy drinking, his sexual indulgences, and the fatal attraction to Lord Alfred Douglas (the charismatic and heartless youth who played such an important part in Wilde’s life, before and after his incarceration)—the drama remains fascinating and compelling. Now, although Lord Douglas—affectionately called “Bosie” by the besotted Wilde—is here an unalloyed monster, I should note that for some historians Douglas’ role in the whole business has been unfairly impugned.

The jury’s still out on that.

If I must cite a lapse or two in this otherwise faultless narrative, it’s the unwelcome intrusion a couple of time of an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony. The music of this late 19th century Russian homosexual is obviously yanked in to corroborate the pathos of Wilde’s last days. Sorry, it’s just too obvious in a movie that is otherwise canny and subtle in its effects.

Friday, November 16, 2018

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?



Directed by Marielle Heller, scripted by Nicole Holofcenor, starring Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, Richard Grant as Jack Hock, and Dolly Wells as the bookstore owner.

SORDID AND FABULOUS!

Yes—“a pretty sordid and fabulous story” is what the New York Times said about real-life writer Lee Israel’s memoir of her days forging the signatures of celebrities such as Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, and Marlene Dietrich.

I could say the same thing about the new movie, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Make no mistake about it, this is no cozy collection of beguiling eccentrics plying their fraudulent trade, but a shabby collection of people who feint, dodge, and barter for survival against the grime of the city and the loneliness and desperation of their lives. But at least they live in a New York City in the early 1990s, a poignant, vanished world where you can still find wonderful, independent bookstores and where writers still use pens and typewriters.

Melissa McCarthy’s “Lee Israel” and Richard Grant’s “Jack Hock” are willing, even enthusiastic malefactors. We find her at story’s beginning a down and out writer, an alcoholic with a sick cat, a smelly apartment, many bills to pay, and a readership no longer interested in her biographies of entertainment celebrities like Fanny Brice. (Hey, it’s 1991, years past the popularity of Hello, Dolly! From the late ‘60s.) And Jack Hock is a gay hustler just this side of homelessness, with scars to show from his latest tricks. Together, they form an improbable partnership that provides some of the best moments in this or any movie in recent memory. Granted, we already know Richard Grant as one of our finest dramatic actors. But McCarthy—well, who knew??? Hers is a finely nuanced portrayal of a sadly defiant woman who takes no prisoners.

At first, Lee’s forged letters are a profitable success. It’s one of the nicest ironies here that she can write wittier and more interesting letters by Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker than they could write themselves! Indeed, an even nicer irony is that Lee truly “finds” herself as a creative writer by impersonating other writers! But when autograph collectors get wise and set the Feds on her trail, she enlists Jack Hock to continue their nefarious trade while she stays out of sight.

Inevitably, disaster catches up with both of them. But if you expect Lee to appear before the judge crying real tears, you’re wrong. Her unrepentant speech--and McCarthy’s performance—belongs to the A-list Oscar performances this year. Similarly, Richard Grant’s performance as Jack Hock’s valedictory speech belongs to the ages.

Add CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME—the title comes from a Dorothy Parker quote—to the list of outstanding films over the years about forgers. Coming to mind are The Hoax and F Is for Fake, both about Clifford Irving, and Shattered Glass, about the exposure of a series of fraudulent articles in Vanity Fair. We live in strange times, after all, where collectors pay the big bucks for every scrap and scrawl of a celebrity autograph. We know full well many are faked—the sports world is particularly guilty of this sort of thing—but still we want to believe. Indeed, what is it about our own fascination with this sort of thing? Why are we so willing to suspend our disbelief? Why do we enjoy the illusions of stage magicians, knowing all the while we are being fooled? Or, most pertinent of all, why does the votership base of our President unswervingly support him, with his own bag of tricks on full display?

Monday, November 12, 2018

HALLOWEEN



HALLOWEEN, directed by David Gordon Green, and starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, Haluk Bilginer as Dr. Sartain, Will Patton as Officer Hawkins.

HIDE AND SEEK

You come away from the new HALLOWEEN almost suffocated from two hours confined in safe rooms, crawl spaces, and cages; from two hours hiding and seeking in a dark tangle of Halloween tricks and treats.

Yes, here is another HALLOWEEN, or, more properly, a second take on the original John Carpenter classic from 1978. Improbably for some (including me), that original outing has spawned over the years a host of sequels and a plethora of copy-cat slasher films. Praise it or blame it, it’s a force that has come to be reckoned with.

Now, forty years later, Laurie Strode (Curtis) has turned her encounter with stalker, Michael Myers, into an obsession to kill him, should he ever escape the insane asylum that has housed him all this time. She has amassed an arsenal of weapons (which she proudly displays in a scene evocative of Travis Bickel’s weapons array), rigged her house with a basement saferoom and fitted out the rooms with cages, alarms, and booby-traps. Michael Myers has given her a Purpose in Life.

He has likewise given his psychiatric keeper, Dr. Sartain (Bilginer) a decades-long fascination with his charge that threatens to swamp his own identity to the point that, late in the movie, he actually dons Myer’s face mask in some weird sort of Brotherly Love. Watch him tenderly stroke Myer’s face and then don the mask. That’s the most disturbing scene in a movie that all too often lapses into just another collection of pop-up scares.

Another scene that pulled me out of my almost somnolent state also transpires late. That’s when director David Gordon Green baldly copies the most famous scene from the original film. I refer to the moment when Laurie has pushed Myers out a window onto the street below. When she takes a second look, the body has disappeared. It was a great moment, the instant that a physical horror transitioned to a transcendent evil. The new HALLOWEEN reverses the polarity: This time it’s Laurie who has been pushed by Myers out the window; and this time, it is Laurie who disappears upon a second look.

Now, both Predator and Prey have surpassed their mortal coils and belong to the ages.

At least, that’s about the best I can come up with regarding an only mildly interesting horror film.

Maybe the Final Horror is that David Gordon Green, a director capable of the wonderful George Washington, has come down from the sublime to the ridiculous.