It Looks Like Worcester's Day

06-Sep-07 12:02 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films; 3 comments.

Here's a post of limited geographic appeal — but as I suspect many of my readers are concentrated in my area, here goes:

Worcester Living, a bimonthly magazine of Central Massachusetts, recently printed an interview with Templeton native and resident Richard S. Kendall. The article is a fascinating look at not only Mr. Kendall's story, but also the films, stars, and visual techniques he encountered in his years as a special effects artist. His credits are far more numerous than his IMDb profile suggests, including TRON, Fantastic Voyage, the original The Poseidon Adventure, Planet of the Apes, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among others. The picture of him being fed by Marilyn Monroe is one any red-blooded American would kill to be in. Unfortunately, since Worcester Living is an entirely print publication, you'll find no trace of the interview or its assets on their Web site.

A few weeks later, Worcester Magazine ran an interview with Kaz Gamble. Besides being part of the team behind the oft-delayed local independent film We Got the Beat, Mr. Gamble is also working on a documentary of my current stomping grounds of Worcester, Massachusetts. Here's what scene from his own life he would incorporate to epitomize Worcester:

We're on Richmond Street, getting out of St. Mary's — and that block itself looks like urban vibe — and some kids have a bus pass, so we leave there, take the bus downtown, hang out there, go to the Midtown Mall arcade, eat there in the mall, then the girls would try to flirt with us, and we leave, take the bus back out to the neighborhood, and going up to Holy Cross hill, all the houses there, the nice lawns, not like all the three-deckers, and in the evening, I would call dad to pick me up.

There are some pretty dull documentaries out there that consist of little more than pointing a camera at someone and presenting what they have to say, if anything; then there are fantastic documentaries that use that model as a base, but incorporate extensive editing and special effects to create a cohesive narrative. I hope Mr. Gamble has the wisdom to present this unique city as effectively as its rich history and unique culture deserve.

Is There a Temporal Mechanic in the House?

22-Aug-07 12:37 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 6 comments.

Time travel is a fascinating concept that is bafflingly unpopular at the box office. With the exception of Back to the Future, few films that dabble in this science fiction staple have become household names — and those that do, such as The Lakehouse and Click, owe their recognition more to the stars than the plots.

Yet even Sean "Hobbit" Astin couldn't elevate Slipstream out of obscurity. But before I review this film, I'd like to rewind the clock and examine its ancestry of other little-known time travel films: Time After Time, Time Changer, Timestalkers, Out of Time, and Happy Accidents.

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Quarterly Review

08-Aug-07 2:45 PM by
Filed under Films, Star Trek; 3 comments.

The June/July issue of Geek Monthly has a cover story on what a great year 1982 was for geeks. We may not have noticed it at the time, but it is astonishing what a plethora of great sci-fi films came out all in that one year. Unfortunately, some of these films I did not see upon their initial release, and some are not as great today as they were 25 years ago. Nonetheless, here in brief is my rundown of their list:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Considered "the zenith of the Trek feature films", I agree this film began the even-numbered successes that persisted until Nemesis. The tie-in to the original series, Ricardo Montalban as the villain, and the ending were all fantastic facets… but for all that, I still think I prefer the more lighthearted The Voyage Home.

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A Man Went Looking For America

31-Jul-07 5:18 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on A Man Went Looking For America

Cinematographer László Kovács, born in 1933 in Budapest, died this past July 21st. Excerpted from This Is True's Honorary Unsubscribe:

… in 1969, he filmed his breakout movie: Easy Rider, putting his own stamp on the motorcycle trip film based on his own bus ride from New Jersey to the west coast. Other seminal films included Five Easy Pieces, What's Up, Doc?, Paper Moon, Ghost Busters, Shattered, My Best Friend's Wedding — more than 70 in all. "He was one of the great wave of cinematographers in the 1970s who basically changed the way movies had looked up until that time," said Richard Crudo, a former president of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Actors are well-known, and some directors and producers achieve similar fame. It's a shame talent such as Mr. Kovács' does not also earn the popular recognition it deserves.

UPDATE: I may need to take back that statement… Mr. Kovács credits also include The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!

Now for Some Real User Power

10-Jul-07 6:13 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films; 5 comments.

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of Tron, a film that is so many things to so many people: a milestone of computer animation; a staple of any geek's library; an element in the film studies curriculum I developed; another Jeff Bridges box office bomb. My love affair with this film spans multiple media:

I had to commemorate the anniversary of this cult hit with more than just a marathon session of lightcycling. After reading IGN's interview with Steven Lisberger, Tron's creator, I felt there must be better interview subjects out there.

So I instead got ahold of John Knoll, visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic. ILM was created by George Lucas for the original Star Wars films and has since gone on to become a powerhouse in visual effects. Mr. Knoll has worked on several of their best films, including Willow, The Abyss, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek: First Contact, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. And somehow, during all that, he found time to invent Photoshop.

On very short notice, Mr. Knoll generously donated a half-hour of his time to speak with me on the subject of Tron, computer graphics, and the industry's evolution over the last quarter of a century. The end result is a very satisfying transcript, even if some notable, general observations didn't make the final cut:

"Even today … filmmakers rely on the special effects to be the only appeal in the movie, and they don't try so hard on the movie because they figure the visuals will carry the film … For those of us who work in the industry, that's not something we encourage. It's just as hard to do the effects on a bad movie as it is the effects on a good movie, and we'd all rather have worked on a good movie."

Continue on to Computerworld.com to read the full interview.

A huge thanks to old LucasArts and ILM colleagues Tom Sarris and Ellen Pasternack, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Update: the above article has been Slashdotted!

End of line.

11-Jan-07 8:27 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films; 3 comments.

TRON comic book cover

A TRON comic book! It's an original story set six months after the events of the TRON 2.0 computer game. I almost missed this book, and chances are I'm not the only one. Be sure to visit your local comic book shop to pick up the third issue, hitting stands on January 17th.

The original TRON is a must-have in any geek's library, such that I included it in the curriculum of the film class I taught, to ensure its legacy is not lost upon the next generation of geeks. I shan't waste time preaching to the choir, waxing its clearly evident values — but I will share my two favorite tangential memories it inspired.

I once got to see this classic film presented on the silver screen, "enhanced" by a pre-scripted, MST3K-style commentary written and performed by the crew of The Truly Dangerous Company, makers of fine Star Wars spoofs. I've asked many times if the script is available for public presentation, but no dice thus far.

Better still was when I attended the (now-defunct) Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2003. I knew Bruce Boxleitner would be on hand to promote TRON 2.0, so I brought my 20th anniversary TRON DVD set for him, Cindy Morgan, and Steve Lisberger to autograph. (As I waited in line, even at this nerd Mecca would passersby would ask me what TRON was. Isn't that grounds for expulsion?) Though I never watch television, my hotel suitemate had the news on as we got ready for the show that morning, and the marquee at the bottom of the screen displayed among that day's top headlines: "Bruce Boxleitner's birthday!" Why the continued existence of a relatively obscure actor was deemed noteworthy, I'll never know. But after Mr. Boxleitner signed my DVD, I shook his hand and sincerely wished him, "Happy Birthday!"

Upon hearing this, Ms. Morgan, sitting next to him, stopped signing my disc, turned to her former castmate, and punched him in the arm: "It's your birthday?! You didn't tell me that!" To Mr. Lisberger: "Hey, it's Bruce's birthday!"

I embarrassed an icon. How cool is that?